Saturday, February 28, 2009

Marinated Asparagus

Marinated asparagus is a lovely dish that can be served as an appetizer or a side dish, and it works for just about any meal (brunch, lunch, dinner). It's amazingly simple to put together, and easy to make for a crowd. The usual cautions with asparagus apply here - don't overcook it. It's so easy to do! In fact, for the batch I made last night, I think it was ever-so-slightly overcooked, and I was very conservative on my cooking time.

I generally make this the night before I'm serving it, so it has plenty of time to sit in the marinade.


Marinated Asparagus

Ingredients

2 lbs (about 2 bunches) fresh asparagus
Enough water to fill large pot 3/4 full
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup pecans (I use big pieces, but you can finely chop them also)
Directions

Clean and trim asparagus. If desired, scrape off the scales. Bring water and salt to a boil and add asparagus. Cook for until tender-crisp, or 4 to 6 minutes. Immediately remove from boiling water and place in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain the asparagus and place in gallon-size freezer bag.

While asparagus is cooking, mix vinegar, oil, soy sauce, and sugar in a bowl. Make sure it is well-mixed, and pour over the asparagus in the plastic bag. Add pecans in bag. Allow bag to sit on its side in the refrigerator for 8 hours or longer, turning it over once.

When ready to serve, arrange asparagus on the plate, drizzling a little of the marinade over it as desired. Retrieve the pecans from the bag and place on top of asparagus.

*You can also use a baking dish for the asparagus to sit in the marinade if you don't want to waste a plastic bag.

**If you can't find any good fresh asparagus or if it's too expensive, you can also substitute 3 10-oz packages of frozen asparagus. Just cook according to the package directions and then pick up with putting it in the bag and pouring marinade over it. I haven't tried this myself.

Wheat Rolls

I've been looking for a wheat roll recipe that's not too heavy, and finally decided to try this one today. It had received many good reviews, and looked pretty straightforward, so I gave it a shot.

These came out perfectly. They're light and fluffy, with just enough sweetness to keep them from being bland. They would be just as good next to a hefty steak as they would alongside a bowl of chicken noodle soup. I could imagine using a lovely herb butter just as easily as something sweeter such as honey or strawberry butter on these rolls.

I think this will become my wheat roll go-to for now. It also makes 24 rolls, so there are plenty to go in the freezer - I can make a batch one weekend, and with the other breads I make, they would likely last us at least 3 weeks before having to make them again.

Next up, I've been trying to find a good wheat bread recipe (and so is Nancy). Got any suggestions? Let us know!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

GAAHHHHH!

We break up monopolies in the name of customers and smaller competitors. We create laws so that businesses cannot take advantage of consumers. Companies are not allowed to falsely advertise in order to protect consumers. See a trend here? In many cases, the advantage goes to the consumer.

Not so with alcohol sales in the state of Tennessee, however. We have some of the most backwards laws in the country with respect to the juice of the vine, and none of them benefit the consumer. Not one. They all benefit the wholesale liquor lobby and liquor store owners, but they most certainly do nothing to protect the consumer.

I'm over 21 years of age. I'm legally able to purchase alcohol. With the caveat that I can only purchase that which is available at my local liquor stores. Do they supply wines from all those great little vineyards in Sonoma or France or Italy? No. Can I get something special ordered that isn't already available from their wholesalers? No.

There seems to be a simple solution to this problem, right? Just order it. Yeah, that doesn't work here. We're not allowed to receive or bring any alcohol across state lines. So, we're limited to what's available through the wholesalers. Pursuant to this interpretation of our current laws, we also can't send back any tokens from our travels, either.

This is wrong. It's not fair to the consumers, and it's certainly not fair to the small vineyard owners who don't have the same bargaining powers of the larger vineyards. They should be able to legally sell their products to those who are legally able to buy them, and not be stopped because of our wholesale lobby. It's also unfair to small wine producers here in TN - because of the Supreme Court's decision regarding shipping reciprocity, not allowing consumers in our state to order out of state wines means that our producers cannot ship theirs out, either.

I've heard arguments all over the place that this would make it easier for underage kids to get their hands on alcohol. Phooey. Don't even try to tell me that a grocery store clerk (who already checks IDs for beer) or UPS driver is any less qualified than a liquor store clerk to check IDs. They all have to go through training about fake IDs and the like. Also, most underage kids I remember were looking for instant gratification - not that fabulous pinot that they can only get through the mail or the wine of the month club. They're not going to wait for something to be delivered to them, and again, the delivery person should be required to check ID on any shipments of alcohol.

The arguments against changing the laws for the benefit of the consumer are hollow and not backed up by available data. If you're also fed up, check out two sites working to change things.

Free the Grapes
Red White and Food

Yes, I realize that there are more important things happening in our country than whether or not we have choice of where and from whom to purchase wine in TN. However, a change in the laws adds better price competition for consumers, gives our producers more places to send their product, and allows TN consumers to purchase from smaller producers who can't or won't go through the wholesalers.

Garlic Crackers

I love cheese and crackers - it's a pretty regular snack around here (no, I'm not still 5, but some things just carry on...).  It never crossed my mind to make crackers at home.  I guess I always assumed the Premium or Wheat Thins fairy just created them out of thin air.  At any rate, when I ran across a seemingly easy recipe in my trusty King Arthur Baker's Companion today, I decided I needed to try this.

Recipe is a pretty loose term here.  Basically, they give you the proportions that you need, and the only thing stopping you is your imagination.  I can tell this will be a fun recipe to make all kinds of goodies out of - herbed crackers, cheese crackers, herbed cheese crackers, wheat crackers, flaky buttery crackers, and so on.  Here's what I came up with today.

Garlic Crackers

2 cups all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp butter, chilled and cut into pieces (think: pie crust)
1 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling 
1/8-1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
12 Tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine flour with salt, pepper, and garlic.   Cut butter into flour until the crumbs are pretty fine.   Add the milk 1 Tbsp at a time, just until dough holds together.

Place dough on lightly floured surface, and roll till a thickness of about 1/8 inch.  Poke all over with fork, and then cut into whatever shapes float your boat. (Cutting them into larger shapes makes the process of getting them onto the baking sheet go much faster.)

Place crackers on lightly greased or parchment lined cookie sheet, and sprinkle a little bit of extra salt over the tops if desired.   Bake for 20-25 minutes, just until they begin to brown.  

Place on wire racks - they'll crisp up as they cool.

Enjoy!



Saturday, February 21, 2009

Italian Bread Bowls

I love the recipe for Italian Bread Bowls that I found over at My Kitchen Cafe a while back. I keep some of these bread bowls in the freezer at all times - they're not only great for soup, but also great alone. This bread is nice and crusty, and a bit chewy, but a little more airy than French bread. We like to just pull out a "bowl" and eat it with dinner.

When I was making this today to replenish the freezer stock, I decided to make some mini-loaves as well. The only difference - instead of shaping bowls, I just made them into a loaf shape. I got 4 small-medium size bowls and 3 small loaves out of the recipe. The loaves probably should feed 3-4 people, but they're a perfect size for the 2 adults who live here (we eat way more bread than we should).

One other thing I do differently in this recipe is to allow the bread to bake for 10 minutes before brushing on the egg wash (and I only do one coat) - every time I tried to do it before the bread went into the oven, it would majorly deflate. I have no idea why. Anyone know? It still tastes fabulous, though!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Weekly Menu

Once again, I overplanned. We have food left, so we'll be eating that into the weekend. Also, I added in a night of roasted chicken this past week - it was just so cheap and looked so good. The couscous in the pantry was begging me to make the chicken instead of the pork last night.

I wasn't all that excited about sales this week, so I'll be going with stuff in the freezer as far as meat goes.

Saturday: Pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, roasted new potatoes
Sunday: Tuscan Vegetable Soup, Harvest Grains Ciabatta
Monday: Chicken Marsala (cutting recipe in half), couscous, glazed carrots
Tuesday: Soup and bread leftovers
Wednesday: Vegetable stir-fry with brown rice
Thursday: Baked ziti, asparagus, green beans
Friday: Ziti leftovers, corn, peas

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Roasted Chicken, Part 2

Recently, I mentioned my issues with roasting chicken - my house would smell bad, the oven would get messy, and grease went everywhere. Stefanie suggested putting some veggies on the bottom of the pan to help soak up the grease. It worked like a charm!

For this chicken, I mixed a couple of teaspoons of olive oil with garlic powder, celery salt, pepper, italian seasoning, and thyme (none of this measured, of course) and then brushed this on top of the chicken. It roasted in a 475 degree oven for 35 minutes, until a thermometer in thickest part not touching bone registered 165 degrees. The carrots and onion on the bottom did a great job of absorbing the grease and added a nice oniony flavor.

Chicken and Rice Casserole

This qualifies as comfort food for me, in the same category with mac 'n' cheese, mashed potatoes, and Thanksgiving food. And it's most definitely a common food in the South (don't know about other parts of the country). It's not gourmet. It's not healthy. It's not rocket science. But it's ooey, gooey good. It's also cheap.

The recipe I use now is an adaptation and merging of several different recipes I've had over the years. Chicken and rice is one of those individual dishes - some people like it creamier, some with lots of butter, some with lots of chicken, some with more rice - there are endless variations. The general backbone is chicken, rice, some sort of cream, a little butter, and maybe some cheese.

This meal also freezes easily, so I usually make it in two 8 X 8 disposable pans - I can pull one out to take to a friend when needed, and it's great to have on hand for those nights that you just can't get a meal together but don't want to do takeout.

Chicken and Rice Casserole

Meat from 3-4 chicken breasts, or 1 rotisserie chicken
3 cups of minute rice (measured in uncooked rice)
1/4 C butter
2-3 ribs celery, diced
8 oz shredded cheddar or colby
1 can cream of mushroom
1 can cream of celery
up to 1 can chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook minute rice according to directions on package.
3. Once rice is cooked, combine all ingredients except stock in a large bowl and stir to combine. Gradually add stock until you get a gooey mixture, but not overly soupy. Keep any leftover stock in case the casserole gets dry while cooking (you can just pour a little over the top to bring it back to life before you take it out of the oven).
4. Transfer mixture to 2 8x8 pans or another casserole dish/cake pan that will hold all of the mixture.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until casserole is completely set.

Sorry that the directions aren't overly detailed - this is just how I do it every time I make it. Some people like to make them in bigger pans so that the casserole is thinner and a little drier. I tend to like it a little more on the gooey side, so I make it in a smaller pan so that it's thicker. This will yield 8-12 servings, depending on appetites and what else it's served with. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Weekly Menu

This weekend is busy for us, but at least I don't have to think about meal plans for those days! So, I only have to come up with 5 meals, which is nice. I also got behind a day or two because of extra leftovers this week, so I'm reusing the grilled chicken that didn't ever get made.

Pork butt is on sale at Schnucks for $.87/lb this week, so that's what we're having! And, by roasting it simply (seasoning with the basics - salt, pepper, onion, and garlic), it's versatile enough to use at least 3 different ways. Also, Schnucks has their split chicken breasts on sale for the same price, so I'll be picking up a couple of packages of those for the freezer.

Friday: Grilled chicken, baked potatoes, asparagus
Monday: Big chopped salads, garlic bread
Tuesday: brown rice pilaf with two mushrooms, roasted broccoli, steamed carrots
Wednesday: Roasted pork butt, green beans, bruschetta
Thursday: Pork tacos, spanish rice
Friday: BBQ sandwiches (using above pork), baked beans, corn

Barefoot Bloggers: Real Meatballs and Spaghetti


The first of this month's BB recipes was Real Meatballs and Spaghetti and was chosen by Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake. Her blog is always entertaining and informative, so definitely check it out if you haven't already!

I had a hard time psyching myself up for this one because meatballs just gross me out for some reason (not a logical one, of course). I never really order them when we go out, and the thought of making them was just icky. However, since I knew I had control over all the ingredients that would be in these, I figured I'd give it a try, and would just have to get over the constant touching of the raw meat factor while I was forming them.

One thing I did do differently from the recipe was to bake them at 450 for 20 minutes or so (I liked a little bit of crunch on the bottom of them, though). There was just enough fat left in the pan that I didn't need any extra olive oil once I got to the step with the onions. I also cut the meatball part of the recipe in half because with only 2 of us, I knew we'd never eat all of them. I'm also a huge garlic fan, so I added about 50% more garlic than what the recipe called for in the sauce part.

This dish turned out well, but I still like my other tomato sauce recipes better (one is with meat, one is without). I might make it again if we have guests, because it does look nice. The time spent making the meatballs isn't worth it to me for our normal weeknight dinners, though. It was good to get out of my usual recipe rut and try something new!

Be sure to check out how this worked for everyone else over at Barefoot Bloggers. And, if you like Ina Garten's recipes, come play with us! It's only twice a month - we can all handle some extra calories twice a month, right?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Easy Schnitzel


Earlier this week, I had two chicken breasts thawing in my fridge with no clue as to how I would prepare them. I almost fell back on the old grilling stand-by (which is great), but then I stumbled upon Easy Schnitzel over at Tomatoes and Bananas. I had everything I needed on hand, it wasn't difficult, and it was different from our normal fare.

This was delicious. I didn't really measure anything - nothing new for me - and mine had a bit more parmesan and an extra clove (or two) of garlic. I like the crispiness and flavor of the outside and it retained its juiciness, which is something I have trouble with when baking boneless, skinless chicken breasts. This one's a keeper! Next time I make it, I may try making some sort of pan sauce to go on top - there were so many good bits of stuff left in the bottom of the pan and I hated to waste them!

Any Ideas?

Last night's Provencal Chicken was delicious. There's just something about roasting chicken with the skin on - it's always moist and has so much flavor and I love the crispy skin (yes, I know it's bad for me). It's one of my favorite ways to have chicken.

But - and this drives me nuts - it always makes a huge mess of my oven and stinks up the house. You'd think I was frying chicken based on the smell. Grease gets all over the inside of the oven and it gets smoky.

So, any ideas on how to roast chicken so that it's less messy (and smelly)? I'm clueless!
*This is actually after we reheated the leftovers, but it was still amazingly juicy the next night. I reheated it on lower power in the microwave for about 5 minutes, then put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to make the skin crispy again. And I have no self-control when it comes to twice-baked potatoes. I also had one for breakfast.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Weekly Menu

Time for the menu again this week! I find myself getting into such a rut - I can't come up with new stuff. I keep searching around, though!

Split chicken breasts are on sale at Kroger this week ($.97/lb), and I've already stocked up on some that I boiled and shredded for soups and casseroles. I'm going to get another package to make a recipe I found that looks divine. Other than that, since I'm trying not to buy too much processed food, it's hard to shop sales/coupons. Most of the good sales are for something out of a box.

Friday: Provencal Chicken (enough for 2 meals), zucchini, twice-baked potatoes
Saturday: Pizza (for lunch), grilled halibut, macaroni and cheese, roasted broccoli
Sunday: Taco soup (lunch), leftover chicken, twice-baked potatoes, green beans
Monday: Real Meatballs and Spaghetti, steamed asparagus, french bread
Tuesday: Leftovers
Wednesday: Grilled chicken, salad, corn
Thursday: Grilled chicken panini, salad

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Another New Find & Cooking Club

I stumbled upon another helpful website today - Foodieview. It's a great site where you can put in the name of a dish or the ingredients you have on hand or a kind of cuisine or a chef or... you get the idea. It's immensely helpful for the ingredient search. Allrecipes has this feature, but only for its site - Foodieview searches all over the web. I'm currently trying to empty my pantry of its contents, and so I've been using this feature quite a bit to find recipes that I can make with what I have on hand.

I'm also frustrated with myself - we had our first cooking club last night, and I completely forgot to take pictures for the blog! It's a surprise as far as what everyone is making, so you have no idea what you're going to get. We're currently working through the Jr. League of Birmingham's Tables of Content, and I think it's going to be a blast! Last night we had Hot Feta Cheese & Artichoke Dip (p 54), Edamame Salad (p 100), Grandmother's Texas Barbecued Brisket (p 184), Cheesy Beer Bread (p 130), Artichoke Broccoli Casserole (p 252), Butternut Squash with Apples and Bourbon (p 271), and Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting (p 296). It was delicious! We have a Tex-Mex theme for next month - so excited!