Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mean Joe Bean

The Messy Apron went sloppy recently as I was inspired by a recipe in a recent issue of Cooking Light magazine. It was in a column by Mark Bittman about accepting less meat into your life and was for Almost Meatless Sloppy Joes. I, of course, wondered why they had to be “almost” meatless, and why, if one accepted the added beans and vegetables, one couldn’t just leave out the meat entirely.

Now, here’s where the debate begins. I’ve written about this before. You can’t just take the meat out of something, especially something like a burger, and pretend it’s still meat. You will be disappointed. You will be outraged. You will insult the cows. But if you just take the flavors of, say, a Sloppy Joe sandwich, and apply them to a vegetarian selection of good, wholesome foods with a high WFQ*, cook them properly and aren’t foolish enough to pretend they are a meat substitute, you can still have something good. Trust me. This was good.

I increased the amount of beans in the original recipe and changed the seasonings to reflect the way I like Sloppy Joe’s, which were known as “barbecued hamburger” in our house when I was growing up. I served it over rice the first time we ate it, because I was afraid of pushing the Sloppy Joe metaphor too far. The mixture is sweet and just a little spicy (you could add more chile flakes or chop up a fresh chile pepper if you want it spicier) and it is so thick and filling with the mashed beans and cooked-down crushed tomatoes that I decided to take a serious chance. I served the leftovers on sandwich rolls.

The filling held together reasonably well on the buns (at least as well as a Sloppy Joe does, which isn’t really all that well anyway) and these sandwiches turned out to resemble real Sloppy Joes more, at least to me, than they have any right to. Harry insisted they carve out their own niche in the culinary world. He ate the stuff and liked it, so I don’t care if he refuses to compare it to Sloppy Joes. Thick stew or sandwich filling or whatever this is, how about if we consider it a meat alternative rather than a meat substitute? After all, if you know Manwich, this is no Manwich.

Sloppy Beans and Tomatoes

3 cups cooked red kidney beans (about 2 16-ounce cans) rinsed and drained, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup grated carrot
¾ teaspoon salt, divided
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cups canned unsalted crushed tomatoes

1. Place 1 ½ cups kidney beans in a small bowl and mash well with a potato masher or fork. Leave the remaining 1 ½ cups whole. Set aside.

2. In a medium-size skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté 3 minutes. Add the carrot and ¼ teaspoon salt and sauté 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté 30 seconds more.

3. Add the remaining ingredients, including all the beans and remaining salt and stir well. Bring to a boil (the mixture with be thick). Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until the mixture is very thick, stirring often. Serve over rice or on a sandwich roll. Top with shredded cheese if desired.

Makes 4-6 servings.

One year ago: Wheat Sandwich Bread

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Saturday, April 24, 2010

100th Post

So you’ve just made your 100th post to The Messy Apron. What do you want, a cookie? Why, yes, thank you very much. I would like a cookie.

I just made a cake a little while ago to celebrate The Messy Apron’s first blog-aversary, so to celebrate 100 posts, I made cookies instead. But more about those delicious bites in just a moment. First of all, I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane and list five of my favorite posts from the first 100. They’re favorites for a variety of reasons and I think they’re a reasonably representative sample of what goes from my messy kitchen out to you somewhere in the ether. I hope you like them too. Here they are, in no particular order.

Noodle Noir Part 1 and Part 2
Sure, these are technically two posts, but they tell one story, and some good ravioli got made. What could be bad about that?

The Omnivore’s Solution
This was my account of the fabulous lecture given at Winona State University by author Michael Pollan. I was so excited to be there, and I got to meet Pollan, too!

Hurrah for the Pumpkin Pie
Harry’s grandmama’s pumpkin pie. Need I even say more?

September Tomatoes
Just thinking of the Tomato and Beef Stir Fry in this post, not to mention the homegrown (by friends) heirloom tomatoes I used to make it, induces uncontrolled salivation. Too bad those great tomatoes are still months away! I can hardly wait to celebrate my love of good tomatoes with this recipe once again.

The Beet Goes On
Nearly as much as I love tomatoes, I hate beets. The recipe for Beet and Carrot Burgers in this post represents my first step in learning to love…or like…how about tolerate the humble beetroot.

Enough nostalgia. What about those cookies? These might not be the prettiest treats in the world, resembling mud pies more than something you might serve to the Queen with her tea. When you know that that muddy color comes from cocoa (there’s as much of it in this recipe as there is flour) and the sandy bits are ground toasted hazelnuts, these cookies suddenly become more appealing. And if you love chocolate and hazelnuts like I do, one bite through the coarse exterior into the dense, slightly chewy middle, and you’ll swear you’ll never judge a mud pie harshly again.

Peeling hazelnuts is a bit of a labor of love (I posted some detailed instructions on that here), but after that, this is a reasonably simple recipe. The dough comes together in minutes in the food processor. I recommend chilling the dough before forming it into cookies, because I think that improves just about any cookie (the dry ingredients get some time to absorb the wet ingredients better). Once you’re ready to bake, the mud pie resemblance is back. The dough needs to be squished together a bit to form the cookie disks and your clean hands are the very best tool for that job.

While all the mud pie references might bring you back to childhood, the hazelnut liqueur should bring you back out of it again (I hope!). The liqueur and a relatively small amount of butter are just about the only things holding these babies together, so I was skeptical before putting them in the oven. I thought that the cookies might be boozy, crumbly messes, but instead they were firm and chocolaty and nutty with lots of sweet cinnamon and just a hint of liqueur essence. Despite their lackluster appearance, these are definitely worthy of a celebration at least as important as your 100th food blog post. Here’s to hoping for a few hundred more (cookies or posts, whatever comes first)!

Chocolate Cinnamon Hazelnut Cookies
Based on a recipe in Gourmet magazine

Use cocoa powder that is not Dutch processed for these cookies.

1 ½ cups hazelnuts roasted, skinned and completely cooled (see this post for instructions)
¾ cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
¼ cup hazelnut liqueur (I use Frangelico)

1. Place the toasted and skinned hazelnuts, sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the hazelnuts are finely ground.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse sand with a few very small lumps of butter. Add the liqueur and process until the dough comes together, but is still crumbly. Cover and chill the dough for at least 1 hour.

3. When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 325 F. Lightly spray cookie sheets with cooking spray (or use oil or parchment paper). Squeeze and shape the dough into flattened balls roughly 1 ½ inches in diameter and about ½ inch thick. Place on baking sheet. You can put them as little as an inch apart, since the dough will not spread much while baking.

4. Bake at 325 F for 18 minutes. The cookies should look dry on the outside and not break apart if you gently press them. Remove from the oven and let stand on the pan about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack. Store leftovers in an airtight container with layers separated by wax paper.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Other recipes like this: Apricot and Almond Cookies with White Chocolate

One year ago: Earth Day tips for food lovers

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

By Any Other Name: Lentil Barley Burgers

Is this really a burger? It isn’t made of animal protein. Should it be called a bean and grain patty? Or an oversized croquette? Does it have to hopelessly pretend to be beef or chicken, like the “meatless burgers” in the supermarket freezers, to earn the name of burger? After I made these Lentil Barley Burgers, I surreptitiously checked out those massed-produced posers. Luckily, I was armed with my Master’s degree in chemical engineering, or I may have been terrified. Does being filled with wheat and soybean derivatives pounded into submission along with some yeast extract and a handful of unpronouncables qualify something as a burger? In some of these cases, I’m not sure it qualifies it as food.

I actually quite like veggie burgers, including some of those boxed up in the supermarket, which is why I’ve been questing after good recipes for homemade meatless patties for years. I’m looking for a firm disk that might be easily served as a sandwich, like a meat burger, but that has plenty of flavor, a pleasant texture, positive nutritional value, and, what the heck, a high WFQ* as well. All too often, however, I’ve ended up with sloppy bean pastes that fell apart in frying pans.

At least by the time I tried these burgers, I had learned to take a cue from the Beet and Carrot Burger recipe and bake the patties rather than frying them. This worked well when I made Black Bean and Corn Croquettes, as did pureeing some of the grains and beans, then pulsing in the rest to make a coarse mixture. Ta da! The same method worked well in these Lentil Barley Burgers, too!

These patties may seem a bit ethnically challenged with their French green lentils, barley and southwestern seasoning, but they’re good that way. I’m betting some other spice combinations would work as well, and I think you could use another variety of lentil, although the cooking time of the lentils and the texture of the burgers may vary. Whatever I might do to vary these, they’re still going to be made with whole food ingredients and won’t need to pretend to be anything they aren’t. Even if you don’t want to call them real burgers, you at least have to admit that they’re real food.

Lentil Barley Burgers
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

½ cup uncooked pearled barley
water for cooking barley
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
½ cup uncooked lentils (I used French green lentils)
1 dried bay leaf
1 ½ cups water
1/3 cup grated carrot
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup breadcrumbs, preferably whole wheat
¼ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 eggs

1. To cook the barley, place it in a medium saucepan and cover with water by a few inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat and boil gently about 20 minutes, or until the barley is tender. Drain and set aside.

2. To cook the lentils, heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 30 seconds. Add the lentils and stir until coated with the oil. Add the 1 ½ cups water. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low or low and boil gently 30 to 40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and the water is mostly absorbed. The cooking time may vary depending on the type of lentil you use.

3. Remove the lentils from the heat and remove the bay leaf. Stir in the grated carrot, tomato paste, salt, cumin, coriander, chili powder and red pepper flakes. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. When the lentil mixture has cooled enough to handle, place half of it into the bowl of a food processor. Add the breadcrumbs, cilantro, eggs and ¼ cup of the cooked barley. Process until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally if necessary.

5. Add the remaining lentil mixture and remaining barley. Pulse until just combined. The mixture should be homogeneous, but some whole lentils and barley should still be visible. Transfer to a bowl, cover and chill at least 1 hour.

6. Preheat oven to 425 F. Oil a baking sheet or line it with a silicone baking mat. (I would also lightly oil the baking mat, since these stuck a little when I baked them.) When the mixture has chilled, divide it into 6 equal patties (about a heaping 1/3 cup each). Place the patties on the baking sheet and bake at 425 F for 25 minutes. Serve with salsa and sour cream, or other accompaniments alone or as a sandwich on a bun.

Makes 6 servings.

Patties can be frozen and reheated another day. Simply place the cooked burgers in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and freeze for a few hours, or until frozen solid. Remove them from the pans and wrap them in a freezer bag or other freezer-safe container, separated by wax paper. Defrost or reheat in the microwave.

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Other recipes like this one: Black Bean and Corn Croquettes, Beet and Carrot Burgers

Friday, April 16, 2010

Happy Birthday!

It’s time to get out the fancy celebration apron and bake a cake! That’s right, The Messy Apron is one year old! Happy birthday to us!

I am so grateful to you all for reading these pages over the last year. It’s hard to remember what I thought this space would be when I started it. I had vague notions of testing recipes through the seasons, snapping a few photos, and sharing them in a relevant and organized fashion. It has come to feel more like a letter that I’m writing to you all, whether I know you or not. I think I may have learned that from my grandmother, who still handwrites brilliant and amusing correspondences, in which she nearly always describes something she just had to eat, or something she just made. She would be a great food blogger if only she’d consider acquiring a computer!

What I’ve been doing on The Messy Apron works pretty well for me right now, so I don’t see any big changes in the future. I do hope to post even more often, but we’ll see how that goes when things get busy. I also think, although I changed the colors of the template with the seasons last year, I’m going to stick with the pink and green scheme I’ve got going right now. It suits me somehow, and I hope it works for you too. Since I now have posts that are a whole year old, I’m going to add a link with the title of the recipe I posted a year ago at the bottom of each post. I also will post links to similar recipes or recipes with similar ingredients in the same place. Don’t forget, if you want to find something in posts and recipes past you can also search the Recipe Index by clicking on the link in the Messy Apron Extras list at the upper right, search the Archives by going to the list at the right, or use the Google search box at the right.

To celebrate my first year of food blogging, I baked a Maple Cake with Walnuts and Dates. First of all, it’s delicious, which is foremost what a cake should be, despite what any Food Network competition or reality show may suggest. I’m saying this because my cake didn’t end up coming out of the pan in one piece, which may have kept it from being as photogenic as I would have liked. It also makes it difficult, in good conscience, to tell you to make this cake exactly how I did. Sadly, I couldn’t find the original recipe online so I could refer you there.

I used a different size pan than the original maple cake recipe suggested, and, since I also added walnuts and dates, I really was pushing the maximum capacity. The cake didn’t spill out of the pan while baking, which was a relief, but did take considerably more baking time. I also used some whole wheat pastry flour in the batter to help bump up the WFQ*. I’ve found that adding whole wheat pastry flour to cakes can make them slightly more crumbly, which may make them more delicate when removing from the pan. Another big contribution to such messes in my kitchen is my lack of proper talent and coordination when doing things like flipping hot cake pans over onto cooling racks.
When I told my brother on the phone that I was making a cake, he asked if it was someone’s birthday. When I sheepishly told him I was celebrating one year of blogging, he just laughed at me (he’s not a regular reader). Oh well, some people celebrate their pet’s birthdays, and the average one-year-old child doesn’t really know what’s going on at his own party any more than this blog does. It’s all really just an excuse to eat cake. Happy 1st birthday to the Messy Apron! And special thanks to all of you for all your kind words and support, especially Harry, who really does eat all of these experiments!

Maple Cake with Walnuts and Dates
Adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food Magazine
The icing for this cake is super simple and super good.

For the Cake
1 ½ cups plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour, divided
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 Tbs) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup sour cream
¾ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
¾ cup finely chopped pitted dates

For the Icing
¼ cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
pinch of cinnamon
1 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with the parchment and liberally oil, butter, or spray with cooking spray the sides of the pan.

2. Combine 1 ½ cups all purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together to distribute ingredients evenly. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a heavy duty mixer with a paddle attachment (or a large bowl for use with a hand mixer beat the butter, maple syrup and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

4. With mixer on low speed, alternately add flour mixture in 3 parts and sour cream in 2 parts (begin and end with flour mixture). Mix well to combine after each addition.

5. In a medium bowl, combine the walnuts and dates. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon all purpose flour to coat them. Gently stir the walnuts and dates into the batter.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Spread the batter evenly and smooth out the top.

7. Bake at 350 F 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, without any wet batter clinging to it.

8. Remove from the oven and cool 10 minutes in the pan. Turn out of pan onto a wire cooling rack. Turn the cake so that the rounded side is facing up. (All this turning out and turning over can be tricky, and is usually where I run into problems.)

9. To prepare the icing, combine ¼ cup maple syrup and melted butter. Add the powdered sugar and whisk until completely combined and smooth.

10. Pour the icing over the cake, spreading to edges (it’s okay if it drips down sides of cake). Cool completely (or almost completely) before cutting and serving.

Makes 8-10 servings.

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Other recipes like this: Rhubarb Yogurt Cake

One year ago: Italian Chickpeas

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Is it Safe?

Cashews are a big favorite in this household. I add them to pasta dishes and curries and we eat them all alone as a snack pretty regularly. That’s why I knew that the idea of a sauce with a cashew butter base, which I came across in several respectable sources, was going to go over pretty well, as long as I didn’t mess it up too badly.

The most promising method involved pureeing cashew butter with coconut milk to make a creamy sauce that I thought I’d toss with pasta and some of the large leftover head of cauliflower hanging around the refrigerator waiting for another chance to make Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Olives. The bad news is that Harry hates coconut. The good news is that he will eat what he calls “safety coconut” which is usually a flavorful dish, such as a spicy curry, that contains a small amount of coconut milk. The even better news is that he trusts me to judge when something I make will be “safe” enough for him to eat.

And so, starting with raw cashews, I roasted, pureed (it was quite a pleasure to just sniff the cashews as I was grinding them in the food processor), seasoned and blended with a small amount of light coconut milk. I tasted, decided it was safe, added some more coconut milk, tasted again, and decided it was still safe. I kept the spice blend simple to save time (it was one of those busy nights when Harry stops home for dinner before teaching a night class), and sliced the cauliflower instead of separating it into florets. Not only did the cauliflower cook faster this way, but it was easier to eat tossed with the fettuccine.

Often, when a sauce for noodles is thick like this one, tradition demands that you set aside some of the pasta cooking water and use it to thin out the sauce while tossing it with the pasta. Unfortunately, I usually forget to save some of the water when dumping the cooked pasta into a colander in the sink. When you’re forgetful like me, plain water will do, or, in this case, a little more coconut milk might work as well. I’ve found, however, that with a sauce prepared in the food processor, there’s always a bit of goodness sticking to the sides and bottom of the processor bowl. So, I take a bit of warm water and swish it around to dissolve some of that sauce that would otherwise be wasted and use the resulting slurry to thin the sauce. Fewer good ingredients get washed down the drain and I’m rescued from my forgetfulness. (This works well with Pesto, also.)

This dish was delicious if somewhat sweet for a main dish, and quite rich. The cauliflower helped tame both of those characteristics, but I was very satisfied with a pretty small portion (perhaps about 1 cup). Harry liked it too, declaring it not only safe, but also very good (and I didn’t even have to apply dental torture to get that answer). He didn’t quite rave over it the way he does with Beef and Guinness Pot Pie or Spaghetti Pie or Pumpkin Pie (methinks the man likes pie), but he liked it and I liked it and that all works for me.

Pasta with Cauliflower and Cashew Sauce
You may be able to use unsalted roasted cashews and skip the roasting step, but I have not tried this myself.

Sliced cauliflower rather than florets cooks fast and works well with the pasta.

1 cup raw cashews (about 5 ounces)
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, plus additional if needed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon honey
½ cup light coconut milk, well stirred, divided
8 ounces uncooked fettuccine
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
3 cups sliced cauliflower, cut into about 2-inch pieces (about ½ a large head)
¼ cup water, plus more as needed
cilantro leaves for garnish, optional

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Place the cashews on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 F about 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the pan to cool.

2. Combine the salt, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

3. When the cashews are cool enough to handle, place them in the bowl of a food processor. Process until just beginning to form a coarse paste. (This could take a few minutes.) Add the honey and process until the cashew butter can be pressed together and resembles a dry peanut butter in texture.

Add about ½ of the spice mixture and ¼ cup coconut milk. Process until a smooth paste forms. Add the remaining ¼ cup coconut milk and process until the mixture is very smooth.

4. Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine in plenty of boiling salted water until done to your liking (I prefer al dente). Drain the pasta and set aside. Rinse or wipe any excess starch out of the pasta-cooking pot and return to the stove.

5. Pour the canola oil into the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and sauté until beginning to become tender and browning on the edges.

Add the remaining spice mixture. Saute about 30 seconds more. Add ¼ cup water. Cover and steam the cauliflower 3 minutes or until tender.

6. Remove the cover and reduce the heat to low. Add the pasta and cashew butter mixture. Stir or toss to combine well, adding more water, preferably mixed with the remains of the sauce sticking in the food processor, if the sauce is too thick. Taste for salt and add more if needed. Garnish with cilantro if desired.

Makes about 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Penne with Chicken Sausage, Olives and Walnut Sauce

Friday, April 9, 2010

Simple Corn Chowder

Even though the warmer days and higher sun have us thinking of fresh produce again, around here, the sweet corn crops are still just a glint in their farmer’s eye. They won’t be knee-high until the Fourth of July, and it’s hard to remember those days way back in July and August when the harvested ears were stacked up like cordwood. Luckily, when I had more corn from our CSA than I could use fresh, I liberated a few pounds of it from the cobs and froze it.

Since it could be at least a month and a half before I can get my hands on some locally grown vegetables and fruits, that frozen corn is just the thing to tide me over. It still tastes like summer and the simple chowder I made with it, along with potatoes, frozen shelled edamame (soy beans) and green onions, was sweet and delicious and, well, corny.

The original recipe, which was in Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine, called for a can of creamed corn. Ugh! I never touch the stuff, and even if I didn’t have all that great corn in the freezer, I would have found a way to avoid using it in this, or any other recipe. The idea was to make the soup creamy, which I usually do by pureeing some or all of the soup, as I did in this recipe and this recipe. I wanted to do things a little differently this time and keep the potatoes chunky, so I reserved half the corn I was intending to use in the soup and pureed it with half and half. Although you don’t need much half and half to make a nice creamy soup using this method, if you want to make it even lighter, you could probably use milk, or if you want it to be even richer, you could use heavy cream.

In my opinion, the flavor of bacon is essential in this recipe, and the taste of the bacon renderings (ie, smoky, salty melted pork fat) added some delicious complexity to an otherwise quite simple soup. I like to use a thick-cut bacon, so if you’re using a thinner cut, you might want to add another piece or two to the recipe. (I also ended up cooking extra bacon for garnishing the leftover soup.) If you wanted to leave out the bacon, however, you could sauté the green onions in butter, and I’ll try not to judge you. (If you prefer a vegetarian soup, use a flavorful vegetable broth instead of the chicken broth as well.)

I kept the rest of the flavors fairly simple, although I think some fresh herbs would have been nice. Unfortunately, the container herb garden I usually plant on my porch is also just a glint in my eye right now, although that glint is getting a bit impatient for a consistently warm growing season! Until then, I guess I’ll just keep raiding the freezer.

Corn Chowder with Edamame
adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food Magazine

If you like bacon, you might want to fry some more for extra garnish.

2 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped
1 bunch green onions (scallions), white and pale green parts separated from the dark green part, all finely chopped
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ pound potato, peeled and chopped into ½-inch cubes
3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup frozen shelled edamame (soy beans0
4 cups frozen corn (or fresh), divided
¼ cup half and half

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until browned and crisp. Remove the cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.

2. Add the white and pale green parts of the green onions to the hot bacon fat. Saute 2 minutes, or until beginning to brown.

3. Add the salt, pepper, potato and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

4. Add 2 cups corn and edamame. Cook 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, place the remaining 2 cups corn and the half and half in the bowl of a blender or food processor. Process until the corn is well-ground, but still has some texture. Add the blended corn mixture to the pot and cook for a few more minutes, or until heated through. Serve garnished with cooked bacon pieces and the dark green tops of the green onions.

Makes 4-5 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon; Cream of Carrot and Parsnip Soup; Celeriac, Potato and Wild Rice Soup

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Have Apron Will Travel: Tetrazzini with Mom

Several years ago, I began packing an apron in my suitcase when I traveled to visit friends and relatives. I’ve become so accustomed to my shield against vigorous slopping that I can’t leave home without it. This Easter holiday, during which I visited my family in Upper Michigan, was no exception.

There really weren’t very many opportunities for me to contribute in Mom’s kitchen, since we spent much of our time on mini-trips visiting relatives (including my 89-year-old grandmother who sent us home with some of her freshly-bake cinnamon rolls, which are THE BEST IN THE WORLD!). Mom also has a good handle on things (ie, she’s a great cook) and usually doesn’t need my meddling. Or perhaps she has enough help without me.

One day, though, she pulled out a recipe clipped from a magazine and said, “I thought we could make this.” And on Saturday, we did. It was a makeover of tetrazzini that included vegetables: bell peppers, artichoke hearts and spinach. The accompanying photo alone suggested it would be a winner. I figured I could help with some of the prep work and take photos of all the steps along the way.

Well, this whole thing came together in a sort of charmingly unorganized manner. Some of the steps were out of order, we started with too small of a pan, we replaced this and that, and I didn’t get many good photos after all. It turned out really fabulously, however, and even Dad, who cried, “Why are you putting that grass in there?” as he witnessed us adding the spinach, ate at least his fair share.

This recipe has a lot of steps, but they are all pretty simple. The trickiest part is whisking the broth and flour together to make a thickened sauce. This kind of technique is what was replaced by the dubious condensed cream-of-something soup that seems to have defined family casseroles for quite some time. The addition of the cream cheese to the sauce makes it creamy and tangy and that tang is further enhanced by the artichokes, which bring a bright and special flair to an otherwise stodgy casserole.

I guess I was feeling a bit lazy since I was on vacation, but I didn’t write down this recipe or even take notes on it. The following recipe is from memory, which is now a few days old, so I hope I didn’t miss any important details. I tried to edit it to make more sense than what we actually did in some cases, so there are a few steps that I haven’t actually performed as written, but think they will be better that way.

The traveling apron didn’t get particularly messy, but it did its job. It contributed to the creation of a yummy dish that, along with some dinner rolls (also from Grandma) and a green salad, fed us all very well (and left Mom and Dad some leftovers). My work there was done, and I’ve moved on to other adventures (thank ya, ma’am). Okay, so I’m just back at home, but if you’ve been reading over the last (nearly whole!) year, you know that I can get into plenty of trouble right here, too.

Chicken and Vegetable Tetrazzini
We used chicken broth that had standard sodium content, so if you use a reduced-sodium variety, you might want to taste the dish for salt before giving it a final stir and putting it in the oven.

You could also use cooked turkey in place of the chicken.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil, divided
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
½ teaspoon seasoned salt (such as Lawry’s brand)
8 ounces angel hair pasta, broken into thirds (or smaller)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
8 ounces white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
4 ounces cream cheese
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 can (about 14 ounces) artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
6 cups baby spinach, any tough stems removed

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large kettle or Dutch oven over medium heat. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with seasoned salt and place in the pan. Cook 10-15 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked through, turning about half way through the cooking time. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. When cool enough to handle, cut the cooked chicken into bite-size pieces.

2. Cook the angel hair pasta according to package directions until it is just tender. It should still have some bite to it, because it will continue to cook in the casserole. Drain and set aside.

3. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat in the same pan in which the chicken was cooked. Add the onion and red bell pepper. Saute about 8 minutes, or until the onion and pepper are tender and beginning to brown. Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.

4. Push the contents of the pan to the side, leaving a space in the center. Place the flour in that space. Slowly add the chicken broth, whisking or stirring vigorously to incorporate the flour without forming lumps. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently. The mixture will be fairly thick.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

6. Add the cream cheese to the broth mixture. Increase the heat to medium and stir until the cheese has melted into the mixture. Stir in the parmesan cheese, cooked chicken, artichoke hearts, and spinach. Cover and cook until the spinach has wilted down, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

7. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta.

8. Oil or spray with cooking spray a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Spoon or pour the pasta mixture into the pan. Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown.

Makes about 8 servings.

Note: The photo of Smokey the cat was taken by Harry