Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Italian-American Classic: Chicken Parmesan

There is nothing quite like a bubbling and gooey tray of homemade Chicken Parmesan. This classic dish is an Italian-American standard that induces glorious checkered tablecloth day dreams. I love  good chicken parm. Leftovers make spectacular sandwiches assuming you have any leftovers as guest gobble each and every available morsel. The issue with a lot of recipes though is oil. You don't need to deep fry the breaded cutlets; you simply need enough oil to impact flavor and provide the satisfying browning and crunch that a good chicken parm should deliver. I've had a lot of mediocre dishes over the years, but this recipe seems to hit the mark every time. The trick is not only keeping the oil use under control, but also not drowning the chicken in sauce. When I layer my chicken cutlets into the baking dish I use the bare minimum of sauce. It helps keep the breading together and lends a bit more crusty crunch if you keep the moisture down. You can always top with more sauce upon serving! Buon Appetito!

Friday, November 12, 2010

You too can make food crack -- Braised Short Ribs over Pasta

There is a food god and her name is most definitively pasta. As clearly evidenced by the preponderance of pasta dishes on this blog, I am an absolute pasta-aholic. This is another sensational dish from one of my favorite people on planet food, Giada De Laurentiis. A rich, dark and meaty sauce that has serious depth of earthly, round warm flavor smothered over freshly cooked, tender pasta. It’s a hug in a bowl.

If that weren’t enough for you, here are two more good reasons to try this dish: it’s cheap and it includes cheese AND chocolate! Short ribs are a fantastic cut of meat. They are down right cheap and require simply a bit of liquid and a long bath on the stove to produce a tender and tasty mass of flavor power. The vast majority of the other ingredients in this dish are highly accessible, many of which happily reside in your pantry. Who knew when thrown together (and I mean thrown, prep time for this one is like a whopping 20 mins) you could make magic!

The second reason for my deep respect for this dish is the fact that I get to garnish this one with both cheese AND chocolate! Don’t let the chocolate thing throw you for a loop. It is completely clutch. The slightly sweet smoothness of the dark chocolate plays well with the salty bite of the cheese. Together they bring out an earthy richness that is warm and soothing all the way through.

But I should warn you. This recipe is basically food crack. It is highly impossible not to over eat with this one and it makes amazing leftovers so honestly, attempt at your own risk. I’ve been known to be caught standing with fork in hand, strands of pasta hanging out of my mouth while smuggling bites late at night in front of the frige in the dark. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chicken and Mushroom Marsala Made Easy

Most nights I want a warm, scrumptious meal that doesn’t take me a year and half to make. Clearly I am a major fan of the kitchen, but after a long day of work what I mostly want to do is snuggle with the husband on the couch with a warm plate of heaven in my hands. Well, this here recipe was just the ticket! I found this one while perusing smittenkitchen, one of my all time favorite blogs. It’s delightfully simple to throw together and cheap no less! But the taste makes you think I spent hours in the kitchen. A fantastic dish. Tender chicken that has been browned and then slowly cooked in broth and marsala wine (a pantry staple) with a ton of good old white mushrooms (yes WHITE!) that have been sautéed the heck out of.  This dish comes together into a warm bowl of homey goodness. Serve it over rice, pasta or save the carbs and just bask in the glow of its mushroomy delight.

So pull those Costco chicken breasts out of the freezer to thaw, grab a pound or two of mushrooms and prepare yourself for an awesome dinner.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Simply Perfect Roast Chicken

There is nothing quite like a homemade, freshly roasted chicken. It is one of the treasures of American cuisine. Crispy, delicate skin with a salty bite that crackles while giving way to juicy, tender meat. In a word, divine. One of the great things about roasting a chicken is the two for one deal….the root vegetables that roast happily in the juices below the bird so that when you pull the masterpiece out of the oven, you’ve got a spectacular main course with a perfectly paired side dish. Caramelized carrots, onions, potatoes and garlic mingling in flecks of salt and pepper, sprinkled with herbs each with the gooey deep flavor of home. I am seriously having a foodgasm here folks.

Amazingly enough, this was my first time ever roasting a whole chicken on my own. I am highly embarrassed to admit that fact and completely astonished at how I made it nearly 30 years without roasting my own bird. I do tend to get carried away in the Italian food territory, but consider this fair warning to all….this Girl and Her Kitchen will be roasting many many chickens from now on. Not only is this a spectacularly easy meal, but it was so unbelievably gorgeous and breathtakingly delicious I am amazedI haven’t made one every single day since!

There are two basic tools that I found to be quite useful in my chicken roasting adventure. A good roasting pan with rack. I got one for a wedding present but you can find pretty good deals during Macy’s frequent sales or even on amazon.com. Second was a digital thermometer. This last items was rather clutch in helping me figure out when my chicken was done because while I understand the theory of “when the juices run clear the chicken is done,” in practice I find this method damn near impossible. The thermometer takes a lot of the guessing out of the process.

So grab yourself a whole chicken, some aromatics, a few root veggies and you can throw together a fantastic homemade meal that you will be dreaming about for weeks to come.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mushroom Farrotto

Risotto…such a luxurious guilty pleasure. It’s a creamy, decadent dish. One of the greatest things about risotto is it really is not hard to make. The number one rule is not to walk away. But less than an hour of doting on your risotto, bubbling away on your stovetop, will result in the magnificent bowl of warm, luscious food. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you can stir, you can make risotto.

This time around, I am amping the awesomeness up with a little health kick that as it turns out totally rocks taste wise too! Farro, also known as emmer or spelt depending on where it is grown and who is doing the defining, is related to wheat but is more easily digestible and higher in nutritional value such as higher in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. It has a rich, nutty flavor, which is just gorgeous in risotto and pairs beautifully with mushrooms. The Italians calls this dish Farrotto. It’s definitely chewier than your standard risotto, but I really like that texture. It’s a completely satisfying dish.

Making risotto is a method…you can add any flavors you want. Here I’ve made a mushroom version dotted with sweet peas, tender artichoke hearts, and diced grilled chicken. And if you can find mushroom stock, use it. The depth of flavor in this one is out of this world and the color is beautiful! Such a fantastic dinner and leftovers are fabulous. In fact, farro risotto stands up better as leftover than standard Arborio rice risotto because it holds it’s texture.

So next time you are craving risotto, try this farro version instead. It’s healthier but just as tasty.

Mushroom Farro Risotto
A Girl and Her Kitchen

1 c farro
Olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1/4 c chopped shallots
1 garlic clove, minced
2/3 c dry white wine (could do red if you wanted)
4-6 c low-salt mushroom broth (can sub vegetable or chicken broth)
1/2 c frozen peas, thawed
1 c artichoke hearts, chopped (if using frozen, thaw and lightly sauté with onion and salt to add flavor)
1 c dried wild mushrooms (about 1 oz), rehydrated and chopped
2 c cremini mushrooms, large dice
3/4 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino (extra for garnish)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 c fresh parsley or basil, minced
1 Grilled chicken breast, diced (optional) (possible marinade before grilling: white wine, olive oil, dried thyme, salt and pepper)

Soak farro in cold water for 20 minutes, drain in a colander, and rinse well. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat, add farro, and simmer 20 minutes. Drain farro, then cool it by rinsing under cold water; set aside.

Coarsely chop mushrooms and set aside.

Bring stock to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan (do not boil). Keep stock warm over low heat.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy bottom pan (i.e., dutch oven) over medium heat. When hot, add the diced cremini mushrooms and do not touch! Let cook for 3 minutes before moving them about. Lightly brown on all sides (about 6 minutes total) and then remove and set aside.
Add 2tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter to the same pan; swirl to coat. Add the shallot and cook 3-4 minutes over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon to pick up any leftover mushroom tastiness off the bottom. Add garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add the faro and cook to lightly toast, 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add wine and thyme; cook until liquid almost evaporates. Then add rehydrated mushrooms, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirring to combine.

Add 1/2 cup stock to farro mixture; cook over medium heat about 4 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring semi-occasionally (less than constantly, more than sometimes…NOTE do not walk away from your risotto. A little attention goes a long way). Continue to add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until each portion of stock is absorbed before adding the next.
After cooking for 30-35 minutes and you’ve only got about 1/4 of the stock left, begin to taste the faro for doneness. It will continue to get softer and more tender the more liquid it absorbs. It is ready when tender but still chewy at the center. Continue to add stock until preferred doneness. You may not need all the stock or you may need more...depends on taste (and how chewy you do or do not like your farro).
 Before you’ve added the last round of stock, add the cremini mushrooms, thawed peas, and artichoke hearts and stir to combine. Mix in diced grilled chicken is using. Remove the bay leaf and add the cheese, and salt and pepper to taste; stir until cheese melts. Stir in parsley or basil and serve.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Swooning for Wheatberries

It’s official; I’m completely smitten! And the culprit is the almighty wheatberry. What is a wheatberry you may ask? Well, according to Wikipedia, “the term wheatberry or wheat berry refers to the entire wheat kernel (except for the hull), comprising the bran, germ, and endosperm.” Sounds….uh, delicious, right? YUP! Absolutely fabulous folks. They are also completely good for you: high in fiber; low fat; high in protein; and heart healthy. When cooked they are chewy and scrumptious and go with darn near anything.

For my first foray into the wheatberry world I did a little research. There is quite a bit of disagreement among cooks on the soak vs. not soak issue. I was lazy and skipped the over night soaking step that some seem to maintain is a requirement and found that soaking was completely and utterly unnecessary! My wheatberries turned out just fine.

For this recipe I was feeling summery and in need of a healthy detox dinner…..i’ve been overindulging in burgers and mac n cheese as of late. Tthis one hit it out of the park!!! Fresh, healthy and absolutely satisfying. The chewy wheatberries paired perfectly with crunchy roasted vegetables and tender shrimp tossed in garlic, lemon and balsamic vinegar. Full of flavor and divine. I can’t stop thinking about this dish and neither will you once you take a stab at the totally amazing wheatberry!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pasta from the Pantry with Mediterranean Flare

Some days you just want to make a dish that is completely easy to throw together but doesn’t skimp on the flavor. I’m also trying to make a dent in my freezer and pantry. So with all this in mind I came up with a tangy pasta dish that not only hit the foodie spot but also helped me use up some of my staple pantry items. It combines the bright Mediterranean flavors of artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, herbs and lemon, with the creamy, tangy bite of goat cheese all melty and delicious over hearty whole wheat pasta and grilled lemon and herb chicken. Truth be told you could skip the pasta all together and serve the chunky sauce right over the chicken in a slightly more figure friendly rendition, but I find it physically impossible to skip pasta when provided the option, so I’ll just let you all go down that road on your own. This dish is a serious keeper so clean out your pantry while you eat and enjoy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Updating a favorite – Creamy, Tangy Mac n Cheese

I know it’s only been a few weeks since I posted my macaroni and cheese recipe but as fate would have it, I came across a magnificent example of my favorite dish just down the street from me, inspiring some tweaking of my standard go to recipe. For this round I have decreased a touch of each of my trio of cheeses to make room for a fourth player – GOAT CHEESE! I know there are folks out there who are not fans of goat cheese and that is just fine (even though y’all crazy!) I will reiterate my pledge that goat cheese when warm is a whole other breed of delicious, creamy, mind blowing goodness. Adding just a few ounces of goat cheese to the sauce for this is genius…and I can say that perfectly honestly because it totally was not my idea, bias completely avoided. The goat cheese adds a very subtle tang and boosts the creamy factor without being overly goaty (yes, I definitely made that word up), which by the by I wouldn’t mind at all, but it’s just not the case here.

I really love this new cheese combination. The instigator of the goat cheese idea, though I know it’s not novel, was 2223 Restaurant in San Francisco. They combine a luscious mixture of goat, gruyere and parmesan into a gooey, over the top, decadent, heart stopping dish. And I do mean heart stopping. I felt my arteries clogging even more with every bite and it was f.a.n.t.a.s.t.i.c! I will try my hand at recreating their version one of these days. For now, check out this new twist on a classic that never gets old and always makes you a member of the clean plate club. My only trouble with this recipe is once it comes out of the oven I get so excited to eat it that I without fail forget to take a final picture of the dish before diving in. I guess you’ll just have to make it to find out what the fuss is all about.

And a special shout out to my girl Sierra, for whom I made a tray of my revamped Mac n Cheese for her going away party. She’s leaving the foggy city for the wonders of Seattle. Good luck girl! We’ll miss you!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Adventures in Vegetarian Cooking – What the heck is Halloumi?

This week a friend of ours was nice enough to share the bounty of his vegetable box with us. For those of you not familiar with the concept of veggie boxes, in many places you can sign up to receive weekly boxes from a local farm of whatever fresh produce has been harvested as of late. It’s seasonal, it’s local, it’s typically organic, and the food tends to be spectacular! His delivery also came with a fun looking recipe for Roasted Vegetable salad with Halloumi. One problem, what the heck is Halloumi?

Turns out it’s a cheese and we all know how much I adore cheese so I was totally excited to try something new! I had to do a little research. Turns out Halloumi is a traditional Greek cheese from Cypress that is a hard cheese made from a mixture of goat and sheep’s milk. It’s billed as “the grilling cheese” because it has a high melting point. When cooked, the cheese softens and its salty flavor mellows. You can find Halloumi in most stores, certainly whole foods but do check in with your local international foods market as well.

So I took the opportunity to try out two different recipes, one that roasted the cheese in the oven for a salad and the other that pan-fried it as little appetizer bites. Both were delicious. In fact the salad was downright superb, largely I think due to freshness of the vegetables and the dash of amazing red wine vinegar I recently bought (not all vinegars are the same folks! It’s worth investing is some really good ones.) I found Halloumi cheese quite appealing right off the heat when it was soft and tender and it’s flavor was slightly salty but mellow and reminded me a bit of a feta and mozzarella love child. Delightful. However, within minutes as the cheese cools it hardens slightly, becoming chewier and less appealing texturally in my opinion, though depending on your tastes this may be moot. Pairing the cheese with the red wine vinegar in the salad and the lime juice in the appetizer was really successful as the acid helped balance the cheese. Overall, I really liked both these dishes and I would definitely try Halloumi again, though I might stand over the stove to eat it quickly while it’s nice and hot and soft!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Getting Back in the Saddle with Grilled Fish and Grapefruit Salad

First of all, I need to apologize to A Girl and Her Kitchen readers. I took this new job a couple months ago and it has taken over a significant portion of my life. As such I am sad to say my blog has suffered. But fear not! I am slowly weaving cooking, eating and blog updates back into my life. Viva la blog!

Today’s dish is a nod to the fresh, light food we all tend to eat during the summer. This one will help keep that figure friendly but doesn’t skimp on taste at all. The bright flavor of lime, cayenne and agave nectar (a most fantastic natural sweetener) liven up halibut (though any white fish will do). Grilled to perfection with a fresh side salad of warm roasted fennel and fresh grapefruit segments tossed with tender but spicy baby arugula makes this one a serious summer hit. It’s a really satisfying meal that is a synch to put together. Sweet, spicy and clean tasting with that zing from the citrus. If you’ve never done a supreme of a grapefruit or other citrus fruit, it’s a fabulous kitchen tool! Really an easy thing to do once you've tried it a few times. For a pretty good back to basics review check out Chef In You’s post on the subject. Enjoy!

Friday, June 11, 2010

AMAZEBALLS Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I am hands down one of the most die-hard macaroni and cheese people you will ever know. My obsession with this dish go way back and I am completely unashamed of the lengths I will go to in finding a good plate of tender pasta smothered with cheesey goodness. For as long as I can remember I have been conducting an ongoing hunt for a down-home, face meltingly delicious mac n' cheese recipe. This is actually a rather challenging task because being a complete and utter devotee of the cheese and pasta movement, just about anything remotely nearing the category of macaroni and cheese immediately strikes my fancy.

So I decided to put some parameters around it. The first was texture. I really enjoy a creamy, smooth, luxurious cheese sauce with my macaroni. At the same time, I need my pasta to stand up to the sauce, keep a little bite to it. I was also looking for something that had a bit of a spice kick, while sticking pretty close to the basics. Don’t get me wrong, fancy cheeses like fontina and gorgonzola rock, but for this particular exercise I needed a go-to recipe that could make me feel like home is sitting in a bowl of creamy, cheesey heaven. 

And so it was that my endurance in pasta and cheese eating paid off when I stumbled upon Cooking for Engineers. This recipe is completely and utterly fantabulous! What can you say about a dish that is so creamy it’s even creamy straight out of the frige! No reheating required! It’s not even in the universe of figure friendly but I have to say, I don’t give a hoot. This is the real deal. Of course I have made my own little adjustments but the combination of cheeses is superb. The engineers included "American cheese (for stability - American cheese has stabilizing ingredients), Monterey Jack cheese (for creaminess), and sharp cheddar (for flavor). (A fourth cheese is actually used - Parmesan - to flavor the bread crumb topping!)" Coupled with evaporated milk as a base, MAJOR winner folks. Serious creamy factor.

So do please, please make this recipe. It will change your life. OK so maybe it won’t change your life, but it will make you smile for days I promise.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sweet and Spicy Grilled Salmon

In the constant battle against the bulge, which is further complicated by the amazing ability for time to fly by, it seems we are all on an endless quest for time efficient meals that don’t pile on the pounds. This is coming from a woman who will flat out refuse to eat something good for her if in fact it does not actually taste good too. And so it was that this recipe was born. It has that killer combination of slight sweetness from the maple syrup, a salty layer from soy, and a kick of spice from chili oil. On the grill the marinade caramelizes a bit and gives the final punch of flavor.

Salmon is actually quite good for you. I won’t extol on its nutritional quals here as I am sure some other poor sap has written at length about the topic, but suffice to say fish is a good way to stay on that endlessly evolving odyssey of healthy eating. Fish is also a snap to cook and this recipe really is a winner because you can pull the marinade together in less than a minute, pop the whole thing in the frig the night before, and VOILA! Dinner is less than 10 minutes from done when you get home from work. It’s like kitchen magic folks. Delicious and healthy kitchen magic.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Farmers Market and Summer Squash Salad

I have been traveling a lot as of late for work so it was such a fantastic relief to spend a lazy weekend at home finally. Husband was out of town, the weather was gorgeous, and I was still on another time zone so when I popped out of bed at an absurdly early hour on Saturday I decided to do something I rarely get to….explore the SF Ferry Building farmers’ market before the tourists arrive en masse! Now this particular farmers market is one of the more fancy pants ones…meaning it’s by no means an economical shopping option, but the setting can’t be beat and the selection is delectable. Thus, I spent my very early morning hours wandering glassy eyed about the stalls of produce, fresh cheese and other mouth watering, tasty options.

The squash I had found was just beautiful. I picked up 5 or 6 different types in bright greens and yellows and all different shapes and sizes. The goat cheese was also a major find. The farmer was a lovely man who quite honestly, very closely resembled one of his own goats, endearing to say the least. He was hawking a cheese that was to die for, soft and creamy; he had made it only the day before! I immediately bought a hunk.  Then I stumbled across the tomatoes. I know, it’s absolutely not tomato season, but you wouldn’t know that by tasting these ruby beauties!

With all this gorgeous fresh food I went about creating something fun to eat. After a morning of sun and farmers, it seemed only fitting to turn my market booty into something summery and fresh. The result was a grilled summer squash salad, a bright, colorful salad bursting with flavor that took next to no time to make. Grilling the squash helps keep its sweet flavor while adding a fun look of grill marks and that essence of summer. The tomatoes added a major juicy boost while the soft crumbles of tangy fresh goat cheese, fresh green basil, some indulgent prosciutto and a lemon and balsamic dressing came together to make an irresistible dish. I served it with a fantastic salmon (a recipe I shall have to share soon) but could easily find a million homes for this one. It was so good! And very healthy (leaving room for the copious amounts of mac n cheese I ate the next day…another future post). So hit up your local farmers market or favorite produce section because this one is a major winner!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Goat Cheese and Roasted Veggies Make Yummy Pasta

A while ago I saw Giada make this penne dish with goat cheese and roasted squash. Now I love squash and so pairing it with my two food obsessions (cheese and pasta) was like a squash supernova. I also happen to be a serious goat cheese fan. This was not always the case. I remember literally spitting out the very first taste of goat cheese I had. What makes that story worse was that I was with my mother in a nice restaurant in Georgetown, embarrassing to say the least. Amazingly enough, it was an appetizer my mom later served that ended up turning my tastes for goat cheese around. Ok, so technically it was her best friend Stephanie whose goat cheese and tapenade bruschetta officially won me over. It was the warming of the goat cheese gently in the oven that mellowed out the flavor and made it much more accessible to my palate. Today I’ll eat goat cheese any way I can get it but this dish is a really good one for those who are timid about goat cheese. The hot pasta melts the cheese and while warming it kicks that goat cheesey tang down and lets the creamier and rounder flavor of it out. The roasted vegetables bring a nutty sweetness to the dish that pairs so well with the more savory cheese.

That brings me to another serious reason to try this recipe out….if you don’t like fennel, you sure will after you eat this. Truth be told, I adore fennel, but again, that has not always been the case. I hate black licorice (insert shudder of disgust) and so I used to avoid fennel like the plague; not very Italian of me. Then one day I tried a recipe for roasted fennel (one I will post shortly) and I have never looked back. Roasting fennel completely transforms its flavor. It takes on a mellow sweetness that when seasoned right with a bit of salt and pepper and some parmesan is absolutely undeniably my favorite vegetable side dish on earth. So break out those adventure pants and take a stab at this one, penne with roasted butternut squash, fennel and onions in a creamy goat cheese sauce.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No Grill Required Tender BBQ Ribs

We’re pretty big meat eaters in this family so when ribs went on sale this week husband nearly flew to the store. One of the best things about cooking ribs is how seriously easy they are. You absolutely do not need a grill to make fall off the bone amazeballs ribs. As you probably have surmised by now, A Girl and Her Kitchen is all about the pinch of this and pinch of that school of cooking. It’s how my mom generally cooks and while the measuring cups and spoons have a time and a place, they tend to spend more time than not decoratively hanging on my wall. This recipe is no exception to that rule. I took the base inspiration from an Emeril recipe, which is surprising because I tend to want to smack that man any time I see him, but alas there is always a first time for everything.

So despite its dubious roots, this recipe is fabulous.  The rub gives the meat fastastic earthy undertones while the BBQ sauce brings a bright and rich flavor. Your loved ones will give you a standing ovation for these suckers and never know that your hard work amounted to a solid 5 minutes of prep and the rest the meat did on its own. You do however need a few hours to sit at home while they cook in the oven so unless you are lucky enough to work from home like yours truly, this might have to wait for a weekend dinner night, but they are well worth it. So grab a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce, a couple of pantry seasonings and make the easiest yet tender, mouthwatering ribs you have ever eaten in your own kitchen.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Chicken Tetrazzini

I just started a new job. My new firm is based in the DC area and since I’m based in the Bay Area that means more travel for yours truly. I’m spending my first two weeks on the job out in DC at what I am sure will be a simply spectacular Residence Inn. Not sure you will be getting too much cooking out of me while I am there, so hopefully I can round up some more guest bloggers to keep you all satiated while I’m away.

With this long trip looming ahead I’ve been feeling very homey. This led me to make tuna noodle casserole a couple weeks ago, a spectacular dish that had husband and I fighting over the last morsels. So I decided to embrace my 50s era casserole cooking theme and try my hand at Chicken Tetrazzini, which is essentially tuna noodle casserole except there’s chicken involved. I added a few other things here and there (one of which being chopped asparagus because I have been swimming in asparagus) and it was fabulous! Best of all, I made two trays of it, one of which I froze so husband doesn’t starve while I’m away. :-)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Springtime Creamy Asparagus Soup

As you may have read recently, I somehow ended up with 5 massive bunches of asparagus this past week. I roasted some to have with fried eggs for breakfast, I laid a bunch out on pastry dough with potatoes and cheese for a lunchtime tart, I threw a handful into my Chicken Tetrazzini and still I had barely made a dent in the massive pile of tall green stalks. On my food challenge quest for inspiration a few folks suggested making a soup which I thought about and then promptly forgot. Then by the chances of fate when I flipped on the TV the other day, Anne Burrell was in fact making a chilled asparagus soup! So I figured the universe was trying to tell me something so I trudged into the kitchen to get started. I used Anne’s recipe as a base and then added a few touches here and there. All in all for my first stab at asparagus soup, not bad. Hell, it was actually rather fabulous! The potatoes give it texture and creaminess without needing to add any actual cream, though I did because I had some in the frige, but only a touch and honestly it doesn’t need it. A pinch of red pepper for some heat because I like a little spice but you could easily not include it. You might also make it completely vegetarian by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. I froze half so when husband defrosts it while I am away, will let you know how that experiment goes. All in all, will definitely be making this one again.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Food Challenge

I had an unanticipated random food challenge this week. By the devilish wiles of chance and fate I ended up with nearly two pounds of red bliss potatoes, 1 large onion, 2 leeks, 5 bunches of asparagus, one head of iceberg lettuce, the remains of a bunch of celery, a bag of baby greens, 3 pints of dying strawberries, 2 avocados, a handful of radishes and 4 defrosted skinless chicken breast. Luckily there was no partridge or pear tree to be had. To add to this dilemma was the fact that I only had two days to get this food cooked, eaten and leftovers frozen as the husband and I were heading out of town for the weekend and the following week marked the beginning of my two week trip across country for work, leaving husband to fend for himself in the kitchen! So I did what any other person would, I stood shivering in front of my open refrigerator scratching my head…. er, I mean, “assessing the situation.”

Once that proved fruitless I took to the web, facebooking, food blogging and emailing friends for inspiration. Lots of fun things came out of this exercise and I have certainly now added a ton to my “plan to cook at some point in the future” list. I already had my heart set on cooking a chicken casserole dish this week (see post next week) so with that in mind it became an asparagus battle. I mean what does one do with 5 large bunches of asparagus (never mind pounds of potatoes)? It is a rather daunting task. Particularly when one’s husband only kind of likes asparagus leaving ONE to really eat all 5 bunches of asparagus largely on one’s own!! And while I simply adore bacon wrapped, deep fried and other tastily fat filled asparagus delights, I do have a wedding to go to this weekend in a sunny local where a bathing suit may also be adorned (GASP!). As such, these types of delectable recipes will have to hold for another time.

But then I was thinking (a dangerous thing in fact)…..a little fat isn’t too terrible right? And some cheese? I mean, if you’re cooking, cheese really must to be involved. Everyone knows that. And hmm, don’t I just love bread. I do really love bread. It’s so flaky and crusty and chewy…..and…..uh oh, an idea was percolating. Frozen puff pastry dough, check. Onions for caramelizing, check. Extra Gruyere from said planned chicken casserole, check. Potatoes and asparagus, double check. I smell a tart coming on!

And so my little adventure resulted in a delightful tart (which further inspired a lovely salad) that would be supplemented by the creamy chicken tetrazzini being made later in the week. My food challenge response: Potato, Asparagus and Caramelized Onion Tart with a side spring salad. I didn't end up using every potato or aspargus spear so who knows, maybe I'll whip up a soup before we head out of town tomorrow, but this tart was definitely one hell of a tastey experiment!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reinvention of a Dusty American Meal

Old school American food is in my mind epitomized in the tuna noodle casserole. This dish has many variations but the version served to me at a very young age was largely based on a cream of mushroom soup foundation. A dish that was easy on the wallet but went a long way to feed a (picky) crowd. I don’t think I’ve eaten this American standard fare in over two decades, so while feeling a little nostalgic and a lot homey this week, I decided it was time to dust off this old recipe and bring it into the 21st century.

Bon Appetite magazine’s March 2010 issue took a stab at reinventing old school classic dishes, one of which being the tuna noodle casserole. Now I’m sure their original recipe is just fabulous, but being me, I’ve take some liberties in adjusting their recipe to my tastes. Here I’ve added things like sliced mushrooms, peas and some fun spices. The end result – utter love on a plate. The crushed potato chip topping (Bon Appetite’s idea, not mine, but brilliant!) gave the dish a fantastic, salty crunch while the leek and mushroom cream sauce wraps your food sole in a creamy, homey hug with bursts of freshness from the peas. This recipe has a long list of ingredient but most of them are things you are likely to have around and others not too hard to find.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sno Caps in Austin

A Girl and Her Kitchen is expanding! Welcome to the first installment of my guest blog series….A Girl’s Friend and Their Kitchen! This first entry comes from Ms. Elle Boogie in Austin, Texas. She and the hubs go way back. Boogie just relocated to Austin from LA to go to culinary school, which only makes this entry even more fun! We hope she comes back again with all the fun facts and recipes she learns in class!

It's pouring rain here in Austin and I have the day off work, so I thought why not put my (budding) culinary skills to work, pastry style. Well actually, cookie style. Now, I've never baked cookies before, but I've eaten plenty and think I know what it takes to make one oh so delicious. And as I perused the isles of Dollar Tree (more like HOLLER Tree; that place is awesome!!), I came across my inspiration. SNO CAPS!! It's hard to outdo semi-sweet chocolate drops covered in crunchy little candy sprinkles, but I was out to try. So I grabbed a couple of boxes and headed to the market for all the necessary ingredients for creating my little masterpieces. Since I've always been a huge fan of those Entenmann's Toffee cookies, once I saw the bags of Heath toffee bits I knew I had to have them! Finally made it home and began working my cookie making magic. The result was yummy, sticky, gooey deliciousness! Prep and cooking takes less than 30 minutes and well worth the mess!! Happy baking, y'all!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Homemade Biscuits Make Brunch a Major Hit

It seems like every time company comes to visit it’s a food whirlwind, trucking from one delicious eating opportunity to another. Maybe it’s related to my general life obsession with food and eating but no matter the reason it’s always an adventure. My folks were in town visiting recently and so Sunday brunch with my in-laws was a big item on the to-do list. We had been out to eat a ton so I figured we should do brunch at my house where people could relax and avoid the hassle that can be a restaurant brunch. However, I didn’t want to spend my entire morning in the kitchen so I had to do some research.

I found these spectacularly easy but delightfully delicious buttermilk chive biscuits while trolling smittenkitchen. Now I have never in my life made biscuits from scratch before, but armed with my new found obsession with bread making (and the pastry blender I picked up recently) I figured, what the heck.

And OH MY!!!! Easy to make especially with my little pastry cutter but you could certainly use your fingers to break the butter into the flour. The texture was sinful, flaky, buttery, light but rich in flavor. I could not stop eating these little guys! The best part --- after shaping the biscuits and placing them onto cookie sheets, I wrapped the whole thing in tinfoil and plopped it in the freezer the night before (and I am sure you could make them days in advance) and baked the biscuits up in no time flat straight from the freezer before we sat down to brunch. A major homemade touch that took maybe 10 minutes to mix the dough and form the biscuits and 15 minutes to cook. Easy as pie and a major winner on the brunch table. I will be making these again and again. Maybe next time I’ll add bacon pieces too!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Not for Passover Noodle Kugel

This shiksa made a booboo on Passover and brought noodle kugel to dinner. I like to think it is rather endearing of me and thank god for forgiving in-laws. Apparently the fact that pasta dough is not leavened doesn’t matter. It’s still on the ‘do not invite to Passover dinner’ list. Most of the folks at Passover dinner this year could not in fact explain to me why pasta is not allowed aside from just knowing its just not. So, with that new information in hand, next year I will volunteer to make something more Passover appropriate and while I will likely be the butt of a few family jokes for eternity (though I’m not sure this tops my mother in law’s gefilte fish-matzo ball soup accident) at least I made my mark in a very A Girl and Her Kitchen way.

My religious faux pas aside, this turned out to be hands down the best kugel I have ever in my entire Jewish food eating life tasted.  I’m not sure there is a kugel out there better than this here dish. Now I had previously thought kugel was a noodle pudding. Obviously my recent Passover experience proves that wrong. Apparently a kugel is a casserole (which can also be made with matzo which most normal Passover cooks do for the holiday…ooppss). Duly noted.

If you have not had the pleasure of making or eating kugel, you are missing out. It’s a sweet or savory dish (I like sweet) made of (in my house) wide egg noodles, slightly sweet eggy custard doted with mild cheese, melted butter, and perfectly seasoned with lemon zest and nutmeg. It is baked until it is golden with a light sweet and crunchy crust around the edges and the custard has set. It is in a word divine. You must get on this right away, just don’t bring it to anyone’s house for Passover.  Though truth be told, while I am not naming names, a significant number of the husband’s family and friends gleefully met me out by the car where I doled out heaping helpings of my black market Passover unfriendly dish all of whom have been asking for the recipe ever since :).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Ultimate Gravy Experience

Great gravy should be the 8th wonder of the world. When I say gravy I don’t mean the brown stuff you drizzle over turkey on Thanksgiving or drown your mashed potatoes in.  I mean the rich tomato saucey goodness spiked with wine, cheese, garlic and spices that makes spaghetti dance and floats tender meatballs on a delightful path straight to the kisser. The stuff you use your fingers to wipe the bowl clean for. When you are still eating even though you were stuffed 10 bites ago but it’s just so damn delicious that it would be a sin to stop. That’s the stuff I’m talking about; that’s true gravy.

I have a lovely Nana and a fantastic Mom, both of whom make excellent sauce.  I grew up on the stuff and it is divine. Being undeniably me, I’ve taken Nana and Mom’s recipes (or lack there of because as everyone knows there’s no ‘recipe’ for great gravy, it’s instinct, experience and a pinch this and that) and turned them into my own. So while claiming my gravy and meatballs blows my family competition out of the water would be an act of war, or more likely get me left at the kids table for Christmas with only the dregs of whatever roast was being served to munch on, I’m just going to say my stuff wouldn’t be half as amazing as it is without the women before me.

So I present to you my ‘recipe’ for one of the greatest gravies of all time. Though some call it marinara, my sauce is so thick and rich with depth of flavor that continues to make me do a little spaghetti and meatball dance just thinking about it that it deserves the true gravy designation. I’ve included a few of my tricks here such as both parmesan and pecorino rinds as well as roasting the sauce which develops the tomato’s natural sweetness and richness. Do not skimp on the lamb..bone in is a must! This is not a quick dish. This is a full day affair that takes a lot of love. Greatness takes time folks. Be patient; just one bite is worth it enough.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pizza at Home

I’m not sure if it’s my Italian heritage, the New Jersey upbringing or my obsession with all things cheese and bread, but one thing is painfully clear, I have a deep-rooted passion for pizza. My recent adventures in bread making led me to try my hand at making my own pizza dough. Heck, my great grandfather had a pizza parlor in Jersey so there’s got to be some of it my blood, right?! Fingers crossed and with some serious food blogging research under my belt, I dove in and man am I glad I did.

Homemade pizza is easy and unbelievably delicious! Gooey cheese, crust with a great bite and all the toppings I could ask for. In fact, since you make the dough the night before this could very well be a slam dunk mid-week meal folks. Now my pies may not rival Patsy’s or Grimaldi’s in NYC or the delightful offerings at Flour + Water or Delfina in SF, but they are down right tasty and I am sure going to be making these again. Most famous pizza joints have crazy hot coal or wood burning ovens...something a bit hard to replicate in the typical home kitchen. One way around this is to grill your pizzas. I find making smaller pizzas are easier to grill because slipping them on and off the grill with one or two large spatulas is doable. It’s also a good way to have more variety in toppings with 4 smaller pizzas instead of 2 larger ones. Whatever way you slice it, make your next pizza night an at home one.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Vacation Recovery Diet with Creole Blackened Catfish

Back from a week in New Orleans and man do I need a diet! What a week of eating, eating and a little drinking thrown in there supported by more eating. It was a completely delicious and decadent adventure! Now that I am back home it’s time for some more healthy meals to balance out my over indulgent week away. One key problem…I HATE dieting. I am very good at talking myself into just about anything but healthy foods are not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh veggies, but the whole idea of dieting automatically makes my brain and taste buds go on the defensive. So I’ve decided to just trick myself into eating better foods (this week at least). I’m going with lots of color and bright flavors to get myself on track and give my body a healthy rest.

Tonight’s meal took inspiration right out of New Orleans with a blackened catfish using Creole flavorings. I’ve taken some liberties with this one in that a) I’m blackening my fish in the broiler (thus avoiding the pan frying and fatty oil) and b) making my own Creole seasoning without the excessive salt found in most store bought versions. Not that salt and pan frying aren’t the bee’s knees, but let’s face it, salty fried fish is a moot diet point. The addition of a bit of cornmeal to the fish coating gives it a great crunch that you might otherwise get from pan frying.

I’m serving my catfish with a warm roasted asparagus, corn and tomato salad to provide even more bright color and texture not to mention veggies! Roasting the tomatoes makes them sweet and juicy and helps balance out the spice from the fish seasoning. All in all a very successful dish.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Totally Satisfying California Chopped Salad

It’s really easy to get caught up in food. There are days when poking around my frige is like going to some high end, fancy pants deli counter. Hearty stews, creamy pastas, meatloaf and other goodies all leftover from food blog heaven. It is on these days that the husband looks at me and shakes his head. I will admit my natural cooking inclination is not in the realm of tofu and bean sprouts. I have been very upfront about my addition to cheese and pasta and my new found obsession with baking bread has certainly not helped the waistlines. However, we do try to eat well in general so I present to you my California Chopped Salad. This recipe is one from the good for me but tastes fabulous column (and I am making a mental note to start sharing more of these kinds of dishes). It’s a spin off of a Giada recipe (le sigh, how I do love Giada). I’ve added some veggies to make it my own and you should absolutely do the same. But this is a delicious salad and it actually saves really well! So check out what is in season, break out that grill pan or griddler or fire up the big guy outside and set yourself up for a totally satisfying but healthy meal.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

'Almost Whole Wheat' Baked Bread Recipe

After my thrilling first try at baking my own bread I got the bakers itch and have been eager to experiment some more. However, I decided for round two that I would stick close to home putting one toe into the whole wheat bread section. Baby steps into bread baking land. Now I know whole wheat flour behaves quite differently from white flour. I can’t get down and dirty on the actual science of it (though I am sure with some digging I could find the bread baker’s Mensa equivalent). I do know that whole wheat flour tends not to rise as much as white flour…something to do with sharper corners to the molecules or gluten deficiencies…eh whatever the reason it just doesn’t act the same. So round two of A Girl and Her Kitchen’s bread baking bonanza was an Almost Whole Wheat Loaf. I followed the same recipe as I did the first time around (this dutch oven thing is honestly amazing) but substituted in 1 c of whole wheat flour for 1 c of the white flour, thus making the loaf 1/3 whole wheat.

The result…pretty damn good! It kept that crusty outside with a slightly denser yet tender inside and a more earthy flavor. Totally delicious. The dough did need a little more time to proof (ie. hang out in warmth so it could rise) but that was fine...I gave it an extra hour or so. Plus I have a 1950s era Wedgewood oven with a pilot light so my oven is always a nice 100-125º. I just popped the covered bowl with the dough in the oven and left the door cracked open for the last few hours of proofing. It definitely didn’t rise AS much as the white load but it rose and it baked up just fine. In fact, I would venture to say any more wheat flour and it might go too far…I think I got it just right!

So while I will be doing some more whole wheat bread investigations, this one is a definite keeper. Makes one hell of a sandwich too.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mashed Potato Heaven

I freely admit I am a bona fide food television junkie. From the moment the remote control enters my hand my fingers have a natural, almost supernatural, inclination to venture into food porn territory. While I am not regular Tyler Florence fan the man can at times hit it out of the park. I hosted Christmas this year for the first time and served his Grainy Mustard Mashed Potatoes with my beef tenderloin and man, I can NOT stop thinking about those tatters! They were soooooo good and uber easy. Not so good for you so I don’t make them often, but when you’re in the mood for creamy, homey, sensationally delicious mashed potatoes, well look no further. I served these the other day with my Kitchen Sink Brisket. These mashed potatoes are creamy right out of the frige. The secret, don’t boil your potatoes in water!!! Boil them in cream! With garlic and thyme no less! I mean, HELLO flavor. Decadent, pure and simple.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Kitchen Sink Brisket

The first time husband and I took a stab at making brisket we called everyone we knew who had ever made one we liked. Mothers, aunts, grandma’s; we compiled recipe after recipe, scoured the internet in search of the ultimate method. We hummed, we hawed and then we just said SCREW IT and merged all the recipes together to create one ginormous, ultimate Kitchen Sink Brisket. I’m not going to lie, this brisket is amazeballs! Yup, I totally made that word up. It’s a mash-up of “amazing” (which is how this thing tastes, smells, looks...did I say tastes?) and “balls” (because it was down right ballsy to make a brisket with 25 ingredients from 10 different recipes). Ok, so maybe I didn’t make 'amazeballs' up, but someone who had to have been thinking about this brisket made it up because that is exactly how to describe it.

Our Kitchen Sink Brisket debut was at my husband’s family’s Passover dinner 4 years ago. Now I am a Goy (aka not Jewish) or more specifically a Shiksa (a non-Jewish woman) so I have to say, I don’t think anyone expected much of this Shiksa's brisket from the get go (to be fair, this was likely before I got a chance to prove my cooking chops to my in-laws). Then someone asked what was in it and we started rattling off all 25 items. Well, let me just say, the jaws around the table dropped. I’m pretty sure the only reason anyone tried the damn thing in the first place was to be polite. But AHH HAA! (and do please read that with as much Fiddler on the Roof intonation possible) slowly but surely, they all went back for seconds. Alas, the Kitchen Sink Brisket passed the Passover litmus test, one of, if not THE MOST arduous challenge a brisket can go through. My Catholic, Italian nana would be proud :-).

This is a ‘by the nose and mouth’ recipe where, much like my meatballs and sauce, it is a lot about taste and not so much about measuring. So I present to you the last brisket recipe you will ever need…..this one literally has it all! Fear not my friends; brisket is a very forgiving meat as long as you cook it low and slow. It will perfume your house to no end and bring your neighbors to your door asking for spots at the table. So break out your tasting spoons, get a good book and dig in! This is how a Goy and a Jew make a brisket.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Crusty, Tender Homemade Baked Bread

I am presently hoping around my kitchen grinning like a Cheshire cat in carb-induced sheer bliss because I…have just…baked…the…most…AWESOME….BREAD…EVER!! I just munched down two warm and buttered slices of the yummiest artisan-esque bakery bread that came piping hot out of my very own oven! It’s nothing short of a miracle folks. Let’s be clear….I am not a baker. I have and do bake (albeit cookies and cupcakes), but I have never made something like a loaf of bread before. This was a serious leap of faith – and it completely and utterly paid off.

While trolling my favorite food sites I came across this picture of a gorgeous loaf of bread. Crusty on the outside, soft and tender on the inside; it made my mouth water. But what surprised me was the picture was linked to a very unassuming site of a 40-something mom who by no account was a famous bread maker. I thought to myself, well DAMN, I could do that! So I did. And it really just wasn’t that hard folks. If you do one thing this month culinary wise, do this. Make this bread. It is easy. Really really easy. And terribly delicious!

So do read on while I will continue to hop around my kitchen doing my bread dance, scaring the daylights out of my cat, until I have eaten every last morsel of this phenomenal A Girl and Her Kitchen baked bread (or until husband comes home to claim his share)!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pork Tenderloin Two Ways

Pork tenderloins are a dinner table staple in my house. They freeze well, Costco sells them cheap and once in a while when they go on sale at my market, they’re an even better steal. You can plop them in a bag with a marinade overnight for an easy weeknight dinner. Or spread on a flavor packed rub just before cooking for a different but still easy as sin approach. Either way, after 30+ minutes in the oven, you’ve got a killer piece of meat…and lean too!

Since it’s just the husband and I (Smokey the cat doesn’t like anything other than her kibble…seriously folks, not even an open can of tuna will entice her) we always get tons of leftovers. But it is safe to say one packet of pork tenderloin, which is typically two loins smushed together into one plastic wrapped mass, will feed four comfortably. The fact that I get two separate loins in one packet is perfect because I can actually never decide which of many ways to cook them because they all taste so darn good!!
Last night we did a pork tenderloin duo of marinades. One with an Asian kick from salty soy sauce and garlic. The other took a sweeter route with beer, honey and mustard. Both were divine. On top of that, I got to make my spectacular apple and onion marmalade to go with the sweeter version. Ok, so we ended up slathering the marmalade over both types because it’s uber tastey and, well so maybe it’s not technically a marmalade, but who cares. This is one seriously scrumptious sauce.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Meatloaf Mania

Meatloaf really is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to make, pretty darn cheap, and tastes good. It makes great sandwiches and leftovers and pleases just about any palate. This particular recipe I absolutely adore. It came from an old colleague who pulled it out of a magazine, the name of which I have long forgotten. But this is one hell of a meatloaf. Don’t let some of the ingredients scare you off because the result of this recipe is a sweet yet well spiced loaf that always elicits an “Mmmmm I LOVE meatloaf!” from the husband. I also secretly love this recipe because it lets me practice my knife skills on some standard pantry items like onion, carrot and celery. Whatever the reason, this is definitely a killer recipe.


1 c fine fresh bread crumbs (from 2 slices firm white sandwich bread)
1/3 c whole milk
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 lb bacon (about 4 slices), chopped (plus 3 slices for topping, optional)
1/2 c pitted prunes, chopped
1 1/2 lb ground beef chuck
1/2 lb ground pork
2 large eggs
1/3 c flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp black pepper

Preheat oven to 350º with rack in middle of the oven.

Using your cuisinart food processor, turn two slices of white bread into bread crumbs. In a large bowl soak bread crumbs in milk.

Meanwhile, cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low, cooking until carrot is tender, about 5 more minutes.
Remove pan from heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, allspice, salt, and pepper. Add to bread crumb mixture.
Using your cuisinart, finely chop 4 slices of bacon and prunes and then add to onion / bread crumb mixture along with eggs and parsley. Mix well.
Using your hands, mix in ground pork and beef until the meat and vegetables are evenly distributed. Pack the mixture into an oval loaf in the bottom of a glass pie pan or other shallow baking dish.
Top with 3 slices of bacon (optional). Bake for 1 – 1 ¼ hours until the center of the meatloaf reaches 155º. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serve with side green salad or other veg.