Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dish - Farro with Caramelized Shallot, Chickpeas and Pomegranate

Hello there!  Happy November!  The beginning of the end.  Of the year?  Oh no, mostly the end of my waistline.   Not this year!

I have opted to make some healthy substitutions this year, and after testing out this recipe, I think it's going to be delicious all the way to the next bathing suit season.

This vegetarian recipe has whole grains and beans to fill you up and keep you full and tons of color and flavor from the caramelized shallots and pomegranate.  A little Greek yogurt for serving adds richness and smoothness (and Calcium)!


1 cup farro
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup Greek yogurt, for serving

1. In a medium saucepan, bring farro and 2 cups water to a boil.  Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until tender and chewy, about 30 minutes.  Drain and cool.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add cumin seeds and stir until fragrant and toasted, about 30 seconds.  Add pepper flakes and shallot; cook, stirring until deeply caramelized, about 2-3 minutes.  Add chickpeas and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3 minutes.  Season with salt; transfer mixture to a bowl with farro.

Toss in lemon juice, cilantro and pomegranate seeds.

3. To serve, dollop each portion with Greek yogurt.  Drizzle with a little more olive oil (optional).

Tip:  To remove seeds (called arils) from a pomegranate, simply cut the pomegranate in half and use the back of a wooden spoon to whack the back of the cut half.  Catch the falling seeds into a bowl.

I served this salad with some seared scallops that I brushed lightly with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Simple, quick, healthy and delicious!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Corn Chowder - Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 15th edition

Much like a menu, I prefer condensed and simplified cookbooks.

It took me a few chapters to realize that the recipes listed in this cookbook were in alphabetical order, not by course as I am more use to.  It's a big cookbook too.  Before I even started cooking, I was more annoyed than impressed.

As I leafed through the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook 15th edition I was intrigued by some recipes, but not inspired.  This cookbook is very basic.  I would think that it would be perfect for someone who is just starting out on their own, a newlywed couple, a college student, or even senior citizens for that matter.  This cookbook is geared towards anyone who is looking for quick, easy, and simplistic food.  It was not a good match for me.  I am a girl who prefers arugula and gruyere in her omelets over American cheese and bacon.  This cookbook was very limited in offering me items that would whet my palate.

Better Homes and Gardens was a household name when I was growing up.  It probably still is.  It just isn't within my typical home and gardens scope.  Admittedly, I was curious to see what was contained within this cookbook's pages.  What I found were a lot of casseroles.  Being one who is always on a tight budget I should be a fan of casseroles, unfortunately I am not.  I have never liked them, ever since the days of having tuna noodle casserole as a child (sorry, Mom!).  As I was cooking out of the 15th edition of this cookbook, I am assuming that the 1st edition of this cookbook dates all the way back to my childhood.  Fourteen editions later, I really don't think that many of these recipes have really changed.

Like I said, this cookbook is very basic.  I think that most of the recipes found in this cookbook are common sense, even to a beginner cook.  Maybe I am wrong?  I know that I didn't need these basic steps to be written out for me for most of the recipes.  Open the fridge and your cabinets!  The ideas should logically come together on your plate.  Shouldn't they?  Surely I would hope so if you have ever eaten a meal before!

As I really didn't see an abundance of recipes calling for radicchio, fennel, or chervil, I reluctantly made the corn chowder.  If you haven't noticed yet, I am not easily impressed.  The same holds true for this corn chowder.

Corn Chowder

6 ears fresh sweet corn or 3 cups frozen whole kernel corn (I opted for frozen)
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 14-ounce can chicken broth
1 cup cubed, peeled potato (1 medium)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups half-and-half, light cream, or milk (I used skim milk)
4 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded (1 cup) (I used extra sharp white cheddar)
3 slices bacon, crisp-cooked, drained, and crumbled (I subbed turkey bacon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

 If using fresh corn, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off the cobs (you should have about 3 cups corn kernels).  Set corn kernels aside.

In a large saucepan cook onion and sweet pepper in hot oil until onion is tender.

Stir in corn, broth, and potato.  Bring to boiling; reduce heat.  Simmer, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, and black pepper.  Stir half-and-half (I subbed skim milk) into flour mixture; add to corn mixture in saucepan. 

Cook and stir until slightly thickened and bubbly.  Cook and stir for 1 minute more.  Stir in cheese and heat until melted and smooth. 

Add bacon; heat through.

Like I already mentioned, I wasn't overly impressed with this recipe.  It was a simple recipe.  It tasted like a simple recipe.  When first reading the recipe, I was very apprehensive about adding the cheese into this dish.  The cheese ended up adding a bit of substance to the corn chowder.   I will say that what I liked most about this recipe was the freshness of the corn.  This was most surprising to me since I had used frozen corn.  In my efforts to make this dish "healthier" I do realize that my substitution of skim milk over using half-and-half or the light cream worked to my disadvantage a bit.  However, those ingredients only would have added weight to the chowder, not flavoring.  The use of turkey bacon, quite honestly this was the first time I have bought turkey bacon and it will definitely be the last.  As the package had suggested I cooked it in the microwave.  However, I had to cook it almost three times as long before it achieved any type of crispiness.  Again, regular bacon would have made this chowder a touch better.  This time though more so for texture, and only slightly for a bit more flavor.  This corn chowder was just bland.  Even with my use of extra sharp white cheddar cheese there was no zip to it.  I don't like bland food.  I would imagine that most people don't.  As I also mentioned, for the ingredients listed for this recipe, I think that I could have made a better corn chowder on my own.  No recipe needed. 

I ate this chowder for 3 meals:
  1. Immediately off the stove garnished with fresh Italian parsley and freshly ground pepper.
  2. I tried spicing it up with some red pepper chili flakes.
  3. I added both red pepper chili flakes and hot sauce.
None of these versions "wowed" me.

Will I be making this recipe again?  For the first time since we started doing this blog, I am saying no.  What I gained out of this recipe is that I won't hesitate to sub out frozen corn again.  That was the only good thing in this dish. 

It really didn't taste like frozen corn!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I'm baaaaaaaaaack....

and with another post about bananas...

One might think I have a strange affinity for bananas.  An infatuation, even.  This is not the case.  I can assure you I am not obsessed with bananas.  I do like fruit.  And I definitely enjoy cooking with it.  But I swear, I do not favor bananas!! I give all fruit the equal opportunity to partake in my cooking adventures.

In my defense, and in an attempt to win over Fruits' Rights Activists everywhere, I feel it necessary to tell you that I just happened to have overripe bananas on my counter. Although, just between us, I sometimes put them out of my kids' reach so that they become overripe, thus I'm forced to bake something delicious with them. However, I did no such thing in this particular instance.  (Here, I must admit that I feel I have just contradicted my efforts to convince you that I am not partial to cooking with bananas... hmmm.)  I'm sure you can all relate.  Who doesn't enjoy a nice banana muffin? Or some warm, freshly baked banana nut bread, slathered in butter?  If you can honestly say these descriptions do not whet your appetite, then this post is definitely NOT for you.

Since I happened to have aforementioned overripe bananas, as well as a pantry full of baking provisions, I decided to try making the Chocolate Chip-Banana Snack Cake recipe.  I must also be completely forthcoming and tell you that I am always compelled to make something that I know my kiddos will consume (willingly).  These were a huge hit. Even my husband, who lost his sweet tooth back in 1989, said these were ah-freakin'-mazing!!!  I even caught him sneaking some from a bag I had put aside to give to the neighbors.  He said they were extremely moist, and tasty.  And since I took the liberty of baking them in mini muffin tins, they were also extremely susceptible to quick consumption.  One bite. Done.

So, friends, bottom line?  Make the snack cakes. Even if you don't share my overzealous propensity for baking with bananas, I urge you, make the snack cakes. You will not be sorry. Nor will anyone you should so graciously decide to impart them upon.


Chocolate Chip-Banana Snack Cakes 

1c  all-purpose flour
3/4tsp baking powder
1/2tsp baking soda
1/4tsp salt
1/4c butter, softened
3/4c sugar
1 egg
1/3c mashed, ripe banana (1 large banana)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3c buttermilk
1/3c miniature semisweet chocolate chips
*caramel or fudge sauce (HIGHLY RECOMMEND)
*banana slices

*both optional, but makes for ultra-yummy results

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Grease an 8x8 pan (or, in this case, mini muffin tin).  In a small bowl combine thew flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

2. In medium mixing bowl, beat butter with electric mixer, on medium speed, until creamy (30 seconds).  Add sugar, until well combined.  Beat in egg until well combined.  Beat in banana and vanilla until combined.  Alternately add flour mixture, and buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating on low speed after each addition, until just combined.  (Batter may appear slightly curdled)  Stir in chocolate chips, and pour into prepared pan.

3.  Bake for 20-25 minutes (I think I set my timer for 14 with the mini muffins, and they only needed to bake for a short time after the initial look-see), or until wooden toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 30 minutes.  If desired, serve with caramel or fudge topping, with banana slices. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Greek Leeks and Shrimp Stir-Fry

I actually did not have a copy of this cookbook and the local library did not either.  After looking in a few local stores, I found a copy for forty dollars and thought I could do better.  Hello Amazon.  Found a new copy for the Better Homes and Garden New Cookbook "Gifts from the Kitchen" for 16 dollars and change.  Along with the prime shipping, I had the cookbook in two days with free shipping.  I chose the recipe below since I really like seafood and I have never cooked with couscous.  I went to the grocery store thinking it would be with the pasta since it is made of wheat, but it was actually with the rice and quinoa.  Go figure.  This of course made me laugh, because I work with someone who used to eat quinoa out of a bag with a spoon.

Page 324 Fish and Shellfish
Start to Finish: 30 minutes (pretty accurate)
Makes: 4 servings

1 and 1/4 pounds fresh or frozen peeled, deveined medium shrimp (see tip, page 433).
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon bouquet garni seasoning or dried oregano, crushed
1 cup couscous
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 and 1/3 cups thinly sliced leeks
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (2 ounces)

Thaw shrimp, if frozen.  Rinse shrimp and pat dry with paper towels, set aside.  I always use whatever shrimp is on sale and if it is ez peel even better.  If noone knows, this is when they have already cut the shell up the back and deveined.
In a small bowl, combine 2/3 cup water (not in ingredient list, odd), the lemon juice, cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon of the bouquet garni seasoning set aside.

In a small bowl combine coucous, oregano, salt, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon bouquet garni seasoning.

Pour 1 and 1/2 cups boiling water (again not in ingredient list) over couscous.  Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Not sure if you can see the difference, but the couscous multiplied in size multiple times.  Amazing.

Meanwhile, in a wok or very large skillet heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add leaks, cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender.  Remove leeks from wok; set aside.  Stir lemon juice mixture; add to wok.  Bring to boiling.  Add shrimp; cook for 2 to 3 minutes until shrimp are opaque.  Close up BAM.


  Stir in cooked leeks and 1/4 cup of the feta cheese.

To serve, fluff couscous mixture with a fork.  Transfer couscous mixture to a serving platter.  Spoon shrimp mixture over couscous; sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup feta cheese.  I enjoyed this recipe alot and will  put it in the rotation.  I liked it so much, I made it again two days later.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Better Homes & Garden for February

I love this cookbook. It has been my go to book for years. I have made so many recipes and they have quickly become family go to's. The carrot cake, buttermilk brined fried chicken, and bbq brisket are all made frequently in our house, to name a few. Just look at how well loved and post-it marked my copy is. My mother and sister have their own copies and both turn to it regularly. Over the years it has been printed in many formats and I'm sure many editions. It doesn't matter which one you come across, you'll never regret acquiring it.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Pot Roast Meatloaf by Jamie Oliver

I was excited to try a Jamie Oliver recipe after watching his special on obesity in American cities. Thankfully, one of my fellow bloggers was kind enough to send this recipe to me from Jamie's Food Revolution. Since my hubby loves meatloaf and it is down right frigid in Southeastern Connecticut, I don't need more of an excuse to cook a meal of meatloaf smothered in bacon. With a filling sauce, I knew this could be a new family favorite during the long cold months. Maybe it'll become a favorite in your home.

I chopped the onion for my meatloaf and while it was sauteing I chopped the onion for the sauce, as well as the garlic. 

Mmmm, bacon. Seriously, we love bacon in this house. I buy the thick cut bacon from BJ's, no idea the brand name. It doesn't last long enough to matter.

I love my new Lodge cast iron skillet and figured this meatloaf was a great opportunity to use it again. From the stove top where I sauteed my onions to the stove at 400 degrees to brown it.

The sauce bubbles away while the meatloaf cooks in the oven. Garbanzo beans are a new ingredients in our house. Who knows, maybe they'll be a hit.

Okay, what could be wrong with a bacon covered meatloaf. That's right, nothing. Absolutely nothing. I will either make sure I have regular bacon or add an extra couple of slices for the sauce next time. And there will definitely be a next time.

Your bacon may need to be flipped. Mine did.

Don't you wish you were at my house for dinner? Hubby absolutely loved it. The little one liked the garbanzo beans (go figure) and tasted the meat. I served it with red skin mashed potatoes. I can whip them up in 15 minutes now a days. 

I will definitely be making this again. In fact, I loved the sauce so much I thinned it, added black beans, and bell pepper, then I poached my chicken breasts in it. I'm going to shred the chicken, toss it together with the sauce, and turn it into taco filling. Yum!

Serves 4-6
2 Med Onions
Olive oil
Sea salt & fresh ground pepper
1 level tsp ground cumin (I added a little more)
1 heaped tsp ground coriander (I don't have any in my spice rack)
12 cream or plain crackers (I used Ritz honey wheat crackers since I had an open box in the pantry)
2 tsp dried oregano (Oops, I was out. Added a little cilantro instead)
2 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
1lb good quality ground beef
1 lg egg, preferably free-range or organic
2 cloves of garlic
1/2-1 fresh red chile (I skipped the pepper. Knew kids wouldn't like. Added a little chili powder instead) 
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 (15 oz) can garbanzo beans, drained
2 (14 oz) can diced tomato
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (Not a fan and don't have any in the house, so I used cider vinegar)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary (I used dried)
12 slices smoked bacon, preferably free-range or organic  (I only had) thick cut, so I used 4 slices)
1 lemon (Yeah, this did not make it on hubby's shopping list.)

To Make your meatloaf
Preheat the oven to full whack (475 degrees). Peel and finely chop one of the onions - don't worry about technique, just chop until fine. Place in a large frying pan on a medium high heat with 2 lugs of olive oil and a pinch of salt & pepper. Add the ground cumin and coriander. Fry & stir every 30 seconds for around 7 minutes or until softened & lightly golden, then put into a large bowl to cool. Wrap the crackers in a kitchen towel & smash up until fine, breaking up any big bits with your hands. Add to the bowl of cooled onions with the oregano, mustard, & ground beef. Crack in the egg & add another good pinch of salt & pepper. With clean hands, scrunch & mix up well. Move the mixture to a board, then pat & mold it into a large football shape. Rub it with a little oil. You can either cook it straight away or put it on a plate, cover, & place in the refrigerator until needed. Place the meatloaf in a Dutch oven-type pan or baking dish, put it in the preheated oven, & turn down the temperature immediately to 400 degrees.
I cooked my onion in my brand new cast iron skillet. (Thank you Hubby) Since it had time to cool, I also cooked my meatloaf in it.

To make your meatloaf sauce 
Peel the other onion & chop into 1/4" pieces. Peel & slice the garlic. Finely slice the red chile. Place the onion, garlic, & chile in a large pan on a medium high heat with 2 lugs of olive oil, the paprika, &  pinch of salt & pepper. Cook for around 7 min, stirring every 30 sec until softened & lightly golden. Add the Worcestershire sauce, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, & balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down & let it simmer for 10 min. Taste the sauce & season as needed.

To finish off and serve your meatloaf
Pick the rosemary leaves off the woody stalks & put them in a little bowl. Remove the meatloaf from the oven & pour all the fat from the pan over the rosemary leaves & mix up well. Spoon your sauce around the meatloaf. Lay the slices of bacon over the top of the meatloaf and sauce. Scatter over the rosemary leaves. Put the pan back into the oven for 10-15 min, until the bacon turns golden & the sauce is bubbling and delicious. Serve with a mixed leaf salad & some wedges of lemon for squeezing over - this will add a nice sharp twang.
The cast iron skillet was too heavy to drain the fat off. I spooned a little over the bacon before sprinkling the rosemary on top. I also felt it necessary to turn the temperature up to 425, and flip the bacon, but I was using the thick cut bacon and wanted it to get crispy. Next time I'll make sure I have the thin cut on hand.)

A Cracking Burger - Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution"

After cooking out of Rocco’s family album in November, I was more than excited to try out Jamie Oliver’s recipes.  I am a huge fan of his efforts towards bringing healthy food to children in schools.  He is all about educating people on eating better.  I am all for this!  I couldn’t wait to get his cookbook “Food Revolution” home!

Well, then I picked up the cookbook.  The cookbook looked old and dull, nothing like the positive energy that Jamie constantly displays in the media.  I immediately checked the copyright date of this cookbook (which was surprisingly just a few years ago) because this cookbook looked like it came straight out of my grandma’s basement.  And while I vastly griped about Rocco’s photo album extravaganza in our last cookbook, I was equally craving some vibrancy in the photos within the pages of “Food Revolution.”  The pictures were flat.  The energy of the cookbook was flat.  It ends up that the recipes themselves were equally as flat.  Nothing really appealed to me.  Nothing leapt from the pages of the cookbook calling out “cook me!”  This was not at all what I had anticipated.  I opted for cooking a burger.  It was one of the few palatable items in the cookbook in my opinion.  Well, it ended up that this burger literately almost brought the house down!  It made me take notice that for sure.  Holy smoke! 

A Cracking Burger

12 cream or plain crackers, such as Jacob’s (I am not familiar with this brand.  I used a generic brand.)
8 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley
2 heaped teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 pound good-quality ground beef
1 large egg; preferably free-range or organic (I used a standard egg.  I didn’t go fancy here.)
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
1 romaine or butterhead lettuce (I used Bibb, which is a butterhead lettuce)
3 tomatoes
1 red onion
3 or 4 pickles
6 burger buns (omitted)
Optional:  6 slices of Cheddar cheese (I subbed goat cheese)

Wrap the crackers in a kitchen towel and smash them up until fine, breaking up any big bits with your hands, and put them in a large bowl.

Finely chop the parsley, including the stalks.  Add the parsley, mustard, and ground beef to the bowl.  Crack in the egg and add a good pinch of salt and pepper.   

With clean hands, scrunch and mix everything up well.

Divide into 6 and pat and mold each piece into a roundish shape about ¾ inch thick.  Drizzle the burgers with oil, put on a plate, cover and place in the refrigerator until needed (this helps them to firm up).  I thought that this was a real neat concept.  Unintentionally, I did not get around to cooking the burgers the night that I prepped them; therefore they were in the refrigerator for about a full day before being cooked.

Preheat a large grill pan or frying pan for about 4 minutes on high heat.  I used a large frying pan.  Turn the heat down to medium.  Place the burgers on the grill pan or into the frying pan and use a turner to lightly press down on them, making sure the burger is in full contact.  Cook them to your liking for 3 or 4 minutes on each side – you may need to cook them in two batches.

When I put the burgers into the pan that's when all the excitement started!  I don't know if the frying pan was too hot or if the olive oil drizzled on the burgers was the cause, but the exterior of the burgers rapidly cooked up.  And fast, not in a good way!  The burgers started smoking and incredibly fast at that.  It was as if I was at a campfire, however I was not.  My kitchen and then the rest of my house rapidly filled up with smoke.  I was quite amazed that my fire alarm did not start beeping truthfully.  Well, a ruined pan later, about 2 hours of the stove's vent being on full blast, and my windows being cranked wide open (with it being a mere 28 degrees outside) for just as long, the burgers ended up being quite tasty.  I especially liked the creaminess that the olive oil added to the burgers.  I could have done without the extra char though.

To serve: Place burgers on lightly toasted buns stacked with some lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, and pickles (sliced lengthwise) or serve on top of salad comprised of same ingredients. 
Prep Time: 20 – 30 minutes
Cook Time:  10 - 15 minutes
Serves: 4 - 6

I will say, minus the big smoke episode that these burgers created they did taste pretty darn good!  I opted to serve the burger on top of a salad as suggested.  Last fall I was in California at a restaurant where they did this and it was divine!  In the Midwest, we tend to always grab rolls (when they really aren’t needed).  I have recently been on a huge goat cheese kick (especially on burgers) so I chose to sub out the cheddar cheese.  I think that any cheese would work well with these burgers.  Although I do think that the creaminess of the goat cheese was a great match to the olive oil drizzled patties.  I also added a hot giardiniera to my salad.  I love giardiniera on most everything!  The added spice enhanced this dish amazingly. 

Suggestions when making this dish:
  • DO NOT COOK INDOORS unless you have an industrial-sized hood.  I am not kidding!  My house was consumed with smoke (as mentioned).  So much so that my breathing felt a bit labored and my eyes became watery.  These burgers should be cooked outdoors, always!
As for cooking more of Jamie’s recipes, I will say that the flavor of this burger definitely matched the quality of the chef that I have always envisioned him being.  The cookbook “Food Revolution” as a whole to me does not.  If one was to judge something solely by content and appearance (which obviously in this instance I did) I would never have opened this cookbook.  Am I intrigued to try another one of his recipes from this cookbook?  Out of curiosity yes, but only to see if strong flavors and quality food shine through again.  I will say though, that this cookbook overall is dull!  If Jamie was trying to lure people in to try his food, I don’t think it does the trick.  I only picked it up because it was the cookbook of the month.  Otherwise, I would have passed it right on by, and fast at that.

Maybe Jamie and Rocco should have lunch together and find a middle ground for designing their cookbooks?