Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ham Biscuits! (and Denver)

Mmmm, biscuits. Now add ham--and cheese if you want--and you have something even better: a ham biscuit. The idea comes from Southern cuisine, but I used my favorite cornmeal biscuits (click on that link, people; they're so good, ham or no). This would be a nice way to use up leftover Easter ham.

Right now, I'm in Denver for the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference. It starts tomorrow, and is filled with 4 days of culinary seminars and networking with folks in all areas of the food industry. I'm so excited! Of all the sessions I signed up for, I think I'm most looking forward to "Bison is Big" and "Bourbon: America's Native Spirit." I have to admit that I'll feel very snazzy once I become a Bourbon expert!

Denver is a lot of fun. I've been here a couple times before on business trips. I made reservations for one of my favorite restaurants, Rioja, over a month ago, and I can almost taste the gnocchi and pork belly. Tonight I had a yummy, light sushi dinner at Sonoda's in LoDo. And my last Denver tip for the day: The free shuttle bus on the 16th Street Mall downtown is genius.

I'll keep you posted about what I'm learning (and eating!) here at the conference. Or you can follow me on twitter @JulieTastes. But in the meantime, you can gaze at that lovely ham biscuit.

Have any of you spent time in Denver? Do you live in Denver? If so, what do you think about the downtown area? I haven't really been very far outside of that downtown mall area and the LoDo district. And if you can recommend a fun brew pub with good food in downtown, I would be thrilled!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spinach & Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts

I've been on quite a kick with chicken breasts lately. It wasn't very long ago, however, that I looked on them with a bit of scorn. They're tasteless! They're dry! They're only beloved by chronic dieters! All these complaints seemed totally reasonable. And really, when it comes to chicken, meat on the bone is tastier than off.

But I've evolved. Actually, I've figured out that I feel really satisfied when I have a serving of meat in my meals, and chicken breasts really fit the bill: They're quick! They're versatile! They're inexpensive! Although I've never been a vegetarian, I would often eat meals that didn't center around a piece of meat, like bean burritos or quinoa soup with a poached egg. I like to think maybe my strength-training routines at the gym have turned my muscle tissue into a protein-powered furnace... but it's not as if I look like Xena Warrior Princess, so who knows!

Since I mostly eat healthy, I like to feel full so I won't be craving junk food. I roasted fish all the time, and I've been broiling chicken breasts nonstop to make tacos, salads, sandwiches, whatever. One night, I decided to do something different and the result was these stuffed chicken breasts. I used exactly what I had in the refrigerator at the time, which was spinach (always have that actually), red onion and Feta.

I was dubious that stuffing my boneless, skinless chicken breasts would work at all. I did a quick search and didn't find any good recipes that used the boneless kind. Still, I thought I'd give it a try. I was thrilled with the outcome. I decided to bake at a not-too-scorching 375 degrees, and I think that helped keep the chicken super moist. The filling couldn't have hurt either, and was really tasty in its own right. You can't go wrong with slightly caramelized red onions, sauteed spinach and salty cheese.

One final note: The off-putting thing about stuffed chicken breasts, in my opinion, is cutting the pocket in the meat. You're afraid you'll cut straight through or you'll screw it up somehow. Forget about it. I thought the same thing, but it's the simplest procedure. You do need chicken breasts that are on the larger side (about 6 ounces should work). But just think about making a pocket, and you'll figure it out for sure.

Spinach & Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts
This recipe is perfect for adaptations. How about blue cheese or goat cheese? Or you might replace the spinach with chopped tomatoes (sun dried perhaps?) and leafy herbs.

Serves 4

Cooking spray
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 handfuls of spinach (about 3 cups)
4 large boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)
2 ounces Feta, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted and very soft, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

With a small, sharp knife, make a horizontal cut to create a pocket in each chicken breast. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Stuff the spinach mixture and Feta into the pockets. They should be full, but you don't want a lot of filling bursting out. You may have leftover filling. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until chicken is opaque in the thickest part. Serve immediately.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hors d'Oeuvres for Champagne

In honor of my third wedding anniversary TODAY, I'm posting some fantastic hors d'oeuvres recipes I tried out recently. Any or all of these would be lovely with a bottle of this:

Or any variety of bubbly you want to drink. I'm all for the real thing (a wine can only be labeled "champagne" if it's from the French region of Champagne), but I also love Prosecco, Cava (you can't beat Freixenet brut in the black bottle for about $10) and California sparklers too (Chandon's "brut classic" has a great balance of fruity and toasty flavors, and retails at around $17).

But now on to food. I love doing 3 or 4 hors d'oeuvres and appetizers instead of a traditional meal. The picture at the top of the post is a beef fillet rubbed with jerk seasoning, thinly sliced and served on plantain chips (from the supermarket--no deep frying necessary!) with a little cilantro and onion. Really cute, right? And so simple. Here's the recipe.

The little bites on my lovely leaf platter above are a bit hard to see; they're miso-glazed eggplant bites with shiitake mushrooms (also from my fave recipe source of late, Gourmet magazine). Again, these are easy but they make a big impact on your tastebuds. One hint: You can substitute dry Sherry for the mirin. I love Asian flavors with champagne. Especially if your dish has chiles for heat, you'll love the crisp, effervescent scrape of sparkling wine on your palate. Champagne also works well with vegetables, which are often challenging to pair with wine.


And finally, an oldie but goodie. Champagne and caviar is not a cliche/classic because it sucks. Of course, there's no need to buy expensive imported caviar for these potato canapes. I think the clean salty-sweet little eggs in the photo above are simply salmon roe. Very affordable. I served it on blanched sliced potatoes with sour cream and dill. No recipe for this one...just assemble!

So if these hors d'oeuvres strike your fancy, pop a cork and celebrate with us! Here are a few more recipes from past posts that are very nice with a bottle of bubbly. Happy Anniversary, Sweetie!!!

More Hors d'Oeuvres that love Champagne:

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms
Stuffed Mushrooms with Arugula and Prosciutto
Gruyère Gougères
Mike's Skewered Shrimp Egg Rolls
Thai Fried Hard-Boiled Eggs
Chicken Liver Mousse with Apples and Thyme
Goat Cheese-Stuffed Grape Leaves with Tomato Jam


Monday, March 16, 2009

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

One more idea for your Irish feasts. This time it's cabbage, meat and potatoes, with an Eastern European inflection. Of course, the cabbage made me think of this dish for St. Patty's Day, but it's actually my take on a family recipe from my Polish grandmother.

A few years ago, I did a little research and found out one of the proper names for it is golumpki, but there are so many variations. I don't know how to spell my grandma's particular variation, so I'll stick with golumpki. Despite the clumsy name, the flavors of this satisfying dish are straightforward and assertive flavors.

My grandmother's tomato sauce had a tangy flavor in my memory, and I recreated it by seasoning canned sauce with white wine vinegar and sugar. Some crushed garlic cloves add another layer of flavor. In the ground meat filling, you'll almost always find white rice. I used my favorite long grain brown rice and it worked wonderfully. It's not totally traditional, but it adds more flavor and nutrients, so it's hardly egregious.

Along with the rice, goes allspice, paprika, chile powder, parsley and half a finely minced onion. My grandmother's special touch was to grate the onion on a box grater to make it extra juicy and fine. Last night, Mike was prepping the meat, and he preferred the chopping method. For a uniform, finely chopped onion, he's your man.

As we put this dish together last night, it reminded me of lasagna, in that it's not complicated, but takes a little time and a few steps before you can put everything together. You do have to blanche the cabbage by sticking the whole head in a big pot of boiling water for a few minutes. It softens up the leaves for easier rolling. Cook your rice in advance too, especially if you're using brown. Or steam some for your dinner today and make extra for stuffed cabbage tomorrow.

My grandmother always served this with simple, creamy mashed potatoes. That's not my personal favorite (I'll take mashed sweet potatoes; or the chunky, garlicky mashed red potatoes with skins.), so I did these easy broiled, sliced potatoes instead. I can't believe I didn't figure out this method years ago. You get a wonderfully browned, chewy texture that's kind of like a healthier version of pan-fried potatoes.

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Golumpki)
Serves 4

Tangy Tomato Sauce:
1 (29 oz.) can tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat side of knife
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
1 Tbs. sugar

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:
1 large head of cabbage
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup cooked brown or white
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 Tbs. chopped parsley, plus additional for garnish
½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. chile powder
½ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the sauce, bring the tomato sauce and garlic cloves to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Season with black pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add the vinegar and sugar and continue simmering for five minutes more. Remove from heat.

To make the cabbage rolls, trim as much of the tough stem from the cabbage as you can without separating the leaves. Add the entire cabbage to a large pot of boiling water and cook for 3 minutes, or until the leaves start to separate. Drain and run large outer leaves under cold water to stop the cooking. Pick 8 large, intact leaves and pat dry. Save the rest of the cabbage for another use or discard. I like to tuck some of the extra leaves into the baking dish to serve with the golumpki.

Add remaining ingredients to a large bowl. Gently combine with your hands or a spoon.

Pour about 1 cup of the sauce into a large casserole dish and spread to coat evenly. To assemble the cabbage rolls, place one cabbage leaf on a cutting board with the stem end facing you. Trim up to 1-inch of the stem end if very thick. Place half a cup of beef filling in the center of the leaf, fold in the sides and roll into a tight bundle starting with the stem end. Place the bundle into the casserole dish and continue with the remaining leaves and filling.

Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the rolls and bake for 45 minutes. They are done if the sauce is bubbling and the cabbage rolls are firm to the touch. Rest 5 to 10 minutes, sprinkle with additional parsley and serve with potatoes.

Easy Broiled Potatoes
Serves 4

2 to 3 white potatoes, cut into ¼-inch rounds
Olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Red wine vinegar, for serving (optional)

Preheat broiler to high. You can switch your oven to broil during the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time for the cabbage rolls. They will finish baking in the oven’s residual heat.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Arrange potatoes in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil or use a pastry brush to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Broil 8 to 10 inches from heat until potatoes are golden brown and tender, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Sprinkle with parsley and pass red wine vinegar at the table if desired.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sicilian Broccoli Pasta

Moving over from Irish food to something completely different...Sicilian cuisine! Okay, I do not profess to be any sort of expert on this region of Italy, but I do know one thing: the Sicilians have mastered the balance of sweet and sour.

Have you ever eaten eggplant caponata? It's a relish-type spread often served on crusty bread and made with onions, tomatoes, capers, olives, peppers and of course eggplant; but, it gets its characteristic sweet and sour tang from raisins or sugar and red wine vinegar (here are a few versions). That's the flavor I was going for with this dish.

I threw it together on the fly as a side for boneless Parmigiano-crusted pork chops (recipe: dip in flour, dip in egg, dip in panko and parm, bake). I happened to have a good quantity of steamed broccoli on hand, and a little bit of one of my favorite whole wheat pastas (Bionaturae Chiocciole from Whole Foods) that had been hanging out in the pantry for months. You could toss in leftover chicken pieces and turn the pasta into a main course or add more veggies for a vegetarian meal.

I hope I've inspired you to try this Sicilian-style pasta, but I want to know if anyone out there has gotten into the St. Patrick's Day spirit with some Irish food yet? I'm thinking about making my Irish Potato Chowder tonight and throwing in some scallops I have in the freezer. I'm hoping it will happen, provided I have enough energy to cook on a Friday night!

Sicilian Broccoli Pasta
I used about 5 ounces of pasta, but there's roughly enough sauce to dress about half a pound. The ingredient amounts can be stretched or even doubled if you want to make a bigger batch.

Serves 2

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 to 8 ounces whole wheat pasta, such as penne or chioccoli
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 small red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes, preferably unsalted
1/4 cup raisins
1 to 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2 to 3 tsp. sugar
2 to 3 cups steamed broccoli

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt liberally and cook pasta according to package directions or until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until tender and lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the raisins, 1 Tbs. vinegar and 2 tsp. sugar. Simmer until slightly thickened and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add additional vinegar and or sugar until the sweet and sour flavor is balanced to your liking. Stir in broccoli to heat through.

Transfer cooked pasta to a large bowl and add the sauce. Toss gently to combine and serve.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Recipes

Guinness Brownies

Time is flying so quickly that I thought Monday was only the 6th. So, between my inability to read the calendar and daylight savings time, I'm all discombobulated. On Sunday, we were wandering through Whole Foods, and I noticed displays of Murphy's Stout, Guinness and Dubliner Stout Cheddar (really tasty, by the way!). It took a minute before I realized all these goodies were front and center because St. Patty's Day is right around the corner.

Irish Potato Chowder and Soda Biscuits in the background.

In order to be ahead of the curve when it comes to holiday food, I'm posting some favorite perfect-for-St. Patty's recipes. I just realized I have enough Irish-themed things to qualify for a pretty decent round up. This year, I'd love to make a batch of Guinness Brownies, but I may also opt for this pistachio cookie recipe I've been holding onto since last year. My wedding anniversary is actually two days after St. Patrick's Day, so that is the big celebratory occasion I look forward to in March. Still, there's no reason why I can't toast three years of marriage with a pint of Guinness and a glass of champagne.

Do you have a favorite recipe for St. Patrick's Day? Is it all about the Guinness and the Bailey's Irish cream, or do you go traditional with cabbage and potatoes? I love how holidays give us a reason to cook or bake something we wouldn't normally do.

Guinness Brownies - Dense and chocolatey with a hint of stout. This is just a great brownie.

Guinness Cupcakes - Light, airy crumb and addictive espresso buttercream.

Guinness Beef Stew - Never make a stew with beer? You must taste what you've been missing!

Irish Potato Chowder - Creamy. Hearty. Bacon-y. Yet, all in all it's still a pretty healthy soup.

Whole wheat Irish Soda Bread - Plain, simple and really easy. Spread it with unsalted Irish butter. I love this.

Irish Soda Biscuits - The same simple soda bread done as a drop biscuit.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Smoked Fish and Beet Salad

I was going through my recent food pics, and I have so many tasty things to blog about! I love when there's great material in the hopper. Sometimes I dismiss certain recipes or idea because I'm afraid it isn't intriguing enough; or the photo isn't mouth-watering enough; or it's too simple, believe it or not! From now on, anything goes if it tastes good, or if it's interesting.

So, how did I choose among my array of tasty, bloggable options? It was easy, but it also depends on your (hopefully!) endless fascination with beets. I know, I could have picked a more exciting vegetable to write about twice in a row. But maybe you bought a bunch to make the beet risotto and have a few left over. Roast all of those babies, and give this salad a try.

It's one of those fabulously unnecessary composed salads built in a cylindrical mold. In my case, the mold was a can of pineapple rings opened on both ends and washed out, of course. Once you roast the beets, it's dead simple. Buy any smoked whitefish you like. We picked up mackerel (load with omega-3's by the way!) at Whole Foods, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how addictively delicious it was. All that remains is tossing the chopped beets with vinaigrette; likewise with the watercress and packing it into your mold.

I found this recipe in the November issue of Gourmet. I love those November and December issues. Yes, it's all decadent holiday food and you couldn't possibly make half of it, and each recipes serves approximately 48 people. But, I always get great ideas, especially for sides. I'll hold onto them and look over previous years when I'm building a holiday menu. This salad is a beautiful first course, or just put it together and serve it in place of a side dish.

Gourmet's version calls for smoked sable, but we loved the mackerel. I'd get any fish but salmon here. You can cut the recipe in half like I did. I also did closer to a half vinegar-half olive oil ratio in my dressing, as I usually do.

So tell me, have you ever roasted a bunch of beets? Do you plan on making beet risotto from the last post? Mark of Real Food Has Curves had a great idea to add the beet greens to the risotto. They are delicious and similar to Swiss chard, so use them if you've got them! If you are a beet lover, how do you like to eat them?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Roasted Beet Risotto

Let's do a quick, informal survey.

Do you make risotto?

A yes or no in the comments will suffice, but I'd love to hear when you turn to this creamy, satisfying rice dish and what your favorite additions are. And if the answer is no, why not? I'm not one to cook rice as a side dish all that often, although I do like brown rice flavored with scallions and garlic. When it comes to risotto, however, I hardly put it on the same plane with simple steamed rice.

From the method of cooking, to the rich, toothsome end result, risotto is more than just a grain dish. Most of the time, I made it the main meal. I like to add poached chicken, but shrimp or roasted veggies are nice. If you do want to make risotto a side dish, then I think you may as well make it memorable. I usually try to avoid gushingly purple prose when describing food, but what can I say? Stained a striking hot pink and bejeweled with roasted beets, this risotto is a stunner.

Unlike the red wine risotto with arugula I made a while ago, this version gets all its gorgeous magenta color from fresh roasted beets. The recipe has no twists whatsoever; it's risotto 101. You can roasted the beets a day or a few hours ahead. It's an extra step, but it couldn't be easier. If you've only had canned beets (I still like tossing the shredded ones in salad), you'll love the clean, earthy taste of fresh ones.

I made this risotto to go with steaks for a fantastic Valentine's Day dinner that actually happened the day after. Because it's an all-veggie risotto, I think it's well suited for a side. But no one would mistake it for an afterthought.

I found this recipe on the Gourmet magazine website and was sold by their (much more beautiful than above) photo. I cut the recipe in half and omitted the wine, which I tend to do if I don't have an open bottle of white. If you want to make this vegetarian, use mushroom broth instead of chicken. Here's an old post of mine describing the basic risotto technique, with step-by-step photos. And here is one of my all-time favorites, Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms.