Monday, February 28, 2011


I have a confession to make.  During the first 5-10 years I taught, my breakfast consisted of one of the following: chocolate Pop-Tarts, these Red Baron frozen breakfast pizza things, or the drive-thru at Krystal's. (Sorry, Mom!)  I've never been much for cereal, and as I lived in Florida at the time, the brilliance of oatmeal and its options had not dawned on me yet.  These things were fast, cheap, and tasty.  "Good for me" wasn't at the top of the list when I was still learning how to survive in a classroom without being buried under the avalanche of grading and planning.  I can't quite say what was the catalyst that led me away from my slightly less than healthy breakfasts, but eventually I stopped eating all of them. 

                                          Frozen and waiting to bake
Now for my second confession:  I secretly miss the Pop-Tarts.  Imagine how psyched I was to see a recipe for a home-made version!  I was surfing on Epicurious when it popped (HA!  sorry...) up.  Their version calls for strawberry jam, but really, you can put whatever you want in the middle.  After all, Pop-Tarts are a less perishable version of hand-pies, and pie is only limited by your imagination and taste-buds.  I had Wild Blueberry Jam on hand, so that's what went in ours.  Next up:  Nutella!
                                          Just out of the oven

I opted not to use the Epicurious dough recipe, but only because I had some of Martha Stewart's pate brise already made. They're almost identical, so it wouldn't have made much of a difference; use whatever pie crust recipe you're most comfortable making.  I've included links to both recipes.
                                         This would be one of the smaller versions...
Possibly the best thing?  You can take each through the freezing stage, wrap them up, and bake them off when you'd like a fresh hand pie for dessert.  And just so you know, there wasn't a ton of measuring going on as I rolled out the dough, so I wound up with widely varying sized pastries.  Strangely, they all tasted fine.  (Er, I didn't eat them all myself.  The others who ate them said they were good.  You can ask my husband.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What's That I Smell?

We're having insulation sprayed into our attic today, to see if we can cut down on the ridiculous amount of money we spend on heating oil each winter.  It's kind of stinky, and though it dissipates quickly, as long as it's being sprayed's kind of stinky.  I needed something to compete with the smell, and voila!  A ragu. 

We had about half a pound of bulk Italian Sausage (from Maple Grove Farm in Putnam Station, NY--highly recommend their products!) left over from breakfast sandwiches this weekend, and I have a fair amount of tomatoes frozen from last summer, so this was born.  It's pretty standard; no surprises, just tasty. 

I really love that 1/2-3/4 of a pound of sausage is going to give us four meals: two lunches and two dinners.  I'll use half of the sauce on pasta one night, and the other half mixed with ricotta cheese in calzones one night.  Mmm...already dreaming of the leftovers.

Sausage Ragu
by Me
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2-3/4  lb bulk Italian sausage
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 large onion, diced small
1 stalk celery, diced small
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried basil, or 1 tbsp chopped fresh
1/2 tsp dried marjoram (can also use fresh, but it's strong so maybe start with 1 tsp and go from there?)
1 small hot red chili, minced (can sub in 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or omit)
2 cups tomato puree/crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
salt to taste

1.  Heat olive oil in medium saucepan or large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage, cook, using spoon to break up into small pieces.  When almost cooked through, scoot it over in the pan and add carrots through chili.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened. 

2.  Add tomatoes, stir through, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook until desired thickness.  I cooked mine down for about 30-45 minutes.  Add parsley.

3.  Taste, and add salt to your preference.  Cook about five more minutes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kneading some quiet time

I have to admit that for years, I was initmidated by yeast breads.  I conjured up catastrophes in my mind's eye, and just avoided them.  While I still don't make them that often, when I do, I'm reminded again why I love the process.  There's something so other-worldly about watching a few simple ingredients grow into a bread dough, and the smell...that's reason enough to make yeast breads.  And yeast-cinnamon rolls...? Drool-worthy and worth every second.  But that's not what we're here for.  Focus, Christine!

I've also discovered that kneading is one of the best activities on Earth.  The slow, steady push-twist-pull; the feel of a ragged, sticky mess turning into an elastic, smooth's meditative.  And did I mention the smell?

We had company over for dinner last night, and while I could have just picked up some amazing french bread at the Dogwood Bakery in Wadhams (that place rocks) I thought it would be nice to make a flatbread recipe that I've made once before.  It's from Cooking Light's Jan/Feb 2002 issue, and I just made it for the first time last Christmas. 

The recipe is Flatbread with Oven-dried Tomatoes, Rosemary, and Fontina, and the first time I made it I stuck pretty closely to the recipe.  Unfortunately, I didn't oven-dry my own tomatoes; I just used some sun-dried tomatoes that I had in the pantry.  They turned into bitter tomato crackers on top of the flatbread.  Blech.  Fortunately, we just picked them off and the bread was fine.  But it was a good reminder to think through to the end result when I'm cooking.

It was also a good reminder that when it's not tomato season, I can sub in something else.  I could have gone to the store and bought Roma tomatoes...but I don't really want tomatoes that were grown 1500 miles from here and trucked in just so I can have tomatoes in February.  I don't care how oven-roasted they are, nothing beats a home-grown tomato in season.  (Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I usually do buy trucked in tomatoes by the end of winter.  My intentions are good, but my will-power is not always up to the task when it comes to wanting a tomato, even a mediocre one, between October and June.  Because seriously, that's eight months...!) But I couldn't leave the bread naked, either.  I mean, this is a PG rated program, after all.

I decided to caramelize a red onion with some garlic and rosemary, and put that on top.  And while I was at it, I took C.L.'s advice to try subbing provolone for the fontina.  Bellissimo!

Flatbread with Caramelized Onions, Rosemary, and Provolone
adapted, barely, from Cooking Light

2 tbsp olive oil
4 rosemary sprigs (I used 2, because I only had 4 total)
2 3/4 c all-purpose flour (I subbed in about 1 c of whole wheat)
1 pacakge dry yeast (about 2 1/4 tsp)
1 cup plus 2 tbsp very warm water (120-130 degrees)
2 tsp chopped fresh or 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp salt, divided
olive oil, to grease the bowl and brush a little over the dough
1/4-1/3 c caramelized onions (see below)
1 c provolone cheese, shredded

1.  Place oil and rosemary sprigs in a small saucepan; heat over low until you smell the rosemary.  Turn heat off and let stand 15 minutes.  Gently squeeze oil from rosemary and discard sprigs.

2.  Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.  Combine 1/2 c flour and yeast in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk.  Add 1/2 c warm water; let stand 20 minutes.  Add rosemary oil, 2 cups flour, 1/2 c plus 2 tbsp warm water, chopped rosemary, and 3/4 tsp salt; stir until a soft dough forms.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tsp at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel tacky).

3.  Place dough in a large bowl coated with olive oil, turning to coat top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, one hour or until doubled in size.  (Press two fingers into dough.  If indentation remains,dough has risen enough.)  Punch dough down; form into a ball.  Place directly on baking sheet.  Let rest five minutes.  (While dough rises, make caramelized onions.)

4.  Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

5.  Roll dough into a 12-inch circle.  Brush surface with olive oil.  Arrange onions on top, leaving a 1/2 inch border.  Sprinkle with cheese; press lightly to help toppings adhere. Bake at 500 for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. 

Caramelized Onions

2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium to large red onion, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4 inch half-moons
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 tsp salt (from 1 tsp in bread recipe)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the onions, garlic, rosemary, and salt; coat with the oil, and lower the heat to medium-low.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and barely caramelizing, about 15 minutes.  Lower heat if they seem to be cooking too fast.  Stir in pepper. Set aside until ready to top flatbread.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Bacon-y Love Story

Around this house, love is spelled B-R-E-A-K-F-A-S-T.  True love is spelled B-A-C-O-N.  So while I'm cooking with a little less meat, celebrating Valentine's Day without bacon might cause my husband to think that I don't love him anymore.  We can't have that, now can we?

Valentine's dinner was breakfast, with bacon and a healthy spin.  I was surprised at first by the pairing of eggs and lentils, but the yolk flowing over the lentil "stew" was one brilliant combination of earthy and silky.  The vinegar gave it a bare hint of tang, and I like tomatoes in anything.  I'd serve it again for breakfast, lunch or dinner. 

The Parmesan Popovers I served with dinner are a Cooking Light recipe from 2010.

Here's the link to the recipe I used.  It was easily halved for the two of us.  (I have to say that cooking has vastly improved some of my math skills.  I'm still not hopeful about geometry, though.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Not a Weeknight Dish

...but oh, so good if you've got the time and inclination on a weekend.  And it will feed you a few times during the week, which makes it even better.

I've been thinking more and more about trying to use less and less meat in our meals. During the summer, this is easy.  During the winter, though, I make a ton of stews and braises.  The oven helps warm the house (we don't have active heat in our kitchen...) and makes it smell amazing.  But I do want to fit out the door once winter is over, so less meat it needs to be (because let's be frank: you know I'm not really exercising much right now).

If I'm going to make meals with less or no meat, though, I still want them to be warming and hearty.  It's a balmy 35 degrees today, and caprese salad ain't gonna cut it.  So I went through the root vegetables we still have from our CSA share, and built a vegetarian shepherd's pie.  If you omit the butter and use olive oil and leave off the sprinkling of cheese, it's vegan. 

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
by Me

For "interior" of pie:
Roasted veggies:
1 buttercup or acorn or 1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1" shapes (I don't cube carrots, because...
                       they're round; why waste the edges just so they're cubes?)
1 large turnip, peeled and cut into 1" shapes
1 large onion, peeled, root left intact but cleaned, and cut into 8ths--each piece should
                       have a piece of root so it stays together
1 medium celeriac, peeled and cut into 1" shapes
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1" shapes
1 tsp dried thyme (could add more to taste)
1 tsp fresh chopped marjoram (could use rosemary instead)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Sauteed veggies and gravy:
1 tbsp olive oil

8 oz cremini or white button mushrooms, quartered
1 leek, halved and then sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley

For topper:
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 large rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1" shapes
1 apple, peeled and quartered
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 c vegetable broth
1/2 c grated pecorino romano cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine all of the roasted veggie ingredients in a large bowl, and toss until well combined (be careful not to break apart the onions).  Turn out onto two large baking sheets and roast, one on top rack, one on bottom rack, for 15 minutes.  Stir, switch racks, and roast another 15 minutes.  Vegetables should be just tender.  Put back into large bowl; set aside.

Cover potatoes and rutabaga with water, bring to a boil, and cook until almost tender, about 15 minutes.  Add the apple, cook until everything is tender; about another 5 minutes.  Drain and return to pot.  Add 1/2 c vegetable broth, butter, salt and pepper and mash until desired consistency.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high.  Add mushrooms and cook until browned all over.  Reduce heat to medium and add leeks; cook, stirring often, until leeks begin to soften.  Add cabbage, thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook until cabbage releases liquid and pan is almost dry, about 10 minutes.  Add to bowl with roasted vegetables, mix to combine.

In same skillet, melt butter, sprinkle in flour, and whisk til smooth, about one minute.  Whisk in 1 1/2 c broth, salt and pepper; bring to a boil, whisking occasionally.  Lower heat, stir in parsley and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. 

Assembly:  Oil a 13 x 9 baking dish and pour in mixed vegetables.  Pour gravy over.  Smooth mashed vegetables on top, sprinkle with cheese.  Bake on top rack of oven for 30-40 minutes until some of gravy bubbles up around the topping. You might want to put a sheet pan under the baking dish to catch spills.  Just saying.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Spaetzle a Day

I'm sure you're just like me.  You are often faced with the question of what to do with all of that leftover spaetzle.

Okay, me neither.

I've made spaetzle twice, but not because I don't like it. My sister-in-law and my brother got me hooked on the stuff during the "German food nights" we've had while visiting.  (Ask me sometime why Missie has a spaetzle maker.)  Spaetzle, for the uninitiated, are like a cross between pasta and a dumpling.  They're ridiculously easy to make, even if you don't have a spaetzle maker*, and they're versatile.  The recipe I use is from the box the spaetzle maker came in, but I've included a link to an easy one below.

The problem, if you'd like to call it that, is that the recipe I use makes enough for 6-8 people.  I can cut it down easily...but I'd have to actually remember to do that.  And besides, leftover spaetzle is pretty fabulous.
The recipe I use calls for simply boiling the little darlings dumplings for 2-3 minutes and then serving.  The recipe below has you drain them and then saute them in butter.  I did kind of a combination of the two. 

We ate the first batch (no sauteing) with a sweet-and-sour red cabbage recipe, and I stowed the rest in the fridge.  Tonight, I pulled it out and tossed it in a pan over medium-high heat (1/2 tbsp canola oil, 1 1/2 tbsp butter).  I let it sit for about 3 minutes before stirring, and did that for a total of about 8 minutes.  The result:  crispy but tender spaetzle.

We had it with this cabbage recipe.  (Whew.  Thank heavens for the ham, crispy spaetzle bits and carrots.  This would be one white looking picture!)

Ham and Cabbage Saute
by Me

1/2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 pound ham steak, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (you could also use bacon or Canadian bacon; if using bacon, drain off  most of the fat once it's cooked to your liking)
1 tsp salt, divided (you might use less, depending on the saltiness of your ham; I used about 3/4 tsp this time)
1/2  large sweet onion, cut into 1/4" slices (about 1-1 1/2 cups)
1 medium carrot, peeled, quartered and diced thinly
1/2 medium head of green cabbage, cored and sliced thinly (about 6-8 cups)
1/2-1 tsp of dried thyme (I used about 3/4 tsp)
1/2 tsp of caraway seeds (more or less, or omit, to your taste)
1 scant tbsp cider vinegar
3/4 c of water, plus more if necessary
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

1.  Heat the canola oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the ham and cook without stirring for about 2 minutes; stir and repeat.  Add the onion and carrot, and a small pinch of the salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes or until onion and carrot begin to soften.

2.  Add cabbage to onion, carrot and ham mixture.  Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt, stir to combine.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about  5 minutes, or until cabbage begins to wilt.  Add thyme and caraway seeds, stir through.

3.  Make a well in the center of the cabbage, and add the vinegar.  Cook, stirring, until vinegar is evaporated.  Add water, stir, and cook, covered, for about 8-10 minutes, or until cabbage is well-wilted but still slightly crisp to the bite.  Add more water to keep from drying out while cooking, if necessary. 

4.  Uncover and let most of the water cook off.  Stir in nutmeg and pepper, taste, and adjust salt to your preference.

Serves 4.

I served this over the spaetzle, but it would also be grand with mashed potatoes or simple buttered egg noodles.  I've also been known to eat this by itself because I like it so much.

*If you don't have a spaetzle maker, you can press the spaetzle dough through the holes of a colander using the back of a ladle.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

If You're a Chili Purist...

you might want to skip this post.

I have to admit that I'm not much interested in the debates about chili, and barbecue sauce, and pulled pork, and...  As long as it all tastes good, who cares?  Why narrow your options!?

Therefore, the chile recipe in this house is based more on what I have on hand than on any set-in-stone ideas.  Sometimes it has meat, sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes, it even has *gasp* "fake meat."  You know, that soy-based stuff.  Which I like.  Two major admissions in one post.  I've probably just lost half of the two readers I have.  But I am compelled to tell the truth about food.

Anyway, tonight's chili was served with the Maple Cornbread recipe found in the 2009 Cooking Light Annual Recipes.  The cornbread was fast--maybe 30 minutes total-- and only slightly sweet.  A perfect match for the chili.
(You don't have a smudge on your screen.  That's the steam from the chili.)

Beef and Roasted Red Pepper Chili
by Me

2 tsp vegetable or canola oil
1 heaping tsp chopped jalapeno (adjust to your spiciness tolerance)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 c chopped sweet onion
1 lb ground beef
1/4 tsp Chipotle Chili Powder (McCormick)*
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/4-1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper  (start with lower, add rest at end if desired)
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp of cocoa chile blend (McCormick)*
1 tsp cumin, I went heaping, but it depends on your taste
1 tsp kosher salt
15 oz can tomatoes (I used no-salt added diced)
15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 roasted red peppers, chopped
15 oz water, beer, or beef broth (I used water)
1 c frozen corn, no need to defrost
lime juice (I squeezed in a 1/4 wedge)

1.  Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium.  Add jalapeno, onion, garlic, and a tiny pinch of salt. Sweat until onions are almost translucent.  Add ground beef, breaking up as you put it into the pan.  Raise heat to medium high, and cook until beef is browned.  Add all of the seasonings, Chipotle Chile powder through salt; stir well.

2.  Add tomatoes, black beans, peppers, and liquid of choice.  Bring to a boil, add the corn, and immediately reduce the heat to medium-low.  Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  The longer you let it simmer, the thicker it gets; mine probably went about 40 minutes tonight because I decided last-minute to make the cornbread.

3.  Just before serving, stir in the lime juice.

*Spices can be expensive, but I like to play around with different flavors.  These two by McCormick are fun, and versatile.  The Chipotle Chile Powder adds a sweet-smoky heat, and the Cocoa Chile Powder adds a richness, or roundness, to the taste.  Both are great on pork and chicken, too.  You'll find excuses to use them.