Monday, April 21, 2008

Mandarin Orange Salad Dressing

In case you've missed the updates: As a rule, I do NOT eat salad dressing. For the vast majority of my 30 years, I've eaten salads with lots of vegetables and some pepper to to keep it seasoned. One of the benefits to this aversion is that, as a general rule, salads without dressing are way healthier for you - no extra fat and/or calories. A bunch of choppped veggies, with a small fistful of grated low-fat mozarella cheese, really don't have that many calories per bowl.

A couple of years ago, I found a recipe for a dressing based on canned pears. You throw them, some olive oil and a little balsalmic vinegar in a food processor and then - voila! - you have salad dressing. I cut the recipe out of whatever magazine it was in and promptly forgot about it. I found it a year or so later, pulled it out to make it, and then lost it. I'm still looking for it.

But I remembered it when I was planning a dinner party a few weeks later. I didn't have any canned pears, but I was planning on serving a salad with mandarin oranges - and I thought to myself "Hey! Self! Pay attention! There's a lot of liquid in mandarin orange slices. I bet they'd work."

Luckily, I listened to myself. And came up with a light, summery salad dressing that is great with some mixed greens, roasted walnuts and maybe a bell pepper, tomato and cucumber.

But really? All you need is the dressing and maybe a straw. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: only use the straw if no one's looking. Because seeing someone drinking salad dressing out of a straw is something no one ever forgets.

Mandarin Orange Salad Dressing

11 oz can of mandarin oranges, divded and drained, liquid reserved
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (red wine vinegar would work well too)
a few turns of freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp poppy seeds

Start with half of a can of mandarin oranges (save the liquid) and the oil, garlic, vinegar and pepper. Put all of them in a food processor and pulse until you have a nice liquid.


Is it too thick? Add some of the reserved liquid - about a tablespoon at a time - pulse a few more times and taste again.

Too thin? Add a few more orange segments.

Like super-vinegary salad dressings? Add another tablespoon or two of vinegar.

Pour the dressing into a container that has a lid and add the poppy seeds.

Just before serving, give the whole thing a few shakes. It WILL separate, so you're gonna have to shake it right before you serve it. You can either toss the salad with the dressing, or let people self-dress their salads.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cucumbers in Butter and Cream

When I got married a few years ago, my mom gave me a copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I love this book. It's got a ton of recipes, but it's also got tons of great information for foodies. It's not just a cook book. I pick it up and randomly flip through sections - especially the vegetables - when I'm looking for something new or just for general information.

These cucumbers have been on my list of things to try since I got the book. But it took me awhile to work up to it. It's not hard, but The Professor is of the firm opinion that cucumbers aren't really something worth eating anyway, much less cooking.

I finally took the plunge last month. After all, anything cooked in butter, cream and dill has to be great.

And...I was disappointed. I wanted it to be awesome - how many people cook cucumbers? When was the last time you ate a cooked cucumber? I wanted to be unique even more unique than I already am.

The sauce was awesome. But then...butter+cream+dill has to equal awesome, or else there would be no balance to the universe. So the sauce will probably find it's way onto some pasta. And as I typed that, I thought "Hmm...cucumbers in a pasta dish?" I might give these another try after all.

Cucumbers in Butter and Cream (from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)

About 1 pound cucumbers
1 Tbsp salt (if cucumbers are not firm)
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup sweat (heavy) cream, or sour cream, or yogurt
Lots of freshly snipped dill (I used dried)

Peel the cucumbers if waxed. Cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut the into 3/4-inch chunks. If the cucumbers are not super-firm, place the chunks in a colander and sprinkle them with the salt. Shake to distribute the salt and let them drain for about 20 minutes. Rinse and dry. If the cucumbers are already firm, proceed with the recipe.

Place the butter in a medium to large skillet over medium heat. When it melts, ad the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Do not let the onion brown. Add the cucumbers and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the cucumbers are just tender. Add pepper and, if you did not salt the cucumbers earlier, some salt.

Turn the heat to low, then stir in the cream or yogurt and a good handful of dill. Stir until well blended, then serve, garnished with more dill.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cooking With Mama #3: Nothing-Like-a-Mud-Pie

It was a late Saturday morning. Ma mère and I sat down at the kitchen table to decide what to cook for dessert. There were an abundance of recipes from magazines, newspapers, websites - you get the idea. We had options. Boy did we have options - everything I learned about "Hey! this recipe looks great, I better save it in case I run out of ideas" - I learned from my mom. We just may have had too many options, but it was a fun time picking it out.

One thing we learned? Pudding is not a good substitute for cream cheese. Here's what we started with:

Seeing as how I also learned all of my "surely, we don't really have to follow the recipe" habbits from my mom, though...we substituted pudding for cream cheese. It tasted good - not great, but good - but boy, it did NOT hold it's shape when we cut into it. Which is why you will only see pictures of the whole product.

Take my advice: Use cream cheese.

Nothing Like A Mud Pie

3/4 cup crushed honey graham crackers
1/2 cup finel chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 package (4 servings) sugar free instant vanilla pudding
1 pckg (4 serrvings) coconut instant pudding
1 pkg (4 servings) cook and serve chocolate pudding
1 tub whipped topping
5 cups cold skim milk, divided

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a 9" pie plate, combine cracker crumbs, walnuts and butter. Press into bottom and sides of pan.

Cook for 10 minutes; cool.

In a medium bowl, combine vanilla and coconut pudding mixes. Add milk 3 cups of milk and whisk to thoroughly combine. Refrigerate until set.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together remaining milk and chocolate pudding mixes. Cook according to package directions and refrigerate until cool.

Stir 1/2 tub of whipped cream into the coconut/vanilla pudding. Spread into bottom of pie shell.

Spoon chocolate pudding on top, and spread evenly.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, spread remaining whipped cream on top.

Makes 6 servings.

We had leftovers of both puddings. My mom - being a genius - pulled out her tuperware (rubbermaid?) parfait dishes and made a few parfaits. Being an extra-genius genius, she pulled out some gingersnaps, crushed them and made a couple of parfait layers out of them. I didn't eat one of them, but I'm willing to bet that was the second best part of this whole experiment.

The best part? Cooking with my mom.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Indian Shepherd's Pie

I found a new recipe carnival to participate in! I know, I know – you’ve been waiting for something this momentous to happen. Recipe Remix gives you a list of 6 recipes to choose from, and then asks you to give it a twist. As soon as I saw Shepherd’s Pie on this month’s list, I knew what I wanted to make.

The Best Friend came over for dinner, which means I needed something vegetarian – the perfect night to try out my new recipe! It looks horrible in the picture. But it tasted wonderful. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve become something of a cumin freak. I embrace my idiosyncracies.

Indian Shepherds Pie

1 ½ cups lentils,
3 cups water
2 Tbsp of this spice blend
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion. Chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
Ground cumin, to taste
2 cups mashed potatoes
Smoked paprika

Rinse and drain lentils. Heat water to boiling in a pot, add lentils and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn the heat off, and let them sit for another 30 minutes.

Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent.

Preheat oven to 375®.
Sprinkle the seasoning mix on the lentils, and mash in a large bowl. Add the onions and tomatoes and stir well. Taste a bite or two, and if you want more flavor then add some ground cumin.

Pour the lentil mixture in a 3 quart casserole and spread the mashed potatoes on top. Sprinkle with the smoked paprika.

Bake for 30 minutes.
Serves 4

Notes: I had planned on using the bag of Toor Dal in my pantry for this - but I forgot I used it in something else a few weeks ago. So I used the bag of lentils in my pantry.

I would have loved even more cumin in this - I really have become addicted to the stuff. But The Professor and The Bestest Friend liked it as is.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cooking with Mama #2: RJ Chicken

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was a little boy named RJ. We'll call him Randy Johnson. I babysat him and his older sister a time or two, our moms were great friends, and he played with my little brother. It seems like someone from our families was always crossing the street for something or other. And Randy would come to dinner.

And one day, my parents worked together in the kitchen and made some AWESOME chicken, which Randy Johnson was lucky enough to eat. He went home and told his mom all about it - it was grilled! With stuff on top! And Cheese! Oh, the cheese!"

"But Randy," his mom told him, "You don't like cheese."
"Well, I like it when Mr. M. grills it on top of the chicken!"

And so, every time this dish is cooked in one of various forms, my mom calls this Randy Johnson Chicken. Everyone in the world loves it. Well, except vegetarians. And we all lived happily ever after.

The End.

RJ Chicken:

3 pounds chicken breasts
bottled Italian dressing
2 medium yellow onions
1/2 pound whole mushrooms
sliced mozzarella cheese

Put the chicken breasts in a couple of large zip-top bags; pour in enough dressing to coat them. Toss and refrigerate for anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight.

If the weather isn't raining, windy or otherwise anti-grilling, fire up the grill. If that's not an option, get out a couple of skillets. Either way, brown the chicken on both sides.

While the chicken is cooking, sautè the onions and mushrooms - we do them separately, because some family members only want one or the other.

Line a baking sheet with foil. (I think my mom sprays it with cooking spray, but I was busy tossing cheese and macaroni around, and didn't pay attention). Put the chicken on the foil, top with mushrooms and/or onions, and top that with a slice of mozzarella cheese - feel free to tear it to make it a little larger than the chicken, but you want it to cover the yummy toppings so that it will melt and enfold them in cheese-y goodness.

Put in a preheated oven (350? 375? Should I really be writing a recipe when I don't know basics like oven temperatures??) and bake until the chicken is done, the cheese is melted, and you're picking caramelized onions off the pan every time you open the oven.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cooking with Mama: Mac N Cheese

I'm at my parents house, and tonight's dinner was awesome, if I - the sous chef and pâtissier - do say so myself.

So in a quick-as-lighting update, here's a recipe we pulled out of the air.

Well, Mom looked around and gave me a ratio for cheese to macaroni. Then she told me what kinds of cheeses she had. Then she told me to use 5 cups of macaroni. Then she told me to mop the floors, polish the silver and dust the chandaliers.

Ok, ok. Not really on the mopping, polishing and dusting. And she boiled the macaroni for me, and preheated the oven. And gave me beer. And cooked the rest of dinner. And not only bought me Diet Mt Dew, but also had it chilled beside the beer.

Hmm..Maybe I should go get the dust rag.

Nothing-Fancy But Oh-So-Yummy Macaroni & Cheese

5 cups macaroni, uncooked
2 tbsp margerine
About 4 1/2 cups shredded cheeses (see notes); divided
About 1/4-1/2 cup milk
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp paprika

Call your mom, and have her boil your macaroni. Or boil it yourself.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Spray a 4 quart casserole with non-stick spray.

Drain macarni.

Stir in margerine and 1/4 cup milk until margerine is melted.

Stir in 2 cups of shredded cheese thoroughly. It'll probably melt immediately.
Stir in 2 more cups of cheese and pour in casserole.

Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Put into oven, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. If you like the browned-top look, turn on your broiler for the last 5 minutes.

We had several different kinds of cheese to choose from. For the first two cups, I used mozzarella, because I knew it would melt, and it melts pretty smoothly. For the second two cups, I chose cheddar to give it some bite. My mom also had a little chipotle cheddar - a very little, around 1/4 cup - that I mixed in with the cheddar. The extra 1/2 cup on top was all cheddar.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Quick and Dirty Zuchhini

Ok, here I go with my love affair for my favorite little seasoning blend again. I made some zucchini to go with the Italian chicken the other night. And I wanted something easy, but yummy. Which really isn't hard to do - zucchini is very forgiving, any flavor at all goes with it, and as long as you can cut it, you can cook it, so I don't know why I'm feeling all smarty-McProudy pants. (And the cutting may be optional, but I haven't experimented yet. I'll let you know).

Also - the zucchini wasn't dirty. I washed it.

Quick Baked Zucchini

1 large zucchini, in slices about 3/4 inch thick.
1 tbsp (or less) olive oil
About 3 good shakes of McCormick Roasted Garlic and Bell Pepper seasoning

Heat oven to 375F.

Mix all thee items together in a bowl; put in a shallow baking dish.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes.

I didn't measure the olive oil, but I know I used too much. You might even be able to get away without using any at all, which would make this even healthier.

After the zucchini has been dished up, it is perfectly acceptable to run your fingers around the bowl to get any stray bits of seasoning that didn't get served up and then lick said fingers clean. I think that may be standard etiquette in some country somewhere.

After you type "zucchini" six times in 10 minutes, it starts to look wrong. Very wrong. Try it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Italian Marinated Chicken Winges

Remember back in January when I made the glazy-yummy-teriyaki-y chicken wings? Well, I had bought a second pack of chicken wings and put them in the freezer for a night when my muse told me it was time to use them. Sunday night, my muse murmered that the time was coming, so I pulled them out of the freezer and moved them to the fridge.

Last night my muse - whom I should really get around to naming one of these days - got busy in the kitchen.

As I was flipping through the day's mail, she spied my spice rack. And the bottle of Italian Seasoning that I usually reach past to grab the oregano, basil, thyme, etc. And she realized that I was wasting about 3 ounces of perfectly good seasoning. Bad, Deborah!

This speaking-of-my-muse-in-the-third-person thing needs to end now.

So, in the spirit of not wasting things, I looked in my fridge to see what else I could find to throw together. I found a quarter of a bottle of white wine that's been open for about 2 weeks, the last bit of a bottle of lemon juice that needed to be used up, 1/2 of a red onion, and some garlic that told me if I didn't use it before I left town this weekend, it would sprout before I got back.

Dang it, now my garlic's talking to me? I preferred the muse.

Italian Marinated Chicken Wings

2 pounds chicken wings
1 1/4 cups dry (or just old) white wine
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 1/2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp butter (Divided, if necessary)
1/2 red onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste

Mix wine, lemon juice, garlic and italian seasoning together in a bowl. Put chicken in a bowl with a lid, pour marinade over the chicken, stir and cover.

Refrigerate overnight (it ended up being 24 hours here)

In a large skillet (you may need two), heat butter (divide in half if you need to use two skillets). Take chicken from marinade (but don't pour that yumminess out!) and brown on both sides in the skillet(s).

Remove chicken - leave any grease, drippings, whatever in the pan. Add onion and sautee. (you're gonna have to divide this on your own if you need to use two skillets) Add marinade and bring to a boil. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir.

At this point, I had planned on putting the chicken back in pan (I only used one), spooning some of the tomatoes and sauce over the top, coverering and cooking until done.

I ended up pouring the tomato/sauce/onion/stuff into another bowl, putting the chicken back in the pan and then pouring the tomato/sauce/onion/stuff over the top. And then cooking until it was done.

If you use chicken with bones in it, this will undboubtedly take longer than you think it should. But oh, how the meat will fall off those bones.

Serve over rice.
Save your bones for stock!

I want to make this with bonesless chicken breasts and/or thighs - getting meat off of wings that are messy like this is a pain.