31 October 2012

Rachel(ish) Grilled Cheese

I was in the mood for a grilled cheese sandwich this morning, but wanted something more than just cheese. I'd stocked up on Boar's Head sandwich meat, including turkey, over the weekend so I ended up making a sort-of Rachel sandwich with the turkey, sauerkraut, and ajvar (a Serbian spread made of red bell peppers, eggplant, and garlic). It came out really well and I think I prefer the smoky-sweet flavor of ajvar to the gooey sweetness of thousand island dressing.

Ah, delicious beige-ness!
How did I make this sandwich? Smeared the outsides of two slices of bakery bread with yoghurt-butter spread. Smeared the insides with ajvar. Placed a slice in a hot nonstick skillet and topped with a little sauerkraut. (My sauerkraut came from the Connecticut Garlic and Harvest Festival and is, probably, the Best Sauerkraut Ever).

Building Grilled Cheese
Buttered bread, ajvar, sauerkraut ... yum
Topped with turkey and and a slice of monterey jack (I warmed my turkey for a few seconds in the microwave, because I didn't want a sandwich with a cold center) and then fried until beautifully brown on one side and then flip and fried the other side.

Grilled Rachel(ish) Cheese

Sliced in half, admired for a few seconds, and then scarfed down. Omnomnom! I should have made two!

29 October 2012

Pheasant Pie ... Tastes A Lot Like Chicken

So, waylongtimeago, I bought a pair of pheasants. Why? Because I'd never cooked pheasant before, so why not? Of course, I panicked once they were actually in my kitchen and ended up stuffing them in the back of our chest freezer until I could figure out how to not wreck them.

Sunday, I did haphazarded kitchen purge and made Taste of Home's "Pheasant Potpie" with the thawed pheasants, whiskery carrots, limp celery, and pearl onions frozen last Thanksgiving.

I put the celery, onion, and garlic (4 whole cloves) at the bottom of the Dutch/French oven, then nestled the pheasants together on top. Rather than using just water, I replaced half the water with low-sodium chicken broth. I also chucked in a bay leaf for kicks.

Taste of Home's recipe was pretty simple to follow and made a really nice potpie! I did omit the pimientos and added a liberal shake of Bell's Seasoning so my potpie tasted a lot like Thanksgiving dinner. And that was okay with us, really!

(Lacking pheasant, I'm sure a Cornish game hen or small chicken would work just as well).

24 October 2012

Good-bye, bananas! Hello, banana bread!

Oh, sweet banana-y goodness in my oven and so much less banana-y goodness in my freezer! There had been too many bananas in my freezer and I was becoming quite annoyed with their propensity for leaping from the freezer whenever I opened the door to fall upon my poor toes. Yes, I could easily have rearranged the contents of the freezer, but baking banana bread seemed easier. Also, it got rid of half the bananas and that is a good thing as the freezer is not for Infinite Banana Storage.

My go-to banana bread recipe is for "Blueberry Banana Bread" from the defunct Genesis of A Cook. I have very real fears the originating blog will just up and vanish one day, so I'm posting my version of the recipe below.

Blueberry Banana Bread

You'll see I've omitted the streusel topping in my version and that's just a time-saving move on my part. Also, the streusel topping is good, but the cake stands up well on its own and doesn't really need the extra bling.

To get 1 cup of banana, I used 6 thawed frozen organic baby bananas. I just let the frozen bananas sit on the kitchen side for about on hour, then snipped the ends off each banana and squeezed the fruit out like toothpaste from a tube.
Blueberry Banana Bread


2 cups plus 1 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tsp Penzeys baking spice blend
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
½ cup low-fat buttermilk
1 capful Penzeys Mexican vanilla
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained, or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl or baggie, gently toss the blueberries with 1 tablespoon of flour.

In a medium bowl, blend flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and baking spice. In a large bowl, stir mashed bananas, buttermilk, butter, vanilla, and egg together. Stir flour mixture into banana mixture just until evenly moistened; the batter will be very thick. Gently stir in blueberry mixture.

Glop batter into a greased 8-cup bundt pan or 9x5 loaf pan. Bake bread in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Let bread cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and turn over onto rack to cool completely, about 45 minutes.
Best served warm with a big mug of tea.

22 October 2012

Italian Homework: Chicken Marsala

I just completed “Lesson 8: Meat, Chicken, and Fish” for my online Italian cooking class and you know what that means, right? It means I've four lessons to go! I'm that much closer to pie-making!

(Unsurprisingly, I am totes winning at failing Weight Watchers).

For this lesson, I chose to make chicken marsala as The Husband and I are really partial to anything that involves chicken, wine, and mushrooms. And by partial I mean, there can never been too much wine, chicken, and mushrooms. Especially, the mushrooms.

Chicken Marsala
Alas, so much brown! Delicious, yes. But so brown.
The instructor's recipe made a good, but very basic marsala lacking the richness and perfection of, say, Cook's Illustrated's chicken marsala. If I made this version again, I'd be sure to cook lots of garlic and chopped red onion with the mushrooms. And I'd probably serve the marsala with mashed potatoes, because all that good wine sauce deserves garlicky mashed potatoes. (The Husband said it would be better served with chips, but then those British people like fries with everything ... which is awesome, by the way).
Beginner's Chicken Marsala
Yield: 4 Servings

¼ C flour
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded ½ inch thick
4 T butter [I used 2]
4+ T olive oil [I used 2]
2 cups sliced mushrooms [I used 1 pound]
½ cup Marsala wine 
¼ cup chicken broth or stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb of pasta such as linguine, if desired [I used fettuccine]

Pat the chicken dry. Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a large baggie. Add chicken to the baggie. Shake until all pieces are coated well. Pour oil into a large pan and add butter, heat until butter is melted.

Place chicken in the pan, and brown lightly on both sides. Remove chicken pieces and set aside. Add mushrooms to the pan with a little more olive oil if needed. Brown mushrooms and let their liquid cook off.

Add wine and stock, stir well, scraping up brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Put the chicken back on top of the mushrooms and heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Cook your pasta while the chicken is finishing so that they are done together.

Serve chicken over pasta with mushrooms and sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley and freshly grated cheese, if desired.
(And, if you don't have any marsala wine, a good sherry works fine. Really!)

20 October 2012

He Takes Me To All The Best Places

Last Friday, The Husband surprised me with a quick trip to Trinity College in Hartford, to see Buddhist nuns from Nepal work on an enormous sand mandala. The nuns arrived, with their sand and tools, at Trinity back in August and have been working on the mandala since September. It was almost finished when we saw it and, wow, the colors and detail were stunning.

Sand Mandala

Sand Mandala

Sand Mandala
"On the first day, the lamas begin by drawing an outline of the mandala to be painted on a
wooden platform. The following days see the laying of the colored sands, which is effected
by pouring the sand from traditional metal funnels called chak-pur. Each monk holds a
chak-pur in one hand, while running a metal rod on its serrated surface; the vibration 

causes the sands to flow like liquid."                             Sandpainting @ Wikipedia

On Sunday, after all that painstaking labor, the nuns ritualistically dismantled the mandala and released the sands into the Connecticut River!

18 October 2012

Improv Challenge: Oatmeal & Raisins

October's Improv Challenge ingredients, oatmeal and raisins, are a traditional combination and can be combined in many delicious ways. Being on an oatmeal-for-breakfast kick, I decided to make Sunset's "Aloha Oatmeal" which uses steel-cut oats, golden raisins, flaked coconut, sliced almonds, pineapple, and banana. It's a tropical flavor explosion and perfect for giving good belly cheer on a wet, grey October morning when leaving a warm bed to go to the dentist just seems unbearable.

Aloha, Oatmeal!

I omitted the honey from this recipe as the fruit and coconut provided enough sweetness. I also omitted the extra milk/water the original recipe suggested stirring in at the end because this oatmeal was already plenty creamy for me and I don't like porridge-y oatmeal.

This was good with steel-cut oats, but I don't see why you couldn't use whatever kind of oats you prefer or have on hand. I happened to have both old-fashioned and steel-cut oats as I use the old-fashioned quite a lot and keep buying the steel-cut out of some kind of misquided cookery guilt -- "I should prefer steel-cut oats! They're so good for me! The extra time is worth it! The tin is so pretty!"
Aloha Oatmeal
Adapted from a recipe by Sunset

1 cup Irish steel-cut oats
3 oz golden raisins
1 tsp canola oil
1 pinch sea salt

1 cup chopped banana
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
½ cup toasted sliced almonds
½ cup toasted sweetened coconut


Cook oats according to package instructions, but adding ½ cup more water. As soon as the oats come to a boil, add the raisins, oil, and salt. Continue to cook as directed.

When the oats are done, divide between four bowls and top with banana, pineapple, almonds, and coconut.
(I toasted the coconut and almonds by heating a nonstick skillet up and then stirring the coconut and almonds around for about 5 minutes).

15 October 2012

Menu Plan Monday: 15 October

Once again, it's been a ridiculously long time since I participated in Menu Plan Monday. It's not as if I haven't been menu planning, either. I've just been far too lazy to post my weekly menus. (Also, when I veer wildly off menu, no-one else knows).

Using the slow cooker three times this week, because it's convenient and guarantees supper will be waiting when I come home.

Slow cooker turkey thigh cacciatore over pasta. Ingredients: partially-thawed skinned turkey thighs, salt-free Italian seasoning, carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms, wine, and leftover pizza sauce.

Tuesday (work)
Vegetable soup with crackers, cheese, and melon.

Beef burritos with salsa and steamed green beans. Ingredients: freezer ground beef, onion, garlic, salsa, leftover shredded cheese, flour tortillas.

Thursday (work)
Vegetable soup with crackers, cheese, and random fruit.

Betty Crocker's "Slow Cooker Chicken & Gnocchi Soup." Ingredients: boneless skinless chicken thighs, carrots, onion, garlic, thyme, reduced-fat cream of mushroom soup, low-sodium chicken broth, shelf-stable gnocchi, peas.

Slow cooker chicken with 40(ish) cloves of garlic served with mashed potatoes and carrots. Ingredients: 2 partially thawed chicken legs, carrots, celery, garlic, onion, white wine, turkey bouillon, salt-free seasoning blend, black pepper.

Eating the Alphabet: S is for Spinach

October's Eating the Alphabet Challenge is S and/or T ingredients. Being pressed for time, I rolled the Alphabet Challenge up with homework for my online Italian cooking class and made "Stracciatella" (Italian egg-drop soup with spinach). I only began appreciating spinach once I reached adulthood and, even as recently has three years ago, I would only eat it raw in salads. Now I love it prepared pretty much anyway imaginable!

Indeed, I've grown to love leafy greens of all kinds and can only shake my head at childhood me who would only eat lettuces and cabbage for leafy greens.

Of course, childhood me would be appalled by many of the things I eat now.

Italian Egg-Drop Soup (Stracciatella)

Beginners Stracciatella

10 cups chicken broth or stock [I used half broth, half stock]
1 bag fresh baby spinach
2 large eggs beaten with ½ cup of cold water
¼ cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg [I used mace]
1 cup orzo, uncooked

Heat chicken broth in a large pot over medium/low heat until simmering, add pasta and cook for five minutes, lower heat. Sauté garlic with the olive oil over low heat in a skillet until garlic is fragrant.

Coarsely chop spinach and add to broth. Add the garlic & oil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the pot. Stir well. Make sure the broth is hot, but not boiling. Slowly drizzle the beaten egg into the soup as you briskly whisk it so that thin ribbons of egg form. Cook and stir for one minute. Ladle into bowls and serve.

Serves 4 generously.
Peppery and rich, this soup will definitely chase your Monday blahs away!

13 October 2012

Brussels Sprouts for Breakfast

Earlier this week, I roasted some lovely little Brussels sprouts and then, just to gild the lily, tossed them with a little bacon jam. Oh, so delicious! However, while I adore Brussels sprouts, there are only so many I can eat in one sitting and I was left with a small bowlful. What to do? Breakfast!

Brussels Sprouts for Breakfast

I brushed two thin slices of crusty, crunch garlic bread with garlic oil and toasted them in a hot nonstick skillet until golden.

While they toasted, I thinly sliced the leftover sprouts and set the oven to warm. When the bread was toasted, I popped it on a plate in the oven and transferred the sprouts to the hot skillet. I cooked them, stirring occasionally, until they were well browned. Then I transferred them to the plate in the oven and cooked an egg in the hot skillet.

Put the hot egg on the sprouts, seasoned everything with pepper and a little salt, and went nomnomnom.

(I cooked my egg a little too long -- was distracted prepping the tea things -- and it was not as runny as I like. Lesson learned: Make the tea before the egg).

October is for Oatmeal

It's October! Time to dust of the slow cooker and make with the oatmeal. There are many ways to make oatmeal in the slow cooker, but it basically boils down to 4:1 ratio of liquid to steel-cut oats, plus flavorings, all in the slow cooker for eight hours on low.

The first few times I made oatmeal in my slow cooker, I was fairly worried about leaving the appliance on overnight. I don't know why, really, as I leave it on all day while I'm at work and don't even think about it. There was just something about an appliance working away while I slept that made me uneasy. As if the slow cooker would run mad and burn the house down around us while we slept.

Well, that did not happen. I eventually got over myself and now love slow-cooking oatmeal overnight. (Tomato sauce is good for overnight slow-cooking, too, as long as you don't mind waking up with a terrible craving for spaghetti for breakfast!)

Breakfast, Woo
Pecan-cranberry oatmeal topped with fresh banana & Barlean's flax oil. Yum!
Over the weekend, I made pecan-cranberry oatmeal to use up some odds and ends hanging out from last winter's holiday baking. I could just as easily have used dried blueberries or golden raisins and slivered almonds or walnuts. And probably will try those combinations out over the next few weeks. My baking cupboard overfloweth with bits and bobs.
Pecan-Cranberry Oatmeal

Cooking spray
4 cups water
½ cup low-fat milk
[omit if you don't like creamy oatmeal]
1 cup steel-cut oats
2 oz dried cranberries
1 scant cup chopped pecans
1 tsp Penzeys baking spice blend
1 tsp Penzeys Mexican vanilla
1 scant tsp sea salt

Spray slow cooker insert. Add all other ingredients, stir, cover, cook on low for 8 hours. Stir. Adjust seasonings or add more liquid, if desired.

Portion out for later or eat with fresh sliced banana and a little honey or maple syrup.
Slow Cooker Oatmeal

11 October 2012

Product Review: Pillsbury Artisan Pizza Crust #MyBlogSpark

I've been making a lot of pizza, lately, and while I've made a few scratch crusts, I usually buy balls of pizza dough from the grocery store or a local bakery. White or whole wheat, it all seems to work out about the same and still makes (imho) a better pizza than most of the delivery or carry-out stuff available locally.

Recently, I saw that Pillsbury recently started selling an "artisan" pizza crust with whole grains. I was a bit skeptical -- could stuff in a tube be as good as fresh dough from the bakery -- but that didn't stop me from running off to the store to pick up a tube when MyBlogSpark sent me a coupon for $1.25 off one package of New Pillsbury Artisan Pizza Crust with Whole Grain.

Pillsbury Artisan Pizza Crust is certainly convenient -- just roll it out, cover it in pizza toppings, and bake until delicious. Unlike bakery pizza dough, there's no need to leave the dough out on the counter at room temperature to puff up and there's no need to roll or shape it.

Pillsbury Artisan Pizza Crust
See the whole grain goodness!
Pillsbury Artisan Pizza Crust
It's almost pizza!
Pillsbury Artisan Pizza Crust
Slightly burnt around the edges, but still yummy.
I made my pizza with garlic marina sauce, leftover shredded chicken, thinly sliced garlic, fresh mushrooms, reduced-fat Italian cheese blend, and salt-free Italian seasoning blend. It looked beautiful when it came out of the oven and tasted pretty good.

However, I don't know if I'll really buy Pillsbury Artisan Pizza Crust with Whole Grains again. It was easy, yes, and the coupon certainly made it economical, but pizza dough isn't hard to find or make and I think I prefer the taste of "real" pizza dough. This Pillsbury dough had that slightly sweet, buttery edge that many of the refrigerated Pillsbury doughs seem to have. Buttery and sweet is fine in biscuits and bread sticks, but a little weird in pizza dough.

Mind you, The Husband liked it just fine. A little more wheat-y tasting than other whole wheat doughs we've tried, but good enough for him. Nor did he mind that the bottom stayed a bit soft -- I don't know if that's because of the dough itself or because I used a jelly roll pan instead of a pizza stone. I usually use a pizza stone and we get a uniformly crisp crust.

Want to try Pillsbury Artisan Pizza Crust with Whole Grain? You can visit http://bit.ly/PCwWG to download a printable coupon for $1.25 off one roll. Don't know what to put on your pizza? Find great recipes at the Pillsbury website, or by visiting Pillsbury on Facebook, or by following Pillsbury on Twitter!

10 October 2012

Bacon Jam in My Slow Cooker

I'm sure there are many ways to celebrate Columbus Day. I celebrated it with bacon jam. Many months ago, when I started mainlining Skillet Street Food's bacon spread, I pinned several DIY slow cooker bacon jam recipes because ... why not? Bacon goes in the slow cooker, double plus yumminess comes out.

Making Bacon Jam

When I finally got around to making my own bacon jam, I used King Arthur Flour's bacon jam recipe which yields a much sweeter, gooier jam than Skillet's spread. This is hardly surprising as it's full of brown sugar, cider vinegar, maple syrup, and boiled cider. It may be more sweet than savory, but it's still pure unmitigated deliciousness and I'm perfectly content to use it in everything I used Skillet's spread in.

Making Bacon Jam

I baked my bacon in the oven @ 400F° for about 20 minutes a batch -- until each square was deep brown and very crunchy. I could have fried the bacon in batches in a skillet, but I find baking creates more uniformly cooked bacon, allows me to walk away to do other things, and is also a heck of a lot easier to clean up!

Making Bacon Jam

We don't drink coffee, but I occasionally cook with it so I keep a packet of Starbucks Via Ready Brew Colombia Medium instant coffee in my spice cupboard. Each slim, easily-stored packet brews up one cup of coffee and I don't usually need more than that in any recipe. Indeed, for KAF's bacon jam, I only need three quarters of a cup. I froze the remaining quarter cup, figuring it would come in handy at some later point.

So, you ask, what will I do with this bacon jam? I'm going to toss it with roasted Brussels sprouts and tomato-braised green beans, smear it all over bread and make a fantastic grilled cheese, and ... I might just stand in front of the fridge and eat it by the spoon full.

(I strongly recommend cooking more bacon that you need for this recipe because, if you're like me, a significant amount of bacon will be lost to tasting).

09 October 2012

Product Review: Progresso Light Soups #MyBlogSpark

On a cold, dreary October day there is truly nothing as warming as a bowl of soup. Since I’m trying to eat better, but don't always have the time for home-made soup, I was happy enough to receive a coupon from MyBlogSpark for $1.25 off 4 cans of Progresso Light Soups -- all the taste, warmth, and comfort of Progresso soup without the calories or fat.

With my coupon, I picked up a can each of Light Italian Style Meatball, Light Creamy Potato with Bacon and Cheese, Light Chicken Pot Pie Style, and Light Zesty Santa Fe Style Chicken. Each can contains about 2 100-calorie servings and is only 2 Weight Watchers Points Plus per serving so, even if I run amok and eat the whole can, I haven't wrecked my eating plan. The sodium is a little high (especially compared to home-made) but this is hardly surprising for tinned soup.

Want to try Progresso Light Soups? Click here to download a coupon for $1.25 off 4 cans of Progresso Soup. (My local PriceChopper had Progresso Light Soups on sale 4 for 5, too, so I felt extra thrifty when I picked these up earlier this week).

08 October 2012

CT Garlic Festival Goodness

We attended the 8th Annual Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival on Saturday and, as usual, arrived back home with tummies and totes full of garlic. This year, I finally broke down and bought a proper shopping basket. Every time we go to a festival like this or a farmers market or a picnic I regret not owning a deep, narrow, handled basket shopping basket. Well, they had baskets in spades at the Garlic Festival and one was purple and green, so ... I bought a basket. And, in under an hour, it was full to the brim.

CT Garlic & Harvest Festival Loot

What did I buy? Darlings, it's more like what didn't I buy! I bought:

CT Garlic & Harvest Festival Loot

We also ate many delicious things, including a fabulous lemongrass chicken bahn mi from Lemon Grass Grill (out of Somewhere, New York) topped with homemade roasted garlic mayonnaise, pickled carrots, daikon radish, cucumber, and cilantro. It was even better than I'd remembered and I look forward to eating another one next year. (Surely someplace in Hartford County sells good bahn mi and I don't have to wait a whole year for another one?)

This was our fifth year at the CT Garlic Festival and I still can't get over how big it's getting. Every year, there were so many more vendors and visitors than the previous year and, after a couple hours, I find myself completely overwhelmed by the crowds. We arrived at 10:30 and the Festival was already hopping. By the time we left at 1:30, the place felt packed to the rafters. I know this is a good thing as it means the Festival is unlikely to fail, but it can be exhausting if you're a very short woman who doesn't like crowds.

Clearly, next year we will arrive at 10 on the dot. And I will bring two shopping baskets.