Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Brussels Sprouts - roast 'em to love 'em

We know Brussels Sprouts have a bad reputation. Often they are boiled to death and take on an aggressive cabbage aroma and flavor. It's not the Brussels sprouts' fault. We just need a better way to cook them. Enter roasting. We blogged about vegetable roasting last year and we mentioned Brussels sprouts but you probably didn't seriously consider them. It's not on most people's list for most desirable vegetable. You should try them. They get sweeter and their flavor mellows when they are roasted. They are very nutritious like most of their cabbage-family relatives.

When you shop for Brussels sprouts, look for bright green ones. If they have yellowing leaves, they have been hanging around too long. They should be firm and try to get sprouts that are all the same size; they will roast more evenly. Use them within a few days because they will start to yellow if stored too long.

When you are ready to roast, preheat your oven to 375-400° F. Trim them up by slicing off the tough stem end. Rip off any bruised or damaged leaves. Cut the sprouts in half. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 Tablespoon olive oil per pound of sprouts. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast them for 20-30 minutes. You want them to get well-browned in spots but be careful not to overcook them.

You can serve them as is. You can squeeze on a little bit of lemon juice. You can toss them with some sliced roasted red peppers, like in the photo. You can toss in some chopped nuts like almonds, walnuts, or pecans. The sweetness of the nuts complements the sprouts nicely.

Try a new vegetable - give roasted Brussels sprouts a chance!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Meatless Monday: Mu Shu Tofu

Mu Shu "Something" is a staple when we head out for Chinese food. There are a few speciality ingredients in the typical restaurant Mu Shu: dried shiitake mushrooms, dried lily buds, tree ear mushrooms, and Hoisin sauce. We substituted more common vegetables - cabbage, carrots, and bamboo shoots - but kept the seasoning the same. The Hoisin sauce and toasted sesame oil are important flavors here, so don't leave them out. You can find both of them at most supermarkets in the Asian ingredient section. They last a very long time (Hoisin sauce in the fridge, sesame oil in a dark, cool cabinet) so you'll have them for the next time you break out the wok.

Tofu isn't as dense as pork or chicken but it does a great job of blending in with the other ingredients. Frozen and thawed tofu is a little drier and absorbs flavors better. You can freeze it in a block and cut it after it thaws, but we recommend you slice it, then freeze it on a cookie sheet. It will freeze and thaw a bit faster this way.

Though the prep takes a bit of time, the dish comes together fast.

Flour tortillas are the usual easy-to-find substitution for the Chinese flour pancakes. Rice paper wrappers are hardly traditional, but they are a lighter alternative to the tortillas. If you can find them - look in Asian markets and some supermarkets - they are quite economical, and a delicious change from the flour pancakes.

Mu Shu Tofu
(serves 4-6; costs $7.90)

Tofu and Marinade
14-16 oz. firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced ½" thick, frozen, and thawed
2 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon cornstarch

4 Tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
2 eggs, beaten
2 scallions, white part minced and green part cut into 1" lengths
1 5 oz. can sliced bamboo shoots, drained
¼ medium head green cabbage, shredded
1 carrot, julienned

Seasoning Mix
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon sesame oil
about 6 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
12 6" flour tortillas or 12 rice paper wrappers (8" size)

Lay tofu slices on paper towels, cover with more paper towels, and blot up some of the moisture by gently squeezing down on the slices. Cut tofu slices into ½" sticks. Toss with 2 teaspoons soy sauce, and cornstarch in a bowl. Get all the other ingredients prepped and ready to go. This is a stir fry and it goes fast.

If you are using flour tortillas, warm them and keep them warm until the stir fry is complete.

Heat a large wok or skillet until very hot. Add 1 Tablespoons oil. Add the egg and quickly scramble it. Remove the egg to a bowl. Add another tablespoon of oil. Add tofu. Stir fry tofu for 3 minutes. Remove to bowl with egg. Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons oil. Add the minced white part of the scallions, bamboo shoots, cabbage, and carrot. Stir fry until the cabbage is starting to wilt but still crunchy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the green scallion pieces, egg, tofu, and seasoning mix ingredients. Cook for another minute. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil.

If using flour tortillas, smear a tortilla with ½ Tablespoon Hoisin sauce, put in about ½ cup of the stir fry, and roll up.

If using rice paper wrappers, dip a wrapper in hot tap water to soften (see Note), lay out flat, smear on ½ Tablespoon Hoisin sauce, add about ½ cup of the stir fry, and roll up.

Note: Rice paper wrappers can be a little tricky. Once they soften up, they stick to themselves like glue. To prevent this, don't leave them in the water too long. Dip in the water, flip it over and pull it out of the water just as it starts to get pliable. At this point, it will be easy to lay it out flat. The wrapper will continue to soften after that, making it easy to roll up.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Chicken Gyro-Style

Lemon is a lovely flavor enhancer for chicken. Many marinades use lemon juice but here we use lemon zest. It has a purer lemon flavor. Lemon juice is very acidic and that tends to overpower the lemony flavor. Lemon zest gets all its flavor from the lemon oil in the skin. Just make sure to only grate off the bright yellow skin. The white underneath the skin, the pith, is exceedingly bitter and not the flavor you want to add to your chicken.

Here's a selection of tools you can use for zesting. My favorite is Microplane® but you can use the smallest holes on a box grater. You can get a box grater for a lot less money than a Microplane and it has multiple purposes (like shredding cheese). If you do spring for a Microplane, get one with a handle. They are easier to use than the handle-less variety. The citrus zester is a bit of an antique these days. Before there was a Microplane - it appeared in culinary stores in the mid 90's - the citrus zester was the tool for zesting. But, it can't compete with a Microplane which is why mine hides way in the back of the drawer these days.

Back to front: box grater, 2 different types of Mircoplane and a citrus zester

Chicken Gyro-Style
(serves 3-4, costs $4.65)

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
the zest of 1 fresh lemon
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
a couple of sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped
1 pound boneless skinless chicken, thighs or breasts
salt and black pepper

Mix together garlic, olive oil, and lemon zest in a non-reactive pan that will hold all the chicken in one layer. Crumble up the dried herbs in your palm and add to the garlic mixture. Add the parsley and mix to combine. Put the chicken in the dish and rub the herb mixture all over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Season chicken with salt and black pepper. Broil or grill until cooked all the way through, how long will depend on thickness of chicken. Thin pieces will take only 15 minutes and whole breasts can take 30 minutes.

Serve on a big salad or stuffed into a pita with lots of lettuce and tomatoes.

(Adapted from a recipe for lamb gyros from the American Lamb Association)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Turkey Meatloaf - a place to use those frozen diced peppers

Last week, we told you how to save some money by buying bell peppers when they are on sale and freezing them. This week, a recipe for using those frozen peppers. This is also a great recipe for stretching a fairly expensive meat: ground turkey. It runs about $5 a pound (more if you get the really lean version). This recipe utilizes some "filler" ingredients: kernel corn and rolled oats. Filler has a bad connotation but neither of these fillers are bad. Kernel corn adds texture. Rolled oats help keep the loaf moist. Both ingredients add fiber. I'd rather call them "stretchers" because they are inexpensive wholesome ingredients that stretch the number of servings you get from a given quantity of an expensive ingredient. If you look back at our Pasta with Mushroom-Tomato Sauce, the fresh mushrooms are also a stretcher. They carried the flavor of the very expensive dried porcini mushrooms and added bulk to the dish. Nothing wrong with that!

Dallas Turkey Meatloaf
(serves 6, costs $12)

1 12 oz. bottle chili sauce
¼ cup water
¾ cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon chili powder (hot or mild, according to your tastes)
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ pounds ground turkey
1 cup diced bell peppers, frozen if you have them and whatever color you like
½ medium onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen

If using frozen peppers and/or corn, thaw them before mixing up the meatloaf.

Preheat the oven to 350 F°. In a large bowl, combine ½ cup chili sauce with water. Mix in oats, egg, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, and salt. Mush in ground turkey, bell peppers, onion, and corn kernels. Grease a 9x5x3" loaf pan. Put meatloaf mixture into loaf pan.

Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Spread the remaining chili sauce over the top of the loaf and continue baking until the internal temperature of the loaf reaches 165 F°. If you don't have a cooking thermometer, this takes another 30 minutes. Cover with foil and let loaf stand 10 minutes before trying to cut it.

Adapted from The Turkey Cookbook, Rick Rodgers, John Boswell Associates, 1990.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Meatless Monday: Sweet Potato & Chickpea Soup

Sweet potatoes - a delicious, inexpensive and nutritious ingredient
An oldie but a goodie. I got this recipe from Jane Brody's Good Food Book and she says she got the idea from Mollie Katzen, the author of the original  Moosewood Cookbook. It's chock full of healthy things like sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and tomatoes. But, it's very easy to put together with mostly pantry items. I have made a few adjustments to the amounts but it's pretty close to Brody's original. Serve this with crusty bread and you have yourself a meal.

Gypsy Soup
(serves 4-6, costs $6.00)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 large stalk celery, chopped
1 medium green pepper, diced (can use 1 cup frozen diced peppers)
1 medium (12 oz.) sweet potato or yam, peeled and chopped into 1" pieces
3 cups vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon dried basil
a pinch of ground cinnamon
a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes, undrained
1 15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon soy sauce
salt, how much depends on the saltiness of the vegetable broth

In a soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, celery, green pepper, and sweet potatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the vegetable broth, bay leaf, paprika, turmeric, basil, cinnamon, and cayenne (if using). Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, covered, for 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, and chickpeas and simmer for another 10 minutes. The sweet potatoes should be quite tender at this point. Stir in the soy sauce, taste, and add salt, if needed.

Adapted from Jane Brody's Good Food Book, W.W. Norton & Company, 1985.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Freezing Bell Peppers

Even in the winter, bell peppers periodically go on sale. I recently found red peppers for 77¢ and green ones for 25¢ which is quite a deal. Peppers, particularly the red, can be very expensive, so it was time to stock up. I like to buy a bunch of them when they are on sale and either roast them or chop them up and freeze them. We did a post on roasting peppers last summer. This is another way to stockpile peppers: dice them up and freeze them for use in soups, stews, and sauces. We recently posted a chicken curry recipe where you could use frozen peppers rather than fresh. Their texture will get soft when you defrost them, making them unsuitable for salads. But, if you are going to cook them, this is a great way to save some money by stocking up during a sale. You also speed up prep time later by chopping the peppers in advance.

Make sure to wash the peppers first. Cut it in half the long way, then cut each half in half, again cutting stem to base so you have 4 quarters. This makes it easier to cut away the white membranes, especially if you make the cut along side one of the ribs with the white membrane. Cut out the stem, seeds, and white membranes. Slice into strips and then cut into small squares. Doesn't need to be perfect little squares, but try to keep the square size fairly uniform. I find a ¼"  to ⅜" dice is a good size for most recipes

A medium pepper yields about 1 ¼ cup of diced peppers. Just measure out the frozen peppers for your recipe - they usually don't freeze into a solid block so they are easy to measure.

Here's a turkey meatloaf recipe that uses frozen diced peppers.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pasta with Mushroom-Tomato Sauce

3/4 ounce dried porcini - not much! But a little goes a long way. 
Besides making spaghetti & meatballs in honor of the romantic dinner in The Lady and The Tramp at my Tuesday night class, we made this vegetarian pasta. Mushrooms have a meaty texture and a rich flavor, so they stand in for meat quite nicely here. We add a small amount of dried wild mushrooms - porcini, specifically - to enhance the flavor even more. The dried porcini are expensive (it was a date night theme, after all) but you don't need much. The flavor they bring is really special. The students thought the pasta smelled and tasted divine. So, for your next splurge, get yourself some dried porcini and make this pasta. If you want to economize, you can make this without the dried mushrooms. Won't be quite as tasty but still good.

We used Baby Bella fresh mushrooms (aka cremini) because they have a deeper flavor but plain white mushrooms will work nearly as well.

Pasta with Mushroom-Tomato Sauce
(serves 4-6, costs $12.50 )

¾ ounce Dried Porcini Mushrooms
1 cup Hot Water

¼ cup Olive Oil

1 clove Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, chopped (about 4 large sprigs)
1 pound Fresh Mushrooms, cut into a ½" dice
14.5 ounces Diced Canned Tomatoes

½ teaspoon Salt
¼ teaspoon Black Pepper

2 Tablespoons Butter
½ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese, plus more for garnish
1 pound Cavatappi (corkscrew-shaped), Fusilli or Penne Pasta

2 teaspoon Salt for salting pasta water

Combine dried mushrooms and hot water in a small bowl. Let soak for at least 20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms, squeezing gently to remove some of the water. Moisten a coffee filter or a paper towel. Place the filter in a small strainer over a bowl. Pour the mushroom-soaking liquid into the coffee filter to strain out any grit. Reserve the liquid. Chop the soaked mushrooms and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the parsley, soaked mushrooms, and mushroom-soaking liquid. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated.

Add the fresh mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid and it has evaporated. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat. Sauce can be made ahead to this point. Reheat while pasta is cooking.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the salt. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 10-12 minutes. Drain the pasta.

Return the sauce to the heat over medium-low. Add the butter, ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, and cooked pasta. Toss to coat and serve with additional Parmesan cheese for garnish.

Adapted from The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Giuliano Hazan, Dorling Kindersley, 1993.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Spaghetti & Meatballs

Penne, spaghetti - fuhgeddeaboudit! They both work. But, you'll need spaghetti to recreate the scene in The Lady and the Tramp.

What's more romantic than a big plate of Spaghetti and Meatballs? "You have a funny sense of romance, lady." Go watch The Lady and the Tramp, that Disney classic, and then tell us Spaghetti and Meatballs isn't romantic. We used a couple of different recipes (including my mom's that I've been eating most of my life) and took the best parts, streamlined them a bit so it's do-able on a weeknight, and voila! You have a romantic meal that's easy to pull off in about an hour, where half the time is enjoying the smell of the sauce simmering away on the stovetop.

Put some Frank Sinatra on, open a bottle of red, and you have yourself one heck of a romantic dinner. And the leftovers are every bit as good.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Spaghetti and Meatballs
(6 servings, costs $11.50)


1 pound Lean Ground Meat (beef, chicken, turkey, veal or some combination of them)
1 clove Garlic, minced

½ cup Dry Breads Crumbs

2 large Eggs

¾ teaspoon Salt

¼ teaspoon Black Pepper

¼ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, chopped (about 4 large sprigs)

½ teaspoon Dried Oregano, crushed in your palm

¼ teaspoon Dried Basil, crushed in your palm

¼ cup Milk

¼ cup Flour

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil


28 ounces canned Diced Tomatoes, undrained

16 ounces Tomato Sauce

1 teaspoon Salt

¼ teaspoon Black Pepper

1 teaspoon Dried Basil

¼ teaspoon Dried Thyme

½ teaspoon Dried Oregano

1 Tablespoon Dried Minced Onion (see Note)
2 teaspoons Sugar

1 pound Dried Spaghetti

2 teaspoon Salt for salting the pasta water

Grated Parmesan Cheese, for garnish

Combine all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Mix to combine but don't squeeze too much or the meatballs will be dense and tough. Form into meatballs (small or large, whatever size you like). Put the flour on a plate and roll each meatball in the flour.

Heat the olive oil in a large covered skillet over medium-high heat. Place the meatballs in the hot oil and brown on top and bottom. Turn with care to keep them from breaking apart. Remove the meatballs to a plate. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add all the sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Add back the meatballs and any juice that collected on the plate. Cover the skillet and simmer for 30 minutes, reducing the heat further to keep it from boiling too vigorously.

While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the spaghetti and salt. Cook spaghetti until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain. To serve, place a portion of spaghetti in a bowl, ladle on some sauce and meatballs (how many depends on how big you made them) and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.

Like many sauce-y things, the sauce tastes even better if chilled then reheated.

Note: Dried Minced Onion is a great pantry item. Inexpensive and lasts forever. You can add it directly to sauces and over long cooking, it will dissolve into the sauce, imparting a bit of onion flavor without any crunchy bits of onion. It's my go-to onion in slow cooker recipes where you don't want to bother with sautéing the onions before putting them in the slow cooker.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sort of Tiramisu

Getting ready to teach another class for the college students at CU. Since we are two days from Valentine's Day, it's a date night theme. To get you excited, we are posting dessert first. :-)

Though we have titled this Tiramisu, we know our Italian friends would not approve. Which is why it's called "Sort-Of" Tiramisu. Some of the elements are there but to simplify it, we have cut out the foamy egg custard (called zabaglione in Italian) because that's not exactly a basic technique. There are lots of other differences. But, it still tastes pretty good if you don't expect it to taste like classic Tiramisu. Because it's only "sort-of" a Tiramisu.

Sort of Tiramisu
(serves 6-8, cost $6.75*)

½ cup Cold Espresso, or very strong coffee

6 Tablespoons Sugar, divided
1 package Soft Ladyfingers, 3 ounces
4 ounces Mascarpone Cheese

½ cup Heavy Cream
2 cups Sliced Strawberries, about ½ pound
¼ cup Semisweet Or Bittersweet Chocolate Chips, mini or regular size

Combine espresso with 3 Tbl sugar. Place ½ the ladyfingers into an 8x8" baking pan in one layer. There will gaps. Pour 4 Tbl of the coffee/sugar mixture over the ladyfingers.

Beat mascarpone cheese with remaining 3 Tbl sugar. Add heavy cream and beat until thick and holding a soft peak. Spread ½ of this on top of ladyfingers. Spread 1 cup of strawberries in one layer on top of cream. Place remaining ladyfingers on top of strawberries in one layer. With a teaspoon spoon remaining coffee-sugar mixture over ladyfingers. Spread on the rest of the cheese mixture. Cover with remaining strawberries. Sprinkle chocolate chips into gaps around strawberries.

Serve immediately or chill until ready to serve.

*Usually, mascarpone cheese comes in 8 ounce packages and it's not exactly cheap, so this recipe will cost you $8.75. You aren't likely to use this ingredient in anything else. We suggest you just make this recipe twice and share it with your friends. Or anyone you want to be your friend. :-)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chinese New Year Tofu

Yesterday was the Chinese New Year - Happy Year of the Snake!

Mapo Tofu is a spicy Chinese comfort food. And, spicy it is! This recipe is a mild soft tofu dish for those of you who can't stand the heat. :-) Really, there is nothing missing from this recipe - rich flavors but no heat. The soft tofu has a soothing texture that is unlike anything else. Give it a try.

This is a stir fry so make sure you have all your ingredients ready to go, measured out and accessible, before you start. Stirfries happen fast and you can't be looking for the cornstarch in the middle of things.

Bean Curd with Oyster Sauce
(serves 4, costs $2.70)

1 pound soft tofu, drained and cut into ¾ inch cubes
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 scallions, chopped
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce (see Notes)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
a pinch of black pepper
½ cup vegetable stock
½ Tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil (see Notes)

Heat the oil in a skillet or wok over high heat. Add the garlic and scallions. Cook for about 20-30 seconds, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the bean curd cubes, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, black pepper, and stock. Gently stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes. Give the cornstarch/water mixture a stir to make sure the cornstarch is dissolved and add to the pan. Stir and bring to a boil. The cornstarch won't thicken until it comes to a boil. It will also become translucent and shiny as it thickens. Remove from heat and add the sesame oil. Serve over rice.

Notes: Though oyster sauce is usually made with fish or shellfish, there are vegetarian versions available.

Roasted sesame oil has a very distinctive flavor. It's an important flavor in hot and sour soup and Mu Shu Pork. Look for it in the Asian ingredient section of your supermarket. Keep it in a cool, dark place and it will keep a very long time. Its flavor breaks down when heated so we add it as garnish after the dish is completed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sunday Night Dinner: Salmon with a Potato Topping

Looking for something a little special for Sunday night dinner? Here's a delicious idea. The salmon is covered with some mashed potatoes and baked. There are a few steps, but it's all easy. It's also a foolproof way of cooking an expensive piece of fish.

These days, you usually get salmon fillets with the skin still on. Get the person at the fish counter to remove it for you. This will save you a bit of trouble when you get home.

Baked Salmon with Scallion-Potato Topping
(serves 4, costs $15, highly variable depending in the cost of salmon)

¾ pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 bunch of scallions, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
¼ cup milk
½ Tablespoon butter
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
non-stick cooking spray or vegetable oil for greasing baking dish
1 ¼ pounds salmon fillet
salt and pepper for seasoning salmon
2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Boil the potatoes in enough water to cover them until they are soft, about 20 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the vegetable oil in a small skillet and saute the scallions and garlic until the scallions are wilted. Set aside.

Heat oven to 425 F°.

Drain the potatoes and mash with a fork. Add in milk, butter, ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, and scallion-garlic mixture. Mash to combine.

Oil an 8x8" baking dish. Place the salmon fillet in the dish and season with salt and pepper. Evenly spread the mashed potatoes oven the salmon fillet. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake the fish for 18-20 minutes. Cut into 4 pieces and serve.

Adapted from Jane Brody's Good Seafood Book, W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.