cafela: (nutmeg)
2014-04-22 11:29 am
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Fancy Mac & Cheese

I love mac & cheese, and this recipe has become a favorite with my dad's side of the family. You can use any shape of pasta you want--I prefer gemelli or mini bowtie instead of the traditional macaroni, but that's fine, too.

And yes, nutmeg sounds like a weird ingredient (my mom honestly sounded scared when I made it at her house and asked where she kept the nutmeg), but it's essential in this dish. You only need a dash or two (I wouldn't use more than 1/2 tsp), and it makes a huge difference. Also, feel free to substitute other cheeses, though you will want to keep at least one milder cheese like fontina or mozzerella in the dish.

1 lb of pasta
4 oz fontina (or similar mild) cheese, shredded
4 oz gruyere or parmesan, shredded (not the cheap parmesan that comes pre-grated in a big plastic shaker, the real stuff)
8 oz sharp cheddar, shredded
2 tb butter
2 tb flour
1 1/2 milk (or cream if you want)
dash of nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
4-6 pieces bacon (you can omit this if you're making it for vegetarians, but it does take the flavor up a notch)
panko breadcrumbs

Cook bacon, let cool, and chop into small pieces. Reserve bacon fat. Make the pasta. While it boils, make a basic bechamel sauce/roux on the stove in a large skillet(melt the butter, whisk in the flour and let brown, heat the milk, whisk in milk slowly). Add the nutmeg, and some salt and pepper, then stir in the cheese until melted. Remove from heat.

Pour your pasta into your casserole/baking dish. Drizzle with reserved bacon fat. Mix in your cheesy bechamel sauce and bacon pieces. Once mixed, top with breadcrumbs. Cook in oven at 350 for about 20 minutes (until the breadcrumbs brown and the mac & cheese is bubbly.
cafela: (Default)
2013-11-22 10:59 pm
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Southern Cornbread Dressing

It's nearly Thanksgiving, and it's later than normal this year. I've managed to get a lot of Christmas shopping done already, and I already have Christmas cards ready to go out, so it seems wrong to not make Thanksgiving food until next week. So I've gone ahead and made my family's cornbread dressing. There are a lot of great variations on dressing/stuffing, but this is my favorite.

Dressing is actually really easy to put together--it's just the prep that takes work, especially if you don't like crunching on pieces of onion or celery. To avoid that, I always chop the onions and celery into very tiny little pieces--basically, I mince it, so that once it's cooked down, it essentially melts into all the other ingredients. Also, I hate celery in everything--except this dish. Including celery does make a big difference in the flavor, so if you don't like it, don't leave it out if you can help it, because I promise, it won't taste like celery. When celery cooks down the way it does in this recipe, it tastes nothing like celery normally does.

Also, while a lot of cornbread dressing recipes include just cornbread, I've always found that it has a better overall texture if you use a combination of bread and cornbread, so that's what I use. If you're hell bent on just having cornbread, make 2 recipes' worth of cornbread and omit the sandwich bread.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Southern Cornbread Dressing
1 recipe's worth of Buttermilk Cornbread (or any cornbread that has no sugar in the recipe)
4 tbsp butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 cups finely chopped celery
1 large chicken breast (you can increase the amount of chicken if you want, or use leftover turkey)
salt & pepper
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp chicken broth
9 slices white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1 1/2 tsp rubbed sage
3/4 tsp black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
3 eggs, lightly beaten

First, make your cornbread.

While your cornbread cooks, chop your onion and celery. Melt 4 tbsp butter over medium high heat in a pot/skillet large enough to hold all the celery and onion. Add the celery and onion, cover and let cook (stir occasionally).

Take a small pan and melt 1 tbsp butter in it. Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper, then add it to the small pan. Add 2 tbsp chicken broth, cover and let cook over medium high heat until cooked through.

By this point, the cornbread should be done, so when it is, remove from oven and from the skillet so it can cool.

Get a large bowl (large enough to hold all the ingredients combined) and tear up the sandwich bread. Add the torn up pieces to it. Once the cornbread is cooled enough to handle, crumble it into pieces (2 inches or so) and add it to the bowl as well. When the chicken has cooked through, remove it from the pan and chop or shred it into small pieces. Add the chicken to the bowl.

Sprinkle the sage and the pepper into the bowl. Mix everything that's in the bowl at this point. Add the 4 cups chicken broth, then add the beaten eggs. Mix everything in the bowl again. Add the celery/onion mixture, and mix once more. The mixture should be somewhat soggy--if it is still dry, add another 1/2 cup of chicken broth. If it goes into the oven dry, it will be too dry once it's cooked (though if it does turn out dry, a quick fix is to pour 1/4 cup warm chicken broth over the top).

Uncooked Dressing

Spoon into two pans or casserole dishes, or one large casserole dish. Cook in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes if you have two pans, 30-35 minutes if you have one large dish. It is done when the top turns golden brown. Serve with gravy or cranberry sauce or even just by itself.

cafela: (salt is magical)
2013-10-12 11:19 pm
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Savory Butternut Squash Soup

It's finally starting to feel like fall, and that means it is the best time to try out new soup recipes. I love this soup; the recipe is based heavily on one by Cook's Illustrated. While most butternut squash soups are sweet, this one is not. It's similar to the first soup recipe I posted, the French Vegetable soup, but I like this one better, and it is much quicker to make.

A quick note: if you don't have butternut squash handy, any similarly orange/slightly sweet squash will work, including pumpkin. If you want your soup to have a slight sweetness to it, increase the amount of squash and decrease the amount of potatoes by the same amount.

Savory Butternut Squash Soup
1 3/4 pounds butternut squash--seeded, peeled, and cut into 2-inch chunks (about 4 1/2 cups or one 2-lb squash)
1 pound potatoes (I used yukon gold)--peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
2 tb butter
salt and pepper
1 large leek or 2 smaller leeks, dark green top part cut off, sliced thin, washed thoroughly
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
4 cups chicken broth (veggie broth can be substituted)
1-2 cups water
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish if desired)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup cream (or creme fraiche if you can get it) --You can omit this if you want.

Vital tools: immersion blender OR regular blender

First, prep your ingredients, particularly the squash and potatoes. Place squash and potatoes in microwave safe bowl, and microwave for 14 minutes. Stir halfway through the microwave time. I used the microwave time to prep the rest of the ingredients.

Next, melt butter in dutch oven/heavy duty soup pot, over medium-high heat. Add leeks, squash, potatoes, shallot, garlic, and 2 tsp salt. Cook, sometimes stirring, for about 14 minutes, until the potatoes and squash break down and the bottom of the pot begins to develop a fond (basically, browned residue from the cooked veggies).

At this point, add the broth, and stir while scraping the bottom of the pot to release the fond. Add 1 cup of water (and up to 1 cup more if you want a thinner soup). Add cheese, thyme, bay leaf, and cayenne. Increase heat and bring everything up to a high simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook at least 10 more minutes. You can cook up to 30 minutes more if you want to continue to develop the flavors, but you don't have to.

Remove and discard the bay leaf and the thyme. Process soup using either immersion blender or working in batches with a regular blender. Return soup to the pot and bring up to a simmer again. Stir in cream/creme fraiche. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with drops of cream or with more parmesan cheese. Serves 6-8.

cafela: (salt is magical)
2013-06-30 09:48 pm
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Roasted Tomato & Bacon Soup

I have a couple of tomato plants. We don't have enough of a yard for an actual garden, but we have a couple of large planters, and we get a lot of sun. So this year, I decided I was going to try to grow our own tomatoes. The main motivation is the fact that we go through at least one tomato a week, and I thought that a couple of tomato plants would probably net us one or two tomatoes a week. As it turns out, it's more like 4 or 5 tomatoes a week, and so when I realized we had 10 tomatoes waiting to be eaten (with at least 15 more growing) I decided it was probably time to do something with them. Spaghetti is the obvious thing, but it seemed too heavy. So I decided I'd try my hand at a tomato soup.

Tomato soup is not my favorite kind of soup; it's generally not even in my top 5 kinds of soup, because I'm picky about it, and few places make it the way I like it. Every summer, I test out a new tomato soup recipe, but while those soups have turned out okay, they've not been what I want them to be. My favorite tomato soup is served at a local restaurant called Plates; it is amazing, and everything a tomato soup should be. I always want my soup to taste as fresh and scrumptious as theirs, and until tonight, I've failed. Something was missing.

Tonight, however, I hit upon the missing ingredient. Or at least, a missing ingredient: bacon. You don't need much--I used one small slice. It took my tomato soup to a whole new level. As did roasting most of what went into it. It is the best tomato soup I've ever made. I will actually make this tomato soup again.

Roasted Tomato & Bacon Soup
about 2 lbs fresh tomatoes (I used about 10 plum-sized tomatoes), quartered
six large garlic cloves
1 vidalia onion (a large yellow onion will suffice if you can't get vidalia)
olive oil
2 tb butter
1 large shallot
1 more clove of garlic
1 slice of bacon, diced into small pieces
5 sprigs of thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
10 basil leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried basil)
10 sage leaves (or 1/2 tsp rubbed sage)
3 cups of chicken stock
1/4 cup cream
a blender
parmesan cheese (for garnish)

Get a large, shallow pan with an edge to it. Quarter your tomatoes and slice your onion. Place tomatoes and onion into the pan along with your six garlic cloves (cloves should have the skin still on). Drizzle olive oil over the veggies (you don't need much) and salt and pepper. Put them into a 400 degree oven to roast for about 35 minutes.

While the veggies roast, mince your shallot and your other clove of garlic. Add to the pot you're making your soup in, along with the butter. Turn to low (or if your oven vents through one of the stove eyes, just put it there and use the residual heat). If you're using fresh herbs, also use this time to chop those. Dice your bacon.

When the veggies are done roasting, turn your soup pot to medium heat, and add the bacon. As soon as the shallot starts to go translucent, add your roasted tomatoes and onion. Remove the roasted garlic cloves from their skins, and add them (not the skins). Let cook for maybe 5 minutes, until it gets thick, and add the herbs and the chicken broth.

If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it so that you have a super smooth soup (if you want that; it will be good chunky, too). If you just have a regular blender, that works, too; you'll just have to blend in a couple of batches, and be careful to blend slowly at first (and take the lid off in between pulses to keep steam from building up). Return the blended soup to the pot. Stir in the cream. Let simmer another 10 minutes; it can simmer longer, but give it at least that long so all the flavors have time to develop. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Yields about 3 medium bowls of soup--add more chicken stock or more tomatoes to get more. Garnish with parmesan cheese or a few drops of cream. Perfect when accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich.

cafela: (fried chicken)
2013-05-27 02:33 pm
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Coconut-Ginger Braised Chicken

I just finished making/eating the following recipe for lunch. It was so good, I had to write it up immediately, both so I could share it with everyone, and to be sure that I don't forget exactly how I made it.

Coconut-Ginger Braised Chicken
3 to 6 chicken thighs (or 2 chicken thigh/leg quarters)
garlic salt
approx. 2 tsp each of ground ginger, garam masala, and turmeric
2 tb sesame oil (or vegetable oil)
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tb minced/grated fresh ginger, divided into 1 tb each
zest of one lime
1 can coconut milk, shaken well
2 tb brown sugar
1 tb thai fish sauce
juice from one lime
1/4 c chicken broth or 1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 1/4 water

Also necessary: dutch oven or other stove-to-oven pan w/ oven-safe lid

First, season chicken all over with garlic salt, ground ginger, garam masala, and turmeric. Go easy on the garam masala if you don't want anything too spicy. In dutch oven, heat sesame oil on medium high. Brown the chicken in the dutch oven (about 5 minutes per side). Remove chicken.

Add the onion, garlic, 1 tb of fresh ginger, and lime zest to the pot, and let simmer for about 2 minutes. Shake the can of coconut milk up well, then open and add. Add brown sugar and thai fish sauce. Stir well. Add chicken (and any residual juices) back to the pot. Drizzle chicken with lime juice from 1/2 lime (save the other half of the lime). Cover with lid and put in oven. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

About 20 minutes before pulling out the chicken, make some rice (I prefer jasmine, but any kind is good).

When you remove the dutch oven from the oven, remove the chicken--put it in a bowl, drizzle with a little more lime juice, and tent with tin foil. Add the rest of the lime juice to the pot, along with the other 1 tb of fresh ginger and the chicken broth/bouillon. Simmer until thick (may already be rather thick).

When rice is done, plate with rice, then chicken, then pour sauce on top. Chicken should be tender enough that you don't need a knife. Enjoy!

cafela: (Default)
2013-04-19 10:29 am
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Shrimp & Grits--Updated Recipe

The first time I made Shrimp & Grits, I came pretty close to winging the recipe. I knew how to cook everything individually, but I wasn't sure how much of what to use. The first recipe turned out tasty, and is still a solid recipe, but it had a lot of steps, and I wanted to simplify it. So last night, when I decide to make it again, I tried a couple of different things, and it made a huge difference--and the flavor was possibly even better.

The biggest breakthrough was probably in the grits. My husband suggested I look up recipes for "Charleston grits" which is the name they go by at a couple of restaurants. I was really surprised to see cream or half and half as a component, b/c all my life, grits have only ever been made with water. But as it turns out, it made a huge difference.

So here you are--updated Shrimp & Grits!

For the cheese grits
1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned grits (NOT instant)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup water
2 cups chicken broth
1 tb salt
ground black pepper, to taste (about 1 tsp)
1 tb butter
2 oz Boursin cheese (I use the herbs flavor)
4 oz cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz parmesan cheese, grated

For the shrimp
4-6 slices bacon, diced into squares
1/2 shallot, minced
1 small tomato, diced (or a large handful of cherry tomatoes, chopped in half)
2 cloves garlic, minced
splash of white wine
2 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tb lemon juice
1 lb shrimp, peeled

For the sauce/gravy
drippings from the shrimp mixture
2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 3 tb COLD water

In a pot, combine the grits, cream, water, chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer on medium. Once the grits start to thicken, add the boursin cheese and the butter. Once the grits are thick, add the rest of the cheese; stir to combine. Continue to cook on medium low until they reach desired thickness.

While the grits cook, cook the diced bacon in a medium to large size skillet. Once the bacon is mostly cooked, add the shallot. Let cook for a minute or so, then add the diced tomato and the garlic. Let this cook until the tomatoes look mostly cooked, then add your splash of white wine, as well as 1 tsp of the garlic salt. Stir. Add the shrimp, and sprinkle them with the remaining ingredients (the rest of the garlic salt, the Old Bay, and the lemon juice). Cook until done.

Use a slotted spoon or sieve to remove the shrimp/tomato/bacon mixture and put in a bowl, leaving the juice behind in the skillet. Add the cornstarch/water mixture, bring to a simmer until the sauce thickens.

Plate with grits first, then shrimp mixture, and finish with the gravy. If you want, you can top with a little more parmesan cheese.

cafela: (salt is magical)
2013-04-16 12:00 pm
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Potatoes Boulangères, Au Gratin

I love potatoes. My husband does not. For some reason, he thinks potatoes don't taste good, whereas I say "but potatoes taste like whatever you cook them with!" which is often butter, garlic, and other delicious stuff. But since most of what I cook is food that we both eat, I don't make potato dishes that often. Sometimes, though, he just wants a sandwich for dinner, and that's when I get to indulge my love of the potato.

This dish is a blend of two dishes--Potatoes Boulangères, where sliced potatoes are cooked in leftover meat drippings, and Potatoes Au Gratin, where sliced potatoes are cooked with creamy cheesy goodness. It isn't exactly a healthy dish, but you can add other sliced veggies if you like. Some good ones to include would be onions, zucchini, or eggplant. As you'll see, I popped some sliced cherry tomatoes on top to add a little brightness and a little acidity to cut through all the starch and cheese. It's a great dish to use up an assortment of potatoes and other veggies that you might have on hand.

Potatoes Boulangères, Au Gratin
About 2 pounds of potatoes, sliced thin (1/4 of an inch)
garlic salt
4 oz shredded parmesan or similar cheese
3-4 slices bacon, diced (easier to do with very cold bacon)
2 tb butter
1 cup chicken broth/stock
1/4 c cream
handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise (optional)
2 tb minced garlic
sprig of thyme or sage (optional)
2 oz cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and put the butter in the bottom of the casserole dish. Melt the butter (I did this by simply setting the dish over the stove eye that helps vent the oven's heat). Slice your potatoes--you don't have to peel them, but you can if you don't want the skins.

Once the butter is melted in the casserole dish, sprinkle pepper and garlic salt lightly, and spread 1 tb of the garlic in the bottom. Now add your first layer of potato slices. Pepper & garlic salt again, then sprinkle a small bit of cheese on top. Add the next layer of potato slices, then pepper, garlic salt, and more cheese. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the potatoes.

At this point, pour the chicken broth into the dish. Follow with the cream, and try to do it so that all of the potatoes on top get at least a splash. Place your tomatoes over the top next, and sprinkle the remaining minced garlic over next. Now do a quick sprinkle of pepper, and add your sprig of thyme or sage if you've got it. Finally, spread the diced raw bacon bits over the top as a final layer. Pop into the oven and cook for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove from the oven just long enough to sprinkle the cheddar cheese (and any remaining parmesan cheese) over the top. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove, and let stand for at least 10 minutes.

Note: This dish is even better when reheated the next day, so it's a great make-ahead recipe.

cafela: (Default)
2013-03-15 10:21 am
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Croque Monsieurs

As you have probably picked up by now, I love French food. There's not a French restaurant in the town where I live, but there are several in the relatively nearby city of Atlanta. Mine and my husband's favorite is Ani's Bistro, which favors Provençal cuisine, but has a dash of everything else, too. I always get the Moules Marinières (mussels in white wine sauce) and he always gets their Croque Monsieur. I always steal a bite of his, because it's so good. But we can't always go to Atlanta, and so I decided I should figure out how to make a Croque Monsieur. After all, it's just a fancy ham and cheese sandwich, right?

Well, yes and no. This is what I came up with. The first time I tried it, it was good, but not quite to the level I wanted. I used deli ham--good, fresh, thick deli ham, but it wasn't right. Jambon de Paris aka Parisian ham is famous, and it's just about the only ham I'll eat. So I pondered on why it was so good, and why I don't like normal American sandwich ham. It was then that I remembered--I do enjoy ham at Easter, and sometimes Thanksgiving. But it's not deli ham, it's HoneyBaked Ham. Theirs is on par with Parisian ham. Fortunately, we do have a HoneyBaked Ham Cafe in town, so the next time I went to make this sandwich, I stopped and got a half pound of Honey Baked Ham slices. It makes all the difference.

To be sure, you can make a decent croque monsieur with a good sweet/honey ham from your local deli. But if you want it to be over the top good, get some from a Honey Baked Ham store.

Also, realize up front that this is a very rich, heavy dish. You'll want something to cut through all that cheesy goodness. I recommend a good medium-bodied red wine and a salad to round out your meal. And if you find yourself unable to finish your sandwiches, they reheat just fine.

Croque Monsieur

1/2 to 3/4 lb sliced ham (thick slices!)
2 tb butter
3 tb flour
2 cups hot milk
1 tsp sea salt or Kosher salt (If you don't have it, use 1/2 tsp regular salt)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 8 oz)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 oz)
1 cup grated Fontina or Emmental cheese (about 3 oz)
6-8 largish buns/croissants, or very thick (1 inch) sandwich bread

Grate all your cheeses first, and set aside. Mix all of them together in a bowl, except for 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, which you should keep separate.

In a small to medium saucepan (nonstick if you have it) melt the butter over medium heat. Once it melts, add the flour and stir (I use a whisk). Stir for about 2 minutes; if you've ever made a roux before, that's basically what you're doing here, b/c it's the first step of bechamel sauce....which is exactly what we're making. Once the two minutes are up, add your hot milk slowly. I add about 1/4 cup at a time, whisking it in as I go. It may get thin, but at some point, it will thicken to a gravy-like consistency. At this point, whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Take off the heat and whisk in the 1/2 cup of Parmesan and 1/2 cup of Gruyere that you set aside. Ta-dah! You just made a Bechamel sauce. This is the hardest part of making a Croque Monsieur; the rest is just layering.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit at this point.

Cut your rolls/buns/croissants in half (the way you would for a sandwich). Lay the bottoms out on a cookie sheet. Spread a small spoonful of the bechamel sauce you just made onto the top of each of the bottoms (hope that makes sense). Layer your ham slices onto each (use all your ham). Put another dollop of the bechamel sauce on top of the ham, along with a generous amount of the shredded cheeses. You should use half or slightly more than half of the shredded cheese for this step.

Now put the tops on top of the shredded cheese layer. Spread bechamel on the top. Put more shredded cheese on top. The bechamel sauce should be helping the cheese stick to the bread.

Put into the hot oven, and bake for about 10 minutes. If after 10 minutes the cheese doesn't have the nice browning that you want, turn the broiler on for about 2 minutes, and keep a close eye on it, b/c it's incredibly easy to burn things with the broiler on. Serve immediately. You'll probably need a knife and a fork. Bon appetit!

Protip: If you have leftover bechamel sauce or leftover grated cheese, save them for the next time you make a pasta dish, and throw them into the sauce. Or make cheesy toast with them.

If you find Gruyere to be too strong a flavor for you, you can always increase the amount of Fontina/Emmental and reduce the amount of Gruyere.

cafela: (Default)
2013-01-31 01:39 pm

Shrimp & Cheese Grits

I love cheese grits. I also love shrimp. My husband also likes both, and he especially likes the combination. Yesterday, as I pondered what to make for dinner, knowing that I didn't want to make the stuff I usually make, I decided to find a good shrimp and grits recipe. I also wanted to make a tomato gravy to go with it, as I had the best tomato gravy ever at my friend Jenn's wedding reception this past June, and it was served with parmesan cheese grits. So after looking at a lot of recipes on Pinterest, I cobbled this recipe together. It's kind of involved, but it only took me about 40 minutes to make it. The tomato gravy isn't as good as it was at Jenn's wedding, but it's still quite tasty.

So this dish was an experiment--and luckily, it turned out to be a delicious one. Unfortunately, experiments don't always get pictures taken while I make them, so all I have is one measely camera phone pic of the end result. If I'd had fresh chives, I would've added them in with the thyme, so those of you who have them, that wouldn't be a bad addition. You could just make the grits, or just the shrimp w/ tomato gravy...but they're pretty awesome put together. We both went back for seconds.


For the Grits

1 c grits

4 c water

1 tsp salt

2 tb butter

1/2 container of Boursin cheese (I used the garlic and herbs flavor)

1/4 c grated parmesan cheese

3/4 c grated cheddar cheese

For the Shrimp & Tomato Gravy

3/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 lemon

tabasco sauce

1/4 tsp old bay seasoning

4 slices of thick bacon, diced into small squares

1 diced ugli tomato (or regular tomato when it's summer and they're in season; ugli tomatoes are my go-to during winter)

2 scallions or green onions, sliced

1 shallot, diced into tiny pieces

3 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 c chicken broth/stock

1/4 c cream

1 tb fresh thyme

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

So, first, make your grits, the same way you would always make grits, 1 c grits to 4 c water, with salt to season. They will cook on medium low while you make everything else. If you have stone-ground grits, you will need to cook them however it says on the packaging.

Put the shrimp in a bowl with the juice of the lemon, several splashes of tabasco, and the old bay seasoning. Let marinate.

Slice/dice the bacon first, and put it in a large skillet on medium. Slice/dice the garlic, scallions, and shallot; add when the bacon is mostly cooked. Dice the tomato, add it. Let it cook down a bit, then add the chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes, add the cream. Let sauce thicken.

In a smaller skillet, partially cook the shrimp (don't flip them) with 2 tb of the juice they were marinating in. When one side is cooked (about 1 minute), add them to the tomato sauce. Let sauce thicken. Add the thyme at this point.

(If sauce doesn't thicken after 5 minutes, mix 1 tsp cornstarch into 1 tb cold water, and stir that mix in. I do this anytime I have a sauce that doesn't thicken properly.)

By this point, the grits should be done. You want them to be pretty thick (not soupy/watery at all) before adding the butter and cheese, because that will loosen them up. Anyways, add the butter, then the cheeses, and stir in well. IF it gets too thin/watery, you can put the grits in your bowls to eat and microwave for a couple minutes until it's the right consistency.

Top with the shrimp and tomato gravy sauce. Voila!

Serves 2-4.

**Also, to get extra shrimp flavor, if you have shrimp that need to be peeled, toss the leftover peels/tails into the chicken broth and microwave for 45 seconds (until the shells are pink), and let sit until ready to add the chicken broth. Obviously, strain before adding the broth.**
cafela: (Default)
2013-01-25 01:34 pm

Comforting Apple-Sage Pork Chops

I have to admit, excluding bacon, I'm not a huge fan of pork, or at least, I haven't always been. Too often, pork chops end up overcooked and dry, which is never very tasty. But, with the FDA lowering cooking temperatures for pork (and my conveniently getting an instant-read meat thermometer from my mom for Christmas) and after seeing the chefs on Cook's Country cook a pork loin, I decided to try a new flavor profile with my pork chops: apples. It didn't hurt that I had a honey crisp apple that needed to be used up, too.

These pork chops turned out fabulously, and the leftover savoury apple bits were great on the cornbread I made to go with this dish. They would go well with biscuits or even rice, I'm sure. It started as an experiment, but I'll definitely be making this again.

Comforting Apple-Sage Pork Chops


2-5 pork chops (I used boneless)

1 apple (most any kind will do)

2 tb minced garlic

2 tb sage

1 tb bacon fat (if you have it; if not, you can either dice one slice of bacon and toss it in with the apple bits, or just add more butter/oil in its place)

2 tb olive oil or butter

garlic salt


1/4 c Apfelkorn liqueur/Apple schnapps (if you have it)

First, you need to peel, core, and dice your apple. I used a really small dice because I wanted the apple to cook down as easily as possible, but a larger dice would be fine. In a large skillet, heat your olive oil/butter and garlic on medium. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the apple bits. Stir and let cook for at least a couple of minutes before adding the bacon fat.

Season your pork chops with the sage, garlic salt and pepper--I just sprinkled it on lightly, on both sides. Make room for them in the skillet; you don't want to put them right on top of the apples, because then the meat won't brown as nicely. I just moved most of the apples to the edge, and left a small mound of apple in the middle.

Turn the heat up to medium high, and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the bottom side of the pork chops have browned somewhat. Flip the pork chops, let cook for a minute, then add the Apfelkorn if you have it. If you don't, you could add some chicken broth, white wine, or hard cider instead. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, then start checking the temperature. You want the pork chops to read close to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a thermometer, just be sure that both sides are nicely browned, and you can always cut into one pork chop to make sure it's done. It should be white to veeeeery pale pink. No red or dark pink juices.

Plate with a spoonful of the apple bits on top and eat!

cafela: (Default)
2013-01-03 01:32 pm
Entry tags:

Buffalo Chicken Dip

I know, it's been a couple of weeks between postings. Not that I wasn't cooking, it's just that with the holidays, I didn't get on the computer as much. I was too busy visiting family and making delicious foods!

I first tasted this amazing dip two years ago, at my friend Janet's Boxing Day (aka: the day after Christmas) Party. The great thing about Buffalo Chicken Dip is that you get the flavor without too much spice (though you can keep a bottle of hot sauce nearby for those that want to add it to theirs). This isn't quite the same recipe as Janet's; there are a lot of variants, and they're all good. All you'll need to go with it are some kind of chip or cracker. Tostitos Scoops are good, as are Ritz and Clubhouse crackers.

Now, some people insist that if you're using ranch instead of blue cheese, you're wrong. Well, they're wrong. You can use either. I prefer ranch because blue cheese is a little overpowering, especially for this dip. You could even use both. But this is my recipe, so I'm just going to tell you how to make it the way I do. Experiment with your own approach--odds are it will still be awesome. This makes a lot of dip, but it keeps in the fridge and reheats easily; you can also always halve the recipe.

I only have the one picture because I didn't originally intend to post this, but everyone was asking for the recipe, so I snapped the pic you see below so there would at least be a picture of the final product. It's an easy recipe, though, so step-by-step photos aren't necessary anyway.

Buffalo Chicken Dip


3 10 oz cans chicken (Sometimes I find 12 oz cans, and those work fine too--more chicken is great!)

1 1/4 cup/10oz hot sauce (I use Texas Pete or Frank's, and I often just buy Texas Pete's "Mild Buffalo Sauce" and use half of that, half regular hot sauce)

1 cup/8oz ranch dressing (any brand)

8oz cream cheese

2 cups of preshredded mexican blend cheese (you can use plain cheddar)

9x9 baking dish that's at least 3 inches deep

First, get a medium sized pot out and put it on medium heat. In it, pour the ranch dressing and add the cream cheese. Drain the liquid from two of the cans of chicken into the pot as well. Don't add the chicken itself, just the liquid. Stir everything together, and continue to stir occasionally until the cream cheese has melted.

Drain the third can of chicken, but not into the pot(2 cans is just right, 3 makes the dip too watery). In the baking dish, dump all three cans of chicken. Add the hot sauce, and mix, being sure to break up the chicken into smaller, more dip-friendly pieces. Mix in about 1 1/2 cups of your cheese at this point.

Once the ranch/cream cheese mixture is done (namely, once the cream cheese is melted), pour it over the chicken/hot sauce/cheese mix. Stir a little. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, and mix it just slightly (in other words, don't let it just be a mound of cheese on top; let some of the dressing mixture be worked into it). Most of the recipes I've come across for this dip prefer to layer the ingredients, but I think they're better mixed up. Plus, if you have a layer of just cheese on the top, it can overcook and create a weird hard top. Better to mix it in and avoid that.

Bake in the oven at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, and serve hot. This can easily be reheated in the oven if you're taking it somewhere. My family devoured this dip on Christmas, but if you end up with leftovers, they can be kept in the fridge and reheated in the microwave for up to a week.
cafela: (ninja biscuits)
2012-12-05 12:43 pm
Entry tags:

Buttermilk Cornbread

I love cornbread, and so does my husband. It's an essential part of the dressing I make for the holidays, too. It goes great with chili, or pork chops, or a bowl of beef stew. This recipe is very close to the one you'll find on White Lily cornmeal; my family uses that recipe, and I've tweaked it over time. Our original recipe calls for a whole stick of butter, and it is good that way, but it's just as good with half the butter. It has a good crust and soft, light crumb. It is NOT sweet, because proper cornbread shouldn't have sugar in it. If you add sugar, technically you're making "johnny cake," not cornbread (however, if you really prefer sweet cornbread, all you have to do is add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the batter, and that should do).

Back in 2009, the library I worked in had a cornbread contest for our dept. chair, who was trying to find a recipe that approximated the cornbread his grandmother used to make. This recipe came in 2nd by his judgement, and first by popular vote. So it's not just my family that likes it, I promise!

If you want to make a Mexican-style cornbread, follow this recipe, but add some chopped jalapenos and peppers. I suppose you could add other things in, too, but I've not tried them myself. I tend to prefer my cornbread plain with some butter, though it's buttery enough that you can forgo that. It will keep for 4-5 days if wrapped/in an air-tight container.

To make this cornbread, you NEED a cast iron skillet/pan. It does not turn out properly in a regular pan. You can buy a preseasoned one very cheaply these days.

Buttermilk Cornbread


1/2 stick of unsalted butter

2 eggs

2 cups White Lily Self-rising cornmeal

About 1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1/4 cup oil

Turn the oven to 425 F. Place the half stick of butter into your cast iron skillet, and put the skillet in the oven while it preheats. It is very, very important that the skillet and oven be hot before you put the batter in later. This is how you get the nice crust on your cornbread that gives it extra flavor and great texture.

Lightly beat the eggs together in your mixing bowl. Add the cornmeal, buttermilk, and oil to the egg mixture and whisk together until blended. The batter should be like a thick pancake batter.

Take your skillet out of the oven--remember to use an oven mitt! It should be hot and the butter should be melted.

Pour the batter in and use a spoon or spatula to level it if needed. I like to make sure the butter is sort of evenly spilling over the top, but it's not crucial that you do that. Bake until the top is golden brown (about 20-25 minutes).

You should be able to flip it out of the skillet immediately without it sticking to the bottom. Enjoy!

cafela: (Default)
2012-11-01 11:46 am

Grandma's Chicken & Dumplings

My grandma's chicken and dumplings are my most favorite food of all time. I love dumplings in all their many forms (steamed, fried, other variations of chicken and dumplings, etc.), but none are better than Grandma's. For me, it's not really Easter, a family reunion, my birthday, or Thanksgiving without chicken and dumplings. I'm lucky that chicken and dumplings were also a favorite of my GranGran, whose birthday was the day before mine, so often I would get to share in the pot of chicken and dumplings Grandma made for his birthday.

A couple weeks ago, I realized that I hadn't had chicken and dumplings in a really long time, because I've missed the few "chicken and dumplings required" get-togethers over the past year. Around the same time, I came across a nice, fresh hen at the local farmer's market.

Now, prior to this, I had helped Grandma make chicken and dumplings before. One of my favorite things to do is to add the dumplings in at the end, so I knew the process, roughly. But I didn't know the details; cue a call to Grandma, who patiently explained each step of the process. I followed her directions to the letter, and I got awesome chicken and dumplings in return. SUCCESS!

It's been a couple of weeks since I actually made these, but having done it now, I'm fairly certain I'm remembering this pretty well. I wish I'd taken more pictures as I went, but c'est la vie. It's actually a very simple dish, with very few ingredients.

Grandma's Chicken & Dumplings


1 fresh hen, 2-4 pounds (you can use a fryer or pieces of cut up chicken, but it won't be as flavorful)

a large stockpot full of water (needs to be tall enough that the water covers the hen, plus a couple inches of water above)



all-purpose flour (start with 2 c)

about 2 cups of hot water

wax paper or parchment paper

Put the chicken, skin-on, into the pot. Fill with water until, as said above, the water covers the hen, and continue filling until there are a couple inches of water above the hen. I know, it seems like a lot of water--this dish will give you more broth than you actually need to make the dish, but the leftover is the perfect amount to use in cornbread dressing or a chicken pot pie (stay tuned for those recipes in the near future). Turn the heat on high until the water is boiling, then turn it down to medium or so--you want it to be simmering. Add a good amount of salt and pepper--I used probably 4 tbs of salt and 2 tb of pepper. There's enough water that it's not going to be too much, but even if you're skeptical, be sure to add at least a 2 tbs of salt and 1/2 tb of pepper. The hen will be better if it's seasoned while it's cooking. Cover and cook at a simmer for at least a couple of hours, preferably 3-4 hours.

While you wait for the chicken to finish cooking on the stove, now is the time to make your dumplings! On an episode of Cook's Country, they described these not as dumplings but as "slicks" and the resulting dish was called "chicken and slicks", so if you're familiar with that, this will be a similar dish. But I grew up with it being called chicken and dumplings, and that is what I'll continue to call it.

To make the dumplings, you need flour, water, salt and pepper. This is very much a "do until it feels right" approach, so I can't give you exact measurements. Make sure you have plenty of extra flour on hand. In a large bowl, mix about 2 tsp salt and 2 tsp pepper into about 2 cups of flour. Make a slight indent in the middle of the flour mixture (kind of like making a well, but be sure to leave plenty of flour between the bottom of the well/indent and the bottom of the bowl). Pour about half of the water in and mix until you need to add more water. Add the water until the mixture comes together.

The texture you're looking for is akin to that of fresh pasta, and you should use enough flour that it's not sticky. When you've got it about right, turn the bowl out onto a floured surface and knead a few more times. Now, roll it out into a rectangle. You don't want it to be too thin or too thick. I'd say make it about 1/4 of an inch or about the thickness of sheet of frozen puff pastry.

Go ahead and get a roll of of wax paper or parchment paper to lay the dumplings on (you'll need several sheets, and you'll want it to be a manageable size because the dumplings need to go in the freezer). When you have roughly the shape of a rectangle and the right thickness, cut off the weird edges, but don't toss them. You can still use them as dumplings, they'll just be kind of a weird shape. Put them on the first layer of wax paper. Now, cut your dumplings! Grandma and I like them about 2 inches by 2 inches (any larger becomes difficult to get out with a ladle), but you could always make them smaller. Either way, line the dumplings on the wax paper, not touching.

When you're done cutting them up, wrap up your layers 'o dumplings and put them in the freezer for at least a couple of hours. If you seal them up, they can last in the freezer for a couple months, and they are much better if they're frozen a week or two ahead of time.The amount you'll make here will probably be two pots' worth, so you'll have them premade the next time you want to make chicken & dumplings. If you notice, I leave them in full strips rather than cutting them into squares right away.

When the hen is done cooking in the pot, you'll want to pull it out of the pot so you can take the skin off and separate the meat from the bones. It will be well-cooked through at this point, and very likely to come off the bones, so you might want to use a set of tongs and scoop it out with a mesh strainer/metal colander if you've got one large enough to hold the hen. Let the hen cool before trying to get the skin/meat off. Pour about 2/3 of the remaining broth into a smaller pot (I used a 5qt pot) to make your chicken and dumplings in. Let the remainder cool so you can put it in ziplock bags/other containers to use for other dishes.

Once the hen has cooled, remove the skin, and add as much of the meat as you want to the chicken and dumplings pot. At this point, taste the broth in the pot and add more salt & pepper to taste. If in doubt, don't add much, because you can always finish seasoning it when you've got your own individual bowl. Bring the chicken and broth to a strong simmer/low boil.

Hopefully by now, your dumplings have chilled for at least a couple of hours. Now you get to add them! If you left them in strips, now you can just tear/break them off into the right size, and drop them right into the pot. Stir every minute or two to be sure they don't clump onto each other. Remember that the dumplings will get bigger as they take on water, and adding them will thicken the broth. When you've added all that you want, put the remainder in the freezer, and be sure that you cook the dumplings at least 20 minutes.

Remember that the dumplings will get bigger as they take on water, and adding them will thicken the broth. When you've added all that you want, put the remainder in the freezer, and be sure that you cook the dumplings at least 20 minutes.

After that time, they should be ready to serve! Best of all, any leftovers heat up wonderfully, and you can always freeze the leftovers to heat up on a chilly day.

cafela: (salt is magical)
2012-10-19 11:33 am
Entry tags:

Quiche with Prosciutto and Mushrooms

One of my go-to French meals is the quiche. All you need is a crust, some eggs, milk, and then you put whatever else you want inside, and top it off with cheese. It's like the pizza of France, if you think about it. My favorite quiche is the Quiche Lorraine, but it's hard to get lardons (similar to bacon, but oh so much more delicious) here, so this is the variant I make most of the time. I have an actual quiche/tart pan, but if you don't, you can use a 9-inch or larger pie pan, or an 8 inch spring-form pan.

A lot of people here mistakenly think that quiche is a breakfast food--in France it isn't; it's strictly a lunch or dinner meal. It isn't quite enough for a meal by itself, but pair it with a salad or soup and it's plenty. My husband likes to eat it with salsa, and while I think that's sacrilege, some of you might want to try it that way.

Quiche with Prosciutto & Baby Bella Mushrooms


1 pre-made pie crust

1/4 lb prosciutto, diced

6 eggs

2/3 c half and half (or 1/3 c milk + 1/3 c cream)

1 tsp garlic salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp thyme or herbes de provence

3 to 4 oz baby bella mushrooms, chopped/sliced

5 oz shredded cheese (I use a mix of sharp cheddar and swiss; mozzerella works, so would colby or fontina or gruyere)

An ingredient note: I get prosciutto from the deli, sliced sandwich thin, which I then slice into 1/2 inch squares. If you don't want to run to the deli for prosciutto, you can substitute 8 slices of thick bacon, cooked but NOT crunchy (it's going to cook in the oven too, so you don't want it to overcook) and diced. I find prosciutto a lot easier to deal with than bacon, but my husband prefers the bacon flavor, so it's really up to you which to use; it will be tasty either way.

To start, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your pie crust in your pan. You do not need to grease your pan; if you're concerned about the pie crust sticking, put a small circle of parchment in the bottom.You do not need to precook your crust.

In one large mixing bowl, whip the eggs until they are well mixed and starting to get a little frothy/light yellow. Add the milk/cream/half and half, the salt, pepper, and herbs, and mix until well combined. Set aside.

Dump the prosciutto, mushrooms, and 4 oz of the shredded cheese into the pan and even out. I try to have a good mix so that each bite gets some of everything. See below:

Now you just pour the egg/milk/salt/pepper/herb mixture over the ingredients in the pan. If you're using a larger pan and don't have enough of the egg mixture, you can just whip a couple more eggs and pour those over to add to it. Sprinkle the rest of your cheese over the top, and pop it into the oven.

Cook for about 25 minutes, until set. It may poof up a lot, but that will fall back down once it's out of the oven and cooling. It will keep for about 5 days, and it's just as good reheated as it is fresh out of the oven.

cafela: (Default)
2012-10-05 10:25 am

Baja Chicken Tortilla Soup

Whenever I go back to Auburn, one of my favorite restaurants to visit is Amsterdam Cafe. One of the reasons I go is because they have the best chicken tortilla soup I have ever tasted. I've tried for a long time to make my own tortilla soup that mimics it, and finally hit upon a combination of ingredients based on different assorted recipes that comes pretty close.

It's a lot of ingredients, but the recipe is pretty straightforward. Also, while I don't include them in this recipe, you can add red or black beans to this as well, and probably other vegetables like zucchini or squash, too. I mention the beans because they're in Amsterdam Cafe's Baja soup, but I don't tend to have them on hand, so I leave them out.

I still need to figure out how to create their roasted red pepper mayo (literally the only "mayo" I have ever liked), but having this recipe in my back pocket helps a lot when a craving for Amsterdam's hits me.

Baja Chicken Tortilla Soup


3 tb oil (any plain vegetable oil works)

1/4 of one vidalia onion, minced

1/2 tsp onion powder

1 smallish Ancho chile/Poblano pepper, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 small tomatoes, diced (or one small can diced tomatoes)

5-6 cups chicken broth (reserve 1/4 c)

2 tb cornstarch

1 10oz can of chicken

1/4 cup corn (I use frozen)

3 tb lime juice

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground cayenne/red pepper

1/4 tsp oregano

6 oz mild cheddar cheese, grated/shredded + 2 oz additional cheese for garnish

4 corn tortillas, crushed

1/4-1/2 tsp garlic salt (to taste)

tortilla chips for garnish

Step one--make sure you have a large enough pot. I make this in my 3 1/2 quart dutch oven, and it is only just big enough.

Next--heat the oil in the pot on medium high. Add the onion and chile/pepper and saute until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes).

Add the garlic, cook for another minute or so, then added the tomatoes. Once they start to simmer, add the chicken broth--how much you add depends on how thick you want your soup. Either way, reserve 1/4 cup and stir the cornstarch into that before adding it to the pot.Stir well. When the soup starts to bubble, turn the heat down to medium.

Next, add your can of chicken, and your corn. Keep in mind that you can always add up to double the amount of chicken and/or corn if you want a heartier soup. Let this get to a simmering point.

Now, add the lime juice and all your spices. If you want a spicier soup, you can bump the cayenne pepper up to 1/2 tsp.

Next, dump in the crushed corn tortillas. This part, as it turns out, is one of the most important steps. It both helps thicken the soup, and adds an important flavor that is noticeable if it's missing. Also, I know you're thinking, ack, I'm going to have chunks of tortilla chips all in my soup! But you won't--the tortillas dissolved surprisingly well, especially if they're mostly crushed going in.

Lastly, add the shredded cheese and stir. Once the cheese has mostly melted, turn the soup to medium low or even just low, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

cafela: (salt is magical)
2012-09-21 01:22 pm

Garlic & Lime Shrimp Alfredo

This is a pretty easy dinner to throw together in under 30 minutes; it's my go-to meal during the week when I want to make something tasty quickly. Like a lot of the recipes I've posted so far, you can always tweak this to fit what you have on hand. Chicken works just as well, though you'd obviously need to increase the cooking time.

Garlic & Lime Shrimp Alfredo


1/2 to 1 lb of shimp, peeled and deveined(fresh or frozen, just make sure frozen shrimp are thawed)

2 tb butter OR olive oil

2 tb minced garlic

1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning

lime juice (about 2 limes or 4-6 tb)

2 tsp garlic salt

2 c pasta (I used a combo of mini penne and bowtie)

boiling pot of water

1 jar Bertolli or Classico alfredo sauce

1/4 c white wine (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay all work)**

1/4 c whipping cream or half n half

1/4 c grated parmesan cheese (for garnish/extra flavor--do not use the pre-grated kind that comes in a can; that has its place, but not in this dish)

**May be omitted, but won't be as tasty--be sure to increase the cream amount to make up for the lost liquid

Start by getting your water boiling for your pasta. While you wait for the water to boil, in a separate, larger pan, cook the minced garlic in the butter/oil on medium. Once that begins to get fragrant, add the shrimp, along with the Old Bay, most of the lime juice (reserve about 2 tb or 1/2 a lime), and 1 1/2 tsp of the garlic salt. Add the remaining garlic salt to the water for the pasta. Don't forget to add the pasta to the boiling water once it's boiling!

Depending on the size of your shrimp, they should take 3-6 minutes to cook, stirring occasionally. If you've never cooked shrimp before, you'll notice they go from a sort of shiny translucence to white opaqueness. Before the shrimp are completely cooked, add the wine, and then the jar of alfredo sauce.

The reason you do this before the shrimp are totally cooked is to keep from overcooking them. Overcooked shrimp are not as good. At this point, add the cream or half n half. You can add more or less cream called for if you want to change the thickness of the sauce. It will thicken more from here, but if you like a really thin sauce, you'll want to increase the amount cream/half n half.

Stir this up good. Check your pasta. It should be getting close to done. Turn the heat down to medium low on the shrimp/alfredo sauce. Now, you can either add your parmesan cheese, or you can reserve it to be a garnish. I like just mixing it in.

By now, your pasta should be done. If it's not, turn the shrimp alfredo to low and wait for the pasta to get finished. When the pasta is done, strain out the water, then add the pasta directly to the pan with the shrimp alfredo.

Add the remaining lime juice. Stir everything together. Dish out into bowls to serve. This should make 3-4 servings, depending on how much shrimp you used.

Om nom nom!
cafela: (salt is magical)
2012-09-06 11:05 am
Entry tags:

Cheesy Potato Soup

I only have one picture of this soup, because I made it on a whim and it disappeared quickly. David doesn't like potatoes, so I don't make potato-based foods very often--but there was a sale on fingerling and red potatoes (my favorite!), so I got two small bags of them last week. I definitely plan to make more of this in the future, as it's simple and if you slice the potatoes thinly, very quick.

Cheesy Potato Soup


3 heaping cups potatoes (fingerling, gold, red...most any kind will do--I used a mix of red and gold fingerling)

4 cups chicken stock

1 tb bacon fat (I had this on hand, but you can fry up 4-5 pieces of bacon to get the fat, then crumble the bacon to use as a garnish)

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp garlic salt

1 shallot, minced

1 tsp garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

4 to 8 oz shredded cheddar cheese (depending how cheesy you want it)

1/2 cup cream or half n half

salt and pepper to taste

NOTE: Do NOT use pre-shredded cheese; it will not melt properly b/c the additives that keep it from clumping together in the bag also prevent it from melting easily in large batches)

If you need to fry bacon to get the bacon fat, do this as your first step.

If you don't have a bay leaf, you can substitute 1/2 tsp each of thyme and sage, OR 1 tsp herbes de provence.

First, saute the shallot, garlic, garlic salt, and onion powder in the bacon fat on medium high until the shallot is translucent. Next, add the chicken stock and the bay leaf. Turn the heat up to bring that to a boil while you wash and slice your potatoes.

I left most of the skins on; it gives the soup a good color and gives you extra fiber/nutrients. Plus it's just easier to leave the skins on the potatoes. In order for this to cook in the times I'm listing, you'll want to slice the potatoes very thinly, no more than a quarter of an inch thick. If you've ever had the Zuppa Toscana potato soup at Olive Garden, think of how the potatoes are sliced in that. If your slices are thicker, it will just take a little longer for the potatoes to cook, which isn't a big deal. Do slice instead of chop, however, because that will give a larger cooking surface, which also helps cooking time.

Add the potatoes and give the pot a good stir to ensure that none of the potatoes are sticking together. Once the pot is back to boiling, cut the heat on the stove back to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and easy to stick a fork through.

Once the potatoes are soft, take either a potato masher or a large spoon and pulverize about half of the potatoes in the pot--this will thicken the soup and give it a nice creamy texture, plus ensure that you have little bits of potato in every bite. Let simmer on medium low for about five minutes.

Now turn the heat to low (or even off) and add the cream. Stir it in completely. Now add the shredded cheese and stir until melted. Whatever you do, do NOT do this step with the soup boiling, because the cheese will not behave nicely if the soup is boiling (and it will be infinitely harder to clean the pot). Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with crumbled bacon or extra shredded cheese.

This makes about 4 large bowls of soup, and you should be able to double the recipe with no trouble, though cooking times will need to be extended by a few minutes. It's a wonderful soup for the upcoming fall and winter seasons.
cafela: (Default)
2012-09-05 10:58 am

Spaghetti Meat Sauce (Spaghetti Bolognese)

This is the time of year where freshly grown tomatoes are abundant. This past weekend, we stopped at a roadside market and bought 5 of them. One was quickly sliced and eaten, but I used two of them to make a spaghetti meat sauce for the delicious meal pictured below.

Spaghetti Meat Sauce


1/2 lb ground meat (hamburger, turkey, chicken, or even pork are all fine choices--if using a ground poultry meat, add 2 tb olive oil)

2 ripe tomatoes, diced

8 oz mushrooms, sliced finely (I prefer baby bella, but button mushrooms are fine. If you hate mushrooms, you can omit them)

2-4 tb minced garlic (depending on how many vampires you want to keep at bay)

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme*

5 sage leaves*

1 3-inch long sprig of rosemary*

4 basil leaves*

2 tsp onion powder OR half of one onion, diced (I hate the texture of onion but love the flavor)

2 tsp garlic salt

1 tsp pepper

1 jar Prego traditional tomato sauce (or the equivalent of any other brand, but make sure it's a traditional sauce or marinara, NOT a vodka sauce)

1/4 cup red wine


The herbs with * after them can be mixed up a little--if you're missing one, sub more of another that you prefer. Or you can substitute 2 tbs italian seasoning if you don't have any of them. If you don't have the fresh herb, you can sub 1 tsp of the dried version.

If you're using plain tomato sauce instead of sauce from a jar, double these herbs.

The first step is to cook the meat. Turn the stove to medium high, and dump the meat in. With ground hamburger or pork, you shouldn't need to add any olive oil, but you probably will with ground chicken or turkey. In these pictures, I used ground turkey, and I can promise that there was zero taste difference between turkey and the hamburger versions.

When more of the meat seems cooked than not cooked, that's when I add most of the ingredients--the garlic, all the herbs, the garlic salt and the pepper. However, if you are the sort that rinses the fat out of the meat (as often done with hamburger meat), wait until after you've rinsed it to add the herbs. Once the above ingredients are incorporated and the garlic is giving off that wonderful garlic smell, add the sliced mushrooms (again, if you hate mushrooms, just leave them out). Your pan should look something like this:

Now you get to add the fresh diced tomatoes. Don't worry--if it's not fresh tomato season, you can just substitute a 14.5 oz can of petite diced tomatoes here. But in the picture below, you can see how luscious and red the fresh tomatoes are. I didn't even touch up the color in the photo!

Mix the tomatoes in with the meat and let them simmer for a couple of minutes, just long enough to get them hot. Add the jar of sauce, and stir this in. You're almost done at this point.

If you appreciate the depth that wine can bring to almost any sauce, then now it's time for a large spash of red wine. Most red wines will do-- for cooking, I gravitate towards Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot because they're cheap and easy to find, and because I'm not ready to sacrifice my French wine collection of Burgundies, Bordeaux, and Anjous to cooking when cheaper wines work just as well. Some people would argue you should only use the best wine when you're cooking, but I've tried both approaches and there's no discernable difference. Those people probably don't have a normal grocery budget either.

If you're not like me and don't drink wine, then you'll be forced to leave it out and miss out on the added flavor--you should add 1/4 water or beef broth to make up for the lost liquid.

Now all you need to do is let this simmer, covered, on medium low for about 20 minutes (longer is better, but you will need to add some water or beef broth to keep the sauce from drying out). When you're about to serve, do a taste test--you may want to add more salt or pepper depending on your preferences.

Serve over the pasta of your choice (I used angel hair) and garnish with the cheese of your choice. I used sharp cheddar in the picture, but parmesan, provolone, or mozzarella are all equally good. This amount of meat sauce should serve 5-6. Finally, a spaghetti sauce recipe that doesn't leave you tons of leftover sauce to use up!

cafela: (fried chicken)
2012-08-20 10:51 am

Simple Lemon and Garlic Roast Chicken

I've been cooking for a long time, but up until a year ago, I had never attempted to roast a chicken. I thought it was a complicated thing to do, that would involve racks or somehow violating the chicken with a beer can. Then I saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen that went through the process step-by-step, and it turned what I thought was a daunting task into something that now seems relatively easy.

The best thing about this approach is how easy it is, and how adaptable it is. If you don't have any other seasonings, you can use just salt and pepper and it will still taste good. And this particular recipe lends itself to a very simple gravy, the recipe for which I'll also include. The recipe itself is going to seem long, but it's just because I wanted to spell everything out for anyone else who, like me, had never roasted a chicken before encountering this recipe.

On a separate note, I apologize for the quality of some of these pictures. My nice camera is temporarily out of service due to a worn out shutter button, so I'm stuck with just my camera phone camera until I can get the other fixed.

Simple Lemon & Garlic Roast Chicken


a whole chicken (about 4 lbs)

2 lemons, zested

6 garlic cloves

thyme (fresh or dried)

garlic salt


olive oil (or some other kind of fat--veggie oil or melted butter can work if that's all you have)

twine/string (you can get by without this if you don't have it)

A pot that can work on the stove and in the oven--a dutch oven is perfect, as is plain cast iron. If you don't have this, you'll just have to do a little more work in transferring the chicken

Start by prepping your lemons. Zest them, and set the zest aside. Next, slice one lemon into thin slices. Cut the other lemon into wedges. Now prep your garlic by peeling the dry bit off of two cloves and mincing them. Leave the other cloves alone. If you have fresh thyme, go ahead and chop it into smaller pieces.

Now, remove the chicken from the packaging. Pat it dry. Check the inside for the inner bits (liver, gizzard, etc.) that should be in a package inside the chicken, and pull that out if it's in there. I never use those parts, but some people like to fry those separately. Rub the chicken with a couple tablespoons of oil, then rub with garlic salt and pepper; I find that this is also a good time to add the thyme, and about half of the lemon zest. Don't be afraid to use your hands and get messy.

Then, add the rest of the seasoning--Put a couple of wedges of lemon inside the cavity of the chicken along with the minced garlic. Shove the lemon slices under the skin of the chicken--try to get about four per each side of the chicken; if you have more than 8 slices, that's fine. Tie the legs of the chicken together at this point; this will help keep the stuff you put inside from escaping by accident.

On the stove, heat a couple tablespoons of oil along with a bit of salt and pepper and the remaining zest. If you've got a pan that can go both on the stove and in the oven, use it, if not, you'll just have to use two pans. I put the whole chicken into the pan on the stove, breast side up. This is important, because the main reason for this step is to get the leg/thigh meat started cooking, since it takes longer than the breast does. Cook it on medium high for about 8 minutes. Then I put the pan in the oven at 450 for 30 minutes, adding the last 4 unpeeled garlic cloves then so they can roast with the chicken.

At 30 minutes, without opening the door, switch the oven off. Leave the chicken in the oven for another 30 minutes. I realize this sounds crazy, but it works perfectly every time, and keeps the breast from drying out.

After the 30 minutes are up, pull out the pan and set it back on the stove. With tongs, pick up the chicken and let the juices in the chicken drain into the pan. Set the chicken on a clean cuttiing board/plate to rest for 20 minutes. Pull the roast garlic from the pan and set aside. Squeeze a couple lemon wedges over the resting chicken. You can make the gravy while you wait for it to finish resting. Carve and serve!

Simple Chicken Gravy


Drippings from roasted chicken

Roasted garlic cloves

1 shallot, minced

1/3 cup white wine (pinot grigio, chardonnay, or sauvignon blanc are good choices)

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/3 cup heavy cream (or 1/2 cup half n half)

Turn the heat on the stove to medium with the pan full of drippings/juices. Add the shallot to the pan. Take the roasted garlic you set aside and squeeze the garlic part back into the pan (if you've never roasted garlic before, the inside gets all mushy and delicious, and you just have to open the skin to squeeze it out). Stir to help incorporate the roasted garlic. When the shallots are soft, add the white wine and chicken broth. Once that cooks for a few minutes, add the heavy cream, and simmer until the gravy reaches your desired thickness. If you want a more elegant/smoother gravy, strain it. Either way, this gravy works very well with rice or biscuits as a side.
cafela: (salt is magical)
2012-08-17 09:16 pm
Entry tags:

French-Style Veggie Soup

This is one of my favorite soups, and it's one you don't come across as often here in the US. It's creamy and very healthy. It's also a very forgiving and versatile recipe, and you can play with different assortments of veggies to figure out what you like best.

When I lived in France, we had variations on this soup every week, and we ate soup for 5 out of 7 nights. If you don't like or can't find a particular vegetable in the ingredient list, you can substitute in a similar veggie, no problem. The only things you probably shouldn't change are the shallot and the onions. You probably want to keep at least a couple potatoes for the starch/thickness they provide the soup. Everything else can be swapped for something else--even the herbs.

My host mom did a variant that took out most of the potatoes and swapped it for pumpkin. You can use yellow squash instead of zucchini, or add turnips, or parsnips, or almost anything, really. The biggest thing is to try to balance different veggies, so that you don't get a soup that tastes of one particular vegetable (unless that's what you want). Beef boullion or broth has a more pronounced (and as my host sister said, bizarre) flavor, but it works well enough if you've got red wine instead of white. You also don't have to make this soup in such large quantities; it halves very easily.

6 large red or golden potatoes
1 med-large leek
1 shallot
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 medium zucchini
5 large carrots, peeled
8 oz whole mushrooms (button or baby bella are ideal)
4-5 pearl onions or 1 baby vidalia onion
1 very large heirloom/ugli tomato (or two normal size vine-ripened tomatoes)
2 bay leaves
1 bouquet garni (3 sprigs of thyme, 1 sprig rosemary, 4 sage leaves, tied together with twine)
2 chicken bouillion cubes+water OR 6 cups of chicken broth/stock
1/2 cup white wine
Also, you need either an immersion blender or a normal blender if you want the smooth texture.

Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil or butter in a large soup pot. Peel garlic cloves, shallot, and onions. Chop in half, then toss into the pot along with the bay leaves and the tied up herbs. Note: If you don't have fresh herbs to make a bouquet garni, sub in 2 tsp thyme, 2 tsp sage, 1/2 tsp rosemary. Let this heat up on low while you prep the other veggies.

Rinse the leek, chop off the root and top inch of green part and throw that away, then chop the rest of it up (1 inch slices are fine). Rinse it in a strainer, then add to the soup pot along with the mushrooms. Turn the heat up to medium high. Chop the carrots and zucchini, add to the soup pot. Peel the potatoes (I left some of the skins on because red potatoes are hard to peel), chop into 1 to 2 inch cubes. Add to soup pot. Chop the tomato, add to the soup pot. Rough chop is good enough--remember, you're going to blend all of this later, so nothing has to be perfect.

Stir everything up, then add the remaining ingredients. The liquid should just cover the veggies (if it doesn't, just add a little more chicken stock). See the photo below:

Cover and cook on medium high for at least 30 minutes. Check and stir occasionally. Once the potatoes and carrots are soft, you can turn off the heat. Remove the bay leaves and the bouquet garni.

If you have an immersion blender, you can blend the soup at this point. Have some water/chicken stock on hand in case you need to thin up the soup to blend more easily. If you have to use a traditional blender, let the soup cool for awhile, then puree in batches. Either way, ideally you blend the veggies until you have a thick, creamy smooth soup. At this point, you'll want to add salt and pepper to taste. You can heat the soup back up in the pot to serve, or store it in the fridge and heat up individual servings. It makes enough soup for 7-10 servings, depending on size of the bowls. To garnish, add a splash of cream, some grated parmesan cheese, or a sprig of thyme.

Voila, a very healthy soup with no fat except for the olive oil/butter used at the very beginning.