Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan…just saying those words immediately causes red checkered tablecloths and bulbous bottles of vino tinto masquerading about in their grass skirts to dance around my head. As a self-diagnosed cheese-aholoic, anything ‘parmesan’ immediately perks my taste buds into high gear. Add to that some lonely eggplants in my frige crying for a hot bath in garlic and basil dotted marinara with lumps of oozing mozzarella to play with. Ah, well I don’t even need advanced math skills to tell you what all THAT adds up to…one hell of a delicious freaking dinner, that’s what!

Eggplant Parmesan is usually predicated on the notion of fried eggplant slices that then get baked in sauce and cheese. Now, there is NOTHING wrong with fried eggplant. Hell, there’s a ton of GREAT things about fried eggplant! But tonight I just wasn’t feeling the frying thing. Ok, I admit, I was also trying to shave a wee bit of fat and calories off this one too. So I opted to bake my eggplant slices before layering them in a casserole dish for the tomato and cheese finale. And I have to say, it totally worked! The result was a tender, light and less greasy dish. Even my eggplant-wary husband gave this one top scores. The copious amounts of cheese I employed certainly cleverly masked my fry-less meal and they likely made the whole baking to save calories exercise a bit moot, but the joy I got from eating this dish with a little less guilt (earned or not) was well worth it and I will definitely be baking my eggplant parm in the future.

This meal also gave me an opportunity to make marinara sauce and if there is one thing I love as much as cheese (well almost anyway), it’s that sweet tomato goodness. The house is perfumed with the aroma of garlic and onion melting into each other with the bright tang of plump canned tomatoes and their juices and sweet fresh basil all coming together in happy bubbling harmony on my stove.

It must be noted that there are a variety of different sauces one can make that are referred to generally as marinara. People all have their own twists and turns to making sauce and I am no different. For today’s dish I opted for a very basic sauce. I wanted the marinara to support the eggplant and not upstage it. This is also a sauce you could pull together during the week, or better yet, make a really big batch and keep a jar in the frige and the rest in portions in the freezer for easy use.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Turkey Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms are one of the easiest weeknight dinners that are amazingly gentle on your diet. OK, so maybe not all stuffed mushroom recipes are good for you, but this one is! Ok ok, save for the wee bit of Gorgonzola cheese and sour cream, but considering this recipe makes 6 servings, the cheesey, creamy goodness spreads its love. So unless you are a sneaky cheese stealing chef saving all the cheese bits for your mushroom, you should be just fine.

When I went to make this yesterday I realized I didn’t actually have any turkey sausage on hand, but I did have ground turkey. Alas, the miracle of the kitchen, I just made my own homemade turkey sausage! And it was fabulous. I actually rather like this idea so I think I will continue to make my own sausage in the future. You can make it saltier, spicier or sweeter to your taste. Plus I know what goes into my turkey sausage, which I can’t always say for the store bought kind. I have a sneaking suspicion it might be cheaper to make my own too, but I haven’t actually tested this theory yet. You can easily make the sausage the night before and keep it in the frige till needed. The longer it sits, the better it gets. But if you want to stick with store bought, no problem, it will work just as well.

This is also a recipe you can play with by adding more spice or other kinds of herbs. Vegetables in this one are also very versatile. Swop out the spinach for peas or even chopped bell peppers. Have fun with it because this is one tasty dish.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rack of Lamb and Parmesan Polenta

One of my go to easy entertaining dishes is definitely rack of lamb. Costco sells a good rack of lamb for a very affordable price. Sure you could go to a butcher and spend a lot more for fancier meat, but I find the Costco lamb to be just fine for me and mine. This particular recipe made its debut on my table this past Christmas when my family was out for the holidays. It has a very easy yet high in flavor rub that knocks this one out of the park. The mix of fresh rosemary from my garden, bright cloves of garlic with tangy luscious mustard and a splash of sweet balsamic vinegar…this lamb never had a chance; it was meant to be down right finger lickin’ good.

I serve this dish with a side of parmesan polenta and smashed peas with mint, though I didn’t have the energy for smashed peas last night, so I’ll have to make them another time to share. But the parmesan polenta gets better every time I make and it reheats beautifully. I’ve also been known to sit in from of the frige digging into a cold dish of it with just a spoon and a smile on my face. I am sucker for anything with cheese after all.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Homemade Tortillas with Baha Baked Fish = Taco Night!

There is something rather magical about fresh, hot homemade tortillas turning taco night into TACO NIGHT! And I just don’t know why I never tried to make them myself before because as it turns out, they are ridiculously easy to pull together. We’re talking easy as pie folks, well, easier than pie! I won’t extol on the innumerable health benefits of making your own tortillas not to mention the money saver it is as I presume you can assume those on your own. Putting all that aside, the sheer taste of these toothsome tender tortillas are worth it enough for me.

Now it was actually the baked fish morsels that I found a recipe for which brought this whole meal together in the first place. And the fish is really really good, but the tortillas are what I have been lusting over ever since the last one met its final moments in my stomach. So I present to you my homemade tortillas and baha baked fish taco night fiesta of recipes. This is a very easy meal to pull together but one with serious wow factor.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Seven Layers of Dip Bliss

My mom’s seven layer dip is completely addictive. It’s an easy, party friendly dish that always disappears with a quickness. It’s just so hard to stop eating it! And it’s also pretty darn easy on the wallet, which I love.

You can customize it to your liking (lower in fat or higher in heat) but no matter what, you will find your friends asking for this one time and time again. We make it for super bowl every year, which I thoroughly enjoy more for the super food than the actual bowl. Regardless, this and my Game Day Chili are the best and easiest combo deal for sports fan get-togethers, or really any get-together. When having people over, which we do a lot, I always try to make stuff that is no fuss. Why spend the whole time in the kitchen? Take three minutes to put this dip together and you’ll have people happy and fed for at least the first half  (then you break into the chili).

Seven Layer Dip
(Adapted from A Girl and Her Kitchen’s Mom)

1 can refried beans
1 8oz container sour cream
½ cup mayo
½ package of taco seasoning
1 ½ cups guacamole
1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar
12 cherry or grape tomatoes , quartered or halved depending on size
2 scallions, sliced thin
Handful of black olives, sliced
Handful of canned sliced jalapeños (optional)
Tortilla Chips
In a small bowl mix the sour cream, mayo and taco seasoning until well combined.

On a large flat (preferably round or oval) platter, spread the can of refried beans in a thin layer (about 1/8 – 1/4 inch thick). Then spread the guacamole in an even layer. Next, smooth on the sour cream mixture. Cover with shredded cheddar. Sprinkle tomatoes, scallions, olives and jalapeños (if using) over the top. Serve with tortilla chips. Enjoy!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Game Day Chili

It’s prettty much a requirement in my house to have chili during the super bowl. And this year I planned ahead making a heaping pot of chili during the week and let it hang out for 3 days, allowing all the flavors to meld together into utter chili bliss. That way when game day rolled around all I had to do was pull the pot out, plop it on the stove and heat the sucker up, making minor seasoning adjustments along the way. Easy and delicious.

A Girl and Her Kitchen’s Gamy Day Chili is one of those dishes with roughly 5 million ingredients. I am sure other people out there make simpler versions, but I think mine has a depth of flavor that you might not find with those other recipes. This is also a dish where I do a LOT of taste testing. So while I have made an effort here to put down specific amounts of the various ingredients, this is not a perfect science by any stretch of the imagination. Chili is a subjective and mysterious thing. So take bites along the way, using your taste buds and your gut to guide you to what you like adding more heat or smokey flavors as you see fit. Either way, this chili recipe always gets rave reviews from our friends on game day.

Game Day Chili
(A Girl and Her Kitchen)

4lbs lean ground beef (or half ground beef and half bison meat)
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced fire roasted tomatoes with chilies (try MultiGlen)
1 bottle dark beer
1 cup coffee (strong)
1 cup good beef broth
1 cup red wine
2 cans kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
2 cans black beans (drained and rinsed)
2 tbsp olive oil (or sub with bacon grease)
2 tsp brown sugar
3 ½ tbsp chili sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1-2 tbsp coca powder (unsweetened)
2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp oregano
2 tsp paprika
1 tbsp hot sauce
2-3 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp coriander
2 tbsp salt, divided (more to taste)
Black pepper to taste
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground chipotle chili powder
1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 jalapeño pepper (optional)

sharp cheddar (shredded)
sour cream
1 can sliced jalapeño peppers
scallions, sliced
hot sauce

In a very large heavy bottom pot (e.g. creuset oval french oven), sauté onions in olive oil (or bacon fat) on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, season with a 1 tbsp salt and some freshly cracked black pepper and sauté 3 more minutes. Note: bacon fat is a great item to have in your frige. It can add serious depth to most anything. When frying bacon, pour the grease off into a glass jar with a tight fitting lid and then pop it in the frige. Use heaping spoonfuls in any dish you like.
Add in the beef, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat. Brown the meat on medium high until mostly cooked through.

Add in the spices, 1 tbsp salt and stir well to combine. Then add the tomato paste, chili sauce, brown sugar, red wine, beer, coffee, beef broth, diced tomatoes with their juices, jalapeño pepper (if using) and beans. Mix well. Simmer on medium low for one hour. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
Continue to simmer for at least another hour, though more would be better. In total should simmer on low for 2-5 hours, stirring occasionally and tasting along the way. About an hour before serving, stir in red wine vinegar, adjust seasoning as needed and continue to simmer on very low heat. If making ahead, add the red wine vinegar when reheating day of game. You may also need to add more cayenne and chipotle chili powder as those mellow over time.
Serve with shredded sharp cheddar, diced jalapeño peppers, hot sauce, scallions and sour cream for 'do it yourself' garnish. Yields 10-12 servings.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Not Your Mom’s Banana Muffins

When we were really lucky, hadn’t recently sent my mom screaming toward the nearest psych ward with our incessant sibling wars, my little brother and I would periodically wake up to my mom’s homemade banana muffins before school. This was a serious treat folks. Not that pop tarts, toaster strudels, or those freaky Ovaltine breakfast ‘shakes’ we usually had weren’t the bees knees, but homemade banana muffins piping hot from the oven are serious drool worthy eats.

Now bananas and I have a rather contentious relationship. I actually quite adore the lovely yellow fruit. Sprinkled over any cereal, pancakes, with peanut butter and honey…any way you slice it, I am a fan. But I can’t help but feel the banana doesn’t quite love me back, or at least has a mean streak. I buy them in these big gorgeous bunches, hang them on high in my nifty wire hanging fruit baskets and then before I’ve made too big of a dent, the darn things are brown and spotty already. I am NOT one of those over-ripe banana lovers. In fact, there is a small window of time that the banana is in my favor when it’s not really green anymore with a good yellow hue and no sign of brown. I just can’t seem to eat them fast enough. I know, I know...there is always the 'don't buy so many option' or the 'put them in the frige once they are ripe to your liking' way of doing it, but I just can't seem to get my act together on this one. Enter the banana muffin.

Those deep dark brown dead bananas are perfect for muffins and breads. Their sugars are ripe for baking! So I took my mom’s recipe and played with it, coming up with what I think is quite a superb specimen of banana muffin glory. Not that mom's aren't fantastic, but I think mine do quite well with the hungry folks in my house.

Not Your Mom’s Banana Muffins
(A Girl and Her Kitchen)

½ cup butter (unsalted and room temp)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs (room temp)
¼ cup whole milk
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour (can sub all purpose flour)
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)
1 cup toasted coconut flakes (optional)
Brown sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat oven to 375º
In a bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.
In a second bowl, mash together bananas, milk and vanilla.
In a third bowl, cream butter and sugar using medium speed of an electric mixer (or use your super duper KitchenAid mixer). Add eggs one at a time and beat well. Add half the flour mixture and mix to combine. Add the banana, milk, vanilla mixture. Mix well. Add in the rest of the flour mixture and mix well.
Using a wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate chips and toasted coconut.
Spoon the batter into cupcake tins filling them 4/5 full (I use an ice cream scoop). Sprinkle each with a bit of brown sugar.
Bake for 20 minutes (if making mini muffins, bake for 15 minutes). They are cooked through when a small knife or toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean (save for some melted chocolate :). Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Creamy Summer Salad for your Winter BBQ

It may be cold out there, but I've been dreaming in barbeque land. Warm days hanging out in the park or backyard, drinking beer while someone other than me mans the grill munching on burgers, corn and cool creamy salads. Well, until Mother Nature decides to cooperate with my warm weather dreams, I decided to feed a little bit of that BBQ nostalgia. Inspiration came from the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ms. Ina Garten…coupled with the fact I had a lonely English cucumber sitting in my frige waiting for something fun to do.

Now English cucumbers (also referred to as hothouse cucumbers or seedless cucumbers, which by the by is kind of a misnomer as they do in fact have seeds) are my favorite kind of cucumber. They come all dressed up in a little sheath of plastic which means grubby hands of other shoppers are less likely to infiltrate my cucumber delight. They also have less seeds than their peers. And their skin is less waxy so I never peel these guys. Here they are mixed with tangy Greek yogurt, a touch of sour cream and fresh dill for a cool, creamy summer salad.

So break out that indoor grill, put up a heating lamp (we can pretend can’t we) and add this creamy cucumber salad to your next indoor BBQ.

Creamy Cucumber Salad
(Adapted from Ina Garten)
  • 4 hothouse cucumbers, thinly sliced (3 to 4 pounds)
  • 2 small red onions, thinly sliced in half rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) plain whole-milk greek yogurt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh dill
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Slice the cucumbers and onion. Any way you like is fine. If you shy away from big bites of onion, definitely cut those as thin as possible and you can always use less or more as desired.
Mix the cucumbers, red onions, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt in a bowl. Pour them into a colander and suspend it over a bowl. Wrap the bowl and colander with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to drain for at least 4 hours or overnight. Discard the liquid that collects in the bowl.

Pour the yogurt into a sieve lined with a paper towel and suspend it over another bowl. Wrap the bowl and sieve in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Discard the liquid that collects in the second bowl. (Note: I did not in fact do this step. I found using greek yogurt might actually negate the need for this step BUT if you want to take a stab at it, let me know how it turns out.)
When the cucumbers are ready, roll them up in paper towels or a kitchen towel and press the towel lightly to remove most of the liquid. Place the cucumbers and yogurt in a large bowl with the sour cream, vinegar, dill, 2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper. Toss well and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.
Taste for seaoning. If needed, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and serve chilled.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Baked Ziti for Adults

Baked ziti is one of those things that really bring me back to being about 8 years old. It reminds me of organized sports, the town Rec department, kids en mass carb loading for a big game. It’s easy and cheap to whip up a steaming tray of gooey baked ziti that will easily please most palates. And I was craving the good stuff, baked cheese and pasta, the brown and bubbly straight from the oven kind with crunchy cheese crust around the edges, gobs of melted cheese that pulls into delectable strands with each bite and creamy tomato sauce that sticks to chunky al dente pasta.

Seeing as how I am an aspiring foodie, I decided to go about feeding my baked ziti craving in as “refined” a manner as possible without losing that quintessential homey kid feeling of it all. And amazingly enough I was able to use up stuff I already had in my house! After rummaging around the freezer, frige and cabinets, A Girl and Her Kitchen’s Unstuffed Shells Baked ‘Ziti’ was born and it was lip smacking good. Taking some of my favorite stuffed shells flavors, pulling them out of the shells and mixing all the ingredients baked ziti style with large shell pasta instead of the massive fist size shells from the classic dish was, if I may say so, a freakin’ stroke of genius.

This is definitely a ‘make it your own’ recipe because you can mix and match any flavors and ingredients you like. I chose to use both sweet and hot savory Italian turkey sausage, sautéed onions and bell peppers, creamy ricotta cheese, spicy Arriatbatta sauce (from a JAR!), a can of fire roasted tomatoes and a ton of mozzarella cheese (or course). Adding in fresh basil and a couple handfuls of frozen peas gave the dish a wonderful kick. But this is a method, so use what you like and make it your own (or use mine because it is totally fabulous!) :-)

Unstuffed Shells Baked ‘Ziti’
(A Girl and Her Kitchen)
  • 1 lb box of large shell pasta
  • 6 turkey sausages (mix of sweet and hot Italian styles)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced (any color except green)
  • 1 15oz container ricotta (whole milk or part skim ok)
  • 1 12oz hunk of mozzarella cheese, divided into 2 hunks
  • ½ cup pecorino romano, grated
  • ½ cup parmesan, grated
  • Handful fresh basil, chopped
  • Mini handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (plus more to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper (plus more to taste)
  • 1 12oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes (try Multi-glen)
  • 1 jar Arriabatta sauce (your favorite brand, if you don’t like spice, regular marinara will work)
  • 2 handfulls frozen peas
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
In a large pot, heat water for pasta. Once boiling, salt generously (i.e. a handful or more of kosher salt). Cook pasta per package instructions though skim a minute off cooking time (or two if you like al dente final product) as pasta will continue to cook in oven. Once the pasta is done, drain and set aside.
While pasta water is boiling, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan. Take the turkey sausage out of it’s casing by running a knife down the length of it or using a scissors to cut through the casing. Brown the sausage over medium-high heat until it is largely cooked through (about 5 minutes) using a wooden spoon to break up the sausage. Pour off most of the fat (liquid that has accumulated at the bottom of the pan), put the sausage in a large bowl and set aside.
In the same sauté pan add one tablespoon of olive oil and sauté onions on medium heat for 3 minutes. Add garlic, salt and black pepper and sauté for one minute more. Add bell peppers and sauté for a final 3-4 minutes until vegetables are tender.
While vegetables are cooking, cut mozzarella into two even hunks. Dice one half of the mozzarella and shred the other. Set aside.
Add sausage back into sauté pan with vegetables and mix to combine. Add can of diced tomatoes and their juice, oregano and red pepper flakes (if using) and simmer for 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Put mixture into bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the sausage and vegetable mixture and combine well so all pasta is coated. Add 2/3 of the jar of sauce, peas, basil, parsley, parmesan and pecorino cheeses and mix thoroughly. Finally add the diced mozzarella and stir. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
Pour the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish. Spread out evenly with a spoon and then spread the last 1/3 of the jarred sauce across the top. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella on top and if feeling decadent grate some additional pecorino and parmesan on top as well.
Bake at 400º for 30 minutes until bubbly and lightly golden. Serve immediately (or wait 5 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth.)
Yields 8 servings