February 27, 2013

Scallop Fennel Chowder

2 lb bay scallops
1 bunch small "baby" Vidalia onions (with greens attached), diced
1 shallot, minced
1 large bulb fennel, diced
1 rather large russet potato, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
4-5 (thin, regular) slices bacon, diced and cooked until crisp
2 cups 2% milk
2 cups half and half
2 tablespoons olive oil (or a mix of bacon grease and olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon thyme
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Heat the butter or oil in a dutch oven or large pot. Saute the white parts of the onion, shallot, celery and fennel until the vegetables are softened. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes until nearly fully cooked. Drain and set aside.  Add  the scallops,  bacon, spices, potatoes, milk, half and half to the vegetable mixture and simmer until the scallops are cooked through. Stir in the green tops of the Vidalia onion. Serve with oyster crackers on the side.
My thoughts:
I know it must be inching closer to spring if I can find "baby" Vidalia onions in the store. Larger and sweeter than green onions or scallions, they are a great way to add a light onion flavor to dishes like this chowder that need a subtle touch. If you can't find them, substitute similar looking spring onions. Fennel is just making its way into the market as well so I decided to pair them together in this deceptively light scallop chowder. I love how the fennel retained a bit of its crisp texture making it a toothsome addition to the chowder. Bay scallops pack as much flavor as their larger sea-bred cousins but they are more perfectly sized for soup and more affordable to boot. All together, they made for a chowder that was fresh tasting and lightly herbal. Perfect for a light, weeknight meal.

February 25, 2013

Spam + Peas + Rice Frittata

8 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 1/2 cup cooked white rice
12 oz Spam lite, cubed
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
kecap manis

Preheat oven to 325. Brown the spam on all sides in In a 12 inch cast iron skillet*, heat oil and butter. Whisk together the eggs, peas, rice and spices, put aside. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the egg mixture. Stir to evenly distribute the spam, onions and garlic. Keep on medium heat and cook until just beginning to set. Bake about 10 minutes or until the top is just beginning to brown. Remove from pan and slice. Drizzle with kecap manis.

*or other oven-safe skillet

My thoughts:
I admit it, I like Spam. I like it despite not growing up with it or being Hawaiian or a GI in WWII. Now I am not one of the crazies to eats it fresh from the can with a spoon, but panfry up some spam and I'm in. This frittata was inspired by the bacon rice that we make for late weekend breakfasts (can you eat brunch at home? if you can, this is brunch for us). Instead of serving the Spam and egg on top of rice, I folded everything together into light, fluffy scrambled eggs then popped it in the oven to set. We are more than I'd like to admit the first day it was that good but the leftover were delicious as well re-heated in the oven for a few minutes. Perfect for a multi-day Spam fix. I was a little worried about how the rice would be in a frittata but it was wonderful, it retained its texture and added a lot of body and substance.

February 22, 2013

Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs)

1/2 lb very lean ground beef
1/2 lb gound pork
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup milk
1/2 small onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350. In a small pan, saute the onions until just browned. Set aside.

Place the breadcrumbs and milk in a medium bowl. Allow to soak 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined. Form into very small (walnut-sized) meatballs. Heat some oil in a oven safe pan (I used a cast-iron skillet). Add the meatballs and saute until browned on all sides. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 10-20 minutes or until the meatballs are fully cooked. Serve immediately.
My thoughts:
In Sweden, meatballs aren't always served with creamy gravy, a trait I quite enjoy. While I like a good gravy topped meatball (see my lightened up version here) and will even indulge in them at the local Ikea, I don't always feel like making a sauce after spending my time making a bunch of tiny meatballs. I honestly don't miss it. I serve the meatballs with Swedish beet salad* (that can be made a day ahead), lingonberry jam and boiled potatoes. Simple but so satisfying!

If you want to be extra Swedish, you can turn leftover meatballs and beet salad into a sandwich (köttbullssmörgås) the next day for lunch.

February 20, 2013

Hot & Gingery Pulled Chicken

2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
8 oz chili sauce (like Heinz)
1 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke
1 tablespoon ginger juice
2 1/2-3 tablespoons raspberry hot sauce*
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon cardamom

The night before you want to make the pulled chicken, place the thighs, garlic, onion, chili sauce, liquid smoke, ginger juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper in a resealable bag or marinating container. Mix to coat the chicken in the other ingredients. Refrigerate.

The next day, add the contents of the marinating container and all remaining ingredients to a 2 quart slow cooker. Cook on low in the slow cooker 1 hour on high plus 2 1/2 hours on low or 3 1/2 hrs on low. When done, meat should shred easily with a fork. Shred chicken with a fork. Toss to evenly coat with sauce. Serve on rolls.

*I used the Captain Mowatt's Fireberry Sauce that I picked up on a trip to Maine. I think another fruity yet hot hot sauce would work but if you can find it, pick up a bottle!

My thoughts:
I've been trying to think of some easy dinners lately due to my work and my husband tearing his ACL and meniscus during some vigorous kung fu that are still crave-worthy. My old friend the slow cooker (Have you ordered my latest book yet? The Big Book of Slow Cooker Recipes: More Than 700 Slow Cooker Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Dessert is available now!) has come to my rescue more than once. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are cheap, tasty and perfect for the slow cooker. Unlike boneless, skinless breasts, they stay moist and shred with ease; perfect for pulled chicken. I went for a tangy, fruity yet not too sweet sauce than thanks to the overnight soak, really permeated every inch of the chicken.

February 15, 2013

Guinness Mushroom Pot Pie

16 oz crimini mushrooms, diced
1 1/2 cups Guinness
3/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 3/4 cup milk
1 Russet potato, peeled, diced
1/2 cup super fine flour (like Wondra)
1/8 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, chopped
2 carrots, cut into coins
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon savory
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 bay leaf
1 egg, beaten
freshly ground black pepper

puff pastry (if using defrosted frozen, you will only need one sheet)

Preheat oven to 350. Re-hydrate the mushrooms in hot water. Drain, dice and set aside. Melt the butter in a large skillet with high sides, a large saucepan or a stove top and oven safe 2 quart casserole. Add the onion, garlic, shallot, celery, carrots, fresh mushrooms, and potatoes. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for one to two minutes. Add the milk, Guinness, golden syrup, bay leaf, and stock. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces and thickens a bit, about 10-15 minutes. Fish out the bay leaf. Add the re-hydrated dried mushrooms, herbs and spices. Stir to evenly distribute all ingredients. Cook for 2 minutes. Divide into 6 10 oz ramekins or pour into a 2 quart casserole dish. Leaving about 1/4 to 1/2 inch headspace. Top with a layer of puff pastry. Pierce with a knife. Brush with egg. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

My thoughts:
What's better than a pot pie for dinner on a February evening? It is warm, filling and surprisingly simple if you use prepared puff pastry. Just make sure you give the pastry enough time to thaw (at least overnight or longer if your fridge is as cold as mine) and you'll gave dinner in the oven in under 30 minutes. I've made and had pot pies tons of times before but they were mostly meaty creations full of chicken and occasionally beef or pheasant. I like them a lot but I thought it might be fun to make a vegetarian pot pie for a change. I took my inspiration from traditional pot pies and British Guinness and steak pies. Similar to how I did with my beef, mushroom and barley soup, I used both fresh and dried mushrooms for maximum umami mushroom power. That is what gives you enough depth of flavor that even hardcore carnivores won't miss the meat. The rest is pretty straightforward but very tasty and satisfying  The leftovers taste great the next day too! Just let them come a little closer to room temperature before baking.

February 13, 2013

Meat Cakes (Frikadellen)

2/3 lb lean ground beef
1/3 lb ground pork
1/3 lb ground veal
1 egg, beaten
1 small onion, diced
1-2 slices soft sandwich bread, torn into bite-sized pieces
freshly ground black pepper

Mix together all ingredients in a medium bowl. Form into about 6 flat patties. Set aside. Heat some canola oil in a skillet. Add the patties and cooking, turning once until cooked all the way through and browned on both sides. Drain on paper towel lined plates. Serve hot.
My thoughts:
Growing up, my Grandpop lived in a basement apartment in our house. He had his own kitchen and made his own meals, only coming upstairs for holidays! He made a lot of food I miss quite a bit including his unusual version of fried chicken (one day I will recreate it but it makes me sad to think about eating it without him), ever changing beef stew, ground beef gravy, home fries and what he called meat cakes. I've talked before about Baltimore's German heritage so I shouldn't have been surprised when, after making meat cakes a while back in a fit of nostalgia, I googled meat cakes to see if they were a Baltimore thing or just a Grandpop thing and found that they were in, fact, a German thing. Grandpop always made them with straight ground beef but I had some "meatloaf" mix on hand (ground beef, pork and veal package together) when I recreated them so I used that and liked it quite a bit. After doing some sleuthing into frikadellen, which apparently, are what I've been calling meat cakes all along, I found they are often made with a mixture of meats, often, the beef, veal and pork mixture I unknowingly used. Perhaps frikadellen are in my blood. I had always thought of them as a thrifty choice with their use of bread to stretch out the meat, a perfect choice for immigrants and railroad workers in Pigtown here in Baltimore, but if they have German roots maybe that was only part of it, perhaps they were more of a precursor to the hamburger. Who knows? At any rate, meat cakes are tasty and simple and when I'm feeling nostalgic I add them to the menu, no matter what they are called.

February 11, 2013

Cast Iron Skillet Roasted Mussels with Endive & Celery

4 lb mussels
3 sprigs' worth thyme leaves
1 endive, sliced thinly
1 onion, halved and sliced thinly
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced (with leaves)
1 large clove garlic, halved and sliced thinly
3/4-1 cup dry white wine or seafood stock
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

Preheat oven to 400. Arrange the mussels in a single layer (or as close to a single layer as you can) in a large cast iron (I used my 14-inch) skillet. Sprinkle with remaining ingredients. Roast for 15 minutes, turning the mussels once, or until the mussels are opened. Discard any unopened mussels. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:
I have a habit of buying seafood to have for that night's dinner when I go grocery shopping. It spoils more quickly than other meat so I like to get and use it right way, lest I forget and it spoils or dies in vain. Mussels go on sale frequently (often under $4 or even $3 per 2lb bag)and the store nearly always have them so they are often my default pick. Luckily, I am a big fan of mussels (in fact one of the main reasons we went to Belgium a few years ago was for the excuse to eat mussels, fries, waffles and chocolate for days on end. And as it turns out, snails.) and they are so simple to make, I can make them even when I'm agitated and exhausted from shopping. They are a great way to use up leftover odds and ends in the fridge as well. I had a single head of (Belgian!) endive I threw in the pan and it was great, slightly crisp and it flavored the broth nicely. I had only steamed mussels before but I was in the mood for something different and figured if you could grill mussels, surely you could roast them. Luckily I was correct! Not only can you roast mussels, you should roast mussels. They get this lovely smoky flavor too them and the broth seems even more intensely flavored than it is when the mussels are steamed. You do need a big cast iron skillet (or paella pan, I bet, but I don't have one of those) or you will have to work in batches. It is worth it, the flavor is unparalleled. Just be careful turning the mussels, especially if like me, you get the bright idea to try to do this while the mussels are still in the oven.

February 08, 2013

Hot & Spicy "Oven Fried" Catfish Nuggets

1 1/2 lb catfish cut into bite sized pieces
2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon hot paprika
2 cups cornflake crumbs
2 teaspoons hot New Mexican chili powder
2 teaspoon ground chipotle
2 teaspoon ground ancho chile

Place the buttermilk, hot sauce catfish, mustard powder and paprika in a covered bowl, resealable plastic bag or marinating container, Stir to distribute spices. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Drain the catfish and discard the marinade.

Preheat oven to 350. Mix together the cornflake crumbs, chili powder, chipotle and ancho chile powders in a shallow bowl. Dredge each nugget in the crumbs and arrange in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes or until fully cooked.

My thoughts:
My grocery store sells cut up catfish for even cheaper than catfish filets (I think it must be the ends leftover from cutting the rather long catfish into normal sized filets) which is just plain awesome. Normally prepped food is more expensive so I'm used to buying whole cuts of meat or fish and cubing it myself so to be able to buy something I love to eat and would be cutting up anyway for less is amazing! If you can't buy catfish already cut-up, I find the easiest way to cut it yourself is using kitchen shears.

Normally I fry catfish when I'm eating it "plain" (aka not in gumbo, paella or étouffée) but in the interest of both health and ease of cooking, I thought I'd try to bake it instead. When I was a child, my mom would make chicken breast rolled in cornflake crumbs and I remember it being really crispy so I thought I'd try that on the catfish. My biggest pet peeve with baked "nuggets" or other food that is normally fried is that it is never crispy enough.The cornflakes did the trick! The nuggets were crisp and tasty and very moist.

February 06, 2013

Chicken, Collard & Kamut Soup

2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash*
1 cup kamut berries
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 carrots, diced
3 sprigs of thyme worth of leaves
1 bay leaf
8 oz sliced crimini mushrooms
2 cups chopped frozen collard greens
2 cups diced cooked chicken breast

Place the squash, celery, carrots, mushrooms, garlic, stock, kamut, herbs and spices in a 4 quart slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 or so hours then stir in the chicken and collards. Cook for 20-30 minutes to warm the chicken through and wilt the collards.

*I used frozen because it was on sale and after asking the Twitterverse for positive experiences.
My thoughts:
This winter has been so freakish. One day it is sleeting and snowing and freezing raining and the next it is 60 and sunny. It makes it difficult to meal plan. One day I feel like soups and stews and the next, I want to break out the grill and smoker.

I like collards but they require a bit of effort to use; they are often gritty and and have a thick center stem that needs to be removed. They are also sold in such large quantities, we end up eating them for days afterwards. So when I spied a bag frozen, chopped collards, I tossed them in the cart. I didn't think (and still don't) they'd be good used in the traditional, long cooked way(similar to how I made turnip greens) but they are perfect to adding to dishes where you need just a bit of greens. They're a great alternative to spinach in so many things, including this soup. Full of hardy ingredients like kamut (aka, Khorasan wheat) and root vegetables, this soup is perfect for dinner on a cold, blustery night.

As an aside, collards are considered an "ancient green" just as kamut is an "ancient grain" so all the more reason to pair the two together.

February 04, 2013

Herbed Turkey and Stuffing Bake

12 oz soft potato bread cubes*
1 lb boneless turkey cutlets (about 4)
1 cup turkey or chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb onion, diced
1 lb celery, diced (greens included)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed rosemary
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Spray a 9x13 inch pan with cooking spray. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350.

Heat the butter and oil in a skillet. Saute the onion, garlic and celery over very low heat until the onion is translucent and the celery is soft but neither is browned. Toss with the bread cubes, salt, pepper, herbs de Provence and celery seed. Pour the stock over the mixture and mix until well distributed. Spoon the stuffing mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish. Smooth out with a spoon.

Sprinkle both sides of each cutlet with tarragon, rosemary and salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer over the stuffing.

Cover the baking dish with foil. Bake for 45 minutes or until the turkey is fully cooked and the stuffing is bubbly and crispy around the edges.

Note: You could assemble the casserole the day or morning before cooking and refrigerate until ready to bake. Add 10 additional minutes to the cooking time and take care using cold glass containers in a hot oven.

*I found a bag of these on sale at the farm store. I hadn't seen or used them before but maybe they are super common, I don't know. At any rate, you could just cut slices of potato bread into 1/4 inch cubes yourself.

My thoughts:
I can count on one hand how many non-mac and cheese casseroles I've made in my life. I generally just don't think of them when meal planning. Until I spotted a bag of soft bread cubes, I'd only come across the crunchy crouton kind and since we are a soft stuffing family, I was never interested in them. But soft bread cubes made from bread I'd probably buy anyway sounded good. I picked up a bag without really knowing what to do with it since Thanksgiving had long past and since I hadn't used them before, I wouldn't have wanted to trust them to a holiday either. I really do like stuffing with turkey so I thought of using them in sort of a turkey-stuffing bake aka a casserole. The supermarket I frequent always has a ton of turkey and turkey pieces for sale so I picked up a pack of boneless turkey breast. I guess I could have made this with bone-in, skin-on turkey pieces but I'd rather avoid cutting up a whole turkey and I didn't need to make quite that much food. The breast cutlets were the perfect choice. They added flavor without a lot of effort and were easier to eat than lifting those big pieces out of the stuffing. Plus it cooks much more quickly than whole pieces could making it perfect for weeknight dinner. I love not having to wait for a special occasion to eat turkey and stuffing! The turkey was perfectly moist and the stuffing was soft under the turkey and crispy on the bottom and edges just like I like it. It was the best parts of Thanksgiving in one pan and it didn't take long to make at all.