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I Made a Casserole, and I Liked It

February 23, 2011

You heard me–the hater of all things creamy, gloopy, mixed together, and baked–actually cooked a casserole. And loved it.

It’s a New Mexican dish and it includes no cream o anything, so those of you from the Midwest may feel free to scoff at me at any point. But this, is as close to a real casserole as I’m getting. It made Mr. Alfa, who has an unnatural love of casseroles for a man from Brooklyn, immensely happy. Which translates to: It had chicken. It was creamy. It wasn’t spicy. And it was plentiful.

A couple of notes before jumping into the recipe: I like spicy. I like chilis. I piled a bunch of pickled jalapeno slices on top of my serving. It was heavenly. If you’re not feeding the heat averse, add some diced jalapenos or serranos into the mix.  Otherwise, pass the dish for people to add their own.

This is really rich, so serve it with just a simple salad.

White Chicken Chilaquiles

1 small can FF evaporated milk

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp flour

2-3 cups cooked cubed or shredded chicken

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

8 oz sliced mushrooms, either raw or sauteed (optional)

1 cup low fat sour cream

2-3 cups chicken broth

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 4-oz cans of diced green chilis

S&P to taste

1 medium white onion, chopped

8-10 corn tortillas, cut into strips cups tortilla chips

1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese or LF Mexican blend cheese

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 and spray a 9 x12 casserole dish with olive oil spray.

2. If you know how to make a roux, add milk, and turn that into a bechamel sauce, just do it with the first three ingredients. If you don’t, follow step 2a.

2a. Melt the butter over medium heat in small saucepan, then add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the evaporated milk, bring to a boil while whisking constantly, then lower the heat to simmer. When this bechamel (hey, now you know how to make a fancy French sauce) is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, turn off the heat and set aside.

3. Mix the cook chicken (I used breast meat that I sauteed in olive oil, then diced) with the black beans, mushrooms (I sauteed them; you could leave them out or substitute about 1 cup of corn), cilantro, green chilis, sour cream, and the bechamel you created in the Step 2/2a.  Mix thoroughly. Add as much chicken broth as you need to thin it down to a loose consistency (not watery, but not really thick and gloopy).

4.  Line the bottom of the casserole dish with 1/2 the tortilla strips, followed by 1/2 the creamy chicken mixture, then 1/2 the raw onion, and 1/2 the cheese.

5. Do another layer of tortillas, followed by chickeny stuff, followed by onion, followed by cheese.

6. Bake this uncovered for 45ish minutes, or until it’s all bubbly and melty. Let sit about 5-10 minutes before serving, or risk burning your mouth to shreds.

Makes around 8 good-sized servings.

Beef Crockatorre (Or, the lamest title ever for a really good dish)

February 1, 2011

Admittedly, that title up there blows. Or sucks. Or is just plain awful. But I promise you, this dish will make you forgive me for the lack of creativity in the post title.

Everyone knows (and loves) chicken cacciatore, but the flavors work just as well with beef. Which for some reason, I took out to thaw, thinking it was chicken. I blame all the snow we’ve had this winter. It’s made me delusional. But, back to the recipe. It’s easy. It’s hearty. It’s satisfying. It’s plentiful. And it’s meant to be served over pasta. What more could you ask for in the dead of winter, when you haven’t been able to leave the house for days?

This makes a lot. A lot, a lot. Fortunately, it freezes really well, so don’t be scared of the quantity.

Crock Pot Beef Cacciatore

2 lbs beef stew meat, cut into chunks (I used top round)

1 red bell pepper, sliced

1 green bell pepper, sliced

8 oz sliced mushrooms (optional; I had some that needed to be used, so I added them)

1 lg yellow onion, sliced

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1.5 cups of dry red wine

2 15oz. cans of diced tomatoes (I used fire roasted, for extra flavor)

2 6 oz cans of tomato paste

1 tsp of dried oregano

1 tsp of dried thyme

1 tsp dried rosemary

Salt & pepper to taste

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

¼ cup of fresh parsley, chopped

Directions

  1. Layer the onions and peppers at the bottom of the crock pot. Add the mushrooms, if you’re using them. They’re totally non-traditional, but I had them and they needed to be used up. Top with the beef. Then scatter the garlic over the beef.
  2. Add about 1/2 the wine, pouring it around the beef.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes, pouring it around and over the beef.
  4. Add the tomato paste, smearing it over the top of the beef.
  5. Pour the remainder of the wine in the tomato paste cans, stirring to loosen any paste left behind. Pour this sludgy mixture over the beef.
  6. Top with the herbs and spices, except the parsley.
  7. Cook on low for 8ish hours (a little more or less won’t change anything).
  8. Remove the lid from the crock pot when the time is up. Stir in the parsley and balsamic vinegar. If the beef is in big chunks, break it up a little with a wooden spoon. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes, with the lid off.
  9. Serve over pasta. Mangia bene!

 

Tagine and the Pantry of Doom

November 3, 2010

No, this isn’t the latest installment in the Indiana Jones series. But it is a story packed with almost as much peril, danger, and excitement. Seriously, my pantry is a scary, overstuffed place. You take your life into your own hands any time you try to extricate something from there. And I’m not entirely convinced that the Lost Ark isn’t hidden in a dark corner of the top shelf. But I digress…

My goal this week is to use up stuff that’s already in the house, and not go shopping–at all. So far, it’s Wednesday and I’m doing pretty good. Last night’s installment of Pantry Roulette came up Moroccan. I had chicken thighs in the freezer, a can of beans in the auxiliary pantry in the basement, and a ton of spices and random ingredients I bought because they looked interesting.

The end result: A crock pot chicken tagine that sounds like it would be weird, but was wonderful in a way that was unexpected. Really hearty, earthy, flavorful, and satisfying.

Don’t be put off by the list of ingredients–dried apricots and olives seem weird in the same dish, but you really can’t pick out the unique flavor of either. The apricots pretty much dissolved into the stew (and that’s really what a tagine is, btw), giving it a background sweetness. The olives were easy to recognize visually, but they sacrificed their brininess to the cause.

And yes, it’s a long list of spices. But you don’t have to follow it exactly if you don’t have all of them or you don’t like a couple. Mix and match them. Add something different (cumin, clove, or allspice would also be wonderful).  Use a different kind of bean. Add carrots, if you have them. Don’t be intimidated–this recipe is endlessly flexible.

As a side note, I entered this recipe in the BSI challenge for chiles–hey, it’s got Harissa, and that’s mostly chiles.

Apricot and Olive Chicken Tagine

1 tbsp cinnamon

2 tsps paprika (I used smoked paprika, but any kind would work)

1-2 tsps ground cardamom (I used closer to 1 tbsp, but I love cardamom)

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground ginger

1 tsp turmeric (this is primarily for color, so feel free to leave it out)

2 tbsp tomato paste (I used sundried tomato paste, because that’s what I could grab without causing a cave in)

2 tbsp chopped garlic

1.5 cups of red wine, divided

1-2 tbsp Harissa (this is a North African chili paste; you can swap in chili powder, dried chiles, chipotles, or any kind of chili paste or hot sauce you like)

1 tbsp honey

1 lg onion, rough chopped

1-2 lbs of skinless, boneless chicken thighs (I used them frozen, chiseled from their package)

1-2 cups dried apricots, halved

3/4 cup mixed olives (I used a Mediterranean blend, with pits; any kind of briny olives will work here; or you could leave them out and add a couple of tbsps of vinegar)

1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (Chickpeas would be more authentic, but I couldn’t find them in my pantry pit of despair)

1-2 small preserved lemons (or use the zest from 1 lemon)

1 cup of chicken broth

S&P to taste

1/4 cup pistachios (optional)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together whatever spices you’re using, along with the tomato paste, the Harissa (or other chile-based product), the garlic, the honey, and 1/2 cup of red wine. Set this aside.
  2. Lay the onions in the crock pot, and top with the frozen chicken (or thawed, if you’re better at planning ahead than I am).
  3. Spread the spice paste from Step 1 over the chicken.
  4. Dump in (in no particular order) the olives, beans, apricots, and preserved lemons (or lemon zest).
  5. Pour the remaining red wine and the chicken broth around the chicken. You want to avoid washing off the spice paste.
  6. Slap a lid on the crock pot, and cook on Low for 7-8 hours, or on High for 4-5 hours.
  7. Serve over couscous or rice.  Top with the pistachios, if you found some in the pantry and felt like shelling them.


Creamy, Chile, Chowder

October 28, 2010
 


Chipotle Chicken Corn Chowder

Originally uploaded by gaylemade

Given a choice, Mr. Alfa would either eat something creamy or pasta-riffic every day of the week. I’m not a huge fan of cream sauces or anything milky, in general. I love pasta, but geez, once a week is plenty.

I do love chiles, though. Mr. Alfa, on the other hand, is a chile wuss. Except for chipotles. For some reason, those don’t bother him. So I sneak them into anything possible, including pasta and the random creamy dish. Hey, I’m all about compromise in a relationship!

I am not about compromise in the kitchen, though. I want good ingredients, especially in recipes with very few of them. The fewer the ingredients, the better they need to be. And the more flavor you have to squeeze out of them.

This chowder really has just a few simple ingredients. So, it’s important to select those ingredients carefully and prepare them as best you can. That also means its a very flexible recipe–if you really like turkey bacon, go for it. Got Idaho potatoes instead of red potatoes? Knock yourself out. Got plain corn, instead of roasted? I won’t try to stop you.

Just don’t skip the chipotles. They’re the key to the balance of flavors.

(It’s the 100th edition of the BSI challenge and this is my entry. I won two weeks ago, and am hoping to repeat. Wish me luck.)

Chipotle Chicken Corn Chowder

4 slices of bacon, diced (I really like smoky bacon, like uncured Applewood smoked bacon, for this dish)

1 lg onion or 4-5 shallots, diced fine

1-2 tbsp flour

1/2 cup dry white wine

64 oz. chicken broth or stock

About 8 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced into medium chunks

18 oz. (about 6 cups) corn (roasted corn is really the best here; I either use fresh or Trader Joe’s frozen roasted sweet corn)

1 sprig of fresh thyme, or 1-2 tsps dried

1 lb (approx) cooked chicken, roughly chopped (I used chicken breast)

3-4 canned chipotles in adobo

2 cans fat free evaporated milk

1-2 tsp smoked paprika (optional)

S&P to taste
Directions

  1. Heat up a large soup pot or dutch oven over high heat. Once it’s hot, add a tiny drizzle of olive oil and the bacon. Drop the heat to medium, and cook the bacon until it’s as crispy as you like it.
  2. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Remove all but about 1 tbsp of the fat from the pan. Add the onions or shallots, and saute until they’re translucent.
  3. Add the flour, stir to combine. Once the flour is mixed in, add the wine and scrape up any of the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add all the chicken stock, the potatoes, the corn, the thyme, salt & pepper. Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil.
  5. Once the soup reaches a boil, lower the heat back down and keep the soup at a solid simmer until the potatoes are cooked through (about 15-20 minutes.
  6. Ladle about 2 cups of the soup into a blender and puree the heck out of it. Add this back to the pot and stir to mix through.
  7. Add the chicken to the soup now, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  8. Put one can of the evaporated milk and as many chipotles (but not the adobe sauce) as you like in the blender. Three gave the soup some mild heat and a good amount of smokiness. Puree the heck out of this, then add it into the soup.
  9. Pour the other can of evaporated milk into the soup, and raise the heat to afterburner. Watch it carefully and keep stirring. The second big fat bubbles start rising to the surface, drop the heat back down to a gentle simmer.
  10. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes to heat through and thicken some. Adjust the seasoning, and add the smoked paprika now, if you want more smokiness.
  11. Ladle it into big bowls, top with the reserved bacon, and enjoy.

Makes about 8 dinner servings (6 if you’re feeding Mr. Alfa)

**Note: This isn’t a pudding thick kind of chowder. I don’t like that. If you do, though, you could use starchier potatoes and more of them. And puree more of them to thicken up the soup.

Easy, Delicious, and Plentiful

October 20, 2010

If you’re at all familiar with brisket (and if you’re not–for shame!), chances are good you know it as spice rubbed, slow smoked Texas barbecue. Truly wonderful. But, if you haven’t had a braised, Jewish-style brisket, you’re missing out on a slice of fatty, tender goodness.

Brisket if a fairly traditional meal for Rosh Hashanah and Passover. And I take my inspiration for this dish from The New York Times Jewish Cookbook (edited by Linda Amster). If you’re at all interested in Jewish cooking, both traditional and modern, you really want to take a look at this book. It’s fabulous.

In any case, there’s a recipe in there for an easy sweet and sour brisket that you make in the oven. I’ve made it both in the oven (delicious) and on the grill (way better). But you have to pay attention to the brisket when you cook it either of those ways.  I much prefer to indulge in a flurry of activity, move on to something else, then come back to a perfect dinner hours later.

And you can, if you throw the brisket in the crockpot. And it is good. And easy. And plentiful. All reasons to rescue brisket from holiday-only status.

A couple of things to note: If you’re averse to fatty meats, move along. Brisket is fatty. That’s where all the flavor and tenderness come from. You can reduce the amount of fat by cutting off the fat cap before you put the brisket in the crock pot; you really don’t need that fat in this preparation.  You can also cook the brisket, slice it, stick it in the fridge, separate from the sauce. Store the sauce in a container in the fridge over night, and peel the fat layer off (it rises to the top) before reheating.  I can’t be bothered, but I wouldn’t stop you from being fatphobic.

The second thing to note: Briskets are biiiig. I’ve never found a first cut brisket (which is leaner) smaller than 6 or 7 lbs. That’s just too big, even for someone who loves leftovers. So, I go with a second cut brisket (a little fattier, but fat=flavor) that’s 3-4 lbs. It’s plenty of meat for dinner for two nights.

I served this for the first dinner with pierogies and steamed green beans, but it would be great with boiled potatoes, mashed, smashed, or potato pancakes (my original plan, before I got migrainey).  We’ll be using it for sandwiches with caramelized onions, horseradish, and melted cheddar for our second dinner.

Crock Pot Sweet and Sour Brisket

4 shallots, chopped fine (or use 1 medium onion
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup Coca-Cola (not Diet or Coke Zero. I used Mexican Coke, which has sugar instead of HFCS, but that would work)
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tbsp honey
1/8 cup cider vinegar
2 tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 tbsp beef demi glace (optional)
1/2 tsp each of ground cloves, ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
S&P to taste
1 3-4 lb second-cut brisket, frozen or thawed (I used it frozen)

Direction

  1. Whisk together all the ingredients, except the brisket, in a mixing bowl. When the mustard is dissolved and everything is fully combined, taste it. Adjust to get a combo of sweet and sour that works for you (I sometimes have to add more vinegar).
  2. Put the brisket (frozen, thawed…makes no difference) in the crock pot and pour the sauce over it.
  3. Cook on low for 9-10 hours.  The timing doesn’t seem to differ much  if the brisket starts out frozen.
  4. Remove the brisket v-e-r-y carefully. It wants desperately to fall apart. Slice it and cover it with foil to keep warm.
  5. The sauce is very thin, more like a jus than a gravy. You can reduce it, if you like, but it’s fine as is. Skim as much fat off the top as you have patience for, and adjust the seasoning.
  6. Spoon some sauce over the meat when you serve it (and over the potatoes, if you know what good is), and start dreaming of leftovers.

The Weather is Beautiful and the Veggies Aren’t

October 13, 2010
 


Fall Minestrone

Originally uploaded by gaylemade

I could wax rhapsodic about the beauties of fall–there’s a chill in the air, the leaves are turning, the woodland creatures are busy gathering nuts for a long winter. And yes, that’s all true. But there’s also another truth here in the Northeast that no one really talks about–the vegetables are going to suck for the next 6 months. Forget about plump, juicy tomatoes. And fresh sweet corn. And zucchini the size of the space shuttle. Forget about pretty much anything but root veggies and hearty greens.

And that, my friends, is why you make minestrone. It’s a delicious, hearty way to make the most of what’s plentiful, reasonable, and still worth eating. And this was very worth eating–plus it makes enough to freeze.

Fall Minestrone
2 tsps olive oil
4 oz pancetta, diced
1 super large onion, chopped (you want to wind up with about 2-3 cups)
2 stalks of celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste (I use the kind in a tube, so I don’t have waste)
1 cup of white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
2 qts of vegetable broth ( I like Pacific Natural Foods Organic Veg Broth)
1-2 in. rind from a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano (you could omit this, but you’d regret it)
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and diced
1-15 oz can of diced tomatoes
2-15 oz cans of cannellini beans
1 tbsp rosemary, 1 tsp thyme, s&p to taste
1 bunch of dark leafy greens, cleaned really well and rough chopped (I used Swiss Chard, but you could use escarole, spinach, kale, or even a mix of greens)
1 sack of tiny pasta (I used soup shells, but you could use ditalini, tubbetini, or anything really small–or just leave it out)

Directions:

  1. Heat up olive oil over medium heat in a great big honking stock pot. Saute pancetta, until it starts to give up some of its fat.
  2. Add onions, celery, and carrots and continue to saute until onions turn translucent.
  3. Add garlic and tomato paste and keep stirring. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until you start smelling the garlic and tomato paste.
  4. Add white wine, and stir really hard to get up all the delicious brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
  5. Now drop in the Parmigiano rind (see the notes at the bottom of the recipe about this). Add all the broth, the potatoes, the canned tomatoes, the beans, the herbs and spices.
  6. Raise the heat to high, and bring the giant pot of soup to a boil.
  7. Once the soup comes to a boil, immediately drop the heat back down to a gentle simmer, and add the chopped greens.
  8. Cover the soup and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the potatoes are tender.
  9. If you want to add pasta, cook it separately and drain really, really well.
  10. To serve, remove the parmigiano rind from the pot, and adjust the seasoning. Put some of the pasta in the bottom of the soup bowl (we used about 1 cup of soup shells per bowl), and ladle the soup on top.
  11. Add garlic bread, semolina bread, or some other crunchy on the outside-soft on the inside bread, and you have a meal.

**Notes:

Make friends with the counter guy at your local Italian market or the cheesemonger at your local cheese shop. They’ll give you a Parmigiano rind, and even some prosciutto ends (which are great in lentil soup). If no one is giving up the goods, buy a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano. You can eat the cheese on its own or grate it over something. Trust me, it’s worth the cost for this recipe.

If you decide to omit the chunk of cheese, top the soup with grated parm before serving.

This soup made enough for dinner two nights, plus a bunch for the freezer. Don’t add the pasta to the soup, if you’re freezing. Just cook up some pasta to add to the soup when you thaw and serve.

The Wonders of the Pan Sauce

October 12, 2010

One of the best things I’ve ever learned as a cook is how to make pan sauces. Seriously. They’re easy, not terribly labor intensive, and they elevate a simple slab o’ protein to an entree.

No one ever got excited to see a plain grilled pork chop on their plate. Sure, they’ll eat it. They’ll probably enjoy it. But they’ll forget about it by the time the dishes are off the table.

Drizzle a tablespoon or two of a sauce on that same pork chop, and everyone thinks you’re a chef. And that you slaved all day to bring them a fine dinner. Don’t dissuade them of this notion. Let’s keep the secret of the pan sauce to ourselves, shall we?

And there’s one more real advantage to the pan sauce: It gives you freedom with your leftovers. Marinate a piece of meat in something Asian-inspired, and you’re pretty much stuck doing something equally Asian with the leftovers.  But, if you go for a pan sauce, you can get away with just lightly seasoning that piece of meat (even just s&p it). Top it with an Asian pan sauce tonight, if you’re so inclined. Then shred the leftover meat (without the sauce) and turn it in tacos. Or pasta sauce. Or make a different pan sauce.

Convinced? Good. Let’s get started.

Apple Cider Pan Sauce

2 tbsp finely minced shallots

2 cups apple cider (go for the real, unsweetened, healthy stuff)

3 tbsp Calvados (you can sub another brandy, or leave it out, if you’d rather)

1-2 tsp honey (how much will depend on how sweet your cider is)

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground allspice

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

S & P, to taste

1 tbsp country Dijon mustard (plain Dijon would work, too)

 

Directions

  1. Coat the bottom of a medium saucepan in just a tiny bit of olive oil. Saute the minced shallots until translucent.
  2. Add the apple cider to the pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil until its reduced by half (about 10-15 minutes).
  3. Add the Calvados, spices, honey, Worcestershire, and balsamic vinegar. Bring back up to a boil, and keep it there until reduced by half again.
  4. Whisk in country Dijon mustard until smooth. Continue reducing until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.
  5. Turn off the heat, and let the sauce cool down a bit. It will thicken further as it cools, leaving you with about 1/2 cup of sauce. Adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
  6. Serve over pork chops (I rubbed them with olive oil, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice); pork tenderloin; or even chicken.
  7. Wait until no one is looking to lick your plate clean.

*** Apple cider is this week’s Blogger Secret Ingredient. See this week’s announcement. Full BSI rules are here.

 

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