Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easy, Cheesy

A while ago I posted a recipe for au gratin potatoes. It is a no-fail, time tested recipe that is great for company because you can be sure it will turn out great. There are a few extra steps involved, but you can know that it will be done, no crunchy potatoes, you can multiply or divide the recipe and you will end up with the same results.
I have another recipe. This one uses russets, and it is absolutely perfect for a weeknight meal. It's quick, its easy, and it tastes fantastic. Seriously, it tastes so good, I reheated some for myself the next day. As I was eating them, I thought to myself, I need to blog about these potatoes. So, my next thought was, I need to take a picture. I finished the dish of potatoes. I reheated more, took their picture, then proceeded to eat them. I didn't want to waste them, you see.
Let me tell you how easy this recipe is. You peel some russet potatoes, and heat some milk and cream in a pan. Add some spices. Slice the potatoes. Add the potatoes. Cook until soft. Stir in some grated cheddar (or whatever you prefer) dump the whole thing into a buttered 9x13 baking dish and pop in the oven until brown and bubbling. And they're good. Really good. I called my mom and told her about them right away. I am attributing some of their deliciousness to the inclusion of a bay leaf in the milk that you cook them in. It definitely adds a distinct flavor and aroma that I absolutely adore.
I found this recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, this one, in which the recipe was titled, "Bread-Sauce-Flavored Potato Gratin". I eliminated some of the 'bread sauce' elements, and added cheese. This makes quite a lot, and I would say its too much for 4, but you will want some in the fridge to nibble on later, I am sure of it.

Easy, Cheesy Potatoes
Serves 4, generously
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream (I suppose you could use 2 cups half and half or whole milk, and you would just compromise the creamy texture a bit)
1/2 onion, peeled and cut in half again
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon salt
2 lbs russet potatoes
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
butter for greasing

Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Put the milk and cream into a large saucepan (you will put the potato in here, also). Add the onion and bay leaves to the pan, and bring them nearly to boiling. Turn off the heat, and put the lid on to infuse the milk.
Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2 inch slices. Put them into the saucepan of infused milk and cream, and bring the pan back to a boil with the lid on.
Lower the heat to a simmer, and take off the lid (this will lower the temperature further) if the pan is spluttering too much and erupting down the sides. Cook the potatoes until they are tender, but still firm, about 20 minutes.
Take out the onion and bay leaves and add the cheese, stirring to mix in. Grease a 9x13 dish with butter. Pour the potato mixture into the pan and cook in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Give Peas a Chance

I remember going to the farmer's market as a teenager, and thinking it was pretty awesome. I loved looking at all the fresh fruits and vegetables, honeys, candied nuts, and homemade jams. The market has changed a bit from what I remember, and not its not uncommon to see fresh pastas and ethnic foods being offered. Which I think is absolutely wonderful. If I see one it is really quite hard for me to keep driving. I just want to stop and see what they have. When visiting Seattle a little while ago, I visited theirs. Stunning. I adored it. I seriously considered moving there. Not only is there a fantastic farmer's market that has everything, and I mean everything (if you have never been it encompasses several blocks), but also there are coffee shops on every corner, the ocean is right there, and the weather is gorgeous!
I remember, though, when visiting a farmer's market a few years ago, when the realization hit me that the foodstuffs displayed there were not organic. Sure, they were local, but for some reason I had it in my mind that all of the purveyors at the farmer's market were only supplying local, organic items. I admit the whole idea lost some of its luster. I began to realize that my best bet for local and organic was growing it myself, unless I was willing to auction off the last of our furniture and put the kids up for sale. I love gardening, so that's not really an issue. The last few years I was able to get a good-sized garden going, and managed to eat only the vegetables produced therein for most of the summer (except for a few special items).
During this process, I discovered one of the most delicious vegetables to eat fresh are peas. They are amazing when you take them straight from the garden and toss them in some butter. Now, before you shut down and put the blinders up, think about the peas you have eaten. I have said it before and I will say it again, I am a firm believer that most people don't like certain veggies because they didn't like the way they were prepared as a child. Peas are another vegetable that gets a bad rap. I don't like canned peas, but frozen peas can be found  year round, for just a about a buck and a half, or less, and they are super quick and easy to prepare. I always have at least one bag in my freezer (they also double as quick ice packs) and reach for them when I am in a rush. We don't eat them that often, because I try to serve fresh vegetables for most meals, but they are definitely handy.
Peas are absolutely delicious with mint. If you have never had it you are probably thinking to yourself right now, "Are you sure?" I'm sure. Not a handful, just chiffonade a few leaves and toss them in at the end for a subtle flavor. Amazing. Most of us have an annoying spearmint plant taking over a portion of our back yard, you can always go that route, or just pick up a small bunch at the grocery store.
I start by sauteing some finely chopped shallots in butter until they are soft, if you don't have shallots, you can substitute another onion. Whey they are soft, throw in the peas, toss them around in the buttery, oniony sauce, sprinkle on some salt and fresh cracked pepper. Put a lid on for about 5 minutes, throw in the mint and toss it around again. Pretty easy. Pretty good.
Give peas a chance.

Spring peas
Serves 6

2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 a shallot, finely chopped
1 1-lb bag frozen peas
salt and pepper to taste
about 10 mint leaves, thinly sliced

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Saute shallot until translucent. Add peas. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover. Cook for about five minutes, or until peas are just warmed through. Add mint leaves and toss again. Serve immediately.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easy Morning

It feels like I haven't blogged in forever! I know it hasn't been that long, but it seems like it, and I am afraid you are going to have to put up with me being a bit wordy. I have so many things I want to write recipes, old recipes, recipes I had forgotten about and recipes I really, really want to share. We have moved, and while we were getting settled into our new place we were without the Internet. So, instead of checking every body's facebook status or watching Netflix, I have been reading cookbooks and writing out recipes. I have a lot of recipes. Since we last talked I made a delicious chocolate cake, perfected my fried rice, made egg rolls, made lasagna for the first time, found all my long-lost recipes and saved them forever in cyberspace, tweaked a potato recipe, re-discovered a chicken recipe, convinced my 5-year old that he likes asparagus (FINALLY), made some amazing muffins...maybe I should stop there. I really wanted to write about this potato recipe, but I think the muffins should come first.
I really like muffins, along with just about any other food item, but I have discovered that a lot of muffin recipes are strange. The muffins are dry, horrible little things that should be given to the children to play with, not eaten with coffee to start a lovely spring day. Or, the recipe turns out ok, but calls for something I can't swap out without compromising the consistency, such as a juice or sour cream. And, I know it probably sounds funny but I usually don't have sour cream. It's not that I don't buy it, its just that it goes really fast. But, if I buy a lot we don't use know how that is.
Anyway, this is another of those common items that I just can't seem to find a stand-by, basic recipe for. Until now. This is another one from the Art and Soul of Baking, a book I highly recommend. I use it weekly, if not more. Sometimes I look through this book and feel like I need to exercise.
There is a great muffin recipe in here, and you can make all sorts of substitutions. The muffins I made the other day were the suggested Lemon Raspberry. A lovely combination, and really just the tip of the iceberg. Lemon Blueberry, Poppy seed, Orange Cranberry, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Peanut could make anything! The recipe uses butter, and you zest the lemon and infuse the melted butter with the zest. This allows the flavor to permeate all the batter, and you could get creative with the raspberry. I happened to have some frozen raspberries in my freezer, but I would think you could drop a bit of raspberry or blackberry jam into each muffin cup and swirl it with the batter, or just leave it as a jellied center. Dried cranberries, fresh cranberries, blueberries or any other fruit you like (think: dried apricot, dark chocolate and coconut...hmm...) I don't see why you couldn't mash up a banana or two and add that to the batter with a hand full of chopped walnuts. This is that recipe. Its the only muffin recipe I will ever use. I will make all my modifications on this one. I really love it. There is even a little bit about a streusel topping you can add (can?) so this is definitely a keeper.

Lemon Raspberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

For the muffins:
2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
3/4 stick butter
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 half-pint basket raspberries, or 1 1/4 cups frozen (do not thaw)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 and position an oven rack in the center. Line a muffin tin and lightly spray the top with cooking spray. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk to blend thoroughly. Melt the butter in a medium glass dish in the microwave and add the lemon zest. Add the buttermilk and let the mixture sit for 1 or 2 minutes, or until the mixture is tepid. Add the eggs and vanilla, and whisk until well blended.
Pour the butter mixture into the dry ingredients and stir gently. Mix only until there are no more streaks of flour or pools of liquid and the batter looks fairly smooth. Gently fold in the raspberries.
Divide the batter evenly between prepared muffin cups.

For the streusel:
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons melted butter

Combine in a bowl and sprinkle over muffin batter.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until inserted cake tester comes out clean. Transfer muffin tin to a rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes before lifting the muffins out. Transfer to a rack to finish cooling. Serve warm or hot.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Men are from Mars and women spaghetti?

I love spaghetti. I know, you probably think I love every food, but I really love spaghetti. Spaghetti with meatballs. There is just something so fun about it. Maybe, it is because I liked watching Lady and the Tramp when I was a little girl, and that famous scene when they fall in love happens at a little Italian place around a big plate of Spaghetti and meatballs.
Maybe its because that was a family dinner I remembered and enjoyed. I think it was one of my dad's favorite meals, and I have to say I liked it, too.
When I first got married, my husband preferred Prego over any spaghetti sauce. I made homemade sauce, and he still hinted that he like Prego better. Not roasted garlic or four cheese, just plain, old, Classic Prego sauce. I kind of left it alone. I would make meat sauce or whatever, and sometimes I added things to the sauce, like onions and garlic, or sun dried tomatoes, or olives, but there just wasn't any oomph. I wanted to 'maka spaghetti lika the Italians'. I wanted sauce that made me kiss my fingers and say, "Momma-mia!" It just wasn't working out for me.
Then, there was a special in Saveur magazine. I really love that magazine. I had never heard of it until my husband bought me a subscription. It isn't an over commercialized, celebrity-chef oriented magazine. It has recipes from cultures all over the world, and articles and essays about food, its origins, eating, and travel. I like it a lot. I have found so many recipes in there that I have used over and over again.
Anyway, back to spaghetti. So, there was this recipe from a famous restaurant in New York (I think) and I decided to try it. We all loved it. I sometimes make the whole recipe, or if I don't have time for the meatballs I just make a meat sauce, but follow the same principles. I really love saucing the noodles ahead of time. It definitely makes a difference no matter what spaghetti sauce you use. And if you make this up, taste it and if its too bitter just add a hit of sugar. Not too much, though. And, of course, this isn't exactly how the recipe goes, and feel free to add what your family loves.
For the sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
2 24 oz cans tomato sauce
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup basil, chopped

In a large saucepan, saute onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add the tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese, and salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Just before adding the meatballs, add the basil.

For the meatballs:

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage (homemade if you have it)
1 cup Parmesan Italian panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil

optional: 2 sticks mozzarella string cheese, each cut into six pieces.

Combine all ingredients, except for sliced garlic, mozzarella cheese (if using) and olive oil, in a large bowl. Gently stir with a spoon. Pat meat into 12 large balls, placing mozzarella pieces in the center (if using). Pour olive oil into a large pan and add sliced garlic. Saute over medium-high heat until garlic begins to brown. Add meatballs. Saute first side for about 4 minutes, then rotate as though the meatball has six sides. Cook each side for 2-3 minutes before rotating.
When meatballs are done, place into simmering sauce.

For the spaghetti:
1 lb dried spaghetti noodles, broken in half
4 quarts salted water
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Cook spaghetti  in salted water according to package directions, draining as soon as it is al dente. Return to pan and turn heat on low. Add two or three ladles of the pasta sauce, tossing to coat. Add parsley. Serve with more sauce and meatballs.

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