Citrus-Spiked Beef Brisket

>> Friday, March 29, 2013


Citrus-Spiked Beef Brisket

For last weekend's Christian Seder meal at our church, Joe braised a six-pound beef brisket in this tangy-sweet and savory sauce. The cider vinegar and vegetables melded together and the citrus peel added a bright note. This meal would be just as good for any other special holiday - if we didn't cook it for the Seder dinner, we definitely would have prepared it for Easter Sunday.

Christian Seder Dinner

What's a "Christian Seder"? We generally followed the Jewish Seder ritual by tasting the ceremonial foods that remind them of their captivity in Egypt: salt water for tears, bitter herbs, matzo for unleavened bread, a fruit-and-nut compote for the bricks they had to make, and so forth. The youngest person asks the ritual questions like, "Why is this night so different from all others?" and the people around the table tell the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt.

The Christian part comes into several places. As our Messiah has already come, we focus on his death and resurrection during the ceremony, as well as the longing of the Jews for their savior. Near the end of the ceremony, there is one part where a piece of matzo is broken and eaten, then a last toast is given, and these are the places where Jesus would likely have offered the first communion words. It is a beautiful ritual that involves the whole family, and as Christians, it reminds us of Jesus's Jewishness and the reverence of the Jewish people.

Ingredients

One 4-6 pound beef brisket
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or olive oil
2 medium onions, thickly sliced
6 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise
8 cloves garlic, 6 peeled and smashed & 2 pressed through a garlic press
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups beef, vegetable, or chicken stock
3 small tomatoes, halved
2 sprigs fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs fresh parsley, plus ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
One ½- inch slice of fresh ginger
1 lemon
1 orange

Directions

Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper. Rub in the 2 garlic cloves pressed, 1 tsp each of minced thyme, rosemary, and parsley. Dry marinate the brisket a minimum of 1 hour, or preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 500°F. Pour the oil into a Dutch oven over medium heat. Brown the meat on all sides, then set aside. Add the onions, carrots, and remaining garlic cloves to the Dutch oven, and saute until soft. Raise the heat, pour in the cider vinegar, and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the white wine and continue stirring, allowing the liquid to reduce for a few minutes.

Put the meat back in the pot, then add the broth, tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, parsley sprigs, and ginger. Slice the lemon and orange and arrange on the top of the meat (be sure to remove the seeds!). Cover, and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 250°F, and continue cooking for 4 to 4½ more hours, or until very tender.

Remove the meat and vegetables from the pot. Discard the citrus peels, thyme, rosemary and parsley sprigs, ginger, and bay leaf. Slice the meat across the grain. Puree the vegetables with the sauce and re-heat if it has grown lukewarm. To serve, spoon a pool of the hot vegetable puree onto each plate, then place several slices of the meat over the puree.

Serves 10-12.

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Lemony Easter Basket Bread

>> Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Lemony Easter Basket Bread

My mom used to make this bread for Easter dinner nearly every year; I don't know who originally gave it to her. Just a bite of this flaky lemony yeast bread, slightly sweet, takes me back to those days.

The other tradition for Easter dinner was leg of lamb (we always called it "leggo lamb"), which was very confusing for a young Catholic girl. We'd go to Easter mass and sing about the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Then we'd go home and eat the lamb for dinner! We were eating Jesus!

The horror. I was definitely scarred for life.

We're past the Easter egg coloring stage in our house, and don't have any grandchildren yet, so we don't tuck colored eggs into the braid before cooking it. I think you get the idea without the eggs in the bread basket, don't you?

Ingredients

1 package active dry yeast or 2 1/4 tsp bottled dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
1 3.4 oz (large) package lemon pudding
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
3 eggs, beaten
4 decorated hard boiled Easter eggs, if desired
1 tbsp water
1 egg, beaten
Nonpareil candies for decoration

Directions

Place the active dry yeast and sugar in a small bowl and stir in the warm water. Let sit 10 minutes, until the yeast begins to bubble. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the lemon pudding and salt. Add the butter, then pour hot milk over pudding mixture. Stir continuously until the butter melts and pudding dissolves. Allow it cool to lukewarm.

Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the flour and mix well. Stir the yeast and 3 beaten eggs; beat well. Gradually stir in the rest of flour. Turn out on lightly floured surface or kneading bowl, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Knead till smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover; let rise till double, about 1 hour.

Easter Basket Bread dough in kneading bowl
This kneading bowl is easier for me to use than a floured surface.

Punch down; let rise again till almost double about 60 minutes. Turn out on lightly floured surface or kneading bowl and divide dough in half, then form each half into 3 balls. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Grease two pie pans or 9x2 round pans.

For each basket, roll each ball into an 18 inch ropes with your hands. Braid the three strands together, pinching together the ends then tucking them under as you coil the braid into each pan. If you're using Easter eggs, tuck the eggs in the loops of the braid. Let rest in a warm place for 20 minutes.

Brush the tops with egg, then sprinkle with nonpareils. Bake at 375° for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the bread sounds somewhat hollow when rapped with a knuckle.

Makes two bread rings.

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Seder Braised Lamb

>> Monday, March 25, 2013


Seder Braised Lamb


Joe combined several authentic Jewish recipes for a Seder lamb when we cooked for our church group, who celebrates a Christian Seder dinner each year. We also braised a six-pound beef brisket and baked a yeast lemon bread on the same day, which taxed Joe's ingenuity and the capacity of our oven. Obviously a yeast bread isn't allowed for a Jewish Seder, but our small group generally tries to respect the Jewish traditions while still enjoying other foods.

Lamb for a traditional Seder is never roasted, but always cooked with liquid. Joe rubbed the meat with garlic, parsley, thyme, mint, and salt and let it marinate for a couple of hours before cooking it. At the end of the cooking time, this meat was fork-tender and fragrant with herbs.


Seder Braised Lamb


Ingredients

For the marinade

8 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed, and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp dried mint, or 2 tbsp fresh mint
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp coarse salt
2 tbsp ground black pepper
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 lb leg of lamb (or lamb shoulder)

Marinade instructions

Place the garlic, rosemary, mint, salt, and oil in a blender or food processor. Finely blend the ingredients. Spread the mixture on all sides of the lamb and let it marinade for at least an hour. You can marinate it in the refrigerator a day ahead and save time on your cooking day, but if you do, let it rise to room temperature before beginning to cook it.

For the lamb

2 tbsp oil
1 cup onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup parsley, chopped and divided
1 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped (or 1 tsp dried tarragon)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

In a large casserole or roasting pan, heat the half the oil then brown the lamb on all sides, usually about 5 minutes per side, then remove and set aside. Add the rest of the oil and saute the onions and garlic until tender. Return the lamb to the pan. Stir together the lemon juice, broth, and wine, and pour over the lamb. Sprinkle with the tarragon and half of the parsley.

Cover the lamb and place it in the oven. Braise it over low heat for 4 hours, remove the lid and braise for 1 more hour. Remove from the oven, place the meat on a cutting board, and cover it with foil.

Strain the liquid in the pan and then siphon off as much fat as possible. Heat the cooking broth in a saucepan while slicing the meat across the grain. Sprinkle the rest of the parsley and tarragon over the meat before serving, and serve the cooking broth on the side for drizzling.

Serves 8-12, depending on the size of the meat.

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Crostini with Chicken Liver Pâté (Crostini di Fegatini)

>> Friday, March 22, 2013


Cortona

On our third day of marriage, Joe and I stepped out into the dusty September heat of Tuscany and drove up mighty switchbacks, buttressed by fieldstone walls, into the fortress town of Cortona. Our ears popped over and over on the way up, till we were perched on a nearly-vertical cobblestone street looking out over the dry patchwork hills of the Valdichiana valley. The homes rose from each level like yellow towers; tiny walled gardens nestled in courtyards.

Neither of us had heard of Frances Mayes' book "Under the Tuscan Sun", so we were able to enjoy the city through our own eyes, rather than her descriptions.

Cortona, Piazza della Republica

We said we were looking for lunch, but we were really just looking. In the Piazza della Republica, the stone steps of the town hall spread wide, and teenagers giggled with each other on the steps. American and German tourists, in khakis and fanny packs, plopped down to study their maps. The enormous clock on the bell tower looked older than the United States. It still tells the correct time.

Cortona, Piazza della Republica

After lunch, we asked directions from three different people to find a grocery store. We needed supplies for the week we'd spend at the villa. But here there were no supermarkets. We asked for a drogheria and ended up in a place that sells things like light bulbs and laundry soap, which we actually did need because our luggage went to Pisa while we went to Creti.

So we stopped into a bakery and got fresh panini with rosemary, then bought peaches, tomatoes, and blackberries from a street vendor. Later we found wild boar salami and pecorino cheese with shaved black truffles, and we ate these things for breakfast every day.

Cortona Enoteca

Cortona had a slightly touristy feel. The buildings in the center of town were mostly three or four stories tall with cafes and shops on the ground floor. The homes above were shuttered against the sun. We shopped for Italian pottery and a glass oil and vinegar cruet.

Joe found a wine shop with a very enthusiastic clerk who was studying for an Italian wine-seller's certification. He made some impressive recommendations. One was a 1997 Brunello di Montalcino that we decided to save for our first anniversary.

Alley to a private Tuscan courtyard

After touring some gorgeous churches, we rested our feet in a park with stone seats set into the side of the hill, amphitheater style. Workers were setting up trusses for an outdoor movie screen. Beyond it was a rank of ancient trees outlining a stone stage. Through the trees at the end of the park, the sun began to sink, washing the buildings with peach, then gold, then orange.

Cortona sunset

Earlier in the day we had passed a restaurant on a narrow side street. There were only two little tables on a balcony outside. "I want to eat dinner there," Joe said, so we headed across the town that was just waking up to the evening. Shutters were opening, the old ladies gathered with old ladies, the old men smoked at cafe tables, and the children ran in and out of the courtyards. Techno-pop music spilled out into the streets.

Cortona side street

We were the first people at the trattoria and we got the balcony table we hoped for. As we decided on an antipasti, a big group of Italian men poured into the restaurant. The waiter told us it was a local soccer team.

"What is crostini di fegatini?" We asked, not finding it in our Italian dictionary.
"It is like a...like a pâté."
"We love pâté!"
"It is not exactly pâté. It is made from chicken...I will bring it. You'll like."

Joe at dinner in Cortona

We did indeed like it. We also found that it is very easy to make, and every bite reminds us of that wonderful night in Cortona.

Crostini with Chicken Liver Pate (Crostini di Fegatini)


Ingredients

1 small baguette, thinly sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tsp capers, drained and rinsed
6 chicken livers
1/3 cup Vin Santo or other sweet white wine
2 small de-boned anchovy fillets, or 2 tbsp anchovy paste
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, then saute the onions until soft. Stir in the garlic and capers and saute about 2 minutes longer. Cut the livers and anchovies into small pieces and saute with the onion mixture until the livers are no longer pink. Pour in the wine and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Brush the baguette rounds with oil and heat on a baking pan in the oven until warm but not toasted, about 5-8 minutes. Keep warm until the pâté is finished.

Place the mixture in a food processor or blender and process until it is a smooth paste, adding the broth and stirring as it processes. Cut the butter into tiny pieces and process into the paste, along with the salt and pepper.

Spread the pâté on the bread and serve. A cool, full-bodied white wine will complement this appetizer.

Serves 10.

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Pear-Almond Tart

>> Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Fresh pears in bowl


When you have a bowl full of tender ripe pears with just a little blush along the sides, the first thing you should do is take a photo of the lovely fruit. The second thing you should do is poach them and then bake them into this tart. This would be wonderful for an Easter dinner dessert, or for breakfast...or lunch...or dinner. With fruit and nuts and a crispy-sweet crust, it's a complete meal. Mmm.

Pear-Almond Tart

Ingredients

5 ripe Comice or Bartlett pears
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
2 tbsp lemon juice

For the batter

3/4 cup butter 
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 cup slivered almonds
2 tbsp sliced almonds (for topping)

Directions

Core and cut the pears into 1/2" slices. Place them in a saucepan and cover with the Grand Marnier and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs and beat until fluffy. Stir in the flour and almonds. 

Pour about 2/3 of the batter into a greased pie pan. Arrange the pear slices around the pan in a scalloped pattern. Pour any remaining juice from the pears over the fruit. Pour the rest of the batter over the pears, then sprinkle the sliced almonds over the top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the crust is golden and crispy, and the center is cooked through.

Serves 8.

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Eggplant Stuffed with Mushrooms (Aubergines Farcies Duxelles)

>> Monday, March 18, 2013


Eggplant Stuffed with Mushrooms (Aubergines Farcies Duxelles)

Julia Child's exquisite stuffed eggplant recipe can be either a main dish or served in quarters or slices as a side dish. Though Julia probably never heard of Panko bread crumbs, I am certain she would have used them if she found them.

Part of the luscious taste is the cream cheese and small amount of Swiss cheese. I'm sorry, vegans, I don't know how to make this vegetarian-friendly. The rest of you, happy aubergine-ing!

Ingredients

3 medium eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil, divided in half
1 cup minced onion
1 cup porcini mushrooms, finely chopped
2 cups white button mushrooms, finely chopped
2 tsp black truffle salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
4 oz cream cheese, softened (we used fat-free cream cheese)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Swiss or sharp cheddar cheese (we used low-fat cheese)
2 tbsp butter, melted

Directions

Cut the stem end off the eggplant and cut them in half lengthwise. Make lengthwise cuts about 1/2 inch apart, scoring the eggplants nearly to the purple peel. Sprinkle the surface with salt and lay on sheets of paper towels for 30 minutes to draw out the water and any bitterness.

Scored eggplant

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Spray or oil a baking sheet, then lay the eggplant halves cut side up on the sheet. Broil them 4-5 inches away from the heat for 10 or 15 minutes, until the flesh is very tender. Cut the eggplant from the skin, leaving a 1/4 inch shell on each eggplant. Coarsely chop the flesh. Turn down the oven to 375 degrees.

Chopped eggplant

Heat a frying pan, then add 1 tbsp olive oil. Saute the onion until tender and translucent. Set aside the onions and heat up another tbsp of olive oil. Saute the mushrooms until tender, then stir into the onions. Stir in the truffle salt, pepper, mustard, cream cheese, and herbs.

Lay the eggplant shells in an oiled baking sheet. Fill each eggplant with an equal amount of the mushroom mixture. Stir together the Panko crumbs and cheese, and carefully sprinkle over the tops of the eggplants. Drizzle with the melted butter. Pour 1/8 inch of water around the shells. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the stuffing is tender and bubbly, and the topping is golden brown.

Makes 3 main-dish meals, or 6-8 side dishes.
If you follow Weight Watchers, one medium eggplant half is 4 points+, counts as 2 vegetable servings, and 1 milk serving.

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Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts

>> Friday, March 15, 2013


Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts

Jessie, pan-roasting meat is one of those traditional chef techniques that's really worth learning. You need a frying pan that can go in the oven, which means the handle should either be metal or another material that's ovenproof. If your frying pan handle already has burn marks or melted spots from using it on the stove, it's not ovenproof.

You can cook any thick cut of meat or fish this way; it makes the outside crisp and the inside incredibly juicy. Basically, you quickly sear the outside of the meat on high heat, then roast it in the oven so that it's evenly cooked. At the end, you sort of bathe it over and over with butter and broth while turning it and cooking, until the juice just seeps off of it. The extra steps are worth it - I was nearly in tears over a recent chicken breast. Yes, I know I get emotional about food, but still.

Ingredients


For the seasoning

2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp sage
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper


2 bone-in chicken breasts
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil

Directions

Start by taking the skin off the chicken because you know you hate skin and even if you liked it, it's full of fat and not good for you. The fat end of each chicken breast is where the skin is loosest, so lift it up and pull it down toward the pointed end. You'll have to cut it off here and around the sides.

By the way, if you were ever in a plane crash like in the book "Hatchet" and had to live off of animals you caught, this is how you would skin them. Just in case you needed some survival skills. It comes off pretty easily once you get going. 

Next, you're going to stir together the seasoning ingredients and rub it into the chicken. The chicken on the left has been coated with the seasonings mixed together up above, and Joe's about to roll the other one on the plate of seasoning mix. Let the seasoned chicken sit for at least 15 minutes so the flavor seeps down into the meat. 

Seasoned chicken breasts


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the frying pan on medium-high heat, and when it is hot, pour in the oil and swirl it around to coat the pan. Adding the oil to a hot pan means you use less oil because it doesn't seep into the pores of a cold pan. It tastes better and heats up more evenly, too.

When the oil starts to shimmer in the pan, it's hot enough for you to put the chicken in the pan and brown it on one side for 3-4 minutes. Turn it over and brown the other side. When all sides are evenly golden brown (about 10 minutes), put the pan in the oven.

Roast the meat for 10-14 minutes, turning every few minutes, until the chicken is cooked to whiteness if you cut through the middle of a breast. If you use a meat thermometer, it should be about 165 degrees in the middle of the meat when it's done. Take the chicken out of the pan.

Place the pan on the stove. Melt the butter and oil together in the frying pan on medium-high heat until the butter has stopped bubbling but is still foamy. Put the chicken into the butter and let it sizzle for about 1 minute. Then tilt the pan so the butter mixture pools on one side, and pour spoonfuls of butter sauce over the meat. Keep basting the meat until the butter is a golden brown color like it is in the photo below. Serve it hot with the butter sauce on the side.


Serves 2-4, depending on how big the chicken is and how hungry you are.

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Best Corned Beef Brisket

>> Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Best Corned Beef Brisket

I love living in a country that's a tossed salad of cultures. That means that there's nearly always a special day to celebrate, along with traditional foods for that celebration. And my, do I love corned beef for St. Patrick's Day. A few years ago, though, we were looking for a slightly different recipe than the usual. I don't remember where we found this recipe, but we adored it and now it's the only way we make it.

Like I suggested with the Guinness Irish stew, why not pop this into the crock pot and go find an Irish celebration during the day? Here in Chicago, we have the second-largest Irish population in the United States. There are celebrations all over the city for St. Patrick's Day; two parades are our favorites. The downtown St. Patrick's Day parade runs close to the lakefront (dress warmly!) the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day - March 17. Get there early to see them dyeing the Chicago river green by boat.



There are plenty of rollicking parade-goers, and plenty of alcohol, singing and dancing, and general good-will. Chicago also has dozens of great pubs around the parade route. However, if you're looking for a celebration that is a little more family-friendly and a little less like a chilly Mardi Gras celebration, why not head down to the South Side neighborhood of Beverly for their traditional St. Patrick's Mass, parade, and family parties?

The celebrations here remind us that St. Patrick's Day is a religious holiday for the patron saint of Ireland, not just a drinking holiday. South Side pride is alive and well with the jolly parade watchers all clad in green, beads and feather boas slung around their necks and and crazy hats on their heads. But the South Siders are most proud of the firefighters, police, schools, and church groups, judging by the cheering that rises as each of these groups march past.




Open alcohol is prohibited on the streets, and security is abundant. These long-time Irish immigrants keep a clean, friendly, safe environment while they celebrate their love for their homeland. They welcome the honorary Irish, too! You'll find some fine Irish food and traditional music in the local restaurants. We recommend the Irish Manor pub on Pulaski.

Wherever you go for the celebration, it's wise to take Chicago's public transportation. You'll have a lot more fun, you'll walk less, and you'll save a ton of money.

Ingredients

1 5-6 pound corned beef brisket
2 tbsp pickling spice
1 large orange, peeled and sliced
2 cup celery, chopped
1 large onion, sliced
1 cup beef broth
1 head of cabbage, cored and quartered

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Rub the brisket with the pickling spice, and place it in a roasting pan. Arrange celery, orange and onion over the meat. Pour in the water, and cover it tightly. Bake for 3 hours. Add water if the liquid escapes the pan; there should be a cup or two of broth in the bottom of the pan when it is cooked.

After 3 hours, place the cabbage quarters over the meat and baste it with the cooking liquid. Cover it again and bake for 1 more hour, or until the meat and cabbage is very tender.

If you're using a crock pot instead, follow the directions above, then place the cabbage on top of the meat at the beginning of the cooking time. The cabbage will be very soft at the end, but still delicious. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6 hours.

Slice across the grain before serving, and arrange the fruit and vegetables around the roast. We like to serve this with small boiled red potatoes sauteed in garlic, parsley, and olive oil.

Serves 10-12.

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Chorizo and Squash-Stuffed Sweet Peppers

>> Monday, March 11, 2013


Chorizo and Risotto-Stuffed Sweet Peppers

Cooking with friends who love food the way we do is one of our greatest pleasures. Last weekend I had a cooking date with my friend Talea Bloom, and she made me these stuffed peppers for lunch. They're incredibly rich and flavorful, especially with bell peppers at the peak of ripeness and sweetness.

In the middle of lunch, I realized I hadn't taken a photo to post with the recipe. "Stop cutting!" I said. "I need a picture!"

She patiently let her pepper grow cool while I set up a nice shot. That's one of the drawbacks of food blogging when you're hungry - snapping pics of food that's getting colder (or warmer) while you drool on your camera.

We live in an area of a lot of ethnic diversity, and one of the local grocery stores makes tasty fresh chorizo. One of these days we're going to try making it ourselves, using the sausage-making techniques I developed in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food. I'll be sure to post recipes if we do it!

Ingredients

6 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp reserved for topping
1 tbsp butter
3 medium shallots, diced
1 cup arborio rice
1 lb fresh chorizo
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and finely diced
¾ cup white wine
4 cups boiling chicken stock
½ cup minced dates
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, 1 tbsp reserved for topping
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
½ cup asiago cheese, grated
4 large yellow or orange peppers

Directions

Heat the oil and butter together in a large frying pan. Sauté the shallots until glossy and translucent. Add rice and sauté till white. Place the rice and shallots in a bowl and set aside. Remove the chorizo from its casing and crumble it into the pan. Brown the meat on all sides. Stir in the squash.

Pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.  Pour in the chicken stock and rice mixture. Simmer covered for 15 minutes, or until rice is nearly tender. Add dates, cilantro, mascarpone and asiago cheese. Stir well, then turn off the heat and leave the pan covered.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and core them. Oil a 9x12 baking pan and lay the peppers in the pan. Divide the chorizo mixture evenly between each pepper half. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 25 minutes, or until the peppers are just tender. Sprinkle with the reserved cilantro before serving.

Serves 8.

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Guinness Irish Beef Stew

>> Friday, March 8, 2013

Guinness Irish Beef Stew


A few years ago I took an Humanities tour of Ireland and Scotland during winter break at my college, studying art, literature, and Celtic culture. We left Chicago on Boxing Day (December 26 to us Yankees) and spent two weeks falling in love with the countryside, the very friendly people, and the rich tradition of art and literature around us.

Irish town
The exuberant colors of Irish buildings. 

I know I fall in love easily when I'm traveling, but there are just so many things to love.

Glendalough Monastery
Glendalough Monastery, founded around 600  A.D.
Dublin Museum of Natural History
Dublin Museum of Natural History

During my trip, I tried authentic Irish stew a couple of times. On a chilly day, is there anything better than beef and vegetables slowly simmered in a dark savory gravy? Yes there is! The Irish say, why not add a couple cups of stout beer to the broth?

Angela at Guinness Brewery in Dublin
Guinness DOES taste better at the source: the Dublin brewery's tasting room.
This beef stew is best if it cooks low and slow for a long time, so you can put it in a Dutch oven or a slow cooker and let it melt into delicious stew all day. That's perfect if you want to go to an Irish celebration like the Chicago parades or a local party. By the time you come home, chilled and ravenous, it will be ready for you to devour.

If you visit Ireland, there are at least two things you should know. Between Christmas and New Year's Day, nearly everything shuts down - the entire country is closed. I wanted a friendly Irish family to adopt me for the holiday week as their aunt from America. I would have loved to snuggle into one of those old farm cottages with the peat fires burning on each end of the house, and get in touch with my Irish pride.


The other thing that you should know is that, if you should buy a package of Guinness to sip while you're dressing to go out to the pub with your friends, there is not a single item in the Republic of Ireland that will open the bottles except for a bottle opener. Not a doorjamb, a faucet, your teeth, the sharp corner of a table, a ring, or certainly not your poor tender palms.

Kara opening Guinness bottle
Kara is battling a Guinness bottle with the faucet. The bottle won. You can feel her desperation, can't you?

Instead, just go to the local pub, which is a sort of extension of the Irish living room. You'll get to sing along with the band and maybe even play, if you brought your pipes, bodhrán, or fiddle. You'll definitely enjoy plenty of craic ("crack"), which means good times with good friends, music, and gossip.

Kilkenny pub
Pub in Kilkenny; I'm pretty sure it was called Tynan's Bridge House.

Ingredients

Note: use any combination of veggies you like; this stew is adaptable!
2 pounds beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup flour
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups onions, sliced
1 cup parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/4" coins (about 2 medium-sized parsnips)
1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4" coins (about 2 medium-sized carrots)
1 cup celery, sliced (about 2 celery ribs)
1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
2 pounds red potatoes, quartered
1 1/2 bottles Guinness or other stout-style beer
4 cups beef broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves

Guinness Irish Beef Stew

Instructions

Toss the beef with the flour until the pieces are well coated on all sides. Heat the oil in a frying pan and brown the meat on all sides.

Stir together the broth, beer, water, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and bay leaves.

If using a crock pot, place half the beef in the pot then half the vegetables, then layer the other half of meat and vegetables on top. Pour the broth mixture over the top and cook, covered, for 8-10 hours on low heat or 4-6 hours on high heat (depending on your crock pot's temperature). When finished, the meat and vegetables should be falling-apart tender.

If using a pot on the stove, place the beef, onions, garlic, and other vegetables in the pot. Pour the broth mixture over the top and stir it together. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 60-90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Again, you know the stew is ready when the meat and vegetables are falling-apart tender.

Before serving, remove the bay leaves. Blend together the cornstarch and water and stir it into the sauce. Let it thicken the sauce for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8.

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Thai Lemongrass Chicken

>> Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Thai Lemongrass Chicken

Thailand is one of Asian countries we'd like to visit the most, in part because of the culture's light and savory recipes. Luckily for all us Thai food lovers, their cuisine has become so popular and well-known that it's much easier to find the ingredients to make authentic dishes.

In our sometimes disorganized lives, Joe and I have bought fresh lemongrass, which is a stiff greenish-beige stalk about eight inches long, and then forgot it was in the vegetable bin. Eventually the grass gets as tough as that bamboo mat in the photo, and we would have to throw it out. If you have the same problem, or you have trouble finding fresh lemongrass at a grocery store, try buying it dried from the spice section of your store. Just soak it in boiling water for about 15 minutes before draining it and using it in a recipe.

Ingredients


For the sauce

1 cup fat-free chicken broth
Juice of 1/2 lime (1 tbsp)
1 tsp lime zest
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tsp corn starch mixed in 2 tsp cold water (for thickening)

For the meal


12 oz. spaghetti or rice noodles
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp lemongrass, minced
1/2 cup green onions or garlic chives, chopped
1 1/2 cups Napa cabbage or baby bok choy, shredded
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts

Thai Lemongrass Chicken in wok

Directions

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions, and keep warm. Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

Heat the oil and pepper flakes in a hot wok until the pepper is sizzling, then add the chicken and stir-fry it at a high heat until the chicken turns from pink to white on all sides - 4 to 5 minutes. Add the vegetables and stir-fry for 2 more minutes.

Toss the noodles with the chicken mixture in the wok. Pour the sauce over the chicken mixture and simmer for 5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp of cilantro before serving, if desired.

Makes about 6 one-cup servings.

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Slim Swedish Meatballs (Köttbullar) with Spaetzle

>> Friday, March 1, 2013



After Joe and I made traditional Norwegian meatballs (kjottkaker) and German Spaetzle with Swiss cheese a few weeks ago, we decided to make some Swedish meatballs with spaetzle. Swedish Meatballs are heavenly, but they're usually pretty heavy food. When we cooked one sublime version, we literally poured the fat off the finished sauce before serving. And yet, they're such crave-able little bites, we can't swear off on them forever. We came up with this lighter version of an authentic Scandinavian recipe. Check out more traditional Swedish foods here.

To make this a slimmer dish, we exchanged half the meat for lowfat turkey, used fat-free milk and sour cream, and used egg whites instead of a whole egg. These substitutions work wonders to lighten up delicious recipes without sacrificing flavor. May they make you slimmer, too!

Köttbullar (SHUT-boo-lahr) are traditionally served with egg noodles, lingonberries, and sliced pickled cucumbers. Unfortunately, we didn't find any lingonberries in time for dinner.

Ingredients

For the meatballs

1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound lean ground turkey
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2/3 cup bread crumbs (try to find low-fat bread crumbs, or make your own with light bread)
1/4 cup skim milk
1/4 cup egg whites or egg substitute
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tsp beef bouillon
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp oil

For the sauce

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp paprika
1 2/3 cups boiling water
2 tbsp beef bouillon
1 cup fat-free sour cream

Directions

In a large bowl, stir together all the meatball ingredients. Dig in with your hands and mix until well combined. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 baking pan. Put a rack in the bottom, if you like, so that any oil from the meatballs will drain below the meat and you can pour it off.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the meatballs on all sides. You may have to cook these in several batches so they're not crowded in the pan. Place in the baking pan, cover, and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.

In a saucepan, whisk together all sauce ingredients. Heat to a low boil, stirring constantly.

Remove the pan from the oven and drain off any fat. Remove the rack if you used one. Pour the sauce over the meatballs and return to the oven. Cover and cook for 20 more minutes, until the sauce is reduced and thickened.

Try serving this over egg noodles or whole-wheat pasta, too.

Slim Swedish Meatballs

Makes 4-6 servings for dinner, or more for appetizers.

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