Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dinner - fast and good!

No matter who you are, if you cook, you sometimes just want to be quick and done.  As much as I love elaborate recipes that turn out delicious gourmet meals, other times I am hungry or tired or have other stuff going on and just want to be in and out of the kitchen in under a half hour.  Is it possible?  Absolutely?  Can you make more than a bowl of cereal or a scrambled egg in that time?  Yes!  Are you thinking of comparing me to an overly-chipper, happy TV host who makes meals in a half hour?  Well, stop it right now!

Chicken and Broccoli Stir-fry is one of my new favorite meals that makes me happy because it's so darn quick and makes the husband happy because he loves any kind of Asian food.  This recipe was delicious over rice, but also quite good tossed with udon noodles (which cook in 4 minutes - yeah!).  I have made this at least three times now and it was great every time.  This is going on the go-to meal ideas list (it only exists inside my head, but it is there, I swear).  

I am big on the idea of switching up ingredients based on preference.  In this particular recipe, I like to switch the sugar out for local honey.  Red pepper flakes are great for a little kick.  Toasted sesame seeds make a tasty garnish (put sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until golden color starts to appear).   This recipe also seems like it would be really easy to toss in any variety of vegetables or switch out the chicken for tofu, beef, or pork.  

Chicken and Broccoli Stir-fry
Recipe from


  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 2 breasts), sliced against the grain
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • About 1/3 cup chicken broth or water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 cups broccoli, trimmed sliced stalks (about 1/4-inch thick) and medium florets (keep the 2 cuts separate)
  • Serving suggestion: rice


Toss the chicken with about half the garlic and ginger, the soy sauce, sugar, 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch, 1 teaspoon of the salt, the sherry, and the sesame oil in a bowl. Marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes. Mix the remaining cornstarch with the 1/3 cup broth or water.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat. Add the broccolistems, and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the florets and the remaining garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons of water, and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper, to taste. Stir-fry until the broccoli is bright green but stillcrisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Get the skillet good and hot again, and then heat 2 more tablespoons oil. Add the chicken and stir-fryuntil the chicken loses its raw color and gets a little brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Return the broccoli to the pan and toss to heat through. Stir in the reserved cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil to thicken. Add more water if need to thin the sauce, if necessary. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if you like. Mound the stir-fry on a serving platter or divide among 4 plates; serve with rice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Making Rugelach

When I was little, my grandma taught me how to make a cookie she called "Juicy Biscuits"...or maybe she said Jewish biscuits and my little ears translated.  She always made them with grape jelly and walnuts.  I never thought this was weird as a kid, though now, it does seem a little funny.  All I know is it was fun to make and they were delicious.
Making Rugelach

When I was older, I wanted to make the cookies on my own, but had lost the recipe.  It took me a lot of searching and research before I figured out they were actually called "Rugelach" and they were a traditional Jewish pastry.  After searching for a recipe that seemed familiar, I found this one on Epicurious: Rugelach (Gourmet | May 2004).  The recipe is actually pretty easy, but a little labor intensive.  If I am going to make it, I normally commit to making 2 or 3 batches at a time.

I definitely recommend keeping the dough refrigerated before and after rolling it out until it is ready to be filled and rolled.  The recipe says to chill for 8 - 24 hours, but I have done it in just a few hours with the same success.  I bake them whole and then slice them after they have cooled, which is different from the traditional method of doing the crescent shape or cutting them before baking.

Flavor varieties - you can go crazy with fillings.  I have heard of ones made with chocolate or apple filling.  I tend to mix and match using a variety of jams (raspberry, apricot, fig, and of course, grape), nuts (pecans or walnuts), and dried fruits (raisins or craisins).  I might have one with fig, craisins, and pecans and another with apricots, raisins, and walnuts.  If you like really sweet things, use the raspberry with the craisins and pecan.  I normally just mix and match until I run out of dough or the other ingredients.

These are often made as a holiday cookie, but I they are quite delicious and I would recommend them pretty much any time of year.  I will say this: I have tried to make them in July.  If you can't control the heat and humidity with some powerful air conditioning, you are in for a challenge.  You have mere moments to get the dough in and out of the fridge before it starts melting.  Were the cookies still delicious?  Absolutely.  Would I want to do that again?  Not so much.

Here is a photo montage of the batch I made at Christmas this past year.  I forgot to take pictures of the actual making of the dough, so it picks up from after the dough has been chilled.

Recipe courtesy of

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup apricot preserves or raspberry jam
  • 1 cup loosely packed golden raisins, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups walnuts (1/4 lb), finely chopped
  • Milk for brushing cookies

Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl. Beat together butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer until combined well. Add flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Gather dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap, then flatten (in wrap) into a roughly 7- by 5-inch rectangle. Chill until firm, 8 to 24 hours.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottom of a 1- to 1 1/2-inch-deep large shallow baking pan with parchment paper.

Making Rugelach

Cut dough into 4 pieces. Chill 3 pieces, wrapped in plastic wrap, and roll out remaining piece into a 12- by 8-inch rectangle on a well-floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Transfer dough to a sheet of parchment, then transfer to a tray and chill while rolling out remaining dough in same manner, transferring each to another sheet of parchment and stacking on tray.

Making Rugelach
Making Rugelach
Making Rugelach
Rolled out dough - thin, but 
not so thin it will tear when assembled.

Whisk 1/2 cup sugar with cinnamon.

Arrange 1 dough rectangle on work surface with a long side nearest you. Spread 1/4 cup preserves evenly over dough with offset spatula. Sprinkle 1/4 cup raisins and a rounded 1/4 cup walnuts over jam, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar.

Making Rugelach
The Fillings

Making Rugelach
Jam spread on the dough, cinnamon sugar, nuts, and dried fruit sprinkled on top.

Using parchment as an aid, roll up dough tightly into a log. Place, seam side down, in lined baking pan, then pinch ends closed and tuck underneath. Make 3 more logs in same manner and arrange 1 inch apart in pan. Brush logs with milk and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of remaining granulated sugar. With a sharp large knife, make 3/4-inch-deep cuts crosswise in dough (not all the way through) at 1-inch intervals. (If dough is too soft to cut, chill until firmer, 20 to 30 minutes.)

Making Rugelach
Bake until golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool to warm in pan on a rack, about 30 minutes, then transfer logs to a cutting board and slice cookies all the way through.

Making Rugelach

Making Rugelach

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Old Standby

As a cook, I don't really have the creativity to develop my own recipes from scratch, as much as I wish I did.  I need to use another recipe as a launching pad.  I love searching through recipes, online, in magazines, and in cookbooks.  If I am looking for something new or interesting, I go online.  I page through tons of recipes on tons of different sites.  I love going to Tastespotting to look at all of the mouthwatering images of delectable food.  I like to use Epicurious because their recipes are reliable and they have great feedback and comments from other users.  If I am looking for something more indulgent, I love Food and Wine.  Healthy food?  Eating Well it is.  That's not even the stacks of magazine pages I have ripped out to try at some point.  But if I am looking for a classic?  If I want an old standard?  Meatloaf.  Chicken Pot Pie.  Sauces.  To remind myself how long to cook a baked potato and at what temperature (or any other basic cooking technique for just about any food).  For any and all of these, I pull out my old, falling apart, needs to be taped at the seam, pages splotched with recipes I've used over and over again, the Joy of Cooking cookbook.

Joy of Cooking.001

It seems so old school, old lady cooking, but the classic cookbook is a cook's best friend.  All of the fanciest recipes in the world won't help you if you don't know how to do the basics.  The Joy of Cooking is my culinary school general education course.  I go to it for some of my favorite meals and can still get rave reviews using recipes from this book.  The meatloaf I make that everyone loves?   Joy of Cooking.  My meatballs? Joy of Cooking.  Chicken Paprikash?  You got it: Joy of Cooking.

At this point, I don't even know where I got this cookbook.  I don't know if I bought it or if it was a gift.  I think it was new when I got it, but it has been so long, I really don't remember.  All I know is when I am not sure how long to cook a certain kind of steak based on it's cut, thickness, and bone or not, there is a handy little chart.  Each food section starts off with a quick basics lesson on the food - what it is, how to clean or prep it, and how to cook it in the most stripped down manner.  Then you get the recipes.  Recipes that take up hundreds and hundreds of pages of everything from sauce to dessert with every kind of protein in between.  It is my culinary bible and hasn't failed me yet.  I always thought in this technological age, that I would have moved almost exclusively to the internet, but either I'm old-fashioned or the internet just isn't as reliable as a cookbook that has been around since 1931.  So, for now, there will always be a spot in my kitchen where the Joy of Cooking will sit in easy reach, ready to make another delicious meal.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lasagna. Cheesy, Delicious, Comfort food + Roasted Veggies

Lasagna with Beef, Turkey, & Roasted Vegetables

I love lasagna.  It is a craving food for me.  Technically, I am part Italian.  Without or without my ancestral heritage, I think I would still have a deep love of Italian food.  I remember my Grandma making a big pot of spaghetti sauce filled with meatballs, sausage, chicken, and braciole.  It was, and still is, one of my favorite meals.  I love making a "pot of sauce" on a Sunday afternoon so it can simmer for hours.  Other times, I am looking for the ooey-gooey cheesy deliciousness of a lasagna.  The layers of goodness make me happy.  In more recent years, as I have  been looking for healthier ways to eat food, I will sometimes up the "veggie quotient" of a meal that might otherwise be rather veggie-less.  I still get all the things I love about the food, but I added a little extra nutrition which makes me feel a little better about eating it.  That begins the tale of adding roasted vegetables to my lasagna.

When I first decided to healthy-up my lasagna, I thought I would try just using vegetables instead of meat, but it was missing something.  I tried using turkey instead of ground beef, but there was a lack of richness.  Finally, I figured out to just use all three.  I use half turkey and half ground beef in the bolognese sauce (fancy name for meat sauce).  Then, I take eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash and slice them into long, wide strips (they remind of lasagna noodles sliced this way and could actually be used in place of noodles if you are trying lower the calories/carbs).  I roast them in the oven first and then just layer them in with everything else.

This recipe will serve at least 8 (if you serve large pieces) and easily 12 with slightly smaller pieces and a side salad.  It also freezes really well.  I cut it into portion sizes first and then freeze it.  You can take out a serving at a time and heat it in the microwave or oven until melty and bubbly.  If you do heat it in  the oven, I recommend heating at about 450 degrees, covered with foil, for about 30 minutes.


  • 1 large or two small eggplant, sliced lengthwise into wide strips
  • 2 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into wide strips
  • 2 yellow squash, sliced lengthwise into wide strips
  • Lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 28 oz. chopped tomatoes (I like Pomi or Muir Glen)
  • 28 oz. strained tomatoes (ditto on above)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh Basil (or about 1 Tbsp dried)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh Oregano (or 2 tsp dried)
  • 1/2 cup fresh, flat leaf parsley
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella (or mozzarella-provolone blend) - more if you like it really cheesy!
  • 16 oz. container ricotta cheese - I use Narragansett Creamery's Renaissance Ricotta almost exclusively - if you can find it, use it!!!
  • 2 eggs. lightly beaten

Step 1: Roast the Vegetables at 450 degrees for about 20-25 minutes (watch that they don't over cook or dry out).  They can still be a little firm since they will bake in the lasagna.  Set aside to cool once done.

While the vegetables are roasting, start the bolognese sauce.

Heat your pan to medium-high.
Add about a Tbsp olive oil (optional).
Add beef and turkey and cook until browned.  If you didn't use lean meats or there is a lot of fat in the pan, drain all but about 1 Tbsp.
Add onion and garlic to beef and turkey and cook until soft.
Add chopped and strained tomatoes, basil, oregano, and half of the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer the sauce (the longer you can simmer it to reduce it down, the better, but 20-30 minutes is fine - I have notice a little wateriness in the lasagna if you don't reduce the sauce enough)

The Bolognese sauce

Once your bolognese is simmering, start working on your ricotta mixture.

Best ricotta I have ever had (seriously).  Use this if you can!  It is super creamy with none of that gritty texture ricotta can have sometimes.

Combine eggs, ricotta, other half of the parsley, half of the parmigiana-reggiano, and salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Combine the remaining parmigiana-reggiano with the mozzarella.

Let the layering begin!  You can really layer in whatever order suits your taste, but here is how I do it:

In a 13x9 pan:
Spread a thin layer of the bolognese sauce on the bottom so the noodles don't stick.
Lasagna noodles (about 4, slightly overlapping)
Ricotta mixture (about 1/2 of the mixture)
Roasted Vegetables (mix it up or do an all-eggplant layer here and squash on the next one)
Bolognese sauce
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese mix
REPEAT with remaining ingredients (you might have leftover sauce - it's great on pasta - freeze or save what you don't use)

Before - all layered up and ready for the oven

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until top is golden brown.  Let rest 5-10 minutes after it comes out of the oven before serving.

After - ready for eating!!  

And for those cooks like me who see those cooking shows where the kitchen barely has a thing out of place when they make these kinds of meals.  I make a mess.  It's okay.  It makes it taste better!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

If the Smell of Baking Bread Was a Perfume...

Bread.  Warm from the oven, little puff of steam as you pull it apart, a little bit of butter that melts as it touches the surface, that soft chewy wonderfulness as you take that first bite.  I like bread.  It is good (it is evil!).  It is addicting.  The smell of baking bread is intoxicating.  I would seriously consider wearing a perfume that was that scent, but then I would be hungry all of the time.  Instead, I will just wait until that smell is wafting through my house while I am waiting for the latest loaf of bread to be done.

I freely admit that before learning how to make bread, I found the idea incredibly intimidating. I mean, people don't make their own bread.  We buy it, all sliced up and wrapped in a plastic sleeve.  If it was easy to do, more people would do it, right?  I honestly thought it would be such a hassle and not really worth all the hard work it would take.  True, I was bothered by the number of ingredients that went into the store bread (average is about 18 - only takes about 5 to actually make bread), but I just couldn't convince myself to try and make my own. And then someone gifted me a bread machine (thanks, Aunt Connie!).  That's when the magic happened.

If you don't have a bread machine - get one!  Technically, you don't need one to make bread, but boy does it make it really, really easy.  If you have a stand-mixer, you can also use the dough hook on those for the kneading part, which is really the tedious part of making bread without a machine.  I like to use the bread machine to do the kneading and first rising of the dough, but then I take it out and do the final rise and baking in a loaf pan.  Why, do you ask, do I not just bake it in the bread machine?  Well, as wonderful as my machine is, it has a tube-shaped pan.  It makes round bread.  It's still delicious, but it's just weird.  So, I bake it outside of the machine to get the traditional loaf shape.  If you are lucky enough to have a bread machine with the loaf-shaped pan, you can just bake it right in there.

Do you want to know how easy is it to make bread?  Let's look at this basic recipe from King Arthur Flour:

Recipe courtesy of King Arthur Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup lukewarm milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Bread Machine Method (1 1/2-lb. or larger machine): Place all of the ingredients into the pan of your bread machine, program the machine for Basic White Bread (or equivalent), and press Start.
Yield: 1 loaf, 12 slices.

Yes, with a bread machine, you are done.  That's it!  Combine ingredients and press start.  And how many ingredients? Six.  That's it.  All basic things you probably already have in your kitchen.  It really is that easy.  And you don't have a bread machine?  It's still not that hard.  

Manual/Mixer/Food Processor Method: In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix for 2 minutes. Switch to the dough hook, and knead for 10 minutes. By hand, knead till you have a smooth, soft dough. Using a processor, process for 90 seconds.  

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover it, and allow it to rise about 1 hour, or till it’s doubled in bulk. Shape the dough into a loaf, and place it in a greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan. Tent the dough with a proof cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for about 1 hour, or until it’s crowned 1 to 2 inches over the rim of the pan.

Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it tests done (its internal temperature will read 190°F on an instant-read thermometer). Remove the bread from the pan to cool. 

Once I figured out how to make the bread and got the original recipe down, I started just trying new ones.  And you know what?  They are just as easy.  Breads also are very accepting of ingredient substitutions.  I like to switch out the butter for olive oil.   I'll use honey instead of sugar.  I also love the King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour - I switch out half the white flour for this (you can use all white whole wheat, but you don't get the same light, chewy texture).  I've experimented with all sorts of breads (like challah - soft, sweet, wonderful as french toast) and rolls (homemade hamburger buns? yes, please!), my latest being a Cinnamon Raisin Swirl bread.  In future installments, I'll focus on my other favorite bread recipes.  Until then, get baking!

And since you can't post a food blog without some sort of photo, here is a pic from my first attempt at making homemade hamburger rolls:
Homemade Hamburger Rolls