Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chicken Taco Burgers

Are you ready for spring?  I sure am.  I had a little taste of it when I was in San Diego last week, where the flowers are already starting to bloom.  What a change from our endless chilly weather here on the east coast!  I saw these chicken taco burgers on Elly Says Opa! a few weeks ago, but decided to save them for warmer weather when we could grill them.  But after my trip, I decided I couldn't wait to start grilling.  So I talked Vince into uncovering the grill and hooking up the gas tank, even though our overnight lows are still in the 20s (!!!!).

These were defnitely worth the effort of getting the grill out.  Served on low-carb English muffins with a cherry tomato and corn salad on the side, it was almost like spring was actually here.  I used my usual taco seasoning, which includes garlic and onion powder, and so omitted the fresh versions from the chicken mixture.  Like Elly suggests, we topped these with avocado and a little sour cream and adobo sauce mixed together (though I added a little mayo to the mix), and added a quick slaw on top for some crunch.

Chicken Taco Burgers

What's in them:

1 – 1 1/4 lb. ground chicken
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

2 Tbsp. cornmeal
2 oz. cheese of your preference, shredded or thinly sliced (I used extra-sharp cheddar)
buns and your toppings of choice for serving, such as avocado, chipotle mayo, or Mexican slaw (see recipe below) 

How to make them:

Lightly mix together the first 9 ingredients (through cornmeal) and salt to taste (about 3/4 tsp.).   Divide the mixture into 8 patties.  Place cheese on top of 4 of the patties, and then place the other 4 patties on top of the ones with cheese, leaving a border around the cheese.  Press the edges together to make 4 total patties.

Grill or pan-fry the burgers until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side.  Place on buns and top as desired.

Quick Mexican Slaw
Dressing adapted from one seen on Wan Life to Live

What's in it:

1 Tbsp. sour cream
1 Tbsp. mayo
Juice of half a lime
1/2 - 1 tsp. cumin
Pinch of salt
1 - 1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage, red, green or a mix

How to make it:

Combine first five ingredients, then stir in cabbage.  Use to top burgers, or eat as a side.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Italian Beef Stew with Gnocchi

With another cold snap making spring feel further away than ever, I'm back to making my winter standbys.  For Sunday night's dinner, I was planning on slow-cooked pot roast when I saw a package of mini gnocchi peeking out from behind the row of pasta boxes in the pantry.  Since my thoughts on pot roast were already leaning Italian, the gnocchi seemed like the perfect thing to turn it into a stew, and cut down on the number of pots used.

I was so glad when the stew turned out really well.  The beef practically fell apart on its own, and the gnocchi absorbed the subtle spice of the sauce.  And even better, its quick prep time before putting everything in the slow cooker meant that this didn't cut into my weekend.

Italian Beef Stew with Gnocchi

2 Tbsp. olive oil, bacon fat or butter
1 medium onion, diced
3 large carrots, diced
Salt & pepper, to taste
2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup red or white wine
1 28-oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes
1-2 cups low-sodium beef broth
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3-5 lb. chuck roast
1 16-oz. package mini or regular gnocchi, or homemade

How to make it:

Heat olive oil (or other fat) in a deep saucepan or stovetop-safe slow-cooker insert.  Add onions and carrots, stir to coat with oil, and saute until starting to brown.  Season with salt and pepper, and add garlic, oregano, cinnamon and nutmeg, and cook until fragrant.  Pour in wine, scraping pan to get the brown bits.  If using a saucepan, pour the contents into the slow cooker insert now.

Add tomatoes, 1 cup of the broth and the balsamic vinegar, and stir to combine.  Place the meat into the sauce, adding enough broth for the sauce to come halfway up the meat.  Cook in the slow cooker on low for 8-10 hours.

About a half hour from the end of the cooking time, remove any large pieces of fat, gristle or connective tissue from the beef, and shred the meat into large chunks.  Add the gnocchi to the stew.  When gnocchi is done, serve in wide bowls.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: Single-Factor Nutrition Studies

A few weeks ago, I posted about Real Simple's list of 30 superfoods.  The more I thought about it, I wondered what made these foods super.  What research backs up these claims?  How do we know that the levels of antioxidants, vitamins, nutrients in these foods make a bigger difference in our health than other foods?  Similarly, when studies are done that link health issues to specific components of a food, like preservatives or artificial sweeteners, how do they isolate the effects of that from other environmental factors?

Luckily for me, someone asked this question of Marion Nestle in a monthly column in the San Francisco Chronicle.  As a nutrition and public policy expert, gives some great guidelines for understanding what the results of these "single-factor" studies actually mean, and what the potential pitfalls are.

I try to take studies like this with a grain of salt, on the assumption that the environment I live in is too complicated a system to be able to attribute any effect to one single factor, and it's hard to believe that a study can successfully isolate one part of that system. 

What do you think of nutrition studies?  How do they affect your eating habits?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pimiento Cheese-Stuffed Chicken

Pimiento cheese is not something I grew up with.  I think the first time I heard of it was a Bon Appetit travel article, that directed people to a restaurant that served a grilled cheese sandwich made with the spread and bacon.  I was intrigued, and it turned out to be a bit of a gateway drug for me.  After that, I took pimiento cheese and baguette slices to cocktail parties at friends' houses, made mac 'n' cheese with it, and continued to make sandwiches, with or without bacon.

But I didn't make these things often, because, well, it's really an indulgence.  Cheese held together with mayo, and often with some bacon for good measure, is not something that is really reasonable for regular consumption in my world.  So when I saw pimiento cheese included in a Cooking Light recipe, I was more than a little excited that this occasional treat may be able to find its way into the dinner rotation a little more often.

This stuffed chicken breast gets you the rich flavors and ooey-gooey texture of the traditional spread, but with a much healthier delivery method for a smaller quantity.  Served over some brown rice to catch the spillover filling and a crunchy salad, this was a really fun weeknight dinner.

Pimiento Cheese-Stuffed Chicken

What's in it:

1  slice applewood-smoked bacon
3/4  cup  shredded cheddar cheese (I used a mix of white cheddar and extra-sharp yellow)
2  tablespoons  minced green onions
1 1/2  tablespoons  diced pimientos (I used jarred roasted red peppers)
1  tablespoon  canola mayonnaise
2  teaspoons  fresh lemon juice
1/2  teaspoon  hot sauce
1/2  teaspoon  salt, divided
4  (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2  teaspoon  black pepper
1  tablespoon  canola oil

How to make it:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cook bacon in a large ovenproof skillet until crisp. Remove bacon, reserving drippings in pan; crumble bacon. Combine bacon, next 6 ingredients, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cut a 1-inch-wide slit into the thick end of each breast half; carefully cut down to the center of chicken to form a deep pocket. Divide cheese mixture evenly among pockets. Secure with wooden picks. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

Heat pan over medium-high heat. Add oil to drippings. Add chicken to pan; saute 4 minutes. Turn chicken over. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes; let stand for 5 minutes.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tangy Spiced Brisket

Crockpots and the like often get a bad rap, with people assuming that all slow cooker recipe are going to have cream of some unidentifiable substance soup involved, or that their food is going to dry out, or that the slow cooker is going to burn down the house while they're at work.  But I love my slow cooker.  How else can I come home to dinner mostly ready after a long day at work?

One of my favorite uses for my slow cooker is to cook meat.  Even the cheapest, toughest cuts come out tender, and practically melt in your mouth.  Chicken, pork, beef, all of it can be good in the slow cooker.

A particular favorite in my house is slow-cooked brisket.  It can feed a crowd, or leftovers can be frozen for a quick meal on another busy weeknight, turned into quesadillas or sandwiches, or used to top pasta or gnocchi.

Adapted just a bit from Smitten Kitchen, this is everything its name promises.  Tangy from the acidity of the ketchup and chili sauce, slightly spicy from the cayenne, cumin and paprika, this did not disappoint.  Like Deb urges, I set this to cook overnight, then popped it into the fridge to chill while I was at work.  Then a quick reheat in the oven while I made the rest of the sides stovetop, and dinner was ready.  The only hard part was not eating it for breakfast!

Tangy Spiced Brisket

What's in it:

2 large onions, sliced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
pinch cayenne (adjust to your heat preference)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup beef stock (unsalted or low salt)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup chili sauce (I used Heinz)
1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
4-5 pound brisket

How to make it:

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and sauté onions in vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and most of liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add halved garlic cloves and saute for 3 minutes more. Stir in spices and seasoning and cook for 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the beef stock, ketchup, chili sauce and brown sugar.

Place brisket in a slow cooker, spread onion mixture over the top, then pour sauce mixture over the entire dish. Cover with the lid and cook it on LOW for 8-10 hours. 

When the brisket is cooked but still hot, use a spoon to scrape off any large fat deposits adhered to the top and bottom of the brisket. (The fat will be removed from the sauce  after it has chilled.)

Transfer the brisket and all of its sauce to a baking dish.  Chill entire dish in the fridge for several hours and up to one day; this resting time will significantly enhance the flavor and texture of the meat.

An hour before you’re ready to serve it, preheat your oven to 300°F, and remove the dish from the fridge. Remove all of the fat that has solidified with a slotted spoon for a less oily finish.

Carefully remove the meat from its sauce and place on a large cutting board. Cut the brisket into 1/2-inch slices.  If you like a smoother sauce this is a good time to run it through a blender or literally just smash up the onion and garlic strands with a wooden spoon. 

Carefully place the sliced meat (moving it in large sections with a spatula helps keep it together) back into the sauce and spoon the sauce over the meat. Replace the lid or cover the dish tightly with foil and reheat in the oven until it is bubbling at the edges — this usually takes up to to 30 minutes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sunday Supper

Normally I don't mind putting a lot of effort into a Sunday dinner.  I usually have most of the afternoon to work, and there's something very comforting for me about puttering in the kitchen on the weekend.  But last weekend, we finally had a hint of spring, and I really didn't want to be closed up inside with sunshine and fresh air were right outside my window for the first time in what felt like months.  I wanted something worthy of Sunday supper, but fairly hands-off so I could hang out on the deck with a beer.

So to balance the hearty foods of winter with the brighter flavors of summer, I went with Marcella Hazan's Lemon Roasted Chicken and Potatoes (I originally saw this on Serious Eats a couple years ago), and since the spring-like weather had me craving green veggies, I left out the carrots and made balsamic roasted brussels sprouts instead.

As I should have realized, sometimes simpler is better.  It doesn't take hours in the kitchen to produce a delicious, and fairly impressive meal.  The chicken was flavorful and bright from the lemon, the potatoes crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and the brussels sprouts had just enough crunch to round out the textures of the meal, with some acidity to cut through the other rich flavors.  All for about 20 minutes of hands-on time, and most of that in chopping ingredients.

Lemon Roasted Chicken and Potatoes
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

What's in it:

1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
1 three- to five-pound chicken
Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
1 small lemon
1 small onion

How to make it:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Dry chicken thoroughly with paper towels.

Season the chicken with lots of salt and pepper, both inside and out.

Using light pressure, roll the lemon across a board with your hands and prick about 20 times with a toothpick or sharp knife. Cut the onion in half.  Stuff lemon and onion in the chicken's larger cavity.

Place chicken breast-side down into a large (ungreased) roasting pan. Roast in the upper third of the oven for about 30 minutes. Turn chicken over, so now the breast side is up.

Roast chicken for another 30 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 400°F and roast for another 20 minutes or longer, depending on the size of your chicken.  Plan on about 20 or 25 Calculate between 20 and 25 minutes total cooking time for each pound.  A meat thermometer comes in very handy here.

Remove the chicken from the oven and let sit 5 or 10 minutes for juices to redistribute. Carve and serve with the potatoes, and drizzle the juice at the bottom of the pan over everything. 

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts
I don't even know where to begin with this one... basic roasted veggie with some extras

What's in it:

1 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved or quartered
1-2 slices of pancetta or bacon
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1-2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

How to make it:

Combine all ingredients except vinegar in a shallow baking dish, stirring until everything is well coated in oil.  Roast at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, until brussels sprouts begin to caramelize.

Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and put back in the oven for another 5 minutes.  Serve hot.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Saffron Risotto with Pancetta, Tomatoes and Sausage

On my last few trips to Seattle, I've had lunch at Cafe Bengodi in the Pioneer Square area.  Every time I go there, I pretty much have to just point to something on the menu with my eyes closed when it's my turn to order.  Every choice looks delicious- pizzas, panini, pastas, risottos, all of them with simple, fresh ingredients that are put together in wonderful combinations.

One thing that always catches my eye before I'm distracted by something else (carbonara! caramelized onions!) is their risotto with saffron, tomatoes, pancetta and sausage.  With it still on my mind weeks after my latest trip west, I had to try to make it myself.  Armed with a vague description from the menu and the basic risotto directions from the container of rice, I added it to our weekly menu.

I have no idea if this is how Cafe Bengodi's tastes, but this was amazing.  Rich and creamy, with some spice from the sausage and brightness from the tomatoes, and depth from the saffron and pancetta.

Saffron Risotto with Pancetta, Tomatoes and Sausage
Serves 4

What's in it:

1 tsp. olive oil
2 oz. pancetta, diced
2 links hot Italian sausage, removed from casings and broken into small pieces
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained
pinch of saffron
3-4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley

How to make it:

Heat a large sautee pan over medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil, then add pancetta when oil is hot.  Cook pancetta until crisp, and remove from pan to paper towel-lined plate.  Add sausage to the pan, and cook until browned and cooked through.  Remove to a lined plate as well, reserving the drippings in the pan.

Add onions and garlic to the pan with pancetta and sausage drippings, and sautee until onions become translucent.  Add rice, and cook until the rice also becomes translucent.  Add diced tomatoes to the pan, and rub saffron between your fingers to break it up as it is added as well.  Stir to combine well.

Pour in 1 cup of the broth and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed.  Continue adding broth 1/2 to 1 cup at a time, stirring nearly constantly, until rice cooked to your preference.

Lower heat, and stir in cream and parmesan.  Return sausage to the pan and stir into the risotto.  Serve hot, garnished with pancetta and parsley.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: What's in Your Garden?

We've had a few hints of spring here, tulips popping up, a few warm days, and our usual spring rains.  It's got me thinking about what I want to plant this year.  Our yard is very wet, so I stick to containers on the deck.

My first tomato
Last year I had a few types of tomato plants, some bell peppers and jalapenos, and a ton of herbs.  Surprisingly, it was the jalapenos that did best for me, and I still have a good amount of the pepper jelly I canned last year to use them up.

Baby bell pepper

I still can't decide what to go with this year.  What are you planting?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ginger-Lime Shrimp and Noodles

To be honest, I can't remember how I found this Asian-inspired noodle recipe on How Sweet It Is.  Whatever combination of links I clicked through, though, was a happy accident.  Full of fresh veggies, nutty whole wheat pasta and and flavorful shrimp, this made the whole family happy.  If you happen to be observing Lent by giving up meat in some way, this would be a great option. 

While some Asian dishes can seem involved, full of specialty ingredients and a little intimidating, this pared down version was a very fast weeknight dinner.  I added a little bit of fish sauce since I had some in the fridge, and while it added some nice depth to the pasta, I don't think it's really necessary.  The next time I make this, I think I'll use a pinch of red pepper flakes, and maybe stir in a tablespoon or so of peanut butter*.

Ginger-Lime Shrimp and Noodles

What's in it:

1 pound raw or cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined (frozen works well here)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 tablespoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 clove garlic
1 cup sugar snap peas
2 teaspoons fish sauce (optional)
1/2 pound whole wheat pasta of your choice (I used linguine)
salt and pepper to taste

How to make it:

Combine first two tablespoons of olive oil through the soy sauce in a dish and whisk together. Add to a ziploc bag, along with the shrimp and marinate for 2-24 hours.

Once ready to cook, heat a skillet on medium heat and add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Add peppers and mushrooms to the pan and saute until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Bring pasta water to a boil and cook according to directions, draining and setting aside until later. Add garlic to the peppers and mushrooms and stir for 30 seconds. Add shrimp (with marinade) to pan and cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes, then add fish sauce if using. Add snap peas and cook for about a minute, then add pasta, thoroughly stirring until everything is mixed. Season with salt and pepper if desired and serve.

*If adding red pepper flakes and/or peanut butter, I would add the pepper flakes to the shrimp marinade, and the peanut butter after the snap peas have cooked.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Green Chile Hominy Casserole with Chorizo

Homesick Texan posted this recipe about six months ago, and despite the fact that I had never had hominy, it sounded pretty irresistable, baked with chorizo, sour cream, cheese, and chiles.  Always game to try something new, I put it on the menu, and added the ingredients to the grocery list.  But when I got to the store, I could not find hominy anywhere.  I wandered up and down aisles and asked employees when that failed, but no good.

But this weekend, while I was headed up the beans and rice aisle, I finally found it, hiding behind some black beans on the top shelf.  A quick search on my phone got me the rest of the ingredient list, and we were in business.  And as it turns out, we love hominy.  Where has this been all my life?  I can't wait to see what else I can do with it!

This casserole has the perfect amount of heat, balanced by the tanginess of the sour cream.  It was fantastic topped with slices of avocado and dollops of salsa.  I halved the recipe for two servings, but really wish I hadn't, so the full recipe is here.

 Green Chile Hominy Casserole with Chorizo

What's in it:

2 poblano chiles
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 pound Mexican chorizo, removed from casing and crumbled
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 jalapeños, seeds and stems removed, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 15-ounce cans of hominy, drained
8 ounces sour cream
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

2 teaspoons lime juice
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and black pepper to taste

1 avocado, sliced and 1/2 cup salsa, for serving.

How to make it:
Roast the poblano chiles under the broiler until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Place chiles in a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tight and let the chile steam for 20 minutes. Take the chile out of the bag and rub off the skin. Remove stem and seeds and cut dice chiles.

Preheat the oven to 350.

On medium-low heat, heat the vegetable oil and then cook the crumbled chorizo while occasionally stirring in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet until brown, about 8-10 minutes. With a slotted spatula, remove the chorizo and drain any excess grease from the skillet, leaving 1 teaspoon. Add to the skillet the diced onions and jalapeños while occasionally stirring, cook on medium-low heat until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.

Remove the skillet from the heat and add the diced poblano chile, chorizo, hominy, sour cream, cumin, chili powder, lime juice and half of the cheddar cheese. Stir until well combined, taste and add salt and black pepper and adjust seasonings. Top with remaining the cheddar cheese and bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbling.

Top with avocado slices and salsa, if desired.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: Hidden Vegetables

This article on MSNBC about a Penn State study on the benefits of extra servings of vegetables hidden in everyday food caught my attention.  The study's findings, that extra veggies may help weight loss, weren't surprising.  Replacing foods that have a higher calorie density with lower calorie foods of the same volume will result in a calorie deficit and therefore weight loss.  What was surprising was how the researchers tested this.  Steamed, pureed vegetables were included in food in a way that the test subjects did not see a difference.  Including extra veggies this way has been the basis of several cookbooks recently, mostly aimed at getting children to eat more veggies.

Personally, I don't like idea of hiding veggies in food.  I like a more positive attitude toward them, and finding ways to make them taste good.  But I'm certainly not against creative ways of including them in traditional dishes, like butternut squash in mac n cheese, or carrot puree in spaghetti sauce.  In fact, I think the veggies add a lot of sweetness in these cases, making the food taste better overall, with no need to cover up the fact that they're there.

How do you feel about hidden veggies?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Beef Tagine with Butternut Squash

I can usually be sucked in by anything even remotely Moroccan-inspired.  Growing up, one of my favorite parts of Disney World was dinner at the restaurant in Epcot's Moroccan pavilion.  I just cannot resist the spiced, slightly sweet combinations so prevalent in these dishes.  So when I saw this Beef Tagine with Butternut Squash in the January issue of Cooking Light, I immediately put it on the menu for the next week.  It even gave me a decent cover for butternut squash, which is not one of Vince's favorites, since he will eat just about anything that involves beef.

Basically an amped up beef stew, this tagine is a little spicy, a little sweet, and hearty without relying on fatty meat and heavy potatoes.  I made a double batch, and the leftovers we ate for lunch later in the week were just as good as the fresh stew, if not better.  I also simmered a little longer at lower heat, with more chicken stock, than the original recipe, with no ill effects. 

Beef Tagine with Butternut Squash

What's in it:

2  teaspoons  paprika
1  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
3/4  teaspoon  salt
1/2  teaspoon  ground ginger
1/2  teaspoon  crushed red pepper
1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1  (1-pound) beef shoulder roast or petite tender roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1  tablespoon  olive oil
4  shallots, quartered
4  garlic cloves, chopped
1-1 1/2  cups  fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1  (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
3  cups  (1-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 pound)

How to make it:

Combine first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add beef; toss well to coat.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef and shallots; cook 4 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in broth and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Add butternut squash, and return stew to a simmer.  Continue to simmer for about 30 min, until squash is soft and flavors have developed.