Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Savory sausage in puff pastry shells

This is much easier to make than it looks, using frozen puff pastry shells. The filling is very similar to what I use for stuffed mushrooms.
You will have leftover filling if you only use one box of shells, but I promise that you won't mind. Stuff some mushrooms, stuff some pork chops, spread it on toast ...

1 lb., more or less, uncooked Italian sausage. I used the kind marked "sweet, mild," but if you like it spicier, go for it. If you buy the kind in casings, just squeeze it out like toothpaste.
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped fairly small
2 cups of chopped mushrooms
1 pkg. cream cheese, 6 to 8 ounces, cut into "pats" like butter
6 frozen puff pastry shells (or 12 -- this could fill 12)

Bake the shells according to the package directions. Be sure to preheat the oven as instructed -- this is one of those times when it actually matters. The shells need to cool before you stuff them.

While the shells are baking and cooling, saute the sausage in a heavy skillet, breaking up any clumps. When it is starting to brown, add the leeks and mushrooms and continue cooking until the sausage is browned and not showing any pink at all, and the liquid from the vegetables has evaporated. This will take about 20 minutes.
Turn off the burner and stir in the cream cheese, which will melt just from the heat of the sausage mixture

When the shells are cool, use a fork to perforate and remove the top. Spoon the sausage mixture into the shells and put the top back on.

You can eat them right away or refrigerate and reheat for 5 minutes in the oven or toaster oven. I didn't try the microwave, but I think it would make the shells soggy, and that's not good.

You will notice there are only three in the picture, although I made six. What can I say? They're really good.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Schnitzel with Noodles

Pork tenderloin
1 egg
Panko bread crumbs or cracker crumbs
salt, pepper
Noodles -- I used Trader Joe's Lemon-Pepper Pappardelle Pasta
cooking oil 
heavy skillet, preferably ovenproof

Cut the pork tenderloin into pieces about an inch thick and pound each one flat. Salt and pepper both sides of each piece.
Use three wide shallow bowls or pie plates, one each for flour, egg and crumbs. Add some salt and pepper to the flour unless you are using cracker crumbs from saltines, in which case just add pepper. Dip each flattened cutlet into flour, then egg, then crumbs. Use a fork or tongs and shake off any excess flour before putting floured cutlet into the egg.
Heat the skillet with enough oil to cover the bottom. Saute a few cutlets at a time until golden brown on both sides. If they are thin enough, they'll probable be done inside then, too. If not (cut one open to see), stick the skillet uncovered in the oven at 350 for 5 to 10 minutes.
Boil the noodles according to package directions.
For sauce, add white wine and butter to the skillet and stir to get the "fond" -- if there are burnt crumbs, though, remove them first! While waiting for the sauce to reduce slightly, sing a couple of choruses of "My Favorite Things."

Where I come from in the Midwest, we just call this pork tenderloin, and it also makes a great sandwich. In Germany, it's schnitzel.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Risotto, nearly fat-free

I've never made risotto before, but then, I've never been retired before. And honestly, this is not difficult, but it is time-consuming, and you can't do much in the way of multi-tasking. Not like sticking a meatloaf and some spuds in the oven and walking away to do the laundry (or watch TV). Plan on it taking at least an hour of standing in the kitchen!

I had extra motivation, because I wanted to see if I could make a tasty risotto dish WITHOUT Parmesan and with practically no fat, because I want to make it for someone who can't eat those things. I know, practically heresy to make it without the parm, but I had to try.

I'll start by saying, well, of course, add parm -- or cheese in general -- to anything and it probably will taste even better. But this was good, and I ate it with no regrets! And let's face it, all of us could use some low-fat, tasty dishes.

What's in it:
  • 4 cups non-fat chicken broth (I didn't have any homemade on hand, so I used a good, organic one from Trader Joe's, the kind in a carton. I only use the kind in a carton, never canned. This is especially important for risotto because the broth will get cooked down and the flavor will be concentrated, so if it doesn't taste good to start with .... eww. ) If you have to make it totally vegan, I guess you could substitute vegetable stock or even water, but I can't vouch for it.
  • 12 ounces of arborial rice, which was about 1-1/2 cups. You cannot use just any rice; has to be short-grained and, to be safe, should say risotto rice.
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine -- it can be the economy type as long as it tastes ok (not like feet! LOL). If you don't have wine, you could use another tasty liquid or just use more chicken broth.
  • 1 Tablespoon butter and 1 Tablespoon canola oil. I'm sure it would work with 2T canola or any other "good" (i.e., permitted on the healthy diet) oil. That's not very much fat for this amount of food.
  • salt, pepper, Penzey's Sunny Spain blend (pepper, lemon zest, onion and garlic), 1 tiny pinch extra garlic powder.
  •  about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, grated.
  • Assortment of fresh veggies. I used about 1 cup each of mushrooms, french green beans (haricot verts), Brussels sprouts and onion, and about half of a red bell pepper.
  • a couple of quick spritzes of vegetable oil, the kind in the spray can or the "Mr. Misto." See below for alternative. 
You also need a 2-quart saucepan; a deep, preferably heavy skillet (my trusty cast-iron chicken fryer comes into play once again), a stirring device that is preferably a wooden spoon, and a bowl or platter for later, preferably not white or beige. You don't have a black platter? Sorry.

Step one: Roast the veggies.

1. Set the oven at at least 400F. Prepare the veggies by washing and chopping. Cut the stem ends off the Brussels sprouts, cut them in half and remove the outer leaves if they are, well, ugly. Trim the thready end off the green beans. Slice the mushrooms. Chop up the onion and set aside half of it. Slice strips of the red bell pepper, trimming off the white part and seeds. Chop up any other veggies into similar size pieces so everything will roast at about the same time.
2. Spritz a jelly roll pan or similar baking pan (sides are good; cookie sheets with no sides invite the disaster of things rolling off) with whatever "good" oil you have. If you do not have a spritzer, sprinkle a little oil on and smear it around with a paper towel, removing any excess. Put the veggies in one layer in the pan (Brussels sprouts go cut side down.) and lightly spritz again. (Or you could put the veggies in a big bowl with maybe 1 teaspoon of "good" oil and toss them around to coat.) The point of the oil is to help convey the heat to the veggies, and also seal in some moisture so they don't mummify completely. Sprinkle with salt. No pepper; it will burn.
3. Roast 'em. Mine took 15 minutes, but I started checking at 10.

The actual risotto

1.  Heat the 4 cups (1 quart) of chicken broth in the saucepan and keep it hot by turning the heat down very low.
2. Meanwhile, put the 2 T. of oil or whatever in the heavy deep skillet and add the half of a chopped onion that didn't go into the oven. Add some salt. Gently saute until translucent and starting to turn golden. Five minutes, maybe, depending on the heat, your pan, etc.
3. Add the arboreal rice and stir until coated with oil and the very outside edges start to go translucent. I was being super-cautious not to burn it, so this took about 10 minutes more, but probably would happen in 5 minutes if I hadn't been paranoid. But you don't want the heat to be more than about medium. This does give you time to check the veggies. If they're done -- should be some carmelization but not burning -- turn off the oven and even take them out if you think they're close to burning. Otherwise they can stay in and keep cozy and warm once you've turned off the heat.
4. When the rice is all shiny and kind of grayish along the edges instead of white, add the 1/2 cup of white wine. Stir until the wine has evaporated and/or soaked in.
5. Start adding the hot broth about 1 cup at a time, and stir and simmer until each dose is absorbed. You don't have to stir constantly, but close to it. You definitely don't want to walk away. If your stock is unsalted, you may need to add salt here; if it is not sodium-free, I'd wait and taste it. Do add whatever seasonings you are using except for the lemon zest, which I like to add at the very end. Also a good time to taste for salt, but you might not need more.
6. When the last bit of broth is absorbed, the risotto should be creamy but not dry. If you were adding parm, it would go in now. Otherwise, grate on the lemon zest, turn it out on a platter and pile on the veggies, for a nice presentation. Or stir the veggies in first and then plate. Up to you.
If I were serving this with meat of any sort, I would pile it on the platter around the risotto. 

Taste: It tastes creamy, which is a rare texture in extremely low-fat foods. It tastes a little nutty, yes, and the lemon zest adds a nice sparkle. And roasted veggies taste so much better than boiled or steamed.
How many servings? I had about a cup, and that barely made a dent in the platter. So 12 servings, easily, as a side dish, maybe 6 as the main item, especially if you heaped on the veggies. So counting the oil used on the veggies, let's say that's 7 teaspoons of fat divided by 6 ... oh, you do the math.  It's like, what, half a pat of butter. You get that much fat just walking past a Cinnabon.

  • You could broil shrimp or scallops after taking the veggies out of the oven. Either one takes maybe 5-6 minutes.
  • You could broil or roast other veggies such as eggplant.
  • You could roast sweet potatoes, but those take longer, as do carrots and other "dense" veggies, so start them first.
  • Experiment with different seasonings, of course.
  • I've read that you can stir frozen peas in when the risotto is nearly done, and they'll cook just fine. Didn't try it, yet. 
  • If I knew I was serving this with shrimp, for example, I would for sure take the shrimp shells and brew up a shrimp stock to use instead of the chicken broth.

  • I'm pretty sure this is a dish that Alton Brown grates some fresh nutmeg onto, so that would be worth a try, depending on what other flavors you had going on.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ham Salad

Oh, I'm so sorry. There's no recipe. It's all by feel and taste.
Some ham, ground up on the larger dice of the grinder
Some hard-boiled eggs
Some pickles or relish (I like the ones marketed as "Sweet Salad Cubes"
Some Miracle Whip (yeah, yeah, make your own mayo. Go ahead)
Some spices.

Okay, I'd say for every half-pound or so of ham -- and this should be leftover ham, you know, scraps -- I'd use one or  two hard-boiled eggs, 2 to 3 Tablespoons of sweet pickle Salad Cubes or relish or ground-up pickles, and 3 Tablespoons of Miracle Whip. Start with less, and taste it and adjust. For seasonings, I like a good dose -- say 1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Ancho chili pepper.  Taste and add more if you like. You could do mustard or other pepper or Cayenne, to your taste. Don't add salt until you taste it, because the ham is bringing the salt to this party and you aren't very likely to need more.

This is so much better on toast than on plain bread. But so many things are.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Old-Fashioned, Old-Size Bran Muffins with Pear Applesauce

 OK, I'll admit, one thing I'm not very good at is eating a healthy breakfast. So I decided to make these old-fashioned muffins using All-Bran, just like Mom and Grandma did. And my muffin tin is the same size as theirs, rather than the mutant giant-size muffins of today. So as you can see, one recipe makes 12 muffins, rather than, say, four. Pop them into freezer bags. Even at two at a time, that's breakfast for five days. Do you think I got the math wrong? Nope, two went to quality control.

Preheat oven to 400 and lightly grease a 12-muffin tin

In a big bowl, mix:

1 cup of whole bran cereal -- I used "original" All-Bran
1/4 cup milk
1 cup pear-applesauce or applesauce, preferably unsweetened or sweetened only with fruit juice (see below)

You want to let that mixture sit for a few minutes while the cereal absorbs the moisture.
Meanwhile, in a smaller bowl, cream together:
1/4 cup of room-temperature shortening or butter
1/4 cup sugar (Reduce this slightly if the applesauce you are using is sweetened). I use my "vanilla sugar," which is regular sugar that sits in a canister with some vanilla beans.

And to that mixture add
1 egg
1 Tablespoon honey (This helps the muffins get a crunchy top crust. You could leave it out, but I'd rather reduce the sugar a bit.)
Stir that into the cereal mixture
Now, mix together (sifting is what the cookbooks all say at this point, but you can use a wire whisk and mix them in a bowl just fine)
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg -- freshly grated if you can

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and stir just until combined. If you stir too much, you'll have more gluten, which means tough, dry muffins. Yuck.

Spoon this into the muffin tins. Each "cup" will be about 2/3 full. Always a good idea to put some in each one first, then go back and add if there's still batter left. 

Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes. Check at 25, for sure. If a toothpick comes out clean, they're done.

While still hot, sprinkle the tops with a little sugar, if you want to.

I have not personally done this, but if you have tins that make bigger muffins, say 6 or 4, I would add a little more baking soda to help the bigger amount of dense batter rise, then  cook them at 350 for longer, probably 35 minutes or so. I'd start checking at 30 minutes, though. (At 400, the outside would literally be toast before the inside was cooked.)


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hunter-style Chicken with Eggplant
This is delicious and fairly simple to make. If you do not like eggplant, frankly, you could leave it out or put potatoes or mushrooms or something else in instead. I like the eggplant, though.
You need:

1/2 cup of pancetta, diced (you could substitute bacon or even ham)
4 cloves of garlic; less if you don't like it, more if you do!
cooking oil
salt and pepper
1 large eggplant or a couple of the little ones
3-4 pounds of chicken. I used boneless, skinless thighs 
2 12-ounce cans of diced tomatoes (or you can peel, seed and chop fresh ones in season)
1 cup dry white wine
kosher salt (table salt will do if you don't have this) 
other seasonings you like; I used some Ancho chile powder and a dash of cayenne 
a big skillet
a Dutch oven 

First, slice the eggplant into strips, peel on. Put in a large colander over the sink or over a bowl and sprinkle liberally with the kosher salt. Let sit and drain for 30 minutes to an hour.
 Peel and mince the garlic. Put a tablespoon of so of oil in the skillet over medium heat and saute the pancetta and garlic just until the garlic is light golden. Don't burn it. Remove them from the pan.

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and whatever. Add a tablespoon or so of oil to the Dutch oven and, if the skillet is "dry," add some more oil to it. Saute the chicken in both pans  until lightly browned. (Two pans makes it easier to get all the chicken lightly browned; or you can work in batches.) Now you can put all the chicken into the Dutch oven.

Add the pancetta and garlic. Add a half cup to a cup of wine and simmer until it reduces.  Drain the tomatoes and add them. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes.

Pat the eggplant strips dry with paper towel. Add a little more oil to the skillet and saute them until they are soft and lightly browned. Then add them to the chicken for the last 5 minutes or so of cooking.

You can eat this by itself or over rice or pasta. It makes its own sauce with the wine and liquid from the tomatoes (even after you've drained them, they're pretty juicy). The great thing is that the chicken comes out tender and very moist.





About Me

My photo
This is me enjoying a limoncello in Rome on the last night of our trip to Italy. Funny thing is, I don't really like limoncello that much, but thought it would be great in a dessert. And wouldn't you know, The Barefoot Contessa just did a great fruit salad with limoncello. So now I can't. Oh, well.