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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Herb Compound Butter

The weather is gorgeous and we splurged on a new grill this weekend (and a smoker...more on that to follow.)  Call it spring fever.  So what better way to celebrate the fast approaching end of the school year and the final stretch into summer than grilling some corn.  Cue the compound butter!  This is the first time I'm making compound butter and I must say it is pretty darn amazing.  The corn would have been delicious plain, but all the herbs made it so especially good. The butter also gave me an excuse to make some popovers.  Let's butter everything!  What else can I butter??

Herb Compound Butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsp finely minced herbs (I used rosemary, sage, and thyme)
pinch of salt

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients with a rubber spatula until all the herbs are evenly distributed throughout the butter.  Put the butter on a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a 6-inch log, twisting the ends closed.  Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  When read to use, slice and serve.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spicy Garlic Sichuan Noodles

One of my family's go-to restaurants is a Sichuan place in Billerica.  The food is super authentic, super delicious and reasonably priced as well - a trifecta of awesome.  We go there at least twice a month and have various dishes that we rotate through.  Everything is fantastic...including their dandan noodles.  We went the other night and decided to get some other things instead (Chicken in hot chili oil, cumin lamb, and baby broccoli in garlic.)  So tonight I decided to make the noodles at home.  How hard could it be?  Well it wasn't hard at all, and it came out amazing.  My husband - who has the palate of an Asian emissary - loved loved loved these.  And I couldn't believe how much of it Adrienne ate!  She's always complaining that things are too spicy for her - but she liked these so much she kept eating them and when her tongue couldn't take any more, I would tell her to drink some milk and then she'd keep going.  She had three helpings and then went after the ones on my plate!  I will make these all the time.  They were easy to prepare and you could really throw in any vegetables or protein that you'd like.  Judging by how much my husband and daughter liked this, I know this will make a regular appearance on our dinner table.

Spicy Garlic Sichuan Noodles
adapted from eCurry

10 oz. package of noodles of choice (I used a Chinese stir fry noodle)
2 Tbsp peanut oil
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 or 3 dried chili peppers, roughly chopped in a food processor
6 garlic cloves, sliced
2 carrots, julienned
3 scallions, sliced
salt to taste
2 tsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
a drizzle of sesame oil

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Cook the noodles according to the package directions and drain.  While the noodles cook,  heat the canola and peanut oil over medium heat in a large pan.  Add the cayenne and chopped dried chilis.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Then add the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes.  Add the carrots, scallions, and salt and cook for another 5 minutes until the vegetables are tender.  When the noodles are done and drained, add them to the pot with the vegetables and toss to combine.  Turn off the heat and add the tamari, vinegar, and sesame oil and combine.  Serve hot and enjoy!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Soft Pretzels

I have been waiting forever to make these pretzels, but wanted to do it when I wasn't feeling any sort of time crunch.  This has been April vacation week for me and other teachers and students in the Boston area.  It began Monday with the tragic marathon bombing.  Then today, four days later, I woke up to what seemed like a scene from a movie.  A shoot-out in the streets, ending with a fugitive on the loose and an entire city on lock-down.  The streets of Boston are eerily deserted as people stay in their homes so police can search for the remaining bomber.  Can this possibly be real life?  Unfortunately it is.  I can only hope that this ends with no one else hurt and a feeling of justice for all those affected.

My daughter is too young to know or understand these tragic events and for that I am grateful.  So I have been trying my best to enjoy this time with her despite the overwhelmingly upsetting thoughts and emotions that sometimes overcome me.  Today we made these delicious, completely satisfying, totally worth the wait, pretzels.  It seems crazy to do something so enjoyable and everyday while all this craziness happens around us, but life must go on.  If we don't enjoy this all too short life with our loved ones, then the bombers have truly succeeded.  So spend time with friends and family and if you can, help those in need.

If you'd like to help those that have been affected, here is a link with options as to what you could do:

Soft Pretzels
adapted from Alton Brown
makes 8 pretzels

For the dough:
1½ cups warm water (110-115° F)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 package dry active yeast
22 oz. all-purpose flour (about 4½ cups)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl

For finishing:
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water
sea salt (or pretzel salt - but I didn't have any laying around the house)

To make the dough, first mix the yest with the water and let stand for 10 minutes.  Combine this with the sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed to dissolve the yeast.  Add in the flour and melted butter and mix just until the dough comes together.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly greased with vegetable oil, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, about 50-55 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.

Divide the dough in 8 equal pieces.  Roll each piece out about 24-inch long.  Then form each into a pretzel.  (First make a U, then cross each end over eachother.)  Boil the pretzels one at a time for 30 seconds each.  Transfer with a slotted spoon (I used a spatula) to your lined baking sheets.  Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt.  Bake for 12-14 minutes until deep golden brown.  Let cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes.  Serve with your favorite mustard or dipping sauce.

I made 4 of the 8 immediately and I froze the other 4 pretzels before the boiling process.  I will update this post after I make the frozen pretzels to let you know how they turned out.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hummingbird Cupcakes

Just in case you haven't noticed...I have the tendency to impulse cook.  If I stumble upon a recipe that looks delicious and I also happen to have all the ingredients on hand, I assume it's obvious fate and next thing you know, we have cupcakes!  This is what happened this morning.  I didn't want to throw out the bananas I had over-ripening and I already have a full bag of frozen banana slices in the freezer (what a great way to save the bananas before they over-ripen - just slice 'em up, freeze 'em, and then throw 'em in a smoothie when you don't have any fresh ones.)

I'm not the biggest fan of banana bread - in fact, I barely tolerate it - but if you throw in crushed pineapple, nuts, coconut, and then smother it in creame cheese frosting, how can it not taste good?!  That's what hummingbird cupcakes are.  A lovely name, no?  I don't know what hummingbirds have to do with banana, pineapple, coconut, pecans or cream cheese - but who doesn't love this combination - and who doesn't love hummingbirds?  Life's short.  Eat cupcakes.

Hummingbird Cupcakes
adapted from Annie's Eats

makes 24 cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
11 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1¼ tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups mashed ripe banana (about 4 bananas)
2/3 cup crushed pineapple, drained
2/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
(plus an extra 1/3 cup toasted in the oven at 325˚ F for 4 minutes for a pretty and tasty topping)

For the frosting:
(I strongly recommend doubling the following for the 24 cupcakes...better to have extra than not enough!)
8 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, at room temperature
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F and line cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the butter, vanilla, and sugar and beat until blended and smooth.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Mix in the mashed banana.  At this point, switch to a spatula to mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Gently fold in the pineapple, nuts (if using), and coconut until evenly mixed.

Divide the batter between the prepared liners, filling each about ¾ full.  Bake for 20-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth.  Frost the cupcakes after they are completely cooled.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Red Beans and Rice

It's been over a year since Jim and I escaped to New Orleans and some days I still miss it terribly.  Especially on days when the world seems like a crazy place with crazy people who do crazy things (not the good kind of crazy.)  It feels like an older and better time in the French Quarter - with jazz pouring out into the streets and horse-drawn carriages going past you while you sip on coffee and nibble beignets.  This compelled me to make red beans and rice.  I've never made it before.  I noticed all the recipes for red beans and rice used thyme (yay I love thyme) - so I included that - but otherwise, this recipe is a whole lotta experimentation.  It came out really good.  You really can use any kind of sausage in this dish.  I chose linguica tonight because I haven't had it in forever, I love it, and the occasional indulgence will not kill me but will make me rather happy.  I even made white rice because I'm on vacation and life's too short to not indulge in the delicious but less nutritionally beneficial grain.  So eat something delicious and don't forget to give the people you love a squeeze tonight.

Red Beans and Rice
serves 4

2 Tbsp canola oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced and divided in half
1 small onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
8 oz. sausauge of your choice, sliced
1/2 lb.dry  red kidney beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
4 cups of water
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup tomato sauce
rice for serving

In a large pot, heat the canola oil over medium heat.  Saute half of the garlic, the onion, the green pepper, salt,  pepper, cayenne, and thyme for about 5 minutes until the veggies are tender.  Then add the sausage and the bay leaf and saute for another 5 minutes.  Add the beans, the rest of the garlic, and the water (more if necessary so that everything in the pot is covered.)  Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium.  Cook uncovered, keeping your eye on it, stirring occasionally, making sure everything stays covered and nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.  After about an hour, most of your liquid will be gone.  Once it looks very dry, add the chicken broth and tomato sauce.  Cook for another half an hour.  Then check your beans.  If they are tender, mash about half your mixture against the pot with a  spoon.  Then continue to cook on low, adding more water if necessary.  You don't want it to be dry, but you don't want it to be like soup either.  Check out my photo.  Serve hot with rice.


"Dirty" Broccoli

I love broccoli so very much that I'm surprised that this is the first time it's making an appearance on the blog.  In fact, I cook it at least once a week.  Well, today I finally had time to take a couple of pictures while I prepared one of my favorite ways to have broccoli on the side.  I owned Ellie Krieger's cookbook for over five years before I finally decided to try this recipe out.  I just never felt like it was necessary to add breadcrumbs to my broccoli.  Garlic...yes.  Olive oil...yes.  Breadcrumbs just seems like unnecessary calories.  However, I am very glad I finally tried the whole breadcrumb thing, because it is DE-licious!  I decided to use seasoned breadcrumbs instead of plain and it makes the dish so much more flavorful.

Regardless of how I choose to use my broccoli in a dish, I always first steam my broccoli in the microwave in a covered microwave-safe dish.  It comes out perfectly cooked - with some bite to it - and then you can season it however you chose or add it to a stir fry or pasta dish.  So see the directions below if you just want an easy way to make perfect broccoli any and every time you need it.  You can also roast the broccoli - which is amazing all on it's own.  Roast for 20-30 minutes at 425 degrees, stirring once halfway through.  Just sprinkle with olive, salt, and pepper first.

"Dirty" Broccoli
adapted from Healthy Appetite by Ellie Krieger

1 bunch broccoli (abot 1-1/4 lb), cut into florets
1 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp kosher salt

Microwave the broccoli with the water covered for 4 minutes.  While the broccoli cooks, heat the oil on medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Then add the breadcrumbs and cook for another 2 minutes until they are toasted.  Then remove from the heat.  When the broccoli is finished, remove with a slotted spoon so as to not get any of the water as well and add to the bread crumbs.  Toss well and serve hot.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Baked Cod with Parsley-Lemon Chimichurri and Mediterranean Potatoes

I have been too busy these last few weeks to blog anything.  I have cooked nothing new, and if I had, I certainly would not have had the time to take pictures or write about it.  Between work and school and Adrienne, I've been a very busy momma.  It's been such a long time since I've blogged a recipe that I think I forgot how - I already posted this five minutes ago without any back-story...unacceptable.  It's just that I hear Adrienne and Jim in the background having so much fun, that I can't be much longer.  So - very quickly - I will share this fantastically healthy recipe with you all.  If you want a very healthy and simple way to cook fish and potatoes in just one dish, then here is your answer.  The potatoes were so unbelievably flavorful with only the tinsiest bit of olive oil.  I would have never thought to add olives to my potatoes, but it worked so well!  All the flavor from the garlic, shallots, and olives really made the need for copious amounts of oil obsolete.  That, and the cod was cooked perfectly.  So if you want a healthy and light one dish fish recipe, then this is a winner.

Baked Cod with Parsley-Lemon Chimichurri and Mediterranean Potatoes
from America's Test Kitchen

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
4 large red potatoes, about 1-1/2 pounds, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp kalimata olives, chopped
4 6-oz pieces of cod (or any other white fish)
salt and pepper

Place your oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.  Combine 1 Tbsp of the olive oil, the parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl, combine the potatoes with the remaining olive oil, garlic, shallots, and olives.  After spraying a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray, add the potatoes in an even layer.  Bake in the oven for 45 minutes (The recipe said 30, but after the whole process was complete, my potatoes were still raw.  I would go for 45 instead.  Check to see if they are tender before adding the fish.)  While the potatoes are cooking, season your cod fillets with about 1/8 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper.  Then once the potatoes are removed from the oven, place the fillets (skin side down if they have skin) on top of the potatoes.  Return the dish to the oven and cook for another 25 minutes.  Top each cod fillet with some of the parsley-lemon chimichurri and enjoy.