Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mushrooms and Cream Sauce

For those adjusting the amount of meat they have in your diet, but still craving substantial flavor, I suggest mushrooms.   Mushrooms adapt well to their dishes, creating a meaty sensation.  Seldom do you find a dish negatively dominated by their flavor.  Each mushroom has its own distinctive ‘earthy’ quality, but the taste truly varies full spectrum: from the bold and meaty shiitake to the soft, woodsy flavor of white buttons to the rich and almost creamy morel.  Some people are turned away from mushrooms due to their smooth, spongy texture.  Cooking them will alleviate many of these concerns.   They add a hearty tone to your sauce, side, or main dish. 
Before cooking them, make sure to always wash all the remaining dirt off your mushrooms.  Do not be afraid to use the stems as well as the buttons; though make sure that the bottom stems are not too tough.  Mushrooms can be forgiving during the cooking process, which is good news for many new cooks.  Make sure not to crowd them while cooking, giving each a space on the hot pan.  Use them in place of or alongside chicken, beef, seafood, pasta, or rice. 
The mushrooms and white cream sauce I made over pasta was a quick, savory meal that was made mostly with things already in my pantry.  Even without any meat, the meal was filling and satisfying.  The buttery cream sauce balances the aromatic earthiness of the mushrooms.  Add a splash of white wine or lemon juice for an entirely new facet of flavor.  This is the basics recipe, add and experiment at you leisure!

Mushrooms and Cream Sauce
2 T olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T water
About 8 cremini or white button mushrooms, sliced
2 T butter, unsalted
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
1.       In a 9 in skillet, heat 2 T olive oil over medium high heat. 
2.       Add onions and garlic, cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium.
3.       Add mushrooms, making sure that they are not crowded.  Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until mushrooms are fork-tender.
4.       Add butter, cream, and parmesan to skillet, stirring frequently to coat mushrooms and achieve creamy consistency.  About 2 minutes. 
5.       Season with salt, pepper, and parsley. 
6.       Serve over angel hair or spaghetti.  Garnish with more parmesan and fresh parsley.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Slammin' Salmon Frittata

 Those obnoxious highlighter yellow “SALE” stickers were a stroke of marketing genius.  Ever the penny pincher, I could not resist picking up a 2 pound package of salmon for just $12.  There had to be at least half a dozen fillets in the package – what a deal!  Even before the checkout lane, I was adding up the possibilities.  Not surprisingly, once I opened the package I realized that $12 salmon was quite a fishy purchase.  But I was not going to be a fish out of water with this one. 
Puns aside, the way to use not-so-great-quality fish is to give it the supporting role.  Sure, that fillet may not look like star quality.  But when flaked apart, the taste will make you glad it still made the cast list.  Salmon went with swimmingly alongside green onions, tomatoes, dill, and goat cheese, but red peppers, mushrooms, basil, or feta cheese could be excellent substitutes.  Really, it was like making a giant omelet, so add you favorites.  Using fresh salmon rather than canned allowed us to keep the salmon moist without being chewy.  The frittata was fluffy and filling, best served for a “breakfast for dinner” night.  Pairing it with a fruit salad, whole grain toast, or even a blueberry muffin would make the dinner complete. 

Salmon Frittata
2-3 T olive oil
1 cup salmon fillets, cooked and flaked
5 eggs
¼ cup milk
2 T lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 T dill weed
¼ tsp oregano
Salt and pepper
1 small tomato, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 green onions, sliced
Goat cheese (separate into dollops)

1.       Season salmon with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Cook for about 3 minutes per side, or until flaky but not dry.  Flake apart to make about 1 cup of salmon.
2.       In large mixing bowl, combine eggs and milk.  Whisk vigorously until eggs are well beaten.
3.       Add all remaining ingredients, except 2 T olive oil and goat cheese. 
4.       Heat 2 T olive oil in 12-inch cast iron skillet over high heat. 
5.       Meanwhile, preheat broiler to HIGH, or 450˚.
6.       Once very hot, add in egg mixture.  Lower heat to medium low, cook for about 5-6 min, popping air bubbles that may form.  Drop in cheese at this time.  
7.       Place skillet into oven, cook for about 3-5 more minutes.    
8.       Serve immediately.  Makes about 4 servings.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Homemade 7 Layer Dip

Have you ever had a craving for freshly made guacamole? How about some thick, chunky salsa? Creamy, garlicky refried beans? Big dollops of sour cream? Have you had all these at once?! Then why limit yourself to one, when you can satisfy them all in one dip.  
 American celebrations entail big food productions, and I love another excuse to make food.  However, people tend to restrict dips to holidays, parties, and game days.   Perhaps it’s because dips are a splurge to our daily diets, or because most recipes make so much that, without friends, it usually ends up in the trash.  Okay, so I did make the dip in celebration of the Super Bowl, and I did share with friends; but this dip’s next destination is not the garbage.  It’s being rationed as my lunch for the next few days.  
You may have guests who pass up the dip, claiming that it will ruin their diet.  The truth is, on average, ¼ cup of 7 Layer Dip has only 86 calories and 6 grams of fat. [The real culprits are those sneaky corn tortilla chips…but they taste so good!]
So, although Super Bowl XLV is over, it doesn’t mean you have to ditch the dips.  Explore the possibilities of this 7 Layer Dip by trying crackers, chips, pita bread, and even carrots or celery to make it last all week.  

7 Layer Dip
2 (14.5oz) cans pinto beans (do not drain liquid)
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup sour cream
2 ripe avocados
¼ cup onions, finely chopped
3-4 T lime juice
½ clove garlic, minced
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 cup salsa (I used canned)
¼ cup green onions, sliced
¼ cup olives, sliced
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1.       In a sauce pot, boil beans and clove of garlic until beans absorb most liquid. 
2.       With a stick blender, puree beans until thick and creamy.
3.       Layer on bottom of 13x9 pan (I used an 11x8). 

4.       Next, layer on the sour cream.
5.       In a small mixing bowl, combine avocados, onion, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, and salt and pepper.  Mash together to make guacamole.  Add as next layer in dip.

6.       Pour salsa on top of guacamole. 
7.       Add green onions and olives.
8.       Lastly, top with shredded cheese. 

9.       Chill for about 1-2 hours.  Serve with chips. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Vegetable Lasagna Even Guys Enjoy

“Vegetable Lasagna” is like false advertising…or so some of my friends told me.  Delicious lasagna, by definition they say, must include greasy sausage or ground beef.  But when Italian sausage is $5 a pound, meat isn’t making the menu.   
**For all those already mourning the loss of flavor, I promise that it returns by the time you take your first bite. **
Meat consistently makes a dish tasty.  To make up for lost meat, I had to be elitist with my vegetable recruits.  I carefully chose the finest, firmest zucchini; went for the $2 splurge on brown Cremini mushrooms; got my money’s worth on frozen spinach and canned olives; and took on my trusted pantry standbys, onion and garlic. Other recipes might recommend red pepper, broccoli, or tomatoes, which are all excellent additions.  But alas, they are additions.  If you are looking to maximize the quality of your lasagna and not the quantity of your bill, this recipe is what you need.  Also, this recipe has the added health benefit of less cheese – notice that you don’t even need mozzarella!
The plate was a kaleidoscope of colors and flavors.  This meatless lasagna retained all the hearty taste, without leaving you bulging at the belt.  Even the carnivorous skeptics at the table were silent, mouths full of delight.  It was the type of dinner where you heard only the scraping of utensils.  It was the type of night where you redefine “delicious lasagna”.  

Vegetable Lasagna
½ box of lasagna noodles
2 T olive oil
½ cup onions, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1 cup zucchini, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
¼ cup sliced black olives (from the can)
1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed  
Salt and Pepper
1 can pasta/marinara sauce
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
Pinch of nutmeg
Parmesan cheese

1.       Preheat oven to 350˚.
2.       Prepare the vegetables; meanwhile heat pasta sauce in small pot over medium. 
3.       In a large pot, boil water for the pasta.
4.       In large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat.
5.       Add onions, mushrooms, zucchini – cook for about 3-5 min, then add garlic and cook for until vegetables are fork tender (less than 5 min).
6.       Reduce heat to medium.  Add olives and spinach, toss until warm.
7.       Meanwhile, mix together ricotta cheese, egg, and nutmeg.
8.       Season with basil, oregano, salt and pepper until achieve desired taste.
9.       In a deep dish – at least 4 in (i.e. Corning Ware) – layer lasagna noodles, vegetables, pasta sauce, and ricotta cheese mixture.  Repeat as needed.  Sprinkle top with parmesan cheese.
10.   Bake for about 45 min.  Consume!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Birthday Dinner: Course 2, Death by Butter Poached Potatoes

Upon celebrating another year of life, I have discovered my choice ‘death’: butter poached potatoes.   I have already notified the SPIKE TV show, 1000 Ways to Die, that I will pioneer drowning in butter.  My margarine-mongering compatriots always told me that rampant use of butter would clog my arteries.  Admittedly, most people’s heart would stop just looking at the recipe and reading: “three sticks of butter”.  Yet, you are not really eating three sticks of butter; you are eating potatoes that were boiled (i.e. poached) in it.  So, just as you do not drink all of the starchy water when you boil pasta, you won’t consume all the butter you used to poach potatoes.   
 I think of the poaching process like a potato spa.  The spuds soak in a gentle bubble bath of fragrant wine and shallots, while simultaneously being massaged with melted butter.  They emerge moist and tender, with delicately crinkled skin.  Because they are not greasy or dry on the inside, they lightly dissolve in your mouth like starchy snowflakes.  Butter poached potatoes offer infinitely more flavor than a bland baked potato, and are much more decadent than your fast-food French fries.  Pair with rare steak or lamb for an impressive dinner sprawl.  

We have made the dish several times.  Each time, we (and our guests) have been enraptured with the unique taste and texture, and pleasantly not weighed down by the heaviness that often accompanies potatoes.  Out of necessity, we used red wine this time, however I would stick to the white wine in the future.  Butter poached potatoes are perfect for a dinner party or date – probably a bit too much cooking for your grab-and-go dinner before work. 

Butter Poached Potatoes
1 stick butter, salted
1 shallot, diced
¼ cup dry white wine
2 T white wine vinegar  
2 stick butter, unsalted
1 bag of fingerling potatoes, sliced

1.       In large saucepot, melt 1 T of butter. 
2.       Add shallots; simmer for about 3-5 minutes.
3.       Deglaze shallots with white wine and wine vinegar.
4.       Whisk in butter, 1 T at a time, while continuously stirring. Keep butter very hot, but not boiling.  
5.       Add in potatoes, cover.  Keep eye on temperature so that butter does not separate while cooking.  Be careful not to burn the potatoes or the butter.
6.       Cook potatoes for 20-30 minutes, or until fork tender.