Monday, October 21, 2013

Sausage, vegetables give turkey meatloaf recipe an Italian accent


I usually regard ground turkey as a somewhat healthier and less tasty substitution for ground beef, but a recent restaurant meal convinced me that ground turkey could reach higher heights. The chef mixed ground turkey with Italian sausage and sautéed vegetables, elevating what could have been an ordinary meatloaf into a dish that was unusual, flavorful, moist and nicely textured.

I think the restaurant used pork sausage, but I decided to lighten my loaf by using turkey sausage and ground turkey breast along with ground turkey thigh. (I bought the meat at Whole Foods, where I knew freshly ground turkey and freshly made sausage are always available in the butcher case.)

I stirred in a favorite combination of vegetables – onion, bell pepper, mushrooms and tomatoes – but many other veggies could be substituted or added. Try a few leaves of spinach and some chopped fennel or grated carrots, for example. The variations are easy and almost endless.

ITALIAN TURKEY MEATLOAF
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, minced
½ small yellow or red bell pepper, minced
4 ounces mushrooms, chopped
10 grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper or to taste
¼ teaspoon salt or to taste
1 pound ground turkey thigh
½ pound ground turkey breast
½ to 2/3 pound uncooked sweet Italian turkey sausage (2 large links)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a broiler pan with foil (for easy cleanup). Spray the top portion of the pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet, then add onion, bell pepper and mushrooms. Sauté, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften. Remove from heat; stir in grape tomatoes. Set aside to cool.

Beat egg and egg yolk lightly in a large bowl. Stir in bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Add ground turkey and sausage meat, removing the sausage from the casings. Mix gently but well. Add vegetables; mix gently until well combined.

Shape the meat into a loaf on the broiler pan. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the middle reaches 180 degrees, about 1 hour. Remove from oven; let sit for 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lemon scones recipe is a tea-time treat



Tea can be enjoyed throughout the day, and so can these lovely scones. If you're serving them in the morning, don't hesitate to mix the dough the night before. A food processor will make quick work of cutting the butter into the dry ingredients. Stir in the liquid, then cover the dough tightly and refrigerate. The next morning, knead the dough and shape the scones while the oven  preheats.

Like all traditional scones, these are lightly sweetened. They have a double dose of lemon flavor, provided by lemon juice and grated zest. You can amp up the lemon flavor even more by drizzling the cooled scones with the glaze described in the second variation.

You can split these scones and fill them with butter or clotted cream and jam. Clotted cream, also called Devonshire or Devon cream, is a classic accompaniment to scones (and the "cream" in an English cream tea). You can buy clotted cream at some high-end groceries or make your own using a recipe such as this one.

However you serve these lemon scones, everyone is sure to enjoy them -- with tea, with a glass of cold milk, or even with a mug of coffee.

LEMON SCONES
Yield: 10 to 12 scones

1 medium lemon
½ cup cold whole milk or more if needed
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling 
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet.
  2. Grate the zest from the lemon; set zest aside. Squeeze the lemon juice. Measure 1 tablespoon juice; add to ½ cup milk.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ¼ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest. Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes. Scatter over the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender or two table knives or the tines of a sturdy fork, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture forms fine crumbs. 
  4. Pour milk-lemon juice mixture over top. Stir just until combined. If dough doesn’t hold together, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time.
  5. Sprinkle a clean surface (such as a sheet of parchment paper) lightly with flour. Turn dough onto the floured surface. Knead gently six times, then form into a ball.
  6. Place the ball of dough on the baking sheet. Pat into a circle about ½ inch thick and 8 to 9 inches in diameter. With a bench knife or a sharp kitchen knife, score into 10 to 12 wedges, being careful not to cut all the way through.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes, until wedges are lightly browned. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm with butter or clotted cream and jam.
Variation 1: To make mini scones, pat dough into two ½-inch-thick rectangles side by side on a baking sheet. Score into small triangles.

Variation 2: Let scones cool completely, then drizzle with a glaze made from 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, about 2 tablespoons lemon juice and the zest of 1 lemon.

Food processor method: Combine dry ingredients and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Scatter cubed butter over dry ingredients; pulse about 20 times, until fine crumbs form. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl and proceed with the directions in Steps 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Adapted from a recipe posted at TasteOfHome.com.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Want to be a freelance food writer? Here's help


Food editors can be flooded with freelance pitches, yet good freelancers can be in short supply. Here’s how to make yourself stand out.
One pitch doesn’t fit all. Before you submit a pitch, take a good look at the publication. Suggest a story that complements but doesn’t duplicate existing coverage.
Start with the subject line. The editor probably gets hundreds of emails daily. Chances are, most of those are deleted without being read. Your subject line should convey the essence of your pitch – and that it is a pitch from a writer, not yet another press release.
Keep it short (see previous).  Introduce yourself in a sentence or two, and summarize your story in a paragraph.
Show your work. Link to your blog. If you’ve been published elsewhere, include links to those stories too.  Avoid attachments if possible.
When you get an assignment, pin down the details. When is it due? How many words does the editor want? Don’t assume that you have wiggle room. Turn your story in on time, and don’t write long.
Be style savvy. Every publication has a list of preferred style guides. If your editor doesn’t tell you which ones to use, ask. Before you write, read an issue or two of the publication with an eye toward style. You don’t want the editor to need to insert (or delete) the word “granulated” before every mention of sugar.
Check, then check again. Verify every fact. Double-check names, especially spellings. Be vigilant about ingredient amounts, cooking times and other recipe details.
Read your story aloud before you turn it in. That’s the best way to catch overwriting, typos and missing words.
Don’t fret about a lack of feedback. Today’s editors are so busy that you might not even get an acknowledgement of your submission. Try not to take it personally.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved. 

How to write a recipe

Whether you want to write a cookbook or share a favorite recipe with a good friend, these hints will help. I compiled them for a panel discussion at this year's St. Louis Food Media Forum

A good recipe paints a picture. It tells the cook what ingredients to use, how to prepare them and when to add them, and it gives visual clues as to when the dish is done.

Here are some guidelines to use when you write a recipe:

• List ingredients in the order that they are used. Make sure that all ingredients used are listed, and, conversely, that all listed ingredients are used.

• Don't abbreviate. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t sure if tsp. is a teaspoon or a tablespoon.

• Use exact amounts (1 ½ tablespoons, not a heaping teaspoon).

• Be precise, and pay attention to wording. “1 cup heavy cream, whipped,” means you measure the cream, then whip it. “1 cup whipped cream” is just that – cream that has been whipped before being measured. The difference is significant.

• Call for the measurements that home cooks commonly use (1/4 cup water, not 2 ounces; 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, not 1/8 cup).

• Be as specific as possible. (Canned pineapple packed in juice -- or light syrup, or heavy syrup -- not just canned pineapple.) If an ingredient needs to be at room temperature or drained, say so.

• Be specific about package sizes, and be sure that the sizes and products called for are still available. (Package sizes change frequently).

• In the directions, be concise but use full sentences. Be specific about pan sizes, cooking temperature and any other essential details.

• Don’t assume that readers understand cooking terms such as “cream” or “dredge.” Instead, define them: “beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy” or “coat fish lightly with flour.”

• When appropriate, give a range of cooking times and provide a way to determine when the food is done. (Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until golden brown.)

• Provide the number of servings that the recipe yields.

• If you adapted the recipe from another source, give credit.

When listing ingredients, three reference guides are especially helpful: 

“The AP Stylebook” has a section for food writers. AP is the default style for most publications.

“The New Food Lover’s Companion,” by Sharon Tyler Herbst (Barron’s, $14.95), is a comprehensive A-to-Z look at culinary terms. The appendix includes everything from a listing of trade groups to pan capacities to a pasta glossary.

The Association of Food Journalists has compiled a guide called “FoodSpell.” In addition to defining a host of terms, the 40-page guide notes AP style on words that can be spelled more than one way (use ketchup, not catsup) and lists common brand names, such as A.1. (with two periods).

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pesto is perfect, no matter how you make it


If you're a pinch-of-this-and-a-handful-of-that cook, my pesto recipe is just for you. And if you're a follow-the-recipe-to-the-letter cook, this pesto is for you, too.

When I first planted basil years ago, I scoured Italian cookbooks for pesto recipes. This was before the Internet -- I know, I'm dating myself -- and pesto seemed exotic. The more recipes I read, the more confused I became. The ingredients were pretty much the same, but the proportions were different.

Then I started making pesto and discovered that the proportions didn't much matter. Use more or less Parmesan, however many nuts you like (or have on hand), a little garlic or a lot -- somehow, it's all good.

Although I usually take a free-form approach to pesto, I measured every ingredient that went into my most recent batch. Follow the resulting recipe to the letter or let your instincts be your guide.

While I whirled the pesto in the food processor, I brought a pot of water to a boil and cooked red potatoes, pasta and fresh green beans. As soon as they were done, I tossed them with pesto. The result could serve as a summery side dish or as an entree.

I had about 1/4 cup of pesto left over, so I mounded it by the tablespoonful on parchment paper and froze it until solid, then popped the nuggets of pesto into a freezer-weight zip-top bag. I'll add them, still frozen, to enhance sauce, soups and other dishes down the road.

PERFECT PESTO
Yield: About 3/4 cup

2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
6 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry
1/4 cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
About 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or to taste

Place the metal blade in a food processor. Turn on the processor and drop the garlic down the feed tube. Process until minced.

Add basil to the food processor. Top basil with nuts and sprinkle with cheese. Pulse until coarsely chopped. With the processor running, slowly drizzle oil through the feed tube. Process until well mixed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. If pesto is too thick, drizzle in more oil. Add salt; pulse to combine.

Use immediately or scrape into a bowl, add a thin film of olive oil over the top, cover tightly and refrigerate for a day or two. To freeze, drop dollops onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm, then transfer to freezer-weight plastic bags.

PESTO, POTATOES, PASTA AND GREEN BEANS
Yield: 4 servings

3 medium red potatoes, scrubbed
6 ounces bow-tie pasta or another shape
2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed
About 1/2 cup pesto

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add potatoes; cook for 9 minutes. Stir in pasta; return water to a boil, then cook for 7 minutes. Add green beans; cook for 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Test potatoes and pasta for doneness; if any of the ingredients are not quite ready, remove those that are done with a slotted spoon or large strainer.

When ingredients are cooked to your liking, use a ladle to remove about 3/4 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the ingredients. Cut potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Place potatoes, pasta and green beans in a large bowl.

Stir together pasta and about 1/2 cup cooking water, making a loose sauce. Add to the potatoes, pasta and green beans; mix gently but well. Taste; add more pesto or cooking water if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cinco de Mayo treat: Mexican chocolate angel food cupcakes


If you've ever had a cup of Mexican hot chocolate, you know that chocolate, almonds and cinnamon are delicious together. This angel food cupcake borrows that flavor combination for a dessert that's just right for Cinco de Mayo. Sure, it's not authentic -- but neither are huge Cinco de Mayo celebrations, which are a tradition north, not south, of the U.S.-Mexico border.

You can enjoy these cupcakes plain or top them with buttercream, as in the photo above, or dip them in a chocolate or almond glaze.

Making angel food cake from scratch isn't hard, but the process is exacting. To achieve the maximum airiness, make sure you follow the recipe exactly. Here are some tips to help you suceed:

• Separate the eggs as soon as you remove them from the refrigerator.  The most foolproof way is to break each egg into a slotted spoon and let the white drip through. If you don't mind getting your hands dirty, you can use one hand to break an egg into your other hand; let the white drip through your fingers as you cradle the yolk. Always break one egg at a time into a small bowl, then transfer the white to a larger bowl. That way, if a bit of yolk gets into the white, you can discard just that egg (or save it for another use). If any yolk gets into the whites, they won't whip well.

• Let the egg whites come to room temperature while you assemble the rest of the ingredients. If they're still cold, you can put a few inches of hot water in a clean sink, then add the bowl of whites and let them warm up a bit.

• When a recipe calls for sifting dry ingredients, I usually give them a good whisking instead. Not angel food cake -- triple sifting is essential for success.

• Finally, when you fold the dry ingredients into the eggs, be as gentle as possible. A silicone spatula is the best tool; move it in figure eights to incorporate the ingredients completely. I like to use a clear glass bowl for this step so I can make sure that no floury streaks remain.

MEXICAN CHOCOLATE ANGEL FOOD CUPCAKES
Yield: About 30 cupcakes

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
Chocolate Almond Buttercream (see recipe) or frosting of choice, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 30 cupcake cups with paper liners.

Sift together 1/4 cup granulated sugar, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, cake flour, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon into a small bowl. Repeat twice, sifting the mixture a total of 3 times. Set aside.

Place egg whites in the large bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle evenly with cream of tartar. Add vanilla and almond extract. Beat with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed just until the whisk leaves tracks in the foam and the whites no longer slosh around in the bowl. Reduce the speed to medium. With the mixer running, slowly add the remaining 1 cup sugar. Beat until the whites are shiny and hold stiff peaks.

Using a silicone spatula, carefully transfer the beaten egg whites to a large mixing bowl (preferably glass). Sprinkle one-third of the dry ingredients over the whites. Moving the spatula in a figure-eight pattern, gently fold the dry ingredients into the whites. Repeat twice, mixing gently until well combined.

Gently fill each cupcake liner with 1/2 cup of batter. (An ice-cream scoop is the perfect tool for this task.) Bake until cupcakes have browned slightly and are spongy to the touch, about 20 minutes. Remove from the pan immediately and let cool completely on wire racks.

If desired, frost the cupcakes.

Note: To make a cake instead of cupcakes, bake the batter in an ungreased 10-inch angel food pan for about 35 to 40 minutes. (Don't use a nonstick pan, or the cake won't rise properly.) Cool the cake in the pan upside down on a rack. When the cake is cold, run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan and carefully remove the cake.

Adapted from a recipe provided by Chris Leuther of Party Pastry Shop in Ballwin, Mo., and published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Pastry chef instructor Barry Marcus adapted the original recipe for home kitchens. (Marcus is the source of the helpful advice to beat the eggs initially until they no longer slosh in the bowl and the whisk leaves a track in the foam).

CHOCOLATE ALMOND BUTTERCREAM
Yield: About 5 cups, enough for 30 cupcakes

1 pound (4 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk or more as needed
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Drizzle with 1/4 cup milk and almond extract. Cut butter into 1-tablespoon chunks; add to the bowl.

Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, beat on low speed until combined. Gradually increase speed to high. Beat until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, stopping the mixer each minute to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula. If the frosting is too dry, beat in milk as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Toss asparagus, shrimp on the grill


Asparagus tastes like spring to me. I know that it's become a year-round vegetable, but the local shoots now appearing in markets really do taste best. I like to roast it, broil it, stir-fry it, add it to soups, scramble it with eggs ... just call me an asparagus addict.

Shrimp is a natural partner for asparagus. The flavors complement each other, and the contrasting colors make for a beautiful dish. For this dish, I cooked them separately on the grill in a perforated grill-wok, but you could stir-fry them instead. To serve, toss with pasta or spoon over rice.

GRILLED ASPARAGUS AND SHRIMP
Yield: 3 servings

1 pound shelled shrimp, thawed if frozen and patted dry
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, forced through a press or minced
Coarsely ground black pepper
1 bunch thick asparagus (about 12)
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Sea salt
Cooked angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti


Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill. In a bowl, toss shrimp with 1/2 tablespoon oil, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside to marinate.


Snap the tough ends off the asparagus, then cut the stalks into 1-inch pieces.

Oil a grill wok. Place on grill; add asparagus. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add shrimp to grill wok. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp is cooked through. Transfer to the bowl of asparagus. Add 1 tablespoon oil, about 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice, lemon zest, chives and salt to taste. Toss to combine. Taste; add more oil, lemon juice or salt if desired.

To serve, toss with hot cooked pasta.

Note: To time your meal properly, start the pasta water just before marinating the shrimp. Add the pasta to the boiling water when the shrimp is done. If desired, for a more liquid sauce, reserve some of the pasta cooking water and add as needed.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.





Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Moist, chewy, flourless cookies are all about the chocolate


Not only is chocolate the star of this recipe, it practically is the whole recipe -- and the better the chocolate you use, the better the cookies will taste.

I used dark Belgian chocolate. Nuts are the other major component in these cookies. I used some of my stash of Missouri pecans, which I froze soon after they were  harvested last fall.

If you don't have local nuts on hand -- or Belgian chocolate, for that matter -- use whatever tastes good to you. You can even make this recipe with milk chocolate instead of semisweet or dark.

What's missing from this recipe is almost as notable as what it contains. These cookies are made without flour (meaning they're gluten free), vanilla or other flavorings, and egg yolks.

These are basically meringue cookies. Over the years, I've made several other versions, all made with cocoa powder. Those were good, but these are even better.

CHEWY CHOCOLATE-NUT MERINGUE COOKIES
Yield: About 30 cookies

3/4 cup pecan halves
6 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 egg whites, at room temperature (see note)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated or superfine sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Toast pecans in a large ungreased skillet just until they become fragrant and begin to brown, stirring frequently and watching closely. Transfer to a plate and let cool completely, then chop finely. Set aside.

Place chocolate in a medium glass bowl. Place over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl. Cook, stirring frequently, until melted. Set aside to cool. (Alternately, melt chocolate in the microwave at 80 percent power, stirring every 30 seconds and watching carefully to prevent burning.)

Place egg whites and salt in a large mixing bowl. Beat on high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer running, slowly add sugar in a thin stream. Beat until sugar dissolves and stiff, glossy peaks form, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Scoop about 1 cup meringue into cooled chocolate. Stir gently with a whisk until well combined. With a flexible spatula, scrape chocolate mixture into the remaining meringue. With the whisk, fold gently until no streaks remain. Sprinkle nuts over meringue mixture; fold gently with the spatula.

Using two spoons, drop mounds of meringue on cookie sheets, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between cookies. Bake until cookies are set and no longer shiny, about 10 to 12 minutes. If baking two racks at once, switch them from the top to bottom shelf and rotate the sheets from front to back after 6 minutes.

Slide parchment onto wire racks; let cookies cool completely before removing from parchment. (Cookies will be fragile.) Store in a tightly sealed container.

Note: Eggs are easier to separate when they are cold. Let the whites warm to room temperature before you beat them.

Adapted from a recipe created by Dierbergs.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pressure cooker makes quick work of mole chicken chili



I've used a pressure cooker for years with no problem. Sure, the rattling weight on top was noisy and a bit unnerving, but the quick cooking time and tender, flavorful results were worth the clatter.

When America's Test Kitchen turned its attention to pressure cookers, I couldn't wait to try a recipe from its new cookbook, Pressure Cooker Perfection: 100 Foolproof Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook.

I followed the initial instructions, simmering and pureeing the sauce in the uncovered pot, then adding skinless, bone-in chicken thighs. I put in the rubber gasket and sealed the cooker the way I've done hundreds of times and set it over medium-high heat. But instead of hearing the familiar rattle as steam escaped, I heard the liquid boiling -- hard. That had never happened before. Then steam started to stream out the side, where the lid met the pot. I pulled it off the heat before it could flip its lid, literally.

Because I was afraid to use my pressure cooker, I transferred the ingredients to an ovenproof casserole and baked it at 350 degrees until the chicken was tender, about 40 minutes. It took longer than the pressure cooker, but the results were still delicious. The combination of sweet, savory and spicy flavors make this recipe a keeper. I served the thick chili over hot brown rice, not a traditional preparation but a delicious one. You also could put it into tortillas or ladle it into a bowl, as in the photo.

And while the chicken was cooking, I consulted the book again -- not for another recipe, but to study the chart rating many pressure cookers now on the market. (And by the way, the rattling weights on the top are no more. Current technology has incorporated the pressure regulator into the lid.) With those recommendations in mind, I got online and ordered a new pressure cooker. My new cooker just arrived, and I'll be dipping back into Pressure Cooker Perfection for many more recipes and ideas.


MOLE CHICKEN CHILI
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup raisins
¼ cup peanut butter
4 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, trimmed
Salt 
Ground black pepper
1 onion, halved and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro

To build flavor, heat 2 tablespoons oil in ­pressure-­cooker pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add chili powder, cocoa, garlic, chipotle, cinnamon and cloves and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, tomatoes, raisins and peanut butter, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Working in batches, puree sauce in blender until smooth, about 30 seconds. (Hold a folded kitchen towel over the lid of the blender to prevent hot sauce from splattering.)

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in ­now-­empty pot. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in sauce, then add chicken to pot.

Lock ­pressure-­cooker lid in place and bring to high pressure over ­medium-­high heat. As soon as pot reaches high pressure, reduce heat to ­medium-­low and cook for 25 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain high pressure. Remove pot from heat. ­Quick-release pressure, then carefully remove lid, allowing steam to escape away from you.

Transfer chicken to cutting board. Let cool slightly, then shred meat into ­bite-­size pieces, discarding skin and bones. Meanwhile, bring chili to simmer, stir in bell pepper, and cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in shredded chicken and cilantro, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Variation: Chicken breasts shred into thinner strands and soak up more sauce, making  a fantastic filling for tacos or burritos. If you substitute an equal amount of bone-in breasts for the thighs, reduce the pressurized cooking time to 15 minutes. 

To use a 6-quart electric pressure cooker (instead of a stovetop cooker): Quick-release the pressure immediately after the pressurized cooking time; do not let the cooker switch to the warm setting. Use the browning (not the simmer) setting to simmer the chili.

Adapted from "Pressure Cooker Perfection." Photo and recipe used with permission of America's Test Kitchen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Goat cheese and smoked salmon quiche has a hash-brown crust



I thought I'd come up with an original idea: goat cheese quiche in a hash-brown crust. Inspiration came from a light lunch in a New York City restaurant (the quiche) and a leisurely breakfast at my daughter's apartment (the hash browns).

I Googled "goat cheese quiche" to get an idea of the proportions of egg to cheese to milk, and what popped up? Lots of links to Martha Stewart's goat cheese quiche with hash-brown crust.

I borrowed her recipe for the crust, substituting oil for butter and greasing the pan well instead of laboriously lining it with parchment. (I also used a pie plate instead of Martha's springform pan.) For the filling, I riffed on a recipe I've had for years, swapping goat cheese for the sour cream and adding fresh dill, green onions and smoked salmon. Martha, never one to shy away from excess, calls for 11 eggs in the filling of her quiche. I used four.

You can vary the filling any way you like, perhaps using cooked crumbled bacon or sausage or sauteed spinach or mushrooms or roasted red pepper. Just make sure that you cook the vegetables until as much liquid as possible evaporates. Otherwise, the quiche may be watery.

GOAT CHEESE AND SMOKED SALMON QUICHE IN A HASH-BROWN CRUST
Yield: 6 servings

16 ounces frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed completely
5 eggs, divided
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, olive oil or melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup milk
6 ounces goat cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped green onion
2 ounces smoked salmon, flaked into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease a deep-dish pie plate.

Squeeze as much moisture as possible from the potatoes; place in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg, oil or butter, salt and pepper. Add to potatoes; mix well. Pat potatoes into pie plate, making a compact, even layer across the bottom and up the sides. Bake until the potatoes are firm and start to brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 4 eggs with the milk. Break the goat cheese into small pieces and add it to the egg mixture, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in the dill and green onion.

When the crust is done, remove the pie plate from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Pour the egg mixture into the crust. Scatter salmon evenly into the filling. Return to the oven. Cover the edge of the crust with a pie shield or aluminum foil to prevent burning. Bake until the filling is set, puffed and starts to brown, about 35 minutes. When done, a knife inserted into the center of the filling will come out clean.

Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Note: The salmon, cheese, dill and green onions provide so much flavor that the filling doesn't need salt or pepper.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Saying 'thank you' with coconut-chocolate banana bread



We have the best neighbors -- when our area was buried under a foot a snow on Sunday, the man across the street hauled out his snow-blower and cleared everyone's driveways, walkways and sidewalks.

I decided to say "thank you" with baked goods. I took inventory of my pantry, paged through my cookbooks, and came up with this sweet, coconut- and chocolate-flecked banana bread. This recipe can be doubled easily; if you make two loaves, use three whole eggs rather than two eggs and two yolks.

COCONUT-CHOCOLATE BANANA BREAD
Yield: 1 loaf

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, vegetable oil or melted and cooled unsalted butter
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 medium)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/3 cup finely chopped dark chocolate or mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.

If using coconut oil, melt in the microwave on low power, checking every 10 seconds. The oil should liquefy, but do not let it get hot.

In a medium bowl, stir together banana, oil and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients; stir just until combined. Fold in flaked coconut and chocolate. Scrape into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let loaf cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Springtime herbs give flavor boost to matzo balls



Spring herbs make a natural addition to matzo balls, the soup dumplings that are part of many Passover menus.

I've been making this matzo ball recipe ever since the then-owners of Pumpernickle's Delicatessen in St. Louis shared it years ago. The herbs are a more recent addition.

I love the flavor of dill in chicken soup, and chives and parsley also are delicious. The matzo balls in the photo are flavored with chives, which are sprouting in a pot on my patio despite the lingering cold. You could use other herbs as well -- basil and chervil come to mind.

When you make this recipe, don't skip the resting time for the uncooked matzo ball mixture. Otherwise, the matzo balls will cook up leaden, not fluffy.


HERBED MATZO BALLS
Yield: about 14

Salt 
1 1/2 cups matzo meal
2 tablespoons chopped dill, parsley or chives, or a combination
6 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cold water

Combine 1/4 teaspoon salt and matzo meal in a large bowl. Stir with a whisk until well combined. Sprinkle herbs into bowl; whisk to distribute the herbs.

Combine eggs, oil and water in a medium bowl.Whisk until combined completely. Add to dry ingredients; mix with a large spatula until only a few small lumps remain, making sure there are no streaks of egg white. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a brisk simmer. Oil your hands lightly. Use your hands or an oiled ice-cream scoop to scoop up about 3 tablespoons of the mixture; roll lightly between your hands to form a ball. (The matzo balls will double in size as they cook.) Drop into the simmering water. When all the matzo balls have been formed, cover the pot and simmer for 35 minutes. To test for doneness, cut a matzo ball in half. The color should be consistent -- if the center is darker, return to the simmering water and cook for 5 more minutes.

To serve, drop the balls into hot chicken soup. If making ahead, transfer matzo balls to a bowl of ice water; keep at room temperature for a few hours or refrigerate overnight. Reheat for a few minutes in a pot of hot chicken soup. Matzo balls also can be frozen on parchment-covered cookie sheets, then stored in plastic freezer bags.


Monday, March 11, 2013

"Passover Made Easy" is imaginative, attractive and frequently gluten-free

"Passover Made Easy: Favorite Triple-Tested Recipes" takes potato starch to a new -- and delicious -- level. The bonus? Most of the recipes in the book are gluten-free, so even if you don't observe Passover, this book is worth a look.

(Potato starch is just what it sounds like -- a pure white powder made from potatoes. It's often used as a thickener, but the authors of this book frequently employ it as a flour. You can find potato starch in the spring at supermarkets that carry Passover foods, and Amazon sells several brands.)

Leah Schapria, author of cookkosher.com, and Victoria Dwek, managing editor of the kosher food magazine Whisk (published weekly by Ami Magazine), have compiled 60 interesting recipes in this attractive new book ($15.99 Mesorah Publications, Ltd.). The dishes that rely on potato starch include crepes (which double as egg-roll wrappers and lo mein noodles), crackers, chicken nuggets with apricot dipping sauce, banana french toast,  frozen lemon wafer cake, and chocolate-nut biscotti.

The book is beautifully photographed, and each chapter begins with step-by-step explanations of how to plate one of the dishes, which is a nice touch.

My only quibble is that the book seems geared toward experienced cooks; the ingredient lists and directions can be inexact. If you need details -- what type of chocolate to use in a cake, how much oil to pour into the pan when deep-frying, the size of a squash best-suited for a specific recipe --  this book probably isn't for you. If you're an experienced cook who's looking for something new and unusual, however, I think you'll find a lot to like.

These nuggets are a family-favorite meal that can be enjoyed year-round. The authors suggest also using the batter to make fried fish or onion rings.

(To see a recipe for Spaghetti Squash Kugel from "Passover Made Easy," click here.)

SCHNITZEL NUGGETS WITH APRICOT DIPPING SAUCE
Yield: 4 servings

For sauce:
1/2 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed (see tester's note)
1 pinch salt
1 pinch coarse black pepper

For chicken:
1 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons oil, plus more for deep-frying
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 pounds chicken cutlets, cut into nuggets

Prepare the sauce: In a small saucepan, combine jam, sugar, ketchup, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Set aside while you prepare the chicken.

Prepare the chicken: In a medium bowl, stir together potato starch, salt, paprika and baking powder. In a small bowl, stir together water, 2 teaspoons oil and eggs. Add to dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in chicken.

Heat about 2 inches of oil in a medium saucepan. Place over medium-high heat. When oil begins shimmering, add chicken nuggets a few at a time, letting excess batter drip back into the bowl. Fry nuggets in batches if necessary, taking care not to crowd the pan. Fry until golden, about 5 to 6 minutes; drain on paper towels.

Remove crushed garlic from sauce. Serve nuggets with dipping sauce or toss sauce and nuggets together in a hot skillet.

Tester's note: The recipe suggests preparing the sauce while the nuggets are frying. I made it in advance, which gave the flavors time to meld. In addition, I put the garlic through a press rather than crushing it.

Recipe adapted from "Passover Made Easy" and photo from "Passover Made Easy" used by permission of the publisher.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Savory Spaghetti Squash Kugel is gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher for Passover


Recipes that swap spaghetti squash for spaghetti are often unsuccessful. Despite their similar appearances, the two ingredients taste nothing alike.

This recipe, however, is an exception. The flavor of spaghetti squash blends perfectly with an abundance of onions and a touch of garlic in a satisfying, savory side dish.

Kugels are a Jewish dish that can be sweet or savory and usually feature egg noodles or potatoes. Some are made with dairy ingredients, while others, meant to be served with meat, contain no milk. I've seen dozens of variations -- I've even judged a kugel contest -- but this version was new to me.

It's one of 60 recipes in a new book, "Passover Made Easy," by Leah Scapira and Victoria Dwek. (For my review of the book and their recipe for Schnitzel Nuggets With Apricot Dipping Sauce, click here.)

The authors give two methods of precooking the squash: baking it for an hour or microwaving it for 10 minutes. I went with the microwave. As I was getting ready to scoop out the seeds, my eye fell upon a dipper-type ice cream scoop. I gave it a try and was happy to discover that it removed the seeds easily and quickly.

SPAGHETTI SQUASH KUGEL
Yield: 6 servings

1 large spaghetti squash (see tester's note)
1 tablespoon oil
2 onions, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper or less to taste

To precook squash in the oven: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash squash and place in a loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool. Slice squash in half and remove seeds. Raise oven temperature to 400 degrees.

To precook squash in the microwave: Cook for 1 minute to soften. Cut in half and remove seeds. Place cut-side down in a dish with 1/2 inch of water. Microwave for 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Saute onions until soft, 5 to 7 minutes.

Using a fork, scrape the strands of squash into a large bowl. Add onions; mix well. Add eggs, salt and pepper; stir to combine. Pour into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake until kugel is crispy on top, about 1 hour.

Tester's note: The original recipe didn't specify the size of spaghetti squash. I used a small squash and baked the kugel in an 8-by-10-inch dish. If you use a small squash, you might want to reduce the number of eggs to 3 or use small eggs and reduce the amount of black pepper to 3/4 teaspoon.

Recipe adapted from "Passover Made Easy" and photo from "Passover Made Easy" used with permission of the publisher.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Coconut-banana muffins are dairy-free



These muffins are loaded with ripe, sweet bananas and a triple dose of coconut -- coconut oil, coconut milk, and sweetened flaked coconut. What they don't have is even a trace of dairy.

Coconut oil is trendy right now, touted for its health benefits and sold in most supermarkets. You'll see two types, extra-virgin and refined. I used extra-virgin, which has a slight coconut flavor and a lovely coconut fragrance. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature. I found that melting it in the microwave gives the muffins a better texture. Follow the instructions and watch carefully so the oil doesn't heat up. If you don't have coconut oil, you can substitute vegetable oil or melted butter, but the flavor and texture might be a bit different.

You also could substitute cow's milk for the coconut milk, but again, you'll lose a bit of coconut flavor. Regular and reduced-fat coconut milk is sold in cans in ethnic markets and many supermarkets, usually the section for Thai foods. You can refrigerate the leftover coconut milk -- you'll have about a cup left -- and use it in curries or even puddings.


COCONUT BANANA MUFFINS
Yield: About 12 muffins

1/2 cup coconut oil
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup lightly packed sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips, optional 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12 muffin cups or use paper liners.

Place coconut oil in a glass bowl. Microwave on medium-low power (30 percent or defrost setting) for about 4 minutes or until oil liquefies and warms slightly. If oil is hot, set it aside until it cools.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together bananas, eggs, coconut milk and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

Using a wooden spoon, stir granulated and brown sugar into oil. Whisk in banana mixture. Add flour mixture and whisk just until combined. Don't overmix or the muffins will be tough. Gently stir in flaked coconut and chocolate chips

Scoop a scant 1/2 cup of batter into each muffin cup. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out with just a few clinging crumbs, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for about 5 minutes in the pan, then remove muffins to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Smoky sweet potato hash for supper, breakfast or brunch


I know it's not a good idea to go grocery shopping when you're  hungry, but I probably shouldn't shop when I'm full, either. That was the case on Saturday, when I hit the supermarket on the way home from a culinary event.

I picked up the basics -- milk, eggs, bread, fruit, veggies -- but I was having trouble deciding which meats looked appealing. Then I spied a package of smoked pork chops. These weren't the mass-market brand, which tend to release a ton of water when you put them into the pan. Instead, they were from a Missouri smokehouse, Burgers'. If you make this recipe -- or anything with smoked pork -- seeking out artisan-quality meat will be worth the effort and any additional price.

The chops went into my cart, and later, into this hash. It's a hearty meal with a satisfying combination of  flavors and textures. To reduce cooking time considerably, start the potatoes in the microwave, then saute them with the onions just until they brown. The pork was so tasty that I didn't want to overcomplicate the dish with herbs or other seasonings, so I stopped at salt and black pepper. And cooked in a covered pan on a blanket of hash, the eggs develop a soft, almost custardy consistency.

SMOKY SWEET POTATO HASH 
Yield: 2 servings (see note)

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 smoked pork chop (about 8 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 eggs

Wash sweet potatoes and pierce the top of each two or three times with the tip of a paring knife. Microwave on high until tender but not mushy, about 6 minutes, depending on their size. Cut in half lengthwise and set aside until they are cool enough to handle. Peel, discarding skin; cut sweet potatoes into 3/4-inch cubes.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 10-inch well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or a nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook, stirring frequently, until it softens. Add cubed sweet potatoes; cooking, stirring gently, until they begin to brown. If sweet potatoes stick to the skillet, add up to 1 tablespoon additional butter.

Meanwhile, cut pork into bite-size pieces, discarding excess fat and the bone. Add pork, pepper and salt to the skillet; stir well.

Make two or four shallow indentations in the hash. One at a time, break eggs into a small cup and slide into the indentations. Reduce the heat to low. Cover the skillet and cook until eggs are done, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Note: This recipe can be doubled and cooked in a 12-inch skillet. You'll need to microwave the potatoes for about 12 minutes.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Bean salad for a crowd features artichokes, hearts of palm


Hearts of palm and artichoke hearts in bean salad? You bet -- they're just two of the ingredients that make this version unique.

The recipe is a slight variation of one that Neiman Marcus shared with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a few years ago. (For that recipe, click here.) Like the original recipe tester, I thought the salad had too much dressing or not enough beans. This version, though, is just right.

I made this salad for a recent gathering of 16 women and had leftovers. I continued the picnic-in-winter theme with Slow-Cooker Barbecue Beef Sandwiches, made with 6 pounds of chuck roast instead of arm roast, and Deviled Eggs.

This recipe has a lot of ingredients, but it goes together quickly. To make it even easier, buy quartered artichoke hearts and pieces of hearts of palm, then cut into small segments if necessary.


ZODIAC BEAN SALAD
Yield: About 12 cups

For salad:
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can pinto beans or garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1  (14- to 15-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1  (14- to 15-ounce) can hearts of palm, drained and cut in thirds on the diagonal
2 cups diced celery
1 cup finely diced or thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

For dressing:
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 roasted red pepper, chopped coarsely (see note)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the salad. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Add grean beans and cook just until crisp-tender, about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a bowl with ice water. When beans are done cooking, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice water. Let cool, then drain well, pat dry and cut into thirds on the diagonal.

Place green beans in a large bowl. Add canned beans, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, celery, red onion and 1/4 cup parsley. Toss to mix well.

Prepare the dressing. Combine all the ingredients in a blender; process until well combined, about 30 seconds.

Pour dressing over salad mixture and stir gently but well. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Return to room temperature before serving. (Salad keeps well for up to a week.)

Note: If you don't want to buy an entire jar of roasted red peppers or roast a pepper yourself, check the olive bar in your supermarket.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Got milk, eggs, bread? Make Caramel Apple Bread Pudding



The snow's still on the ground in much of the country, and I'm betting that substantial supplies of the eggs, milk and bread that we all stocked up on are still in many kitchens.

Why not make bread pudding?

My version is sweetened with a layer of caramelized apples. You can use whatever variety of apple you might have on hand. I mixed together a Granny Smith, which retained its texture as it cooked, and a Golden Delicious, which softened into applesauce.

Just about any type of bread would work, too. I had an abundance of small dinner rolls, so I used those. Other options include French bread, cinnamon bread and sandwich bread.

Whole milk will make the richest dessert, but 2 percent would work too. If you only have nonfat milk on hand, you might want to add a tablespoon of melted butter when you whisk together the milk and eggs. (That's what I did.)

I baked the puddings in 8-ounce ramekins. For smaller servings, use 4- or 6-ounce custard cups and reduce the baking time as necessary.

APPLE CARAMEL BREAD PUDDING
Yield: 2 generous servings (see note)

3 loosely packed cups bread cubes (cut into 1/2-inch pieces)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
7 tablespoons light brown sugar, divided
1 tablespoon butter, divided
2 apples, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
Whipped cream, for optional garnish

Place bread cubes in a medium bowl. In another bowl, whisk together milk, vanilla, whole egg, egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Pour over bread; toss to combine completely. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile, melt 1/2 tablespoon butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften and begin to brown. Stir in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 4 tablespoons brown sugar. Cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and glazes the apples. Set aside to cool completely.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-ounce ramekins. Stir the bread mixture, then spoon about one-fourth of the mixture into each ramekin. Spoon about one-fourth of the apple mixture over the bread mixture in each ramekin, spreading the apples to make a thin layer. Top with the remaining bread mixture. Set the remaining apples aside to use as a garnish.

Place an 8-inch-square or larger baking dish on the middle oven shelf. Place the ramekins into the baking dish. Pour hot water into the baking dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. (The water bath assures that the puddings will  bake evenly.)

Bake until the top of each pudding is golden brown and has puffed slightly and a knife inserted into the center comes out almost clean, about 45 minutes.

Let cool to room temperature, then top with the remaining caramelized apples. If desired, garnish with whipped cream.

Note: This recipe can be doubled or tripled. If making larger amounts, use a 9-by-13-inch pan or a roasting pan for the water bath.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.




Friday, February 22, 2013

Onion soup from the slow cooker


This isn't a fix-it-and-forget-it recipe, at least not in the beginning, but it's an easier way to make a big pot of onion soup.

You'll need to soften the onions on the stove, then cook them for a couple of hours on high in the slow cooker. I stirred in a little bit of tomato paste to promote caramelization and add flavor, a technique I borrowed from a brisket recipe in America's Test Kitchen's wonderful "Slow Cooker Revolution."

Once you stir in the stock, you can cook the soup on high heat for 3 to 4 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Be sure to buy yellow onions, not sweet onions, which can be watery. You can use chicken stock or beef stock or combine the two, as I did.

By the way, this recipe was inspired by a St. Louis favorite, Famous-Barr French Onion Soup. I got the recipe (and bought the trademark crocks, pictured above) when I worked there as a teenager. I'm providing that vintage recipe at the bottom of this post, complete with my notations for cutting the recipe in half, although I soon learned that leftover soup was something to be welcomed, not avoided.


SLOW-COOKER ONION SOUP

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

2 tablespoons butter or ghee
3 pounds yellow onions, peeled and sliced thinly
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
1 quart beef stock
1 quart chicken stock
Salt, optional
1 loaf French bread
Grated Swiss and/or Gruyere cheese

If your slow cooker has a nonstick insert that can be placed directly on the stove, set over medium-high heat. Otherwise, use a large nonstick pot. Melt the butter, then add the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, about 8 minutes. Add tomato paste and black pepper and stir until well combined.

Place the insert in the slow cooker or transfer the onions from the pot to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for about 2 hours or until the onions are golden.

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour; stir until no lumps remain. Repeat with remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Add bay leaf; stir in stock. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 hours on high or 6 to 8 hours on low. Taste; add salt if desired.

To serve, slice the bread about 1/2-inch thick. Arrange on a cookie sheet; sprinkle with cheese. Place under a hot broiler until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Ladle soup into bowls. Top each serving with a slice or two of cheese-topped bread. (Alternately, ladle soup into bowls that can withstand the heat of a broiler. Arrange on a cookie sheet. Top each bowl with bread and cheese. Place under a hot broiler until the cheese melts and starts to brown, about 1 to 2 minutes.)






Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pressure cooker makes quick work of split pea and barley soup



A winter storm seems to be rolling our way, and the forecast I just heard called for sleet or ice or snow -- or perhaps all three. Supermarket shoppers are no doubt responding by clearing the shelves of bread and milk. They'd do themselves a favor if they added a bag of dried split peas, a box of barley and a beef shank bone to the cart.

This recipe is a family favorite that I've made more times than I can count. It's thick, hearty and comforting, perfect fare for February. And it's made in a pressure cooker, meaning that it's ready in less than an hour.

Many split pea soups are flavored with a ham bone or another form of smoked pork. This recipe uses a beef shank bone instead. This soup also contains barley, a healthful grain that stands up well to the super-hot pressure cooker, and parsnips, which provide a lovely sweetness.


SPLIT PEA AND BARLEY SOUP
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

1 meaty beef shank bone
1 cup dried split peas
1/2 cup barley
1 large onion, chopped
2 large ribs celery, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Place shank bone in the cooker and fill halfway with water. Bring to a simmer over high heat. With a spoon, skim off the foam that forms. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Close the cooker. Bring to 15 pounds of pressure, then cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, then place under cold water to reduce the remaining pressure. Remove shank bone; when cool enough to handle, shred the meat and return it to the pot. Reheat if necessary, stir and serve.


Story and photo copyright 2013 Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sour Cream Cherry Pie: creamy, crunchy, deliciously different




Valentine's Day, President's Day, George Washington's birthday -- no matter the holiday, if it's February, you won't go wrong with a cherry pie.

This version is deliciously different. The filling has a lot in common with cheesecake, although this recipe is made with sour cream instead of cream cheese. Cherries are suspended throughout the sweet, creamy filling, and a crunchy, nutty streusel tops everything off. You'll get a variety of flavors and textures in every bite.

CHERRY SOUR CREAM PIE

Yield: 8 servings

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell 

For filling:
1 cup light sour cream

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 (24-ounce) jar pitted sweet cherries in light syrup, drained, or about 3 cups fresh or frozen pitted sweet cherries

For topping:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


1/2 cup sliced almonds, coarsely chopped


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate; flute the edges. 

Prepare filling: Combine sour cream, 2 tablespoons flour, 3/4 cup sugar, almond extract, salt and egg in mixing bowl. Stir until smooth. Gently stir in cherries. Spoon filling into pastry shell; smooth top with spatula. Bake on center oven shelf for 25 minutes, covering the edges with foil or a pie shield if needed to prevent overbrowning.

Prepare topping: Stir together 1/4 cup flour and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small bowl. Add butter. Using a fork, two table knives, a pastry blender or your hands, mix until small crumbs form. Stir in almonds. 

Sprinkle almond mixture evenly over top of partially baked pie. Return to the oven; bake until topping is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. 

Let pie cool to room temperature. Pie can be kept at cool room temperature 4 to 5 hours, or it can be chilled.

Adapted from a recipe for blueberry pie by cookbook author Betty Rosbottom.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Quick sausage-shrimp skillet celebrates the flavors of New Orleans




I won't pretend that this quick dish is authentic New Orleans fare -- far from it -- but I was inspired by this month's Mardi Gras celebrations.

As a bonus, this skillet supper is far lower in fat than tradional Cajun food. Spoon this slightly spicy mixture of lean protein and vegetables over brown rice and enjoy any time of year, not just on Fat Tuesday.

The key ingredient is andouille sausage, which is packed with spicy flavor. I used a chicken version from Whole Food's butcher case. You could substitute pork sausage, which is far easier to find, but you'll need to drain the fat after browning the sausage and vegetables. You also can buy links of smoked chicken or turkey andouille, which need only to be warmed. I like to cut them into 1/2-inch rounds and  brown them along with the vegetables.

And speaking of vegetables ... here in the Midwest in midwinter, good fresh okra is impossible to find. I substituted frozen. I've found that the quality of frozen vegetables varies greatly among brands, and sad to say, the less expensive brands are usually watery and lacking in flavor. I've also found that organic frozen vegetables are usually the best bets.


SHRIMP AND ANDOUILLE SKILLET SUPPER
Yield: 4 servings

1/2 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
2/3 pound fresh andouille sausage, preferably made from chicken (see note)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup fresh or frozen sliced okra
1 cup fresh or frozen trimmed green beans
1/2 pound shrimp, thawed if frozen, shelled and deveined
Hot cooked rice
Hot sauce

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble andouille into the skillet; cook, crumbling it further with a spoon. When the sausage starts to brown, add onion, celery and red pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften and begin to brown.

Stir in stock, drained tomatoes, okra and green beans. Reduce heat until liquid simmers briskly; cover and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in shrimp; cover and cook until shrimp is pink and okra and beans are tender, about 5 minutes.

Serve over hot cooked rice, passing hot sauce at the table.

Note: If you can't find fresh chicken andouille, use pork andouille and drain well. Alternately, use smoked andouille links cut into wedges or rounds.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Coconut, almonds, chocolate make a moist bar cookie





When you've offered to bring dessert to a potluck or the office, bar cookies are a great choice. They're sturdy, easy to transport and can be cut into generous pieces or tiny tidbits.

Beyond those attributes, these cookies are buttery and delicious. With their combination of chocolate, coconut and almonds, they're almost like a Mounds candy bar in a pan.

COCONUT-ALMOND-CHOCOLATE BARS
Yield: 32 bars

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar, divided
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup thinly sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1 cup flour until well combined. Add melted butter; mix well. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Press into the bottom of the pan with the palms of your hands, making an even layer. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes.

While the crust bakes, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla in the same large bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup brown sugar, the remaining 3 tablespoons flour, coconut, almonds and salt. Stir until well combined.

As soon as the crust comes out of the oven, sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips. Press the chocolate lightly into the crust. Add small dollops of coconut over the chocolate, then spread into an even layer, disturbing the chocolate as little as possible. Return the baking dish to the oven. Bake until pale golden, about 20 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then cut into bars. (A chef's knife works best.Cut from the sides toward the center, turning the pan as needed.) Let cool completely before removing the bars from the pan.


Recipe adapted from  Mrs. Kolbert's Coconut Bars, published 20 years ago by Gourmet magazine.

Photo and story copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Turkey breast in a slow cooker


You don't have to wait for the holidays to enjoy roast turkey. If you have a slow cooker, you don't even have to wait for the weekend.

I happened upon frozen turkey breasts for 49 cents a pound recently and couldn't resist picking up one. This recipe is so good, and so easy, that I regret not buying more than one.

You'll notice that I didn't add any liquid to the slow cooker. The resulting drippings were deeply flavored and made great gravy. In keeping with the easy-does-it theme of this recipe, I used cornstarch to thicken the gravy.

I rubbed poultry seasoning into the turkey, but you can use your choice of herbs and spices. Most supermarket turkeys have been injected with saline, so I advise skipping the salt.

You can also substitute your favorite vegetables and fruits or add them to what I used. Use lemon instead of apple, for instance, or add carrots or even parsnips.

SLOW-COOKED TURKEY BREAST
Yield: About 8 servings

1 turkey breast (about 7 pounds), thawed if frozen
Poultry seasoning 
Vegetable oil, optional
1 large onion, cut into large chunks
2 ribs celery, cut into large chunks
1 small apple, cut into quarters
About 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Cut any large pieces of fat off the turkey and discard. Rub seasoning under the skin and in the turkey cavity. If desired, brown the turkey skin in a small amount of hot oil. (My slow cooker's insert goes directly on the stove, so I used that.)

Place onion, celery and apple in an oval 6-quart slow cooker. Place turkey into the cooker, positioning it upright or on one side. Cover and cook on low until done, about 5 to 7 hours.

Transfer turkey to a cutting board. Cover loosely with foil and let sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, pour cooking liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard the solids left in the strainer. Let liquid sit until the fat rises to the top, then skim off the fat and discard it.

Taste the cooking liquid. If the flavor is too concentrated, stir in a bit of water or chicken stock. Measure the liquid. You will need 1 tablespoon cornstarch for each cup of cooking liquid. In a small cup, stir together equal amounts of cornstarch and cooking liquid. Pour the rest of the cooking liquid into a saucepan; bring to a simmer. Slowly stir in the cornstarch mixture; cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid returns to a simmer, thickens and becomes glossy. Keep gravy warm while you slice the turkey.



Monday, February 4, 2013

Use a slow cooker for almost-effortless barbecue beef



This is perhaps the best beef I've ever made in a slow cooker -- and it's definitely the easiest.

I came up with the recipe at the butcher counter when I spotted boneless arm roast on sale for $3.99 a pound. I'd never cooked that cut of meat before, so I asked the butcher what would happen if I rubbed the roast with spices and slow-cooked it on a bed of onions. His eyes lit up: "I think it would taste really, really good." His opinion was enough for me to give it a go.

I was planning to stir together my own seasoning rub, but when I got to the spice aisle I saw that the commercial rubs were on sale for $1 each. I picked up a slightly spicy, slightly smoky rub, but you can use whatever you prefer. Even a simple combination of salt and pepper would be tasty. You also can substitute wine or broth for the beer.

After the roast had slowly cooked to a perfect tenderness, I pulled it into strands and added a dollop of barbecue sauce. You can omit the barbecue sauce and use the plain defatted cooking liquid, or you can thicken the liquid and make gravy. You also can slice the roast or cut it into chunks instead of pulling the meat apart. The recipe is that simple, that versatile, and that good.

SLOW-COOKER BARBECUE BEEF SANDWICHES
Yield: About 8 sandwiches

2 large onions, sliced
3/4 cup beer 
About 1 tablespoon mesquite barbecue spice rub
1 (2 1/2-pound) boneless beef arm roast
Barbecue sauce
Pretzel buns or other sandwich rolls

Place onions in the bottom of a 6-quart slow cooker. Add beer. Rub spices into beef roast. Place in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat until tender, about 8 to 10 hours.

Remove beef from slow cooker. When cool enough to handle, use two forks to shred meat. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate.

Strain liquid; set onions aside. Let cooking liquid sit until the fat rises to the top, then skim off fat and discard. If making ahead, refrigerate onions and liquid separately. Discard fat from liquid after it rises to the top and hardens.

Return just enough liquid to moisten the beef to the slow cooker or place in a saucepan. When liquid is hot, add beef; heat gently. Stir in barbecue sauce to taste. Meanwhile, reheat onions in another pan.

Spoon beef onto buns, topping with onions if desired.

Note: I froze the leftover beef in a single layer in a plastic bag, which makes it easy to take out just what we need. I froze the leftover cooking liquid in 1/3-cup portions in a muffin tin, then popped out the frozen pucks and stored them in another freezer bag.

Story, recipe and photo copyright Judith Evans 2013. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Pesto-stuffed mushrooms are perfect for a party


I went to a birthday luncheon last weekend at Maggiano's Little Italy. The first course included pesto-stuffed mushrooms, and after one bite, everyone started speculating about how to make them.

Fortunately, the recipe was easy to replicate. I bought a jar of basil pesto, spooned some into a bowl and added chopped parsley (for fresh flavor) and fresh breadcrumbs.  I used medium mushrooms, just the right size for one or two bites, and topped each with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan.

You can assemble these a few hours before you bake them. Cover them loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

(And don't discard those leftover mushroom stems. You can use them in stir-fries, soups or this moist and lean Bison Meatloaf.)

PESTO-STUFFED MUSHROOMS
Yield: About 18

1 slice bread 
12 ounces medium button mushrooms (about 18)
6 tablespoons purchased or homemade pesto
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley 
About 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking dish with nonstick foil or coat with nonstick cooking spray.

Cut the crust off the bread and discard. Whirl the bread in a blender to make crumbs. Measure 6 tablespoons crumbs; discard the remainder, if any, or save for another use.

Wash the mushrooms and pat dry. Carefully remove the stems and set aside for another use. Arrange the mushroom caps in a baking dish.

In a medium bowl, stir together breadcrumbs, pesto and parsley. Fill each mushroom cap with the pesto mixture, mounding it slightly. Sprinkle each cap with about 1/4 teaspoon Parmesan. Bake until the mushrooms are tender and the cheese begins to brown, about 20 minutes.