Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Potato Gratin

I'm sure everyone is thinking about Thanksgiving this week. If you haven't already planned all of your feast, please consider making a potato gratin as one of your side dishes. It's super simple to put together and absolutely yummy.

This recipe is for 4-6 people, but can be multiplied easily. You may, however, want to increase the cooking time for a larger amount. You also want to have a baking dish large enough to hold all the ingredients without spilling over. I use my quiche pan.

Peel and thinly slice four large Idaho-type potatoes. A mandolin works well here, but I don't have one so I just slice as thinly as possible with my chef's knife. It helps to slice a small piece off one side of the potato so that you can place that side down when slicing and the potato won't roll around. Also grate about two cups of cheese, any kind you like. My personal favorites are white sharp cheddar and gruyere. I definitely don't like yellow cheddar here, the color is just not right. Measure out 1 cup of heavy cream and add 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg to it. The only other ingredients are salt and pepper to taste.

Place 1/2 of the potato slices in the baking pan. You don't need to be fussy with placement for this layer - no one will see it. Just spread the slices evenly, sprinkle with salt and pepper, scatter 1/2 of the grated cheese on top and pour 1/2 cup of the cream over all. The next layer is the same, but you want the potato slices to look pretty. Slightly overlap the slices in either a circle or in rows, depending on the pan you're using. Cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for 1/2 hour more. To be sure it's done, poke it with a sharp knife. The potatoes should be tender, but not mushy.

My family gobbled this up last time I served it (no pun intended). It goes well with almost anything that you would serve potatoes with. It is definitely a French inspired dish - tres elegant. Bon appetit!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pepper Steak

Yes, it's been quite a while. Lots going on, not the least of which is that I've started a new job. All the more reason to take short cuts when making meals and use leftovers whenever possible. My new motto is less time in the kitchen and less trips to the market.

I had a steak I couldn't finish not long ago. Just a small amount left, but it was a yummy sirloin, so I wanted to stretch it and get another meal out of it for myself and my mother. She loves pepper steak (it's one of the few ways she'll even eat steak), so that's what we had.

I put the already cooked sirloin steak (about 1/4 to 1/3 of a pound) in the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier to slice into thin strips. I also thinly sliced one medium onion and one medium green or red bell pepper. You will also need a sauce on hand before you start cooking. Combine 1/3 cup of soy sauce with one heaping tablespoon of hoisin sauce and a scant 1/4 teaspoon of chili paste with garlic. Add water to bring the mixture to 2/3 cup and stir in one tablespoon of cornstarch.

Cook some white rice while you make the stir fry. Add about one tablespoon of canola oil and one teaspoon of sesame oil to a frying pan or wok and bring the pan to medium high heat. Add the onions and peppers and stir fry them until crisp tender, about five minutes. Add the sauce and cook until it just begins to thicken, then add in the sirloin strips and cook until heated through. Serve over the rice. Note: you can also use uncooked sirloin. Just stir fry it for a minute or two before cooking the vegetables, and remove it from the pan. Then proceed with the peppers and onions.

I'm always so proud of myself when I economize. Thank goodness for the Chinese, who know how to make great food with very little meat. Hope you enjoy this dish!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Chicken Marsala

I have loved chicken marsala for what seems like centuries. There are many recipes out there, so you can fiddle with this one until you get it to your liking. You can add more or less marsala wine, adjust or eliminate the chicken broth and/or the mushrooms, and add other ingredients to your own taste. The recipe also works for veal or pork cutlets, so buy what you like or what's on sale.

I start with four boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets pounded to 1/4 inch thick. Dredge the cutlets in flour mixed with salt and pepper. In a large, straight sided skillet heat two tablespoons each of olive oil and butter. Saute the cutlets on each side for about three minutes, or until lightly browned, and remove from the pan. Add about eight ounces of white mushrooms, either sliced thickly or quartered, and saute until they start to brown. You may need to add more olive oil, as the mushrooms absorb quite a bit of it. Add three minced cloves of garlic and continue to saute for another minute. Sprinkle two tablespoons of flour into the pan, stir and cook for a minute or two. Pour in two cups each of chicken broth and dry marsala wine (I like even more marsala than that, but that's up to you) and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and return chicken to the pan. Cook until cutlets are heated through. Serve with spaghetti, over which you pour the sauce, and top with grated parmesan.

I promise you, this is really good and really easy to make. Buon appetito.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rotisserie Chicken Gravy

I don't know about all of you, but I am admittedly a gravy hog. I love the convenience and great flavor of rotisserie chicken, but miss the pan gravy that I would make with a home cooked roast chicken. I think I've found a way to make good tasting gravy using a package mix.

When you remove your chicken from the store package, be careful not to lose any of the drippings in the bottom. Place the package in the microwave for about ten seconds, which will make it easier to pour the drippings into a small saucepan. Heat the drippings a bit and stir the dry package mix into the drippings. Since the drippings are mostly fat, the result is somewhat like a roux. Be sure to stir until no lumps remain. Then add one cup of water, or a combination of 3/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of dry white wine. Bring to a boil, stirring all the while, until the gravy thickens. Voila, good tasting gravy from a mix!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tomato and Carmelized Onion Quiche

That's right, those pesky tomatoes are becoming ripe at an alarming rate. They are sooo good, though. I've used quite a few in sandwhiches with just some mayo and lettuce. Since its a little cooler today, I thought I'd do a quiche. This is my standard quiche recipe. Any ingredient can be swapped out for something else except for the crust, eggs and cream.

Start with a refrigerated pie crust. Roll it out into a large pie or quiche pan. Patch any tears by pressing dough with your fingers. Place foil over the crust and fill the cavity with one small bag of any kind of dried beans - I use kidney beans, which I store and reuse whenever I make quiche. Bake the crust in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. This is called blind baking and will help prevent the crust from becoming soggy from the quiche filling.

While the crust bakes, slice one large onion thinly and saute over medium heat in a little olive oil until the onion is nicely browned. Carmelizing the onion releases its sweetness. Remove the onion and set aside. Slice two tomatoes and sprinkle slices with salt, pepper and dried basil. Take the crust out of the oven, remove the beans and foil, and let it cool a bit. Cover the bottom of the crust with slices of cheese, I like swiss best. Then, because I always have cooked bacon in the freezer, I crumble several slices over the cheese. You can leave this step out.

Next spread the onion slices over the cheese and bacon. Begin frying each slice of tomato ever so slightly on each side. As the slices cook, remove them and arrange in circles on the quiche. If you really like cheese, sprinkle a little Parmesan over the tomatoes. Beat four eggs with one cup of heavy cream, salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of nutmeg. Pour egg mixture over quiche, place in 350 degree oven and bake for one hour. Let set for 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More Tomatoes

I have owned Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest forever. They were two of my first cookbooks and have remained favorites. I adore Katzen's Greek Pizza recipe, which will use up 2-4 more tomatoes, depending on their size. The crust is filo (or phyllo) dough and the toppings are good for you vegetables. It's a little labor intensive but worth the effort. So here's my interpretation of her wonderful recipe:

Defrost 1/2 pound of filo dough. Melt 1 stick of butter in a small saucepot and add 1/4 cup of olive oil to the butter.

In a large skillet, saute 1 thinly sliced onion until it starts to turn golden brown (I like my onion carmelized). Add 3 cloves of minced garlic and salt to taste. Continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add a teaspoon each of dried oregano and basil, the juice of one lemon and a 10 ounce package of frozen spinach to the pot. Cook until most of the liquid evaporates.

Butter a large baking tray. Open the filo package, lay out the dough and cover with a damp towel to prevent it from drying out. Lay one sheet of the filo on the baking tray and brush it with the butter/olive oil mixture. Very important: replace the damp towel over the dough each time you take a sheet. Repeat layering sheets of filo followed by brushing with the butter mixture until you have used about 12-15 sheets.

Spread the spinach mixture over the top of the filo leaving a 1/2 inch border. Sprinkle one 6 ounce tub of crumbled feta cheese over the spinach. Divide a 1 pound bag of shredded mozzerella, sprinkle half over the feta. Slice enough tomatoes to cover the top of the pizza. Dredge each slice in seasoned bread crumbs and place in rows on top of the pizza. Sprinkle the other half of the mozzerella over the top. Bake at 400 degrees for 1/2 hour. Cut into squares of any size and enjoy!

This is perfect as is, but my imagination is getting the best of me. I can see using artichokes and red peppers in place of the spinach and tomatoes, and perhaps goat cheese instead of feta. This may become the template for many great filo pizzas.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yellow Tomato Soup

I have one tomato plant in my backyard garden and it is a monster. I have never seen such a fat, full, tall plant. I can't get my hands around it anymore. I've tied it up with pantyhose several times, but the hose must droop after a while. The five foot tall plant has plenty of big tomatoes, and all will ripen at about the same time. Hence the question, what to do with a large crop of tomatoes?

About ten years ago, while living in Hawaii, I ran across a recipe for yellow tomato soup. Believe it or not, it's hard to find some produce there and the produce available, in general, is very expensive. Fresh yellow tomatoes were out of the question, but I had to try the recipe so I used two cans of yellow tomatoes instead.

I've made a major adjustment to the original recipe, which sauted the onions and bacon together. I found that the bacon did not get crisp that way, due to the moisture in the onions. Also, the original recipe had you puree the uncrisp bacon in with all the other ingredients, which produced a very fatty texture in the soup. So here's how I'm doing it using my garden tomatoes, which are actually orange, not yellow, but so what.

In a large Dutch oven, saute 6 slices of bacon, chopped, until nice and crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Leaving only 2-3 tablespoons of bacon drippings in the pot, add one large, diced onion and saute until the onion is tender and starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Add 2 pounds of chopped yellow or orange tomatoes (4-5 large) and 2 cloves of minced garlic and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add one-half cup of sherry and one-half cup of dry white wine. Simmer 5 minutes then add 4 cups of chicken broth. Simmer mixture for 15 minutes. Stir in 1 canned chipotle chili in adobo, minced, and 1 tablespoon of dried oregano. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Stir in one-half cup of heavy cream and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with crumbled bacon on top.