Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Balsamic Roasted Cauliflower

This is a quick side dish that is low-cal, low-carb, and pairs nicely with any sort of italian main dish. The texture is good and doesn't have that mealy, mushy taste that steamed cauliflower can sometimes acquire.

Total Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Cook Time: 20 minutes

What you will need:

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp of olive oil
sea salt
black pepper
italian seasoning (all to taste)

Preheat your oven to 400. You can cook this dish anywhere from 375-425, just adjust your cooking times a bit if you have other things in the oven too.

Cut the cauliflower head into florets and put in a large mixing bowl. The easiest way to cut a head of cauliflower is to turn it upside down and to use the tip of the knife to cut in a circular pattern around the stem to loosen it, then crack it off and cut the florets from there. Make sure that you dry the cauliflower after you wash it very thoroughly, as water on the florets will cause them to steam, rather than to roast.

Add in all of the other ingredients to the mixing bowl, and mix well. Don't be afraid to use a good bit of salt on this--the taste cooks away as the cauliflower roasts. 

Cover a baking sheet in tin foil (this makes cleanup so much easier!) and spread the cauliflower around so that it is in a single layer.

Pop it in the oven. About halfway through cooking time, stir it around with a wooden spoon so that it cooks evenly. Then serve, and enjoy!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mediterranean Chicken

I adopted and modified this recipe to come up with this delicious one-pan chicken dinner. It's low-cal (well, if you can restrain yourself from a cheese overdose), high-protein, and has tons of impressive flavors. And hey, if I can make it on a Monday night, then so can you.

Total Prep Time: 15-20 minutes

Total Cook Time: 30 minutes

What you will need:

1 package chicken (3 breasts)
3-4 fresh roma tomatoes
1 can artichoke hearts (quartered, not marinated)
3-4 leaves fresh basil
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic (not pictured)
shredded reduced fat/part skim mozzarella (reduced fat crumbled feta would be a good substitute)
italian seasoning
sea salt
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400.

Roughly chop the roma tomatoes, removing excess seeds. You don't have to get every seed or membrane, but if they separate easily, take the "guts" and push them aside. You'll have plenty of juice without them, I promise.

Drain the artichoke heart quarters and add to a mixing bowl with the tomatoes.

Add in the olive oil, flour, garlic, and dry seasonings (salt, pepper and italian seasonings) to taste. Don't be afraid to use quite a bit of the italian seasonings as they will infuse the rest of the dish as it bakes. Mix well with a large spoon so that all the veggies are coated with the flour. The flour is important because it will help absorb/thicken some of the liquid that accumulates as the chicken cooks.

Butterly your chicken breasts and then season them well with salt, pepper and italian seasonings. Place in a glass baking dish (I always spray mine with a bit of Pam but it's not absolutely necessary).

Top the chicken breasts with the veggie mixture.

Pop the baking dish in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken shows no pink. How do you know if the chicken is done? I cut into the thickest piece. Doesn't always look pretty, but it's the best way to avoid salmonella.

Top the cooked dish with the shredded mozzarella--as much as you want. This can be very cheesy or barely cheesy at all, depending on how healthy you're trying to be. Sprinkle a bit of italian seasoning on the cheese, and then tear the basil leaves over the top of the cheese as well.

Put the dish back in the oven for about five minutes, or until the cheese has gotten nice and melty. Turn the broiler on "high" and stand there with the oven door cracked, watching it like a hawk, until it does it's nice little brown bubbly thing.

Serve and enjoy!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Honey Stewed Fruit

With fall soon approaching (for everyone outside of the State of Florida), warm desserts are wonderful, and the smells of apples and cinnamon and honey always make you feel nice and festive. This is a nice alternative to baked cinnamon apples, and involves booze (optional, though highly encouraged). Plus, it's pareve for my kosher friends out there.

Total Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Cook Time: 30 minutes

What you will need:

1 bag dried apples
1 bag dried apricots
1 bag dried tart cherries
1 bag prunes
1 cup raisins (gold, regular, or mixed)
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup honey bourbon
2 tbsp sugar (white or brown)
Manischewitz, to taste (optional)

You can pretty much use any dried fruits you like in any quantity you'd like. I just pick the ones that I like. The other ingredients will also be used to taste, but I gave you the approximations on how much actually made it into my pot.

Empty all of your dried fruit into a saucepan and cover with water.

Turn the heat to medium, and let the fruit start to simmer. As it heats up, the water will reduce and thicken a bit.

Stir in the honey, honey bourbon (if you choose to use it), and a bit of sugar. You can add in some other spices such as cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice if you have them around. Be very parsimonious with these spices as a little goes a long way.

Reduce the heat a bit and let it continue to gently simmer/warm. The sauce will continue to thicken and reduce. Taste and adjust spices as you see fit. Then serve and enjoy! It tastes particularly delicious with a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thanksgiving Turkey: The Express Version

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and some of you may have committed to hosting a Thanksgiving dinner without ever having cooked a turkey before. Or perhaps you are going to your relatives' for Thanksgiving and you are slightly sad, since it means that you will not have the leftovers in your refrigerator to make delicious post-Thanksgiving sandwiches (because let's face it, the post-Thanksgiving sandwich is much better than the main event). This is an easy, "express" version of a roasted Thanksgiving turkey that you can totally handle in one afternoon. It's a good "practice turkey" so you can learn the properties of roasting a bird like this and obtaining crispy skin without going through all the hassle of brining and extended prep that all the experts and Williams-Sonoma make you think is necessary.

Disclaimer: This is not a one hour meal. And I won't even promise you that you can do very many other things while it cooks. But you can watch some Bravo TV after it gets in the oven, because if you miss five minutes of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, you will still understand what's going on (hint: they're all mad at each other and screaming "DONT POINT AT ME").

Total Prep Time: 70 minutes

Total Cook Time: for a 10 pound bird, approximately 2.5 hours, but follow the instructions on the packaging and constantly use your meat thermometer

What you will need:

10 lb fresh turkey (fresh is very important. Fresh is VERY IMPORTANT. Never use frozen).
1 stick of butter (or margarine, if you're going the kosher route)
1 leek
Rosemary, Sage, Thyme (really whatever fresh herbs you have in your house will work)
Sea salt and black pepper
A bulb baster
A roasting pan with a rack inserted--very important and key for crispy skin
Kitchen twine if your fresh turkey doesn't already come with it's legs tucked

If you are going to make gravy and you want to do it the fast and lazy way, you will also need:

Williams Sonoma Gravy Base. It is the best, easiest gravy in the world. No messing around with flour and roux and whatnot. 
Apple cider vinegar
dried italian seasoning
Giblets and neck from fresh turkey

Okay, first thing's first is prepping your fresh turkey. You will take it out of the plastic, and then you must remove the giblets and neck. Typically, the neck is in the big main cavity, and the giblets are wrapped in paper and tucked under the fold of skin in the front of the bird. put these items in a medium sized saucepan, fill with enough water to cover them, and add a splash of apple cider vinegar and some italian seasonings, then set on a low-medium heat to simmer. It should simmer for as long as it takes the turkey to roast--just stir every now and then, and if the water starts to get too low, add some more.

Rinse the bird with cold water and drain. Pat it dry with paper towels, and then put it on the roasting rack to come closer to room temperature for about 45-60 minutes. You can cover it lightly with a papertowel or a clean dishcloth.

While the bird is coming to room temperature, put a stick of butter in a bowl to soften. Take your leeks, and make sure you wash them well as there is a lot of dirt and grit that gets down in the leeks. Then chop up the white part of your leeks into small pieces.

Chop up some of the other herbs you happen to have laying around. There are really no exact measurements, just a small handful of each.

Mash all of the herbs and leeks together in the softened butter so you have an herb butter spread.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

When the turkey is up to room temperature or slightly below, salt and pepper it on all sides, in between the wings and the body, and down into the cavity and the neck (underneath the skin flap). Then, take the the herb butter and with your hands, give the turkey a nice massage. Start by lifting the skin and separating it from the breast and in the neck cavity, and rub some butter in there between the skin and the flesh. Then, give it an all over massage and leave some lumps on top and in the wing and thigh area.

As you see above, I always start cooking my turkey with the breast side down, and I blast it at 400 for about 30-40 minutes (when it's this small--it'll get more time if it's a bigger bird). Why? The thighs are always the last thing to cook, and if you're not careful, the skin on the breast will burn and the breast meat will dry out. This prevents all of that from happening. 

After about 35 minutes, the bottom started to crisp up a little bit, and the thighs were cooking nicely. Flip the bird with turkey lifters if you happen to have them; otherwise, I used two serving forks and did an "over and up" type of flip. Whatever you do, don't drop it on the floor.

See? The other side is not browned yet, but we know it's starting to cook.

Reduce the heat in the oven to 325, and pop it back in. You should be timing about 12 minutes per pound (we got a jump start on the cooking process with the 400 degrees). My general rule is that I set the timer for every 20 minutes, because that's how frequently I baste. I really believe that frequent basting is the key to success with turkey. When you baste, you can lift the turkey up and tilt it a little bit, so that the juices run out of the cavity into the pan. 

After an hour, I check the temperature in the thickest parts to make sure we're on the right track, and that also helps me gauge how much longer the turkey actually will need to cook.

So the key to making sure that your turkey does not dry out is obviously, not overcooking it. I know that we are all paranoid about undercooked poultry because really, who wants salmonella, but overcooking turkey is an awful thing to do. That's why you have to take it's temperature frequently, especially when you're getting close to 165. 165 is the ideal temperature for the thickest part of the meat. You don't want to go too many degrees over that because it will continue to cook when you bring it out of the oven.

Mmmmm, doesn't it look good? Leave it in the roasting rack and LIGHTLY tent with tin foil. Make sure there is plenty of room for some of the steam to escape because the delightfully crackly, crispy skin you have achieved will wilt and turn rubbery and flabby if you steam it. Let it sit there for about 15-20 minutes while you make the gravy.

In order to make your gravy, remove the giblets and neck from the heat and drain. Chop the giblets into small pieces, and then pull the meat off of the neck. Discard the neck bone. Make the gravy according to the directions on the jar of Williams Sonoma gravy prep (it basically involves pouring the gravy base and equal parts milk into a saucepan and whisking on medium heat). Dump the giblets and meat into the gravy to make it tasty. For extra taste and to achieve a better consistency, go scoop out some of the drippings from the bottom of the roasting pan (I honestly just use the bulb baster and run it across the kitchen like a madwoman) and mix into the gravy. 

After all that is done, your turkey will have sufficiently rested, so carve and enjoy!!! Don't ask me how to carve, by the way....I do it lord of the flies style after about three slices.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fig, Pear & Goat Cheese over Mixed Greens

Sorry for my extended absence, everyone. With the high holidays (over which I did plenty of cooking but very little documenting), and a rush of huge assignments at work, September was largely a month of leftovers, take-out and cold cuts. I know, not very epicurean of me, but it happens to all of us! 

Anyway, this is a great "fancy" salad which actually doesn't take too long to put together. It's a good company salad because of presentation, but definitely has to be prepared immediately before you serve it, so it's a bit difficult to make if you're trying to hostess at the same time. The flavors/temperatures/textures are VERY interesting and I had a great time with this one. It's definitely on the repeat list!

Total Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Cook Time: 10 minutes

What you will need:

For the dressing:
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp white sugar (not pictured since I keep it in a gigantic black kitchen cylinder)
sea salt and black pepper to taste

For the salad:
1 package fresh mixed greens (arugula would be another nice variation for a bit more of a peppery taste)
1 pear (anjou or bartlett, whatever is on sale or riper)
5-6 fresh brown turkish figs
2 tbsp honey bourbon
crumbled goat cheese

First things first, if you have time, you should stick your salad plates in the freezer or refrigerator to chill them. It's a nice touch when you serve this salad since there are some warm elements.

Secondly, make your dressing and stick it in the refrigerator. You can make the dressing ahead of time by even a few days if you need to. Simply combine all ingredients in a tiny little tupperware, shake vigorously, taste, modify with seasoning if necessary, and set aside.

When you're ready to make the salad, the first thing you will want to do is slice all of your fruit. Slice the pear into thin wedges, and slice the figs in half.

If any of the figs have a dried out crusty middle, don't use those. They will have a bitter taste which will ruin the salad.

Next, pour your greens into a big bowl and then toss well with the dressing.

Put the salad back in the fridge while you cook your fruit. 

Put a medium saute skillet (no bigger than 10 inches) on a medium high to high heat (if you're using non-stick, do not heat higher than medium high). Once the skillet is hot, pour in the honey bourbon, which should start steaming and cooking immediately. If you don't have any bourbon and don't feel like investing, then you can substitute white balsamic.

Let the bourbon/vingear heat for approximately thirty seconds, then put your pear slices in the skillet. Cook them for about 30 seconds on each side, just long enough to warm them and soften them a bit. Remove from the skillet using a slotted spoon or spatula and put on a plate. Place the figs, cut side down, in the pan. Let them cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, testing at 30 seconds to determine whether the cut side has caramelized slightly. When this happens, there will be a nice sugary brown crust on the face of the fig. I'll admit, this takes a little bit of practice, so you may want to test a few figs to determine how long it will take before you actually do this for company (or anyone you want to impress). Remove from pan when they are caramelized.

Plate your salad by placing some of the tossed greens on each plate, then sprinkling with goat cheese. Distribute your fruit on top of the goat cheese and serve immediately.