Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tortellini Soup with Chicken

Featured Ingredient: Diced Tomatoes

Here is a nice variation for those nights when you have had enough ravioli with sauce, but not enough time to make much more of anything else.  The preparation and cook time can vary based on how much time you have.  If you have a little more time to spare, I would recommend simmering the soup so it can develop more flavor.  If not you can rapidly increase its finish time by boiling the ingredients.

This makes a nice side or a main dish soup with some crusty Italian bread and a salad. I adapted this recipe from an old Family Circle cookbook.

Chicken Tortellini Soup - Serves 6

Extra virgin olive oil as needed
1 large onion chopped = to 1 cup
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
3 cloves garlic minced
8 cups low sodium chicken broth (canned or two boxes)
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes undrained
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp dried basil
2 dried bay leaves
9 oz. tri-colored cheese tortellini
1 cup sliced cooked chicken
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese as desired

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot.  Add onion, carrot and celery and "sweat" the vegetables over a low medium heat (don't brown) until the onion starts to become translucent - about 5 minutes.

Add garlic and saute for about 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant.  Be sure not to let garlic brown, or it can add a bitter taste.

Add broth, tomatoes, marjoram, basil and bay leaves.  Heat to boiling.  Reduce to a simmer and add tortellini, chicken, salt and pepper.  Simmer until vegetables are tender and tortellini is how you like it.  I like my tortellini a little softer and past al dente so they are at their "plumpiest". 

If you are on a time schedule or are really hungry.  You can speed up the cooking process after you heat ingredients to a boil by continuing to boil everything is tender.   I don't recommend a vigorous boiling, but maybe a rolling boil will complete your dish faster without totally obliterating the tomatoes.  It's a very forgiving soup either way.

Top with grated parmesan cheese

You could also try this with meat tortellini and eliminate the cut up chicken.

Now that I think about it I should have made Italian Wedding Soup for today's blog post with little meatballs and escarole as my second cousin the "Un-Valley Girl" got married today in Canada.  Oh well, maybe Italian Wedding Soup isn't the most appropriate choice as we are Lithuanian. I wish her a great honeymoon and a future filled with love, comfort and comfort food.  Can't wait to see her pictures on Facebook.

Tortellini Soup with Chicken

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Dessert Disasters

Featured Ingredient: Frustration

I think we've all been there.  You are in charge of an entree, a dessert or even the entire meal and something goes horribly wrong, just doesn't work, or goes beyond the point of salvaging.  Welcome to my Easter Weekend.

I was going to make fruit tart.  I usually buy the large pre-made sponge shell and fill it with vanilla pastry cream and fresh fruit.  This year, I couldn't find the shell, so I figured I could make a crust.  I found one with almond paste (in a can) that I thought I would share on my blog. It turns out that was the beginning of the tart from hell. The instructions were not that descriptive and using my limited pastry behavior knowledge I combined the ingredients and let it rest in the fridge.  The dough was very moist and when rolled out kept falling apart.  Fortunately it was extremely forgiving and I was able to put it back together in the tart pan.
Before the disaster

 However, when I blind baked the crust, I got baked sides and an uncooked bottom.  Maybe I should have poked holes in it.  The recipe I got this from said to just throw it in the oven.  But I made that mistake with quiche in the past, where the dough rose so there was no divet left for pastry cream and fruit.   So that went in the garbage.

This recipe also had a method for a mock pastry cream.  I think the proportions were wrong because I got a yellow blob that wouldn't leave my whisk... this however I was able to thin out and save with some low fat milk... Thank heaven for small favors.

Take 2.  I would make straight tart dough. 

One of the annoying things about dough is it is a long process. You have to make your dough... let it rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour, then hope it rolls out OK, then hope it doesn't crack when you bake it. If it fails in the 3rd step and you have to redo it, that's another at least hour and half you have to invest. Versus something like whipped cream. If you let it go too far, you just pour in more whipping cream, powdered sugar and vanilla and let it run again for 5 minutes.

I've made dough in a stand mixer so I started the process there, then when the butter was more incorporated, I finished kneading by hand.  I formed it into a ball and put it in the fridge.  When I tried to roll it out, the dough kept cracking.  Again I was able to reform it in the tart pan.  But when it baked the dough shrunk so it looked a broken sidewalk.

That was it for tarts for now.  I still had Sunday morning.

Since my kids don't eat fruit, I thought I could bake a marbled angel food cake and serve it with ice cream and chocolate sauce. It said to bake it on the lower third of the oven?? Ungreased tube pan?? I even reduced my baking time, because my oven tends to bake stuff faster. What did I get but a slighly burned cake stuck to the tube pan that never even rose properly. I never made angel food cake before and the recipe I used didn't explain how to incorporate the flour in as well as another recipe I read later. I got a gummy more dense cake, not the ethereal light hi-rise cake I see in the stores.

Tart Take 3
Now that I ran out of butter and was nearly out of flour.  I ran to Stop & Shop which is ALWAYS open and restocked.  I swallowed my pride and bought an Angel Food Cake.  For the tart I was going to go with prepared pie crust as I was running out of time.  Pie crust is a bit different than tart crust, but I use it for quiche and it's close enough.

Would you believe this also cracked! But only a little spot which I figured wouldn't matter. When I went to remove the bottom of the tart pan after I put the tart on cake tray, the sides and bottom cracked a little more.  Oh my god. At that point I had one hour left.  I gently put the one side back together and added my pastry cream.  Fortunately with the consistency of the pastry cream, you don't have too worry too much about it oozing all over the place. In fact I was rather surprised when I finally served the tart, all the parts stayed together rather well.  My husband said if you didn't tell anybody about the cracks no one would have known... or honestly cared.

In spite of the fact that I was baking for the holiest day of the year, and one of the desserts I was making was angel food cake, God was not on my side. 

So what did we learn?
  • If you are cooking for a special occasion use a proven recipe or really reliable source
  • It's OK to substitute a store bought product or shortcut in cases of dire emergency
  • If the meal was for your family they will still love you for the effort
  • If it was for your business, use it as a learning experience and find another client -- the beauty of the food industry is everybody eats!
  • We all make mistakes so just try to laugh it off
And...take a step back, maybe it's not so bad

Tart from Hell

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This Top Chef Masters ain't no Top Chef All-Stars or even the last Top Chef Masters

I love the Top Chef series.  I've watched episodes from each one... and followed Top Chef All Stars very closely.  As that competition is over and perhaps Bravo is casting a new group of chef hopefuls for its next season we have Top Chef Masters.  I watched the last edition of Top Chef Masters which seems to be reverse of this season. Last time it was a poorly casted host and a stellar group of chefs (that I've heard of) including Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller.  This time the host, Curtis Stone, is perfectly delicious in this role but the contestants are a bunch of nobodys with the exception of two chefs that I've seen before, Chef Traci and Chef Tio.  It's akin to this season of Survivor that brought in a new group and peppered in Rob and Russell from seasons... Plural...past most likely in attempt to boost ratings. One tribe made the mistake of throwing a challenge to get rid of Russell and that began their demise... but that is another recap.

Chef Traci is the one that looks like she is always angry.  I would agree that she deserves to be in this competition as she kicked Mario Batali's butt on Iron Chef. Apparently, one chef is vegetarian so he can't taste his meat dishes... I mean seriously there was no other carnivorous chef to choose from?

I caught last week's episode, which did not do much in terms of influencing me to set my Tivo this week. The quickfire judge was Kelis.  I thought the only food she was familiar with was a "Milkshake".  If you don't understand the reference that was her one hit wonder.  She was billed as a grammy-nominated artitst as well as a trained chef. Maybe she should go back to cooking as her music career has gone nowhere.


For the elimination challenge the chefs needed to update classic dishes from the 1960's.  They brought in Christina Hendricks (the red head with the big boobs) from Mad Men and her husband who is also some marginal actor. I had a hard time getting through the show at this point.  One chef had to update ambrosia which seemed too much beneath him.  That's Uncanny Goodness right there especially with the mandarin oranges.

Some chef I never heard of lost.  Oh well. I'm super disappointed with the casting of this Top Chef Masters season. I didn't even spot any rivalry or bad chemistry to keep the show interesting.  I'll wait for the next Top Chef.  Let me know if you agree or disagree.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dark Chocolate Lentil Brownies

Black Lentils
Featured Ingredient:

In my ongoing for quest for canned goods, I came across canned lentils in a local natural food store.  I wanted to challenge myself with something more than lentil soup and figured I would go in a totally different direction and venture into dessert territory - Lentil Brownies.

If that sounds crazy to you, I encourage you to read on.  Or maybe you are more adventurous since you were already searching for something like this.  Before you start running for the hills, this is truly a scrumptious brownie.  I even surprised myself.  If someone told me a few years ago you could make a delicious, moist brownie, using lentils that doesn't have the taste or texture of cardboard, I would have thought they were out of their mind.  Recently, I've come across other blog posts raving about black bean brownies, I thought maybe I could try something similar using canned lentils.  I found that pureed lentils work great in brownies.  There isn't a gritty taste and because lentils themselves are relatively flavorless they assume whatever flavor you put into them.

I like to eat healthy, but I'm not someone who goes to extremes. I also like to indulge, especially with dessert.  This brownie is a perfect marriage of healthy and indulgent.  Somewhere between fudgy and cakey,  it's not overly dense and has a moist, light, mouthfeel.  The other beauty of this brownie is cuts so easily.  Some brownies can be overly crumbly and very difficult to slice into equal portions.

Dark Chocolate Lentil Brownies - 8 X 8 inch pan

One 15 oz. canned black lentils (rinsed and drained)
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
3 large eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
4 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Confectioner's sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350F

In a food processor, pulse lentils until smooth.

In a large bowl mix dry ingredients -  flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, cream of tartar and salt

In a smaller bowl whisk together wet ingrdents - eggs, applesauce, grapeseed oil and vanilla.  Whisk in pureed lentils.

Put the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold with a spatula until combined, trying not to overwork the batter. Fold in chocolate chips.

Looks like brownie batter to me
Pour brownie mix into an 8 X 8 inch pan.  My husband bought that perfect brownie pan (which is approximately that size). I don't use the dividers but it does have a bottom like a springform pan that you can push out.

Bake for about 25 minutes until the batter looks set and a toothpick comes out nearly dry, with a little chocolate on it.

This brownie has vitamins, fiber, protein from the lentils and the applesauce; antioxidants from the dark chocolate; and is low fat because of grapeseed oil.  Plus it tastes good too.   My picky, junk-food friendly kids even enjoyed them.

Now here's the truth: the brownies are not very pretty by themselves... They may even look burned to you.

However, that is nothing a little powdered sugar can't fix.  As the brownies are not overly sweet on their own, the addition of the confectioner's sugar adds just a hint more of sweetness that strikes a perfect balance.

Give these a try.  I dare you. :)

Dark Chocolate Lentil Brownies

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Easy Surf and Turf Paella

Chicken Broth and Diced Tomato
Featured Ingredients: Chicken Broth X 2 and Petite Diced Tomatoes

I miss my blog.  I started a new job on Wednesday.  Back in Marketing, the old 9 to 5 grind... but really, who in Marketing works 9 to 5?  After the 25 mile commute against traffic and wolfing down whatever my husband threw together for dinner, chasing down my boys to do homework, walking the dog, or working out, there is not much energy left to cook. I don't have the pleasure of the extra time anymore. 

On the flip side, my culinary choices are based now even more on recipes with fewer ingredients or things that can simmer or bake so I can multi-task. So now Uncanny Goodness really lives up to its Time Saving philosophy.

That said, what's easier than the one pot meal.  Now that the snow and ice dams have melted, the trees are budding and robins are scurrying around, stew weather is behind us.  But the crisp spring air is perfect for a satisfying paella.

I make mine with chorizo. Chorizo is available in varying degrees of heat. I used this kind:

It says it's hot, but it was a mild heat. Only a little more kick than kielbasa.(Trust me I'm a wuss when it comes to spicy food.) Whole Foods sells a really good chorizo, which I wouldn't classify as hot. If hot is your thing, you can use Andouille or Linguica or a hotter Chorizo.

I also add chicken.  This is a great way to use up leftover cooked chicken, from say a store-bought rotisserie chicken.  Finally, to me, a paella is not complete without some form of seafood, so I add shrimp.  My older son and I are the only shrimp eaters.  So in this case, I saute them separately and place them on the plate that wants them.  By cooking and adding them last minute, this also ensures that the shrimp don't get overdone and gummy.  Plus it takes not time to cook them in a saute pan.

Easy Surf and Turf Paella - Serves 8

Extra virgin olive oil as needed
12 oz. package or 4 links chorizo sausage sliced into about 1/2 in rounds
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 cup diced red pepper
2 gloves garlic minced
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
1/4 tsp turmeric (turns rice yellow and cheaper than saffron)
1 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 14.5 oz. cans low sodium chicken broth
1 cup diced cooked chicken 
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
salt and pepper to taste
24 shrimp, shelled and deveined (less if not everyone is a shrimp eater)
1/2 lemon for lemon juice
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

In a heavy 12 inch pan, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium heat.  Saute chorizo about 4-5 minutes until it starts to brown.  Remove from pan.  Add red pepper and saute about 2 minutes to start cooking process, scraping up brown bits.  Remove to the pan with sausage.  Add onion and saute until translucent 3 to 4 minutes.  Add rice and toast a few minutes until you start to see translucent grains 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in turmeric, tomatoes and broth, scraping any more brown bits. Stir in chicken.  Heat to a boil and reduce to a low simmer.   To borrow a line from Guy Fieri... Everybody in the pool.

Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Check liquid level and doneness of rice.  Add a little water if needed Stir in peas. NOTE: the peas will also release a little water.  Cook about 5 more minutes.  Finish with parsley.

Separately, squeeze a little lemon juice on your shrimp.  I usually put them in a colander with a bowl underneath.  Heat a non-stick saute pan with 1 tbsp olive oil.  Add shrimp and saute. Turn shrimp over when you start to see pink underneath.  Shrimp should take more than 5 minutes to cook.  When they are pink and begin to curl they should be done.  

Plate paella and top with shrimp.

Easy Surf and Turf Paella

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bruise-Berry Cornmeal Muffins

Quaker Corn Meal
Featured Ingredient:  Cornmeal

There is a sense of accomplishment when you use up those last bit of random ingredients and turn them into something yummy.  That's what I did last night. I call these berry muffins - bruise-berry muffins because the liquids from the fruit bled a bit more than I would have liked.  Didn't compromise the flavor at all, just added a little character to the muffins. 

Nuffins better than muffins. I love all kinds and have the muffin top to prove it.  It's a great on the go snack for any time of day. Since they are basically cake in disguise, you can save yourself a few calories by using the standard 12 muffin pans instead of the super size 6.  They are quick and easy to prepare, only require two bowls and no electric appliances. 

These are a nice hybrid between a corn a blueberry muffin. You get the texture of the corn along with the juicy fruit bite (not the gum). Make these and your family will fight over them.

Makes 12 standard muffins

Cooking Spray as needed
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
4 tbsp sour cream plus 2% milk until it reaches to 1 1/4 (you can also substitute buttermilk)
2 eggs
2 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 1/4 cup mixed berries (I used blueberries and raspberries) - fresh or frozen
(if frozen add while still cold, do not thaw)

Heat oven to 400F.  Lightly spray the bottom of the muffin cups in a standard 12 tin

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and orange zest. 

In a medium bowl, whisk the sour cream, milk (or buttermilk), eggs, and oil until well blended. Make a well in the dry mixture, add wet ingredients and stir until batter is just blended.  Using a spatula, gently fold in the fruit.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake the muffins for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool muffins in the pan on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes before removing.  Cool completely.
Bruise-Berry Cornmeal Muffins

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Deconstructed Ground Lamb Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

Fage Greek Yogurt
Featured Ingredient: Greek Yogurt

I live in a house with 3 boys... rather 1 man, 1 hungry teenager, and one boy.  All die hard carnivores.  As you can imagine, I don't serve a lot of tofu, quinoa, or wheatberry  - unless I hide it in something.  The two older "boys" enjoy lamb gyros.  Without the yogurt sauce I can also sell it to my youngest and pickiest eater as mini hamburger.  It's an easy dish that can be served any time of year. It is especially great in the summer time as I can use an outdoor grill vs. my indoor grill pan and can enhance the sauce and the burger with fresh herbs from my garden.  This is the early spring recipe.

Lamb Patties - Makes 12 small slider size patties
2 lbs ground lamb
3 garlic cloves finely minced and crushed with back of knife
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp Fage Greek Yogurt from an 7 oz. container

Tzatziki Sauce:
Remaining yogurt from the 7 oz. container
1/2 a cucumber seeds removed and grated
1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
3/4 tsp dried dill weed  - In summer or when available substitute with fresh dill and or fresh mint!!!
Salt and Pepper to taste

Serve with:
Wheat or White Naan Bread - warmed in oven according to package directions
Red Leaf Lettuce
Chopped Tomato
Thinly sliced red onion (if you like)

Prepare Lamb Patties:
Mince garlic:

In large bowl add ground meat and all ingredients up to and including yogurt.  Fold with hands to combine.  Shape meat into about 1 inch meatballs and flatten to make 2 inch or so wide patties.  Set aside in fridge to let flavors meld.

Prepare Tzatziki Sauce:

Add yogurt to a small bowl. Grate cucumber into yogurt. Add red wine vinegar, salt and herbs. Taste and adjust seasonings.

On a grill or grill pan set to medium heat, cook meat on both sides until 165F. 

Deconstructed Ground Lamb Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce
Israeli couscous makes a great side dish to this Middle Eastern treat!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Top Chef All-Stars Winner - Richard Blais. Fabio Robbed of Fan Favorite.

Hooray, Richard Blais won Top Chef All-Stars.  I'm glad he won because he came so close in his season and I feel he got robbed, so this win was just pure justice. Now he truly has it all. Family, Notoriety and Success.  Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. 

According to the editing it seemed like a neck to neck race through the entire final show. Besides Richard winning my favorite part of the show was when Gail Simmons, off site at some finale party in Chicago, said you'll find out in 30 seconds who is Top Chef ... at 10:30 p.m. (Obviously she meant 30 minutes). I guess that's what can happen when you are live.

While I hoped that Richard would win, I think the producers of Top Chef All-Stars knew they would get an onslaught of hate mail if ultimately Mike Isabella won the title. Who really got the shaft was Fabio for fan favorite.  Instead it went to Carla Hall?  I mean she's endearing with her "food is love" philosophy, but Fabio is far more charming, far funnier and just a joy to watch. He is also extremely likeable.  Why this man doesn't have a national endorsement by now, is really beyond me. Apparently their scores were very close, but Carla edged him out.

Since I voted for Fabio, TWICE, here is my interpretation.  Similar to American Idol you can vote multiple times.  If I am not mistaken for this contest I think you could have voted up to like 82 times.  Carla may have had a giant posse to keep voting for her until each person's voting maxed out.   How do you think that no talent Nikki what's her face on the first season of American Idol got to third place behind Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson and knocked out far more talented singers.  Who's was Nikki, you say... Exactly.

Looking forward to the finale of Chopped All-Stars on Sunday.  I'm hoping either Aaron Sanchez or Nate Appleman wipe the floor with Anne Burrell.  Her bigger than life personality comes across as just arrogant and not in a such over the top endearing way like Gene Simmons. That contestant from The Next Food Network star, has a better personality... but unfortunately I don't think has a prayer.