Friday, December 30, 2011
I've had this strange fascination with tiny food (as in miniature versions of normal food) ever since I read an article about creating a counterpart to sliders by using little teeny weenies and making your own teeny buns for miniature hot dogs. Although I don't like those little weiners (I think they're called Lil Smokies) I liked the idea. After further research I learned that I could make tiny tacos, reubens, pizzas, and other Lilliputian foods that are perfect finger food for parties. Someday I want to throw a party where all the food is miniaturized - I think that would be hilarious.
Do you have a New Years or football party in your near future? I've never understood why so many people serve chili or regular pizza slices for football parties -messy, drippy food precariously transported from plate to mouth by a person whose eyes are glued to a TV screen. I think the whole tradition must have been started by a carpet cleaning company. In contrast, tiny food is securely transported with two fingers and whap! Into the mouth in its entirety. Perfect, not to mention cute as the dickens.
I thought I would start my erratic and occasional series on Lilliputian Food with tiny pizzas because everybody likes pizza and they're incredibly easy to make.
Although this recipe calls for using a store-bought crust, you could certainly use a refrigerated crust or make your own. Just be sure to partially bake it first. If you decide to use a store-bought crust, buy the thinnest one you can find so the tiny pizzas look right proportionally and the crust gets crisp. I use sun-dried tomato pesto in place of pizza sauce because I like the additional boost of flavor but either one will work fine. The reason to chop the cheeses if they're in long shreds is because they're hard to drape on the tiny pizzas and make a mess. Smaller pieces are much easier to handle.
You'll need a 2-inch round cookie cutter, which is easy to find at any kitchen gadget store or Bed, Bath and Beyond. I bought a set of various sizes a while back and they come in handy.
Watch the pizzas closely because they bake fast - a minute or two will make a big difference once the cheese starts to melt because they're small and temperature is high.
* * click here for a printable recipe * *
Makes about 32 mini pizzas
2 large store-bought pre-baked thin crust pizza shells
Small jar of pizza sauce or sun-dried tomato pesto
Small package shredded pizza cheese blend – chopped in small pieces
Grated or shredded parmesan cheese – chopped into small pieces if needed
Pepperoni - optional
Pitted black or green olives – sliced in half lengthwise
Fresh basil – smallest whole leaves
Preheat the oven to 450d.
Cut rounds from pizza crust using a 2-inch round cutter, avoiding the thick crust edge.
Top the pizza rounds with sauce and cover with pizza cheese blend. Top with pepperoni and an olive half. As you can see, I made some with pepperoni and some without. Choices, choices.
Place on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven until the cheese is melted and just starting to brown, approximately 8 minutes. (Watch closely so the cheese doesn’t get too dark.)
Remove from the oven and sprinkle lightly with parmesan. Place a very small basil leaf on each and plate for serving.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
How to be a Soup Fairy
It might seem odd to post a recipe for chicken noodle soup at the holidays. But here's my reasoning - you're probably going to have some time off over the next few weeks, right? Why would you want to spend some of it making soup? Because it's a really good bet that a friend or family member is going to come down with a bad cold or flu in the next month or two. Just think how happy they'd be if you were able to whip out a container of homemade chicken soup as a get-well present. You'd get big-time gold stars for thoughtfulness (not to mention think-aheadfulness). I was planning to make this soup for blog purposes a week ago when I saw a Facebook post by my friend Kathy that said she had a lousy cold and felt like "caca". It would have been even better if I could have brought her soup immediately but I was able to stop over the following day (after I actually MADE said soup) and she was very grateful.
Making homemade soup does take some time, but you can spread it out over two days (recommended) and it doesn't take more than an hour or two each day. Plus, if you have various family members hanging around the house you can enlist their aid and it makes a fun project to do together. Really! Your house smells wonderful and you feel like you're doing something to help someone else - very appropriate at the holidays.
The big secret to this recipe is the noodles. Don't buy dried noodles, buy frozen egg noodles because they're just like homemade. They make a homemade soup seem even more homemade. Kathy later asked me "did you even make the NOODLES?" I had to confess.
Day one you cook the chicken, which creates the broth. You let the broth cool in the refrigerator overnight so you can skim off the fat the next day. Day two is all about chopping ingredients and dumping everything into the broth to cook.
By the way, this recipe makes a LOT of soup - about four quarts. The good news is that you'll have plenty for yourself as well as others. But be aware that if you try to make it in a standard Dutch oven you might run into problems. You need a real soup pot.
Do you like my pot? I love nice shiny pots. If you don't have one, borrow one from a friend or make half a recipe in a Dutch oven. Or buy one and use it often.
This recipe includes an optional small amount of cream and parmesan. They really add to the flavor but you can leave them out if you're being careful about calories. My rationale is that the cream makes the soup more slidey for sore throats (technical term).
If you're watching your sodium intake, know that you can buy chicken base in a low sodium version. I'm not sure if the same is true about chicken bouillon cubes. As a general rule of thumb I always try to use low sodium products whenever available and then salt to taste at the table. You'll end up using less sodium that way. Not familiar with chicken base? Here's what it looks like.
You'll find it, along with beef base and sometimes turkey or pork base, in the spice aisle of most grocers (near the bouillon cubes). I like these products better than bouillon cubes because they seem fresher with more depth of flavor and have less sodium.
I think I had Campbells Chicken Noodle Soup pretty much every single school day when I was in 3rd grade - brought to school in a Barbie lunch pail with a peanut butter sandwich. It took me a while to recover enough to think about chicken noodle soup again (kind of like when I came down with the flu immediately after having a shrimp dinner, but different). This recipe will be a revelation for those of you whose soup normally comes out of a can.
Happy Holidays to all!!!!!!
* * click here for a printable recipe version * *
Chicken Noodle Soup
Makes approximately 4 quarts
4 bay leaves
3 chicken bouillon cubes or 3-4 tsp chicken base (preferably low sodium)
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 tsp lemon pepper seasoning
3 cloves garlic, minced
One 2.5-3 lb fryer chicken, cut up
1.5 tsp Italian seasoning
3.5 quarts water
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups sliced celery with leafy green tops
12 oz package homestyle frozen egg noodles
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/3 cup cooking sherry
1-2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
¾ cup heavy cream (optional but good)
¾ cup grated parmesan (optional but good)
Additional fresh parsley for garnish
For step one, add all the ingredients to a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer approximately 35 to 45 minutes until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken and set aside to cool. Remove and discard the bay leaves and onion. You should have approximately 3 quarts of stock. When the chicken is cool, discard the skin and bones and shred or chop the meat into bite-sized pieces. Refrigerate the stock and the chicken separately overnight.
For step two, skim the fat from the surface of the stock and bring back to a boil. Add the carrots and celery and cook for 5 to ten minutes. Add the egg noodles and cook according to package directions. When the noodles are done, add the chicken, mushrooms, parsley, sherry and rosemary. Add the cream and parmesan, if using. Cook for another 2 minutes until heated through. Adjust salt and pepper if needed.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Are you planning a get-together in the next few weeks? Paella is a great choice for entertaining because it's impressive, it's delicious, it makes a lot, and it's easy - you just keep sticking stuff in the pan until it's all done. The Lawyer and I served paella for a New Year's Eve party last year, and our friends Ron and Susie served it when they had us over for dinner a few weeks ago. (Ron and Susie recently drove from Minnesota to California by way of Florida. Go figure.)
There are as many variations of paella as there are towns and regions in Spain, Central and South America but they all have a few ingredients in common. Paella (pronounced pie-ay-uh) starts with arborio rice and a number of spices including saffron. Most paellas also contain some type(s) of shellfish with shrimp being the most common, but I've seen paella recipes that also contain mussels, clams and even lobster tails. Paellas often include chorizo, a spicy Spanish sausage (more about chorizo further on), and some paellas contain chicken. This is a Cuban Paella version that contains shrimp, chicken and chorizo. The spice paste also includes lime juice and a splash of rum.
Basically paella is a great one pot meal and you can change the ingredients to suit your taste. For example, I'm not fond of mussels (they taste like ball bearings coated in rubber bands) so you won't see them here.
Lets talk about a couple of the classic paella ingredients. First, the rice - it's important to use arborio rice for paella rather than a different rice variety. Why? Because arborio rice has a high starch content which gives creaminess to the sauce and it also retains a firm center when cooked which gives it a nice chewy texture. Arborio also is the classic rice of choice for risottos in addition to paellas.
Now lets talk about chorizo. Chorizo is a spicy sausage common to Mexican and Spanish cuisines. But there's a hitch - there are two distinctly different varieties of chorizo. Spanish chorizo is a hard (cured) sausage that is long and thin, similar to pepperoni. It comes with a paper casing that needs to be removed before slicing. It's moderately spicy but can also be purchased in the "caliente" version (hot) if you can find it. Spanish chorizo can be found in the deli department of upscale grocers or in gourmet stores.
Mexican Chorizo is a soft uncooked sausage that typically comes in a tube or "chub" as it's known in the food industry (did you know I used to work for Pillsbury?). It's raw and must be cooked before eating. You crumble it as it cooks, very similar to Italian sausage. Mexican chorizo can be found in the meat department of most grocers. You don't use Mexican chorizo for paella but it'll be featured in a future blog post for chorizo quiche with roasted pepper sauce.
OK, now lets talk about spices. Paella isn't paella without the distinctive taste of saffron. Yes, saffron is expensive but you only use a tiny bit. This recipe also includes your choice of Spanish or Hungarian paprika. Spanish paprika has a smoky flavor which I love while Hungarian is more mild (unless you buy the hot version). If you want to use hot Hungarian paprika I would suggest using it half and half with regular paprika the first time you make it to make sure the paella doesn't get to spicy for your taste.
Speaking of spices, do you date yours? I don't mean as in taking them to the movies, I mean sticking a little label on them showing the month and year you bought them. If you don't, how do you know how fresh they are? General rule of thumb is that the shelf life of ground spices and herbs is 6 months, and whole spices can be kept for 12 months. I always check the spices I need for a recipe to see if I've exceeded the shelf life. If it's only a month or two over I generally sniff the spice to see if it still has a strong aroma. If not, or if it's longer than a month or two over the limit, toss the bottle and buy new. And it doesn't work to use twice as much of an older spice, trust me. Two times nothing still equals nothing. That's why I always buy the smallest jar available of any spice, even if I use it frequently.
I highly recommend buying spices from Penzeys (www.penzeys.com) because they have the greatest variety and best prices. You want paprika? Great, they have four different kinds. And don't even start on chili powders. They have stores around the country (including 2 miles from my house, luckily) and they also do mail order if you don't happen to live near one.
You have a choice of artichokes or green beans in the recipe. I made it this time with fresh green beans and really liked the fact that they stayed crisp and provided a textural contrast to the other ingredients.
Note that the chicken should marinate up to 16 hours for maximum flavor but you can skip that step if you only start reading the recipe an hour before you want to eat.
* * click here for a printable recipe version * *
Cuban Spice Paste:
¼ cup Spanish or Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons minced garlic
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons rum (optional)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
½ teaspoon ground oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2.5 lbs chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into approximate 1.5” chunks
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
4 ounces Spanish chorizo, wrapping removed and thinly sliced
2 cups Arborio rice
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
¼ teaspoon saffron
2 tablespoons capers, drained
½ cup fire-roasted red bell peppers, cut into strips
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined but tails left on
2 cups frozen artichoke hearts or two cups green beans, fresh or frozen, cut into 2” pieces
In a medium bowl or ziptop bag, combine paprika, garlic, lime juice, optional rum, salt, pepper, oregano, cumin and olive oil to make a paste. Toss in the chicken thigh chunks and coat well. Refrigerate, turning occasionally, for up to 16 hours or proceed with the recipe if in a hurry.
Preheat the oven to 350d. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken, leaving excess marinade in the bowl to add later. Brown on each side for 3-5 minutes per side, then remove. Cook the other half of the chicken in the same way and remove from the pan.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the chorizo. Saute, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes and remove from the pan. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the rice and cook, stirring, until well coated with the onion mixture. Pour in the stock, tomatoes, saffron, and any remaining marinade. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the capers, cover and transfer to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and scatter the surface of the rice with the fire-roasted pepper, chorizo, shrimp, and artichokes or green beans.
Gently pat the ingredients into the top layer of rice, cover and bake for 10 additional minutes or until the rice is tender, the liquid is absorbed and the shrimp are opaque and pink. Stir together before serving.
Friday, December 9, 2011
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Remember those tomatoes you roasted last summer? This recipe is a great way to showcase them, not to mention that it makes a delicious light dinner with a salad and some crusty bread. It's a good counter-balance to all those heavy dinners that are so prevalent at this time of the year, and it also makes great leftovers for lunch the next day. If you didn't quite get around to roasting tomatoes last summer, it's OK because the recipe contains instructions for starting with fresh tomatoes. They'll still taste great because roasting brings out all the flavors and sugars even in grocery store tomatoes.
This tart would also be good served for an easy brunch entree if you happen to be entertaining at this time of the year. I like making it in a tart pan with a removeable bottom because it makes it easier to cut - I always have trouble getting the first piece out of a regular pie pan. If you don't have a 9" tart pan you can use a pie pan instead.
Goat cheese gives the tart a mildly tangy flavor. If you don't care for goat cheese you could certainly substitute any other cheese of your choice. But if you haven't tasted goat cheese, give it a try. The flavor is mild because it's mixed with mozzarella and it's a great complement to the olive, tomato, and fresh thyme flavors in the tart.
I've really been trying to stretch myself when it comes to eating new foods, especially healthy foods. I recently tried some brussel sprouts that The Lawyer's Sister #2 prepared for Thanksgiving and discovered that I really do like them when they're sliced and sauteed. My open-minded attitude still doesn't extend as far as raw oysters, however. Slimy slippery disgusting little gray things. Bleh.
Note that the recipe simply calls for a pie crust without mentioning the origin of said crust. I knew I was on a slippery slope between the ardent pie-crust-makers on one side and the equally ardent pie-crust-in-a-box people on the other. I didn't even want to get into that debate because you can't win. It's sort of like discussing politics. I still want to put my friend Ted (the Conservative) and my mom (the Liberal) in a closet and see who comes out alive. I'm betting on mom. She's little but she's feisty.
If you have roasted tomatoes in your freezer, pat yourself on the back and skip the first paragraph.
* * click here for a printable recipe * *
Roasted Tomato Tart with Goat Cheese and Black OlivesServes 6-8
5 roma tomatoes, cored, halved lengthwise and seeded
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1 pie crust
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese½ cup soft fresh plain goat cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
2 large eggs
¼ cup half and half
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ cup pitted kalamata or nicoise olives, halved
3 tblespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
To Roast the Tomatoes:Preheat the oven to 350d. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil; brush foil with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place the tomato halves, cut side up, on the baking sheet. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 2 hours until shrunken and somewhat dried. Cool tomatoes on the sheet. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.)
To Prepare the TartTransfer the pie crust to a 9 inch tart pan or pie pan, pressing pastry firmly onto the bottom and sides of the pan. Fold overhang in and press, pushing the crust slightly above the pan. Pierce the crust all over with a fork and place in the refrigerator to chill.
Preheat the oven to 375d. Line the pastry with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake until the crust is set, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and bake until the crust edges are golden, about 12 minutes longer. Cool the crust 10 minutes and reduce the oven temperature to 350d.
Meanwhile, mash the mozzarella, goat cheese, and thyme together using a fork. Season with salt and pepper. Add eggs and half-and-half and stir until well blended. Spread cheese filling evenly in the crust. Arrange tomato halves (cut side up) and olive halves evenly over the filling. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on the top. Bake until the filling is puffed and set, about 35 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Serve the tart warm.
Friday, December 2, 2011
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I started laughing the other day when I was flipping through my recipes and realized I have somewhere around 10 different wild rice salad recipes, not to mention recipes for wild rice side dishes, waffles, soup and other items. Then and there I decided to crown myself the Wild Rice Queen. Apparently it stuck somewhere in my subconscious because during a three hour bout of carb-and-sugar induced Thanksgiving night insomnia I mentally composed this entire post, complete with visuals. It made me happy but did nothing for the insomnia. I even toyed briefly with trying to create the entire post and publish it the next day, but I didn't think I could do it justice that quickly. Wild rice is too important. :) So, my apologies to those of you who had too many leftover turkey sandwiches that really could have used this recipe instead. Print it out now, so you'll have it ready for other holiday leftovers yet to come.
Wild rice likes to grow in a cold environment, so the primary producers are Minnesota (domestically) and Canada (internationally). If you didn't grow up in the Great White North you might not be familiar with it. I think of it as the northern answer to grits. Having always been somewhat skeptical about the virtue of grits (aka "white dirt"), I was assured by my new southern friend Charline that I would love her recipe for Tomato Cheese Grits. OK Charline, back at ya. You try mine and I'll try yours!
Wild rice is actually not a rice, but the seed of a grass that grows in shallow lakes. High in protein, lysine and fiber, low in fat and gluten-free, wild rice is the Cadillac of rices, which is one reason why you won't find it very often on restaurant menus. Even when you do find a dish listed as wild rice, it will often be a mixture of white and brown rice with some wild rice added in. One of the reasons that wild rice is more expensive than white or brown rice is because it's more difficult to grow and harvest. Traditional Native American harvesting is done from a canoe using a long stick to bend the grasses down and shake the seeds into the canoe. Not exactly high volume. The wild rice produced in Canada tends to be harvested commercially and therefore is less expensive, but I can't tell any difference in taste or texture so that's the version I buy (it's really not that expensive). If you happen across small boxes labeled "instant" wild rice, I wouldn't recommend buying them. It might seem less expensive but that's only because the box contains a small amount. And the pre-cooking and drying that are required to make it instant means the grains are softer and mushier when re-cooked. Wild rice is definitely not supposed to be soft and mushy.
To enjoy a 100% wild rice dish is a unique taste experience - earthy, nutty, very flavorful and chewy. Wild rice makes a great winter salad for those reasons compared to the light and delicate lettuce salads of summer. The rice makes a great palate for virtually any kind of leftover meat - smoked or roasted turkey, pork, chicken, beef, or even duck and pheasant. Of course, you don't need to wait for leftover meat - you could always buy a rotisserie chicken or a thick piece of smoked turkey at the deli. We recently purchased a smoked pheasant from a local grower and I'm already dreaming of a smoked pheasant, wild rice and fresh cherry salad. Yum! Besides a wide variety of meats, wild rice goes very well with a wide variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Looking over my recipes I noticed certain similarities so for the first time in my blogger life I'm going to give you what I call a master recipe with variations. (See what insomnia can do to you?)
But first we need to talk about cooking wild rice, which is slightly different than cooking white or brown rice. Wild rice recipes will invariably give you a set time to cook, which is misleading. In my experience that hardness of wild rice can vary from producer to producer or from year to year. My advice is to cook for a shorter amount of time than recommended and then start checking. I saw a visual a few years ago that led me to conclude I had probably been over-cooking my wild rice, so I thought I'd re-create it here. First you need to rinse your rice (remember it hasn't been as processed as white or brown rice).
Here's what uncooked rice looks like.
Here's what properly cooked rice looks like - the grains are swollen and most have started to split.
Here's what overcooked rice looks like - most of the grains are split wide open and starting to curl.
My source recipe called for cooking the rice for 60 minutes. I started checking after 45 minutes and concluded the rice was properly cooked at 55 minutes. The visual of overcooked rice was taken at 70 minutes. Most of the time it will take 55-60 minutes for properly cooked rice, but I've had it take as long as 70 minutes and as little as 50 minutes.
Most recipes will call for cooking wild rice in water, but I usually use low-sodium chicken broth for added flavor. Don't expect that all the liquid will be absorbed, you'll just strain it after cooking instead. Note that the wild rice can be prepared in advance and refrigerated, so this would be a quick salad to toss together after work.
Elements Common to Both:
meat - turkey, pork, chicken, beef, duck, pheasant
chopped spinach or arugula
toasted nuts - walnuts, pecans or almonds
- plus -
fresh fruit - grapes, cherries, oranges, blueberries, etc.
crumbled fresh cheese - blue, goat, etc.
- or -
mustard and garlic vinaigrette
fresh vegetables - sugar snap peas, red pepper, etc.
avocado chunks or crumbled cheese
I'll go into more detailed instructions and measurements in the recipe(s) below. Yikes! This is a long post. I told The Lawyer I had to get it out of my head so I could get some sleep. There was way too much content on my mental clipboard. :-)
* * click here for a printable recipe version * *
Wild Rice SaladServes 4-5
Master Recipe Ingredients:2 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups cooked turkey, chicken, pork, beef, duck or pheasant, cut into bite-sized cubes
2 cups chopped spinach or arugula
½ cup toasted pecans or walnuts (coarsely chopped) or toasted slivered almonds
- plus -
Fruity Version:¼ cup champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons fresh orange rind
¼ teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
¼ cup dried cranberries
1 cup fresh fruit (halved grapes, blueberries, halved pitted cherries, etc.)
1/2 cup crumbled blue or goat cheese
- or –
Vegetable-y Version:2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 green onions, sliced
½ red pepper, diced
2 oz sugar snap peas, cut into 1” pieces
1 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into chunks (or ½ cup crumbled blue cheese)
Rinse and drain the wild rice. Bring water or broth to boil in a medium saucepan. Add the wild rice; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes. Check to determine if grains are swollen and most are split. If not, check again every ten minutes until done (typically 55-60 minutes total). Remove from heat, drain, and set aside to cool. (May be prepared up to two days in advance. Keep covered and refrigerated.)
To prepare the vinaigrette, combine the first 8 ingredients from the fruit version or the first 7 ingredients from the vegetable version in a food processor or shake in a jar.