Sunday, March 30, 2008

Williams Sonoma: The stuff that dreams are made of

I've been in a Williams Sonoma store once. In my former life, a boss gave me a gift card for Secretary's Adminstrative Professionals Day. It wasn's a huge store, but I wondered around for over an hour, trying to decide how to spend my money. My gift card ($25? $30?) wasn't going to take me far, but I was determined to let it take me somewhere.

This is where it took me:

It's a small food processor, and it's perferct. I've been using it for 5(?) years now and I love it. Since I rarely cook for more than 4 people, I rarely need anything bigger.

But I still dream of Williams Sonoma.

Now, The Clean Plate Club is having a giveaway: a $50 gift certificate to Williams Sonoma. Since I need something else to dream about and scheme about, I'm entering this post in the contest. Who know? Maybe I'll be able to buy something even cooler - like this, these, or a whole collection of these.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sweet Potato Fries: A New Love

Sweet Potatoes were on sale last week, so I bought one mammoth one and one probably-regular-sized-one-but-looked-like-a-pygmy-version-next-to-the-mammoth-one.

Then they sat on my counter for a few days.

Then I remembered that they should be in a cool, dark place. So I moved them to a cool, dark place

Definition of a "cool, dark place": Somewhere out of line of sight.

So I forgot about them for a few more days.

But that's ok. Because I am now convinved that the reason I forgot about them was so that I'd have time to remember that I wanted to try Kalyn's recipe for baked sweet potato fries.

And then I realized that I didn't have the right spices. So I had to make up my own. My brain finally kicked in, and I actually wrote down what I used people.

That's right people, I'm genius. I wrote down a recipe. I should get a PhD or something.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tbsp whole cumin
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp Kosher salt, plus more to taste

In a spice grinder, combine coriander, cumin, mustard, and celery salt and grind until...ground. Stir in 1 tsp kosher salt. Divide in half.
Toss potato wedges with olive oil until coated. Sprinkle 1/4 of spice blend over vegetables and toss. Sprinkle another 1/4 of the spice blend over it and toss some more. Tossing is fun.
Spray cookie sheet with non-stick spray (I used the olive oil flavored kind). Spread wedges on sheet, and bake for 35-45 minutes, turning every 10-15 minutes or so.
Sprinkle fries with kosher salt to taste. Feel free to sprinkle the remaining spice blend on them, too - or save for more fries later.
Notes: I know that the pre-ground spices would work just as well, I just don't have a clue how to translate the whole stuff into ground terms. These were so good, though - as in, can't-stop-eating-them good, that I hope - nay, I beg - you to try them.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rambling Thoughts on Silicone Bakeware

A few weeks ago, when I was preparing The Original Redhead's Birthday Dinner Extraordinaire, I got the chance to use silicone bakeware for the first time. I have a silicone pastry brush that I adore - it's so much easier to clean and use than my old bristle one (no clumps!). And I love silicone spatulas.

The bakeware, though, I was not as impressed with for one reason: I seemed to burn things.

I made the birthday cake, a vegetarian version of the chicken tetrazinni (which I guess would just be tetrazzini?), and a pan of dressing. While they were all edible - okay, they were all yummy - they all got very crispy on the bottom. The rest of it was seemed to cook at the rate of what I would expect from my regular bakeware.

Now, it is very possible that I might have been distracted from all the in-depth conversations of world peace and Other Weighty Matters such as which wine bottle should be opened next. But I'm a little hesitant to use silicone again, at least when I'm trying to impress other people with my mad cooking skillz.

Anyone have an opinion?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bowtie Pasta with Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes

I could have come up with a longer title for this, but it would have taken the time that I have allocated to telling you how much I love and adore this:

This is my favorite seasoning blend. It will go with anything. It may even be tasty enough to eat all by itself on a spoon, but I’m not admitting to anything. A few years ago, I bought about 5 different McCormick’s blends, used them up – and then discovered they had disappeared from the grocery store when I went to buy more. I wanted to stage a Spice Aisle Sit-In, but I had finals that week. Walmart should be grateful that I went to grad school.

Last year, my life found new meaning when I rediscovered the Roasted Garlic and Bell Pepper blend at the store. I may or may not have cried, but there were no witnesses, so we’ll just call that an unsubstantiated rumor.

And Holy Roasted Peppers, there’s a recipe on their product page that I’m going to have to make.

Note to McCormicks: feel free to thank my free advertising with some free seasoning blends. I promise to love them, too.

This is my entry for the week for Presto Pasta Nights.

Bowtie Pasta with Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes

8 oz bow-tie pasta
½ lb asparagus, cut into 2” pieces
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
½ yellow onion, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp kosher salt
Lots and lots of the Roasted Garlic and Bell Pepper goodness
1 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago or Romano – or if you’re really lucky, a combination
¼ cup fake butter – or the real thing, if you have it

Cut up your vegetables and put them in a bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss to coat. Pour them out on a baking sheet and sprinkle the salt and seasoning blend over them. I’m not going to lie, I go a little crazy with the seasoning. I don’t measure, I just pour a mound in my hand and sprinkle it around. Then I repeat.

Cook in a 350F oven for about 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables are shriveling a little and you can’t stand not to eat them any more.

Cook your pasta and drain. Toss the pasta, butter, vegetables and half of the cheese together until the butter is melted; sprinkle with remaining cheese and serve.

Notes: I am overflowing with fake butter spreads, so I used Smart Balance.
I love cheese.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wilted Spinach: The Vegetable of Champions

When I was a kid, my only exposure to spinach was via Popeye's cold-canned, spur-of-the-moment, puke-inspiring chug-a-lug method of eating the stuff.

This did not inspire me to eat it.

Now? I love spinach in many forms. I'm not sure how I roused the courage to eat it; there was no shining-light moment of truth or slew of green epiphanies. One day I was spinach-avoider, the next I was a rabid spinach-convert.

This is my favorite method of cooking spinach; due to The Bestest Friend's conversion to vegetarianism, I frequently make it sans bacon. But in my heart, I am secretly yearning for the dash of saltiness it adds.

I made this as a side dish with the veal saltimbocca experiment for Valentine's Day, so I got to be extra fancy-pants and use prosciutto. Holy Bacon Fat, Batman, was that a mind-blowing experience.

Wilted Spinach

3 cups fresh spinach (the bagged stuff works great, the loose stuff is much cheaper)
3-4 slices of bacon (or about 3 oz Prosciutto)
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 small onion, diced
Parmesan Cheese, to taste

In a large sauce pan or a soup pot, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove - leave the fat in the pan! - and drain on a paper towel.

Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar, scraping up the tasty bits from the bottom.

Add the olive oil, garlic and onion. Cook over medium heat until the onion is translucent and starting to darken.

Add the spinach, and using tongs, start tossing/twirling/stirring the leaves to coat them in the hot oil. Spinach takes a few seconds to start softening - but once it gives up the fight, it wilts down FAST. I keep the spinach moving through the entire process with my tongs so that I don't end up with overly-soggy leaves on bottom and partially-cooked leaves on top.

After about 5 minutes, the spinach will have majorly reduced in volume. Feel free to cook it down completely, but I like the leaves to still have a bit of life in them.

Remove the spinach from the pan immediately - the pan's heat will make it keep wilting away - and crumble the bacon over the top.

Garnish with some grated Parmesan cheese.

Notes: Not being a huge vinegar fan, I probably only use about 1/2 tsp. I just kind of dash it in the pan, so if you like vinegar, dash away.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chicken Tetrazzini: A living legend

I should have written this recipe before the carrots, because this is the dish that The Original Redhead planned her birthday meal around. But the carrots were easier. It’s ok, though, this was worth waiting for. I promise.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Ok, actually it was the early 90’s in Tennessee. But it seems long ago and far away.

Anyway, back in the day, whenever one of my friends had a birthday, I absolutely loved cooking for them. So for a couple of years, I’d hand them a few cookbooks, they’d pick a recipe or two and I’d cook and… well, that all sounds cool now that we’re 30. I can’t help but wonder how in the world we came up with the idea when we were 13. Obviously, we were ahead of our time.

Anyway, one unforgettable night, someone picked Chicken Tetrazzini. I’m pretty sure it was The Wee One, and I think it was the same birthday she chose the “Better Than Sex” recipe for her birthday cake. While both dishes have lived on in our memories for different reasons, The Original Redhead picked the chicken for her 30th birthday extravaganza.

I swapped a few veggies around to get a few of her more-favored vegetables in (and a few of her less-favored out). So this might not be a classic recipe.

But man, was it good. And the next morning? It was even better for breakfast.

What? You don’t eat chicken tetrazzini for breakfast? Get a life, man.

Chicken Tetrazzini

8 oz egg noodles, cooked
2 pounds chicken breasts, cooked and cut into 1" cubes ( see notes for vegetarian version)
4 Tbsp butter, divided
3 zucchini, cut into 1" pieces
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 Orange bell pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1 Green bell pepper, cut into 1" pieces
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup milk
1 can Cream of Celery soup
2 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste (for me that's a couple of dashes of salt and plenty of pepper)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a large skillet; add vegetables and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes, until veggies are beginning to soften.

In another skillet, melt remaining 2 tbsp of butter. Whisk in flour over medium-low heat. Add cream of celery soup and milk, and whisk until smooth. Add mustard, paprika, salt and pepper and whisk some more. Heat until it's just beginning to bubble.

In a large bowl, combine noodles, chicken, veggies and sauce. Pour into an appropriately sized casserole (2 1/2 quarts???).

Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until it looks done.
What, you wanted a scientific end point? Please. I was surrounded by my girlfriends and on my 2nd glass of wine by then.

Note: I made a vegetarian version as well, since The Bestest Friend Ever was there. Mix everything together except chicken - or put in some fake chicken breast strips - and put it in a separate casserole to bake.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Glazed Carrots For The Carrot-Opposed

Carrots might quite possibly be my favorite vegetable. They go with just about any kind of sauce you can come up with. They can be sweet with brown sugar and honey, or they can be steamed with some fresh basil leaves for a little savory flavor. They can go in cakes, they can go in stews, they can go in bread. They can be eaten as finger food. Here, there or anywhere, carrots are just good.

Unfortunately, The Best Friend hates carrots. And I can already hear her saying “I will not eat them, Sam I Am”. Once, after she insisted that she liked parsnips, I gave her a bite of the ones I had just finished cooking. She immediately accused me of sneaking a carrot into her mouth. She dislikes carrots SO MUCH that even a vegetable that only vaguely has a carrot-taste makes her rinse her mouth with vinegar and water. And then a glass of wine.

But you know what? The Best Friend admitted that she could eat these carrots. IF – and it’s a big IF – they were cut in very small pieces and thoroughly covered in the glaze and a little over-cooked.

If that doesn’t tell you how good these carrots are, then I am out of words.
For now.

Warning: I didn’t measure anything here – this was part of The Original Redhead's b’day dinner, and I didn’t bother to pull out measuring spoons and write my ingredients list down. So the following list is just an estimate. I’m positive about the two pounds of carrots, though, because I bought a 2 pound bag.

Glazed Carrots

2 pounds of carrots, scraped and cut in 2” pieces
1 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
2” piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
½ tsp ground ginger
3 tsp balsamic vinegar, divided
2 tsp honey
¼ cup soy sauce (low sodium) + some to taste

Put the olive oil and ginger in a medium skillet. Turn the heat on medium low and heat slowly, letting the ginger flavor the oil. After about 4 or 5 minutes, add the carrots and toss to coat them in the oil. Add half of the vinegar and all of the honey and soy sauce to the middle of the pan and stir to combine. Start stirring in the carrots until they are coated. Turn the heat up to medium, cover the pan and walk away for 10 minutes.

Sprinkle in the ground ginger, give the carrots a stir, cover and walk away for another 10-15 minutes. By then, your carrots will be softening – now you just cook them til they’re as done as you like. The longer you cook, the stickier and glazy-er the sauce will get. I wanted my carrots pretty soft, so when my sauce got too thick, I added the rest of the vinegar to de-glaze it as much as possible, then another few dashes of soy sauce because I like soy sauce.

I meant to make these in sesame oil instead of olive oil, but I had left it at home. It would have added soooooo much!

You could easily use baby carrots here, but since I found out that baby carrots are the exact same thing as regular carrots, just cut into small pieces and made to look baby-ish, I stopped buying them. That means a little more prep work to use them, though.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Asian Slaw

When last I left you, I was crowing over how easy it is to eliminate mayo from recipes and basically, over my genius in making that very easy dish. Well, the reason that had to be so simple is because I had to reserve time to cut the vegetables for the Asian Slaw that I had also agreed to bring to our little soiree at work.

I like cutting up vegetables, though. It gives me time to sing songs like “American Pie” all the way through without having to stop to read directions. Although I don’t usually stop singing, I just end up substituting recipe-words for the song-words.

I’m not just a cook. I’m also the floor show.

Asian Slaw
  • 1 ½ cups snow peas, julienned
  • 1 ½ cups carrot chips, julienned
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, julienned

  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1” piece of ginger, grated
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
Heat the sesame oil in a small sauce pan; add garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 min. Add the rest of the dressing ingredients. Stir to combine. When the sugar is melted (takes about 2 seconds), remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Now is a perfect time to cut all those veggies up.

I did this in the recipe the night before our “rib-fest”, and then tossed the veggies with the dressing about 15 minutes before it was served.