Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ham & Lentil Soup

At Easter time, I always, and I mean ALWAYS, make sure to get a bone-in ham for one reason.  So that, come Fall, I can make this soup.

Oh yeah, it's that good

Ham & Lentil Soup
Recipe from my mother-in-law

8 cups water
1/2 cup dry lentils
1 smoked ham shank or ham bone
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup barley
1 tsp dried thyme OR 1 tbsp fresh thyme
3 medium strips lemon peel
2 bay leaves
2 cups chopped cooked ham (optional)

1.  Rinse lentils under running water; drain.  In a 5 quart Dutch oven, combine all ingredients except extra ham, if using.
Beans and barley

2.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer one hour or until lentils are tender, but not mushy, anf meat pulls easily from the bone.
Love when I can dump things into a pot and walk away

3.  Remove and discard bay leaves and lemon peel.  Remove ham shank; cool.  Remove meat from bone and chop into bite-sized pieces.  Add this and additional 2 cups cooked ham to the soup.  Cook until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally.
Mmmmmmm comfort

This soup has a really cool way of being hearty but light all at once.  I love how it's filling with the grains and meat.  But the broth has this rich lightness thing to it...the lemon peel really brightens it up!  I love to make this soup earlier in the Fall when it's cooling off but you're still not quite happy yet to relinquish those warm summer days. 
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Roasted Tomatoes

I am a busy mom.  You all know this, right?  Right.  When it comes to cooking for my family, I'm ALL about easy, fast, healthy, delicious.  I do not have time to stand around in my kitchen prepping ingredients.  I do not have time to babysit my stove or oven.  This mama's got stuff to do and places to go!!

Except when it's tomato season.  Because, for this recipe, I break all my rules.

Roasted Tomatoes
Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray

3 lbs ripe plum tomatoes (about 15-20) 
Extra-Virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme, springs removed from stems
Garlic Powder

1.  Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°. Stem the tomatoes and slice them in half lengthwise. Gently squeeze out the seeds or scoop them out with a spoon or your fingers.  This process has become rather therapeutic for me actually, instead of tedious like I first thought it would be.
Yup, these beauties are from MY garden.  I love that.

2.  Lay the tomatoes, cut side up, in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Can we take a moment to talk about the parchment paper?  Do NOT think that coating the pan with a non-stick spray, or the EVOO in the recipe is enough to prevent a Baking Sheet Disaster here.  The way that these are roasted, charred bits are inevitable.  Charred bits and JUICES sticking to the pan are inevitable.  Have you ever tried to scrub juice that's been charred onto a pan?  Yeah, not pretty.  Just ask Rob. Learn from my early mistakes: get the parchment paper.
Thyme is staying fresh in a beer-tasting glass

3.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with the thyme and garlic powder.  I choose to use powder as opposed to fresh here because fresh garlic burns more easily. Roast for 40 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 400° and roast the tomatoes until caramelized, about 20 minutes more.
Season to taste: everyone gets a little thyme and a little more garlic

4.  Turn off the oven and leave the tomatoes inside for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack and let cool completely. Peel if desired. The tomatoes will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator or for up to 6 months in the freezer.

Serve these as-is along side a beautiful steak.  Layer with fresh mozzarella and basil for a gorgeous salad.  Chop them up to use in a roasted tomato spaghetti sauce or salsa.  Or, as you'll see later on, use them to make a glorious roasted tomato soup.  Possibilities, I love them.
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Pear-Ginger Pie

I was probably about 7 years old.  We were living in California at the time and preparing to leave in  the coming months.  It was my brother's birthday and I'm not sure why exactly but he didn't have a cake that year.  He had pie. 

He had this crazy, amazing pie with looooong skinny candles in it.  And once I tasted it, I don't really remember anything else about that night.

But I'll never forget my dad's first pie.

Pear-Ginger Pie
Recipe from my dad

Flaky Pie Dough (double crust):
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup cake flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
5-6 tbsp water
1.  Mix dry ingredients together, cut in the butter using either your fingers or a pie crust mixing tool until it is like meal with no large pieces of butter.  Add the water and toss with a fork until the dough holds together.  

2. Cut the dough into two and form two separate 4-6 inch disks and wrap each in plastic.  Chill for at least 45 minutes.
Pear and Ginger Pie:
2 ½ pounds of firm, ripe pears (about 6-8 pears)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 egg
Pinch of salt
1.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Roll out one of the dough disks into an 11 inch crust  that is 1/8 to ¼ inch thick.  Fit without stretching into a 9 inch pie pan.  Trim the dough even with the edge of the pan.
Little sprinkling of the flour-sugar mixture

2.  Peel, quarter and core the pears and cut each quarter crosswise into 5 or 6 slices.  Place the pears in a large bowl and toss with the grated ginger.
Some of my pears were on the small side, so I used 9 total for this pie

3.  Combine the sugar and flour and sprinkle 2 tbsp of the mixture over the pastry in the pan.  Pour the remaining sugar and flour over the pears and toss gently to mix.  Turn the filling into the prepared pastry shell and smooth the top as much as possible.  Dot the filling with the butter.
Butter makes everything better, except the way my pants fit.

4.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the remaining dough to an 11 inch disk and fold the dough in half.  Place the folded dough on the surface of the filing and line up the fold with the center of the pie.  Unfold the dough.  Trim the edge of the dough so that there is an even ½ inch edge of overhang.  Tuck the excess dough under the edge of the bottom crust.  Flute the edge of the crust.  Cut 3 or 4 vent holes in the center of the top crust.  Beat the egg and salt together and paint the top of the pie with the glaze.

5.  Bake the pie on the bottom rack of the oven for 15 minutes.  Yes, the bottom rack; do not freak out.  Unless your oven does crazy temperature things, the crust will NOT burn.  After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 35 minutes longer, or until the crust is deep golden and the juices are just beginning to bubble up.  Let the pie cool on a rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recommended by the Pie Man himself:
Enjoy 2 – 3 glasses of white wine while you are preparing the pie.
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits

A while back, I had some of my cooking shows on and I was kinda just tuning in an out while doing other things.  You know what I mean, right?  I know I can't be the only one who does this.  I like the background noise and it's nice that when I tune in, I could learn something tasty.

I was lucky when I tuned into this recipe.  AND I realized at the time that I had all the ingredients just waiting to be used for this. BONUS!
Won't win a Biscuit Beauty Pageant but who cares.  They're TASTY!

Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits
Recipe from Ina Garten

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) COLD unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup cold buttermilk
1 cold large egg
1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar, plus more for topping (optional)
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk

1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2.  Place 2 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment OR use a regular bowl.  With the mixer on low, or using a dough cutter, add the butter and mix until the butter is the size of peas.
Butter lumps

3.  Combine the buttermilk and egg in a small measuring cup and beat lightly with a fork. With the mixer still on low, quickly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and mix only until moistened. In a small bowl, mix the 1 cup of Cheddar with small handful of flour and, with the mixer still on low, add the cheese to the dough. Mix only until roughly combined.
Don't be afraid...the dough will come together.

4.  Dump out onto a well-floured board and knead lightly. Roll the dough out to a rectangle 10 by 5 inches. With a sharp, floured knife, cut the dough into 8 rough rectangles. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with the egg wash, sprinkle extra cheese, if desired, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the biscuits are cooked through. Serve hot or warm.
Those chunks of butter make these flaky and wonderful.

I normally pair these with dinner (soup, roasted chicken...), but yes, these are also really great made into breakfast sandwiches with an egg and a little bacon. ;)
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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lemon Garlic Rosemary "Roast" Chicken

The slow cooker and I have been making up for lost time.  Years ago, when I got my first one, I was all kinds of excited to try these great foods.  Roasts.  Soups.  Yumminess.

I did not get yumminess.  I got the opposite of yumminess.  So opposite that I rarely used my slow cooker until the last year or so. As long as I have a recipe to guide me, I can usually pull off a decent, if not a really great dinner.  Rarely do I venture away from a recipe with the slow cooker (yes, those early attempts were that awful).

Except when it comes to "roasting" a chicken in one.
Super moist.  Super delicious.

Rob's grandmother told me this concept.  It was so simple, and so easy, there really isn't a way to screw it up.

Lemon Garlic Rosemary "Roast" Chicken

1 (4-5lb) whole chicken
1/2 stick butter, softened
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 bulb garlic, plus 1 clove
2 long stems fresh rosemary, divided
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

1.  Remove rosemary from one of the stems and finely chop; about 1 tbsp.  Mince one clove garlic.  In a small bowl, combine the softened butter, zest and juice of one lemon (do not discard the hollowed out lemon!!), minced garlic, chopped rosemary, salt and pepper.
If you forget the garlic clove, just sprinkle in some garlic powder

2.  In the bottom of your slow cooker, lay 5-6 crumbled balls of aluminum foil.  These will act as your roasting rack and will keep the chicken up out of the fatty juices that will collect at the bottom of the pot.

3. Take the chicken and discard the neck and giblets from inside the chest cavity.  Rinse the bird all over, inside and out, and pat dry.  Tuck the wings underneath and place in slow cooker.  Season the cavity with salt and pepper.  Slice garlic bulb in half and place inside the chicken, along with the remaining lemon rind and rosemary stem.
These will flavor the bird from the inside out

5.  Using your fingers, loosen the skin over the breasts, creating a pocket for the butter.  Scoop half the butter with a spoon, put into this pocket, using your fingers to slide the butter off the spoon.  Massage the butter around so that as much of the breast is covered as possible.  Repeat with the other side.
You could also chill this as a log, slice disks, and put those under the skin.

6.  Dribble a little EVOO over the chicken and season with salt and pepper (are you seeing the Flavor Layers we're building here?  If you have kitchen twine, feel free to tie up the legs.  Cover and cook on LOW for 4-5 hours.
I don't have kitchen twine.  Chicken is just as yummy without it.

Whenever I make this, I usually get everything together early enough that the chicken sits at WARM for at least an hour or two.  This resting time does AMAZING things to the moistness of the meat.  That, and the flavored butter bath.

What I really love about this foil concept is that you can make this chicken using whatever flavors you like.  Go with just a citrus selection of oranges, lemons, tangerines, and limes.  Do garlic and various fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage...).  Whatever floats your boat!

A word of caution now: if you are a Skin Person then I'd recommend roasting the chicken in a roasting pan in the oven, instead of the slow cooker.  The slow cooker doesn't get hot enough to get the skin brown and crispy.  Still use whatever flavor combo you want, just cook it in a 350 preheated oven for about an hour or so. 
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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Whole Wheat Flat Bread

I am surrounded by Carbivores.  Don't get me wrong, I like bread as much as any living, breathing person.  But it's not something I hope for, look for, at practically every meal.  I didn't grow up seeing bread on the table all the time so it truly doesn't occur to me to have something for my own table.

Rob, bless him, does not make an issue AT ALL about the lack of carbs.  But I know he'd really love to see bread at the table more; it's comforting for him.  Also, what four-year-old doesn't want Mama to serve more bread with dinner?

When I do actually think to make something, one of the problems I run into is one I'm all too familiar with: BOREDOM!  I mean, how many times can I have our breadmaker spit out white bread, wheat bread, or oatmeal bread to complement the meal?  Cornbread only goes so far.  Tortillas pair with only certain things (in my mind).  And, much as I love them, brown & serve rolls can get old.


Thank God for bloggers like Joy.

Whole Wheat Flat Bread
Recipe from Joy the Baker

3/4 cup warm water, about 95 degrees [Don't freak out on me; more on the temp below]
1 package (about 2 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp uncooked old fashioned oats
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1 tsp olive oil

1.  In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup warm water, yeast and sugar.  How do you know it's around 95 degrees without a thermometer?  Stick your finger in it.  No, seriously.  If it's warm but you're not getting that "this is waaay too hot" tingly sensation, you're fine.  Set aside for 5 minutes.  The mixture will grow and foam and that’s how you know the yeast is active and alive.
Kinda looks like beer

2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, oats, salt and pepper.  Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the yeast mixture.  Add the remaining 1/2 cup of water.  Bring mixture together with a fork, until all of the flour bits are moistened, and the dough is shaggy.  Dump out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times to bring together.
Nope, it's not too dry.  I promise.

3.  Coat the medium bowl with a teaspoon of olive oil and place dough ball in bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 hour.  Dough will double in size.
Shiny, lovely dough

4.  When dough has rested and risen, dump out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for a few turns.  Use a knife to divide the dough in half, then divide each half into six equal pieces.  Heat a non stick pan over medium heat.

5.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each dough piece into a roughly 4 to 5-inch circle.  Place dough round in the ungreased, hot pan.  Cook on one side for 1 to 2 minutes, until browned on the bottom and slightly puffed.  Flip and cook for another 1 or 2 minutes.  Remove from pan and serve warm with whatever floats your boat.
FYI: You can totally cook these while holding a fussy baby

The bread can also be cooled and refrigerated for up to three days.  If you wait to eat them, reheat the flat breads in a warm skillet before serving.

These make a lovely, fresh complement to dinners, but don't stop there!  Smear on a little cream cheese and jam and you have breakfast-on-the-go.  I like to tear mine up to scoop out garlicky bean dip too.  Mmmmmm....

And oh yeah, in case you're thinking that yeast bread is too intimidating, you're too busy, there's no way you could make these.  YES YOU CAN.  I've made this recipe twice now, both times while managing a fussy 3 month-old.  The dough comes together in 10 minutes and then you get to leave it alone for an hour!  Sure, rolling them out requires both hands but after that, you can totally get away with this one-handed.  If I can make these while telling my baby he really should have listened to me and taken a nap earlier, you can absolutely pull this off.
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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

One of my guilty pleasure food shows is the Barefoot Contessa.  I know she tries hard to make her cooking really accessible, but I mostly think of her food as similar to Martha Stewart.  Beautiful, "faaabulous", and generally way out of my price range.
Pretty little cakes!

And then she made cupcakes.  These cupcakes, with a secret ingredient I wasn't prepared to see in her kitchen: Hershey's syrup.  The woman who will make her own chocolate sauce for an ice cream party is using Milk's Best Friend in baked good.  It's crazy... I HAD to try these.    

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes
Recipe from Ina Garten

For the cakes:
1 stick room temperature butter
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
16 fluid ounces Hershey's chocolate syrup
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp instant coffee granules

For the ganache:
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp instant coffee granules

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

2.  Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in the chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add the flour and coffee granules and mix until just combined.
Lots of chocolate goodness, little bit of flour

3.  Scoop the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 30 minutes, or until just set in the middle. Don't overbake! Let cool thoroughly in the muffin pan.
I accidentally bought extra tall liners.  So noted.  Don't do that again.

4.  For the ganache, cook the heavy cream, chocolate chips, and instant coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the ganache. Do not refrigerate.
Chill leftover ganache.  When hard, scoop & roll into TRUFFLES!

Because there's no leavening agent in the cake, they don't really rise.  But that's ok...you want a flat top to dip into the glossy ganache.  And once the ganache sets a bit and you bite into the fluffy cake...oh my.

Oh!  Almost forgot, do NOT leave out the instant coffee granules.  If you do, the cakes will taste ok, but it won't have that Certain Something.  There's something about coffee that really brings out the flavor in chocolate.  
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