Friday, September 30, 2011

Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese can be a difficult dish to make in the slow cooker. I have tried many recipes and methods only to be rewarded with mushy noodles and a separated cheese sauce. Following a tip, I tried this recipe with uncooked noodles and the results were fantastic. Just make sure all of your noodles are completely covered with the cheese mixture. If you prefer a crispy crunchy topping, you may want to put the mac and cheese under the broiler for a few minutes before serving.

Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese
recipe adapted from What's Cookin' Italian Style

Mac and Cheese:
8 ounces elbow macaroni, uncooked
12 ounce can evaporated milk
2 cups whole milk
1 can cheddar cheese soup
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried parsley

½ cup Italian flavored bread crumbs
4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons melted butter

Use a 4-quart slow cooker coated well with cooking spray. If you only have a 6-quart, put an oven-safe casserole dish all the way into your slow cooker, and load the ingredients into it. I used a soufflé dish coated with olive oil.

Place the uncooked macaroni directly in your slow cooker or oven safe dish. Add the evaporated milk and remaining mac and cheese ingredients through the dried parsley and stir well to combine. You want to make sure all the noodles are covered in liquid, add more milk if necessary.

In a small bowl, combine the topping ingredients and sprinkle on top of the mac and cheese. Cover and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours, or until the mixture is firm and golden around the edges. Do not remove the cover or stir until before macaroni has finished cooking.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Roasted Tomato Soup

I make a tomato soup in a variety of ways but this is far and away my favorite. I have already talked about my love for roasted vegetables and tomatoes are no exception. Roasting concentrates the flavor and brings out the natural sweetness in tomatoes making this a perfect recipe for the winter months when tomatoes are not at their best. This soup is fantastic for a lunch or a light dinner on its own or you can pair it with a Messy Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Bacon for the ultimate soup and sandwich lunch or dinner.

Roasted Tomato Soup
recipe courtesy of Williams-Sonoma

3 pounds plum tomatoes, cored and halved
8 fresh thyme sprigs
4 cloves garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
5 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup mascarpone cheese
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 yellow onion, chopped       
3 cups unsalted chicken stock
4 slices country-style bread, toasted

Preheat oven to 275ºF.

Arrange the tomato halves, cut sides up, on a baking sheet.  Scatter the thyme sprigs and garlic on top of the tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Roast until the tomatoes have dried slightly and some of the skins have burst, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, using a rubber spatula, stir together the mascarpone and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses until smooth.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Pass the roasted tomatoes through a food mill according the manufacturer’s instructions. 

In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.  Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender and translucent, 4 to 6 minutes.  Add the pureed tomatoes, stock, and bread and simmer for 5 minutes.  Using a stick blender or blender, puree the soup and season with salt and pepper.  Divide the soup among 6 warmed soup bowls and top each with a dollop of cheese mixture. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Messy Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Bacon

I know it seems silly to post a simple grilled cheese recipe but this is easily one of the tastiest grilled cheese sandwiches I have had the pleasure of eating. There are few ingredients so be sure to seek out an excellent quality bread and aged cheddar cheese. Pair this sandwich with a bowl of Roasted Tomato Soup for the ultimate soup and sandwich lunch or dinner.

Messy Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Bacon
recipe slightly adapted from Williams-Sonoma

8 ounces center cut bacon
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
12 slices sourdough bread, sliced ¾ inch thick
1 pound aged cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lay the bacon in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the bacon is crispy. Remove from the oven and drain on a layer of paper towels. Wait until the bacon cools then crumble with your hands.

Preheat an electric panini press according to the manufacturer's instructions.

In a small bowl, stir together the butter and parsley. In another small bowl, combine the shredded cheese and crumbled bacon. Spread one side of each bread slice with the parsley butter. Lay 6 slices, buttered side down, on a clean work surface and top with the cheese and bacon mixture, dividing evenly. Add the remaining bread slices, buttered side up to form sandwiches.

Working in batches, place the sandwiches on the preheated panini press, cover and cook until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted, 3 to 4 minutes. 


Friday, September 23, 2011

Spaghetti Squash with Caramelized Onions

Spaghetti squash is one of those vegetables I only recently discovered at the farmer's market. This recipe makes a delicious side dish or filling main course by adding things like cooked diced chicken, zucchini and tomatoes. I served my spaghetti squash topped with sliced Herbed Chicken and sprinkled with some fresh parsley.

Spaghetti Squash with Caramelized Onions
recipe courtesy of The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without by Mollie Katzen

Extra virgin olive oil
3 pound spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence
Freshly ground black pepper, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat lightly with olive oil.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds by scraping with a spoon. Place the squash halves, cut side down, on the tray and bake in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until soft enough to be fairly easily pierced with a fork. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and turn the temperature down to 375ºF.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, scrape it with a fork to let steam escape, separating the cooked strands. There should be about 5 to 6 cups of cooked strands.

Add a bit more olive oil to the foil-lined baking sheet and spread it around. Arrange the squash strands on the baking sheet in an even layer and return to the oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a large skillet over medium heat after about a minute, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Melt in the butter, then add the onions. Sauté over medium heat until softened about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and Herbes de Provence; continue cooking and stirring for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is very soft and starting to turn golden.

Add the onion mixture to the squash on the baking sheet, mix everything together with a wooden spoon. Return the baking sheet to the oven, turn the temperature down to 350ºF, and bake, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, or until everything turns deep golden brown.

Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, topped with freshly ground black pepper.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spinach and Brie Chicken with Tomato Orzo

We eat a lot of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in our house and sometimes they can be pretty boring. This recipe is full of flavor but simple enough to prepare on those busy weeknights. 

Spinach and Brie Chicken with Tomato Orzo
recipe courtesy of Everyday Food by Martha Stewart

Coarse salt and ground pepper
8 thin chicken cutlets (1 ½ pounds total)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
10 ounce box frozen leaf spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 ounces Brie cheese, cut into 8 slices
1 cup orzo
2 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Set a large saucepan of salted water to boil. Heat broiler, with rack set 4 inches from heat. Place chicken on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Dividing evenly, spread one side of each cutlet with mustard; top with spinach, then cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Starting at short end, roll chicken up tightly, and arrange, seam side down, on sheet.

Season rolled chicken with salt and pepper. Broil, without turning, until tops are lightly browned and chicken is cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook orzo in boiling water until al dente. Drain well; return to pot. Add tomatoes, parsley, butter, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Serve stuffed chicken with orzo.

Picture taken with cell phone

Monday, September 19, 2011

Orzo Stuffed Zucchini

As I have noted before, we do not care for bell peppers so I adapted this recipe to use up the remainder of our zucchini bounty this season. 

Orzo Stuffed Zucchini
recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
1 ½ cups orzo
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling on top
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
6 medium zucchini

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat.

Pour the tomatoes into a large bowl and break apart using a pair of kitchen scissors or your hands; stir in the spinach mixture and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the orzo and cook for 4-5 minutes. The orzo will only be only partially cooked because it will finish cooking in the oven. Strain the orzo pasta using a fine mesh sieve, reserving the vegetable broth.

Stir the orzo into the tomato spinach mixture. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the basil.

Transfer the reserved vegetable broth into a 3-quart baking dish. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise; remove seeds and membranes and cut a very thin slice from the bottom so the zucchini will stay upright in the baking dish.

Place the zucchini in the baking dish. Spoon the orzo mixture into the zucchini. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle the top of each zucchini with additional cheese and continue baking until the cheese is golden, about 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let zucchini rest for five minutes. Serve warm.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gnocchi Mac and Cheese

Gnocchi are soft dumplings made from potatoes, eggs, salt, flour, and sometimes a little cheese. These delightful little pillows are often served as a first course alternative to soup or pasta in Italian meals. Making gnocchi from scratch is a simple but a time consuming process. I made this recipe weeknight friendly by using fresh gnocchi from my local Italian market.

Gnocchi Mac and Cheese
recipe slightly adapted from Sugarcrafter

1 pound fresh or frozen gnocchi
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
½ cup shredded fontina cheese
½ cup shredded Parmigiano-Romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Add the gnocchi a few at a time to
 a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring gently. Cook for about 3 minutes until the gnocchi float to the top of the water. Using a slotted spoon, move them to a  move them to a baking sheet and gently blot with a paper towel to remove the excess water. Set aside to cool while you make the cheese sauce.

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute then whisk in the milk. Continue to cook about 3 minutes until the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses. Mix the gnocchi in with the cheese sauce, and then sprinkle additional cheese on top, if desired.

Transfer the mixture to an 8” x 8” baking dish and bake in a 375ºF oven about 20 minutes until the cheese begins to brown.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Homemade Flavored Sugar Cubes

When I saw this beautiful picture of champagne with flavored sugar cubes on the Martha Stewart Weddings website, I knew I had to give it a try. My first couple of attempts at flavored sugar cubes was a disaster. My original idea was to reduce pomegranate juice to a thick syrup, cool and pour the syrup over premade sugar cubes. That attempt resulted in a sticky mess of sugar lumps. Next I though I would try a drop of candy flavoring and a drop of food coloring on the premade sugar cubes. The result was again a mess of sugar lumps. Giving up on my own ideas, I turned to Google for help and found this post from Always Order Dessert. I discovered that my problem was starting with already formed sugar cubes which fell apart every time I tried flavoring them. Armed with this new found knowledge, I purchased several of these silicone fruit ice cube molds from Wilton and successfully made strawberry, orange slice, and lemon wedge sugar cubes. You can use these sugar cubes to flavor anything you would use regular sugar for such as coffee, tea, or your breakfast oatmeal. I stuck with my original inspiration and used the cubes in tall glasses of champagne. 

Homemade Flavored Sugar Cubes
recipe adapted from Always Order Dessert

½ cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon extract of your choice (I used strawberry, lemon, and orange)
3-6 drops food coloring of your choice (I used red, yellow, and orange)

Pour the sugar into a large bowl. In a 1-cup glass measuring cup, combine the extract and food coloring. Pour the mixture into the sugar and stir thoroughly until evenly combined. The texture should feel and look like wet sand. If the mixture is too wet, add granulated sugar by the teaspoon until the texture is right, if it is too dry, add a bit of water.

To make molded cubes: pack the wet sugar mixture tightly into your silicone ice cube trays and let the sugar dry for 30 minute. Gently remove the cubes from the try by turning the tray upside down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Allow the sugar cubes to finish drying. The drying time will depend on how wet your sugar is and how much humidity is in the air. When cubes are completely dry you should be able to squeeze them gently without it falling apart. Repeat with the remaining sugar.

Store the completely dried sugar cubes in an air-tight container.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chicken Enchiladas

Besides the weather, the most obvious change the fall brings is a busier schedule. The return of school brings with it the return of extra curricular activities. All of these things mean less time in the evening to prepare dinner. These chicken enchiladas are quick to put together and filling enough to make it through the longest of nights. It is easy and convenient to prepare extra chicken to keep in the freezer but if you don't have any available for this dish, go ahead and get a rotisserie chicken available in most supermarkets.

Chicken Enchiladas
recipe slightly adapted from Kraft

2 cups Slow Cooker Coca-Cola Chicken or shredded rotisserie chicken
4-6 green onions, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
½ cup chunky salsa, divided
4 burrito-size flour tortillas
8 ounces Velveeta cheese, cubed
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix chicken, green onions, green pepper, cream cheese and ¼ cup of the salsa in medium saucepan; cook on low heat until cream cheese is melted, stirring occasionally.

Spoon 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture down center of each tortilla; roll up. Place, seam sides down, in lightly greased 13x9-inch baking dish. Place Velveeta and milk in small saucepan; cook on low heat until Velveeta is completely melted, stirring frequently. Pour over enchiladas; cover with foil.

Bake 20 minutes or until heated through. Top with remaining ¼ cup salsa.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Stuffed Grilled Eggplant

Eggplant can be a good replacement meat in many recipes because of its ability to soak up the flavors of other food it is cooked with. Eggplant is filling but does not have many calories. Many recipes call for peeling, salting, draining and rinsing the eggplant prior to adding it to the recipe. Rarely do I have time for these extra steps when I am trying to get dinner on the table in a relatively short amount of time. I discovered that I can eliminate some of this prep work by using baby eggplants as I have done here.

Stuffed Grilled Eggplant
adapted from Stonewall Kitchen Favorites by Jonathan King, Jim Stott, & Kathy Gunst

6 baby eggplants, about 1 pound total
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1/8 cup pine nuts
12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, finely chopped
½ cup plain bread crumbs
½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
¼ cup packed freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the grill or oven to about 350° F.

Cut the stem ends off the eggplants and cut them in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the eggplant flesh, leaving a ¼ inch shell on all sides.

Place the eggplants in the baking pan, skin side down, and lightly season with salt and pepper. Finely chop the eggplant flesh and set aside.

In the large skillet, heat ½ tablespoon of the olive oil over low heat. Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chopped eggplant and another tablespoon of the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the pine nuts and cook for another two minutes. The mixture should now be a nice golden brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in about 1 cup of the chopped tomatoes, bread crumbs, basil, and cheese. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as necessary.

Spoon the mixture into the eggplant shells, dividing evenly. Press and form a dome in each. (If preparing ahead, you can cover and refrigerate up to 6 hours. Bring back to room temperature before baking.)

Add the remaining tomatoes to the pan around the eggplants and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the eggplants.

Place on the hot grill (or in the oven) and cook for about 40 minutes, until the eggplant shells are soft and the stuffing is hot. If using the oven, you can turn on the broiler at the end and broil for 5 minutes to brown the top. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Slow Cooker Coca-Cola Chicken

I heard first about Coca-Cola chicken from a director at a children's camp. I was surprised to learn that this is a popular method of preparing chicken over the campfire. Simply arrange the chicken breasts in oiled Dutch oven, mix coca cola, ketchup, and spices, and pour over chicken. Cover and cook over hot coals for 60-70 minutes until chicken is no longer pink. Not being a big camper myself, I opted to prepare this in my slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Coca-Cola Chicken
recipe adapted from Favorite Slow Cooker Recipes

4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ½ cups ketchup
½ teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 ounce can Coca-Cola

Place the chicken in bottom of a large slow cooker. Whisk together the ketchup, celery seed, garlic, onion powder, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Pour in the Coca-Cola; whisk gently to combine. Pour mixture over the chicken. Turn the slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours. Remove the chicken and shred the meat with 2 forks; return to the slow cooker to keep warm. To soak up any extra liquid, you can turn the slow cooker to high for a few minutes after shredding the meat.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Grandma R’s Lemon Squares

My paternal grandmother was a wonderful cook and though she passed away several years before I discovered my love of cooking, I often think of her when I am in the kitchen. When my grandfather passed away I inherited a shoebox full of grandma's recipes lovingly scrawled on index cards. Each one is a little piece of history containing her handwritten notes, amusing doodles, and the occasional ingredient stain. Whenever I am feeling out of sorts, I mixed up a batch of these lemon squares and read through all the treasures concealed in an unassuming shoebox stored high on my closet shelf.

Grandma R’s Lemon Squares
recipe courtesy of  Eating Deliciously

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar (I used granulated sugar)
Pinch salt
1 ½ cups flour, divided
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream together butter, ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, and salt until smooth.  Add 1 cup flour and combine just until crumbs form.  Press mixture evenly into 9 x 9 x 2 inch square pan.  Bake 15 to 20 minutes until very lightly browned.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Beat the eggs and 1 ½ cups granulated sugar until pale yellow, about 3 minutes.  Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and remaining ½ cup flour; whisk to combine.  Pour over hot crust and bake about 25 minutes or until no imprint remains when touched lightly.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners' sugar before cutting with a thin, sharp knife into squares.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Grilled Corn and Arugula Salad

This delicious salad is wonderful for lunch or a light dinner. Steaming the corn first allows it to cook through on the grill without burning. I served this salad with fresh fruit but it would be equally delicious served with chicken from the Herbed Chicken on Vegetable Confetti or Grilled Chicken with Strawberries and Green Onions.

Grilled Corn and Arugula Salad
recipe adapted from The Grilling Gourmet

5 ears of sweet corn, husks and silks removed
1 cup packed baby arugula, chopped
½ small red onion, sliced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, melted
juice of 1 lime
1 small clove garlic, minced or grated
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
2 ounces feta cheese, diced

Add about 1 to 2 inches of water to the bottom of your steam pot and bringing it to a boil. Place the clean corn in the steamer basket and place the basket into the pot. Make sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the steamer basket. Cover the pot and steam the corn for 15 minutes. Remove the corn (be careful of the hot steam when you remove the lid) and set aside.

Preheat the grill over medium heat. Lightly brush the corn and red onion with olive oil. Place on the preheated grill until grill marks appear and vegetables are cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove from grill and set aside to cool slightly.

Dice the red onion and place into large bowl. In small bowl, add red wine vinegar, lime juice, garlic, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in olive oil and melted butter, whisking continuously to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if desired; set aside.

Cut the kernels off of the corn. Place corn kernels into the large bowl with the onions and add the chopped arugula. Toss with the dressing (you may not need all of it). Add feta and gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve warm or cold.