Friday, February 25, 2011

Recipe Snapshot: Stuffed Mushrooms

The other recipe I tried last weekend was stuffed mushrooms.  I know, I know...stuffed mushrooms are played out.  But no one can deny that they taste good.  And this particular variation, brought to us by the fabulous Pioneer Woman, is especially yummy.  Unlike the puffs I posted about the other day (which I'm not sure I'll make for my Oscar party), I am definitely making these for our guests.  My husband would probably leave me if I didn't.  Just kidding!

The filling, with the spicy sausage (I used turkey sausage), onions, cream cheese, etc., is a bit different than mushrooms I've had in the past, but was super yummy.  I made a half batch to sample with my husband, and we ate all of them in about 3 seconds.  (Hey, it was dinner!)  Make these for your next get together, and enjoy!  Thanks, PW!

Recipe below the cut!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Recipe Snapshot: Chorizo and Manchego Puffs

This past weekend was spent in large part preparing for our annual Oscar party next weekend.  We saw two movies and I tried out two more possible recipes for the party.  This post is about the chorizo and manchego puffs I tried first. (Check back in the next couple of days for PW's stuffed mushrooms.)  I got this recipe from the Food Network website after seeing one of the recruits make it on an episode of Worst Cooks in America a few weeks back.  I figured that if someone considered to be a terrible cook could make these, so could I!

I have a couple of notes about this recipe if anyone else cares to try it. I had trouble filling the puffs with the filling, because my pastry bag isn't a real pastry bag but part of a cake decorating set, so the tips I had were way too small, and little bits of chorizo kept getting stuck.  I ultimately just spooned some filling into the puffs. Also, my husband and I really loved the flavor of the filling, the puffs themselves tasted very eggy, and this sort of distracted from the yummy cheesy chorizo-y center. We have some filling leftover, and I think we'll just eat it on crackers or bread, and enjoy it even more.  I mean, manchego + chorizo + mascarpone = guaranteed deliciousness. Also, if you're not familiar with chorizo, you should know that Spanish chorizo is like a salami--it is already cooked, so it just needs to be cut or minced and added in.  Mexican chorizo is a different meat, and is not cooked.  I found the Spanish kind in the deli section with the fancy cheeses at my local grocery store (same area where I found the manchego and mascarpone).  The recipe explicitly calls for Spanish paprika.  The one I bought is a smoked paprika.  It is totally delicious, and if you can find it, I suggest you use a smoked variety as well.  One last note: these ingredients are expensive.  They are also delicious.  Just make sure that the guests you're feeding are worth the cost of the ingredients.  I know mine are!

Recipe below the cut!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Recipe Snapshot: Asian Turkey Meatballs

Every year for the last few, I've thrown an Oscar party. My husband and I have a few (the most ever was 15) people over to watch the red carpet, watch and heckle the show, see who can pick the most winners, and of course, eat.  I typically make a mix of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres.  I've learned over the years that when I try new recipes for the first time right before the party, I become stressed, and it makes it hard for me to enjoy my own party!  Last year I finally got it right.  I had tried most of the recipes in the weeks before the party, so I could prepare everything confidently.  I planned it out so I had time to spare, and actually had time for a short nap in the afternoon before my guests came over.  The party was a LOT more fun for me.

To that end, I have a few recipes picked out for next weekend's Oscar party, and at least one of the recipes was perfect for making into a weeknight meal: asian turkey meatballs. I found this recipe on a food blog I started to follow off and on more (Gina's Skinny Recipes). These meatballs can be made larger for a weeknight meal, or smaller to be served as an appetizer.  They were super easy to make, and dinner was ready in less than 30 minutes!  I was able to get most of the prep done while the oven was preheating.

I served these meatballs with precooked brown rice (the Uncle Ben's stuff in the plastic packets). The plain brown rice is great because it comes out properly and has very low sodium; when I try to make brown rice at home, it always comes out badly.  I heated two packages in the microwave and then tossed the rice with 2 cups of shredded mixed cabbage (cole slaw mix, minus the dressing), some extra scallions, cilantro and ginger (all in the meatballs, so just prep some extra), and just a splash of sesame oil.  We drizzled the dipping sauce that goes with the meatballs over the whole plate, so some got mixed in with the rice, too, which was yummy.  And healthy!

Recipe below the cut!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Expanding Nutritional Horizons: Eggplant

Eggplant has always been sort of hit or miss for me.  What is an eggplant, after all?  It's sort of like a squash, but not quite.  I like pretty much all varieties of squash I've tried, regardless of preparation.  But eggplant--not so much. Eggplant is so pretty on the outside, and ugly on the inside.  If it's not prepared just right, it also has a very bitter taste. The only preparation I'd ever truly enjoyied until recently was eggplant parmigiana, which almost shouldn't count--everything tastes good fried.

Then last May, my husband and I were on vacation in France.  We spent a few days in Provence, spending time in the little city of Avignon, and taking day trips to the Côtes du Rhône wine area and the Pont du Gard aqueduct. One afternoon, after doing a tour of the Palais des Papes (where the pope used to reside in Avignon back in the 1300s), we went for lunch at an outdoor cafe just off the place outside the palace. I remember that it was very sunny and windy, just as it was during most of our visit to Provence. (Le mistral was blowing in earnest the whole time.)  Luckily, this cafe had a semi-enclosed patio, so we could enjoy our lunch outside without being blown away!  As most lunches in France seem to be, ours was a relaxed and lengthy event--partly because we went with the three-course lunch special. For our first course, we had a choice between the eggplant provençale (aubergines confites a la provençale) and French onion soup (soupe de l'oignon gratinée).  I'd been wanting to try something in the traditional provençale style, so I ordered the eggplant, but fearing I'd be disappointed.  (My husband, being slightly more risk averse when it comes to food, ordered the soup.)

Imagine my surprise when this dish came out, smelling amazing, and tasting better than I could have imagined.  It was basically eggplant cooked until it was incredibly tender and sweet, and then topped with a garlicky fresh tomato sauce.  My description doesn't begin to do it justice. With a glass of chilled French rosé (dry and refreshing), this was perhaps one of the most memorable lunches I've ever eaten. (I had roasted chicken for my main course, and some kind of caramel dessert--both were delicious, but the eggplant was such a revelation that I rarely recall the rest of the meal!)

I was so impressed by my eggplant experience in Provence that I decided last summer to try to recreate the dish. My result was okay, but nothing like the delicious dish I had discovered in France.  I had a hard time cooking the eggplant sufficiently such that the sweetness would come out without burning it entirely, so it was still a bit bitter. But the sauce? It was fantastic!

The bottom line on my feelings about eggplant: it's not going to be on the top of my list of favorite vegetables, but I appreciate being proven wrong about some things. I won't be so skeptical the next time. And there will be a next time, for sure.

What vegetable or food have you always been wary of?  Did a special dish change your mind?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Step-by-Step Recipe: Shrimp Scampi with Linguini

My husband requested shrimp and pasta for our early Valentine's dinner.  This recipe got 5 stars on the Food Network site, so I gave it a try.  It was totally delicious.  If I could get away with making something this easy for all special occasions, life would be much easier.  The key to this dish is good mise en place, because everything cooks so quickly, you do't want to be messing with chopping something when you need to be stirring.

Is there anything better than pasta, shrimp, and butter?  I don't think so! I served this with steamed haricots verts tossed in a light vinaigrette.  (Haricots verts are very thin, tender green beans.)

Recipe and pictures below the cut.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Step-by-Step Recipe (sort of): Beef Bourguignon

If you've seen the movie Julie & Julia, then you already know that Julia Childs' recipe for beef bourguignon (boeuf bourguignon, en français) is sorta famous.  And known for being delicious.  Well, for Christmas in 2009, I received not one, but three copies of Julia Childs' famed cookbook (actually the set of both volumes), containing this recipe (hey, my friends and family know me well--they just didn't coordinate).  So last March, I volunteered to make this for my husband for his birthday, as we had tried the traditional dish during our visit to Burgundy, the region of Franch from whence this dish came, on our honeymoon.  I also made roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a birthday cake.  The entire meal took me about 7 hours in the kitchen. By the time the meal was ready, I was exhausted, disheveled, and thoroughly disgusted.  "That movie lies!" I crowed to my husband.  They make it seem like all you do is stir the stew!  Then put it in the oven!  And voilà!"  And that is simply not how you make Julia's boeuf bourguignon.

Boeuf bourguigon is essentially French beef stew.  After browning the pieces of beef and sauteeing some of the veggies, you let it all braise in the oven in a whole bunch of red wine (and beef stock).  Let me be clear that this was, by far, the best beef stew I'd ever had.  But after 7 hours in the was hard to even acknowledge that.  I vowed never to make the dish again, and haven't cracked my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking since then. When I think about it, I just remember dirtying virtually every pot and pan in our kitchen, and following Julia's steps thinking, "Why, Julia, why?  WHY does the sauce need to be strained and cooked separately?  WHY do the pearl onions need to be braised separately in red wine?  WHY???"

Nearly a year later, I was contemplating what to make for a weekend dinner for my husband, myself, and another couple.  I have a history of stressing myself out by making new or complicated recipes for guests, ignoring my guests, and then not enjoying myself at all.  I've worked on this for years, and in the last couple of years, have learned valuable lessons about testing recipes before serving them to guests, making things that don't require a lot of last minute work, and making things that are hard to screw up.  So I thought I'd make a braised meat dish, as such recipes require most of the "hard" work on the front end, with a couple of hours spent in the oven, meaning that when my guests arrived, my house would smell great, and I'd be relaxed and
refreshed.  Someone had also mentioned to me that they'd seen Ina Garten (of the Barefoot Contessa cooking show on the Food Network) make a variation of beef bourguignon that seemed easier than Julia's.  I pooh-poohed the idea at first...despite the hours of labor required to make Julia's recipe, I was still very proud to have done it, and considered it to be the signature bourguignon recipe.  But I really like Ina Garten's cooking style and recipes, sooo...I gave it a try.

The verdict?  It was MUCH easier than Julia's recipe.  Still not the easiest thing ever, but easier.  And delicious.  SO delicious.  I'd be hard pressed to say which recipe was better.  And my husband thought Ina's recipe was better, if only because it wasn't tainted by the bitter feelings of the chef (me).  This is a recipe I'll make again. (Not often, because the sheen of bacon grease left on every surface in the kitchen is not something I want to clean up very often, but again.)

Recipe and photos under the cut.