Friday, September 30, 2011

Gruyère cheese the key to
Grilled Ham, Cheese and Pickle Sandwiches

On the “cheese” episode of the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Ina Garten talked about a grilled cheese sandwich she loves at one of her favorite restaurants.
   The sandwich’s key ingredient, which the Barefoot Contessa TV show host felt was the key to its deliciousness, was Gruyère cheese.
   Garten is right about the power of Gruyère to make a grilled cheese sandwich exceptional. Gruyère is the key ingredient in this terrific recipe: Grilled Ham, Cheese and Pickle Sandwiches (click for the recipe) from Bon Appetit magazine.
   Gruyère, a hard yellow cheese, gives these sandwiches a lovely saltiness. Its flavor is backed up by mozzarella and goat cheese.
   The recipe calls for bread-and-butter pickles, and includes a recipe to make these at home. However, in the interest of time, we used store-bought bread-and-butter pickles (thinly-sliced, round pickles.)
   The recipe also calls for aged goat cheese that can be grated. Since we were unable to find this, we used regular goat cheese and crumbled it.
   It’s a must to cook these sandwiches in a buttered skillet as the recipe directs, not a sandwich or panini press. The bread will get the comforting golden color people associate with a good grilled cheese sandwich.
   Slices of sourdough or white bread are spread with mayonnaise on both sides.
   Grated mozzarella, Gruyère and goat cheese are combined in a bowl. Four slices of bread are sprinkled with half the cheese mixture, and then topped with pickles and slices of prosciutto. This is topped with the remaining cheese and covered with the remaining bread.
   Butter is melted in a skillet, and the sandwiches are cooked for nine to 10 minutes per side.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Meeting up with lentils again
in the form of a terrific burger

I first crossed paths with lovely lentils last year when I made the terrific recipe Mustard-Crusted Pork with Carrots and Lentils.
   I loved the wheaty taste and texture of lentils, and how well they took to being covered with herby oils and dressings.
   Since then I’ve lay in wait, watching for another lentil recipe to catch my eye to try.
   I spotted my prey recently in the Sept./Oct. issue of Eating Well magazine: Lentil Burgers (click for the recipe).
   I’ve made Black Bean Burgers before, and they were delicious. Now it was time to try lovely lentils in burger form.
   I wasn’t disappointed. These burgers were delicious and every bit as meaty as if they were made with ground beef. My husband loved them, too.
   You might think these would be dry, but they weren’t at all. And I loved the fact that very little was needed to jazz up the burgers – just some lettuce and sliced tomato (we skipped the thinly-sliced red onion as we don’t like red onion raw.)
   A word of caution: My husband made the lentil mixture, and found it was loose and not very suitable for making patties.
   I suggested he treat the mixture like pancake batter, waiting for a glop of it to firm up well in the pan before flipping it.
   He followed that idea, and it worked like a charm.
   We substituted fresh oregano for fresh marjoram in the recipe.
   Coarsely-chopped garlic and salt are mashed to a paste with the side of a knife. Toasted walnuts (my husband toasted them in a skillet) are chopped in a food processor.
   Whole-wheat sandwich bread that has been torn into pieces, fresh oregano, pepper and the garlic paste are added to the food processor and processed until coarse crumbs form; lentils (we used canned) and Worcestershire sauce are added and the mixture processed until it just comes together into a mass.
   The recipe says to them form the mixture into four patties. Forming a firm patty may not be possible – form a patty as best you can and put it into the oiled pan immediately, letting it spread out like a pancake. After two to four minutes of cooking time, carefully turn the patties over.
   Serve the burgers on toasted buns with lettuce and tomatoes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pasta sauce gets pleasantly spicy
in Shrimp Fra Diavolo

When I saw the recipe’s name, Shrimp Fra Diavolo, I figured “Fra Diavolo” was referring to the sauce of the pasta dish.
   My suspicions were correct. A check of Wikipedia yielded the information that the Italian phrase refers to a spicy sauce for pasta or seafood. Often, the sauce is tomato-based and uses chili peppers for spice. According to chef Mario Batali, the spicy sauce is an Italian-American creation and is rarely served in Italy.
   In Shrimp Fra Diavolo (click for the recipe), a delicious recipe from Food Network Magazine, red pepper flakes provide the spice in the sauce.
   I halved the amount of red pepper flakes called for in the recipe, knowing that I my husband and I can’t hack overly spicy food. Let me tell you, the resulting pasta was just spicy enough. Any more and it would have crossed our heat-tolerance threshold.
   I can’t believe the recipe says to sprinkle more red pepper flakes on top of the finished pasta if desired! This action is only for the hard-core spice junkies among us.
   The heat that was present wasn’t unwelcome, though. The dish is terrific, a perfect blend of shrimp, tomatoes and pasta.
   It whips up quickly on a weeknight but would even work for a casual dinner party. Leftovers warm up beautifully in the microwave.
   The recipe calls for a can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand. I bought another brand of canned whole plum tomatoes in juice, and crushed them by squeezing the tomatoes in my hands. The tomatoes and the juice already present in the can are both used in the pasta.
   The first step of making the dish is cooking the shrimp in a skillet, then removing the shrimp and setting it aside.
   Thinly-sliced garlic, chopped anchovy fillets, and red pepper flakes (I used half a teaspoon instead of a full teaspoon as the recipe indicates) are put in the skillet, along with the tomatoes, white wine, fresh oregano and salt. The sauce is brought to a simmer and cooked, stirring occasionally, until thickened (we used slightly greater than medium heat.)
   While the sauce is cooking, linguine or bucatini (I used Catelli Smart linguine) is boiled and drained.
   Fresh parsley, the pasta, and the shrimp are put back in the sauce and stirred.
   The pasta is served. We didn’t bother drizzling the servings with olive oil, and we certainly didn’t top them with more red pepper flakes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Family-style Chewy Chocolate
Cookies are seriously good

Just yesterday I tried a new cookie recipe, and after tasting them, I had to report to my personal Facebook pals that the cookies kicked butt in a major way.
   They really did. Chewy Chocolate Cookies (click for the recipe) from America's Test Kitchen are soft and slightly chewy, with just the perfect amount of chocolate taste -- no overload here.
   They're terrific for families and suit all types of occasions that involving all ages of people, from weeknight dinners and weekday lunches to casual family get-togethers. They'll go quickly, and people will ask when you're going to bake the next batch.
   Luckily, they're very easy to make.
   The recipe I linked to above is on a blog, but it's exactly the same as the one I used.
   Butter, sugar, and granulated sugar are beaten together with an electric mixer (I used a hand mixer), then mixtures of corn syrup, egg white and vanilla and flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt are added, along with bittersweet chocolate that has been chopped into 1/2 inches pieces.
   The resulting dough is chilled for not more than 30 minutes.
   The dough is rolled into balls, then tossed in sugar to coat (the recipe said to divide the dough into 16 equal portions, but I just rolled the dough into balls one at a time as I went.)
   The cookies are baked in a 375 F oven for 10-11 minutes (in this case, the recipe said to use two baking sheets and switch them halfway through baking time; I just baked one batch at a time because the cooking time is so short.)
   The cookies are cooled on the pan for five minutes, then transferred to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Grapes, cornmeal and olive oil together?
Not a muffin, but a cake

The recipe looked too unusual to pass up: A cake with ingredients that included cornmeal, grapes and olive oil.
   It sounded to me like a cross between a pancake and a muffin. Because it went beyond the boundaries of a usual chocolate or coffee cake, I wanted immediately to try Red Grape, Polenta and Olive Oil Cake (click for the recipe).
   But apparently the cake is unusual only to some eyes and palates such as mine. The creator of the recipe, Lauren Chattman, writes that it’s a “rustic Italian-style cake.”
   I’m glad I tried it – it was terrific. My husband took part of it to his work and it was hit.
   It’s an ideal cake to make and serve now, for two reasons. First, it uses grapes, which are in season in early fall. Second, it makes for a nice transition between the light desserts of summer and the denser desserts of late fall and winter.
   I think the cake will work well as dessert for a dinner party, but it’s equally at home with weeknight dinner.
   It’s very easy to make.
   Eggs and sugar are beat together until light in color and increased in volume. Olive oil, milk, vanilla, lemon zest (finely-grated lemon peel) and a combination of flour, cornmeal and baking powder are added and mixed in. Half of the grapes are stirred in.
   The batter is poured into a greased nine-inch springform pan and baked for 10 minutes. The remaining grapes are then scattered on top, and the cake is baked for another 40 minutes.
   After baking, the pan is left to cool for five minutes before the sides are released. After cooling completely, the cake is dusted with confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar), cut into wedges, and served.

Monday, September 19, 2011

From-scratch coleslaw that's great for fall

I’ve featured a couple of recipes for coleslaw on Recipes That Worked, both of which started with store-bought plain coleslaw that were cleverly dressed up with other ingredients.
   Today I’m writing about a coleslaw that’s made from scratch by cutting the cabbage and the whole nine yards.
   Tangy Apple-Cabbage Coleslaw (click for the recipe) from Cook’s Country magazine is a great recipe for fall because it contains Granny Smith apples. We ate the coleslaw alongside pork chops and it was a perfect match.
   For those of you who hate goopy, overly-mayoed coleslaw, you’re in luck here – there is no mayonnaise to be seen. Instead, cider vinegar, honey and Dijon mustard create a tangy, slightly zippy dressing.
   Even though this is a “from-scratch” recipe, there’s nothing difficult about it. It is very easy to make, although at least two hours needs to be allotted for preparation because of a couple of steps that require one hour of resting for ingredients.
   The recipe I linked to above is on a blog, but it’s exactly the same as the one I used.
   My recipe did note, however, that it serves 10. I definitely didn’t need that many servings, and so I halved all the recipe ingredients.
   One head of green cabbage is cored, chopped thin, then tossed with salt in a colander and left to sit until the cabbage is wilted, about one hour (I found the cabbage didn’t wilt that much. That’s good – we want crisp coleslaw!)
   The cabbage is drained and patted dry thoroughly with paper towels, and is then tossed with Granny Smith apples that have been cut into matchsticks, and thinly-sliced scallions (also known as green onions or spring onions.)
   Cider vinegar (also called apple cider vinegar), canola oil, honey, Dijon mustard and red pepper flakes are brought to a boil over medium heat. The warm dressing is poured over the cabbage mixture and tossed.
   The coleslaw is covered and refrigerated until the flavors have blended, about one hour. It will keep, covered, for up to one day.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sage and apples complement
grilled chicken in lovely fall sandwich

My husband and I made this recipe for the first time just last night, and it was so wonderful I had to share it with you right away.
   Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Sage Pesto and Apples (click for the recipe) from Bon Appetit magazine were amazingly delicious.
   Juicy grilled chicken is layered with a fresh-sage pesto and thinly-sliced apples in a toasted bun. All the flavours and textures work together in one harmonious combination of lip-smacking goodness.
   The recipe came from the July 2003 issue of Bon Appetit, which would suggest the magazine editors had this recipe in mind for the height of summer. With the chicken being grilled, that made some sense to me.
   But the other ingredients, the sage and apples, made me think of fall, and that’s when I wanted to give this recipe a whirl.
   Since we made this in early fall, we used an outdoor grill, but I’m sure the chicken would do well being cooked on an indoor grill or grill pan.
   We used whole wheat kaiser rolls for the sandwiches (rather than the suggested focaccia, ciabatta, or French rolls), and they worked well.
   To make the pesto, fresh sage leaves, pine nuts, fresh parsley and garlic are blended in food processor until the mixture is finely chopped. With the machine running, ¾ cup of olive oil is added and the mixture blended more.
   The recipe says that at this point a thick paste will form. I didn’t find that at all – the pesto was smooth, not thick. I didn’t worry about that, though, because my experience with making pesto is that it thickens upon sitting awhile.
   I mixed the grated Parmesan cheese into the pesto, transferred it to a small bowl, and let it sit while the chicken was prepared and grilled. It thickened, just as I suspected it would.
   Skinless, boneless chicken breast halves are placed between sheets of waxed paper or cling wrap and pounded with a rolling pin or meat mallet to ½-inch thickness. The breasts are brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and left to stand for 30 minutes.
   The chicken is grilled until firm to the touch and cooked through, about five minutes per side. The buns or focaccia rectangles are toasted.
   The bottom half of the toasted buns or focaccia rectangles are spread with mayonnaise, then topped with a layer of thinly-sliced apple and a chicken breast. The breast is drizzled with pesto, then more pesto is spread on the top half of the buns. The tops are placed on the chicken, pesto side down.
   Serve and enjoy the savoury sandwich and its lovely layers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Linguine with Red Bell Peppers and Kalamata Olives ushers in pasta-eating season

Generally speaking, I never eat pasta in summer. 
   I like to dig into a beautiful plate of noodles in the fall and winter months.
   I have happily ushered in fall pasta-eating with Linguine with Red Bell Peppers and Kalamata Olives (click for the recipe), a simple and satisfying dish from Bon Appetit magazine.
   Red bell peppers are in season in early fall, so it was a great time to give this dish a whirl.
   The secret ingredient of the dish is grated Parmesan cheese, which is added to the cooked pasta and vegetables. The cheese melts, and, aided by some water, creates a lovely coating on each strand of linguine.
   The recipe calls for pitted Kalamata olives. You can buy these in the olive and pickle section of the supermarket – you don’t need to take out the pits yourself. You do need to quarter them, however.
   The recipe is very easy to make.
   Linguine (I used Catelli Smart) is boiled until tender, then drained, with one cup of the cooking liquid being reserved. (I turn off the heat, take the pasta pot off the burner, and use a soup ladle to dish out water into a glass measuring cup. Then I drain the rest of the water out of the pasta.)
   Chopped red bell peppers, Kalamata olives, minced fresh garlic and crushed red pepper are sauted in a skillet. The cooked pasta, ½ cup of the reserved cooking liquid, fresh basil, grated Parmesan cheese and white balsamic vinegar are added to the vegetables in the skillet and the mixture tossed until the sauce coats the pasta.
   The recipe says to transfer the pasta to a bowl for serving, but we simply left it in the skillet. More fresh basil is sprinkled on top, and additional grated cheese can be sprinkled on each serving.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Grate some zucchini for a lasagna that's creamy

Last year on Recipes That Worked, I wrote about Zucchini-Ribbon Lasagna, a recipe that used ground turkey as the filling and long strips of zucchini in place of the noodles.
   This year, I’ve got another lasagna recipe that uses zucchini, but this time grated zucchini provides the filling and the noodles are the traditional pasta version.
   Creamy Courgette Lasagne (click for the recipe) from BBC Good Food magazine (the British word for zucchini is courgette) is delicious, as superb as any traditional meat-based lasagna.
   The grated zucchini provides a substantial filling that steps up honorably in place of meat to provide a satisfying dish.
   The recipe calls for nine dried lasagna sheets. I found I only needed eight, and that was even with overlapping them generously. I also broke them in half to aid with boiling, then “reassembled” them later by placing them broken end to broken end in the lasagna.
   The recipe says to cook the lasagna sheets for about five minutes until softened, but not cooked through, as the lasagna is also baked in the oven.
   When my husband and I ate the lasagna, we agreed that the noodles were just very slightly undercooked, and that about seven minutes of boiling instead of five would likely have done the trick.
   On the Good Food magazine website, some of the recipe’s reviewers said they used pre-cooked lasagna sheets, available in some supermarkets, to speed up the preparation of the dish even more. They report being pleased with the results.
   The recipe calls for 700 grams of zucchini, which is said to be about six. Those are mighty small zucchini! I found two large ones, purchased at a farmer’s market, weighed almost exactly 700 g (24 oz).
   The recipe also calls for “50 g cheddar” but doesn’t specify in what form the cheddar should take. I guessed, rightly as it turns out, that the cheese should be grated. We used an extra-old cheddar cheese.
   The lasagna is easy to make.
   After the lasagna sheets are boiled, they are rinsed in cold water, then drizzled with some oil to stop them from sticking together.
   Sunflower oil is heated in a large frying pan, then chopped onion, coarsely-grated zucchini, and crushed garlic cloves are cooked in it. Ricotta cheese and grated cheddar cheese are stirred in and the pan is taken off the heat.
   Tomato sauce for pasta is heated in the microwave for two minutes.
   In a large baking dish (I used an 11x7” glass baking dish) the lasagna noodles, zucchini mix and tomato sauce are layered twice before blobs of ricotta cheese are plopped on top with a spoon, and more cheddar is scattered on top.
   The lasagna is baked for about 10 minutes at 220 C (430 F) until the pasta is tender and the cheese is golden.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Turning to grape sorbet to fight early fall's heat

As I write this, it’s 34 C (93.2 F) outside.
   This may seem like nothing to those of you in some parts of the world, but where I live, Saskatchewan, at this time of year, early September, that is quite hot.
   I’m actually looking forward to cooler weather so I can start making heartier dishes, soups and stews. If I made them now, I simply wouldn’t enjoy them as much as I would on a crisp, cool evening.
   For now, I’ll have to look to dishes and desserts that attempt to strike a balance between summer and fall, like Fresh Grape and Champagne Sorbet (click for the recipe) from Bon Appetit magazine.
   Grapes are at their best right now, in early fall. They’re plump and juicy, just waiting for attention in supermarkets. Sorbet, of course, is a terrific hot weather cooler. The two come together to make a delicious dessert.
   I offer one consider-it-seriously tip for this recipe.
   After the grapes are puréed in a blender, you may want to strain the purée in a fine-mesh sieve, a direction not called for in the recipe.
   No matter how much the grapes are blended, small bits of skin will remain in the purée. My husband and I didn’t mind the skin bits in the finished product, but I guarantee there are those who will be bothered by it.
   Straining the bits of skin out of the purée before proceeding with the recipe should definitely help avoid any fussy complaints later on.
   Four cups of red seedless grapes are puréed in a blender.
   Champagne or sparkling wine, sugar (I used Splenda instead), thawed frozen grape juice concentrate, water and cinnamon are combined in a bowl and 1 1/2 cups of the purée is added. The mixture is stirred until the sugar dissolves.
   The mixture is processed in an ice cream maker. I processed it for 20 minutes, at which point is was an icy liquid. I poured it into an airtight container, and put in the freezer. It needs to freeze for at least four to six hours.
   The sorbet is served, offering a cooling sensation and nod toward fall.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A corn soup for the summer-to-fall transition

Here’s a soup to ease you back into fall: Corn Soup with Crisp Proscuitto and Basil (click for the recipe) from Fine Cooking magazine.
   If you’re tired of grilling corn, but you’re not yet ready for a middle-of-winter chowder, this soup will perfectly suit your cravings. It’s warm but light, perfect for early autumn weather.
   The soup does beautiful job of capturing the sweetness of corn that you can find at its best now at farmer’s markets and supermarkets. It’s truly delicious.
   The recipe’s secret technique is the addition of the cobs, which have had the corn stripped off, to the chicken broth and corn while it heats up. This adds a deeper corn flavor. The cobs are taken out before the soup is puréed, of course.
   The recipe calls for three to four large ears of fresh corn. For me, that wasn’t enough -- I used six large cobs to get the three cups of corn kernels called for by the recipe. However, I only used three of the de-stripped cobs when heating them up with the other ingredients.
   I used my corn de-cobbing technique of standing a cob up, nose down, in the tube part of an angel food cake pan, then stripping off the kernels with a knife into the pan.
   The prosciutto that’s served on top of the soup is crisped by placing three very thin slices of it in a single layer on a small baking sheet and broiling, flipping once, for about three minutes. It’s left to cool and is then finely chopped and crumbled by hand.
   In a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat, butter is melted, then chopped yellow onion is added and cooked until softened.
   Four cups of water, two cups of chicken broth (I used the store-bought kind), diced peeled red potato, half of the corn, the cobs and salt are added to the pot and brought to a boil, then reduced to low and simmered for 10 to 15 minutes. The cobs are discarded.
   My husband used a hand-held immersion blender in the pot to purée the soup, and so didn’t need to transfer it to a blender as the recipe directs.
   The rest of the corn is added to the puréed soup, and it’s simmered for three to five minutes until the kernels are tender.
   Each serving of the soup is garnished with the crisp prosciutto and chopped fresh basil.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Green beans get their shot in the delicious spotlight with easy-to-make salad

“Green beans” and “fantastically delicious” are not often words that occupy the same sentence.
   But in the case of Giada De Laurentiis’s Pecorino and Bean Salad (click for the recipe), the words “fantastically delicious” do indeed describe green beans.
   Laurentiis has come up with a magic formula that will make you want to abandon all decorum, pick up your plate, put it near your mouth and shovel the salad right in.
   I think the secret ingredients are cannellini beans (also called white kidney beans), which add a creamy starchiness, and fresh rosemary leaves, which add a perfect, mild herbaceous note.
   This salad is very easy to make and works as a side not only on a weeknight, but at a dinner party. We had it with pork chops and it was a perfect match.
   I think people will be surprised at how good it is.
   The recipe I linked to is on a recipe-sharing site, and it is exactly the same one that I used.
   Two cups of trimmed and cut green beans are boiled for three minutes, then drained and placed in a bowl of ice water for one minute. After being drained again, the beans are set aside.
   Olive oil is heated in a skillet, then minced garlic is added and cooked for 30 seconds. The pan is removed from the heat and finely-chopped fresh rosemary leaves are added.
   The green beans, rinsed and drained cannellini (white kidney) beans, cubed Pecorino-Romano cheese, fresh parsley, salt and pepper combined in a bowl, then the garlic-rosemary oil is added and the salad tossed well until all the ingredients are coated.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Deceptively simple and mighty
delicious: Minny's Chocolate Pie

I love recipes that are deceptively simple.
   The ingredient list is short and, for lack of a better word, unremarkable. It’s super easy to make.
   But the result is sensational and delicious.
   This is the case with Minny's Chocolate Pie (click for the recipe) from Food & Wine magazine.
   The recipe was given to the magazine by Greenwood, Miss., newspaper columnist Lee Ann Fleming. Fleming worked as a chef on the set of movie The Help, which was filmed in Greenwood. The chocolate pie is made and served by the character Minny in the movie.
   The pie is made with pre-prepared, store-bought pie dough, sugar, cocoa powder, butter, eggs, evaporated milk, vanilla extract and salt.
   The result is pure magic.
   The pie is smooth, likely due to the evaporated milk, and perfectly chocolately and fudgy from the cocoa powder. It’s very family-friendly.
   I loved the idea that Fleming prefers using a packaged pie dough crust, such as Pillsbury, instead of a homemade crust. Anyone who has struggled with making a pie crust, as I have, will appreciate this.
   The pie crust is put in a nine-inch pie plate, pricked lightly with a fork, lined with foil or parchment paper and filled with pie weights or dried beans. The crust is baked for 15 minutes, then the foil removed and the crust baked for five minutes longer.
   The sugar is whisked with the cocoa powder, butter, eggs, evaporated milk, pure vanilla extract and salt until smooth.
   The filling is poured into the baked pie crust and baked for about 45 minutes. Be careful here, as the recipe is badly written and edited in this step. The edges of the crust that are still showing need to be covered with foil halfway through baking time, something you’re not told about until you’re given a direction on how to know the pie is ready (it’s set around the edges but ever-so-slightly jiggly in the center.)
   Putting foil on the edges of the pie crust was the only tricky part of making the pie, as it was a bit cumbersome to tear up strips of foil and put them on the circular crust.
   The pie is transferred to a rack and left to cool completely.
   It's cut into pieces and served with whipped cream.

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