Sunday, November 27, 2011

Terrific Turkey Tortellini Bake

Here is a good recipe I just whipped up tonight using some leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. I also had a bag of meat tortellini in the freezer that I wanted to use so this worked out perfectly. Actually, now that I think of it, you could use any non-stuffed pasta as well. Then it would be more like a mac n cheese.

This terrific bake also incorporates a green of your choice, since its cold weather now, collard greens are in abundance this time of the year. Be sure to pick out a very delicious looking bunch! The greens I picked out were huge so I only used a few of the leaves.

2 cups low fat milk or fat free half and half + milk
1 bag frozen tortellini, meat or cheese
1 cup shredded cheese of your choice
1 bunch collard greens
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped turkey
Garlic, minced
1 tsp dried basil
3 tbsp flour
olive oil

Boil a large pot of water, wash your greens and then add the whole leaves to the pot. Boil for about 3 minutes, remove and chop. Allow the water to continue boiling, his will be for your tortellini.

In a large skillet, bring some olive oil to medium heat. Saute the onions until soft, add chopped turkey, garlic and collard greens. Let this cook down as you want the greens to soften up a lot and add basil. Collards and kale are known to hold their shape through a lot of cooking, so you could always substitute with spinach, just saute for a lot less longer.

In a small saucepan, add some more olive oil and add the flour. Whisk together, this is your roux. Allow the roux to cook for a couple minutes and then slowly add your milk, stirring constantly. Don't let this heat up too quickly or your milk could curdle, so pay attention! When the milk is thoroughly heated, add a cup of cheese. If the milk sauce is too thin, make a cornstarch slurry and add it to the milk to create a thickened sauce.

Next, add the vegetable turkey mixture to the pasta and mix, add to a glass baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Add the cheese sauce and top with the remaining cheese. Bake at 375F for about 30 minutes until browned.

Saucy Cranberry Relish

This is another great recipe to use not just for Thanksgiving, but any time you are serving roasted meat. There is something about the sweet, tart cranberry that compliments most roasted meats very nicely.

Here is what I did this year and thoroughly enjoyed it!

1 pkg fresh cranberries
1 cinnamon stick
1 granny smith apple, peeled and diced
1 orange, zest and juice
1 cup water
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar

Peel and dice the apple. Zest and juice the orange and add to the pot with cranberries. Add water, sugar and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil. Let the cranberries boil for about 5 minutes and then remove from heat and allow to cool. It will thicken as it cools.

Most people don't add cinnamon to it, it really adds a whole new depth of flavor and I highly recommend it.


Thanksgiving Turkey Gravy

While Thanksgiving has already passed, its never too late to learn to make a quick pan gravy, is it? No. It is not. So here is what you need to do in order to get that amazing gravy that has you drinking it like its a martini.

SO, first you need your meat. Since its Thanksgiving and the meat of choice is usually turkey, then that is what this recipe will be for, although, if you had a beef roast or something you could still do the same thing.

Roast your turkey however you normally do so. I usually add a lot of butter under the skin, the butter being mashed with a poultry seasoning such as Bell's. This creates the base for the gravy, even before you know it!

Try to get your hands on a fat separator. It looks like a measuring cup but with a very long spout. You will want the juice at the bottom and just a little of the fat from the top. Also, don't throw away the neck! You'll need this to create more delicious stock for your gravy.

Here we go in steps:

1. Boil the neck with a very large container of chicken stock or water, about 4 cups. Add an onion, a carrot or two and a celery stalk (include the leaves). Simmer, covered until you are ready to use.
2. Carefully pour the pan juices into the fat separator.
(In your roasting pan, if you have brown bits stuck to the bottom, heat the pan on the stove and scrape up the bits by adding some stock. Add this juice to the gravy)
3. Heat a skillet on medium high heat, skim off about 4 tablespoons of fat and place into the pan. Add equal amounts flour and gently saute, this is your roux.
4. Add turkey juices and whisk to dissolve the roux. It should become thick here.
5. Slowly add the simmered stalk and stir, it will be thin right now.
6. This is optional but I recommend it. Liquefy the vegetables that you just boiled in a blender and add to the gravy. This adds amazing flavor and thickens the gravy as well.
7. Boil for a bit until you are ready to serve. If the gravy is still too thin, put some of the gravy, like a ladle full into a bowl with 1 tbsp corn starch and dissolve. Add to the gravy and watch it thicken before your eyes!

Yum and enjoy!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Calzone Any Way You Like It

Let me start off with this is more like a stuffed bread, but I call it calzone because I want to and because I can. Ha, no, its just easier to say calzone but I always end up having to clarify that it is indeed a stuffed bread. So heres the deal with these puppies. I make the for almost every party that I go to and I can honestly say that these are always the first to fly off the serving plate. Always. The nice thing about stuffed breads is that you can put ANY THING you want inside and it will be delicious. Today, I made two, one is buffalo chicken and the other is an italian dry salami. Also, to make life easier on yourself, feel free to buy the pre-made dough from your grocery store. Luckily, pretty much every grocer around carries these pre-made doughs in both wheat and white. I've also seen organic, but I just go for one wheat and one white. The reason being is that its easier to tell people that the wheat bread is one filling and the white bread is another filling. And as you see, I do not use tomato sauce thus this not being a true calzone which is a-ok!

And before we begin let me just say one more thing. There is nothing worse than a bready calzone, so I am about to show you how to make it so that EVERY cut and EVERY bite has a bit of filling, even the ends!

Shall we move onto my fillings? The first one I'd like to share is the buffalo chicken filling. Here are the ingredients you will need.
Salami and Cheese

1/4 Cup Franks Red Hot Wing Sauce
1 large can chicken, drained (you can use fresh too)
1 cup shredded cheese, cheddar, mozzarella or anything you like
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 tbsp olive oil

And my other calzone for today was made like this:
1/2 lb dried peppered Italian salami or a package of pepperoni or deli sliced turkey breast, ham etc
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese
1 tbsp olive oil

Start off by defrosting the dough, it will begin to rise as it defrost. If its already defrosted then great! Roll the sucker out on a very lightly floured surface. The nice thing about these doughs is that while they are sticky, they don't necessarily stick to everything. You will want to roll it out into a thin rectangle, but not too thin, you don't want to to break when you start to toll it. Don't worry about the shape, oval is fine too, just make sure that its evenly rolled and not too thick or too thin.

Next, pour the sauce on the dough and spread it out. Add the chicken and cheeses. Now, my pictures aren't the greatest but I tried to show you how to fold the calzone. I actually kind of roll it, and this is what helps us to defeat the dreaded bready parts of the calzone. So, gently flop over once away from you and begin to fold in the sides, maybe a half inch.

Beginning Fold
Ending Fold
Keep gently rolling, you may be able to roll this three times and as you are doing it make sure you are pinching the ends shut so that the filling doesn't melt out. You can also tightly roll this up so when you cut it, it comes out more like a pinwheel and less like a calzone, whatever you like!

Finally! Its time to transfer the calzone to a lightly sprayed cookie sheet, brush the top with olive oil and bake at 400 F for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.
This last part is very important. As soon as the calzone comes out of the oven, transfer it to a cooling rack. If you do not do this, the steam that is trying to escape from the bottom of the calzone will actually end up steaming the bread and making it very soggy.

Yes it is crooked! Resting on the rack
If you try this and bring it to a party and its NOT the first thing to go, then let me know so I can figure out what you did wrong hehe. Really, I can almost guarantee that everyone will love whatever you try out. If you decide to use cold cuts, you can spread mustard down first and then add your cold cuts and cheese or you can serve the calzone sliced with a mustard dipping sauce. Really, the possibilities are endless!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Salisbury Steak: An American Classic

Served here with potato pierogies and gravy
Now that the sun is setting earlier and the temperature is chilly, what better time than now to break out the comfort foods! I wanted a burger tonight, but I also wanted pierogies, but not both together, too much bread. I decided to make a Salisbury steak, complete with pan gravy and served with pierogies on the side (and broccoli). I think the usual sides that go with this comforting classic are mashed potatoes and corn (at least I feel like it should be corn!). You could certainly serve with boiled or baked potatoes, mac n cheese or even something different like pierogies like I did tonight.

I always repeat myself, and once you try it you will see why I do this. When cooking meat in a pan, there will be stickage and brown stuff on the bottom of the pan, DO NOT WASTE THIS! This will make the base for your gravy and believe me it will be the best damn gravy you've ever tasted. We will get into this a little more later.

So pick your meat and lets start!

1 lb ground beef, shaped into 4 patties (can use any meat you want, mixed or not)
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp seasoned salt
1tsp pepper
half packet of onion soup mix

1 or 2 cups Chicken stock
1/2 chopped onion
1tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp flour

Mix the meat with the spices or onion soup mix. Both variations are delicious. Shape meat into four patties and place in a hot pan sprayed with cooking spray. You'll want to brown these on each side. If there is a lot of fat leftover, remove the patties and pour out the fat or you can skip the extra oil and use this to brown your onions and flour.

Return the pan to the heat and add the olive oil and onions. Saute for a couple of minutes. Next add the flour and stir. It may disappear and look like its browning on the bottom of the pan, its ok, just add your stock and scrape up all the brown off the bottom of the pan. Return the steaks to the gravy and cook longer until the meat is no longer pink, and add the mustard and stir. If you want more gravy then just add more stock.

If the gravy looks too thin, mix a tiny bit of corn starch, maybe a teaspoon with a bit of water to make a paste and add it to the gravy, stirring constantly. It should thicken immediately.

The reason that you want to use the browned stuff in the pan is because this is where all of the flavors are, highly concentrated and caramelized and you don't want to waste flavor, right? I recently made adobo roasted chicken for chicken soup and I made a stock with the caramelized bits off the bottom of the baking pan, and YUM is all I have to say about that.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tantalizing Tiramisu

Who doesn't love a little Italian pick me up for dessert? If you love espresso (or coffee) and love creamy, rich and elegant desserts then you will certainly love this tiramisu recipe. This requires a couple steps but is actually fairly easy to assemble, plus if lined in a nice trifle dish, would make a really great dessert for a nice occasion.

3 eggs, separate white from yolk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup strong coffee or espresso
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (don't use cream cheese)
1 1/2 cup whipping cream
coffee liqueur
*a couple packages of lady fingers

First things first. This does use raw eggs, so use only eggs you trust. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar for a couple of minutes until it becomes thick and pale. Beat in the mascarpone and some of the coffee liqueur, start with one table spoon. If you want a little more then add it, but not too much, you don't want this to become watery, plus you will be using more later on.

Set aside the egg/cheese mixture and beat the whipping cream until stiff. While it is beating you can add some more coffee liqueur, but again, not too much you don't want these mixtures to be too coffee flavored anyway.

Next, fold VERY carefully the whipped cream into the egg yolk mixture. I say "carefully" because you just spent all this time whipping air into the cream, and you want it to stay as whipped as possible while gently folding in the egg/cheese. So what you do is you start with a large spoon of the whipped cream and fold it into the egg/cheese. Do this a few times until the whipped cream is gone. This will be the creamy part of the tiramisu.

Now, you need to very quickly dunk the lady fingers into the coffee, if you want to add a little liqueur to the coffee, feel free. Booze can be your friend here. The fingers will still be hard and dry but will soften up once the tiramisu is assembled, and if you allow the fingers to sit for too long in the coffee, they will fall apart and create a wet and soggy tiramisu, not what we are going after. So again, dunk very quickly, maybe a second or two on each side, and place them at the bottom of a glass dish. Once the bottom is layered with the fingers, add half of the mascarpone whipped cream mixture, and then another layer of coffee dipped fingers and then the rest of the mixture.

Let the tiramisu sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours at the very least. If you try to eat this right away, the lady fingers will be too crunchy and ....well, just don't do it!

*Lady fingers are a dry cookie in the shape of, well, a lady finger! You can find them fresh at many grocery stores and dried. I actually found and bought dried ones from the Christmas Tree Shoppe of all places, but this goes to show that you never know what you will find at stores like that (which is why I love them).

Slightly Spicy Red Pepper Walnut Dip aka Muhammara

As you know I love Middle Eastern food, and this next recipe hails from Syria originally but has variations across the lands. I first got this dip many months ago at an Armenian market here in the Boston area. It just looked too good to pass up plus I was told by friends that I need to try it. The one from the market was spicy and full of chunky walnuts and was delicious. You can certainly eat it as a dip or I would even use it as a sandwich spread for something like turkey, falafel, dolma or even roast beef.

So, I actually found this recipe from another blogger who has a whole section on Romanian foods (which I love) and a bunch of other recipes as well which I think I will be trying out this week. This dip is super easy to make using the recipe that I found, with very very few differences. Also, if you are able to grind your own spices I HIGHLY recommend it, I just did it for the first time and the aroma and tastes are so much nicer than grocery store spices, but if you can't don't worry about it and do NOT use a coffee grinder for which you grind your own coffee. Get the spices its own grinder if you decide to try it.

So hold on tight!

2 roasted red peppers (I use jarred)
2/3 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika (or regular)
1/2 tsp chili powder (original called for chipotle, did not have it)
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsp pomegranate molasses (or balsamic vinegar)
1/2 tsp honey
1-2 slices toasted bread, crumbled (or toasted bread crumbs, 1/2 cup)
Olive oil

The nice thing about this recipe is you get to put everything into a food processor and process away! Drizzle in about a tablespoon or so of olive oil at this point too. Now, I like my dip slightly chunkier so I blended everything EXCEPT for the walnuts first, and then I added the nuts, and pulsed a few times and it came out perfect.

Lastly, my photos haven't been the greatest lately, so please try not to judge the recipe by the photo. Make this dip for your next party and I am pretty sure people will love it!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Easy, Creamy and Healthy Hummus!

Drizzled with Olive Oil
I have loved hummus dip ever since I was a kid. I believe I was in 3rd grade the first time I ever tried this, pretty scary that I can remember the time. It was at school and a schoolmate used to bring in interesting snacks for snack time and I remember she let me try it. Of course I went home asking for hummus, and where does one get that in Plaistow, NH in 1989?? I actually remember walking through Purity Supreme (woah, blast from the past) with my mother and finding a can of tahini. Well, that my friends was only half the battle. We needed the hummus part, but could not find it for a while, maybe we just had no idea where to look at the time.

When it finally started becoming really popular and easy to find, I was in heaven. Then, even better, they started coming out with flavors such as roasted red pepper which happens to be my favorite along with original. The first time I ever made hummus was when I moved to Boston in 2002ish. I was, for the first time, living on my own and finally got to start cooking my favorite foods.

When I found my first recipe for hummus tahini dip I couldn't believe how easy it is to make my own, and now I rarely buy it from the store. Plus its healthier and you can make it to your own liking.

1 15 oz. can Chickpeas/Garbanzo or White Beans
1/2 Lemon, juiced
1-2 garlic cloves chopped
1/4 cup tahini sesame paste
1 tsp ground cumin (optional)
Olive oil

Drain the chickpeas, rinse and return to the can. Fill the can a little less than halfway with water and then pour this into the food processor. Place everything except for the oil in the food processor and let it go full speed for a minute or so. If you like yours chunky, then blend it less, if you are like me and like it very smooth then let it go for a while. If its really too thick start drizzling in the olive oil. You can also start by drizzling in some water first to loosen the paste and then a little oil later to cut out a lot of the fat content, but still end up with a creamy dip.

Also, I said the cumin was optional. I like it both with and without and have been making my hummus without cumin lately. You could also add a roasted red pepper to the mix, more garlic, lemon, cilantro etc. Anything you can think of that you like you can add. I like mine plain 85% of the time.

If you don't want to use chickpeas then use white cannelini beans, or you could even make a Halloween version by using black beans! The photo in this post was made using cannelini because it is what I had and tastes just as delicious!

Luckily the ingredients are very easy to find nowadays. Tahini paste can be found in almost all grocery stores, often times near the brined grape leaves, which often times are near the canned olives or near the specialty cheeses. I am lucky enough to live near a few arabic markets so that is where I get mine.

And lastly, once you make your own hummus and see how easy it is, you probably may never want to buy the mechanically made commercial goop. Its not bad once in a while, but believe me, making your own to suit your tastes is much more rewarding!

Please enjoy!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mushroom Caviar but without the Caviar

I've been on an Eastern European food kick lately since I had an interview last week which was situated next to a small Russian grocery store. I walked in and immediately felt like I was in Russia as everyone was speaking russian. Even the product labels were in Russian! Or at least a cyrillic based alphabet. I made my way around the store and was amazed at the variety of products they carry, things that were once hard to find (frozen manti anyone?) are now being carried in so many stores like Baza.

So anyways, I made my way to the prepared foods section where I was greeted with the yummy aroma of the hot bar. I picked up a container and took some cabbage with sausage (my favorite!), kofka, potato thing (sorry I cannot remember) and manti. All of it was pretty amazing.

I made my way over to the cold bar where I found a huge variety of "salads" or as we would call them "dips and spreads." I picked up a few that I had never heard of such as Oliver Salad, Georgian Eggplant Caviar and Mushroom Caviar. Of all of these, the caviar was my favorite. Today, I decided "hey, let's see how difficult it is to make this mushroom caviar" and so I did! Also, I researched the recipe to figure out where the "caviar" comes in, apparently it is just a fancier name for a dip or spread. Lovely.

It was actually really easy with the help of my food processor. Without it, it may have taken a long long time to chop the vegetables. The one and only thing you need to be careful of is not chopping the mushrooms or onions too finely or they will just get all watery as they cook. If I had gone any further I would have ended up with mushroom soup. So here is the recipe:

1/2 medium onion finely chopped
1 lb mushrooms (any kind)
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 tbsp fresh dill or 1 tbsp dried
2/3 cup sour cream or a little less of mayonnaise
3 tbsp butter
Salt n Pepa

Start by wiping your mushrooms, they may have dirt on them. Next, I diced the onion into quarters and chopped it in the food processor. Add this to a hot skillet with melted butter and stir around a bit.
Next, chop the mushrooms in the food processor, add to the skillet with the onions.
Add the lemon juice and stir occasionally, cooking for about 5 minutes or so.
Add salt n peppa and check the mixture. May need to add a little more. If your mushroom mixture looks too watery, DO NOT PANIC, I added some bread crumbs. not a lot, just a sprinkle. Stir the mushrooms and watch the liquid disappear.
Allow mixture to cool and then add the mayonnaise or sour cream and dill. I used mayonnaise tonight, I would say about 3 tablespoons. The reason I used mayonnaise is because that is how Baza prepared it and I loved it.

I let my caviar cool in the fridge for a bit to let all of the flavors meld together. I love to eat this with good crackers or even pita chips. Also, I really want to try this on a grilled cheese yummmm.
Final Result! Not the prettiest, but tastes awesome

Note: If you are able to harvest wild mushrooms, I am sure they would be great in something like this as! Enjoy!