Monday, March 24, 2008

Side dish Easter Sunday

I celebrated Easter away from home this year and I could not for the life of me figure out what I considered a "traditional Easter Dinner". Growing up we always went to my Grandma's house and typically, with such a large family, everyone would make a dish to share and it ended up being quite similar to least that is what I remember. My Easter memories consist more of finding my hidden basket, over indulging in chocolate and jelly beans and locating those pesky eggs we spent hours dyeing the night before. I think dinner was just something we let the adults worry about.

This year, at Erin's house, I came to realize that I was in fact one of the adults now. I really wanted to take a bigger role in creating Easter dinner so I checked with her mom and they didn't really have any traditions either. With that being said it was quickly suggested that ham be the meat de jour. I had never made ham before and most of the packaged hams already come cooked and glazed (you just heat in the oven for a few hours) so erin's mom said she would handle that job. The sides were up to me!

I perused the normal websites/cookbooks for Easter ideas, however alot of them were geared toward brunch ideas. I knew that erin was a huge fan of scalloped potatoes (normally out of a box) and potatoes go great with ham. Also everyone seemed to really enjoy the asparagus that I made with the fish a few weeks back, and for an easy side I opted to make my Mom's homemade applesauce. With the menu in place I set off to find the perfect, low cal recipes.

I already had the applesauce set and I knew that for asparagus I wanted to try a Roasted recipe. The one big issue was the potatoes. Now erin is a HUGE fan of this dish so although I was trying to find something a bit healthier than your typical boxed brand, I also wanted to keep in mind that it was the holidays and it should be delicious above all else. I spent a few days printing out recipes and running them by erin until we both settled on Asiago, Bacon and Potato and Bacon Gratin. (the bacon sold us both!)

The big Easter day came and I was ready to cook. Now for most of my dishes there was prepping that I could do ahead of time so that when it came time for dinner the four glasses of wine in me wouldn't alter the dishes!

I began with the applesauce. Now my mom always made this straight out of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Unfortunately through the years the cookbook has gone through many revisions and in turn lost some pretty great recipes...this applesauce included. It's fairly simple and can be made in a pan and cooked within an hour, a crock pot and cooked all day or a pan simmering all day (this is the one I went with). I diced up a bag of Macintosh apples, combined them with a cup of water, 1/2 a cup of splenda for baking (the recipe is originally for sugar of course), 1 teas. of cinnamon and I opted to add a few dashes of nutmeg. You bring this all to a boil and as the apples heat up you take a potato masher and create the sauce. I reduced the heat as low as possible and let it cook all day long! My mom told me that it really is ready after about twenty mins. but since I had the time I let all the flavors just sit together for a few hourse. I must say that it also made the house smell amazing!

The next item on my list to prep was the potatoes. Probably the most tedious part of this recipe was the peeling and slicing. I used the Yukon potatoes and used the large side of a cheese grater to get those 1/4 inch slices. I think if you used a knife it would have taken way to long to slice, or made the slices far too thick. Once this step was done the rest was a piece of cake! I pre-sliced the shallots and chives, and also grated the asiago cheese. One little side note with the asiago cheese is that you really don't need a very large block, I have a huge block left in the fridge from this recipe. When it came time to boil the potatoes that is when I also fried up the bacon. I substituted turkey bacon with this and because it doesn't crispy up like regular bacon I simply chopped it by hand. I also used skim milk as opposed to 1%. This casserole looked scrumptious before it even went in the oven and the layering really helped to get the cheese and bacon throughout the whole dish. (this is important if you have that one person who always wants the top of the casseroles...that's me!)

Cooking asparagus is always fun because I already love the taste, so any additional flavor is just a bonus. I decided to roast it because alot of recipes I have seen used this cooking method. Roasting is simply putting the asparagus on a cooking sheet, drizzling oil over the stems and roasting it in the oven for about 15 mins. In this recipe: Roasted Asparagus you also drizzle balsamic vinegar over the stems after they are done cooking. This was a nice dish but erin and I both agreed that in the future steaming them takes far less time, no oil needed and it still hads a great taste. The balsamic however was a nice addition that I would try again!

One last item I happened to whip together, and should be mentioned, was a low fat cheese sauce. Now I will preface this dish by saying that when erin and I moved to Boston I started cooking for her parents more...and her Dad has been very courageous and tried everything I have laid out. The one comment he always gives me is how great cheese sauce would be on my veggie dishes :)...So for the holiday I decided to indulge his palate. I found this Light Cheese Sauce recipe and thought it would be a mix of my healthy concoctions and his love of cheese. This came together quickly and you have to be careful because it gets pretty thick as soon as it begins to cool.

I think this may have been the largest meal that I have blogged about so far, but it really was simple and fun to make. Prepping everything in the morning, while everyone else got ready, was the perfect way to go. Everything came out great. The applesauce was warm, the potatoes were cheesy and the asparagus was crispy. A little bit of everything for everyone.

Perhaps my new Easter dinner tradition is Scrumptious Side Dishes!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bulging Brown Basmati Broccoli (with shrimp)

My ideal dinner normally consist of more than one dish that in turn makes up the complete meal. I am a girl for options. I like to know that I have more than one thing to eat so that when one item is gone I have another just waiting for me on the other side of the plate. With that said I would normally pair a casserole with a salad, or a side of fruit. But my above dish did not need anything to satisfy as a meal.
When I originally had this recipe it was a side dish at our friend Molly's house. It was so good and have great flavor and texture. She had mentioned to me, as we cooked, that her fiance and her also like to make this dish a meal by adding a meat or extra veggies...which is precisely what I decided to do.

Before we left Molly's I had made sure to jot down the instructions for the delicious Herbed Basmati Rice. I will start off first with what I altered (not much!). I had to use dried thyme and dried basil, because that is what I had on hand and I also did not buy the fresh parm. I must say, however, that we did have the fresh cheese at Molly's and it's worth the extra money if you have it. I knew that I was going to be doctoring up the recipe with other ingredients, so I didn't splurge for the cheese. As mentioned in the title of this post I also used brown basmati, as opposed to just the reg. white. The rice did take longer than fifteen mins. to absorb all the liquid but I just monitored the pan and saw when the liquid was almost gone. At that point I added the remaining ingredients (as instructed) and also threw in a bag of steamed broccoli and pre-cooked shrimp. The dish looked colorful and tasty!

A couple things about the dish that I think is important to mention: One, the rice tends to be al dente which I throughly enjoy but I know some would not. Erin is not a huge fan of al dente dishes, she has to test the pasta whenever we cook that, and the rice texture did not seem to bother her. Also the thyme and basil are quite strong in the dish and if you aren't a huge fan of one or the other I would leave it out!

I think the possiblities for this dish are endless. You could add a variety of meats, vegetables, beans or just leave as a side dish.

Erin gave it an 8.4 I believe, and you know what they say...eight is great!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sweet and Savory Chicken Maple Sammies

I love watching the food network, although I must admit I don't attempt many of the recipes because they tend to leave my mind after the program ends. One of the cooks I love watching though is Rachael Ray. She just has a way with flavors that appeal to everyone and uses so many everyday items that are easy to find. Her cookbooks are also pretty intense, offering so many different varieties of the same recipe and uses for their leftovers as well. A cook after my own heart, or shoud I say I after hers!

This "breakfast for dinner" recipe that I tried was made for erin and I once and we absolutely loved it. It was fairly simple to make and the ingredients were easy to manipulate to create a more calorie friendly rendition. As I quickly mentioned you could categorize this menu as breakfast, although I must say it was a fine filler for dinner.

These are Rachael Ray's Apple-Maple Sausage Sammies. Erin and I were having dinner with another couple and seeing how this dish serves four we thought a perfect time to attempt these ourselves. To start I will let you know that I did not use the veggie oil, instead opting to cook these on a non-stick griddle. I also subbed sugar free maple syrup for the real stuff, although alot of people argue that real stuff is not bad in moderation (I agree). We didn't have cheddar cheese, and erin's not a huge fan anyway, so I used our always on hand fat-free sliced American and Egg whites were a great sub for the whole eggs. We didn't really need to add milk to that mixture either but kept the salt and pepper. As you can see the patties are rather large and I had picked up the 100 calorie english muffins. I thought they worked out fine, but you could totally go with the sandwich sized muffin as suggested! The seasonings were a great addition and I used generic steak seasoning for the McCormick's mentioned and doubled the nutmeg.
Now, as I was mixing the patties (like you would meatballs) they seemed rather wet and I was a bit worried I had overdone it on the syrup. However once they sat on the grill for a few minutes they came together nicely. Another thing to watch is the english muffins in the broiler because they toast up quicker than I had expected (erin alerted me of this just in time!).
They were a hit! We had them with a side of roasted red potatoes and the sweetness of the sausage with the saltyness of the potatoes were a great combo. Erin's rating for this one was an 8.9 and our dinner guest (who aren't huge fans of sausage) loved them as well.
I think breakfast for dinner just got better!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Poor Man's Soup

Before you read this entry please feel free to go back and read my post about the yummy Irish Soda bread I whipped up a few days ago as it makes a second appearance in this dish. This Irish girl can throw some Irish dishes together too! That bread was just the start of the meal that I made last night and I think it complimented the recipe quite nicely.

As I mentioned previously I wanted to attempt some Irish concoctions this year, and I really do love cabbage so I didn't think it would be too difficult to find an intriguing dish. Right I was! There were so many delicious recipes to choose from that I ended up going with this one because it not only had cabbage but onions and white beans, two favorite ingredients of mine. I really don't eat alot of meat so I enjoy making up for the protein with almost all varieties of beans!

Some things that I learned while finding this recipe is the various kinds of cabbages and how they each hold up in dishes. There is a green and white cabbage used commonly in coleslaw or soup/stew, a different variety for Asian cooking (napa) and then Savoy cabbage which is known to hold up well for cabbage rolls or roasting. It's also important to note that cabbage is chocked full of Vitamin C and fiber! This recipe, although a soup, called for Savoy cabbage. I knew that erin's mom would be making the traditional cornbeef and cabbage later this week, so I wanted to try a different cabbage in a different format. perfect.

Just seeing the name of the dish: Italian Peasant Soup with Cabbage, Beans & Cheese, I knew that the flavors were going to be cozy and comforting. I opted to go without the fontina cheese (due to budget constraints :) and just used Parmesan. I also went with the chicken stock (as opposed to the vegetable option) and did NOT drizzle oil on the top of each bowl (I just don't think this was necessary). I had read the comments below the recipe from people who had attempted it regarding their advice and additions and I opted to add some dried basil to the soup as well.

I was very excited about adding the Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread to the bowl. It reminded me of an Irish version of French Onion Soup. The bread had such a sweet flavor and after toasting it (quite darkly) I added it to the bottom of the bowl. I think it gave the soup a bit more "filling". Originally I was worried that we were going to have to have something else with the meal. I mean it's just soup. With no meat at that. But as we all went back for 2nds erin did without the bread because she was almost too full. I also added a few dashes of hot sauce to mine (I like everything with a kick) and I thought it gave a nice, very mild pop to the broth.

Soup may be a pour man's dinner, but my wallet was still full and so was the container with leftovers for tomorrow!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fishy Finds

I am a huge sushi fan. To say that doesn't really give my addiction full credit. When I lived in Brooklyn I would get sushi at least twice a week! Since relocating erin and I have yet to find an affordable sushi place to feed my habit. So, we have attempted to replace it with normal fish dishes. That being said fish isn't all that cheap either! I have succumb to the fact that, for the time being, fish will be a treat. But only for the time being! I soon hope to be a full fledged sushi addict again!

The treat this week was a birthday! Erin's sister was came over on Sunday to celebrate her birthday and she just so happens to share my love of fish. She chose tilapia as her "catch of the (birth)day". I must say I was pretty psyched because I have never cooked fish before and I welcomed the challenge. She also mentioned that she was a big fan of asparagus and mashed potatoes. Armed with her palate choices I searched the one place I knew wouldn't fail me...eatingwell!

This recipe for Chili-Rubbed Tilapia with Asparagus & Lemon, seemed to be waiting just for me. After quickly pursuing the ingredients and instructions, I was confident that I could pull this one off. There were six of us eating so I opted to double the recipe. I prepped the asparagus first because we were also going to have the cauliflower puree (as opposed to potatoes) and I needed the steamer for both dishes. After the asparagus was done, and the cauliflower working, I went to prepping the fish. I knew that I had doubled the fish, so in turn I doubled the rub. It turned out that I needed to make a little more than that in order to cover all the fish we had. I also didn't measure the oil called for but rather added oil as needed. The fish took only a few minutes on each side to cook up and erin helped me determine it was cooked by testing the flakiness factor! It's hard to tell in the picture, but this fishy was flaky and delicious. Just enough flavor without being too spicy.

Once the fish was done I covered it in a glass pan with foil and went to work on finishing the asparagus. Now I am already a fan of this veggie but adding it into a flavored filled pan of spices with lemon juice to boot really enhanced the flavor. Lizzie's boyfriend even claimed that the seasoning made him a fan of this "otherwise bland vegetable"(in his former opinion). Garnished with a fresh lemon, and cauliflower puree on the side, we sat to eat!
Erin could not stop raving about this dish. Even though she had a few glasses of wine ahead of time, I really think she was pretty impressed at my first fish dish!
She gave it a 9.7, WOWIEE. She even remarked that this may have to make an appearance at her birthday celebration.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Irish Soda Bread

I know I have mention probably a billion times that I like to cook things that I already have ingredients for. Since Erin and I have recently moved the wallet is a bit barer and the cupboards are a bit different. I recently obtained a large bag of Whole Wheat flour (another goody from King Aurthur) and wanted to make something with it right away! I am still educating myself however on the uses and substitutions that whole wheat flour can add. Its a tricky business that I once learned after buying whole wheat graham cracker flour, and attempting to make cookies with it. They tasted more like cracker fig newtons...not your typical cookie description.

In my daily searches for dishes the emails began creeping in about St.Patrick Day recipes. I am a huge cabbage fan so stay tuned for those discoveries, however something diffenet that caught my eye was a recipe for : Whole-Wheat Irish Soda Bread. DING DING DING. I knew that this had to utilize whole wheat flour so I clicked away to see what other ingredients were required. Surprisingly there was no yeast involved (something I always equated with breads of any sort) and I had everything else on the small list! I also found a tasty looking cabbage soup that requires stale or toasted whole wheat bread that I wanted to try so I thought this would be a perfect way to prep for another meal.

Now when I say this was simple to might be the simplest thing I have ever made. The recipe called for buttermilk which I always make from scratch (one Tbsp. of vinegar for every cup of milk, and let sit for a few mins.) and everything else was already in the house. Another fun part of the process was that you get to mix it with your hands. washed of course :). I was a bit nervous that the consistency of the bread was too wet, as it mentions in the instructions that it should be "soft but not too wet and sticky", however after rolling it in the flour on the counter it looked fine:
The next step was baking which seemed fairly simple as well. The bread bakes for 20 mins. at 450 and then reduces to 400 for 20-25 mins. BUT, and this is a large BUT it also says that the bread is done when it browns on top and sounds hollow when tapped. When I went to turn the temperature down I was nervous because my bread already looked brown on top, and sounded slightly hollow. I left it in for about 5-8 more mins. and then took it out. It looked great!

Now perhaps you have already figure this out but erin is Irish...come on...ERIN. And we are currently staying with her family. So although I have never had Irish Soda bread before, I knew that her mom (maiden name McKinley) must have. We sliced it up, served it plain (for erin), jellied (for her mom) and apple buttered (for me). It was delicious! Erin's mom said that she has made it with raisins in it as well and that it was the perfect bread to have with a cup of tea. I have to agree.

I can't wait to add it to my future recipe, but even better than that it renewed my faith in using whole-wheat flour again.

Stay tuned St. Patty's day is not even here yet!!!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mouthwatering Mudslide Cookies

Alert, Alert!! I don't always cook low-fat, healthy, count the weight watcher points treats. I often come across a recipe that is just too yummy looking to pass up. high or low points. I wouldn't say I do this often...but who no one can resist all the time!

My friend Molly's mom introduced me to the world of King Arthur Flour and let me assure you this will be an ongoing, wonderful relationship!! This brand is getting bigger and bigger, mostly known for their various types of flour, and it began in little old wonderful Vermont (that's where Molly is from). Molly's Mom works at King Arthur in fact and if you ask me it's no question that if you ever spend a weekend at Molly's, her mom should be named employee of the month. Every time Erin and I go visit we awake to the smell of pancakes...sometime pumpkin...oatmeal...blueberry, muffins, scones and of course REAL New England maple syrup. You name it King Aurthur has it!

On a recent trip she raided her cupboards and passed along some of the KA desert mixes(a perk of working there is that employees are "forced" to take product home for testing:). Although these are mixes, and not officially from scratch, I still consider this cooking. Frequently compiled of "scratch" ingredients these mixes still make you measure/read and assemble to create a yummy outcome. This amazing company not only carries mixes but various cooking supplies from almond flour to baking appliances to their Pompanoosuc Porridge (more to come on that in a later blog!). Whenever I am able to visit the store (you can sign up for their emails/catalogs as well) the choices and possibilities are endless.

The other night I whipped up their new Jacques Torres Mudslide cookies. Erin and I were actually visiting Molly and since she has made these before we knew she would let me know how they turned out. This mix had two bags of chocolate discs, and a powder base.

The first thing to do was melt one of the packets of dark chocolate:
You then combine the dry mix with the melted chocolate and stir in the other packet of chocolate disc.
Then Scoop away!
These were fairly simple to throw together, and they only got tricky when I had to scoop them for baking. The box calls for ten cookies, and let me warn you that is WAY TO LITTLE. Molly had warned me that if I followed those directions the cookies would be far too large (and we like our cookies large). The difficult part was that the dark chocolate discs melt while baking, so some of the scoops were larger due to the size of the discs. When the scooping was done I ended up getting around twenty from the batch!!

The end result was delicious and although Molly's fiancee enjoyed his with a nice glass of milk...Molly, Erin and I enjoyed our dark chocolate cookies with some red wine.

If this is what mud taste like...I can't wait for spring weather :)