January 29, 2012

Garlic Zucchini Stir-Fry

It's been unseasonably warm in Minnesota, so somehow zucchini seemed like a great pick for our weekly ingredient. Going to the store, however, I remembered that it is indeed January. The zucchini pickings were pretty slim, so while there's zucchini IN this dish, I can't say I'd call it a zucchini dish overall. That said, it turned out to be pretty tasty!

I was generally inspired by the Vegetable Stir Fry on the Kalyn's Kitchen blog, which has lots of great stuff. I switched up the vegetables a bit, but tried to stay fairly true to the construction of things. She's right about one thing - it all comes together really quickly. Best to have everything cut up, sitting out and ready to go.

Hers is just the veggie stir-fry, but I decided to put some rice noodles in mine. Mostly because I had a package of rice noodles. So before I started the stir fry, I boiled some water and poured it over the rice noodles in a bowl, then let those just soften up. 

So here's what I used and what I did:

2 small-to-medium zucchini
2 small-to-medium yellow squash
4-5 stalks bok choy
1 small can sliced water chestnuts (drained)
1 package rice noodles
2T canola oil
1/4 tsp salt
3T oyster sauce

Cut up zucchini and squash into equal sized pieces. Slice bok choy stalks so they are the same width as the zucchini and squash (separating and saving leaves for later). Slice onions and mince garlic. Set all other ingredients out and be ready to go!

Put pan (or wok) on medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes until it's pretty darn hot. Add oil and heat 30 seconds. Add onion and garlic and cook 20 seconds, stirring constantly.

Add zucchini, squash, bok choy stalks, water chestnuts and salt, and cook 4-5 minutes. Stir every 30 seconds or so.

Add oyster sauce and bok choy leaves and cook 2 more minutes, stirring a few more times. 

At this point, I drained the rice noodles and stirred them into the pan, but you could easily just make the veggies and eat them alone or with rice.

That's it! I was skeptical about the oyster sauce being the only thing on here sauce-wise, but it turned out to be pretty good!

Zucchini and squash - same size. Ready to get tossed in.

Bok choy waiting for a chop. I took the leaves off and then just sliced the stalk.

Everything chopped and ready to go

How was it? Both of us liked it. It was filling, very veggie-ful and I was pleasantly surprised at just having the oyster sauce. I did end up sprinkling on a little soy sauce and a little Sriracha to spice it up.

What would I change? There's nothing I disliked, so I don't think I'd change anything. That said, this is so versatile that you could easily do this with any veggies that are in season or you're just feeling a craving for. 

January 12, 2012

Lentils, Bacon and Kale

Just after we decided on lentils as our ingredient of the week, Mike politely requested that I cool it on the Indian food. This eliminated a lot of the recipes with lentils that I have in my collection, so I went back on the hunt. I came across this recipe and the allure of both kale and bacon was too much for me to pass up. Plus - since it's actually starting to feel like winter now, this seemed like something that would be hearty without being too heavy. 

I've been a little over cumin-ed lately and I'm just in more of an Italian-style mood, so I decided to go with some oregano, thyme and a bay leaf rather than the cumin. I also added a little red wine and changed the lentil/liquid ratio; Other than that, I mostly left it alone.

Lentils, Bacon and Kale
Adapted from this site, which was adapted from here
Serves 8 - 10

6 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 - 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
6 cups of chicken broth
2 1/4 cups lentils
3 cups of kale, chopped
Fresh parmesan cheese, shaved for garnish

Cook the bacon over medium heat. When bacon is cooked, remove from pan and place on a paper towel.

Mmm... bacon

Saute onion, carrots and celery 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and saute 1 minute more.

Does anything smell better than these three things cooking in bacon fat?

Add red wine and cook until wine has mostly cooked off.

Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, bay leaf and red pepper flakes and cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add broth and lentils. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer about an hour.

Add kale and cooked bacon; simmer another 5 minutes.

Serve garnished with fresh parmesan cheese shavings.

How was it: Really good! The bacon made it nice and smoky and the parmesan cheese gave it a little extra something. Each bite was a little different, depending on what I got in it, which made each bite a nice surprise. One bite was smoky, one bite was a little salty... I really liked it. And I have a feeling that it will just get better as the flavors blend. I'm looking forward to the leftovers (which is good, because there are a LOT of them!)

What would I change: I like my food a little spicy, so next time I might up the ante on the red pepper flakes. Also, considering I'm cooking for two people, one of whom doesn't really love leftovers, I probably should've cut this recipe in half. I had a dinner plan for tomorrow night, but I'm scrapping it. We're eating this again!

January 10, 2012

Squash, Chickpea, Red Lentil Stew. Sort of.

So, the inspiration for the ingredient of the week being lentils was the recipe of the day emailed to me by Cooking.Com on January 9th. I thought that Squash Chickpea Red lentil Stew sounded fantastic, sold Rachel on the idea of lentils and off I went to the grocery store. Where they had never heard of the North African squash called for (Kabocha). Never fear! I can use Butternut! But alas, the co-op is out of red lentils. Okay....I can use brown, I guess. So my Kabocha, Chickpea, Red lentil stew became Butternut, Chickpea, Brown lentil stew before I even unloaded the grocery bags. But undaunted, I continued. Then....wait. Dried chickpeas? No way. I'm not bothering with that, I'll just use them out of the can. And finally I noticed the "let simmer in crockpot on low 5 1/2 - 6 hours". And it was 2:00. And dinner is at 6:30. No sweat. I'll just crank that crockpot up to high and be golden. And for the most part, it all worked out, though I don't think it turned out quite as flavorful as it might have if I had the actual ingredients the recipe called for, or if I had been able to let all those flavors slowly simmer together for 6 hours. Here is the recipe in it's original form:

"Modeled after North African stews, this aromatic vegetarian main course can be served over brown rice or steamed spinach"

3/4 cup dried chickpeas
2.5 lbs kabocha (or butternut) squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup red lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 Tbs minced peeled fresh ginger
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Add at the end:
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Soak chickpeas in enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches for 6 hours or overnight. (Alternatively, use the quick-soak method: Place beans in a large pot with enough water to cover by two inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let stand for one hour.) Drain when ready to use.

[Here you can picture me opening a can of chickpeas]

Combine everything except the lime juice, peanuts and cilantro in a slow cooker.

Put the lid on and cook on low until the chickpeas are tender and the lentils have started to break down ; 5 - 6.5 hours.

Stir in lime juice, Serve sprinkled with peanuts and cilantro.

So, again, my modifications pretty significantly changed this. Butternut squash instead of kabocha, canned chickpeas instead of dried, brown lentils instead of red, high heat for 3.5 hours rather than low for 5-6.5. I also served it over basmati rice instead of brown.

Overall, it was good, though when I tasted it before I put in the lime juice and garnishes, I thought it was really bland. Just vegetables in broth. The lime juice and that particular mix of garnish really gave it something a little special. But not enough special. This meal tasted good tonight as something warm while the snow is blowing rather blustery outside, but I don't think it's going on the regular rotation list. It's not that it wasn't tasty, it just didn't have anything that made it stand out to me. It made plenty, though, so we'll be eating leftovers tomorrow. Maybe after the flavors blend in the fridge overnight it will be more delicious?

Wife rating: not bad
Preschooler rating: ate the rice, left everything else except for the madated one piece of squash and one piece of carrot. When asked if they were good, he replied "yes. NOW can I be excused?"
My rating: also not bad. Would be bland without the lime juice, peanuts and cilantro, but they make it tasty. Not fantastic, but tasty. Would like to try it with red lentils to see if that makes a difference.

January 9, 2012

Happy once, happy twice, happy chicken thighs with rice.

We don't eat a lot of meat around here, but late last week I had come across a chicken and rice recipe that I've made before and loved, so when Rachel was wondering what our first ingredient for this project should be, I jumped at the idea of chicken. This recipe is a family favorite; suitable for company, but just right for a winter night of comfort food by candlelight for dinner. Num. So good. I got it from a friend, who got it from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy (available here, among other places, I'm sure). This recipe alone makes me want to go out and buy this book. Because honestly, if this is this good, WHAT ELSE IS IN THERE???????

There's really not that much to say about it. It's so good. So delicious. And really, so easy. Try it. Really.

Traditional Chicken and Rice (from 'Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy')

1/3 cup EV Olive Oil
1 carrot
1 onion
1 stalk of celery
2 large cloves of garlic (or 3. I loves me some garlic.)

1 T salt
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 c dry white wine

5 c chicken stock
2 c arborio rice

3 T minced flat parsley
2 T butter, cut into pieces
1/2 c grated Parmesan (do yourself a favor and don't use the green shaker stuff. Go get some from the fancy cheese section)

1)Chop the carrot, onion and celery into approx 1" pieces and put them in the food processor with the garlic cloves. Whir this until it makes a paste (pestata), until the veggies are chopped pretty finely.

2) Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or big pot on medium. When the oil is hot, add the veggie paste. Add 1/3 of the salt (Took me a long time to learn that 1T = 3t, so 1/3 of 1T was 1t. Who knew? Sheesh). Stir the pestata occasionally until it dries out, which should take about 5 minutes. This picture makes it look a little like ground beef. NOTE: I'm not sure if my stove wasn't on high enough or if my veggies weren't big enough, but it took more like 8-10 minutes for the pestata to dry out. It wasn't even quite dry when I got impatient and moved to the next step. Maybe I used too much oil?

3) While that's cooking, chop the chicken thighs into 1"x 1" pieces. Season the chicken with the remaining salt (2t, for the math challenged....). Add the thigh pieces and the bay leaves to the pestata. You want this to cook the chicken a little and let the veggies caramelize on the bottom of the pan some. Adjust the heat for that effect. Cook for about 5 minutes more total. NOTE: My grocery did not have thighs. Just breasts. (heh, heh.) So I used those instead. They worked in this recipe, but THIGHS ARE BETTER. The darker meat gives a more intense flavor all around. If it was the first time I had eaten it, I would have been impressed with the breasts. But having had the thighs......no contest.

4) Add the wine and let it cook down, scraping the bottom of the pan to get the brown bits up and in the liquid. When the wine has mostly evaporated, add the chicken stock and the rice. Bring the pot to a boil and then put a lid on it and turn the heat down. Cook for 14 minutes or until the rice is done. The chicken will definitely be cooked at this point if you've been stewing cubes of it for that long. NOTE: I think my stove wasn't on high enough because this took longer than 14 minutes. Is this the appropriate time to mention my loathing of electric stoves????? AAAAAAAARGH. It was still pretty water-y at 14 minutes. I let it go a little bit longer, and then just stirred the heck out of it and it worked.

5) Add the parsley, grated parmesan and the butter. Stir it up and serve. Top it with more cheese if you like. I think it needs just a touch of salt, too.

Wife rating: Excellent
Preschooler rating: Ate it without complaining. So.....also excellent.

January 5, 2012

Light(er) Chicken Pot Pie

I've been craving chicken pot pie lately, but I'm trying to be somewhat mindful of calories, so I thought I'd try my hand at a recipe I'd bookmarked from the Food Network website. (Sometimes late at night, I just cruise around food websites bookmarking recipes I want to try...). It was listed as a Light Chicken Pot Pie, so I figured it fit the bill. 

Some people follow the rule of "Try a recipe once and then modify it to make it yours after that." I usually just modify it from the get-go. Where's the fun if you're not winging it just a little? I wanted to cut the meat content a little bit, and I remembered that the only place I ever like mushrooms is in a Chicken Wild Rice soup. I figured this was in the same creamy, chicken-y vein as that soup, so I thought I'd try tossing some mushrooms in to see what happened. 

So here's what I did:

I'm not a huge fan of rotisserie chicken. I find it's usually way too greasy and I'd rather flavor up the chicken myself. This recipe was going to need some broth, so I decided to poach the chicken with a carrot, celery, half an onion, a crushed clove of garlic, a bay leaf and some dried thyme.

I tossed in 3 chicken breasts and covered the whole shebang with water and then got it rolling. I just brought it to a boil and then let it simmer for about 45 minutes. (Note: I had more chicken than I needed and ended up saving some of it to put on a salad or something, so I'm only putting 2 chicken breasts in the recipe). While this was happening, I had 2 russet potatoes baking in the oven for about the same amount of time. 

When it was done, I pulled the potatoes out of the oven and the chicken out of the water and let it all cool. I strained the solids from the broth and put the broth back on at a high heat to let it boil down and concentrate the flavors a bit. 

While the broth was boiling and the chicken and potatoes were cooling, I got started on my pot pie filling. I sauteed the other half of the onion, a shallot and 5 carrots cut into pretty large slices. I let that go for just a few minutes and then...

added in some mushrooms. I used pre-sliced baby bellas. As I said before, I don't love mushrooms usually, so I just threw the whole package in, since I knew I wouldn't use them for anything else. I let it all saute for another 3-4 minutes, then stirred in 3 tablespoons of flour. 

I let the flour toast up for 2 - 3 minutes and then added the milk (1/3 cup), chicken broth (about 3 cups), celery (3 stalks) and the baked potato (which I had peeled and cut into large chunks). 

I like a pretty thick pot pie filling so I let it simmer for a good 20 minutes. Commenters on the original recipe said that it ended up too soupy, but I used less broth AND let it simmer longer, so I was hoping that would do the trick.

After it was thick enough, I took it off the heat, added the chicken (which I had shredded), 1/2 cup of non-fat greek yogurt and a cup of peas. I added some salt and pepper (to taste) and still felt like it was kind of missing something, so I threw in a little more dried thyme for good measure. 

It looked like it made a ton, but it filled up this 9x9 baking dish almost perfectly. 

I put on the crust (which I made from the original recipe), brushed on a little egg wash, sprinkled on some salt and pepper, popped it in the oven and crossed my fingers. 

Going in.....

And coming out. 

For good measure, here's what it looked like after I took it out of the oven. 

How was it? Pretty good! The carrots, celery and onions had a nice bite to them. I was worried they'd get too soggy but they held up pretty well.

What would I change? I think I under-salted it a bit. There was something about it that seemed a little flat. Maybe some extra spices next time... some sage? rosemary? I skipped the parsley from the original recipe, because I don't really like it. But it might've brought a little extra something to it.

So there you go. And here it is written out all recipe style.

For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
2 tablespoons 2% milk

For the filling:
2 small russet potatoes
1 onion, cut in half (cut one half into large chunks for stock, finely dice the other half for the filling)
6 carrots (1 cut into 3 pieces for stock, 5 cut into large slices for filling)
4 stalks celery (1 cut into 3 pieces for stock, 3 sliced for filling)
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
2 chicken breasts (I used boneless skinless, though with the bone and skin would probably add a ton more flavor)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 package mushrooms
3 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/3 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup fat free plain Greek yogurt
1 cup frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the crust (follows original recipe): Pulse the flour, baking powder and salt in a food processor until combined. Add the butter, one piece at a time, pulsing until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Separate the egg; refrigerate the egg white. Beat the egg yolk and milk in a bowl, then add to the food processor, pulsing until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gather into a ball. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour.

Prepare the filling: Preheat the oven to 425. Prick the potatoes with a fork and put in oven directly on rack. Cook for about 45 minutes, until tender. Meanwhile, put 1/2 onion (cut into large chunks), 1 stalk celery (cut into large pieces), 1 carrot (cut into large pieces), 1 bay leaf, 1 clove garlic (crushed), dried thyme, salt and chicken breasts into saucepan. Cover with water by about 1 inch. Bring to boil and then let simmer for 30 - 40 minutes.

When finished, remove chicken and place on a plate. Remove potatoes from oven and let cool. (When cool, you will need to peel potatoes and cut into medium pieces, and shred chicken.)

Strain solids from broth and return broth to a boil. Keep broth boiling to concentrate flavor while you prepare the rest of the filling.

Heat the olive oil in in a large pan over medium heat. Add remaining onion, shallot and carrots and cook 3-4 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute another 3-4 minutes until onion and shallot are tender. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until lightly toasted, 2-3 minutes. Add milk, 2 1/2 - 3 cups broth, celery and potatoes (cut into medium pieces.) If you do not have enough stock, add storebought chicken broth or water to make 2 1/2 - 3 cups.

Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until desired thickness. Remove from heat and add yogurt, peas and shredded chicken. Pour filling into 9x9 casserole dish. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is big enough to cover casserole dish. Beat the reserved egg white in a bowl. Brush onto dough and season with salt and pepper.

Place on a baking sheet and bake in 425 degree oven for 20 - 25 minutes, until crust is golden brown.

Kicking Things Off

With the new year comes the start of our cooking challenge blog. We've decided to take it easy on ourselves as we start, using ingredients that we both have and cook with regularly. Our hope is that if we have it, other people will have it, too. In our experience, simple and frequently-used ingredients can make for some of the best tasting meals. So we're kicking it off with... chicken

This week, each of us will make a dinner with chicken that we will share here. Check back soon to see what we've made!