Thursday, January 31, 2008

Noodle Love: Rotelle

I love noodles. I recently bought an unusual selection of them and have assigned myself the challenge of finding the perfect dish to best complement each noodle’s shape. The easiest one, by far, is rotelle, or “wagon wheels.” But I still have some bucatini, capricci, and spugnole waiting for me in the pantry. I’m open to suggestions.

Anyway, to me, rotelle just screams “chili mac.” So that’s what I made. I only used 1/2 a pound, so I’m looking forward to finding a way to use the second half of the box, but I doubt I’ll top chili mac. I mean, come on—what better way is there to use this noodle?

The recipe’s pretty simple. In fact, there is no recipe. I just thought about what I’d like to have and I added it to the mix. You could make this lots of different ways, but here’s what I did.

Chili Mac

1/2 lb. rotelle
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. ground turkey
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup black beans
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 cup salsa
1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese, plus extra for sprinkling on top
Sliced scallions, sour cream, and hot sauce, for serving

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for 6 to 7 minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in a deep pan over medium-high heat. Add turkey, onions, jalapeño, and garlic. Break up turkey with a wooden spoon and stir frequently. When turkey is cooked through, add chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Stir in beans, corn, and salsa. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until mixture is heated through.

Add Monterey and cheddar cheeses. Stir until melted. Add cooked pasta to turkey mixture and, very gently, stir to combine. Taste, adjust seasoning as needed, and serve with extra cheese and scallions.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Chocolate Oat Bars

I haven’t yet told you how I do my grocery shopping, have I?

First, you need to know that I’m a rather hermit-like person. My preferred state of being is in my pajamas, on the couch, in my apartment. So it’s only fitting that I would have my groceries delivered to me rather than go to the store and buy them.

When I was in high school, I worked in a grocery store. We had a program called “Shop For You” that enabled customers to have an employee do their shopping for them, and all the customer would have to do is come in long enough to pay the bill and pick up their bags. All for a small fee, of course. I used to think, Why would you want someone else to do your shopping? Well, I now know why.

For me, it’s mostly about my desire to leave my apartment as infrequently as possible. But it isn’t only about that. In addition, I really don’t like my grocery store. It is always crowded, there are always long lines, the produce is always in bad shape, and they’re always out of at least one thing I need. So when one year ago Peapod sent me coupons in the mail that allowed me to get my first five deliveries free (there’s usually a $7.95 delivery fee), I had to try it out. I became hooked. I don’t think I can ever go back.

Not only do they bring your groceries right to your door, but shopping online is so easy! I can see all the weekly specials at a glance, and I adjust my shopping accordingly. Plus, they’re always sending free samples and coupons for delivery discounts. And the free samples are good ones. This week I got a free full-size box of Barilla whole grain penne, and the previous week I got a full-size box of Tazo tea. Nice.

There are, however, some drawbacks. The delivery guy is sometimes late, which means I can’t make any plans for nights when my groceries are coming. Also, when you’re doing your shopping online, you sometimes don’t know exactly what you’re going to be getting. You need to pay extra close attention to listed quantities and amounts. For instance, I recently thought I was getting a regular size container of quick-cooking oats, and mistakenly ordered the jumbo size. This container is so big that it doesn’t even fit in my cereal cabinet, and I need to sit it on the floor in my pantry.

As a result of this, I have, of course, become fixated on cooking with oatmeal. I’ve baked it and fried it, made scones with it, and today turned it into cookie bars. I could probably just let the container hang around and use it as the need arose—oats don’t go bad, do they?—but that’s not my style.

Here’s the recipe for Chocolate Oat Bars. These are quick, easy, and good for snacking. I bet you could use this basic method in lots of different ways. For instance, you could probably replace the chocolate layer with a fruity jam layer and have them turn out just as well.

Chocolate Oat Bars

1 tablespoon cold butter
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons quick-cooking oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8-inch square baking dish with tin foil (for easy clean-up) and, using cold tablespoon of butter, grease bottom of foil and half-way up the sides. Reserve remaining butter (about 2 teaspoons) for later.

In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over low heat, melt together chocolate chips and milk. Stir frequently, and remove from heat when chips have melted.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, 1/2 cup oats, baking powder baking soda, and salt. In a medium owl, stir together egg, sugar, oil and vanilla. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients.

Reserve 1/3 cup dough. Spread the rest evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the chocolate layer evenly over the top.

To the remaining dough add 2 tablespoons of oats and reserved butter. Cut butter into the dough with a fork or with your fingers. Drop small bits of dough evenly over the chocolate layer.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for at leat an hour before cutting.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Breakfast

One of my favorite parts of the weekend is getting to have a nice big breakfast. I don’t eat breakfast at all on weekdays, so it’s something I look forward to every Saturday and Sunday. But by “big” I don’t necessarily mean “heavy.” A big breakfast can also be light, and it can be just as satisfying as bacon and eggs.

On today’s menu:
Spiced Americano
Cinnamon-Oat Scones
Strawberries and Whipped Cream


This is Nigella’s recipe. I have no idea where the name comes from, but it is what it is. I cut the recipe in half to make enough for two people. It’s just 1.5 cups grapefruit juice, 1.5 cups orange juice, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and 1 tablespoon grenadine. The grenadine is what really caught my eye about this recipe. I’ve had a soft spot for it ever since I first laid lips on a Shirley Temple.

When I did my shopping for this I didn’t want to buy a carton of grapefruit juice and a carton of orange juice (crowded fridge), so I got a carton of grapefruit juice and a bag of oranges. In case you’re wondering, you’ll need about 6 oranges for 1.5 cups of juice. Also, half a lime will get you the tablespoon of juice you need. Nigella always uses “plastic lime,” as she calls it, which is just lime juice from a bottle. I find her no-fuss approach very refreshing, but I have to say that, when I have both fresh and plastic lime on hand, I’ll choose the fresh. There’s definitely a difference, and fresh is definitely better.

Spiced Americano

This recipe comes courtesy of Giada, and it’s just equal parts espresso and water sweetened with a spiced simple syrup and topped with whipped cream. The hardest part of this is making the simple syrup, which isn’t actually “hard” at all, but it’s something you may not want to bother with first thing in the morning. I suggest making it ahead, if you can, and storing it in the fridge. If you’re going to also make the strawberries and whipped cream, make some extra cream now while you’re at it.

Cinnamon-Oat Scones

This is a Betty Crocker recipe that is, of course, based on a Betty Crocker product. I love these kind of short-cut baking recipes. I love just dumping everything in the same bowl and being done with it, especially in the morning when you’re hungry and don’t want to wait forever for breakfast. One warning here: the dough is very sticky. The oats will suck up all that moisture in the oven, but working with it is messy. If you have a silpat, use it. Dump the dough onto your prepared pan and sprinkle it with some streusel mixture right away. This will keep the dough from sticking to your fingers. Shape the streuseled dough into an 8-inch circle, top with the rest of the streusel, and cut into 8 slices. I used a pizza cutter, which worked well.

These aren’t real scones, of course, but they’re good and they’re easy. You could do muffins instead if you wanted to. I served mine with butter and strawberry preserves.

Strawberries and Whipped Cream

You don’t need a recipe for this, of course, but a good tip is to serve these along with the Americano, so that you can get twice the use out of making fresh whipped cream. I served this in the mini margarita glasses I just got from Crate and Barrel. So cute!

So there you have it. A weekend breakfast that is easy and elegant. Believe me, I love pancakes and sausage and bacon as much as the next person, but sometimes it’s nice to lighten things up a bit. Especially when the hours you’ve been spending in the kitchen have begun to translate into inches around your waist.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The "It" Dish

I've been thinking lately about exactly why I like to cook. I mean, a large part of it, obviously, is that I love to eat. I love food. I love making food and consuming large quantities of it. It's good stuff.

But, when I'm completely honest with myself, I realize that cooking sometimes is a chore. Baking, for instance, can take a long time. Sometimes I think that I shouldn't spend yet another Saturday afternoon in the kitchen, but something compels me to do it. It's like I have to make something. But as I'm making it, I can sometimes get cranky. I have a tiny kitchen, and when I'm standing in front of a stove and an oven that are both turned on, I get very hot. And when I have several things going at once and I suddenly can’t find the paprika in the avalanche-waiting-to-happen that is my spice shelf, I get pissy. And when, God forbid, something does not come out as I had planned, I can become a tad irate. Those who have been near me at such times can attest to this. One day, I will tell you about the time the bottom layer of my brownies adhered itself to my allegedly nonstick baking dish, or the time an oozing puddle of raw batter hid itself beneath an ostensibly finished layer of corn pudding. One day, I'll tell you how I reacted. But not just now--we don't know each other well enough yet.

But I've realized that those tantrums are key, because the explanation behind my cooking obsession lies within them. For me, cooking is all about the possibilities. It is about the great thing that could be. It is about the feeling I get when I stick a dish in the oven and imagine how it will be when I take it out. Will it be everything I hoped it would be? Will that first bite make me close my eyes and smile and think, yes, this is it? And, of course, if half my dish is either uncooked or glued to the bottom of the pan, all such possibilities are obliterated.

This also explains my rather obsessive habit of collecting recipes. A good recipe is loaded with possibilities. I collect recipes more than I actually cook. I have lists and piles of them, boxes stuffed with them, all in the hopes that one of them will be it--the one that is worth keeping, the one I'll want to make over and over again.

One of the things I enjoy most is planning my grocery shopping. I decide in advance what I'll be cooking and what recipes I'll need to shop for, and, when my list for that week is complete, I'll go back to it over and over again, staring at it, imagining myself making each thing, weighing in my mind how likely it is that each dish will be an "it" dish. And when I think I've got one, I will count down to the day that I make it, and that entire day will revolve around the making and eating of said dish, all the time hoping, hoping….

The danger with this, of course, is that only the rarest recipe stands a chance of living up to such elevated expectations.

And so I try again, continually, determinedly. It sounds a bit demented, actually. But it is what I do. And when I finally get it, and I take that first bite of a delicious something, and I am completely unable to keep the corners of my mouth from turning upward as I taste it, and I know that I'll have to keep eating this long after I'm full, because it's that good, that's when I'm rewarded for my efforts, and then--only then--am I satisfied.

And then I begin searching for the next one.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cashew Chicken

For years, I ordered nothing but cashew chicken (and won ton soup, of course) when I went to Chinese restaurants. I never ordered anything else because I loved cashew chicken so so much, and I needed to take advantage of every opportunity I had to get some. Then one day I saw RR make it and I thought, wait, why haven't I been making this at home?

Rachael's isn't exactly traditional though. It has chipotle in adobe in it, which is very spicy, and I'm a wuss. I'm nowhere near chipotle level. I'm getting better though. I remember a time when I didn't use garlic; I don't remember what sort of food I was eating then, but I know it must not have been very good. The recent adoption of andouille into my repertoire was quite a milestone for me, and lately I've been known to incorporate a jalapeño or two, although always meticulously seeded and deveined. But I'm just not on board with the chipotle in adobe yet.

I made this dish for the first time months ago. I wasn't able to find chipotle in adobe in my store, so I got some chipotle chili powder, which Rachael said could be substituted. The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons, so, knowing myself, I used only 1 scant tablespoon. I stirred some in and tasted it, and--I'll never forget this--I couldn't believe how hot it was. I kept adding more of the other ingredients, trying to save the dish, but even though I was able to decrease the heat level a bit, there is no getting rid of that chipotle flavor. It is strong, and it permeates everything it touches. And, aside from the heat, I find I'm not that crazy about the flavor of it. Although I do enjoy the chipotle mayonnaise on a Sierra Turkey Sandwich from Panera. But I think mayo could make me love anything.

Anyway, I made the dish again, this time without the chipotle. It's really very good. It's not exactly like you would get in a restaurant, but it's close. It has its own unique flavor that I appreciate. I never would have believed that a sauce made from honey, maple syrup, and cumin would give me what I was after, but it works.

Now when I make it, I leave mine spice-free and stir in some chipotle powder at the end or sprinkle some on top for my fiancé, who likes it spicy. And when I go to Chinese restaurants, I find that I no longer have a problem giving other dishes a try. I've discovered that sesame chicken is quite tasty.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Deep-Dish Meatball Pizza

Today I took a 30-minute meal and turned it into a 2-hour meal. Sounds crazy, but I had good reason. Rachael’s Mega Meatball Pizza calls for already-made pizza dough. You can buy it, she says, or get it from your favorite pizza shop. Has anyone ever actually walked into a pizza shop and asked for some dough? Did they give it to you? I just don’t see it happening at the pizzeria across the street from me. As for store-bought dough, well, that’s just not an option. My store only carries refrigerated dough, not frozen, and you know what I’m talking about here—the stuff in a can that tastes like a poorly adapted biscuit. The last time I struggled with that stuff, cursing as it tore during my futile attempts to shape it into some semblance of a pizza, I swore I’d never use it again. And I haven’t.

So to make Rachael’s pizza, I made my own dough. I wanted something that would be no hassle whatsoever, and so I looked for one I could make in my bread machine. I used this one from, and it worked really well. I flavored mine with (dried) rosemary, just like in Rachael’s recipe, and I got a perfect dough ball.

Because the toppings are a bit heavy in this recipe, I thought it would work well as a deep-dish pizza. I decided my 9x13-inch baking dish was my best bet for this, but I wasn’t sure how it would affect baking. I wanted to bake the crust a bit before adding the toppings, just to keep it from getting soggy, but I was afraid the center of the crust would puff up on me. I mentally scanned my pantry, thinking I could hold it down with some dried beans, the way you would a pie crust, but I knew I didn’t have any beans. Finally, I decided to just try it and see what happened. I greased my pan and then sprinkled it with cornmeal—the latter helped “grab” the dough as I tried to spread it into the corners of the pan. After working at it a while, I got the dough up the sides of the pan about half-way, then stuck it in a 375-degree oven for 11 minutes. Meanwhile, I made the filling for the pizza. I followed Rachael’s recipe exactly except I used 1 pound of ground beef and 1/2 pound of ground pork (instead of 1 1/2 pounds sirloin). This just felt more “meatball-like” to me.

After 11 minutes, I took the crust out of the oven. It puffed up even more that I had feared it would. I wish I’d taken a picture just so you could see how big it was, but at the time I was sure it was a disaster, and I’m not one to document my disasters. I added this to my ever-growing list of next-time-I’ll-know-better moments, and went ahead and piled the filling and cheese into the center. I put it back in the oven.

Eleven minutes later, it was done. I was terrified to cut into it. I pictured a chunk of bread with some meat sitting on top. But, bravely, I picked up my knife and forged ahead. I was completely surprised to see that the center had sunk back down during the second baking, and I ended up with a respectable deep-dish pizza, after all. A tasty one, too. The crust did taste more like bread than crust usually does, but that’s actually how this recipe is supposed to turn out. Rachael says she likes her pizza crusts to taste like focaccia, and this one definitely does.

This is very filling, and between two of us here, both with large appetites, we were only able to finish half the pizza. So feed a group or prepare for leftovers. Pair it with a coffee (or chocolate) float, and you’ve got a 2-hour 30-minute meal. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chili Tamale Pie

Yet another thing I love about chili is the possibilities for the leftovers. I usually keep it pretty simple--chili burgers, chili pot-pie, chili taco salad--but whatever it is, it's always delicious. What is it about chili that makes it taste even better a couple days later? Anyway, as much as I love my old standbys, it's always nice to try something different. So with my leftover Turkey and White Bean Chili I made Emeril's Chili Tamale Pie.

I often make something similar to this--chili casserole with cornbread topping--but the tamale topping is much softer and doesn't come together the way a bread does. It has a thick, creamy texture that doesn't really firm up unless you allow it to cool, and even then it's only slightly. The topping alone is a bit bland--I'll add extra salt and pepper next time--but, eaten together with the chili, it's very good.

I served this with a simple salad tossed in Tyler's vinaigrette (also very good, if you like your dressings a bit sweet) and lots of sour cream. There are certain things that I believe were not intended to be eaten without sour cream, and anything chili-related is one of them.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Turkey and White Bean Chili

I love chili. I love anything that comes together slowly in a big pot and that you can taste as you go, adding things, adjusting the flavor, mixing it up as you wish. Plus, you can do so much with the toppings. Sometimes I serve it with tortilla chips for scooping, sometimes over rice, sometimes with the works. This weekend I made Turkey and White Bean Chili from Epicurious, but I ended up changing it quite a bit. The recipe itself is fantastic, but, as in most things, I am particular about my chili. It can’t have big chunks of tomatoes, and it has to be thick, not soupy. Plus, I’m still on my andouille kick.

The original recipe is here, and my modified version follows.

Turkey and White Bean Chili
adapted from recipe at Epicurious

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced
3 cloves garlic
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 pound andouille sausage, casings removed
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 beef bouillon cube
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 19-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed, drained
2 tablespoons parsley

Shredded cheddar, sour cream, and cornbread, for serving

Heat oil and butter in a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat and sauté onions until translucent, then add jalapeno and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Tear sausage into bite-size pieces and add to pan; add turkey and stir. When browned, drain off grease. Season mixture with chili powder, oregano, cumin, bay leaves, coco powder, salt, pepper, and cinnamon stick. Add tomato sauce, beef broth, and bouillon cube. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.

As mixture cooks, taste for seasoning. When cinnamon has reached the desired intensity, remove stick (I left mine in for about half an hour). At the end of cooking time, adjust other seasonings if needed and stir in beans and parsley. Remove bay leaves and serve with the works.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Chicken and Dumplings

Tonight we had Rachael Ray’s Chicken and Dumplings. This recipe may not contain “authentic” dumplings, but it’s pretty darn good nonetheless. Plus, it’s so easy, and on a weeknight, I really need easy. I’ll be making these again. Here’s the recipe adjusted to thicken the sauce a bit and yield two big, delicious servings. Enjoy!

Chicken and Dumplings
adapted from Rachael Ray’s Chicken and Dumplings

3 chicken breast halves
salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter
1 russet potato, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 clove garlic

1 dried bay leaf
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup and 2 tablespoons biscuit mix (I used Bisquick)
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 cup frozen green peas

Cut chicken into bite-size pieces. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning, a thin layer of each. Set aside.

Heat oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a 5-quart pan over medium-high heat. Add potato, onions, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and garlic, and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in remaining tablespoon of butter, and when it melts add flour to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to coat veggies evenly and ensure that flour doesn’t burn. Slowly stir in broth, add chicken, and bring to a boil.

Place biscuit mix in a bowl. Combine with milk, parsley, and thyme. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of prepared mix into the pan, spacing dumplings evenly. You should get about 10 dumplings. Cover pan tightly and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook dumplings for 5 minutes, remove lid and gently flip each one, then replace lid and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove lid and add peas; stir to distribute evenly. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as desired. To serve, ladle chicken mixture into bowls, top with dumplings, and sprinkle with parsley.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Fried Ravioli

Pasta is one of the easiest and cheapest things to make. On the other hand, if you’re not careful, it can get boring. When I was growing up, my mom made spaghetti with plain marinara about once per week, and, after so many years of this, I groaned (silently) every time we had it. Now, I can no longer eat spaghetti with plain red sauce. I have to do something to it. I’ve added sausage, chick peas, cream cheese—anything that’ll mix it up a bit.

Ravioli carries similar challenges. I’ve experimented with sauces, made casseroles out of it, but I’m still always looking for something new. Recently I saw Giada make fried ravioli, and I thought, Why didn’t I think of this before? I’ve seen fried ravioli on restaurant menus as an appetizer, but there’s no reason not to make a meal of it. Some fried ravioli, marinara for dipping, a big salad, and you’re good to go.

The full recipe is here, but this is so easy that you don’t really need it. Just get a package of fresh ravioli, some buttermilk, and some Italian breadcrumbs. Begin heating up some oil in a skillet (I used vegetable oil in cast iron). One at a time, dip ravioli in buttermilk, then dredge in breadcrumbs. When you’ve dipped and dredged your way through the ravioli, fry them in batches, 3-4 minutes per batch, tuning half-way through. Let drain on paper towels, grate some parmesan over them while they’re warm, and that’s it. Add a salad, and a not-so-boring dinner is served.

Cinnamon-Sugar Pecans

Like cinnamon and sugar? Like pecans? Try cinnamon-sugar pecans.

It’s really easy. Get 2 large zip-top bags. Fill one with 1 egg white and 1 tablespoon of water. Whisk briefly. Fill the other with 1 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Add a pinch of salt. Combine thoroughly.

Add a pound of pecans to the bag with the egg mixture and shake to coat. Transfer pecans to the cinnamon-sugar bag, and shake to coat again.

Pour pecans out onto a baking sheet. If you have a silicone baking mat, this is a great time to use it. If you don’t, grease your pan well and stir pecans a few times during baking to make sure they don’t stick. Bake in a preheated 250-degree oven for 1 hour. Allow to cool completely, about an hour, on a wire rack before serving. Resist the urge to eat them as soon as they come out of the oven—they get better as they cool.

These are delicious, and the idea is a simple one that can be used in a hundred different ways. For instance, Barefoot Contessa recently made rosemary roasted cashews. I think I’ll try those next.