Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spice Rack Challenge: Cinnamon: Mushroom Moussaka

I may have gone off the proverbial eggplant deep-end with this recipe. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I love eggplant. I promise I will refrain from using eggplant on the blog for a few months. Just please allow me to tempt you with one last eggplant recipe here… and yes, there’s cinnamon in there – in fact, it is the signature flavor of moussaka…. besides eggplant.

(To check out the other Spice Rack Challenges I have participated in click: mace, basil, coriander,  cardamom, mint, dill, …. To check out the various Spice Rack Challenge Round Ups, click on Mother’s Kitchen here. )

Straight from Moosewood Cookbook (another favorite of mine, along with eggplant) – I present three of the loveliest layers of flavor you will ever eat: Mushroom Moussaka.

1.       Peel and slice 3 medium eggplants about ¼ inch thick. Salt the slices and layer them in a colander. Allow the salt to draw out the bitter juices of the eggplant. (about 20-30 minutes).

2.       While the eggplant and salt are doing their thing, start on the mushroom layer. Saute 2 cups of chopped onions. Add 2 pounds of sliced mushrooms and cook together till nice and golden and soft. Add about 5 cloves of chopped garlic also.

3.       Add a 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes with all the liquid and 6 ounces of tomato paste. Spices include 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon basil and lots of black pepper. Stir and cook. Stir and cook. It will get nice and thick.

4.       Add 1 C fresh parsley, ½ C bread crumbs and ½ C parmesan cheese to the mushrooms. Mix well and set aside. That layer is done!

5.       Rescue the eggplants from their salt bath. Pat them dry with clean towels. Bake them in 375 degrees for about 20-30 minutes till super soft. They can pile on top of each other on the baking sheet. Another layer done!

6.       While the eggplant is baking, work on the Béchamel layer. Melt 3 T butter. Add 4 T flour. Whisk and cook, whisk and cook. Slowly pour in 2 ½ C hot milk (I use skim). Whisk and cook for about 8 minutes. Add 2 T more of flour. Whisk and cook. Add 1 C Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Whisk and cook. The sauce should be thick and smooth.

7.       Ready for the famous moussaka layers? Oil a huge casserole dish and start the layering: ¾ of the eggplant, then all the mushroom sauce, then the remaining eggplant, then all the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and a bit more Parmesan. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes.

8.       Allow to cool for a while before cutting (unlike me) to get a great layered effect when you serve it.

Some thoughts: I made this on a Tuesday. I get crazy menu ideas sometimes and get in the mood for a ‘big’ meal on a work day. But you know what? Making this for my family is not really all that ‘big’ to me; I love getting creative in the kitchen and I find ‘big’ cooking to be very relaxing. I mean, look what I created!! It’s beautiful – you have to admit that, even if you don’t like eggplant!

This is a huge recipe, so be prepared for leftovers. My hubby thought it was a bit saucy and could have used some rice. I loved it as is and happily ate it that night and for lunch for the next few days!

So what about you and eggplant? Lover or hater?

PS – I was just looking around the internet at other Moosewood Mushroom Moussaka recipes to find a handy link for you and they are super easy to find. Click away. But what I notice is that most of them out there use eggs in the béchamel sauce, which means that those recipes come from an older version of the Moosewook Cookbook. I use and love the revised edition.

Hey- is anyone out there up for a Moosewood Cookbook Challenge in the coming year??? You know, maybe make something from one of the famous Moosewood cookbooks once a month and round them up here? Let me know!  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pan Roasted Chicken with Citrus Sauce

I don’t know what comes over me sometimes. I mean, chopping and cooking bones?  Well, I am a complete sucker for all things citrus, so I couldn’t say no when I read this recipe. Let the chopping and cooking begin! This recipe comes straight from Food and Wine Magazine, January 2010. Click here for the original recipe. 

 Taste: A++! Convenience: B-….. Luckily, it was a lazy Sunday afternoon and I had all the time I needed. Start nice and early – the broth could be made a day or two ahead.

My personal touch to the magazine editor's note: simplified.... um. 

(Actually, chopping and cooking bones is a great way to create a rich, deeply flavored broth. So, be like me, don’t be afraid, chop and cook those bones. You won’t be sorry!)

Here’s what you need:
2 navel oranges
2 limes
4 chicken breasts, bones in and skin on
2 T vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
½ t dried thyme
1 C dry white wine
3 C chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1 T olive oil
1 T butter

Here’s what you do: Take a deep breath, get a super sharp knife and make sure you have plenty of time before dinner! J

1.       Give the citrus fruit the full treatment. Zest them. Peel them with a super sharp knife. Remove the sections by cutting in between the membranes. Work over a bowl and save all the juice. Set all this aside.

2.       Give the chicken the full treatment. Remove the breast meat from the bones. (I actually learned how to de-bone a chicken by watching Youtube! I do it all the time and with confidence now!)  Set the meat aside and chop the bones into pieces.

3.       Chop the onion and garlic. Set aside.

4.       Heat 2 T vegetable oil in skillet. Cook bones until brown, about 5 minutes. A first for me. Very professional chef-like.

5.       Add the onions, garlic and thyme. Cook another 5 minutes or so. The onions should be getting soft and golden.

6.       Add the wine. Cook for another 5-10 minutes or until the wine is reduced to ½ cup.

7.       Add the chicken stock and the citrus zest. Continue to simmer for another 10-20 minutes. The bones should be doing their magic right about now.

8.       Add the reserved citrus juice and simmer for another 10 minutes or so.

9.       Remove the bones and strain the broth. I chose to de-grease it in an ice bath.

10.   Return the broth to the heat and boil until desired thickness – another 5-10 minutes.  (you want about 1 ½ Cups total)

11.   Somewhere in there, generously pepper the chicken on the skin side. Brown, skin side down,  in an oven proof skillet in 1 T olive oil for about 5 minutes. Carefully turn over and place skillet in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is just done.

12.   Add 1 T butter and reserved citrus sections to broth. Heat gently.

13.   Serve with pride! I served mine with rice and shredded carrots and zucchini.

PS Happy Thanksgiving to all my blogger friends out there. My daughter and I are on a mini-vacation  for the long weekend - visiting my parents in Florida.  No cooking for me at all - and that's a change of pace for me. I left a turkey breast in the fridge for my hubby and sons (who are not traveling with us) and a casserole of cheesy potatoes in the fridge. Instructions: plop one in the crock pot and the other in the oven. Take time to say thanks for the many blessings you have! Health. Family. Friends. Faith. Good food. Freedom. Work. The list could go on all day, couldn't it? 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cranberry- Marmalade Pinwheels

Are you on the hunt for a very tricky recipe? One that will make you pull your hair out? Perhaps let a few choice words spew out? A recipe that takes all day and leaves you feeling frustrated and exhausted at the same time?

Look no further; I present the second cookie in my series of cookies for my annual Cookie Walk Fund Raiser.

Here’s what you need for the filling (which was actually pretty darn tasty)
1 T cornstarch
¾ C whole berry cranberry sauce
¼ C orange marmalade

Cook over low until boiling. Then cool for 1 hour.

Here’s what you need for the cookie (which also was pretty darn tasty)
¾ C brown sugar
½ C butter
1 ¾ C flour
1 t baking powder
1 t grated orange peel
¼ t salt
¼ t allspice (which I love – it made the dough very warm and cozy tasting)

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix well – I was reduced to using my hands. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

After everything has had a chance to chill in the fridge, roll the dough out into a 16x8 rectangle on a highly floured surface …use a measuring tape and trim away excess.  Spread the cranberry marmalade mixture over.  Then simply ('simply'.... yeah, right…) , cut the rectangle in half and roll each half up into a pretty roll. Be prepared for filling to squeeze out everywhere and for the dough to stick to everything. Wrap (again) and chill in the freezer for a few hours.

When the little logs are sufficiently firm, simply ( 'simply'.... yeah, right…) slice and bake….. 375 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Use a greased cookie sheet. Remove them immediately with a metal spatula to cool on a wire rack. 

I don’t know why I get these wild ideas to try new and involved recipes. Actually I was rather pleased at how these turned out… they just took some TLC to make. Stay tuned for more Cookie Walk recipes as soon as I recover from making these. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's for dinner?

10:00 pm – pull out a pork tenderloin from the freezer. allow to thaw overnight in the fridge. be thankful for another day. kiss hubby. fall into a deep sleep….. another long day ended!

6:00 am – grab a cup of coffee. jump in the shower. toss on something from the closet.  run a comb through the hair.  help teenage son wake up to a nice breakfast (well, cereal or a bagel…. juice on a good day…) . kiss the hubby.

6:30 am – mix 1/3 C real maple syrup, 1 t dry mustard, 1 t cloves, 1 t ginger, ½ t cinnamon , ½ t black pepper . pour over the pork tenderloin in a heavy duty plastic bag. throw in fridge.

6:45 am – walk the dog around the block.

7:00 am – kiss son, hubby and dog good-bye (do you mind that I kiss my dog???? he’s totally kissable)

7:30 am – 5:00 pm – teach classes, practice music, attend meetings, deal with the mountain of paperwork, pay bills, make phone calls, run errands and _____________ (you fill in the blank)

5:30 pm – start dreaming about your awesome dinner waiting for in the fridge. drive carefully home. create some type of side dishes.

6:00 pm – start up the grill. retrieve the pork from the fridge. grill to a golden perfection. slice thinly. serve with whatever seems yummy to you (baked cauliflower, baked potato, acorn squash. )

6:30 pm – greet son and hubby with more kisses and a warm, homemade meal. feel happy. feel satisfied.

7:00 pm – enjoy the evening. play around on the blog. beat the hubby at scrabble. 

10:00 pm – start over. 

Chicken and Asparagus with Penne Pasta

In June I posted my first recipe from the Mayo Clinic web site: Baked Chicken with Wild Rice, Onion and Tarragon. It was an A+. Today I offer my second from the same web site: Chicken with Asparagus and Penne Pasta.  Another A+.

This was a super quick meal after a long day at work; pasta is the quintessential comfort food in our house. Can you believe that this amount equals 4 portions???? That’s crazy!! I guess when you cut out fat and calories, you can beef up the serving amount. Try this; you’ll be impressed by how flavorful and satisfying it is.

I followed the recipe to the letter, except for two changes. One: I added hot pepper flakes when browning the chicken. Two: I used 1 T of olive oil instead of spraying the pan (I don’t like to spray my cast iron skillet) Oh, and a third change: I used Feta instead of goat cheese.

Here’s what you need for four huge portions:
3 C penne pasta (I used wheat pasta)
2 C chopped asparagus
12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cloves garlic ( I used lots more)
Hot pepper flakes to taste (we like lots…. Maybe 1 teaspoon)
2 cans (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes including juice
2 ounces Feta cheese - crumbled
2 T Parmesan for serving

Here’s what you do:
Cook pasta according to package. Set aside. Cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces and steam just until fork tender. Set aside. 
Heat 1 T olive oil (I measured my oil so I didn’t go overboard) in a skillet, add garlic, hot pepper flakes and chicken. Cook until chicken is tender, but not dried out.

Add the tomatoes and continue to cook for a few minutes more.
In a large bowl combine the pasta, asparagus, tomato and chicken mixture and the 2 ounces of Feta. Mix well.  I also added about ¼ C of the pasta water, but it really didn’t need it. Serve with a few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.  Great leftovers for lunch.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cardamom Shortbread Cookies

One of the many hats I wear is 8th grade American History teacher at a small Lutheran school. This role came to me late in my teaching career, and at first, I was intimidated at the depth and breadth of the topic. So, in my usual fashion, I determined to do the best I could; I took many, many history classes, read everything that came my way, upped my teaching certification, and voila! I now teach 8th grade American History! Not only do I teach it, I LOVE it! Just ask my students.

Organizing and chaperoning a biennial (“happening every two years”… had to look that one up in the dictionary….) trip to Washington DC is a highlight of the job. To get there, we need money, so another hat I sometimes wear is Fund Raiser.

My annual Cookie Walk is an excellent way to earn funds – it’s pure profit. Click here to see last year’s event. To make it successful, I need lots and lots and lots of cookies. Today I share my first batch: Cardamom Shortbread Cookies, now all tucked away in my freezer for the big day.

Here’s what you need for the cookie:
1/3 C sugar
1 C butter – no substitutions here
1 t vanilla
¼ t almond
2 ¼ C flour
2 t cardamom

 Here’s what you need for the glaze:
1 C powdered sugar
½ t vanilla
1/8 t almond
1-3 T milk

Here’s what you do:
Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and almond flavors. Mix together the dry ingredients and incorporate them into the butter mixture. Line two 9-inch pans with foil and spray the daylights out of them. Make sure the foil is hanging over the tops because you will need to be able to grab on to it in order to lift the cookies from the pan.

As you can see, the dough was dry and crumbly, but it seemed OK. Use your hands to press the dough into the two pans. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool for 10 minutes. Lift gently from pans with the foil ‘handles.’ Cut them into 16 wedges while still warm.

When completely cool, drizzle glaze over them and CAREFULLY separate. There were some broken ones, but they went quickly into my mouth.

Delicate. Spicy. Buttery. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Eggplant Parmesan - Lite

Don’t let the word ‘eggplant’ turn you off- after all, it’s just a vegetable.  Don’t let the word ‘lite’ turn you off – there is no frying involved here, and taste is not compromised at all.

Straight from my favorite cookbook, Moosewood Cookbook, New Revised Edition, I present a classic. Only better. 

Follow the directions exactly and you will have the most impressive (and easy) and I predict your
 'new favorite way' to serve eggplant - ever. 
(I think my star, check mark, smiley face, and gross smudge speak volumes.... don't you?)

Gather all the goodies. 

Be sure your bread crumbs are highly seasoned. Bake the eggplant till it's nice and soft and toasty on both sides. Sometimes, I flip it over to brown it. You could always give it the broiler treatment. 

Also make sure your tomato sauce is highly seasoned. I sauteed garlic in olive oil, added a large can of tomato puree, seasoned with basil, oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes. 

Sauce. Eggplant. Cheese. Repeat. 

"Heaven!" she sang.