Monday, October 25, 2010

Baked Mac and Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes

Another confession: I love mac and cheese out of a box. Particularly if it's shaped like Scooby or Spiderman. I can, and often do, eat the whole box myself and in one sitting.

But this mac and cheese, that I present to you here, is different. This has complex flavor profiles from the smokiness of the cheese to the acidic zip of the tomato--sweet and sultry from slow-roasting.

I did this on-the-fly one evening, replacing the fontina and gruyere with a smoked gouda. I was shopping at the PathMark near where I work, which is cheaper, but not that well stocked in terms of cheese. This mac and cheese would be an incredible side to fried (or baked) chicken, though it does quite nicely alone. The tomatoes also are great alone, or in salads, sandwiches, and other pasta dishes.

Baked Mac and Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes

6 small tomatoes, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Coarse salt
8 ounces dried elbow macaroni
6 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for baking dishes
1/4 cup finely diced yellow onion
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
5 ounces smoked Gouda cheese
6 ounces extra-sharp white-cheddar cheese, grated (2 cups), 1/3 cup reserved for topping
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (1 cup), 1/2 cup reserved for topping
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1. Roast tomatoes: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomato slices on rimmed baking sheets in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil; season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with thyme leaves. Transfer to oven and roast until softened and browned in spots, about 20 minutes.

2. Heat oven and boil pasta: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add salt generously and cook pasta 2 to 3 minutes less than manufacturer's instructions (the outside should be cooked but the inside underdone. Transfer to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well.

3. Meanwhile, make bread crumbs: Tear bread into large pieces and pulse a few times in a food processor to form very large crumbs. Transfer to a bowl, and add melted butter. Toss evenly to coat.

4. Prepare baking dishes: Butter eight 6-ounce shallow baking dishes or one 1 1/2-quart baking dish.

5. Make cheese sauce: Melt butter in a 4-quart pot over medium heat, add onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until bubbling but not browning, about 45 seconds. Add milk and whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon (scrape across the bottom and around edge of pot to prevent scorching), until thickened, about 4 minutes. Add gouda, 1 2/3 cups grated cheddar, and 1/2 cup Parmigianno-Reggiano, stirring until completely melted and sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper, add cayenne and nutmeg, and stir to combine.

6. Assemble and add cheese topping: Add pasta to sauce and stir to thoroughly combine. Pour into prepared baking dishes and sprinkle evenly with the reserved cheeses, followed by the bread crumbs. If using, top with roasted tomato slices and thyme.

7. Bake: Place dishes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until bubbling and cheese is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More Tomatoes: Simple Roasted Tomato Sauce

I literally just sliced up the tomatoes, drizzled them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and popped them in a 400 degree oven with a clove or two of garlic for a little while. Once they were good and melty (about 20 minutes), I took them out, mashed them up, and used them to top linguine.

Served with a side salad and balsamic, it was a quick weeknight dinner for us.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More Tomatoes: Pasta Bake

Okay, so after I gave a big speech about my tomato conversion, I have another confession to make. I hate oregano.

This presents a problem when making the following dish, a recipe from Giada, with a quarter cup of oregano. As any good cook would do (I assume), I just left it out and relied on the fresh tomatoes from my dad's garden to shine through.

But as any great cook would do (I would know), I took it a step further. I added cheese.

This is a great baked pasta dish, with plenty of fresh tomato flavor. It's quick and easy, too. Julia and I enjoyed it immensely.

Pasta a la Formiana
Serves 4

Butter, for greasing dish
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound (8 ounces) mezze penne or other small pasta
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 to 5 very ripe, extra-large or beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish. Set aside.
Using a food processor (or your potato masher, as I did), combine the garlic and crushed tomatoes. Pour into a medium bowl and add the uncooked pasta, 1/3 cup olive oil, half the cheese, salt, and pepper. Toss until all the ingredients are coated.
Line the bottom and sides of the baking dish with tomato slices. Pour the pasta mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Arrange the remaining tomato slices in an overlapping layer on top of the pasta mixture, making sure the mixture is completely covered. Drizzle with olive oil and top with the rest of the cheese. Bake until the tomatoes are slightly crispy and the pasta is cooked, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fresh Tomatoes.

Growing up, I loathed tomatoes. You couldn't get me near one. Every raw tomato--sour, grassy and filled with with goop and seeds. I remember picking them off of sandwiches, eating around them if they'd show up in salad.

My dad, of course, grew them in our backyard. Back then I wondered why you'd waste half a garden on them, but now I'm glad that whenever I visit, I get to bring a few dozen home. Obviously, I've collected a few tomato recipes that might help you use up the last of the tomato crop.

At the beginning of the summer though, making these BLT's was all about the cheese--not the tomatoes. I read "smoked blue cheese" and nearly lept out of my chair running towards DiBruno Brothers.

"BLT" here does not mean "Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato". The bacon in this recipe has been replaced by Rogue River Smokey Blue Cheese, making it a "Blue-Lettuce-Tomato". I know that many of you may think that there is just no replacement for bacon, but the smokey qualities of this cheese makes it hearty enough to stand in, and perhaps even supersede bacon. The blue cheese, which can be a difficult sell due to its intense creaminess and pungency, is well balanced by the freshness of the tomato and the lettuce.

And have I mentioned the mayonnaise? It's rosemary--and good on slathered on everything. We used the leftovers in pasta salad, but I imagine it would be great in chicken salad, too.

This week I'm attempting to post all the tomato recipes I have on hand--and feature two summer desserts that, if you're lucky at the produce stand, you could make this weekend.

Smokey "BLT"
Makes 4 Sandwiches

4 tablespoons Rosemary Mayonnaise, (see below)
8 slices bread (we split good baguettes)
5 ounces Rogue River Smokey Blue cheese
1/4 head romaine lettuce
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 8 slices

1. Spread a tablespoon of the Rosemary Mayonnaise on 4 slices of bread. Slice the cheese into 1/3" chunks and stack with the lettuce and tomatoes. Top with another piece of bread and enjoy.

Rosemary Mayonnaise
Makes 1 cup

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1/2 teaspoon grated garlic
3/4 cups mayonnaise (we like the Olive Oil kind)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Combine the oil, rosemary, and garlic in a small pan over low heat, stirring occasionally and cook until garlic begins to sizzle--about 5 minutes. Remove from heat to cool completely.

2. Stir the mayonnaise, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Whisk the lemon juice and the olive oil mixture into the mayonnaise until smooth. Stores refrigerated up to 5 days.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Things I have cooked this summer.

A custard apple in Bangalore

Back in elementary school, I remember being asked what I had done over summer vacation. I can't remember what I said--Cape May, probably. I probably would have talked about theater camp. Maybe I would have mentioned that I did the summer reading program at the public library.

Clearly, I was really cool.

This summer, however, I was all over: Boston, Lancaster, Philadelphia, New York, India. When I was in elementary school, I would never have imagined traveling like I do. It never would have occurred to me that I could. I hadn't even been on a plane.

Now I have frequent-flyer miles to use.

But I don't intend do travel like that again. I neglected my blog, and when I did get time in the kitchen, it was for outrageous parties.

Of course, no photos were taken during any of these parties--I was too busy replenishing the buffet, or having one too many mimosas. But the menus are vividly remembered by all those in attendance.

My favorite our events this summer was a Sunday brunch. We did three tarts and three muffins along with mimosas. The crab and tarragon tarts, as well as the haricot vert, tomato and goat cheese tarts, came from this Gourmet article. The third tart was sweet--lemon curd and strawberries in a pate brisse crust. I made that one up as I went, and trust that y'all could probably figure it out yourselves. If you're curious as to where all these mini tart tins came from, I found an incredible restaurant supply store that specializes in disposable items like paper cocktail napkins, boxes for cookies, paper cups...Philadelphians, I'm talking about the unnamed place at 5th and Bainbridge.

The three muffins were actually three variations on muffins. The first was a corn muffin with a goat cheese frosting. Our second, and perhaps most popular muffin, was the cheddar and herb biscuit with cream cheese. The sweet muffin (or cupcake) was a blueberry cupcake with brown butter maple glaze. All three of these came from Ming Makes Cupcakes. Click on "Savouries" for the first two.

Pulling off a party like this--for twenty, I think--takes some help. And some tricks. So if you're planning on trying a brunch like this, which worked wonderfully for the types of a friends we have (that is, people who pop in and out, like to snack, like to "try things" but would be wary to commit to a whole slice of crab tarragon tart--oh, and who like to dance), here's some advice.

First, get help. Roommate Laura and her then-boyfriend helped me slice strawberries, roll pie tart dough, and ice cupcakes.

Secondly, choose menu items that can be done ahead of time. We baked all the muffins the night before, kept them in the fridge, and had the oven free to bake off the tarts the next morning. If possible, when throwing a party like this, keep the party utensil-free.

Lastly, come up with a solid clean up plan. We had people put their plates in one plastic tub and their glassware in another. That way, things are neatly separated already, and not hogging up your sink.

Other menus centered around lasagna, chicken enchiladas, ethic finger foods, summer fruit cupcakes, and our new grill pan. I plan on posting some of those recipes as I remember them, or rather, get to re-test them.

But in the near future, we need to talk about tomatoes and peaches. Before they're all gone.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine Nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.
"Red Brocade"
Naomi Shihab Nye

I am back, mostly with food for entertaining, some with and some without photos. I've been throwing a dinner party a week all semester, but rarely took photos.

Just bare with me, and we'll get back to sharing recipes, stories and yes, a little Jesus here and there.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Where did April go?

Dear friends,

I haven't stopped cooking, I've just taken a temporary (and unannounced) hiatus from blogging while I finish finals and cut back on my 40 hours a week at work. Right now I'm reading primary source documents (suicide notes) from the Jonestown Massacre (Ever wonder where "Don't drink the Kool-Aid" came from?). I thought it might be wise to take a break.

I have some incredible treats in store for you, like banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting.

You read that right.

See you next week!



Sunday, March 21, 2010


Remember those epic snowdays we had last month? I know, it's hard to recall now, seeing as the weather has been absolutely gorgeous the last two weeks (aside from the past three days, that is).

On Wednesday, with no classes and no work, I decided to invite people over for dinner. I made this quiche-like dish for three friends and myself. It really hit the spot. It was homey, filling and filled with all kinds of delicious things--ham, cheese, potatoes, broccoli and heavy cream. There were only four of us, and for a recipe that supposedly feeds 10, we found ourselves with only one piece leftover.

It don't think I've done enough to extol the virtues of quiche. It's great warm, but still good at room temperature. This means if you have notoriously late friends, there's no need to wrestle with when to throw the quiche in. Quiche is also one of those meals that's great at all times of day. I love it at breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner (sometimes even as a late-night snack). There are also an infinite number of flavor combinations. I've covered zucchini, bacon and gruyere with a hashbrown crust but I also love tomato and goat cheese and anything with onions.

But here, at the request of either Craig or Derrick (I can't remember who asked me), is the recipe for the Ham-and-Potato Bake:

Ham-and-Potato Bake
serves 4 hungry boys
Everyday Food

Butter, for pan
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 baking potatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled
10 ounces sugar-baked ham, thinly sliced (less than 1/4 inch thick)
1 package (10 ounces) frozen broccoli, thawed and squeezed dry with paper towels (I had broccoli in the fridge, so I steamed it briefly and used it)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (2 ounces)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch-round cake pan (at least 2 inches deep). Line bottom of pan with a parchment-paper round. (My 9-inch-round cake pans aren't this deep, so I used my 8x8" pyrex. It worked perfectly, but its not as pretty.)

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and cream; season with salt and pepper. Thinly slice potatoes (less than 1/4 inch thick); drop into egg mixture.

Lifting potatoes out of egg mixture, arrange half the potatoes in pan. Layer with ham, broccoli, cheese, and remaining potatoes. Pour egg mixture over top. Press down firmly so that potatoes are fully submerged in egg mixture.

Cover with foil; bake until potatoes are tender, about 1 hour. Uncover; continue baking until golden and set, 30 to 45 minutes more.

Cool 15 to 20 minutes in pan. Run a knife around edge, and carefully invert onto a plate. Peel off parchment. Reinvert, top side up. Slice with a serrated knife.

Friday, March 12, 2010


When I entertain, the choice of salad is usually a no-brainer for me: Pear, Gorgonzola and walnut salad with balsamic vinaigrette. Done.

That's pretty much the recipe. But this past time around, I was under the impression that my dressing had gone bad (actually, it was just too cold) and I needed to make my own balsamic. Luckily, I had a bottle of Balsamic vinegar stashed away that typically only makes an appearance when I need a quick way to dress up a side vegetable (try it! It's also a great way to deglaze a chicken pan). Now, it wasn't a bottle of the Cinnamon Pear Balsamic or the Honey Ginger White Balsamic I tried at Garces Trading Company the other night with Nina, but it was good.

You wouldn't be wrong to assume that dressing or vinaigrette is just oil and vinegar. In fact, you can even use just vinegar. But this recipe uses Dijon, which is one of my all-time favorite ingredients. Actually, one of best tricks for a vegetable side (write this down) is to make a vinaigrette from red wine vinegar, olive oil and Dijon, along with any herb you might have on hand, and toss it on green beans. It's also great on pasta, especially with basil.

Feel free to up the amount of balsamic, as I did.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
makes about 3/4 of a cup

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard, and garlic. Add the oil in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Must love brownies.

At the beginning of the new year, Joy the Baker did a retrospective of her last two blogging years. She said this:

"I’ve been on the other side of love too. The break-up side. Yea…. not as awesome as love. The break-up side of love requires a lot of chocolate pudding. More than you might think actually. True.

Shut up. I made donuts."

It totally hit home for me. But instead of pudding, I'm talking about brownies.

I make it a point to never get too personal here--one of the many reasons Laura and I live together is that if I want to bitch and moan, I just call her into the room. It works for us. Being that Laura has been in Morocco, I have just been eating a lot of my feelings.

Break-ups suck, especially when the situation is complicated. Over the past few months, I have listened to the "Break-Up" episode of This American Life (you can listen here. It is so, so worth it. Phil Collins is interviewed) a million times. And then there were the baked goods.

Banana chocolate chip muffins? Yes. Homemade bread? Yes.

But when I read this recipe for brownies, I knew this was it for me. Simple and full of chocolate and butter.

These brownies don't require you to melt any chocolate. When you have melted chocolate in the batter, there's extra cocoa butter and refined sugar that surely the recipe accounts for, but wouldn't it feel better to know everything that goes into your brownies? Flour, sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla and butter--that's it for these guys.

I was musing the other day about qualities I'm attracted to. This was inspired by a commercial for Colonial Williamsburg, which sounded like a really great vacation. Aside from "wants to vacation in Colonial Williamsburg", I added "must like brownies". Maybe I'm looking for someone who is more like these brownies--uncomplicated, a little gooey, and rich (only joking. But the brownies are, in fact, rich).

Best Cocoa Brownies
from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks, 5 ounces or 141 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (9 7/8 ounces, 280 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 7/8 ounces, 82 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or a heaping 1/4 teaspoon flaky salt, as I used)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (66 grams, 2 3/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added. [Note, many people who have tried this recipe have found that this step works just fine in the microwave. Couldn't test this because we don't have one, but it sounds like it would work.]

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion but it took me at least 10 minutes longer to get them set. Let cool completely on a rack. (I go further and throw mine in the fridge or freezer for a while; it’s the only way I can get them to cut with clean lines.)

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Friday, February 26, 2010


The last incarnation of the chicken was, of course, stock.

Laura and I have a stock bucket on the bottom shelf of our freezer. We throw onion skins, about-to-go-bad celery and carrots, and leftover fresh herbs we know we'll never use right in, almost like a compost. When the chicken carcass comes, we're always ready.

I hope that making stock becomes almost routine in our house, as stock is expensive. If you're looking for further instruction on making stock, I've already posted about it here.

The question then, of course, became, "What to do with the stock?" Stock freezes great, so we managed to hold off about a week before breaking out the larger of the two containers. I went for an old favorite, the Orzo and Spinach Soup with Chicken Meatballs. I posted about it when it was still weather inappropriate. With all the snow we've been having, I think it might be just the right time. If you use the homemade stock, chances are your stock won't be as salty as one from a store. Be sure to season well.

And there you have it--four meals (Roast, Enchiladas, Salad and Soup) from one bird.

As a side note, I want to point out that this is my 100th post. What started out as a conversation between Alex and myself has grown to include seminarians, friends, family and (as revealed this morning) a former teacher. While it has never been my goal to have more than three or four people actually read this, I want to thank those of you who keep me cooking and baking, and on occasion, talking about Jesus.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chicken Salad.

Chicken salad isn't very photogenic.

I couldn't get one good shot--try as I might--that wasn't blurry. Maybe that's because chicken salad isn't meant to photographed. It is meant to be eaten.

I really like chicken salad, provided it doesn't have eggs. When you make it yourself, you can safe-guard against things like this. This recipe comes from SmittenKitchen, using some more of the leftover white meat from our "I made a whole chicken" series, but is certainly inspired by a Karen Hunter recipe.

Cherry Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches. Just the name makes my tummy rumble. We get to eat the crusts we cut off--I have a hard time sharing and, if I'm not the one making them, taking advantage of whoever is offering.

This chicken salad recipe could very easily be swapped out with dried cherries, however, might be too chunky for tea sandwiches. I ate it between slices of toast, in a bowl over lettuce (as shown), and, in my most desperate moments, out of the bowl with a fork.

Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad
from Smitten Kitchen
serves 4-6

4 cups cubed (1/2 inch) cooked chicken (about 1 3/4 lb) (I halved the recipe and used about 2 cups from the roast chicken)
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 celery rib, diced into small bits (1 cup)
2 or more tablespoons finely chopped shallot (I skipped this)
1 cup dried cranberries
2/3 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons tarragon vinegar, if you have it, or champagne or white wine vinegar works well, too (you know, we have about 4 different kinds of vinegar, and none of these. I used red wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon or herb or your choice (I used parsley)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Really complicated directions: Toss together all ingredients in a large bowl until combined well.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chicken Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce

My dear friend Addie loves pumpkin everything. Pumpkin lattes, pumpkin scones, pumpkin colored hats--she is in heaven when fall arrives.

Just the other day, she was lamenting the disappearance of pumpkin both at Starbucks and everywhere else. I tried to find her a pumpkin muffin at Au Bon Pain the other morning and found she was right.

Thankfully, I keep a can of pumpkin puree in the cupboard at all times, as one never knows when a muffin craving will sneak up on me. When I saw this recipe in Everyday Food's new book, Great Food Fast, highlighting pumpkin as a savory flavor, I was curious to try it again. The best thing we ate in Lesotho, in my opinion, was roasted pumpkin. When combined with mashed potatoes, it was heavenly.

It is also true that I love enchiladas. Having the chicken already on hand, I decided to try it.

It was surprisingly good--with a little salt. I under seasoned the dish in all regards, as it lacked both salt and heat. I regretfully de-seeded the jalapeno chile and forgot to season the sauce before baking. The pumpkin sauce ended up tasting a little bland by my standards, but done right, I think this could be a real winner. And perhaps satisfy Addie's love of pumpkin past the fall.

Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce
from Great Food Fast
Serves 4
1/2 roast or rotisserie chicken, skin removed and meat shredded
6 scallions, thinly sliced
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
4 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno chile, quartered
1 teaspoon chili powder (though I added more, and some cumin)
2 1/2 cups water
8 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups (6 oz) grated sharp white cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 425. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken with the scallions. Season generously with salt and pepper; set aside.
2. In a blender, puree the pumpkin, garlic, jalapeno, chili powder, 2 1/2 cups water and 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper until smooth. Pour 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of an 8" square baking dish.
3. Lay the tortillas on a work surface; mound the chicken mixture on half of each tortilla, dividing evenly. Roll up each tortilla into a tight log; place seam side down over the sauce in the baking dish.
4. Pour the remaining sauce on top; sprinkle with cheese. Place the dish on a baking sheet; bale until the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Everyday Food mentions that you can assemble this dish up to 8 hours ahead of time, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to bake. Just add a few extra minutes to the cooking time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A whole chicken.

When I was in high school, I did musical theatre. Surprise, surprise.

During dress rehearsals, the week before the show, Mrs. Hunter (the caterer I work for) would generously come and feed us. I remember looking forward to dress rehearsals for that reason alone, and guessing all day what the menu would be.

Would it be her famous chicken dijon? Or the chicken and olive pasta salad I loved so much? And, as always, we prayed for her perfect chocolate chip cookies.

One infamous day, that is still referenced a great deal, I was standing backstage and hear someone yell, "A WHOLE CHICKEN!"

Yes, Mrs. Hunter had brought us individual roasted chickens with red potatoes and haricots verts. People thought this was the fanciest, most special and most delicious thing they'd ever eaten. And at that moment, it probably was. After spending so much time in a high school auditorium, singing and dancing for 8 hours after school, "grateful" doesn't seem to cut it. We probably should have dedicated every show to Karen Hunter Catering.

When our subletter Jeff moved in to Laura's room, I wanted to go all-out for our first meal. Because, in my mind, a whole roasted chicken is the most special thing, that is what I did.

Being that the chicken was so big, I turned a lot of the white meat into chicken enchiladas with a pumpkin sauce and cranberry walnut chicken salad.

There's no recipe for this chicken, other than to say I rubbed the outside with copious amounts of butter, seasoned heavily with salt and pepper, and baked according to the label. I'm excited to find other ways to season and flavor the bird, now that I know a little bit more about what I'm doing (when I read "remove the giblets", I almost panicked. Little did I know, they were already pre-packaged in a bag that I simply had to pull out).

This 6 lb. chicken fed us for an entire week--between the enchiladas and chicken salad, as well as the dark meat (which Jeff ate) and the stock from the carcass--for only $5.

The next few posts will be about this chicken's journey, from roast to stock.

Monday, February 1, 2010

More salmon to love.

After Laura moved out, I spent a week or two alone in the apartment. This meant that I was cooking for one again--never an easy task.

But when you're only cooking for one, more expensive cuts of meat and fish are much more affordable (remember my obsession with mussels?). I decided to try out the new grocery store in my area's fish counter, and was handed this salmon. Not the prettiest cut, but it definetely cost less than $5.

I found a recipe for a hoisin glaze and decided that I would go all out with the Asian theme. To complete the meal, I made a salad with leftover greens, an orange and some carrots (shredded by the mandoline), topped with a homemade dressing. The dressing was a combination of sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and garlic. I steamed some edamame and made some rice to accompany the salmon, though bok choy or broccoli would have been great here, too.

The salmon, of course, is what we're really here to talk about, though.

This hoisin glaze couldn't be easier to prepare and by baking it again, there's not a whole lot you have to worry about. The original recipe uses salmon steaks (8-10 oz and 1 inch thick), and broils them about 4 inches from the heat source for 10-13 minutes.

Salmon with Hoisin Glaze
Serves 1
from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

1/2 Tb fresh orange juice
1 Tb Hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon honey
Salmon filet, about 8 oz.
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, hoisin sauce and honey to make a glaze.
2. Rinse the salmon filet and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Place the filet on a baking sheet or in a baking dish and brush generously with the glaze.
3. Bake for about 15 minutes, until opaque in the center.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A successful attempt to like fish.

This fall, my dear friend Courtney moved to London--and acquired swine flu fairly fairly soon after. I read this article on Epicurious called "Six Foods That Fight the Flu" and decided to pass it along.

The other funny thing about Courtney is that, while a serious foodie, she does not like fish. Courtney and I went to Thailand together this past summer, and in preparation, she began ordering fish at restaurants, determined to convince herself that she liked it. I hadn't eaten fish since I was a child--I can't remember what did me in, but I'm sure it was one forgettable unpleasant experience that made me vow, "Never again!".

So, in preparation for Thailand, where we all assumed we'd be eating fish, I also began ordering it out. I started with Salmon, at my favorite Philadelphia restaurant, Fork. If anyone could make me like fish, it was Fork. After a very pleasant experience, I decided to start ordering it more often (and found salmon to be often more exciting than the chicken or beef entrees).

Then, I cooked it for Laura and myself. This recipe, from the article, allows you to preserve as much vitamin D as possible by roasting--and allows you to avoid handling the fish too much. I made some tweaks to the recipe as far as the red pepper goes. We served this over cous cous the first time, which was delightful, but here I paired it with a lentil ragout (a Karen Hunter recipe).

Baked Salmon with Bell Peppers and Capers
Serves 2

1 lb wild salmon fillets
1 red bell pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 whole peeled garlic cloves
Kosher salt
Black pepper

1. Remove its core and seeds, and cut the red pepper into strips less than an inch wide and 1 1/2 -inch long.
2. Turn on the oven to 375°.
3. Wash the fish in cold water and pat it dry with paper towels.
4. Coat a baking dish with 1 tablespoons of olive oil. Lay the salmon down in the pan, skin side facing down if you have long fillets. Distribute all around the salmon the peppers, capers, and the whole peeled garlic cloves. Sprinkle with a liberal quantity of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the remaining olive oil over the fish. Put the dish in the preheated oven and cook for 16 minutes. Let it settle for a few minutes before serving.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

La Familia

I'm sure you all remember my post about Christmas Lasagna. I love lasagna, especially in the winter time, but my luck with lasagna (as you may recall) has been less than favorable.

When I found this recipe in Gourmet last year, I earmarked it and waited for a time when I would have enough people (about 6, I figured) to eat it.

Finals week at Laura and my apartment was a little less than traditional. I spent most of Monday and Tuesday in the library, writing papers, and then had very little to do for the rest of the week. Our house ended up as the "study house", which really meant that Aaron, Laura's boyfriend, and a few of our other friends came over, listened to Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, and celebrated the end of the semester. I've been lucky enough to live somewhere that feels like home to more than just me--a place where people know they're always welcome, and there will always be a dessert or two lingering. While part of the magic lies with Laura, I'm proud to say I think some has rubbed off on me, as people continue to come for dinner (actually, Aaron is here doing laundry right now--we just finished some apple pie. He reminded me that I should finish this blog post).

After unfolding our dining room table and searching for extra chairs, we sat down for a meal--a big, family dinner. It was lovely, and one of my fondest memories from college thus far. In not so many words, it became apparent that this was the family the lot of us had chosen. I remember praying over the meal (something I don't do often with friends who are otherwise religiously unaffiliated) because I really did want to thank God for these people--and for this lasagna.

Oh yes, this lasagna was indeed that good. I'm pretty critical of my own dishes, and while I thought the meat filling was a little on the dry side, I'm pretty sure a second try would find it close to perfection.

Lasagne Bolognese with Spinach
Serves 6-8
From Gourmet, January 2009: In the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, lasagne bolognese is usually made with a besciamella sauce. Italian-American cooks often replace that time-consuming step with ricotta. In this wickedly good interpretation, food editor Melissa Roberts combines the two traditions by whisking milk into some of the ricotta, creating a billowy pseudo-besciamella (the remaining ricotta mixture is stirred together with spinach). We rarely call for specific brands, but we did find that widely available Barilla no-boil dried noodles produced an exemplary lasagne. An egg pasta, this one comes very close to the flavor and delicacy of homemade.

For bolognese sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds ground beef chuck (not lean)
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves

For Ricotta filling:
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach,thawed
2 (15-ounce) containers whole-milk ricotta
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 cup whole milk, divided

For assembling lasagne:
12 Barilla no-boil dried lasagne noodles (from 1 box)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Equipment: a 13- by 9-inch baking pan (3 inches deep)

Make Sauce: Heat oil in a 12-to 14-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Cook pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are golden and softened, 12 to 15 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up any lumps, until meat is no longer pink, 6 to 10 minutes. Stir in wine, milk, tomato paste, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of liquid has evaporated but sauce is still moist, about 1 hour.

Make ricotta filling: Put spinach in a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and twist to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Whisk together ricotta, eggs, parmesan, nutmeg, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Transfer 1 1/2 cups ricotta mixture to another bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup milk; set aside. Whisk spinach into remaining filling with remaining 1/2 cup milk.
Assemble and bake lasagne: Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

Soak noodles in a bowl of very warm water until pliable but not softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Place on a kitchen towel (it's not necessary to pat noodles dry).

Spread 1 1/2 cups bolognese sauce in baking pan and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parmesan. Cover with 3 noodles, leaving space in between. Spread half of spinach filling on top, then 1 cup bolognese sauce, and top with 1 tablespoon parmesan and 3 noodles; repeat. Top with remaining bolognese sauce, 1 tablespoon parmesan, and remaining 3 noodles. Pour reserved ricotta mixture over top and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup parmesan.

Cover pan tightly with parchment paper and foil (or just buttered foil) and bake 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top is browned in spots, about 15 minutes more. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes before cutting.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tomato Paste.

At the beginning of the school year, I bought a small can of tomato paste. I used about a tablespoon for something-or-other, wrapped the remaining paste it in foil and plastic wrap, and stashed it in the freezer (a la Karen Hunter).

The tomato paste returned for these meatballs--an atypical dinner choice for me--but since we have so much angel hair pasta laying around, I wanted to try and use some of it up prior to Laura's departure (Laura has gone to Morocco for the semester, have I mentioned that?). Matt was also over for dinner, and as you may recall, Matt loves spaghetti.

But the way this recipe uses tomato paste sent me running out for more. It deepens the flavor, and adds a really hearty richness to sauces and other recipes, like this one. I've been adding it to everything lately. Just a little goes a long way.

The meatballs were great, too. We used turkey bacon instead of the pancetta, which may have made the meatballs greasier than intended. The best thing about these meatballs is the fact that they're baked--no messing with hot oil!

Baked Chicken Meatballs
Serves 4
From Smitten Kitchen

3 slices Italian bread, torn into small bits (1 cup)
1/3 cup milk
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large egg1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons tomato paste, divided
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F with a racks the upper thirds. Soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about four minutes.

Cook pancetta, onion, and garlic in one tablespoon oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large skillet over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Cool slightly.

Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, then discard milk. Lightly beat egg in a large bowl, then combine with chicken, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, pancetta mixture, bread, and parsley.

Form 12 meatballs and arrange in another 4-sided sheet pan (I used a 9×13 roasting dish). Stir together remaining tablespoons of tomato paste and oil and brush over meatballs (the paste/oil does not mix in any cohesive manner, but just smoosh it on and run with it) , then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes (though mine took a good 5 minutes longer).

Serve over angel hair pasta with plenty of grated Parmesan.