Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Seafood Paella

I just unloaded pictures off of the camera which was long overdue (600 photos - ack) and found a whole bunch of food pics that haven't yet been transformed into a blog entry. Though, I must skip ahead to last night's meal. Actually, this post was the motivation for (finally) unloading the camera.

Often times my inspiration for making a particular meal comes from watching Food Network, or cooking shows on PBS, or seeing glossy pics in a food magazine. But in this case it was very basic: it's the holiday season and lobsters are on sale. I was getting really excited to make this dish as I brought home four fresh lobster tails for $5, and tried not to think about how their freshness meant they had been separated from the rest of a live lobster body.

I didn't use any measuring devices when making this dish - just relied on 'standard' paella recipes for proportion (1:2 rice:liquid and as much seafood as you like!) even though I was using different kinds of rice with different cooking times. The finished product was much more brothy than I had anticipated, but that just meant there was more yummy flavor to sop up with bread along the way. (Note- next day all the 'extra' broth had been absorbed into the leftovers.) For vegetarians, definitely check out the most amazing tomato paella. This approach was loosely followed here, but it was entirely prepared on the stovetop.

Now, I know my little girl likes rice, and loves (loves!) seafood, but I was still a bit surprised to see how much she enjoyed this dish! "Pie-ey-yuh! Pie-ey-yuh!" I couldn't put it on her plate fast enough. To slow her down, I stopped doing the prep work on the seafood for her (I was hungry too and hadn't been able to take a bite yet!) Man, I wish I had my camera at the table last night to take a picture of her trying to get the good stuff out of the clams! I made sure to bring the camera in the kitchen when we had leftovers tonight!

Seafood Paella

1/2 pound fresh tomatoes (Campari are my favorite)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 Cups rice - I used a mix of risotto rice & short grain brown rice, but short grain white is traditional
pinch of saffron threads
1/2 Cup white wine
2 - 2 1/2 Cups chicken broth
3/4 Cup piquillo peppers (or roasted red peppers or pimento)
3/4 Cup green olives
1 1/2 Cups artichoke hearts (not marinated)
1 pound lobster tails (about 4) split in half lengthwise
1 dozen mussels, cleaned
1 1/2 dozen clams, cleaned
1 Cup frozen peas (no, it's not in any of my photos because I didn't have any, but this paella would have looked even more fabulous with some bright green dots throughout. Or parsley, also something not on hand last night.)

1. Cut tomatoes into wedges, sprinkle with kosher salt and set aside. Slice peppers into strip, quarter artichoke hearts,roughly chop olives and set those aside, together.

2. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add diced onion and minced garlic and sautee for 5 minutes. Add in rice and crushed saffron and stir to ensure rice is coated with oil.

3. Add white wine, wait until it is absorbed, then add 1 C chicken broth and cover. After liquid is absorbed, about 7-10 minutes, add another 1 C broth and cover again. After 7-10 minutes, when most of the liquid has been absorbed, add in remaining broth, tomatoes WITH any accumulated liquid on the plate, olives, peppers, artichokes and peas, then stir gently to combine. Arrange lobster tails in the pot with cut-side down and distribute clams and mussels. Replace cover and heat until seafood and rice have cooked through, another 5-7 mintues.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Roasted Kohlrabi with Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts

Does this even count as a 'dish' worthy of a blog entry? It's just roasted vegetables. Though, I confess, roasted veggies was something I only discovered within the last decade or so. I thought all vegetables like this could only be prepared by steaming. Which IS the only way I ever ate them growing up. Fast-forward to adult life and somewhere I stumbled upon roasting them instead. Ah ha! Asparagus tastes even more awesome. Cauliflower transforms from good to fantastic. Brussel sprouts - wow!

But, it was still German week when I was trying to figure out a vegetable side dish so I added kohlrabi into the equation for this meal. I'd never eaten kohlrabi (aka German turnip) before, but with our membership in a CSA this year I had plenty of chances to experiment with turnips. My sister laughed and educated me that "what to do with all those turnips?" was the proverbial question asked by all CSA members at some point.

This preparation is extremely straightforward. The only words of advice I can add when making this are "do not absent-mindedly leave the house with vegetables in the oven that have already been roasting for 1 1/4 hours." If you make this same error, you too will end up with an extremely 'carmelized' side dish. The bread crumb topping was partially inspired by this recipe, and partially to cover up the extremely dark color.

Roasted Kohlrabi with Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts
Inspired by Nicolé, Adapted from Food Network

3 medium kohlrabi
1 lb brussel sprouts
1 small head cauliflower
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 slice whole wheat bread

Heat oven to 400. Peel kohlrabi and dice into 3/4" pieces. Trim brussel sprouts by cutting off root end and removing outer layer of leaves. Cut in half, or quarter if extremely large. Trim cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Toss veggies with olive oil, salt & pepper and distribute in a single layer on a sheet pan. Bake for 1 1/4 hours.

While veggies are baking, put bread into food process to make crumbs. Spread on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 3-4 minutes until gold brown.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Frikadellen (German Meat Balls)

OK, I confess I didn't stumble across this on my own. With Jim still in Germany, I turned to help from German friends for suggestions on traditional dinners. All of the ideas had the same theme - cooked meats & potatoes. One interesting option jumped out at me was "frikadellen" though I had absolutely no idea what "frikadellen" are until I looked it up for myself. It seemed to be somewhere between a meatball, hamburger and a meatloaf. And, they are small, and small food is just cute. Especially when you are serving small children, which was my audience for the entire week.

My favorite trick that I've recently embraced for making any type of meatball/meatloaf/etc. is to be sure it includes a panade, which is a fancy word describing a mixture of bread and milk. From the science editor at America's Test Kitchen we learn that:
"Starches from the bread absorb liquid from the milk to form a gel that coats and lubricates the protein molecules in the meat, much in the same way as fat, keeping them moist and preventing them from linking together to form a tough matrix. Mixing the beef and panade in a food processor helps to ensure that the starch is well dispersed so that all the meat reaps its benefits."
This step ensure that the meat does not become tough when it is fully cooked through - important as no one likes rare meatball, especially ones that include pork. Unsafe, to say the least.

Frikadellen (or Frikadeller or Frickadelle)
Inspired by Nicolé and adapted from Live Like a German

1 pound of mixed ground meat (3/4 beef, 1/4 pork)
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
pepper and salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 egg
1 slice of bread
1-2 Tablespoons milk

Use a food processor to finely mince onion and garlic. Set aside. Add torn up bread to food processor and pulse a few times to make crumbs. Add milk and pulse a few more times to form the panade. Add meat, paprika, egg, salt & pepper and pulse a few times to incorporate. Do not over process. If necessary, remove from processor and finish mixing by hand.

Form into large golfball-size balls and flatten. Place on heated griddle. Cook for a few minutes on each side until cooked through. Serve with mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wiener Schnitzel

Though our "German week" is officially done now that Jim has returned home (yay!) I'm finally getting some time back to write about what we ate while he was in country. One food that we both ate last week was wiener schnitzel. Just saying these two words is fun. The kids were rolling with laughter when I told them what we would be eating for dinner that night. Plus, we had two additional kids joining us that night as well. The gang repeated the words over and over, with escalated giggling each time.

Yes, if you show up for dinner during a theme week, you get the theme food. In my world, this IS kid food. It was served with spaetzle made the day before, and green beans just to add some color to the meal. Guess what? Not only did all four kids love saying the words, they all cleaned their plates and asked for more. Seriously.

While I've never served wiener schnitzel before, I've made Italian style piccata dishes plenty of times. So this really wasn't very different. In poking around for recipes to try and ensure authenticity, I stumbled upon one, authored by a German, which instructed to let the meat sit in some fresh lemon juice before proceeding with applying the coating. This was sooo excellent! Due in no small part to the fresh lemons that Katie gave to us from the lemon tree in her yard. I am definitely applying this technique for all future piccata recipes. Yum!

Wiener Schnitzel
Adapted from Hans Rockenwagner

3/4 pound veal cutlets, pounded thin
juice from 1 lemon
salt & pepper
1 Cup all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten with 1 1/2 Tablespoons water
1 pkg seasoned croutons, food processed into fine crumbs
3 Tablespoons butter
1 lemon, cut in wedges (optional)

Places pounded veal cutlets in lemon juice and set aside, at room temperature, for 30 minutes. Prepare stations for coating: flour, eggs wash, bread crumbs, and clean plates at the end of the line. One cutlet at a time, season with salt & pepper then dredge in flour and shake off excess. Place floured cutlet in egg wash, turning over carefully with a fork. After allowing excess egg to drain off, dredge in bread crumbs to cover both sides. Transfer to a clean plate and repeat process with remaining cutlets. Allow them to rest (on separate plates, do not stack) for additional 20 minutes to help the coating adhere to the meat.

Heat butter on medium heat in a large, flat skillet or griddle. When foaming has stopped, place cutlets in pan and cook for 4-6 minutes until golden brown. Flip to the other side, using spatula or something else that will not tear the coating, and cook for additional 4-6 minutes. Serve warm, with additional lemon wedges if desired.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Work travel is a fact of life in our house. The other day I (used bad judgement and) added up all the time my husband has been away from home in 2009 and discovered it was 15%. To try and maintain positive attitude through these times when the kids and I are home, we use his travel destinations as inspiration to connect virtually through our meals.

This week he is in Berlin (present for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, no less!) so we are looking to German cuisine for menu planning. I always thought making spaetzle sounded like fun. Really. I was presented with a perfect birthday gift of a Mark Bittman cookbook focusing on international cuisine which, of course, included a recipe for spaetzle.

Though, as I don't have a colander, or a hotel pan, I decided that a potato rice would be the ideal tool. It worked 'okay,' I think. Though, having a larger space between the holes might have helped. But, in fairness, I would definitely use it again. I modified the consistency of the batter by adding more milk part way through, but I can't decide if it made it better or not. Some of the batter reconnected with its extruded neighbors on the way into the water which made for some larger pieces, and some stayed small. At the end of the day, I think the variety was a good things and definitely gave this dish a home-made feel.

I don't think this is traditional, but during the quick sautee process following the boiling I included some diced onion and tossed everything together in the pan with butter. My husband enjoys his pierogis like this, and it seemed to be a good idea to apply this technique to the spaetzle as well. The kids confirmed that it was indeed yummy.

Adapted from The Best Recipes in the World

2 eggs
1/2 Cup milk
1 1/4 Cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt & pepper

2 Tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced

Mix eggs, milk, flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt & pepper together in a bowl to create batter of pancake consisency. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove over high heat to boil. Ladel batter a colandar (or ricer) and press batter through holes into the boiling water. Cook for a few minutes until they float, then cook a few minutes longer. Transfer with a slotted spoon to ice water, then drain.

Melt butter in a wide-bottom skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sautee for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase heat to medium-high and add cooked spaetzle. Cook until heated through and spaetzle have turned golden.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Vegetable Beef Barley Soup

I confess, when writing the title above, I had to spend some time thinking about in what order I should put the words. More often than not, I would make a soup that has a combination of two of the three: Beef Vegetable Soup, Vegetable/Mushroom Barley Soup, Beef Barley Soup, etc. This week, I didn't want to have to choose so I put everything in the pot together. Good move - it totally rocked!

The inspiration for making this soup came from a posting to our neighborhood message board that read "We purchased the side of a cow just under a year ago and have several parts that we will not use. This cow was grass fed with no hormones or antibiotics." Below, where there was a list of parts available for the taking, a few items above "9 packages of beef fat" was written "soup bones." Sign me up! Coincidentally, the vegetable co-op resumed delivery for the fall that same week so there were fresh veggies, green beans and corn, to add in the pot as well.

My mom tells the story about taking me to the pediatrician when I was a toddler, and being quizzed about what she fed me. She said he raised an eyebrow when she told him that she often gave me soup for dinner. A can of Campbell's wouldn't qualify, but a bowl of this soup definitely counts as a complete meal. Fresh veggies, barley, grass-fed beef (ok, not the leanest cut out there) but this is a very satisfying meal. Usually we would first eat a bowl of soup with just the veggies, and have the meat afterwards with horseradish. Mmmm.

Plus, making this soup and using the fresh corn gave me a opportunity to use the bundt pan for a different reason. I'm pretty sure that genius Alton Brown is probably the one who gets props to introducing me to this idea. It works really, really well. Even better if you can keep one hand on the cob, one on the knife and let someone else take the photo for you. Getting out the bundt pan made me want to have something sweet while the savory soup was simmering on the stove. Note to self: make more desserts for the blog!

Vegetable Beef Barley Soup
Inspired from my childhood

A few beef bones for soup (2-3 pounds)
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled & diced
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1/2 lb fresh green beans, trimmed & cut into 3/4" length
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
1 32oz container beef broth (4C)
4 Cup water
3/4 Cup pearled barley, rinsed

Heat soup pot over medium-high heat, brown beef bones for about 5 minutes on each side then remove from pot. Add onions, celery and carrots and sautee for about 5 minutes. Add corn, green beans and tomatoes. Add all of the liquid - broth and water, the barley and stir to combine. Return beef to the pot, along with any juices that may have accumulated on the plate. Cover the pot, reduce heat to maintain gentle simmer, and cook for three hours.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chili Con Carne

I have to confess, I think I'm a bit of a chili snob. I know that sounds dopey, as chili is pretty far from ever being considered snobby food. But, what I mean is, I only like MY chili. Sure, others are fine, but it seems that I always end up comparing them to the recipe I make at home. On the rare occasions I find myself eating another chili, my mind starts thinking "it should have more tomato," or "this spice combination isn't quite right," or "that flavor should not be in chili." Though, last year a friend's mom made a white chili with turkey and lime juice that was fantastic. I need to dig out that recipe and make it at home.

Since the cold weather, er, cool weather, season is so short here in Texas, I find myself making chili as soon as long sleeves might be appropriate. Which is still far warmer than I would have ever worn them up north. Nonetheless, we finally crossed that threshold here at the end of October. Yes, I know it is a week later that this recipe is finally being blogged.

A couple of thoughts about this chili recipe. Looking at the ingredients, there is a lot from the pantry. Some may eschew this, but I promise this combination works. And it works really, really well. It does not look like chili when everything first gets added to the pot, but time and temperature work their magic and everything blends together for the final product. Along those lines, I think canned tomatoes are superior than fresh for this dish because I love the tomato-y flavor, and more importantly, being able to bite into a piece of tomato. When you cook with fresh tomatoes, they completely break down and disappear. But canned tomatoes are packed with calcium chloride which preserves the cell walls so they retain structure during cooking. I think I have to give props to an episode of Good Eats for that nugget of trivia which stuck in my brain.

Final thought - growing up we only ate this as beef chili, but these days I make it with ground turkey about 80% of the time. After watching Food, Inc. I decided to try to avoid buying meats that were raised/processed at traditional compact animal farming operations. Our awesome grocery store carries organic ground beef but I hadn't seen any organic ground turkey before. After a quick question to the guy behind the meat counter, I was redirected to the meat freezer case where they stock organic ground turkey. Score.

Chili Con Carne
Adapted from my mom's recipe, origin unknown

1 Tablespoon oil (canola)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed or pressed
1 lb lean ground beef (round) or ground turkey
2 15 oz cans diced tomatoes (I know the picture of ingredients only shows 1 can)
1 10.5 oz can tomato soup
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 Tablespoon chili powder (if your haven't used yours in a long time, buy a fresh jar)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1 15 oz can light red kidney beans (I know the pic shows a mix of beans, but after using this discovery a few times, I think I'm reverting back to standard recipe with kidney beans.)

Heat oil in a wide skillet (at least 12") over medium-high heat and add meat, green pepper, onion and garlic. When meat has browned, add all remaining ingredients, except kidney beans, and stir to combine. Cover and simmer over low heat for one hour, stirring occassionally. Add kidney beans, with liquid, and heat thoroughly. Sometimes I add in the beans at the same time as everything else which is perfectly fine too. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mushroom Ragout

Sadly, my husband and I don't agree on a lot of our food choices. I understand that not everyone loves seafood. But I struggle to understand his dislike of most cheeses and cheesey dishes. For me, cheesey pasta dishes rank high on my list of favorite comfort foods. Just thinking about a big casserole dish of lasagna or moussaka makes me happy. (Note to self - make moussaka soon & blog about it here!) Mushrooms is also pretty high on the list of foods we disagree about. My friend Allison loves mushrooms, and her husband Dave told the story how he used to dislike them, but somehow 'came around' and now enjoys them as much as she does. I've stopped holding my breath that will happen in our house, but I don't stop cooking them for the rest of the family.

This 'ragout' is really just a creamy sautee of herbed mushrooms that can be put on top of any meat. Or, in the case of my mushroom-crazy kids, just eaten as a side. Sometimes I enjoy experimenting with different wild mushrooms for the flavor & texture combinations. Though, my sister's boyfriend's friend attended the CIA and shared 'all mushrooms can taste great' if you follow a simple rule to let them sit in the sautee pan, uncrowded and undisturbed, until they are nicely browned. Then flip and wait some more. It had been a few years since I switched from buying 'plain' white mushrooms to other varieties at the store. Thanks to this tip, I now also enjoy tasty mushroom dishes with inexpensive white mushrooms as well.

Really, this can be used for just about anything. Mushroom ragout is fantastic served on top of beef (filet) or a chicken breast. You could also add in some parmesean cheese and toss with farfalle or another short pasta. Can you imagine how happy that dinner would make my husband - mushrooms AND cheese. Probably (definitely) won't be serving that in our house anytime soon, so you should enjoy it at yours!

Mushroom Ragout
Adapted from Mushroom Ragout

1/2 lb white mushrooms, sliced
2 large shallots, minced
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (or leaves from 2-3 fresh thyme sprigs)
salt & pepper
1/3 C white wine
2-3T heavy cream

Melt butter in large, flat-bottom sautee pan over high heat. Add mushrooms in a single layer and let cook, undisturbed, for five minutes. Turn mushrooms over, add shallots, thyme and salt & pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add wine and mix to combine, scraping up browned bits from the pan. Add cream, bring to boil, stir and serve.