September 30, 2009

Green Bean Risotto

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 2/3 to 2 cups diced green beans
3/4 cup chopped crimini mushrooms
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Arborio rice
1/3 cup Parmesan, grated
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

In a saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan Saute the mushrooms, salt, pepper, garlic and shallot until lightly caramelized. Add the rice and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring continually. Add the broth a 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, and waiting until the liquid is absorbed before each addition. When you are about half way through the broth, add the green beans to the rice. Continue to add broth and stir. When the risotto is creamy and the rice is al dente remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan.

My thoughts:
Risotto is the ultimate 20 minute meal. It is quick, easy and infinitely adaptable. I had some "French-style" green beans that I didn't want to use as simply a side dish that ended up being an inspired choice for the risotto. They stayed crisp and added a lot of fresh flavor and texture interest to the creamy risotto.

The next day I made arancini di riso with the leftovers and instead of placing cheese in the middle, I used a cube of smoked ham. It was a delicious and easy lunch.

September 28, 2009

Ham, Cheddar & Poblano Corn Muffins

1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup cubed smoked ham
2/3 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar
1/2 cup diced poblano pepper
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil or melted butter
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400. Grease or line 12 wells in a muffin tin. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and sugar. Beat in the egg, buttermilk and oil until well combined. Fold in the ham, peppers and cheese. Divide evenly among the wells and bake 15 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the center muffin comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

My thoughts:
I love when I can take leftovers and make something entirely new with them. I had some ham leftover from a recipe development gig I am working on and while ham sandwiches are always tasty, I wanted to try to use it in a different way. I loved the contrast of the smoky ham, sharp pepper and cheddar against the lightly sweet cornbread. They would be great as a treat for breakfast but they were also wonderful when served instead of a roll with soup or chili.

Note: Like most muffins, these muffins reheat and freeze well. Never be without breakfast again!

September 25, 2009

Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts & Crimini Sauté

2 1/2 cups cauliflower florets (I used yellow cauliflower)
5 ounces sliced crimini mushrooms
10 Brussels sprouts, halved
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
juice of 1 lemon

Toss the vegetables with the thyme and lemon juice in a large bowl. Set aside. Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet. Add the vegetables and cover. The vegetables should be in a single layer. Cook about 3 minutes or until just beginning to become tender. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until all of the water evaporates and the vegetables are lightly caramelized. Serve hot.

Yield: 4-6 servings

My thoughts:
Here in the mid-Atlantic we have a much shorter growing season than all of those lucky West Coasters and Southerners. Therefore we have to make the most of what we can get before the date of the first frost. Right now I am seeing some amazing cauliflower and Brussels sprouts so I decided to pair them together in this simple but flavorful saute. I know that cauliflower and Brussels sprouts top many people's least favorite lists but cooked like this, they are amazing. The caramelization process brings out the natural, slightly nutty sweetness in both and completely eliminates any sort of bitterness. I love this as a side dish or as a light meal.

September 23, 2009

Rachel's Homestyle Baltimore Crab Cakes

1 shallot, minced
16 oz backfin blue crab meat
16 oz lump blue crab meat
2 eggs, beaten
2 slices white sandwich bread, torn into small bits
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1-2 tablespoons Old Bay
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the crab meat in a large bowl. Add the spices and mix to incorporate, without breaking up the chunks of crab meat. Add the remaining ingredients and gently mix in by hand.

Cup handfuls of the crab mixture and mold into balls.

Cook immediately or refrigerate until ready to cook, up to overnight. Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a large skillet and fry the crab cakes until golden, flipping once. A large, shallow spoon makes flipping and removing crab cakes from the pan a breeze. Drain on paper towel lined plates before serving.

Yield: about 10 crab cakes

My thoughts:
Here in Baltimore where to get the best crab cakes is a hotly debated topic. Blood is drawn, friendships are lost, and families are divided as people debate which restaurant has the most flavorful crab cakes with the largest chunks of crab and the least filler. Almost as controversial are the crab cake recipes people make at home. Often they are a closely guarded secret trotted out only on the most special of occasions. Fortunately for you, I don't feel the need to keep my recipe to myself. My recipe has been refined over the years, building up from the very simple Old Bay, backfin, egg and bread cube version my mother makes.

My version uses both lump and backfin crab meat for a couple of reasons. Backfin is finer and easier to form into cakes but it is wonderful to bite into succulent lumps of crabmeat, so it is worth it mix some lump in. Lump, by itself, is rather difficult to bind without using a lot of filler and is more expensive than backfin, so mixing the two is easier, cheaper and tastier than using just lump. I also like to add a bit of mustard and extra celery seed to the mix to give it a bit of a kick without being spicy. The trick is to season your crab cakes thoroughly enough that it needs no adornment but not so much that you can't taste the crab. The crab is the star!

My recipe is sort a cross between the old-fashioned, homelier crabcakes typically made by native Baltimoreans at home and the broiled jumbo lump-only crab cakes one finds at restaurants. Of course, there are as many ways to make crab cakes as there are crabs in Bay but these are tastiest I've made and easy to make at home.

Quick tips:
Often small bits of shells and cartridge can be found in packages of crabmeat, even if the label says it has been picked over. Take a minute to check over the meat before forming the crabcakes.

The moisture level of the crab varies from batch to batch. If the crab mixture is very wet, making it difficult to form a cake, add a small amount of bread or cracker crumbs until the mixture can hold its shape.

If you are so inclined, lump and jumbo lump crab meat can be used instead of the backfin and lump but it will be more difficult to mold into crab cakes.

September 21, 2009

Baked Spaghetti

1 lb spaghetti
28 oz canned crushed or ground tomatoes
28 oz canned diced tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small to medium carrots, diced
1 jarred whole pimiento, diced
1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon basil, finely chopped
1 tablespoon oregano, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato paste

bread crumbs
grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350. If you'd like, break the spaghetti in half. Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions until just barely al dente. Drain and set aside. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and carrots. Saute over low heat until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and pimiento. Saute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and herbs and cook, stirring occasionally, on low until it thickens-about 10 minutes. Stir in the spaghetti. Pour into a olive oiled casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and Parmesan. Bake covered for 15 minutes then uncovered for an additional 10 or until piping hot.

Yield: about 6 servings

My thoughts:
Although I am no stranger to baked pasta dishes, baked spaghetti was never on my radar until I began noticing it being made on several British television shows. Not cooking shows, just regular dramas. Invariably, someone would be pulling out a casserole of baked spaghetti at some point during the series. I honestly don't know if this is some sort of typical British dish (my research turned up nothing definitive) but after seeing it for the fifth or sixth time, it really started to look good. I am actually not a fan of spaghetti, preferring other pasta shapes, but when baked it takes on a different texture and sticks together in away that I enjoyed more than the usual worm-like slippery strands. Of course I have no way of knowing what went into those TV casseroles but I do know that this is one tasty pasta bake. The balsamic vinegar adds a fruitiness that complements the the touch of sweetness that the carrot and pimiento lend, which in turn melds with the herbs and tomato to create an complex tastying yet easy and totally comforting sauce. Perfect for those first chilly nights of fall.

September 17, 2009

Fruit & Nut Oatmeal Muffins

1 1/4 cup flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 cup mixed dried fruit
1/3 cup quartered, skin-on almonds
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease and flour one 12 well muffin tin. In a medium bowl, whisk together the spices, flour, baking soda, sugar, baking powder and oats. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the egg, oil and buttermilk. After it is thoroughly mixed, pour in the dry ingredients. Stir to combine. Fold in the fruit and nuts. Divide evenly among 12 muffin wells. Bake 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the center muffin comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack, serve.

My thoughts:
This morning felt nearly fall-like so I was inspired to make these appropriately autumnal muffins. You can use any dried fruit you'd enjoy but I used an "antioxidant blend" that included blueberries, tart cherries, cranberries and plums. I like that blend a lot because it isn't overly sweet and cheaper than buying all of those fruits individually and mixing them myself. Anyway, the mixture of fruits added a lot of flavor to these hearty muffins and the almonds added a bit of crunch. As an added bonus, they were super quick to make, from raw ingredients to fully cooked muffin took only 30 minutes. You can't beat that for a homemade breakfast!

September 15, 2009

Weenie Mac & Cheesy (Macaroni & Cheese with a Hot Dog Surprise)

2 large hot dogs cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
2 cups evaporated milk*
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar
1/3 cup panko
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 lb macaroni or (my favorite)cellentani, cooked

For the béchamel: In a medium pan, melt the butter. Add the flour along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, cayenne and stir until smooth. Add the milk and mustard and whisk until slightly thickened. Whisk in the cheeses until smooth. Stir in the hot dog slices. Pour over the drained pasta. Pour into lightly oiled baking dish. Top with a sprinkle of panko. Bake covered about 15 minutes, then uncover and cook until hot and bubbly, about 10-15 additional minutes.

Yield: about 4-6 (meal sized) servings

* Most cans of evaporated milk only yield about 1 3/4 cups. Make up the rest with regular milk.

Note: Avoid using hot dogs with a very high fat content or your macaroni and cheese will become unappetizingly greasy as it bakes and the hot dogs release their juices.

My thoughts:
Don't tell anyone where you got this recipe! While it is super tasty, it is also rather embarrassing to admit that you not only made it but that were no children were present to use as an excuse. My mom had made mac and cheese with hot dogs (although not quite this version) when I was a kid a couple of times. I think she saw the suggestion in a magazine because it wasn't exactly our usual fare. Anyway, I was telling my husband about the disappointing casserole book I had read and I revealed that I had eaten this somewhat dubious dish; the closest to a casserole I ever had growing up. He was intrigued (we do love hot dogs) so when I ended up with a couple flavorful but not too fatty Roseda Beef hot dogs leftover from an earlier meal, I knew what I had to make.

While the mac and cheese of my childhood was infrequent and consisted simply of macaroni tossed with shredded cheese and then baked, I've grown to enjoy a bit of creamy sauce. However, I avoid making it with the traditional heavy cream, that is a little too rich for me. Instead I use evaporated milk with is quite creamy tasting but is also 98% fat free. Regular (2%) milk works well as an alternative if you don't have evaporated on hand. Since I was making macaroni cheese with hot dogs I went ahead and added some mustard to the sauce. It was a perfect choice, it added a bit of spice and extra sharpness to the cheddar.

I've been getting lot of emails about cheap eats and I am happy to say this was a very filling, very budget-friendly meal. While the locally produced hot dogs (bought at Graul's for you locals) were on the pricy side ($8 for 6 hot dogs), the cheese was about $2, the evaporated milk was 80 cents and the pasta was only $1. The remaining ingredients were cheap staples. Add some broccoli ($1 lb) on the side and you have a complete, thrifty meal.

September 13, 2009

Pork with Oyster Mushrooms

1 lb pork sirloin, diced
12 oz oyster mushrooms, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
4 green onions chopped
1 onion sliced
1 cup chicken or pork stock
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil

for the marinade:
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon ginger juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 shallot, minced

Place the pork in a resealable bag. Add the marinade ingredients and marinate for about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the canola oil in a large wok. Saute the onions and garlic until fragrant about 2 minutes. Add the pork (with the marinade) and stir fry until the pork is just browned on all sides. Add the mushrooms, broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sesame oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pork and mushrooms are tender and fully cooked. Add green onions, remove from heat and stir. Serve with hot rice.

My thoughts:
I love oyster mushrooms. They are so meaty and flavorful, they could be a meal by themselves. However, they also pair wonderfully with pork; better than they do with beef or chicken in my opinion. In this dish the pork is marinaded and then cooked in the marinade and flavorful sauce which really infuses the pork with flavor.

September 10, 2009

Moules aux Poireaux et le Céleri

2-2 1/2 mussels (cleaned, discard any that are open)
2 large leeks, diced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
3/4 cup (dry) white wine or water
minced parsley to taste

Place the leeks, celery, onion, parsley and wine in the bottom of a large pot with a lid. Add the mussels. Cover and bring the liquid to a boil. Cook until the mussels have all opened, stirring occasionally. Discard any mussels that did not open.

Quick tip: When picking up mussels at the store, ask for some ice to place in a bag with the mussels for the trip home. You want to keep them as cool as possible to avoid any mass mussel death. Refrigerate until cooking. If they are very fresh, they should be fine refrigerated overnight. If unsure, plan on making them the same day they were purchased.

My thoughts:
I think every time I have mussels I love them a little bit more. They are so quick to make, always delicious, easy to vary and very affordable. When we made this, I am a little embarrassed to say, we actually made 5 lbs of mussels and split them between the two of us. In our defense, they were quite small and we hadn't had anything else to eat that day. For this recipe, I paired it down to a more reasonable 2 to 2 1/2 lbs but if you are up for a mussels orgy, by all means, feel free to double it. And by all means, make frites to go with.

September 07, 2009

Pommes Frites with Two Dipping Sauces

2-3 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch wide, 3 inch long pieces
canola oil

frites sauce #1
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons parsley
2 anchovies

frites sauce #2
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper

frites sauce #1: pulse all ingredients in a blender until fairly smooth.
frites sauce #2: whisk all ingredients together.

For the frites:
Soak the cut up potato in cold water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Meanwhile, bring a heavy, tall sided pan of oil up to 300. Add the fries in a fry basket if possible) and cook for about 6 minutes. They should look pale but when broken in half, they should look nearly cooked inside.

Drain and allow to cool completely. Heat the oil again, this time to 350. Cook fries about 3 minutes or until golden and crisp. Drain and serve immediately.

My thoughts:
Making your own fries at home can seem daunting but if you are willing to sacrifice some cooking oil and time, it is really quite easy. As you all know, I loathe ketchup so I normally eat my fries plain or dipped in some other sort of sauce-cocktail or tartar if eating some kind of seafood etc. So I've always been intrigued by the variety of sauces (normally mayo-based) that Belgian frites shops offer. I came up with two simple sauces that not only are extremely tasty but are made of ingredients I always have on hand. And they keep just fine in the refrigerator for a few days, so you can make them ahead of time if the thought of frying and making sauce simultaneously is too daunting.

September 04, 2009

Clam "Bake" on the Grill

2 dozen cherrystone clams
1 1/2 lb shrimp
1 quart tiny redskin potatoes
4 smoked turkey sausage, cut into thirds
3 ears of corn, cut into coins
2 large onions, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 bulb fennel, sliced
2 cups of crab stock*

corn stalks free of silk

Line the bottom of a very large pot (we used the lobster pot we got as a wedding present) with corn stalks. Top with onions, sausage potatoes, fennel, and bay leaves. Add the stock and enough water to just clear the food. Top with a layer of corn, then shrimp then the clams. Place on a very hot grill and cook, covered, for 20-30 minutes.

Cook until the clams are fully opened.

Use slotted spoons and/or a pasta scoop to fish the food out. Serve with crusty bread, butter, and Old Bay.

*I made crab stock with the shells of leftover steamed crabs boiled with water, 2 parsnips, 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery and a few onions following the same instructions as chicken stock.

My thoughts:
While not technically a clambake, this is a fun, interactive dinner that is incredibly easy to make. A couple of years ago I read an article about clambakes that had some good tips on layering the food and although I wasn't very interested in what they put in the pot ever since I've wanted to have one in our own backyard. While I don't have a beach or seaweed or rocks, I do have a grill and it worked very well.

A local chain had Chesapeake Bay clams on sale along with some tasty saltwater shrimp (they are bright pink even prior to cooking) so it seemed fated that we'd have seafood when our delightful friend Danielle came to dinner.

I used turkey sausage which is lower in fat than most sausage (by a lot!) and thus did not make everything unappetizing greasy which some times occurs when sausage is boiled with other foods. I also cut up the corn and used tiny potatoes so they would cook quickly and be done at the same time as the clams.

I liked to put a little butter on the corn and sprinkle the shrimp with Old Bay.

September 02, 2009

Deconstructed Pizza Pasta Salad

8 oz small pasta (I used radiatore)
8 oz fresh mozzarella, diced
4 oz sliced mushrooms
2 1/2 oz turkey pepperoni, halved
2 1/2 oz baby spinach
3 cups diced tomatoes
1 large cubanelle pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced

for the dressing:
2 oz olive oil
2 oz red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced basil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Prepare pasta according to package instructions. Drain and allow to cool. Place the pasta and the remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss. In a small bowl or dressing shaker, mix together the dressing ingredients until emulsification occurs. Drizzle over the salad and toss again. Serve at room temperature for best flavor.

My thoughts:

Since the unofficial end of summer is this weekend, I thought I'd share one last summer salad recipe. This one is perfect for taking to party as it appeals to even picky eaters and the pasta salad adverse. It is basically all of the ingredients that make up a typical pizza tossed with pasta. Who doesn't like pizza? The dressing is light and garlicy, not creamy or overpowering and just really pulls all of the flavors together. I used some heirloom tomatoes I picked up at the farmers market (my tomatoes have been slow to ripen this year) but I think halved cherry or grape tomatoes would work well.