Friday, April 26, 2013

Baked Honey Dijon Salmon

The husband is a salmon purist. He likes it with lemon pepper and butter. So when I told him that I was making salmon with Dijon mustard and honey, he was dubious.

When he took a tentative bite of his dinner, he looked at me with surprise. Good surprise. And he took another bite. "This is good! Really good!" And he polished off every last crumb.

By the way, do you know what else Baked Honey Dijon Salmon is besides really good? Really easy.

Let's make dinner.

Baked Honey Dijon Salmon
Adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything
Serves: 4

2 tablespoons butter, melted
1.5 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup very finely chopped pecans
Salt and pepper
4 salmon fillets

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together butter, honey, and mustard. In a separate bowl, mix together bread crumbs, pecans, and salt and pepper.

Place salmon in prepared baking dish and evenly divide mustard mixture among the fillets. Use a spoon to spread the mustard mixture to the edges of the fillets so they're totally covered. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the salmon.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fettuccine with Asparagus and Creamy Goat Cheese

There are a million ways I could describe today's recipe, so I'd better start listing:
  1. Easy! You know how to boil water? Stir? Ok, then. You can handle this. Heck, turn over the reins to your kids to make this one. Watch The Real Housewives of Orange County while they take charge in the kitchen. 
  2. Fast! Dinner is on the table in less than 30 minutes. Talk about a perfect weeknight meal. 
  3. Vegetarian! Meatless Monday is all the rage. Hop on the bandwagon with creamy pasta and no one will miss the meat. 
  4. Spring-y! Asparagus and dill tell your tastebuds that Spring has sprung even if the thermometer disagrees.
  5. Delicious! Obviously, the most important thing. I wouldn't waste your time with an easy, fast, vegetarian, Spring-y dinner if it wasn't delicious. Seriously, people.
Let's make hot dinner.

Fettuccine with Asparagus and Creamy Goat Cheese
Adapted from Everyday Food
Serves: 6

1/3 cup pine nuts
1 pound fettuccini
2 bunches asparagus, trimmed and cut crosswise into thirds
5 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pine nuts on a rimmed baking dish and bake for 4-5 minutes, until they are golden brown and smell toasty. (Alternatively, you can toast pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, but I always burn nuts when I toast them on the stove. Feel free to live dangerously, though.)

Cook the fettuccini to al dente according to package directions in a large pot of salted boiling water. Add the asparagus during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining.

Return pasta and asparagus to the pot. Stir in goat cheese, mustard, dill, and toasted pine nuts. Add pasta cooking water and stir until the cheese is melted and the pasta is evenly coated with sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Coffee Cup Chilaquiles

My mom is a thoughtful gal. She knows I'm always trying new recipes, so when she read an article in her local newspaper (The Buffalo News...three cheers for western New York!) about cooking in a coffee cup, she clipped it out for me. And when she and my sister came for Easter, we gave it a whirl.

In case you were curious, coffee cup cooking is...(long pause while I try to think of an adjective that starts with "c")...great! Without any fancy ingredients or equipment, you can enjoy a healthy and delicious breakfast in three minutes. And it's much more fun than a bowl of cereal. (Says the girl who could eat cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)

Monday morning when you think you don't have time to eat, grab a mug and throw together Coffee Cup Chilaquiles, which is sort of like a Mexican omelette with tortilla chips. Jazz it up with your favorite taco toppings...salsa, guacamole, sour cream. And you'll still make it to your 9:00 a.m. conference call on time.

Let's make breakfast!

P.S. That fabulous manicure belongs to my sister. She has the best nails! Over and out.

Coffee Cup Chilaquiles
Serves: 1
From The Buffalo News

1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon shredded cheddar cheese
5 tortilla chips, separated
1 tablespoon salsa
Salsa, guacamole, sour cream for serving

Beat egg and milk together in a large coffee cup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in cheddar. Break four tortilla chips into small pieces and stir into the egg mixture. Then stir in 1 tablespoon salsa. Microwave for 1 minute and 10 seconds. Garnish with remaining tortilla chip, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Three Cheese and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese

I woke up yesterday morning, and there was snow on the ground. SNOW. Sticking. On. The. Ground. Geez Louise, it's the middle of April. I was peeved. Really peeved.

If mother nature won't give us springtime warmth, we'll have to crank up our ovens and make our kitchens cozy. So today we're making a familiar favorite, Macaroni and Cheese. Piles of melty, gooey cheese are punctuated with salty, savory bacon.  And pasta. I think that pasta is food's way of giving us a hug. That'll stick it to the snow.

Let's make comfort food.

Three Cheese and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound small pasta (I used bowties.)
8 ounces bacon
1/2 onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and diced
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1/3 cup flour
3 cups milk (I used 1% because that's what we drink.)
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" x 13" baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions for one minute less than al dente. (Since we're baking this pasta, it will finish cooking in the oven.) Drain pasta and set aside.

Put the empty pasta pot back on the stove over medium-high heat. (You could use a separate pot, but I don't like washing dishes.) Add bacon and cook until it's just barely crisp. Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Once it's cool enough to handle, chop bacon and set aside. Drain all but 2 tablespoons bacon grease from the pot.

Return the pot to medium-high heat and add the onion. Saute until the onion is soft and translucent, 5- minutes. (Scrape the bottom of the pan as the onion cooks to incorporate the bacon-y browned bits into it.) Add garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Remove onions and garlic from the pot and set aside. Add 3 tablespoons butter to the pot. Stir in flour and allow it to cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in mustard, mozzarella, and cheddar until the cheese is melted.

Stir cooked pasta, onions, garlic, and chopped bacon into the cheese sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour pasta into prepared baking dish.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter and combine it with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top of pasta. Bake macaroni and cheese for 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and it's hot throughout.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Oven Baked Pot Roast with Bacon

I'm a total weenie.

Fraidy cat. Wimp. All of the above. Sometimes my fears are logical, but mostly they're ridiculous.

It started when I was a kid. I was afraid of The Original Pancake House, roller coasters, and sleepovers at Jillian Voglino's house. Through the years, my fears morphed, but they were always there: vacation Bible school at The Chapel, sleep-away camp, flying, getting murdered by Hannibal Lecter when I'm alone at night. I could go on, but I think you get the drift.

In addition to all the things previously mentioned, I'm afraid of large cuts of meat. I think it's because I'm not as familiar with the big stuff. On most nights, I cook for two...chicken breasts, salmon fillets, pork tenderloin.  So I'm more comfortable there. But a giant roast? Yikes.

Someone once told me that it's important to face your fears, and that doing the very thing you're afraid of helps conquer them. This has proven true in my life. After many visits, I love The Original Pancake House. (49er Flapjacks, anyone?) And I no longer imagine Hannibal eating my innards with fava beans and a nice Chianti every time I close my eyes. Over the years I have successfully roasted turkey, glazed ham, and even slow-cooked pot roast. But every time I get started, I gaze at the meat with trepidation. (It's much scarier than sleep-away camp.)

In my quest to conquer fear, I made another pot roast this week, and I really took it up a notch: I made it in the oven. In my neurotic brain, that seemed much scarier than the slow cooker. After the husband and I inhaled it for dinner, I decided something profound: cooking a bacon-scented roast to fork-tender perfection in the oven makes facing your fears absolutely worth it.

Oven Baked Pot Roast with Bacon
Serves: 6
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

4 slices bacon
2 1/2 pound boneless rump roast (or whatever roast is on sale)
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and divided--dice 2 carrots and cut the rest into 1" chunks
1 rib celery, diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups chicken broth
About 1 cup water
2 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
Mashed potatoes for serving, optional

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Meanwhile, heat a large Dutch oven over medium high. Cook bacon until it's just barely crisp. Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Once it's cooled, crumble the bacon.

Drain all but 2 tablespoons bacon grease from the pan and return to medium-high heat. Season the roast generously on all sides with salt and pepper. Brown roast in the bacon grease until all sides are browned, about 8-10 minutes total. (You'll know it's ready to turn the roast when it's easy to flip. If it's sticking to the pot, it's not ready. Give it another minute to cook then try again.) If the browned bits on the bottom of the pan start to burn, turn the heat down to medium. When the roast is browned, remove to a plate and set aside.

Add diced carrot (set aside the carrots cut into 1" chunks until later), celery, and onion to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in thyme, garlic, and sugar for 30 seconds.

Return meat to pan. Pour in chicken broth and enough water so the liquid reaches about halfway up the side of the roast. (For me, this was about 1 cup of water.) Bring liquid to a boil. Cover, turn off the stove, and put the covered pot in the oven.

Allow the roast to cook for 3 hours, turning the meat over a few times while it cooks. Add the remaining carrots and parsnips to the pot, making sure they're submerged in liquid. Re-cover the pot, and cook for an additional 45 minutes, until meat and vegetables are tender.

Remove meat to a cutting board and tent with foil. Remove vegetables to the serving dish. Skim any fat from the liquid remaining in the pot. (If you have one, you can use a fat separator to remove the fat and then return the liquid to the pot.) Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Save a bit of the bacon for garnish, and stir the rest of the reserved bacon into the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slice the roast, drizzle with sauce, and sprinkle with remaining bacon. Serve with the vegetables and, if desired, mashed potatoes.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Buttermilk Donuts

Rewind a little bit to Easter Sunday. This is how it went down.

The husband had to work on Easter morning. As I was leaving church with our boy, I get a text. "I want donuts." It being Easter and all, the bakery was closed. I texted back. "Bakery closed."

You would think that was the end of the donut situation. But once we arrived back home, we concocted a plan: we would make our own donuts.

My mom and sister came for Easter, and all four of us worked butt-to-butt in our tiny kitchen to whip up the treat. Since we made buttermilk donuts, we didn't need to wait for them to rise. Instant gratification is important when you've got a donut craving. My sister and I patted out the dough. Mom was in charge of the glaze. And the husband? He was our fry guy.

If you've never made donuts before, I'd highly suggest you give it a whirl. It's a bit more effort than cruising through the Tim Horton's drive-thru, but good gosh are they delicious. Warm and golden brown, lightly scented with cinnamon and nutmeg, dripping with glaze...I think I need to heat up some oil right now.

Let's make breakfast. Or dessert. Or, for that matter, dinner.

Buttermilk Donuts
Adapted from Shutterbean

For donuts:
3 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
Vegetable oil for frying
Vanilla glaze, powdered sugar, and/or cinnamon sugar for coating the donuts

For vanilla glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, sour cream, and butter.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the well, and then gently fold everything together with a spatula. (Once combined, it will be like biscuit dough.)

Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Turn dough onto work surface and pat it out until it's about 1/2" thick. Now it's time to cut out the donut shapes. You'll need two round cutters, about 3" and 1 1/2". (If you don't have round cutters (I don't.), just use something round in your kitchen: small bowls, drinking glasses, empty jars. I used a bowl and a baby bottle, and I'm not kidding. Get creative!) Dip the cutters in flour, then use the larger cutter to cut the donut shape. After that, use the smaller cutter to cut the hole out of the middle of the larger circle. Pat together the dough scraps and continue cutting out donuts until you've used up all the dough.

Meanwhile, add 1 1/2 inches of oil to a large, heavy pot. Heat the oil over medium-high until it reaches about 365 degrees. (Use a candy thermometer or an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature.) Once the oil is hot, gently add a few donuts to the oil. (Only fry a few donuts at a time. Like, maybe three. If you add too many donuts, the temperature of the oil will drop and the donuts will get soggy and oily. Gross.) Fry donuts about 2-3 minutes on each side, until they're golden brown. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer donuts to a paper towel-lined baking sheet once they're done. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Once your donuts are fried, you can toss them in cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar or glaze them. To make the glaze, whisk together powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. You can dip the donut in the glaze or drizzle it on top. If you want to get really crazy (and, trust me on this one, you do!!) dip the donut in glaze, then roll it in cinnamon sugar. Wow. Pour yourself a tall glass of milk and eat these suckers warm.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Nicoise Salad

I really hope I'm not jinxing anything by saying this, but it's getting warmer out. Spring may actually have arrived in Wisconsin. That means my hankerings for stew and spaghetti bolognese are being replaced with cravings for salad. Well, salad and cheesecake and ice cream and stuff.

Nicoise Salad is one of my favorites. And even though it's a salad, the husband declared that it's hearty enough to qualify as hot dinner. There is just so much going on...protein (salmon! eggs!), carbs (potatoes!), veggies (lettuce! green beans! tomatoes!), and...this is where I swoon...briny olives.

Another bonus about Nicoise Salad is that you can prep it ahead of time. Do you work 9 to 5? Well, get the ingredients ready on Sunday afternoon, and you'll have a weekday meal waiting in the fridge. Do you stay home with your little ones? Take advantage of nap time. Or Dora the Explorer time. Whatever works.

Now let's make dinner.

Nicoise Salad
Serves: 4
Adapted from Everyday Food and America's Test Kitchen

3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 heads Bibb* lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
3-4 medium red potatoes, cut into 1" pieces
8 ounces green beans (about two large handfuls), ends trimmed
2 8-ounce salmon fillets
4 hard-boiled** eggs, peeled and quartered
2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges (I like vine-ripened tomatoes.)
1/4 cup Nicoise or kalamata olives, roughly chopped

Combine lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake until the dressing comes together as a smooth mixture. Set aside until you're ready to use it.

Place potatoes in a pot and cover with 1" of cold water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Allow potatoes to boil until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 10 minutes. Remove potatoes and refrigerate until cooled.

Bring the same pot of water to a boil again and add green beans. Allow them to cook until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and refrigerate until cooled.

Season salmon generously with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add salmon and cook until it flakes easily with a fork, about 3-4 minutes on each side. (Allow salmon to cool or you can serve it warm. I sort of like the warm salmon on the cold salad. But do as you please.)

Evenly divide lettuce, potatoes, green beans, salmon, eggs, tomatoes, and olives between four plates. Shake dressing again to make sure it's combined, and drizzle over salad. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper to taste.

*I used Romaine lettuce because I happened to have that on hand. Romaine worked fine, but I really do prefer Bibb lettuce in Nicoise Salad.

**Here's how I make hard-boiled eggs: Place eggs in a medium saucepan. Cover with about 1" of cold water. Bring water to a boil, cover saucepan, and turn off the heat. Allow eggs to sit, covered, for 10-12 minutes. Drain the eggs, rinse under cold water, and allow to cool until you're ready to peel and use them.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Flour & Wine ... Yes Please

Great Place, Great Food, Great Company – Flour & Wine
So if you are ANYTHING like me you LOVE going out to eat.  It is one of my favorite things to do (especially for brunch or dinner) and I spend countless hours doing “restaurant research” to scout out new places to try.  One of the biggest honors is having someone ask me for a recommendation of a place with some good eats!  Living right outside of Chicago is great, because the restaurant industry there is fantastic … and only getting better!  From hole in the walls to trendy spots opened by famous chefs and Top Chef alums … there is NO shortage of new and exciting places to try.  Yet lately delicious restaurants have been migrating to the burbs --- THANK GOODNESS, because sometimes you don’t want to brave the traffic, wait a month to get a reservation, or you simply want to support your local community!  So now I wish to share with you one of my favorite places and recent addition to downtown Glen Ellyn, IL that serves up fresh ingredients, homemade mozzarella cheese and pizza dough and an extensive wine and beer list.  While I recognize this may not apply to ALL readers I feel like it’s an opportunity for you to share some of your favorite, local HOT SPOTS and give some of our readers some ideas when they venture across this country in search of mouthwatering spots to grab some grub!  Plus … as the weather warms I am going to try one of the recipes out and attempt to recreate my FAVORITE dish (so stay tuned).  And now … for FLOUR & WINE!

Now to start, flour and wine is designed with sharing in mind.  Now some of us (MZ … cough cough) would rather eat the entire plate of butternut squash tortalacci without worrying about a fork sneaking across the table OR if you’re like my father … you are just DOWN RIGHT CONFUSED!  “Wait, I can only eat a bite of this?  How will I get full?  Why is my plate so small?”  But for a group of about four girlfriends or a couple out on a date night … it works out PERFECTLY!  And keep in mind they have plenty of gluten free options, which works out GREAT because I have several friends who are often limited with gluten free intolerant menus!

Here are just a few of my FAVES … let the drooling commence!

Zucchini Fries – MZ, Brittney and I order these EVERY time without fail!  They are the perfect thing to munch on as you sip a good wine and peruse the menu while trying to narrow down all of the delicious choices!  They aren’t greasy or heavy, come with a homemade ranch dipping sauce --- and make sure to ask for fresh grated parmesan cheese to be shredded on top.

Rock Shrimp & Crab Fritters – OMG!  Now my dad is allergic to ALL seafood so it was only when I was older that I realized those sea creatures were the most delicious things around!  This was the only dish my out of town mother said she wished she could have hogged all to herself.  They are FULL of shrimp and crab meat, not too bready, and come with delicious sautéed spinach and butternut squash.

Prosciutto & Mozzarella – Now this may seem simple, but do not be deterred!  As I previously mentioned, they make their own mozzarella IN HOUSE!  Now if you haven’t had fresh mozzarella you will be astounded at the difference in taste.  And thanks to the influence of my lovely sister … nothing is better than prosciutto.  PLUS the bread comes already perfectly toasted and drizzled with olive oil.

And the PIZZAS … OMG the PIZZAS!  They are thin brick oven pizzas that taste smoky and warm!  The fresh ingredients have an explosion of taste and are all interesting yet delicious combinations (don’t worry they have the classics too).  Now I don’t have any pictures because they tend to get snatched up THAT FAST!  However, I highly recommend the ROCKETMAN (which features fresno chilis) and the PARMA CLASSIC (umm prosciutto and arugula … HELLO!)

And now for my favorite … simple, delicious, a little different and something I can’t wait to try to make at home THE GRILLED ROMAINE – it consists of half a head of grilled romaine lettuce, giving a warm, smoky taste.  Combine that with tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese, leeks and pancetta …. Ummm … done and done!  It is fabulous shared or get it for yourself if you’re feeling rather selfish!  This is one dish that as soon as the grill gets rolled outside I am testing out for myself!  Do you think it will be as good made at home as it is at the restaurant?  Stay tuned to find out!

So if you are in the area, close by or just visiting … check this spot out!  I promise it won’t disappoint!  Because sometimes we all just need a LITTLE break from cooking! :)