Sunday, January 29, 2012

N! Y! E!

This post is a little late - but I still wanted to get it up to show you all the things we made for our New Year's Eve party. My basic party philosophy is: 1.) put out lots and lots of delicious food (all over your house so people don't congregate in one place) 2.) pour strong drinks and 3.) bring together engaging, interesting people from all different parts of your life. I guarantee everyone will have a blast...everything else is icing on the cake.

Of course, I love planning parties and half wish it was my profession, but it really was very easy to make a lot of delicious and beautiful food - it's all about taking time to plan your menu and present things in a unique way. We did all appetizers, but there were so many choices that people who were hungrier certainly had many choices to fill their bellies.

Roasted Potatoes with Creme Fraiche, Scallions and Optional Bacon

Poblano Cream Soup Shots (sorry for the spillage!)

Grapefruit Bourbon Punch with Mint Simple Syrup - freeze grapefruit slices for prettier ice cubes

Crostini with Steak, Goat Cheese and Mushrooms

Bloody Mary Shrimp Cocktail (more spills!)

Pork Meatballs in Marinara

Bleu Cheese drizzled with rosemary infused honey

Spiced Almonds

Crostini with Lemon Ricotta, Roasted Butternut Squash and Fried Sage

White Bean, Feta and Sun-Dried Tomato dip - serve with crackers, chips, bread or veggies

Crudites with Homemade Caesar Dip

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of our desserts...delicious persimmon puddings with lemon curd and macaroons from our awesome friend Jess and an assortment of cookies (the best chocolate chocolate chip cookies ever, orange thumbprint cookies) and phenomenal lemon cheesecake from Elaine.  A delicious time was had by all.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Transforming Leftover Roast Chicken and Vegetables into a whole other meal

I roasted a chicken the other night, along with the standard root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips, onions, celery, garlic cloves, etc).  It was wonderful (but everyone knows how to do this, I think, so I won't share how I did it, I'm here to talk about the leftovers).  See, the chicken (due to being sustainably raised, and my not wanting to spend a ton of money on meat) was tiny, and after the one dinner for the two of us, there wasn't really a full meal for two left for the next day.  (Also, Axel F doesn't love eating leftovers, particularly).  So to transform what was left into a new and different (and more generous) meal, I took all the meat I could off the bones of what remained of the chicken (half a breast and a thigh), chopped up all the roasted vegetables nice and small (along with some cooked broccoli I had leftover from another meal, and some thawed frozen peas) and threw together a casserole.  It turned into enough food to feed an army (or well, 8 people) generously.  This could be done meaty or vegetarian, with any kind of leftover cooked meat or vegetables that you have on hand (or if you started with drained canned tuna and frozen peas, it's the classic tuna noodle casserole).

It's basically just: cooked pasta or noodles, white sauce (bechamel) and/or cream of mushroom soup, cooked meat and/or vegetables, breadcrumbs.  And it is creamy and rich tasting (without actually packing in much fat), filling and homey, with a nice crunch from the toasty breadcrumbs.  It's what Minnesotans call "hot dish," and I love it.  If you really want to gild the lily (as our parents like to say), you could grate some cheese in before mixing it all together... but I found it plenty rich as is.

You need:
1-3 cups of cooked meat, medium dice
2-4 cups of cooked vegetables, medium dice
1 cup frozen peas, thawed under a bit of cold running water and drained
1 pound of pasta, in some kind of piece type shape - orecchiette, or farfalle, or penne, or even wide egg noodles would be great
a batch of white sauce (recipe below*) PLUS a can/carton of cream of mushroom soup** OR a double batch of white sauce made with extra seasoning***
3-4 slices of white sandwich bread (or really any bread you've got)
3-4 tbsp butter

Grease a 9 by 13 glass baking dish or similar with soft butter and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 375.

Tear up the slices of bread and add to a food processor along with 3 tbsp soft butter and a bit of salt and pepper, and pulse until the bread is in uniform crumbs and the butter is well distributed.

Prepare the white sauce* and combine it with the cream of mushroom soup.  Add enough extra milk if necessary to make the mixture loose enough - it should look about as thick as clam chowder or a spaghetti sauce.  Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

Boil the pasta or noodles in very well salted rapidly boiling water (it should taste as salty as ocean water).  Drain the pasta and add it to the white sauce in the bowl, along with your meat and/or veggies, and mix well to combine.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary, and thin with more milk or some reserved pasta water if it doesn't seem saucy enough.  Now would be the time to add cheese if you want it (cheddar or even some grated parmesan would be good).  Any other seasonings you like (chopped pickled jalapenos, chopped roasted red pepper, chopped fresh herbs, etc) can be added now.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth out the top.  Carefully pour on the breadcrumbs, spreading them over the whole surface.  Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour, till things look bubbly and the breadcrumbs turn nice and golden brown.

*WHITE SAUCE (or, bechamel)
2 cups milk
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
bay leaf
salt and pepper

warm the milk in a saucepan on the stove, or in the microwave, in a microwave safe measuring cup.

In a larger saucepan, melt the butter.  When the foaming subsides, and with a whisk handy, sprinkle in the flour and start whisking vigorously to combine thoroughly and get rid of any bits of dry flour.  Cook this mixture (keeping it moving) for a minute or two over medium heat.  You'll smell that the raw flour scent goes away, and turns buttery and toasty.

Add the warm milk very gradually, little dribbles at a time at first, whisking as you go.  Once milk seems to outnumber the flour in the pan, you can add the rest of the milk all at once, and add the bay leaf.  Whisking constantly (being sure to get into the corners of the pan), cook until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Sometimes it's nice to add nutmeg to this too, especially if you're using, say, leftover cooked dark greens like kale or chard, and leftover italian sausage for the meat! mmmm.)

 **I normally would just make lots of white sauce for something like this, but I happened to have bought (on spec) a carton of condensed cream of portobello mushroom soup at Trader Joes, it seemed like it would be a tasty addition, and lo - it was!

*** if you don't use part cream of mushroom soup, in addition to doubling the amounts for the white sauce, I'd recommend amping up the flavor by adding a finely chopped onion and some garlic to the butter at the beginning, cooking it until soft and translucent but not brown, before adding the flour and continuing with the regular white sauce recipe.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mark Bittman Couscous casserole, veggie style

This recipe (from How to Cook Everything) is fairly easy, and the results smell and taste a lot like lasagna (yay!), but without the hassle of boiling/wrangling noodles or the long bake time.  The original recipe calls for sauteed ground meat, which you could do if you want, but the way I made it was all vegetables (plus chickpeas and cheese), and it was very filling and satisfying.  In the original Bittman recipe he implies that you can used cooked leftover... anything in this (meat or vegetable), and I'm inclined to agree.  Also he says it can be assembled up to a day in advance before baking, which is helpful. 

4 cups of your favorite tomato sauce*
1/4 cup water or veggie stock
2-3 pounds of whatever veggies you like (2-3 pounds uncooked if you're going to roast them for this recipe, or about 3-4 cups of already cooked leftover veggies/beans/etc)
1 roasted pepper, seeded peeled and chopped (optional - I didn't have one, but it seems like it would be good)
1/2 cup couscous (whole wheat or regular) (I think you could substitute fine bulgur or quinoa if you are gluten free, without any adjustment to the recipe except maybe a slight increase in stock/water; or other heartier grains you'd want to par cook first, and maybe measure about 1-1 1/2 cups of cooked grains)
1/2 to 1 cup of cheese (I used feta and parmesan) (amount to taste and dictated by what you have on hand - goat cheese would be fun too I think, but feta and parmesan were a great combination)

First, preheat the oven to 400, and cut up your veggies (if you're not using up already-cooked leftover veggies) into smallish chunks or slices.  I used sliced zucchini and summer squash and a drained can of chickpeas.  You could use things like diced eggplant, winter squash, carrots, peas, any cooked beans, etc.  Whatever you choose, if it needs cooking, cut into small and roughly equal pieces, put it on a big baking sheet, drizzle with oil and salt and pepper, and roast till things start to brown, 10-15 minutes or so.  I think greens might be good in this - you could sautee (or blanch, drain/squeeze out) and chop chard, spinach, or kale and mix it in with the roasted veggies once they're out of the oven.

Heat your tomato sauce along with the stock or water in a large-ish saucepan until bubbling (I maybe used a bit more than 1/4 cup stock).  Stir in the roasted bell pepper if you have it and the couscous, stir, cover, and remove from the heat.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350.

Oil a 2 quart baking dish (not metal), and layer the couscous/tomato mixture alternating with the roasted veggies and cheese, till you fill the dish (if you're using leftover pre cooked vegetables, I'd recommend warming them up a bit before layering them, so they don't slow down the baking.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melty.  Cool a bit before serving.  This was great with a green salad on the side.

It also made delicious leftovers (the flavor might even improve!) with a fried egg and sriracha on top.

*easiest tomato sauce I make:
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
as many garlic cloves as you like (4 or so), chopped
a 32 oz can of crushed tomatoes
whatever seasoning you like (basil, oregano, parsley)
salt and pepper

fry the onion and garlic in oil until softened (you could chop a carrot very small for this too if you wanted).  Add the can of tomatoes and a little water if it seems thick.  Add herbs and salt and pepper to taste and simmer over medium low heat for 20 minutes.

EVEN EASIER: Trader Joe's sells 32 oz cans of Marinara Sauce which I was shocked to find is pretty decent tasting.  Actually, they sell several different kinds - look for the kind that has the shortest ingredient list (it's impressively short).