Crostini with Lentil and Green Olive Salad

Everyone has a safe place – mine just happens to be in the kitchen.  I feel the same way about yoga, but fortunately the kitchen is in our home, so I never have to travel far to completely escape all the stresses of life.  The kitchen has been such a big part of my life, no wonder it is my safe place – my husband proposed to me in the kitchen; I remember with my younger daughter, when she couldn’t sleep, I would bring her down to the kitchen, put her in a bouncy chair on the counter, and I would cook.  She would stop crying, and just watch me chopping away. Oh, and then the countless meals and treats I have made over the years that have brought such happiness to my family and friends.  I have such wonderful memories of the kitchen, and I look forward to many more.

The problem  is that I am so used to cooking in my own kitchen that when I happen to be somewhere else and I need to cook, my safe place gets a little chaotic – and that is never fun.  Part of my brain is telling me to calm down, you are in the kitchen, have fun – while the other side of my brain has no idea where anything is, how the stove works, whether the oven is on the warm side or the cold.  It is times like that which remind me how important it is to be agile.  It is something I deal with at work constantly – the ability to deal with ambiguity,  and I at work, I am actually pretty good at it.  I actually crave it – because it makes my day interesting.  Cooking though is different – I like going through the motions – the ones I know so well – it is comforting, and cathartic.

Usually my stories have something to do with what I am cooking – but this time I decided to change it up a bit.  I found this recipe in Food and Wine magazine many years ago, and never made it.  I was  looking for an appetizer that could sit in the refrigerator for a few days so I could get multiple uses out of it – and this was perfect.  If you like lentils, this is a wonderful healthy spread to go on crispy pieces of bread or crackers.  The green olives give it a nice subtle flavor.  I actually thought it was so good, I was eating it with a spoon.  Now, back to agility.  It took me a while to figure out – but this year that will be my focus – but not just at work…this year in the kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound lentils, preferably from Abruzzi, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 dried red chile
  • 1/2 pound green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large celery rib, thinly sliced
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 24 small thin slices crusty country bread
  • 1 small fresh red chile, very thinly sliced lengthwise

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium saucepan, generously cover the lentils
with water. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf and dried chile and bring to a
simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until the lentils are tender, about 30
minutes. Drain the lentils, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid; discard the
bay leaf and chile.

In a medium bowl, mash 1 cup of the lentils with a potato masher, then stir
in the remaining lentils. Add the olives, celery, shallot, 1/4 cup of olive oil
and the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the reserved 1/4 cup of
cooking liquid.

Arrange the bread slices on a cookie sheet and bake for about 8 minutes or
until thoroughly crisp. Drizzle the crostini with olive oil and generously spoon
the lentil salad on top. Garnish the crostini with slivers of red chile and
serve.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Crostini with Lentil and Green Olive Salad

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Sweet Streusel Muffins

Before I say anything else, my daughter saved these muffins.  Yes, I am serious.  So, things have been pretty busy lately, so busy that I haven’t had a lot of time to bake.  My blog is definitely suffering…as well as my family, but don’t worry, I have some plans to bake for our temple auction – and boy have I picked out some goodies.  Let’s hope they turn out well.  I just love baking things for the first time when they are to be used for raising money, no stress at all…

Ok, back to my daughter saving these muffins.  I was baking muffins for my other daughter’s Valentine’s Day breakfast, when my older daughter walked into the kitchen.  She wanted to know what I was making, and at that point I was sprinkling the streusel topping on the batter before covering the topping with more batter – and I have to admit, the topping did not look right, I couldn’t believe there was no butter.  I was just about done when my daughter took the book where the recipe was – The Wooden Spoon Bread Book – and informed me that I forgot to turn the page.  She was right – and there was the last ingredient – the butter.  I love this book – everything I make from it comes out wonderfully – but the recipes are printed differently.  Instead of listing all of the ingredients first, then giving you the instructions – it mixes everything up.  So you will get a few ingredients and then instructions on what to do with those ingredients, then some more ingredients, and some more instructions.  It is great – as long as you read the recipe entirely before starting – which of course I failed to do.

So – fortunately she caught me at the perfect time.  I made another batch of topping – and I was good to go.  The muffins turned out beautifully – and very delicious – not too sweet, and perfect with a nice cup of coffee, or glass of milk if you happen to be under 10.  I highly recommend them, but remember to read the whole recipe first…

Ingredients

muffins

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup milk

topping

  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 24-cup mini mufin pan.  Sift together and set aside the flour, salt and baking powder.  In a mixing blowl, beat the egg and stir into the egg the sugar, oil, milk, and sifted dry ingredients in that order.

Make the streusel topping by combining the flour, sugar, cinnamon and butter in a bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers or cut with a pastry blender.

Spoon a teaspoon of batter into each muffin cup.  Sprinkle a teaspoon of topping in each cup.  Divide the remaining batter evenly and spoon over the streusel in muffin cups. Divide the remaining streusel evenly and sprinkle over the top of the batter.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Serve warm.

Makes 24 muffins.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Sweet Streusel Muffins

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Cheesy Meat Loaf Minis

It has been a little while since I tried to pull meat loaf past my kids.  It is hilarious how they love hamburgers and meatballs, but when it comes to meat loaf, there is an instant aversion.  I am not sure what it is about it – but I need to get them over the hump.  Meat loaf is just so easy – much easier than making a bunch of meatballs, and more flavorful than normal hamburgers.  Plus, I don’t have to have buns around – although I was seriously thinking about serving this meat loaf on a bun, just to see if they would notice…but I know better than to try that one.

I saw this recipe in Cooking Light and the word “minis” caught my eye.  Maybe if I made mini meat loaves, instead of one big one, they would think they are just huge oblong shaped meatballs?  So I tried it, and it worked.  It also could have been the cheese chunks in the middle – cheese is like butter in my house – everything is better with cheese.  So I wouldn’t say that my girls were telling me this is the best meal they have ever had, but they did eat everything on their plate – which is definitely a compliment.  Oh, I should also let you know – since they are both anti-condiments – I didn’t put ketchup on theirs, and that also helped.  So – at least now I know the secret of making meat loaf for kids – it’s meat loaf minis!

Ingredients

  • 1/2  cup  fresh breadcrumbs (about 1 ounce)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1  cup  chopped onion
  • 2  garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2  cup  ketchup, divided
  • 3  ounces  white cheddar cheese, diced
  • 1/4  cup  chopped fresh parsley
  • 2  tablespoons  grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1  tablespoon  prepared horseradish
  • 1  tablespoon  Dijon mustard
  • 3/4  teaspoon  dried oregano
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2  pounds  ground sirloin
  • 1  large egg, lightly beaten

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425°.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs; cook 3 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently.

While breadcrumbs cook, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Combine onion mixture, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup ketchup, and remaining ingredients. Shape into 6 (4 x 2-inch) loaves on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray; spread 2 teaspoons ketchup over each. Bake at 425° for 25 minutes or until done.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Cheesy Meat Loaf Minis

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Sautéed Chicken with Sage Browned Butter

Chicken shows up on our dinner menu at least once a week, more often than not, two times.  I love how versatile chicken can be – I can make fajitas one night, and lemon chicken the next – and it is a completely different meal.  Unfortunately though, my kids are not as thrilled as I am.  I often get, “We always have chicken…”  Or, sometimes I get, “Of course we are having chicken, what else is new?”

I saw this recipe in Cooking Light and for some reason it stayed in my head – without even ripping it out of the magazine and putting it in the pantry.  The other night, I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner – and when I looked in the refrigerator, there were two items that called out to me – chicken and sage, left over from a chicken saltimboca I made the week before.  This recipe seriously took me no more than 10 minutes and we were sitting at the table enjoying our meal.  The kids loved it – and what is not to love – everything is better with butter…everything.  So what do you think is for dinner tonight?

Ingredients

  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 sage sprigs
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Fresh sage leaves (optional)

Preparation

Place each breast half between 2 sheets of plastic wrap; pound to 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat; coat with cooking spray. Place flour in a shallow dish; dredge chicken in flour. Add chicken to pan; sauté for 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove chicken from pan.

Add butter and sage sprigs to pan; cook over medium heat until butter browns. Discard sage. Add shallots and thyme; cook for 30 seconds. Add lemon juice; cook for 30 seconds. Serve with chicken. Garnish with sage leaves, if desired.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Sautéed Chicken with Sage Browned Butter

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Butterscotch Pots de Crème

It’s almost Valentine’s Day  – a day like most holidays that somewhat resolves around food.  This holiday in particular though resolves around sweets.  Most people gravitate towards chocolate – which I can completely understand, but what about trying something new this year? 

I saw this recipe in Cooking Light - and saw this as a challenge.  Make a light Pots de Creme?  How could you?  There is no way this can taste good, just no way.  But, I was determined to try – I love butterscotch, and love custard, so I figured I had nothing to lose.  Amazingly, they came out wonderful.  The first surprise was that all the ingredients below made this somehow taste like butterscotch with very little butter.  The second surprise was how creamy the custard was!  I couldn’t believe it – it was definitely rich, and with a touch of whipped cream on top, it was heavenly.  Even my husband who doesn’t like butterscotch, thought it was delicious.  For 200 calories a pot, you cannot go wrong here.

But, if you just can’t let go of the traditional Valentines fare, how about this…my absolute favorite – and also a light version.  With the little hearts on top, it is definitely screaming out for Valentine’s Day…

Ingredients

  • 3/4  cup  whole milk
  • 3/4  cup  2% reduced-fat milk
  • 7  tablespoons  brown sugar
  • 2  tablespoons  water
  • 1  tablespoon  dark molasses
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 2  large eggs
  • 2  large egg yolks
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  butter
  • 1/2  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 1/4  cup  heavy whipping cream
  • 1  tablespoon  powdered sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325°.

Heat milks over medium-high heat in a heavy saucepan to 180° (do not boil). Combine brown sugar and next 5 ingredients (through egg yolks) in a medium bowl; stir well with a whisk. Gradually pour 1/2 cup hot milk mixture into egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return egg mixture to pan, stirring constantly. Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl. Stir in butter and vanilla. Cover and chill 1 hour.

Divide mixture evenly among 6 (8-ounce) custard cups. Place cups in a 13 x 9-inch metal baking pan; add enough hot water to come halfway up sides of cups. Bake at 325° for 24 minutes or until center barely moves when cup is touched. Remove cups from pan; cool on a rack 20 minutes. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Place cream and powdered sugar in a bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Top custards with cream.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Butterscotch Pots de Crème\

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Italian Beef Stew

Lately I wouldn’t say that my kids have been overly thrilled with the meals I have been making.  It’s not that they don’t like them at all, but they seem to find something every night that doesn’t make them happy.  I think I am a pretty decent cook, and they should be thanking me every night for putting a home cooked meal in front of them, but I guess when you grow up with that, you don’t really appreciate it.

We had a little talk, and I explained to them that there would be no more complaining.  If they didn’t like what was on the table for dinner, they could have cold cuts.  So far, things have been going pretty well.  For the most part they have been eating everything I make for dinner – whether they are loving it or not.  I saw this recipe in Cooking Light (which I adapted slightly below), and thought they would love this.  It is simple, not a ton of vegetables, and made with beef – their favorite meat.  Wow, this was incredible – such a delicious stew.  The icing on the cake for me was the polenta I made with black truffle oil…unbelievable.  The girls took one bite though and asked for cheese on top.  “Mommy, everything is better with cheese.”  Well, I caved, but in my mind, the stew couldn’t be any better.

Ingredients

  • 7  teaspoons  olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2  cups  chopped onion
  • 1/2  cup  chopped carrot
  • 1  tablespoon  minced garlic
  • 1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
  • 2  pounds  boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into cubes
  • 3/4  teaspoon  salt, divided
  • 1/2  teaspoon  black pepper
  • 1  cup  dry red wine
  • 1 pound crushed tomatoes
  • 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes with basil
  • 1 1/2  cups  fat-free, lower-sodium beef broth
  • 1/2  cup  water
  • 2  teaspoons  chopped fresh oregano
  • 2  teaspoons  chopped fresh thyme
  • 1  bay leaf
  • 1  (8-ounce) package cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 3/4  cup  (1/4-inch-thick) slices carrot
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped fresh basil
  • 1  tablespoon  chopped parsley

Preparation

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion and chopped carrot; sauté 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; sauté for 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from pan.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle beef with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper; dredge in flour. Add half of beef to pan; sauté 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure.

Add wine to pan, and bring to a boil, scraping pan. Cook until reduced to 1/3 cup (about 5 minutes). Return meat and the onion mixture to pan. Add tomato and next 6 ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, and stir in sliced carrot. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour or until meat is very tender, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, basil, and parsley.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Italian Beef Stew

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Crème Caramel Bread Pudding

Bread pudding, comfort food at it’s finest.  As a kid, bread pudding completely grossed me out.  I couldn’t understand how you could make a delicious dessert out of a loaf of bread.  It just didn’t seem right.  For many years, I stayed away from it – even as an adult – bread pudding was not my idea of a wonderful treat.

About five years ago I was at a very good local restaurant, and on the dessert menu was Banana Bread Pudding.  Now I thought to myself, this is something worth ordering.  Banana Bread combined with a custard all baked together, now we’re talking.  I loved it – it was crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and it was served with caramel drizzled on top – I basically licked the plate clean.

That’s all it took to get me started on bread pudding – just wait until next fall when I post my Pumpkin Bread Pudding…  I saw this recipe over a year ago in Bon Appetit, and it sat in my pantry waiting for me to make it all this time.  I just had to wait for the right occasion, and make sure I had a lot of people to serve.  After about a year, and it was still in the pile, I figured I just had to bite the bullet.  The next occasion that came up, that was it.  So, I brought it to my daughter’s book group – warning people that I was only going to bring an adult dessert.  Well – not only did the mom’s love it – but the girls loved it also.  It came out perfect – and tasted just like the most wonderful french toast with maple syrup on the bottom.  It was crispy on the top, soft and rich on the inside, just the way I like it.  Good thing I finally came to my senses.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 4 1/2 cups 1/2-inch cubes crustless egg bread (such as challah or brioche)
  • 7 large eggs
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 pinches of salt

Preparation

Spread brown sugar evenly in bottom of 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish (or other 9- to 10-cup dish). Sprinkle bread cubes evenly over. Combine eggs, cream, milk, 2 tablespoons sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl; whisk to blend well. Pour custard through sieve over bread in dish. Let pudding stand 30 minutes, occasionally pressing on bread to submerge.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Place baking dish in roasting pan. Pour enough lukewarm water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of baking dish. Bake pudding until set, brown on top, and small knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let cool in water 20 minutes.

Spoon bread pudding into dessert bowls and serve warm.

test-kitchen tip

To keep the water in the roasting pan from boiling (which would affect the texture of the pudding), add several ice cubes to the water every 10 to 15 minutes to bring down the temperature.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Crème Caramel Bread Pudding

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Mexican Chicken Casserole with Charred Tomato Salsa

It’s almost Superbowl Sunday – a day that for me is really all about the food.  For my husband, it is definitely about the football – so usually I look forward to an afternoon in the kitchen, cooking up different snack foods, and trying new things.  This year though things are going to be just a little different…my daughter’s friend is in a local production of Willy Wanka, and she just has to go see her.  Sunday is the only time that works for our schedule…and surprise surprise, there were plenty of tickets. 

So, instead of this coming Sunday in the kitchen, I spent last Sunday in the kitchen, whipping up all sorts of great stuff.  I found this recipe in Cooking Light, and thought it would be perfect for watching the big game.  The charred tomato salsa was really interesting – and so delicious – I was licking the leftovers from the cuisinart bowl.  This is super easy to put together, and bakes up really nicely.  It definitely serves a crowd also – we only ate half for dinner (4 of us), and I have the second half in the freezer for another night.

Happy Superbowl everyone – I am embarrassed to say that I don’t even know who is playing, but I can think of lots of wonderful food to make – like this, and this, and this, and this

Ingredients

Salsa:

  • 8  plum tomatoes, halved and seeded
  • 3  garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1  small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1  seeded jalapeño pepper, quartered
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/3  cup  chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3  tablespoons  fresh lime juice
  • 1/8  teaspoon  black pepper

Casserole:

  • 1  cup  chopped onion
  • 1  cup  fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1  cup  diced zucchini
  • 1  cup  chopped red bell pepper
  • 3  cups  shredded cooked chicken breast
  • 1  tablespoon  minced garlic
  • 2  teaspoons  chili powder
  • 1  teaspoon  ground cumin
  • 1  (10-ounce) can green chile enchilada sauce
  • 1  (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles
  • 12  (6-inch) corn tortillas
  • 1  cup  (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1  cup  (4 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

Preparation

Preheat broiler.

To prepare salsa, combine first 4 ingredients on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Broil 20 minutes or until charred, stirring once. Remove from oven; cool slightly. Place tomato mixture in a food processor; add cilantro, lime juice, and pepper. Process until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare casserole, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat pan with cooking spray. Add 1 cup onion, corn, zucchini, and bell pepper; sauté 6 minutes or until tender. Add chicken and next 5 ingredients (through green chiles); sauté 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat.

Spread 1/2 cup salsa over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange half of tortillas over salsa. Spoon 2 cups chicken mixture evenly over tortillas. Top with 3/4 cup salsa. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of each cheese. Repeat layers, starting with remaining tortillas and ending with remaining cheeses. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes until bubbly.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Mexican Chicken Casserole with Charred Tomato Salsa

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