Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stuffed Courgettes (Summer Squash) in Chunky Tomato Sauce

Call me strange, but I am obsessed with globe zucchini. Surely everyone has some sort of food obsession, right?  Of course. Stranger though, is the fact that globe zucchini are not what is pictured above.  Let me tell you, these are some elusive little darlings around here this summer, particularly when I need them. I saw them at the farmer's market two weeks in a row, but of course last Wednesday they where nowhere to be found.  I've been cooking dinner for the no sugar-no flour person and it came up in conversation he likes middle eastern food. (You can read about all the diet restrictions in the meatball post- and lest I forget to tell... he claims I have thrown him under the bus in the foodie world. Nonsense). Anyhow despite his claims and in my effort to please him I made stuffed courgettes for dinner, without the rice of course.  I used the recipe my middle eastern grandmother used to make, one of my very favorites.  I changed the recipe a bit, watercress would have not made an appearance in hers. I also omitted the rice and did not put whipping cream in the tomato sauce.  While it was a bit different from the original it was still delicious and maybe healthier.

Surprisingly to me the rice was not missed in the recipe at all, if you want to add it though, add 1 cup cooked rice to the cooked meat.  I left the sauce very chunky to help give substance and was pleased with the result. Any summer squash will work fine as a substitute for the zucchini.  Butternut squash would be delicious and hearty in the fall, I would just pre-cook it for a while before filling.  Eight ball or Globe zucchini are much smaller, if you are lucky enough to find them you'll need about 8.  

Stuffed Courgettes

4 large summer squash
1-1/2 lb. ground veal
1/4 cup diced prosciutto
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 bunch watercress, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano (loosely packed)
3 Tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
2 eggs
olive oil, to drizzle over stuffed squash before cooking
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Slice the tops or sides off the squash, being careful to remove it in one piece- these are the lids.
Carefully scoop out the flesh with a melon baller or grapefruit knife. Reserve some of the flesh (about 1 cup) for the filling. (I try to save flesh from the sections with less seeds). Place hollowed out squash in a baking dish and set aside.

2. In a large saute pan over medium heat, heat about 3 tablespoons olive oil and cook onion until translucent, add celery and prosciutto and saute until onions are lightly golden.  Add garlic and reserved squash flesh and saute 2 minutes longer.  Add veal, breaking any large chunks of meat up gently and cook stirring occasionally until meat is browned.  Add watercress, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper and cook until watercress has given its water out and wilted.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.  Taste meat and adjust seasonings.

3. In a large bowl, beat eggs lightly with a fork.  Add meat and mix thoroughly.  Stuff the squash with the meat mixture, place a lid on each one and return to the baking dish.

4. Pour the tomato sauce around the stuffed squash in the baking dish.  At this point, you can either refrigerate until ready to bake, or place directly in the oven.  Bake uncovered, in a 350 F preheated oven for 30 minutes. Serves 4.

Chunky Tomato Sauce

3 (28-ounce cans) whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1. In a large stock pot, cook onions in oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, approximately 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes longer.

2.  Stir in tomatoes and their juice, salt and black pepper.  Simmer sauce, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 40 minutes.  Add oregano and taste for salt.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Recipe: Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffins with Oat Bran

As a general rule, I am quite a positive person.  But when the heat index outside is over 105 degrees for what seems like forever, I tend to crack.  It's just miserably hot everywhere, in the kitchen, in the car, on the porch. I was just sitting outside as I do every evening and even at 10 o'clock at night it is still HOT. How is that possible? Don't answer that- I now how it's possible, it's just exhausting.  Not even the beautiful summer vegetables are making the heat wave worth it. (ok, that's not true, but still- I do wish it would cool off, even just a little and for more than an hour).  Okay, I'm done whining now.  On the bright side, the rain has cooled things off even if it's only while water drips from the sky and it's been a welcome reprieve.  As a result,  I can turn every oven on at the same time and it's bearable.  So you see, there was a purpose to the weather talk.  I've been waiting for it to cool off so I could sample batch after batch of muffins to come out with the perfect one and not get heat stroke while I do it. Task complete.

I am by no surprise very particular about my muffins. The perfect muffin criteria: they should be moist, but not soggy, substantial but not dense, only slightly sweet as they are not cupcakes and in this occasion made with whole grains and healthier than usual.   I used fresh blueberries since they are still in season, but frozen blueberries will work as well.  When baking and using frozen berries, it's always best to leave them in the freezer right up to the moment you need them.  I find they defrost quickly and once they do, they have the tendency to become soggy, and turn whatever batter they go into a sort of pink-blue color.  I also coat the berries in a little bit of flour before adding to the batter to keep them from sinking to the bottom, this applies to fresh or frozen. 

Notes: I use an ice cream scoop to evenly divide the batter in the muffin pan.  My scoop holds about 1/3 of a cup.  I find this is the easiest way to make uniformed sized muffins. Stir gently, the batter should be a little lumpy.  The bananas should be very ripe, and mashed completely so as to give as much moisture as possible.  The muffins are not very sweet at all, a nice addition if you like them a little sweeter would be about a tablespoon of honey. I baked them in muffins cups, but I think next time I will just grease the pan, they did stick a little to the papers.

Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffins with Oat Bran

1-1/4 cups flour
1 cup oat bran
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup skim milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 mashed bananas
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Additional sugar for Sprinkling tops of muffins if you wish.

1. In a medium bowl, mix flour, bran, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together.

2. In a separate bowl, mix all remaining ingredients except for the blueberries.

3. Combine wet ingredients with flour mixture and stir just to blend.  Add blueberries and mix lightly.
Divide batter evenly in paper lined muffin cups (see note). Sprinkle tops with sugar and  bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Store at room temperature.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recipe: Rice Cakes with Chicken Paillard and White Wine Caper Sauce

Some days at work are just non-stop. I am multi-tasking from the second I walk in the door in the morning with a deadline so closely upon me it sometimes makes my head spin.  Because I am a single mom, I don't have the luxury of getting to work at 6 a.m. like most people in my industry.  I walk in at 8:30 after carpool and coffee. Yes, I have to have coffee.  And yes it has to be from my coffee shop- it's a non-negotiable.  Anyhow, you could say it's a bit of a rush to get lunch for 50 out by 10 a.m. in order to be delivered and served by 11.  But, I'm not complaining, it does not bother me in the least-  I actually like the adrenalin rush I get out of working under pressure. Yes, I know the immense satisfaction I get from this is a little sick.  But, I simply love what I do and how I do it.  Every single day. If I was to describe my dream job, it's the one I have.  I feel blessed to have it.  I would not change a single thing.

Today was a little different, my lunch order was only for 12 people and it was not due until 11:15.  I can probably cook lunch for 12 people with my eyes closed at this point.  I made the order which included herbed rice pilaf and chicken Paillard with a white wine caper sauce, a caprese salad, roast baby squash and cowgirl cookies.  I finished so far ahead of schedule I unexpectedly had the rest of the morning to play in the kitchen; I had to sit there and wait for the runner to pick it up anyhow.

I made extra herbed rice so I could make rice cakes.  I Then had to also make more chicken, but only because I needed it for the pan drippings.  The chicken was only the means to an end for the sauce, the wine must deglaze something in the pan after all.  All I really wanted to eat was the rice cake and the luscious creamy sauce. Don't worry, I know you people eat meat and poultry.  I included the chicken recipe too since I put it in the photo.

Did I ever tell you how much I love butter? Butter, it makes everything better.  Yes, every single thing.  I realized just now how indulgent my use of butter was when I had to write the recipe down. If you must, you can omit half the butter in the rice pilaf, but I'm not doing any such thing.  

When pounding the chicken breasts to flatten them, I find it cleanest and easiest to put them in a plastic bag, close the bag and pound away.  This keeps all that raw chicken stuff from getting everywhere it's not supposed to be.   I made the rice this morning and chilled it for about an hour before forming the patties, but you could also do this with leftover rice from the night before.  Lastly, what does Paillard mean? It is a French method of cooking in which the meat is flattened, therefore tenderizing and allowing it to cook very quickly.

Chicken Paillard with Herbed Rice Cakes and White Wine Caper Sauce

Rice Cakes
1-1/2 cups Jasmine rice
3 cups water
1/4 lb. butter
1/4 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs such as chives, rosemary, lemon thyme, oregano, basil and mint.
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
2 cups Panko bread crumbs

1. In a medium sauce pan bring the water and half the butter to a boil.  Add the rice stir briefly and cover the pot with a lid.  Reduce the heat to simmer and cook approximately 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed.  

2. Remove the rice from the heat and allow to cool a few minutes.  Mix in the herbs, additional butter and parmesan cheese.  Salt to taste and place in the refrigerator to cool.

3. Once the rice is completely cool, form into patties. Place breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl or plate.  Whisk the egg in a small bowl until slightly foamy and dip each rice patty in the egg mixture then place onto the plate with breadcrumbs and coat both sides well.

4. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Fry the rice cakes about 3 minutes on each side.  Place on a paper towel lined plate and set aside until the sauce and chicken are ready.  You can also place them in a 200 degree oven to keep warm.

Chicken Paillard
4 - 6-7 oz. Chicken breasts, trimmed 
1 tablespoon fresh Rosemary, chopped
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Plastic Bag and a Mallet.

1. Place chicken breasts in a plastic bag two at a time and pound to about 1/4" thickness with a mallet.  Remove from bag and season with Rosemary, salt and pepper.

2. In a large skillet, over high heat, heat olive oil until hot but not smoking.  Add chicken breasts and saute about 4 minutes on each side, turning only once until cooked through and golden brown.  Remove from the skillet, cover and set aside.  Do not wash the skillet.

White Wine Sauce
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup capers

1. In the same skillet the chicken was cooked in, over medium-high heat, pour 1 cup of wine.  Cook for about 2 minutes, it will boil and cook most of the alcohol out. Scrape the pan with a small whisk while the wine is simmering.  Add the butter and capers and whisk to combine.  Add cream and whisk in, then season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.  The sauce will thicken a little once it cools down a bit.
Serve over the rice cake and chicken. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Looking for Meatballs!

Recently while I was being schooled on the food rules of a special someone, I nearly swallowed my tongue.  He says, "no flour, no sugar". What?? How can someone not eat flour or sugar? I'm also thinking he has no idea how many dishes have 'hidden' flour- specially since he doesn't seem to cook.  Just ask someone allergic to gluten, it eliminates more dishes than you can imagine. The list of forbidden foods seems endless. Granted, this works quite well for him, but how I'll ever be able to cook under these constraints is beyond me at that point.  It's a good thing he could not directly see my face as he informs me of this... I'm sure it wasn't a good look.  In the few days that have passed, this is sinking in and I now have a brand new formidable challenge.

I make meat balls- really, really good meat balls. The kind of meat balls that leave you wondering how my mostly non-meat-eating self pulls this off.  Well, it is one of the few meat concoctions I eat and I am Gourmet Girl after all, right? Right. But, Gourmet Girl and all, I am still no magician. (Oh, forgot to tell you- no grains, no rice, no potatoes, no dairy. The only consolation is that butter is allowed- thank God).  Somehow meatballs come up in this conversation and he informs that he likes those a lot.  I'm thinking well, you must like them really tough and solid as a rock, but I don't say that- I just sit there, listen, smirk and ponder.  Then I say my meat balls don't have breadcrumbs, he gets all excited.  Then I remember, yes thats because they have cubes of real fresh bread, real bread which is also soaked in real milk.   Not so good.

At this point you might be wondering what is this all about, clearly there has not been some epiphany on my part and a recipe to follow.  Well, this is about my search for a good meatball recipe which has been made by a real person, which does not come from a "diet" web site, and which most importantly tastes amazing and is juicy and moist but has no bread or milk.  I'm desperate here and that leads me to desperate measures... asking you, my dear readers to help me out.  You can email me or leave your perfect recipe in the comments, I will share whatever the finished product is.  The last time I asked for help with a recipe you came through gloriously- caramel icing.  I am absolutely positive there is someone out there with a grain-less, non-dairy, perfect meatball which does not taste like sawdust.  I'll be waiting!

It did occur to me I could possibly use dehydrated carrots.  Anyhow, just a thought.

I made the meat balls, I just omitted the bread, milk, and cheese. And guess what? They were totally fine, all that stressing out over nothing.  Now granted, they were never side by side by the "real" version but good enough.  He approved, all's well.
I'll post the recipe this week when I make them again and actually have time to photograph the little darlings. Thank you for all your comments- very helpful, specially the mushrooms- I'm implementing that when I make meat loaf again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Baby Shower Pastries

What I made at work today! :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Recipe: Old Fashioned Southern Pound Cake

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about cake.  Vanilla pound cake to be exact. This happens particularly often around 3 o'clock in the afternoon when I'm in need of a sugar fix. Yes, I am addicted to sugar, I guess the first step is admitting it, I doubt it will go further than that.  Usually this affliction only occurs in the afternoon. (ok, that was a lie, but a little white one).   This thinking obsessing about cake led me to work and tweak this recipe.  It is a personal conviction of mine that we all need a simple vanilla cake in our repertoire.  I wanted a cake that would stand on it's own, not needing to be iced or topped with anything at all.  Although, I will tell you I did stray just a little and only once (so far), and topped it with Amaretto Peaches, more on those later.

True Pound cake is made without leavening, which means it gets it lift from creaming eggs, sugar and butter. This is an easy process, but one you must be patient with.  Butter must be at room temperature and must be whipped with the sugar for a minimum of 3 minutes- time it! Creaming the butter and sugar on high speed with turn the mixture from grainy to soft and super fluffy, the color should also lighten a shade or two. Don't rush this process, the more you beat it the better.  Once you add the flour though, it's a whole different story- mix as lightly and little as possible so it does not become tough.

A note about measuring ingredients.  The original recipe, called for 3-1/2 cups of flour, but when I weighed it, it turns out it's only 3 cups.  My point is that with flour in particular, the way you put it in the measuring cup, either by scooping it or spooning it in has a lot to do with the outcome.  If you scoop the cup into the flour  it packs it in more, spooning it is looser and therefore less flour in the cup.  I think this is sometimes the problem when recipes don't turn out the way you expect.  Most cookbooks seldom tell you what method is used. My advice is get a scale, if you don't have one then scoop the flour for 3 cups or spoon it to yield 3-1/2 cups. For future reference in any of my recipes when there is no weight given (I will fix that soon), I always scoop.

1 lb. sugar (2 cups)
1 lb. butter, softened (4 sticks)
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 large eggs 
1 lb. all-purpose flour (3 cups) See note above.
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees

Grease and flour a 10" tube pan

All ingredients should be at room temperature

1. In the bowl of a large mixer, cream the sugar, butter and salt until very light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and crapping the bowl between additions. 

2. Add the flour to the butter mixture alternating with the cream.  Beginning and ending with the flour.  Stir until just incorporated, making sure to not over mix.  Remove the bowl from mixer and stir in vanilla and nutmeg to combine.

3. Spoon the batter into the pan and spread evenly.  Bake for 1 hour. Rotate the pan and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

4.  Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes. Unmold and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Recipe: Light Tuna Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

Some days you just want a salad. Particularly on days when the heat index outside is 105 degrees and your Air Conditioner goes kaput. I woke this morning to a somewhat muggy house, only saved from heat stroke by the fact that I had set it to the polar setting before going to bed. But, it was my lucky morning after all, for lots of reasons- one being the A/C repair man was already at my neighbors. Yes, there is a God.  Turns out the unit was broken due to user error- Oh, I'm supposed to change the filter EVERY month?! Got it.  Anyhow, I left for a while and upon my return it was still mildly hot.  Turning on my mammoth stove for any reason whatsoever today was out of the question.  Tuna salad day it is.

I usually am not a fan at all of tuna salad... mayonnaise and fish? No, thank you.  My version is usually composed of what's on hand and it never ever includes mayonnaise.   I had a good trip to the farmer's market this morning which yielded vine ripened Creole tomatoes, small crisp cucumbers and a beautiful array of peppers.   I used white Albacore chunk tuna packed in water- it smells and tastes less of cat food.  Sherry vinegar is a favorite of mine, milder than balsamic and slightly sweet.  Today I used salted capers, normally when cooking with them I rinse them, but since the kitchen shop has been out of my precious salt de mer I tossed them straight in the bowl.

The salad is quite easy to assemble, use whatever vegetables you have on hand, arugula and celery would have complemented it well.  The dill in my garden went to seed so I pulled it out last week, it would have also been a very good addition.  I found little Creole onions at the market this morning, they are slightly sweet and spicy; red onion is what I normally use.  I like this salad a little tart so I used the juice of almost a whole lemon, I suggest you taste as you go.

Tuna Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

1 large can white Albacore chunk tuna, packed in water.
1 lemon
1/4 cup Sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salted capers, about 1 tablespoon
1 Tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons Creole onion, minced

Bell Pepper

1. Drain tuna and place in a small mixing bowl, all vinegar, olive oil, parsley, and onion and mix well.
Add capers and freshly ground black pepper taste for flavor and add lemon juice as needed.

2. Slice tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber. Arrange on a plate and drizzle with additional lemon juice or vinegar and season with salt and pepper before placing tuna salad on top.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Recipe: Pimm's Cup

With the fourth of July holiday right around the corner, I thought I would share my favorite porch drink. There isn't anything else I would rather drink on a hot summer afternoon than a Pimm's cup.  When the dog days of summer seem endless... these help get you through.  In my mind it is the epitome of the perfect summer drink- next to mint juleps and mojitos, but we'll talk about those another time.  Even when there is nothing of substance in my refrigerator, you can count on one thing- I'll always have the makings for these.

Pimm's No. 1 cup is based on gin and tastes subtly of spice and citrus, it mixes very well with lemonade and fruits. I use ginger beer because I'm not a fan of really sweet drinks,  but if unavailable you can substitute with ginger ale.  You can also make them in a large batch in a pitcher, omit the ice and pour Pimms, ginger beer and lemonade in thirds into the pitcher.  Refrigerate until ready to serve and pour over ice.

Pimm's No. 1
Ginger beer
cucumber, sliced

Fill a large tumbler with ice.  Add pimm's to the ice until 1/3 of the ice is covered.  Add equal parts lemonade and ginger beer.  Garnish with cucumber slices and lemon. Stir and serve.

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