Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Meals

A group of girlfriends and I get together monthly for ethnic dining. This month, though, we did something a little different--we had a brunch potluck at my friend Lisa's house. It was fantastic! I love brunch and don't eat a homemade brunch very often. We had a great combination of food, some bloody Marys and mimosas.

Lisa made huevos rancheros with eggs, black beans, tomatoes, avacado and more on corn tortillas. Leah made a tasty French toast bake--I just had to have seconds since I forgot to put syrup on my first helping! Sun made a nice and buttery cheesy hash brown bake with Cornflakes on top, as well as blueberry crumble and crab ragoon types things, but instead of crab they had bacon in them. I was somewhat lame and just brought a fruit salad. Everything was very tasty, and as usual, we had great conversation.

Since we went overboard a bit this weekend with eating and drinking, we made a simple and somewhat healthy dinner: chicken breasts with Cajun seasoning, asparagus with a really tasty
maple syrup-mustard sauce (for 1 lb. of asparagus, mix 1 tbs. each of maple syrup (the real stuff!), Dijon or honey mustard and olive oil. YUM!), and leftover Buca's garlic mashed potatoes.

In With the Cooks

On Saturday, Nate, my parents and joined my uncle, his girlfriend and some of their friends for a late lunch/early dinner at Buca Di Beppo. For those who may be unfamiliar with Buca's, it's a chain restaurant that serves family-style Italian food--lots of pasta, pizza and my absolute favorite, garlic mashed potatoes.

We got to sit at the table they have in the kitchen for big groups. It was pretty cool--we were in on all the action going on in the kitchen, listening to the chefs talk, seeing the waiters coming and going. Each time a waiter walked out with food, they would tell us what it was and we would ooh and ahh.

We enjoyed lots and lots of good food. Being family style, you only need to order a few dishes. Of course, we had way too much food. Our feast included spicy chicken rigatoni and apple Gorgonzola salad (pictured below), as well as spaghetti and meatballs, calamari, garlic bread, linguine frutti de mare, and penne with chicken and artichoke.
Everything was tasty, and I recommend checking out the kitchen table. It was fun with a large group.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Greek-Inspired Pasta

On Monday night, we--actually, it was Nate--made another recipe from the March 2010 issue of Cooking Light. This veggie meal was very tasty and filling. I recommend it!

Penne with Chickpeas, Feta and Tomatoes
8 oz. uncooked penne (we used whole wheat)
2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup shallots
3 garlic cloves, mined (we used about 6!)
1/2 chopped bell pepper
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 cups halved cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup (3 oz.) crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup small fresh basil leaves
1/2 teas. salt
1/2 teas. grated lemon rind
1/4 teas. black pepper

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shallots and garlic; saute 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in bell pepper and chickpeas; saute 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes; saute 2 minutes. Stir in pasta and reserved cooking liquid; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat. Add feta and remaining ingredients; toss to combine. Makes 4 servings.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Homemade Soda Bread, Beef and Guinness Stew

The March 2010 issue of Cooking Light came in the mail late last week, and we immediately starting picking out recipes to make.

Nate decided on beef and Guinness stew, and I'm glad I didn't put up a fight. It was delicious! I wouldn't stop talking about how good it tasted. Plus, we got to have some Guinness for sipping while we were cooking. Be warned that it does take a while to cook, but the finished product was well worth the almost 3.5 hours of prep and cooking. Here is the recipe. We followed it exactly, and the cooking times are spot on.

I also made some soda bread, also from this issue of Cooking Light. It's a healthy version, and is super tasty. I made one plain loaf and one loaf with raisins to have for breakfast. Here is that recipe:

Brown Soda Bread
cooking spray
2.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 steel-cut oats (such as McCann's)
2 tbs. brown sugar
1 tbs. wheat germ
1 teas. baking soda
1 teas. baking powder
1/2 teas. salt
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 325.
2. Coat 9x5 inch loaf pan.
3. Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups, and level with knife. Combine flours and next 6 ingredients (through salt). Combine buttermilk and egg; add to flour mixture. Stir until just combined.
4. Spoon mixture into prepared pan. Bake at 325 for 1 hour 5 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Invert bread onto wire rack; cool completely. Should produce 12 slices.

Serve with beef stew. YUM!

Indian at Home

One of my favorite ethnic foods is Indian food. While I have a cookbook that boasts 500 Indian recipes, I have yet to make anything out of it!

However, Nate and I are fond of buying curry sauces and frozen naan from Trader Joe's, as well as frozen samosas and pakoras from a local Indian grocery store, and cooking all that for a tasty meal.

That's what we did Saturday night. We had a curry sauce to use up, and with that, we cooked chicken, potatoes, green peppers, onions, jalapeno and chickpeas.

For an appetizer, we had some mini samosas and spinach pakoras.

We also bought some Indian-style Cheetos, only these are called "Naughty Tomato," and taste like spicy ketchup.

We also had papadum with mint chutney. With the curry, we heated up some garlic naan.

For dessert, we found some Indian cookies at the Indian grocery store.

It's not nearly as tasty as having Indian at a restaurant, but it's not bad for an easy, at-home meal.

Weird Looking, But Good Tasting Cookies

I continue to be on my cookie-baking kick (I think after this batch I'm going to be done for a while, though--too many sweets in the house!). Last week, I made some more oatmeal cookies. This time, with raisins. I followed this Betty Crocker recipe, but of course added some butterscotch chips. The last item in the recipe calls for 1 cup raisins--I used 1/2 raisins and 1/2 cup butterscotch chips.

Also--and I think this might be part of my problem with the way the cookies look--I substituted more butter for the shortening. Although I have shortening, I find it kind of gross, so I used butter instead. And, I melted the butter, more or less, instead of just softening it.

So they looked pretty weird and came apart pretty good. But, they were still soft and chewy and good tasty, so I can't complain too much!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Coconut Chicken Soup

I really, really love Thai flavors, so I was excited to try a crockpot recipe from one of my favorites, Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes.

I thought it turned out really well. We added a few things to make it spicy, but other than that, we stuck pretty close to the recipe. When I make it again, I think I'll sub another can of coconut milk for one of the cups of chicken broth. I'd love for the coconut flavor to be brought out more.

Thai-Style Coconut Chicken Soup
1 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4 in. pieces
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups bias-sliced carrots (I didn't have the patience for this, so I just chopped!)
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbs. grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 1-in. pieces or 1 teas. finely shredded lemon peel (I opted for the lemon peel because it was easier to come by)
1/2 teas. crushed red pepper
1 15-oz. can (lite) unsweetened coconut milk
1 medium red, yellow and/or green pepper, cut into 1/2-in. pieces (I used about a cup's worth)
2 4-oz. cans button or straw mushrooms, drained
1/4 cup snipped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts
(we added a jalapeno with the seeds plus many squirts of Sriracha sauce)

1. In slow cooker, combine chicken, broth, carrots, onion, ginger, garlic, lemon and crushed red pepper.
2. Cover; cook on low for 6-7 hours or high for 3-3.5 hours. If necessary, skim off fat. Stir in coconut milk, pepper, mushrooms and cilantro into chicken mixture. Cover, let stand 5-10 minutes. Remove and discard lemongrass if using. Ladle into bowls, Sprinkle with peanuts.

We served the soup over leftover rice we had. It tastes good both with and without the rice.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Middle Eastern at Casablanca

Today, for lunch before a play, Nate and I went to lunch at Casablanca, a Middle Eastern restaurant on Brady St. I, of course, have been craving falafel and I knew Nate would be up for trying it.

There was a brunch buffet available, but it didn't look quite as good and have quite as much food, as their weekly vegetarian lunch buffet. We elected to order off the menu. Everything we got was phenomenal and we talked about the food the entire time we were eating!

We started with the stuffed grape leaves--fresh grape leaves stuffed with rice and beef with some spices and served with a side of yogurt. (The pictures aren't the greatest--we were sitting next to a window with red curtains, so everything looks kind of pink!)

My meal came with soup, salad or rice. I got the lentil soup, which I had had before and knew it was really, really good. It's called Adas Majrous, with split yellow lentils simmered with carrots, onions and spices.

Nate ordered a kifta kabob sandwich (the rolled thing at the top of the picture below), which had spiced beef, tomatoes, onions and peppers wrapped in a thin pita. It was especially good with the grape leaves yogurt. He ordered rice with it, and we both couldn't stop talking about the rice! It tasted like basmati rice with almonds, cinnamon and a lot of other stuff.

I ordered the vegetarian Casablanca Combination, which included a lot of my favorite things: pita bread, falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh and piece of spinach pie. It was all really, really tasty, but I think I prefer the Greek version of spinach pie a bit more--there's usually cheese in it, and I'm a sucker for feta!

All in all, it was a wonderful meal, and Nate can't stop talking about it. :) I'm anxious to try other Middle Eastern restaurants in Milwaukee with him!

Tuna Noodle Casserole--Light Version

I've been craving tuna noodle casserole, and I stumbled across a "light" recipe in America's Favorite Brand Name Light Cooking. I made it last Sunday afternoon and we had it for dinner Monday night.

I thought it was really tasty. It wasn't as creamy or cheesy as most tuna noodle casseroles, but it was still really good. I have to admit, though, we added some Parmesan cheese and a few drops of Sriracha sauce when we dished it up. Even better!

Tuna Noodle Casserole

6 oz. uncooked noodles (the picture has really squiggly noodles--we just used whole wheat rotini)
1 tbs. margarine/butter
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 can (12.25 oz.) tuna packed in water, drained (I didn't read this correctly, and just used two of the smaller (5 oz.?) cans of tuna
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 jar (2 oz.) chopped pimientos, drained
1/2 teas. dried thyme leaves
1/4 teas. salt
1/8 teas. black pepper

1. Cook noodles according to package directions, omitting salt. Drain; cover. Set aside.

2. Melt butter in large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onion; cook and stir 5 minutes or until onion is tender.
3. Using wire whisk, blend chicken broth, milk and flour in small bowl. Stir into mushroom mixture; bring to a boil. Cook and stir about 2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat to medium; stir in tuna, peas, pimientos, thyme and salt. Add noodles and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
4. Preheat oven to 350. Spray 2-quart casserole with nonstick cooking spray. Spread noodle mixture evenly in prepared casserole. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly and heated through. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. (Makes 6 servings)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Curried Chicken Salad

One of my favorite lunchtime foods, that I don't eat often enough, is curried chicken salad sandwiches. Despite cutting out a recipe for it a while ago from the back of an Arnold's English Muffins bag, I've never made it. Until last weekend.

You can really do what you want with the recipe. I followed it exactly, and I'm not sure I would make any changes. I loved it. Nate said it was "different."

Curried Chicken Salad Sandwiches
6 oz. cooked chicken, diced (about 1 cup) (I used one chicken breast)
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 mayonnaise
2 tbs. chopped, toasted walnuts
2 tbs. raisins
2 tbs. chutney
1/2 teas. curry powder (I used yellow curry) (I added a few more shakes, plus some shakes of spicy curry powder)
English muffins, bread, buns, etc. (whatever you want) (I used those thin Arnold buns)
(The recipe calls for spinach leaves to go on the sandwich, but I left this out)

Combine chicken, celery, mayo, walnuts, raisins, chutney and curry powder. Split among four sandwiches. (I ended up with 2.5 sandwiches!)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Off the Top of My Head: Veggie & Bean Burritos

I was so pleased with tonight's meal, that I'm writing a post about it before I post about Monday night's dinner!

I feel I can really experiment and make it up as I go when cooking Mexican food. With other cuisines, I feel like I have to follow a recipe more closely. Maybe it has to do with the fact that growing up, I watched my dad make delicious Mexican food every couple of weeks--tacos, burritos and guacamole. I love making Mexican food the same way my dad does.

Tonight I made veggie and bean burritos. We've agreed to make a vegetarian meal at least once a week. I love making burritos and trying different filling. Tonight's burritos included onion, green and orange bell pepper, pinto and black beans and a lot of spices and seasoning. Below, is the recipe, more or less, of how it played out.
Veggie & Bean Burritos
1 tbs. butter or oil
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 orange bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 can black beans, mostly drained
1 can pinto beans, mostly drained
1/4 cup or so salsa
shakes of different seasonings/spices (to taste): medium chili powder, garlic powder, garlic salt, black pepper, coriander, cumin, habanero spice, dried cilantro, cayenne pepper
Any kind of shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar plus a Mexican cheese mix)
Melt butter in large skillet. Add chopped peppers and onions. Cook on medium about 10 minutes, with cover on, until tender. Add beans, salsa and spices. Simmer, with cover on, for about 10 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, scoop whatever amount of filling you would like into a tortilla (we only had four, HUGE, tortillas. A couple more, smaller tortillas probably would have been a better idea). Top with shredded cheese. Tuck tortilla into a burrito shape. Repeat so remaining filling is divided evenly. Place in 13x9 baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top each burrito with a bit of salsa and some cheese.
Bake 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Turn broiler on for another 5. I served my burritos with some avocado on top. YUM! We had some rice on the side (a tasty mix from Target--rice with cilantro and corn).

Monday, February 8, 2010

NathanAle's Beer

Nate has been talking about brewing beer for quite some time. So finally, for his birthday in December, I got him a homebrew starter kit. He's been having fun with it, and finally was able to bottle the first batch on Sunday.

He started the process on this batch, an Irish Draught Ale, right after Christmas. It won't be ready to drink for another week or two. It can be quite the lengthy process--I think that's why we have another batch sitting, fermenting (?) in our guest bedroom and why he bought another package to start on pretty soon. Each batch makes about five gallons of beer (about 50 bottles) so we will have lots and lots of beer once the batches are ready for consumption!

I don't know the details of homebrewing--it seems a little too complicated to me--but here are some pictures of bottling process. He's had a lot of fun designing the labels for the beer.

Oh yeah, the name--I came up with it. I thought it was pretty clever, considering his name is Nathaniel. :)

Super Bowl Eats

We had a rather low-key Super Bowl get-together at our house Sunday night. Friends brought over dessert and appetizers (and beer, of course) and we provided the main meal--BBQ shredded chicken sandwiches and green bean casserole as a side.

We used a pork recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes and adapted it to make BBQ chicken sandwiches. They were pretty good on buns, but I ended up adding a little extra BBQ sauce to my sandwich right before I ate it.

BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
1 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
1 tbs. quick-cooking tapioca
4 chicken breasts
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
2 tbs. and a couple shakes of medium chili pepper

1. Combine pepper and onion in crockpot. Sprinkle tapioca over vegetables. Place chicken over vegetables.
2. In a bowl, combine BBQ sauce and chili powder. Pour sauce over meat.
3. Cover and cook on low for at least six hours. At that point, I shredded the chicken and mixed it in the sauce. I put it on keep warm for about another two hours.
4. Serve on rolls, or however you would like.

(Sorry, no picture. I didn't think about it yesterday and wasn't about to take a picture at work when I was eating my leftovers today!)

I wanted to do something a little different for a side dish. I feel like I make so many potato and pasta salads during the summer, so I wanted something warm. I decided on Favorite Green Bean Casserole from Betty Crocker Cookbook. This is a staple at the Adrian Thanksgiving table. It's one of those dishes that tastes just a little better when your mom makes it. But in any form, it's sure delicious.

Favorite Green Bean Casserole
1 can (10.75 oz.) condensed cream of mushroom, cream of celery or cream of chicken soup (I used mushroom)
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tea. pepper
2 cans (14.5 oz.) French-style green beans, drained OR 2 bags (1 lb. each) frozen cut green beans cooked as directed (I used frozen--I remember long ago my mom telling me it turned out better this way)
1 can (2.8 oz.) French-fried onions
(I would add some salt, too, especially if using frozen beans and "healthy" condensed soup)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In 2-quart casserole or 8-in. square glass baking dish, mix soup, milk and pepper. Stir in beans. Sprinkle with onions.
3. Bake uncovered 30 to 40 minutes or until hot in center.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Two Restaurant Reviews

Friday was a great food day. For lunch, I went with some girlfriends to an Ethiopian restaurant not far from my office: Alem Ethiopian Village. I had had Ethiopian a few times before at another restaurant in Milwaukee. It was good, but it was even better at Alem. The food was fantastic--really flavorful, somewhat spicy and hearty. Everything is served on, in a communal style, and with injera--a pancake-like bread, pictured in a basket below--which serves as an eating utensil.

I had yemiser wot, which is split lentils cooked in Ethiopian red pepper sauce and assorted spices. It came with a side of yater alitcha, which is yellow split peas cooked in a mild sauce.

Then Friday night, Nate and I went to dinner with my parents to Sobelman's, a burger bar near Marquette University. The restaurant's website is, and I think it's a pretty accurate statement. The burgers are really delicious. I just had a regular burger with cheese and fried onions. My mom had the mushroom Swiss burger and my dad and Nate both had the Sobelman burger, which I think has three types of cheeses, bacon and jalapenos. Washed down with a Lakefront Riverwest Stein, it was a perfect way to end a Friday. (By the way, the burger picture is actually half of my dad's burger. I finished mine and then I realized I never took a picture!)

Pecan-Crusted Chicken

A few years ago for Christmas, Nate gave me Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Get Real Meals. I haven't made much out of it, so I wanted to give one of the recipes a try. The side dish for the recipe is a celeriac (celery root--a very weird-looking vegetable) and parsnip smash. It's a low-carb cookbook, so a lot of the recipes are protein-focused with low-carb side dishes.

I thought the "smash" turned out pretty good. The pecan-crusted chicken was tasty, but something didn't quite turn out right. We didn't pan fry the chicken in as much oil as the recipe called for, so it didn't get quite as crispy as it probably should have. I'm not sure it made a difference, but we cut up chicken breasts into smaller pieces rather than using chicken tenders. Also, you're supposed to serve the chicken over a bed of mixed greens but we just had side salads.

Pecan-Crusted Chicken with Celeriac-Parsnip Smash
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-in. chunks
2 small bulbs celeriac (celery root), about 1.5 pounds, completely trimmed and peeled, cut into 1-in. chunks
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half (I used skim milk)
2 tbs. butter
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups pecan halves, ground in food processor until finely chopped, like bread crumbs
1/2 teas. cayenne pepper
2 eggs lightly beaten
2 lbs. chicken tenders
1/2 cup vegetable oil (eyeball it)

For the celeriac-parsnip smash, place parsnips and celeriac in a sauce pan and add enough water to cover. Add a little salt and bring to a boil over high heat; cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and then return to the pot. Smash the cooked root vegetables with a fork or potato masher to desired consistency. Add the cream and butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. While the smash is cooking, prepare the chicken.

In a shallow dish, combine the ground pecans and the cayenne pepper. In another shallow dish, place the lightly beaten eggs. Put the chicken tenders in the eggs, coating them completely. Draw them from the eggs, allowing the excess eggs to drip off. Place the egg-coated chicken in the nut mixture and coat completely.

Heat a large skillet with the oil over medium heat. As soon as you see a little ripple in the oil, add the pecan-coated chicken. Cook on each side for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate lined with a paper towel and season with salt while still hot.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Butterscotch-y, Chocolate-y, Pecan-y Cookies

I've been craving butterscotch oatmeal cookies lately, so Tuesday night, I finally decided to make some.

I did some Googling and found this Cooking Light recipe. Instead of using the 1/4 cup of semisweet chocolate chips it calls for, I used 1/4 butterscotch chips with probably about 1/8 cup regular-sized semisweet chocolate chips. They batter was a little dry and I had to really push some of the chips into the cookies to get them to stick. Also, I ended up baking them for 14 minutes, rather than the 12 the recipe calls for. They were still a bit crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside. But, in the end, I must say, they were delicious!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Poblano Pork Stew

One of my favorite and go-to cookbooks of ours is Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes. I like putting the recipes together on Sunday afternoons, then turning the crockpot on in the morning and coming home to a nice warm meal Monday night.

This Monday we had Poblano Pork Stew for the first time. It was really tasty, with a nice kick of heat. Here's the recipe and what we did.

Poblano Pork Stew
1 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbs. oil oil
1 lb. tiny whole new potatoes, quartered (I couldn't find these, so I just cut up 3 red potatoes)
1.5 medium onions, chopped
2 fresh poblano peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces (we didn't seed any of the peppers--we like the heat!)
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, mined
2 inches cinnamon stick
3 cups chicken broth
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tbs. chili powder
1 teas. dried oregano, crushed
1/4 teas. black pepper
Hot cooked any kind of rice (if desired. Would be good with cornbread, too)

1. In a large skillet, brown meat in hot oil. Drain off fat.
2. In slow cooker, place potatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and cinnamon. Add meat. In a bowl, combine chicken broth, undrained tomatoes, chili powder, oregano and black pepper, and pour over all.
3. Cover and cook on low 8 to 10 hours or high 4 to 5 hours. Discard stick cinnamon. Serve over hot rice.

We ate it so fast that I forgot to take a picture! Oh well. Next time!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Keeping Fresh Herbs

I hate, hate, hate having to throw food--mostly produce--away that has gone bad. I hate wasting food! I love fresh herbs, but I always seem to buy a lot of it (it seems the bigger bunches are cheaper than the smaller bits that come in those plastic containers) and end up throwing a lot of it away.

Not any more! I found a write-up online (see method 2) about how to freeze herbs in an ice cube tray. Just chop up your herbs, put about a tablespoon in an ice cube tray spot and fill about half way with water. Put it in the freezer, and after it's set, fill to the top with water so the herbs are completely covered. Once completely frozen, pop out and put in a zipped baggie. When you need it, defrost it in a bowl or strainer, or just throw directly into soup or whatever might be cooking.

I also did this with a can of chipotles. Many of the recipes that call for chipotle peppers seem to only need one or two. I put one chipotle in each ice spot and a bit of sauce. I froze them completely and put those in a baggie, too.