Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sweeten Your Potato: Red Wine and Maple Glazed Carrots over Mashed Potatoes

Few dieticians would recommend it, but I commend eating a side dish as a main dish; especially if it’s comfort food. After a long week, smashing potatoes to a creamy pulp was therapeutic as well as delicious. The kitchen air was sweetened by carrots, maple syrup, and red wine. The recipe I used called for chili powder and dill. Admittedly, I was timid about trying these, but they added aromatic explosions. What I ended up with was a delectably sweet and fluffy combination. The buttery mashed potatoes melted and slowly made way for the glazed carrots and delicate onions. Strangely enough, it reminded me of French toast – but it was…carrots and mashed potatoes? The obvious culprit was maple syrup, but who cares! This could be an innovative trick to getting kids to eat their veggies. If brussel sprouts tastes like chocolate I would definitely change my tone about them. Or maybe this might be a new featured side dish at Thanksgiving dinner – watch out Sweet Potato Pie!

Red Wine and Maple Glazed Carrots


2 T butter

¼ cup thinly sliced onions

1 tsp chili powder

Salt and Pepper

4 large carrots, diagonally sliced

1/3 cup pure maple syrup [I mixed syrup with honey, ½ and ½]

1 cup dry red wine

2-3 tsp dried dill


1. Heat butter in skillet until bubbling, add onions. Cook until translucent and caramelized.

2. Add salt, pepper, and chili powder. Stir until you smell it.

3. Add carrots, maple syrup mix, and wine. Cover and simmer for about 20 min, or until carrots are tender and sauce has reduced to a glaze. Stir occasionally.

4. Remove from heat. Add dill. Serve by itself, or over some mashed potatoes!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

3 Meals for the Price of One Rotisserie Chicken, ft. Tortilla Soup

“We don’t sweat, we glisten”: should be the sign out in front of Rotisserie chickens. All you see is a succulent, big breasted chicken, slow-roasting in a rotating tanning booth, juices slowly dripping from her glistening-crisp, golden brown skin. She defines full body flavor. When Miss Rotisserie steps of her butter bath, spritzing herself with aromas of salt and spices, just try and ignore her. Is your menu is looking for a nice white meat? For $8, it can dine with Miss Rotisserie for at least three nights. Ready to eat as soon as you get home, Rotisserie chicken will set your dinner off right, as she lends herself well to most any recipe.

The first meal utilized the most underrated part of the chicken: legs and thighs. This delicious dark meat went into Rick Bayless’s Tortilla Soup [included below]. This tomato and chicken broth based soup soared into my top meals list within the first bowl. Dried ancho chilis brought some heat, but not the fire. Ripe avocados, Monterey Jack cheese, and sour cream were the only things I needed to buy, but they were welcomed, creamy additions. By the third bowl, stacked high with crushed tortilla chips and dollops of sour cream, only the expanding food baby that I once called my stomach stopped me from eating more. The best part of this soulful Mexican soup is that it’s simple without being ‘everyday’ – each bite tastes five-star.

The next dinner used only one of the breasts, which I shredded into a Chicken and Quinoa Pilaf. Tired of rice, but still in the mood for some cheap eats? Try quinoa. I would liken it to a tasty whole grain couscous that makes a little ‘snap’ sound when you eat it. The third meal is still in the works, but I am definitely incorporating some fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes and fresh thyme from a nearby garden. Yep, it’s that warm, stick-to-your-sides potato dishes.

And that’s not all that I plan to do with this chicken! With the leftover bones a new batch of chicken stock is in the works. So for $8, three meals and some stock is a steal – but don’t tell my grocery store that.

Tortilla Soup


1 large dried ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 quarts chicken broth
About 2 cups shredded cooked chicken [2 legs, 2 thighs]
1 large ripe avocado, slivered
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Some roughly broken tortilla chips for garnish
1/2 cup sour cream for garnish


1. Toast chile in a dry pan over medium heat, pressing it flat for a few seconds, then flipping it over and pressing it again.

2. Chop chile into pieces and put in a blender jar along with the tomatoes with their juice.

3. Heat oil in large pan, sauté onions and garlic until translucent, about 5-7 min. Stir constantly to not burn.

4. After cooling slightly and straining off most of the excess oil, transfer onions and garlic to blender as well. Blend until smooth.

5. Return mixture to pan. Cook over medium-high heat until thickened, stirring constantly about 6 min.

6. Add broth, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 min. Season with salt and pepper.

7. Add chicken to soup just before serving.

8. Add chips, cheese, avocado, and sour cream on top.

Enjoy about 6 bowls of soup! It will go fast.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall with Style: Stuffed Pumpkins

Carving pumpkins used to be one of the most anticipated events of fall for me. A night flickering lights inside hallowed out gourds. These creative cut-outs glow for a few days in the windows, porches or front lawns across the country. Within a week there will be pumpkin blood on the streets. Punted from porches, chucked at churches and bashed on bridges you will find their remnants, wasted on some pumpkin punk’s cheap thrills. This fact keeps me from going public with my prized pumpkin presentations. Unfortunately, I know it will all too soon become a beacon the night calls someone to smash. College campuses are exactly not pumpkin-friendly. So I have to turn to edible alternatives.
People will stuff candles inside pumpkins, and maybe bake their seeds for a late-night snack, but somehow the train stops there. Why not stuff them with couscous, sausage and apples? Surprised to hear that your favorite Halloween decoration is actually edible? Don’t be. This is not just another gourd in the patch, but a versatile edible vessel. Native Americans baked, boiled and roasted pumpkins hundreds of years before anyone thought to scrape out their nutrients and set them out to rot. While you probably want to stick to the smaller, pie pumpkins for baking and eating, you could hypothetically eat your Jack-o-Lantern [though it’s not recommended – they are mostly grown for commercial use].
Thus, the Pumpkin Party evolved. Okay, so fresh pumpkins are more expensive than Easy Mac and require an oven, but their novel value and savory taste will have you more in the mood for fall than a giant bag of pumpkin-shaped candy corn.
Three small pumpkins fed five hungry people. But next time I will be making my guests their own personal pumpkins. We just couldn’t get enough of the tender, earthy pumpkin. With each bite, we got the soft texture of couscous, the celery-like taste of fennel seed in the Italian sausage, the sour bite of granny smith apple chunks and the sweetness of white wine and raisins. The “ooo’s” and “aaaa’s” bounced around the table; some surprised with the savory, wholesome meal that the Great Pumpkin had yielded. Gourds and squashes might not be traditional items on your menu, but to get in the seasonal, holiday spirit I would suggest a stuffed pumpkin.
Stuffed Pumpkins
3 small pumpkins
1 box [or about 1 cup uncooked] couscous
1 lb sweet Italian sausage
½ large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 granny smith apple, peeled and chopped
¼ cup white wine
½ cup raisins
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425˚ F.
2. Clean pumpkin. Cut off top of pumpkin. Pull out the guts, separate the seeds if you wish to cook them. Scrape insides of pumpkin with spoon to get out all the stringy mess. Rinse inside of pumpkin.
3. In a frying pan, cook sausage until cooked [brown]. Drain off grease. Put into mixing bowl.
4. Meanwhile, make couscous according to package instructions. Add to bowl.
5. Cook onions and garlic in frying pan until translucent. Add to bowl.
6. Add apple, raisins, wine, and spices/herbs. Mix all together.
7. Spoon stuffing evenly into pumpkins. Put top back on pumpkin.
8. Completely wrap pumpkins in tin foil.
9. Bake for about 30 min – or until fork tender.
10. Enjoy this fall treat! But I wouldn’t recommend the outer skin of the pumpkin, as it is tough.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Greek Festival

Food Festival season may be in full swing, but so are 10-page papers. There is little to be festive about during midterms. It’s hard enough for me to get to my blogging. But amid the stress, I managed to break away from my studies for the Annual Greek Festival a few weekends ago.

Upon arriving, a great white tent was the beacon that led me to the food. A menu filled with Greek goodness greeted and entreated me upon my entrance into the tent. Before me a long line of silver pans, each filled to the brim with food. Wafting smells of fried, greasy food met with the sweet accents of honey, cinnamon, allspice and nuts. As a made my way down the production line, jovial Greek workers piled my plate high with mounds of spanakopita, pastitsio, gyros, green beans and loukoumades. I could barely fit a bottled water onto the plate! My mouth was watering even before I reached the cash register. Even if you come to a festival completely full, you always seem to make room for more.

For those unable to attend, I will taunt you with pictures and descriptions of all the food.

Spanakopita, or spinach pie, is a cheesy, flaky phyllo pastry and spinach dish. They call it a Greek snack, but the chunk I was served filled up a significant portion of my stomach. Savory spinach combined with feta and/or ricotta cheese, onions, eggs and seasonings like parsley, oregano, dill, etc., all layered within some flaky, buttery phyllo pastry – even kids would have to love this. It’s spinach, but so much more! Overall, it was standard Greek dish well done by this festival.

My first entrée [I was going to have more than one because I was starving from all that paper writing, of course] was the pastitsio. Pastitsio is like a meaty pasta casserole, but far superior due to the delicious Bechamel sauce and nutmeg that are crucial components to this divine concoction. Although this dish can be seen throughout the Mediterranean, it fit in nicely alongside my other dishes. The dish started with a solid bottom layer of pasta and egg, followed by a pile of ground beef and spices, and topped with a Bechamel sauce and more pasta, sprinkled with cheese and nutmeg. On the side, some seasoned green beans, soft to chew, but great in taste. A heaping spoonful of Pastitsio right after the Spanakopita was the perfect choice. The nutmeg compliments the taste of spinach well, and the heartiness of the meat and pasta were a welcome guest to my Greek plate party.

Next, the gyro. Pronounced “jiro”, for those of us not Greek inclined. Oh what a combination: spit-roasted lamb meat, tomato, onion, lettuce and tzatziki sauce all served rolled up inside a thick pita. The contrast of hot sandwich with cold cucumber sauce was astounding. I mean, really, what isn’t ultimately better with tzatziki – a cold sauce made from yogurt, cucumber, garlic, dill and lemon juice? Unfortunately, most of the sauce was shoved to the front of the gyro making for a tasty start, but a disappointing finish. I will have to investigate ways to make this one at home…

Finally, the sweet, fried dough balls drenched in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. Loukoumades are like little doughnuts, they say. They are a bit different from your midnight munchies run to Dunkin’ Donuts, but we are talking scrumptious ethnic doughnuts here. Each little ball of dough was soaked in honey – completely saturated in sweetness. It was the kind of thing you had to take one at a time, making it made it last much longer than I anticipated [which is a good thing to be certain]. It was a wonderful finish to the meal.

Afterwards I could barely move; my stomach and arteries were pleading no more!

But then why does it all taste so good?! Needless to say, the Greek Festival was a hit. My taste buds were left with a happy tingling sensation, and I knew I was going to be full for the next 3 days, easily.