Sunday, November 13, 2011

Zucchini Boats

Are you looking for a different recipe for side items for your holiday season?  Years ago, I stumbled upon a stuffed zucchini recipe in Cooking Light magazine that was absolutely a wonderful substitute for turkey stuffing for the holidays. It was a low carb, meatless way to have dressing. I am determined to find the recipe, but have not been able to locate that magazine. As soon as I find it, I will share. When I was craving the stuffed zucchini not long ago, I went a little rogue and made a simplified version without several of the ingredients. What I got was a REALLY nice vegetable side dish, and I'm not a huge squash fan. {Mainly because I'm not a fan of mushy food, but this is not mushy. I promise.}

6 zucchini squash
salt & pepper
real parmesan
olive oil
*optional 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Here's how you prepare these simple zucchini boats:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and get a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan ready. Wash 6 zucchini squash. Cut off the end. Slice them length-wise. Score the edges with a paring knife to begin hollowing out the skin of the squash. Carefully score through the center of the vegetable. Carefully, without going through the skin, score horizontal cube-sized blocks with your knife. Using a teaspoon, scoop out as much of the flesh of the zucchini as possible. {My apologies. The dicing of the vegetable inside the skin is not a simple thing to do.} Put the veggie in a small bowl and salt and pepper it generously. Spoon the vegetable back into the boats. Using a vegetable peeler, shave parmesan slices in a pile on your cutting board or any clean surface. Drizzle tiny bits of olive oil across the zucchini boats. Sprinkle the shaved parmesan over the vegetable. If you like, top each boat with a sprinkle of panko bread crumbs for extra crunch.  Bake this for 25-35 minutes, until golden.

Meatloaf Perfection

Once upon a time, I watched a television cooking contest. In it, contestants had to use frozen Pilsbury products in unusual and innovative ways. The top recipe took home several thousand dollars. Watching the show, gave me a bit of inspiration. How many things did I have in my pantry that were more versatile than I gave them opportunity to be?

Investigating those items gave me a brilliant idea that turned into one of our favorite meals. I'm not a huge fan of meatloaf in restaurants because the textures are almost ALWAYS funky, mushy, too ketchupy, or brick-like.  My favorite way to create a moist, but crunchy crusted meatloaf is so easy, you'll be stunned. I typically use a combination of 1 part beef to 1 part deer meat. Our family loves to economize and we love the rich flavor of ground venison.
Here's my recipe:
2 pounds meat {turkey, beef, deer, elk, chicken}
1 package Stove Top dressing
1 cup grated fresh Parmesan/Reggiano {Not the stuff in the green can.}
2 large eggs

Mix these ingredients with your hands until they are incorporated evenly. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees before you start mixing. Once your loaf is mixed well, put it on a stone cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Half of the reason textures are off in many meatloaves is that they swim in grease in a standard loaf pan. Avoid that and use a shallow edged pan. The edges will crisp up nicely this way.

Here's what it should look like {this is all organic, hormone free, beef} before you pop it into the oven.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Classic Fall Menu Favorite: Beef Stew

My husband grew up on a farm. I grew up a military kid. He adores meat and potatoes. So do I. He's not an international cuisine fanatic. {He tolerates it for my benefit. I think that's really sweet of him...} I am a semi-adventurous eater. To blend and compromise our flavor palettes, I get to sneak in some of my favorite things into some of his favorites from time to time and it makes me chuckle when he LOVES the outcome.

We've switched to eating as much organic food as possible into our diets. I'm pretty certain we will never go all the way back. Today's menu choice is a classic favorite all over the world (with the exception of a few places like, say, India): beef stew. I have always --since I began cooking in earnest-- made it in the Fall, and have always been swept away with delight at the outcome. Here's how I did it this time. {I tweak my recipes almost every time I cook something from scratch.} This particular recipe will fill a very large {more than 10 quarts} pot if you keep adding volume for the ingredients. This recipe is enough to feed a family of 7 with varied appetites. You might even have leftovers. That depends entirely on how many hungry children are at the table.

The first step is to pour 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of the hot pot and throw in a 1/4 teaspoon of paprika along with about 5-6 medium chopped celery stalks. {Don't forget to wash your veggies first.} Gently salt your celery. {A literal pinch.}

I had two crowns of broccoli that I wanted to use just florets on their own as a side for another dish, but I hate wasting food, so I sliced the stems very thinly along with 7 medium (or 4 large) carrots.  Broccoli stems are packed with so many vitamins, it's kind of a sin to throw them away.
Once the carrots and broccoli stems are in the pot, sprinkle them with salt. Let them simmer for several minutes {5-10 depending on how finely they've been chopped} before adding 32 ounces of beef broth. I really enjoy hearty vegetable stews with decent sized chunks, no need to be overly precise about how small you chop. Broccoli stems add a depth of flavor in this dish without screaming to your angst ridden children, "You're eating broccoli!! Pbpbpbpbpbt!"

Season 2 pounds of beef tips with salt and pepper generously. Oh my stars. If you want to cut the stew beef into bite sized chunks, I won't stop ya', but I just used them the way I got them from the butcher. Holy. Moses. The great thing? I got two pounds of fantastic quality meat for less than $9. Have I mentioned that stew is a great way to stretch a buck?

Once seasoned, put that delicious meat in your pot. You'll want this to simmer on medium while you chop some parsley and add other spices.

I chopped about a cup for the stew.
Can you use dried parsley? Certainly. Will it taste the same? Not really. Close, but no cigar. There is no substitute for fresh ingredients. Ever. {hopping off of my soap box now}

Doesn't this already look promising?

You'll hear me say, "Sprinkle [insert ingredient here] over the entire layer of the pot," a lot. This is what I mean. {This is a good way to season regardless of the size of your pot. You will always have just the right ratio if you learn this technique.} I used garlic powder (not salt) and sprinkled just a touch over the surface of the broth/meat/veggies. If I'd wanted the garlic to be more of a pronounced flavor, I would have used minced garlic along with the other vegetables as they saute. Since, I was going for subtlety, I used garlic powder. Next... the flavor explodes. If you are a lover of spicy {warm to hot} food, this is where you'll add cayenne pepper. I sprinkled just a dash in at this point. Feel free to add a teaspoon or more if you like. Also, if you are so inclined, this would be the ideal place to add scotch bonnets or jalapeno. I am not prone to that particular proclivity, but I won't judge y'all who are. ;)
Hello, smoked paprika. I have loved getting to know the grown up organic version of you so very much lately. Come join the party in my pot. {Use about a teaspoon. Maybe a smidge more.}
Stir it all up. Oh, my heavens. It already smells good.
Quarter 8 medium red potatoes after you wash them well. Soup is not a place to eat dirt, y'all. Trust me on that. I won't tell you how I know this. Just. Trust. Me.
Can you stand it? I'm losing my mind from the delicious smell. It's only about to get better, my friends. Okay, now...

THIS particular wine is a truly delicious one to drink with steak or hearty stew. It's also not the cheapest wine out there. However, I love this vineyard for cooking purposes. The vines truly are old and produce a SPECTACULAR product for cooking or drinking {if you like a glass of wine}. Zinfandel is usually a spicier wine, more robust and stout than the fruitier tasting wines. These vines were transferred to California "from the old country" and have seriously old roots. I'm a fan of vintage anything, so if you've never tried this one and you're a big, bold red fan, you should give it a shot. I won't judge you either way. I used about 1 1/2 cups and then set the soup to medium for 2 hours, put the lid on and walked away. You can certainly leave out the wine if you are opposed to it. I used to be, but began cooking with it to see what the hype was about. It truly does deepen the flavor of food as it cooks.
After 2 hours of simmering, I came back {turn off the burner} and stirred in 1 cup of frozen {organic} green beans and 2 cups of frozen {organic} corn. After about 5 minutes of sitting, the textures are perfect, not overly cooked, not mushy. Just full of vitamins and wonderfully warm flavor. This is how the end product looks. I promise, even if you're not a huge soup fan, this one will make you happy. It's SO MUCH BETTER than canned food. You'll never want to eat from a can again!

You'll notice, there's very little fat in this recipe. You CAN add 2-4 tablespoons of butter as you saute the veggies, and it's DIVINE when you do, but I am keeping myself to a lower fat version of everything these days. Serve this with french or sourdough bread if you like and get ready for your power nap.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Geographical Inspiration

Hey y'all, I'm one of those girls that refuses to apologize for having a life. Though I missed creating and writing, I know for sure that I spent my time how I should have last week. I think constantly about what the next blog topic will be and usually devote most of a day to the process when I post. It's easy for me to get sucked in and ignore the big picture things, so last week, I forced myself to be responsible to live IN THE MOMENT and spend time with my family while it was available.  I'm often not well, physically, so taking care of myself and them is paramount. Everything else comes second.

Last week was a challenge. I was all set to do a major design project + photography today and God laughed at me. Last night, my BRAND NEW CROCKPOT was happily cooking a roast and veggies. Just as it was finishing, the lid shattered.  [I am so glad I registered that warranty right after I bought it. I need to investigate if the lid can be replaced under warranty or if I need to find a new one on my own.] Due to this seemingly small setback, my entire week's menu & groceries were derailed. Anyhow... those were some of the reasons I didn't post.

For your viewing pleasure today, I shall show you some of my favorite places via my very own photography. Enjoy!
Washington D.C. during the Cherry Blossom Festival

It's such a beautiful place right in the middle of such a beautiful and important city.

This was taken by my friend on her fancy camera. The Monumental cherry trees. {The Washington Monument is behind there!}
Another fancy camera detail shot by my friend.
Hard to believe this was taken on a Blackberry!

The U.S. Capitol
I have always been highly attracted to columns and old world architecture. D.C. has superb examples.
The Annapolis Bay Bridge is one of the most beautiful places I remember. And these kids are the most beautiful in my world.

Barnes & Noble + Hard Rock Cafe = Baltimore Inner Harbor

One of the most beautiful city scapes in Maryland is the Inner Harbor.

This is the National Aquarium on the Inner Harbor. Lovely, isn't it?
We wish you a lovely week. Please, please, please know how valued you are in the world.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chicken with Mushroom Gravy

One of my favorite things when I was pregnant with my son, Graham, besides fried cabbage with bacon (crazy pregnancy craving) was chicken with mushroom gravy. I love making one pot/pan dishes. I love earthy ingredients for Fall menu planning. Here are the ingredients:
{2-3 cups chicken broth}
 1/2 a large onion
 3 monster portabella mushrooms
 morel mushrooms

Two to four quite large chicken breasts.  Oh, and butter. Please don't ever forget the butter. It would be a crime. The first step here is to pour a bowl full of chicken stock and reconstitute the morels. While they are soaking in that lovely liquid, chop your onion.

In a large saute pan, please pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in the pan on medium heat. Once they melt together, dump in your onion slices and a sprinkle of salt. Cook them until they are translucent. Chop your mushrooms while the onion is cooking. You CAN use other mushrooms {buttons work just fine} but I love the texture and earthy flavor in portabellas so much. 
Add the portabellas and 2 tablespoons of butter to the onions. It's okay. It really is. Also, sprinkle a layer of salt and pepper on the mushrooms. Let them cook until they absorb the moisture and brown a bit. {It should take about 3-5 minutes.} Next we'll add the bowl of chicken stock and morel mushrooms. Your pan will be nearly full at this point. Don't worry. We have plans for that.
before reconstitution
after reconstitution
Intriguing process. They look like tiny sponges. They also turn the chicken stock quite brown. Don't be afraid of that. There's a flavor explosion awaiting.
 Turn your heat up to medium high and let the mushrooms and stock simmer for 5-10 minutes. If you like, add a splash {up to about a 1/4 cup} of white wine. You want the liquid to reduce.
It's time for the chicken to join the party. Let it simmer for 5 minutes on one side.
See the cooking magic happening? The pink turns to white and creeps up the sides of the chicken. Time to flip the meat and let it be smothered in mushrooms.
If you hate mushrooms, you pretty much will want to run screaming from the room at this point. This dish clearly wouldn't be for you. However, if you adore mushrooms, the smell at this point in the recipe is just phenomenal. Let this simmer for another 5 minutes.
Hubba hubba!  At this juncture, pop the whole pan into your 350 degree oven for 15 minutes JUST TO BE SAFE. Thick chicken breasts very seldom cook through on a simmer without becoming tough. There's a place for toughness, but it's definitely not supposed to be found on a plate. Remove the chicken from the pan after it comes out of the oven and prepare the gravy. Ready for the secret ingredient? It's super fancy.
Okay. So, it's not fancy. But it's easy. Open that bad boy up and dump the soup into the mushrooms.
Stir until it's all blended very well.
This is the part where you hear the Hallelujah Chorus. Serve this over mashed potatoes and your men folk will kiss your feet and call you a goddess. Maybe they won't, but they will moan and tell you how much they enjoyed this dish. Unless they hate mushrooms. In which case, I've got nothin' for ya'.

*There is an alternative choice in this recipe if you're not so much about gravy.  One of my OTHER very favorite ways to serve these ingredients is to omit the soup step and serve the chicken with sauteed mushrooms {You'll have to drain the stock for this version after the chicken and mushrooms come out of the oven.} and caramelized onions. THAT will set ya' free, now.