Monday, March 28, 2011

Sandwich Showdown - Blog Party

For lunch today I made Cuban Sandwiches from the previous night's pork roast. 

Cuban Sandwich
My favorite time of the day is lunch time.  I am the most voracious and gastronomically adventurous when the clock strikes noon and love a great original sandwich or amped up classic.
No canned ingredients are necessary. Whatever you love to slap between two pieces of bread.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cook Once Eat Twice - Roast Chicken and Chicken Tarragon Salad

Chicken Gravy
Featured Ingredient: Chicken Gravy

I'm cheating a little bit on the secret ingredient as it has more of supporting role than an integral role in this first chicken dish (it's optional).

That said, who doesn't love roast chicken? The simplicity of throwing a raw protein in the oven, basting once and being rewarded with a golden, juicy bird.  Good on its own, with a side of mashed potatoes and the aforementioned gravy PLUS the perfect base for leftovers!
The flavor of this roast chicken is clean and subtle. It is not overly seasoned as this keeps it kid friendly.  The ingredient measures are approximate depending on the size of the bird which can range from 3.5 lbs to 5 lbs. 
Simple Roast Chicken - Recipe #1 
1 small onion quartered
1 stalk celery cut into three pieces
1 large lemon wedge
Salt and Pepper
1 tablespoon fresh italian parsley chopped - you can also substitute 1 tsp of a mild dried herb like marjoram
6 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter softened
P:reheat oven to 400 degrees F
Remove chicken livers etc from inside of chicken.  Rinse inside and out with cold tap water.   Pat dry.  Tuck wings under chicken.
Insert onion, celery and lemon wedge into chicken cavity.  In a microwave safe dish mix herbs with the softened butter - to make a compound butter.  With a butter knife carefully detach skin from the bottom of the chicken breast to form a pocket.  Shove about 5 tablespoons of butter underneath the skin into these pockets and distribute with the back of the butter knife or with your hands.  Try to push some butter onto the top part of the thighs.  Be careful not to pierce skin.
Microwave the remaing butter mixture until melted and brush it all over the chicken.  Sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper.  Truss the chicken legs with kitchen string for better form.
Place chicken on a rack in a 9 X 13 roasting pan. If you don't have a rack it's no big deal.  Add about 1/4 cup of water to the roasting pan. You just don't want it in too large of a roasting pan as the water and any of the juices from the chicken will evaporate and burn onto the pan as the chicken cooks.
Roast for a a 1/2 hour, rotate pan, and baste chicken with juices.  Add more water if there are brown bits on the pan to help form an au jus. Roast for another 25 minutes and check the chicken temperature.  Cook times will vary depending on the size of your bird.  If the thigh registers at 180F and the breast at 165F you are good.  Remove to a rack and let rest for 10-15 minutes.
Simple Roast Chicken with Compound Butter
Heat chicken gravy.  Serve over chicken and mashed potatoes if desired.
Make a wonderful lunch for yourself.
This recipe is very special to me as it reminds me of Copley Square, Boston, Massachusetts 1987.  I fell in love with a quaint little cafe chain called Au Bon Pain when I was a freshman in college.  I would go there after I finished my shift at Mrs. Field's Cookies and later on at Rizzoli Bookstore. I'd sit in this manufactured French cafe and watch people, wait for people and experience that first taste of being on your own in charge of your own destiny.  I didn't love the cafe so much as one of their signature sandwiches - Chicken Tarragon.  I would order this every time... in any Au Bon Pain I could find... for years.  One day, I went into an Au Bon Pain in New York City for lunch and looked at their newly refurbished menu.  That special sandwich was Chicken Tarra-GONE!  After that, I rarely went back.
There are no Au Bon Pain's in my immediate area. I've seen them in airports, but the franchise doesn't have the presence it used to.  I still love that sandwich and memories it inspires.  So like most things that I love that got discontinued, I created a very similar tasting substitute, that reminds me of my favorite time and place in the world.
Chicken Tarragon Salad - Recipe #2
Measures are approximate - The below recipe is based on one serving.
1 cup roasted chicken diced (mostly breast meat, but you can use thigh as well)
1 small celery heart finely diced
1 tbsp mayonnaise or less (I don't like my chicken salad very mayonnaise-y, I just want a little binding to hold it together
Sliced almonds (about the same amount as the diced celery)
1 tsp dried tarragon ( I actually prefer the fresh minty like flavor of dried tarragon to its fresh counterpart).
Pinch of salt and pepper.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Serve on a crusty piece of french bread with a romaine lettuce leaf and tomato if desired. 
One bite of this transports me back.  Who would have thought all those memories could be unleashed by the contents between two pieces of bread.
Chicken Tarragon Salad
Later on in my career, due to disappearance of Au Bon Pain in my neck of the woods, I found another sandwich place I loved with a signature Chicken Salad Sandwich made with fresh dill at a place called Congress Rotisserie. Wouldn't you know that place is gone now too, but I have another variation of my chicken salad recipe with this place in mind, but I'll save that for another time.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Milda's Kitchen LLC - Personal Chef Service

I created a website for my Personal Chef service serving Fairfield County, Connecticut.  I changed over DNS servers (whatever that means) and it is now live.  I did it myself using a site called  For someone who has no idea how to program flash, write html or can design something from scratch -- unless it's a baked good --- it is extremely user friendly and has some nice templates. 

I'm happy with the results. Maybe working in Marketing Services for all those years taught me something. As I'm budget conscious I went with the cheaper package so the site still has the Wix ads.

Check it out:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Can Do Cooking on Top Chef All Stars

I am beginning to think I am ahead of my time, or am definitely on the pulse of at least the trend toward the resurgence of canned goods. Over the last couple of weeks I have seen canned goods thrown into TWO celeb-reality chef shows.  First it was Chopped All Stars with canned haggis and yesterday one of the options on Top Chef All Stars in the quickfire challenge was to create something out of canned goods. Mike assigned that challenge to Antonia.  I have to admit her task was a little bit more daunting as she couldn't use any fresh ingredients. She still came up with a Curry Soup with Shrimp and Andouille Sausage, that looked yummy.
Photo Courtesy of BravoTV

Richard was charged with turning hot dogs into something worthy of fine cuisine, and Mike had to make something in one pot.  Half way through the challenge, Padma threw in another twist.  The chef-testants would assign that "punishment" to each other as well.  Richard could only work with one hand; Mike couldn't use any utensils, and they brought back Carla so they could tie her to Antonia.   Mike's tough pork and beans won the quickfire!
The elimination challenge was assigned by the quickfire winner.  The task... prepare a last supper for either Michele Bernstein, Masahura Morimoto and Spago's Wolfgang Puck.  Mike gave Antonia, Morimoto.  Good strategy.  Richard could have nailed it.  So he gave the Italian girl from L.A. the task of creating a memorable final meal for a veritable Japanese Iron Chef Master! Mike settled on making fried chicken and biscuits for Michele Bernstein.  Thus leaving Richard with Wolfgang Puck.  All the Master chefs chose a meal that reminded them of home and was near and dear to their heart.  The chef-testants had a lot to live up to.

Let's cut to the chase.  Antonia delivered perfect rice, which is no small feat.  Sushi chefs have to master their rice making skills for two years before they move on to anything else.  Unfortunately her miso soup was too salty.  She is a bit heavy handed on the sodium.  I've heard her criticized for this before.  

Mike sous vide his chicken which is in essence simmering it (why) then fried it and his biscuit was an empanada with a egg yolk inside.  Yuck. I'd rather have KFC.

Richard recreated the flavors of Wolfgang Puck's mother and well as adding his own Blais spin to it, without ruining the integrity or expectation of traditional Beef Goulash and Apple Streudel. In the end Richard was safe and onto the finale. Whew!

Mike and Antonia had one last chance to make one bite of whatever in 45 minutes to secure the second spot. Mike made a surf and turf..Lobster over Beef Tartare with Black Olive and Chimichurri Sauce and Antonia made Seared Grouper over a Coconut Lobster Broth .  I hate some of these judges, they are so pretentious.  I was surprised that it came to a 3 to 4 split favoring Mike.  I mean, I never understood the appeal of chopped up uncooked proteins, basically it wasn't cooked and shouldn't win.  Why don't you chew on a raw hamburger... YUM.

I do wish that Antonia won, aside from the fact that she deserved it... but also because I think Richard could easily beat her.

Richard Blais Top Chef???
My vote goes to Richard for the Top Chef All Stars win.  I've been rooting for him all along, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.  He deserves it the most.   I think he got robbed in his season finale.   You can see how much this competition means to him, how much he hungers for that title. I think he is someone who is a little insecure and craves validation, even though it is obvious he is an amazing and creative chef.

I saw the promo for the final episode and read the Bravo TV blog and I'm really concerned that Mike is going to take this from him. Richard is a perfectionist.  It seems to me he tends to overthink things and second guesses himself, which can at times lead to your own demise.  Bravo described it as heart-wrenching and Richard winning wouldn't be heart-wrenching, Mike on the other hand.....  Either way he seems like the nicest, sweetest guy and he has a wonderful family - so he has plenty of more important things in his life than a Top Chef title... but I'm sure it would be nice.

Next week they bring back some "chopped" chefs to help... including this hottie!!!  They should have just kept him for his commentary alone.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Aromatic Automatic Rice Pudding

Featured Ingredient: Evaporated Milk

This is my second attempt at this pudding.  I thought fragrant basmati rice would make a great base for a rice pudding. Inspired by a Indian savory rice dish, I omitted the savory ingredients and balanced the pudding with sweet coconut flavor, the spice of cinnamon and fresh citrusy orange zest. Plus a few plumped up golden raisins for additional texture.

The last time I made this the flavor was good, but the pudding ended up more like a risotto. I figure OK.  Make the pudding and cook the rice simultaneously but separately -- then add together.  What I got was the creaminess of a pudding married with tender grains of rice.  Total cooking time from start to finish about 22 minutes.

Aromatic Rice Pudding - Serves 3

Make the pudding:
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp plus 2 1/2 tsps cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup plus 3 tbsp whole milk
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp coconut extract
1/4 cup golden raisins

Whisk first three dry ingredients in a medium saucepan. Add milk, whisk together.  Turn on to medium heat While mixture warms up continue whisking until bubbly and thickened.  Make sure the mixture is a little thinner than standard pudding as you are going to add rice to it. Remove from heat stir in butter until melted.  Stir in coconut extract and raisins.

Make the rice:
1/3 cup basmatic rice
5 oz. can of Evaporated Milk (add enough water to come up to 1 cup of liquid)
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated orange zest

Heat milk and water until it just starts to boil, you don't want to scald the milk, immediately turn to low and stir in rice.  Let simmer on low for about 15 minutes.  Check doneness of rice and add water if needed, if all the liquid has been absorbed. Cook another 5 minutes until tender. Remove from heat, stir in cinnamon and orange zest.

Put them together:

Put rice into the pudding. If you want a creamier texture add less rice if you love want more texture add all rice.
Aromatic Rice Pudding
This is linked to Melt in your Mouth Mondays on:
Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mediterranean Barley Salad - Go to Your Happy Place

Artichoke Hearts
Featured Ingredient: Artichoke Hearts

Spring is around the corner.  The snow, at least the less than 8 foot piles, have melted, and purple crocuses are appearing in random patches.  In celebration of the turning of the season, I thought I would contribute a refreshing cold salad, studded with colorful vegetables and herbs.

This dish was inspired by one created at my favorite grocery store.  Palmer's Market in Darien, CT has been around since 1921.  What was once a small general store is now a gourmet destination run by the at least the 3rd maybe 4th generation of Palmers. Their prepared deli foods are not what you would expect to find.  Dishes like Pistachio Crusted Mahi Mahi and Lobster Ravioli share space with the more typical Tuna Salad and Country Cole Slaw.  Palmer's is 20 miles away from me, so I'm not in the neighborhood too often.  But when I am in the immediate vicinity you will always find me stocking up on meats, fresh baked monster cookies, and surveying what's behind the glass in the deli section. I affectionately call Palmer's my Happy Place.  If I tell my husband I'm going to my Happy Place he knows exactly where I'm headed. If on the day I go they have Mediterranean Barley Salad (which is not something they offer all the time) my day is made.

It's more of a spring or summer dish so I haven't seen it in a while. So it was time to figure out the recipe myself.  I took a vinaigrette from one recipe that sounded good, cooked the barley and randomly threw in the same ingredients as Palmer's and... Success! It tasted identical if not as wonderful.  As if it was meant to be, I arrived at my Happy Place.

Mediterranean Barley Salad - Serves 6 (as a side dish)

1 cup pearl barley
1tsp olive oil
3 cups chicken stock* (Use vegetable stock for a totally vegetarian option)
1 can artichoke hearts (2/3 cup sliced)
10 Kalamata olives - seeds removed
1/4 cup red onion finely chopped
1/2 cup red pepper diced (You can use red, orange, or yellow or a mix - green not recommended)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 oz. feta cheese diced
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Heat chicken stock and oil to a boil add barley and turn to low. Simmer for 40 minutes until barley is tender.
* You can drain any excess liquid. Layout on a sheet pan lined with parchment to speed up cooling process.

Meanwhile... chop/dice and prep remaining salad ingredients

Barley Salad Prep - I ran out of prep bowls

Make dressing:
Mix lemon juice and sherry vinegar into a bowl.  Add olive oil in a slow stream while whisking to form an emulsion.

Add cooled (not cold) barley to a large bowl.  Add dressing and all ingredients except cheese. Mix well, but gently.  Slowly fold in cheese.

Let chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour, to help mesh the flavors. The olives and feta are very salty so the dish doesn't need any additional salt.

Happy Spring!

Mediterranean Barley Salad

Friday, March 18, 2011

To Russia with Love

For someone like me who least favorite thing is diving into data, I can't get enough of the stats on Blogger.  I spent a little time working in online marketing, back to 2004, before this giant wave of social media and growing digital landscape, so I have some idea of what the stats mean.  I am most intrigued by my audience.  Unfortunately, Blogger only shows my overall top 10 vs. a laundry list of countries.  Those appearing on my top 5 are U.S., Canada, U.K, Germany and RUSSIA.

I am convinced the Russian visitors are the probably the same person.  I've seen a correlation between this person's visits and the search terms. They may have happened upon Uncanny Goodness by accident, but it seems to me that they now type in my URL to find me again. 

Though I appreciate everyone's visits and comments, I wanted to send a special shout out to my Russian friend or friend(s) half way around the world, and let you know. I appreciate you stopping by. 

(Maybe I should turn on the translator feature?)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tuscan Ribollita - Reinventing Soup and Yourself

Chicken Broth, Cannellini Beans
Featured Ingredients: Chicken Broth, Cannellini Beans

Ribollita is the pinnacle leftover soup.  In fact Ribolitta in Italian means twice cooked or reboiled.  The concept being it tastes better the next day.  I'd say this is also true for other Italian dishes, like lasagna and tiramisu. As I recall from culinary school, ribolitta is a Tuscan dish that was basically created from leftover minestrone. Thus reinventing it  into another meal.

I felt a little like Ribollita last night.  I went to a speed networking event in Manhattan.  It's like speed dating for the underemployed. It was actually a lot of fun.  Your mission is to condense who you are, what you do, what are your goals in 2 minutes or less.  If you have 20 years of history under your belt, are looking to change careers and are tackling a couple of key projects at the moment it's not that easy.  The good thing is it forces you to self edit.  I'm not the best at interviews, as I'm not the most articulate person on the fly so the practice was good.  I think that is why I am most comfortable behind a keyboard, or quite honestly with paper and pencil in hand.  As you met each potential contact you needed to reboil your speech. You would start out at a slow simmer and slowly build to a rolling boil and then overflow with your hopes and dreams or at least short term goals.  It was neat to meet people I probably would have never encountered in such a short amount of time.  These were all people from the culinary world, recipe developers, food writers, event planners ranging from just out the school to approaching retirement, a very interesting diverse bunch.

The biggest challenge was having four people on either side of you, yammering about who they were to their partner while trying to listen to your partner and not lose your train of thought when your turn came up.
If it were up to me, I would have used up the extra bit of table they had left over and separated the seats a bit more. This type of networking was good forum for me. As cocktail parties aren't my forte, I don't think I would have been very successful meeting these people if I had to rely on just my mingling skills. On that note, let's mingle some ingredients together and get Ribollita:

Ribollita - Serves 4 or more

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup onion
3 medium carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
3 garlic cloves minced
4 oz. pancetta diced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
Salt and Pepper as needed
1 48 oz. can chicken stock (plus water as needed)

2 cups sliced napa cabbage (the thinner more delicate leaves cook quicker)

1 15 oz. can cannellini beans
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese for garnish

Heat olive oil in a large pot.  Saute onion for 3 to 4 minutes until translucent, add carrots and celery and saute about 3 more minutes.  Add garlic and pancetta and saute for a couple of minutes more. 

Add tomato paste, chicken stock, cabbage and bay leaf and bring to a boil then reduce to simmer. 

Simmer for about 15 minutes until vegetables are near tender. Add canned beans and simmer until heated through. Add parsley in the last couple minutes of cooking.  Taste soup and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. 

Garnish with parmesan cheese.  Serve with bread.

Some hard core ribollita recipes insist on adding bread to the bowl and ladling the soup over the bread.  Up to you!  It really depends if you are a crackers in the soup or crackers on the side kind of person.

Tuscan Ribollita
On the way out of the networking event, I realized I had a little deja vu.  I passed by Michael's Restaurant with its big bow windows that jut out onto 55th St. It was comforting to see with all the restaurants that have come and gone in Manhattan in the last 19 years, that this one was still there.  This familiar sight also reminded me that I used to work in the building on the corner.  It was when I was in my young 20's starting out in the advertising business.  My clearest memory of this place was the office was so dimly lit, you could unintentionally match dark navy and black in your outfit and no one would know the difference.
It's funny when you think about it. I couldn't I have predicted when I walked this street back then, that nearly 20 years later I would be on this same block, reboiling and reinventing myself.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Can Do Cooking on Food Network Chopped All-Stars

Featured Ingredient: Canned Haggis

I applaud the diabolical staff who put together those crazy chef baskets on Chopped. For the all-stars edition they have really upped the ante with ingredients that seem more like a dare than something you would think would work in a cohesive and flavorful dish. Sunday's episode felt like it had Uncanny Goodness in mind.
This episode of Food Network All Stars featured an appetizer round with a basket filled with teething biscuits, hungarian hot peppers, raspberries, and canned haggis. For those who aren't natives of Scotland, haggis is organ meat, mixed with onions, oats and spices - so there already is a built in challenge of trying to make something like that taste good.  It's unappetizing even in its "freshest" form so you can imagine what I might be like canned.  I haven't even found this product in my local international market.  Are they too embarrassed to carry it?  I've seen cans in my Stop andShop for "Spotted Dick" so carrying canned haggis can't be much worse.

The featured chefs were Anne Burrell, Robert Irvine, Claire Robinson and Duff Goldman. The first two chefs created something not only palatable and even whimsical.  Robert went the traditional route and put a modern twist on bangers and mash. Anne made a grilled flat bread and stuffed it with a combination of the haggis and other ingredients,and made a dish that might even rival some of the New York street vendors.

The point is they made a canned product that looked akin to dog food when opened into not only something edible but according to the judges, very good.  While we may not be the level of chef of these two food network stars, we can make some tasty restaurant worthy dishes with canned goods.  Come on in and explore.

As an aside, for a really funny review of this episode, check out the Food Network Humor blog.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Smoky Tomato Bisque with Arugula and Cashew Cream

Featured Ingredients: Tomatoes and Vegetable Broth

As winter draws to a close, and what a winter it was, the downside is those cold days that beg for comfort food, will soon be behind us... at least for a while.  In honor of the passing of winter, I figured I would throw in one more soup entry as a last hurrah.

This is a nice rich tomato bisque that is thickened with cashew cream.  For you lactose intolerant folks and vegetarians, this concept may very familiar to you.  I was actually quite intrigued.  The inspiration for this recipe was in an heirloom seeds brochure.  The method and ingredients weren't yielding my desired end result.  The mixture ended up being a creamy but gritty tomato mixture, not optimal for a soup.  

My method is modified so that you separately create the cashew cream to incorporate later in the recipe. This way you can strain out any pulverized bits of nuts and finish with a smoother end result.

Note: You don't have to worry about perfectly chopping the onion or garlic as the final mixture will be pureed.

Smoky Tomato Bisque with Arugula and Cashew Cream

1/2 cup raw cashews (must be raw)
1/2 cup hot water
Olive oil as needed
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
1 28 oz. can Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can Vegetable Stock
2 tsps salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder (Add more if you like more heat. This provides a subtle burn on your throat)
1 cup chopped arugula
2 tbsps chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup water or more to thin

1. Make the cashew cream.  Heat water to boiling.  Put nuts in a heat proof bowl or pyrex measuring cup.  Pour hot water over cashews (there should be enough water to submerge the nuts).  Let this soak for at least a 1/2 hour. The raw nuts absorb the water and turn this:

Into This.

Pulverize the nuts and water in a high speed blender. If your cream is too thick, thin it out with some water. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan and saute onion until translucent and slightly golden.  Add garlic and saute a couple of minutes until aromatic.  Add tomatoes, vegetable stock, salt, pepper, and chipotle chili powder.  Bring to boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Bisque Pre-Cashew Cream

3. Stir in cashew cream.  Reduce heat and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

4. Let cool and puree soup in batches. Or use an immersion blender.

5. Stir in arugula and basil.  Add remaining 1/3 cup water or more if you would like a thinner soup and heat through.

6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Smoky Tomato Bisque with Arugula and Cashew Cream
This bisque actually thickens as it sits and becomes a wonderful sauce.  Serve it the next day over penne pasta with grated smoked gouda, for a quick dinner.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Vegetable Crumble Casserole

Featured Ingredients: Diced Tomatoes and Vegetable Broth

This recipe comes courtesy of one of my clients. It has been in their family for a while and is one of their staples as the head of household is a vegetarian.  Since my client pointed this out to me when I met with her, I figured I would start my first meal with them, with something they know and love.  I did a test run in my own kitchen on Sunday with a variation on the root vegetables that they like. 

Loaded with heart healthy nuts and satisfying, hearty vegetables, this makes for a great side or filling main meal.  I brought the cookbook back today, so I'm doing this from memory.  This is from an English cookbook so the recipe is in oz and grams.  So get out your kitchen scale.

Vegetable Crumble Casserole - Fits an 8 X 11 baking dish

10 oz. whole wheat flour
3 oz. butter (enough to turn the whole wheat flour into a coarse meal)
4 oz. grated cheddar cheese
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
salt & pepper

1 large onion
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 lbs. mixed root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, red potatoes, sweet potatoes.. - whatever you like)
olive oil as needed
salt and peper to taste
1 oz. whole wheat flour
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp crushed fennel seed
(the herbs are my add)

Rub butter and flour together with your hands to make a coarse meal, then mix with cheddar, nuts, and seeds.

Chop vegetables in varying sizes, depending on how quickly the vegetables soften, so that they cook as evenly as possible.  Put the chopped vegetables in a bowl and toss with a little bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Over medium heat melt 2 tbsp butter in a large sautoir or skillet with high sides. Saute onion for about 5-8 minutes until soft.  Add vegetables and saute for 10 minutes.  Add flour, tomatoes, stock and milk. Stir and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes until "sauce" has thickened and vegetables are nearly tender.

Transfer to a baking dish and top with the crumb topping.  Press topping into the vegetables.

Bake at 375 for about a 1/2 hour until bubbly.

Vegetarian Crumble Casserole

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sesame Tahini

Sesame Tahini
Featured Ingredient: Sesame Tahini

I feel like I haven't blogged in so long. This week was crazy.  Interviews, lunches, networking... I definitely wasn't bored.  I am proud to say I got an offer to be a personal chef on Thursday and I'm still waiting on another client.  As I don't have extensive experience in fine dining, but many years as a recreational cook, I do appreciate these people giving me a chance. So I have been spending the weekend thus far testing recipes for Monday's dinner, and by golly two of them contain canned goods!

One family is very health-conscious, with the head of household being vegetarian.  I was racking my brain and going through my recipe book trying to find a baked good, that didn't use white flour or white sugar and actually tasted good that I could serve for dessert.  I was intrigued by this one from Eating Well.  The sesame tahini got me. I modified a few ingredients and was very happy with the results.  It tastes on the healthy side with the oatmeal texture, but has a hint of sinfulness with the chocolate chips. It is a firm cookie, but doesn't turn into a hockey puck after it has cooled.  Hope my new client likes them.  My kids did, and it is a chore to get them to eat anything with nutritional value.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies - Makes about 35 cookies

2 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1 cup whole wheat PASTRY flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup tahini (make sure to remix it as the oil separates in the can)
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 egg white
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips ( I used bittersweet)

How to:

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 350F.

Whisk oats, flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.

Open tahini and remix with an electric or stand mixer until smooth. Beat remixed tahini with butter until blended into a thickened but loose paste.  Add sugar and continue beating until well combined. (The mixture will still be grainy). Beat in whole egg, then egg white then vanilla. Stir in the oat mixture by hand with a wooden spoon or spatula until just moistened.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Using a tablespoon measure scoop out a rounded tablespoon of batter - remove batter with another spoon and with damp hands roll the batter into a ball.  Place on a ungreased cookie sheet and set each little ball two inches apart. Continue with remaining batter.  Once cookie sheet is full, press down on each ball to flatten (but don't let sides crack).

Bake cookies until golden brown about 15 minutes.  Be sure to rotate pans from back to front and switch pans from top to bottom mid way through baking. Cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool.   Let pans cool for a few minutes before baking another batch.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sesame Tahini

Each cookie is only 102 calories.  So be healthy and indulge!  You can store these for up to 2 days in an airtight container or freeze if you just can't bear to throw them away and want to pace yourself so you can enjoy these over a longer period of time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shepherd's Pie with Bison

Featured Ingredient:

I've been staring at that square package of bison for years.  (Not the same one, just every time I look in the organic, more expensive meat section at Stop & Shop it taunts me.)  I'm not too adventurous when it comes to meat.  I've tried ostrich in the past.  I ate boar and sweet breads (the thymus gland of a calf) in culinary school, so maybe I could handle this. It is funny that sweet breads are considered part of the "offal" family of cuisine. Take a second and think about what "offal" sounds like.

 I took the plunge and bought the ground bison meat.  Flavor and texture wise bison it wasn't much of a departure from ground beef.   I figure next time I'll make bison sliders and call them "buffalo chips."

The bison was an interesting twist on a very traditional dish of Shepherd's Pie.  This dish reminds me of the my childhood as it was 1 of the 5 dishes in my mother's evening meal rotation.  After she went back to work when I was 10, peeling the potatoes became one of my after school responsibilities, so they were ready when she came home.

In spite of the bison, this is not my mother's shepherd's pie. 
Serves 6

1 lb ground bison or ground beef
1 small onion chopped
2 large garlic cloves minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine (merlot)
1/2 cup beef broth
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup frozen mixed peas and carrots*

Peel potatoes and put them on to boil.

Brown beef in a large skillet and drain a a majority of the fat.  Remove to another plate.  In remaining fat add onion and saute until nearly translucent.  Add garlic and saute a couple of minutes until fragrant. Return bison to skillet and add thyme, marjoram, tomato paste, wine, broth, and worcestershire sauce, stir to combine. Add peas and carrots. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer, until beef mixture is slightly thickened and vegetables are tender - about 8 minutes.

1 lb russet potatoes, peeled, cut up and boiled until very tender
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup or more 2% milk as needed
Salt and Pepper to taste

When potatoes are cooked, add cream, butter and parmesan cheese and milk.  Mix and mash.  Add additional milk if needed to get a creamy, smooth, yet slightly stiff and spreadable consistency.  You should be able to stand a fork in it.

Put meat in bottom layer of baking dish and top with potatoes.

To Bake or Not to Bake:

Most Shepherd's Pie recipe recommend baking the dish 25 minutes at 350-400 degrees. I don't think this makes the dish taste any better. It forms a skin on the top potato layer and delays the time before you can dig into this comforting deliciousness.  If you want a nice presentation, throw it under the broiler for a few minutes - under close watch until lightly browned.  Otherwise when you spread the potatoes over the meat,  you are technically done.

Shepherd's Pie with Bison
*My mom used canned peas and carrots for her pie. Even though this blog is all about Uncanny Goodness, I feel canned peas and carrots produce an inferior final product for this particular application vs. the frozen vegetables. The tenderness of the frozen veggies holds up better during the cooking process.  You can still use canned veggies in a pinch.