Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sausage Gravy over Cannellini Bean Puree

For awhile now I've been thinking about all the recipes that I make off the cuff.  Staple dishes that I create in my own kitchen that have become favorites and can be relied on again and again.  Often times these are my very best dishes and yet I never think to post them and I have no idea why.

This recipe, which we call Sausage Gravy, is a real family favorite and happens to be one of my favorite things to eat.  Basically is it a version of sausage with peppers and onions, but instead of keeping the peppers and onions visible and firm, I cook them down with some form of liquid (chicken stock, beef stock, tomato juice, etc.) until the peppers and onions melt into a deeply rich and flavorful gravy of sorts.  Sometimes I follow the same guideline while other times I throw in all kinds of things, depending on what I have on hand. 

Sausage Gravy is something we eat at least once a month, if not more.  If I haven't had a chance to plan my menu and I need something quick that I can grab in the store in a jiffy then I'll grab a pack of sausage and be on my way.  Most often we serve our Sausage Gravy with pierogi.  Other times we serve it with potatoes, pasta, or polenta. 

As a bean lover I will tell you that I am quite disappointed in myself that it took me this long to pair beans with my Sausage Gravy.  However, once I chose the Cannellini Bean Puree as my recipe for IHCC I knew there was only one thing that would pair perfectly with it:  My Sausage Gravy.  I actually had a visual in my mind of a decadent and creamy white bean puree with a deeply hued dark and rich Sausage Gravy sitting on top and I was so obsessed I could think of nothing else.  I just imagined it as the perfect plate of food...and it was.  
 Sausage Gravy
Created in the Stirring the Pot Kitchen
Serves 4

1 pack good Italian sausages (Johnsonville has 5 per pack)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 bell peppers, sliced
1 tablespoons olive oil
2-4cloves of garlic, minced
About 4-6 cups chicken stock/beef stock/diced or crushed tomatoes 
Possible Add In's: Tomatoes, Jalapenos, Zucchini, Red Pepper Flakes

In a large skillet (preferably cast iron)  place about 1 tablespoon of oil and sear the sausages over medium heat until they reach a golden brown color, or deep dark color (whichever you prefer).  Remove the browned sausages to a plate (adding more oil to the pan if necessary) and saute the onion and pepper until they begin to soften.  Add in the garlic and place the sausages back in the pan with the onions and peppers and begin adding your liquid about 1/2 cup at a time (beef broth, chicken broth, and/or diced or crushed tomatoes).  As the onions and peppers begin to melt into the liquid a thick sauce will start to form.  When the liquid starts to cook out and the sauce becomes to thicken, add another 1/2 cup of sauce, making sure to scrap all the goodies off the bottom of the pan and incorporate them into the sauce.  Repeat this process over and over, cooking the sausages for about a total of 20 minutes, or until they are cooked through and the sauce has the desired consistency you want (sometimes we enjoy the sauce thin and sometimes we like it thicker, depending on what we are serving it with).  Serve on it's own or over pierogi, potatoes, pasta, polenta, beans or Cannellini Bean Puree.

 Cannellini Bean Puree
Adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
Serves 6 - 8 as a side dish

2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked in cold water overnight
1 small carrot
1 small celery stalk
1 small onion
3 or 4 fresh/dried sage leaves
1/2 cup olive oil (I used a scant 1/4 cup and it was too much)
2-3 garlic cloves, lightly crushed with the flat of a knife
2 small springs of rosemary

Drain the soaked beans and put them in a large saucepan (I used my Dutch oven).  Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.  Remove the scum that rises to the surface with a slotted spoon and decrease the heat slightly.  Add the whole carrot, celery, onion, and sage leaves.  Cook for about 1-1/4 hours, or until the beans are tender.  Remove the beans from the heat and remove as much of the carrot, celery, onion, and sage bits as you can manage.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a saucepan with the garlic, rosemary springs, and some ground black pepper.  Heat until the oil is is well-flavored and you can smell the garlic and rosemary, taking care that they don't burn.  Let cool. 

Drain the beans, reserving the water.  Puree the beans and about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of the bean water in a blender or with a handheld mixer directly in the saucepan.  You should have a very smooth, thick, puree that is not too dense.  If it seems to be too liquid, put it back over the heat in a saucepan to thicken a bit, stirring all the time.  Season to taste and serve warm, drizzled with the flavored oil.
(Note: Take care when drizzling the oil over the bean puree.  My hand slipped and I ended up pouring a bit too much over my beans.  Secondly, I don't think you need all of the oil called for in the recipe.)
Theme: Bean There, Done That!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Baked Butternut Squash

 Sometimes I think the key to hosting any holiday dinner is doing as much of the work as possible leading up to the actual holiday.  Believe me when I tell you that I'm not an organized person at all, but I've learned from many years of experience that organization around the holidays is a must.   So to minimize any nasty surprises, I like to be ultra-prepared.  This includes getting out all my serving dishes and place settings days before.  Then, I make an obsessive-compulsive looking grocery list (you definitely don't want to be without a key ingredient on Thanksgiving day). Lastly, and most importantly, I like to prepare as much of the feast as I can leading up to the actual day. I am so thankful for those dishes that stand up well and can be made the day ahead.

This baked butternut squash was one of the dishes that really held up well to being reheated in the oven the next day.  It was a beautiful and colorful addition to our holiday table and was one of the dishes that received the most compliments.  Everyone loved the fact that the squash was cut into wedges or spears.  They raved about how creamy and sweet it was.  I thought the squash was a wonderful contrast to everything else on my plate.  It really stood out on it's own. I would give this a spot on my table any time of year.
Baked Butternut with Butter & Sugar
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Serves 6-8

3-1/2 tablespoons butter
2-1/4 pounds unpeeled butternut squash
1/4 to 1/3 cup light brown sugar
4 tablespoons water
 2 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 350F and generously butter the bottom of a large round ovenproof dish with some of the butter.  Peel the butternut by first cutting it in half, then scooping out the seeds with a spoon (save the seeds to toast in the oven for a snack).  Cut the squash into long slices that are about an inch thick.  Using a small sharp knife, carefully cut away the skin, keeping the shape of the squash slices and taking care that you don't cut yourself, as the skin is hard.  You should have about 1-1/2 pounds of butternut.

Scatter some of the sugar over the bottom of the dish and then lay the butternut slices flat, in a single layer.  Scatter the rest of the sugar over the top, dot with the rest of the butter, and sprinkle with a little salt.  Pour 4 tablespoons of water around the side and add the bay leaves.  Put into the oven for about 1 hour or until the butternut is soft and golden, even dark in places, and there is some thick golden juice bubbling away at the bottom.  Spoon the pan juices over the squash a couple of times during the cooking - if it looks a little too dry, add a dribble more water.  Serve warm.  If you aren't serving it immediately, then reheat it gently so that the butter melts again.

Theme: Attitude of Gratitude

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Slow Cook Book Recipe # 2: Mexican Meatballs

So it's Thanksgiving week and you're busy shopping, prepping, and cooking all things Thanksgiving.  With so much focus on the Thanksgiving preparation it's really hard to fit in and focus on the meals leading up to Thanksgiving.  I don't know about you, but I don't want to be eating fast food or frozen pizzas leading up to the big day.  I still want to eat a home cooked meal, but I want it to be something that doesn't burn me out on cooking before the big day arrives. 

I have two solutions to the Thanksgiving week cooking dilemma.  First, get out the slow cooker.  It's your friend, especially at times such as this. Next, pick a recipe(s) and make a big batch so that you have enough for the next night and you can skip cooking for a day or so.

Over the weekend I made these Mexican Meatballs which can easily be reheated and served over rice, pasta, in sandwiches, etc.  Tonight I'm going to be making a big batch of taco meat for tacos and a huge pan of Mexican rice and refried beans.  The idea is that I'll have dinner for tonight and tomorrow so that I can focus my energy on cleaning, Thanksgiving prep work, baking pies, etc.   

 These Mexican Meatballs were a quick fix that everyone enjoyed.  They were much like a regular meatball  in tomato sauce, but instead were flavored with cumin, jalapenos, and cilantro.  They were great served on their own with rice and they also made great meatballs subs.

Mexican Meatballs
Adapted from The Slow Cook Book 
Serves 4-6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Auto/Low: 6-8 hours

For the Meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 red chiles, deseeded if you like or with seeds if you like it hot
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons fresh white breadcrumbs
bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 tablespoons olive oil

For the Sauce:
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 cinnamon stick, broken
pinch of dried chile flakes
splash of Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
2 (14oz.) cans of whole tomatoes
2/3 cup hot veggie or beef stock

Preheat the slow cooker, if required.  Put the ground beef, garlic, chiles, and cumin into a bowl and season.  Combine with your hands, then add the egg, breadcrumbs, and fresh cilantro, and mix well again.  Shape the mixture into about 20 small balls an toss lightly in the flour.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook half the meatballs (in batch and with extra oil, if necessary) for 6-8 minutes until brown all over.  Remove with a slotted spoon and sit on paper towels to drain.  Wipe the pot out with paper towels.

To make the sauce, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in the pot over medium heat, add the onion, and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft.  Stir in the garlic and red bell pepper, and cook for 3 minutes.  Transfer the cooked vegetables to the slow cooker along with remaining ingredients.  Add seasoning, cover with the lid, and cook on auto/low for 6-8 hours.  Taste and add more Tabasco sauce, if needed.  Serve with rice and a green salad.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Little Spinach and Carrot Ramekins

Here's a question for you.  Do you find it difficult to talk about food and cooking to your non-foodie friends?  I find it nearly impossible.  In fact, it's about as awkward as talking about politics and/or religion. 

Here are just a few of the conversations that I've had lately.

Friend A:   "Kim, what did you have for lunch today?"
Me:    "Spinach and Carrot Ramekins."
Friend A:    "What the hell did you just say? Can't you just eat a sandwich like a normal person?" 

Friend B:   "So, do you cook every night?"
Me:  "No. Tonight I'm just making frozen pizzas and salad from a bag." 
Friend B:   (in a very accusatory tone) "Okay, so are you saying that frozen pizza and salad from a bag is not cooking?  Because if that's the case then I guess you're telling me that I never cook. Is that what you're telling me?"
Me:  "Well, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm making pizza and salad, but I'm not really cooking anything." (this conversation ended badly)

Friend C:  "Hey Kim, I'm on my way to the mall.  Wanna come?"
Me:    "I can't. My oven's preheating and I'm in the middle of pureeing carrots and baking veggie ramekins."
Friend C:   (big pause)  Um, okay....I'm sorry. Did you just say no to the mall?"  

All these conversations happened just this week.  I'm beginning to think that I speak another language or something.  Anyway, I thought I would share for several reasons.  First and foremost, I know you will all understand.  Secondly, it's actually pretty funny. And lastly, I have a feeling that some of you, if not all of you, have had similar conversations at one point or another. 

I chose these spinach and carrot ramekins because I've never really made anything quite like them before.  You basically make a carrot puree and add bechamel sauce and Parmesan cheese to it.  Then you blanch spinach, chop it, add bechamel, and more Parmesan cheese.  Lightly beaten egg is added to both the spinach and carrot mixture and the ramekins bake for about 45 minutes in a bain marie.  The preparation is a little bit fussy, but the end product is really pretty and definitely makes for a fun and unique main course with a nice salad on the side.
Little Spinach and Carrot Ramekins
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Makes 10

Tessa says, "I use little individual ramekins (about 2-1/2 inches wide at the top, 1-1/2 inches across the bottom, and 1-1/2 inches high).  They look good in this size and are perfect servings for all-size humans.  These are baked in a bain marie so they stay beautifully moist."

4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
5 cups loosely packed spinach leaves

Bechamel Sauce:
4-1/2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/3 cups milk, warmed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly ground nutmeg

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter ten little 1/2 cup ramekins.  Cook the carrots in boiling salted water until they are soft.  Lift them out with a slotted spoon, puree, and put into a bowl.  Add the spinach to the boiling carrot water, and blanch for a few minutes until it is all wilted and soft.  Drain, leave until it has cooled enough to handle, and then squeeze out all the excess water.  Chop up finely and put in a separate bowl.

To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then begin adding the warm milk.  It will be immediately absorbed, so work quickly, whisking with one hand while adding ladlefuls of milk with the other.  When the sauce seems to be smooth and not too stiff, add salt, pepper, and a grating of nutmeg, and continue cooking, even after it comes to a boil, for 5 minutes or so, mixing all the time.  It should be a very thick and smooth sauce.

Pour off any water that has collected in the bottom of the carrot bowl, then mix in 10 tablespoons of the bechamel along with half of the Parmesan.  Stir the rest of the bechamel and Parmesan into the spinach.  Taste each bowl, adding extra salt, pepper, or nutmeg if you think it's needed.  Add half the beaten eggs to each bowl, and mix them in well.

Divide the spinach mixture among the ramekins.  Rap them firmly on the table to flatten the mixture, then divide the carrot puree among the ramekins.  The mixture should just fill the molds.

Put the ramekins in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the molds.  Move the pan to the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the molds are puffed, golden, and firm.  turn the oven off and leave the pan in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Remove the ramekins from the pan, run a knife around the rims then turn them out onto plates.

Theme: Orange Skies


So, how about you?  Have you had any interesting or awkward conversations about food or cooking lately?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies

These chocolate and cranberry cookies were one of those recipes that caught my eye right away.  The combination of dark chocolate and chewy, tart, dried cranberries is just so promising.  Not to mention, this cookie seems perfectly fitting for this time of year. 

Since I enjoy my cookies on the chewy side, I usually tend to make them a bit larger than the recipe calls for.  For example, in her recipe, Tessa calls for one good teaspoon of dough per cookie.  I went with about 1/4 cup per cookie.  Instead of 30 bite-sized cookies I ended up with 10 big cookies. 

We really enjoyed these cookies.  The tart cranberries really help bring out the deep rich flavor of the dark chocolate.  This is a deeply satisfying cookie with rich complex flavors.  It would be perfect served with coffee.

Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Makes about 10 large cookies or 30 teaspoon sized cookies

Tessa says, "These I learned from my American fried Sue.  When I first made them my children said they were the best ever and I must definitely put the recipe in this book - so here it is.  I also love them with dried strawberries instead of cranberries, and sometimes my girls prefer them without the cranberries, just chocolate.  I like these small so I make them no bigger than a good teaspoon of dough, but you might like to make them larger.  I also like to take them as a gift, packed in a lovely box and tied with a ribbon.  Unless you have a huge oven, you will need to bake these in batches so have the two cookie sheets ready."

5-1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup firmly packed soft brown sugar
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 egg
a few drops of vanilla extract
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup dried cranberries (dried cherries would also be nice)

Preheat the oven to 375F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Mash up the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until well mixed, then whisk with an electric beater until smooth.  Mix in the egg and vanilla.  Sift in the flour and baking powder, and add a small pinch of salt.  Beat with the wooden spoon to make a soft sandy mixture.  Stir in chocolate and cranberries.

Lightly moisten your hands and roll teaspoons of the mixture into balls.  Arrange them on the sheets, leaving a fair space between for flattening and spreading.  Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden and darkening around the edges.  Remove from the oven, but leave them on the sheet to cool and firm up.  These will keep in a cookie jar for a couple of days.

Theme: Potluck

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chicken, Pasta, and Kitchen Therapy

The month of October literally flew by.  It was a blur. When it came time for November to roll around I tried to breathe a sigh of relief, but then I remembered that contractors were coming to work on our house, I agreed to host a Pampered Chef party, my baby boy is turning 5 years old (which I seriously can't deal with), it's my mother-in-law's birthday, we have company coming, and I'm hosting Thanksgiving.   Let's not even get into all the ten year old drama that ensues everyday at approximately 3pm.  And please, for the love of God, do not begin to discuss Christmas yet.  Things will get ugly.  I may even resort to making faces at you....like this face below.  You could get scarred for life.
My name is Kim.  I have two kids.  I have no shame.
At any rate, I think what I really need is some anxiety medication, but in lieu of that I opted for kitchen therapy and comfort food.  It may be a temporary fix, but at this point I'll take it.

So, I bought a chicken and started making chicken broth.  If you've never made your own chicken broth before I'm here to tell you that it is highly therapeutic, wonderfully comforting, and the aroma coming from the kitchen is out of this world.  Since we are cooking with Tessa Kiros at IHCC right now I chose her recipe.

Chicken Broth
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Makes 8 cups

1 chicken (about 2-3/4 pounds), suitable for boiling
2 carrots, peeled and halved
2 leafy celery stalks
small handful of parsley stalks
7 black peppercorns
3 small shallots, peeled but left whole
1 clove garlic, peeled but left whole
10 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

Put the chicken into your largest stockpot and add the carrots, celery, parsley, peppercorns, shallots, and garlic.  Add 10 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and put the lid on the pan, leaving just a little gap for the steam to escape.  Simmer for 1-1/2 hours, skimming now and then.

Turn off the heat and leave the broth until it's cool enough to handle.  Carefully take out the chicken.  Strain what's left, keeping the broth to use for pasta or dumplings.  You decide if you'd like to save the carrots to eat later on.
Once the broth was ready,  I took the chicken out and removed all the meat so that I could make Tessa's Chicken Croquettes.  My chicken was a bit larger than the one she called for in her recipe, but the measurements still worked very well.  This is where I must tell you that I've made lots of chicken croquettes before, but Tessa's recipe for chicken croquettes is the best!  In fact, I'll just go to ahead and say that I know this recipe will easily be one of of our top favorites during my six months with Tessa. The chicken mixture is highly flavorful and moist and the breading is incredibly crispy and crunchy.  The croquettes are great on their own or with a dipping sauce. Tessa's recipe makes 25 smaller croquettes, but my husband doesn't always appreciate miniature food so I made 10 large croquettes.   I figured I would have leftovers, but everyone really inhaled these.  They were a huge, huge, huge hit!  I highly recommend these, especially if you have leftover chicken that you need to use up.

Chicken Croquettes
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Makes about 25 croquettes

1 boiled chicken (the chicken used for the broth above)
3 tablespoons butter
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 - 1/2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 small cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 ripe tomato, peeled and chopped
1 -1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 egg, lightly beaten
dry bread crumbs, for coating (I used a combo of panko and cornflake crumbs)
light olive oil, for frying
 lemon wedges, to serve

Note: Anytime you bread anything you should always put it back in the refrigerator to "dry out" for at least ten minutes.  This process helps the breading to adhere to whatever you're frying.

Pick all the chicken meat off the bones and throw away all the skin, bones, and bits you don't want.  Chop up the chicken finely, and put it in a bowl.

Melt half the butter in a small pan, and saute the onion over medium-low heat until it is soft and lightly golden.  Add the celery, parsley, and garlic, and when you can smell the garlic, add the tomato.  Simmer until it has totally melted, squashing it with a wooden spoon now and then as you stir.

Meanwhile melt the rest of the butter in another small pan over medium heat, and then stir in the flour,  Whisk in the broth, and let it cook for a few minutes until it is bubbling up nicely.  Whisk well to make sure it is totally smooth.  Pour into the bowl of chicken and add the tomato mixture, too.  Add the egg, and mix everything together well.  Taste for salt, adding a little extra if you think it's needed.

Put the bowl in the fridge for half an hour or so, so that you are able to roll out the croquettes more easily.

Take scoops of the mixture, more or less the size of eggs, and shape them into croquettes.  Put the bread crumbs on a plate and lightly roll the croquettes in them.

Pour about 3/4 inch of oil into a large nonstick frying pan and put over high heat.  When the oil is hot, add enough of the croquettes to fit comfortably in the pan.  Fry until they are deep golden brown all over, turning them gently with tongs.  Lift them out onto a plate lined with paper towels to absorb as much of the oil as possible while you fry the rest.  Put them onto a clean platter to serve, with lemon wedges, if you like.
With my homemade chicken broth I made Tessa's Pasta In Chicken Broth, which consists of two ingredients, three if you're feeling feisty.  All you need to do is reheat your chicken broth and cook your pasta in the broth until it is al dente.  If you feel like it, top it with some Parmesan cheese and you're all set.  Tessa's broth was mild but flavorful and the tiny pasta is a nod to childhood that somehow takes you back and makes you feel a bit pampered.  A very pleasing and rejuvenating bowl of comfort that instantly makes you feel better, no matter what ails you.

Pasta In Chicken Broth
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Serves 4

8 cups chicken broth (see above)
1/2 (16-0ounce) package spaghettini or 1-2/3 cups other tiny pasta (I used pastina)
Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Bring the broth to a boil in a large pan.  Break up the pasta into shorter lengths and add to the broth.  Bring back to a boil, stir a couple of times, and then cook the pasta according to package instructions.  The pasta will absorb some of the broth as it cooks.  Serve immediately, diving down with your ladle to the bottom of the pan to make sure that everyone has a fair share of pasta and broth.  Top each serving with a heap of grated Parmesan.

Theme: In My Pasta Bowl

Every Sunday @ Kahakai Kitchen