Monday, February 28, 2011

Chicken with Roasted Peppers over Bulgur Pilaf

Last night when Corey got home from work, he found me roasting peppers on our gas stove
And putting them in a paper bag so the skins would come off
I think he thought I'd lost it.  He said he'd never seen anyone do that before.
Yesterday I was really tempted to make something I'd just recently made (see chicken soup, deconstructed post).  I don't usually cook the same thing only a couple of weeks apart, but it was so good...
I was, however, inspired by yesterday's post to cook with something from the list of the 30 healthiest foods.
Then I thought a bulgur pilaf sounded good, and I went to Whole Foods and got 2 whole chicken legs for a little over $2.00.  So I made roasted chicken, and had it with roasted peppers and tomato, over a bed of bulgur pilaf.
Here's what I did:
First, I roasted the peppers (see above).  I used 1 red, 1 yellow, and 1 poblano. Once they were cooled inside the bag, I removed the skins and seeds, and chopped.  I put the peppers in a bowl, and added a tomato that I also peeled, seeded and chopped.
Next, I made the bulgur pilaf.  I sauteed some finely chopped onion in a little olive oil, and then added 1/2C bulgur and stirred until it was toasted.  Then I added about 1/2C chicken broth with 1/4C water and left it to simmer while I made the chicken.
I brushed the chicken with some olive oil, and then sprinkled with coarse sea salt and pepper.  I heated a saute pan over medium high heat and then added the chicken, and cooked until golden brown on each side.
While the chicken was cooking, I cooked the vegetables.  I melted a little butter in a smaller saute pan, and then added a sliced onion, and cooked it until soft.  Then I added a minced clove of garlic and 1/2t paprika and cooked for a minute.  Next, I added the peppers and tomato to the pan, and some chicken broth, about 6oz.
By this time the chicken was all browned, so I put the pan in the oven at 400 to roast while the vegetables simmered, for about 5 minutes.
When everything was done, I put the bulgur on a plate with a little well in the middle, spooned the peppers and tomato into the well with some sauce, and added the chicken on top.
Here's a photo of the finished product:
It was very good.  I loved the texture and the nuttiness of the bulgur with the sweet roasted peppers, and the poblano added a small amount of heat.  The chicken was perfectly crispy on the outside, and juicy on the inside.  It was a nice warming winter dish, while still being healthy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Healthy Ideas - 30 Healthiest Foods

We all know we should make an effort to incorporate more healthy foods into our diets.  Here is a list of the 30 healthiest foods, according to top dietitians and nutritionists:
Whole grain pasta
Peanut & almond butters
Skim milk
Wild salmon
Chicken breast
Kidney beans
Sweet potatoes
Nonfat Greek yogurt
Black beans

Here's the link, which includes information on the health benefits for each as well as recipe ideas:
Some of these I already cook with regularly, such as mushrooms, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, and of course extra virgin olive oil.  However, since I saw this list recently, I have made a point of using some of the others more often and will be including in future posts - such as bulgur, barley, and lentils.
Which of these items are your favorites?  Are there any you like but aren't sure of a good way to prepare?  Let me know and I'll be sure to post a recipe for it soon.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cooking for 1 - Seafood night!

I made myself a simple and satisfying dinner last night, and it was delicious!  I was cooking for 1 because, as I mentioned before, Corey will not eat fish (unless it is sushi).  A bonus is that I have leftovers for lunch today.  This dinner came about because I had some dover sole in the freezer, since I stocked up when Whole Foods had it on sale recently.
I used my favorite fool-proof method for making a quick dinner - sauteing and making a pan sauce.  This is something that can be done with any type of protein, and with a few ingredients pulled from the fridge for a pan sauce.  This is a very quick dish to make - depending on what protein you are using, cooking only takes 10-15 minutes.  Here is what I made:
Sauteed Dover Sole Fillets with a Lemon Caper Pan Sauce:
I had about 3/4-1lb of dover sole, which I sprinkled with salt & pepper before dredging in flour.  Next, I heated about 1T butter and 1/2T olive oil in a saute pan over medium high heat.  Then I added the fish, cooked a couple of minutes on both sides until light golden brown, and removed to a clean plate.
While the fish was cooking, I put the ingredients for my pan sauce in a small bowl:  6T chicken broth, 2T lemon juice, and 2t capers.  After I removed the cooked fish, I added this to the hot pan and stirred while the mixture was boiling.  This gets all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan which help to thicken and flavor the sauce.  When the sauce was reduced, I added some butter to the pan (a couple teaspoons) and stirred around just until melted.  Then I spooned the sauce over the fish.
I also kept the side dishes simple: I had this with toasted pearl couscous and roasted asparagus.
This method of cooking is included in many cookbooks, including the one by Mark Bittman which I wrote about yesterday.  You can use any kind of protein, such as chicken breasts, pork chops or fish.  For chicken breasts it helps to pound them out to an even thickness, so that they cook evenly and quickly.  For the pan sauce, you need about 1/2C liquid per 1-1.5lb protein, along with whatever flavoring you would like to use (for example chopped tomatoes, olives, citrus zest, mustard - in my case capers), and a little fat to smooth it out at the end (could be butter, cream, goat cheese).
This is one of my favorite ways to cook, because it allows for using whatever you have on hand.
Have you cooked this way before?  Do you have a favorite way to cook a simple dinner?  Let me know!

Friday, February 25, 2011

New Inspiration!

I have just received my newest cookbook: How to Cook Everything - 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman.  

I ordered it because I am on the committee for the RI Food Bank's spring event - Food Matters: An Evening with Mark Bittman.  Without any formal training, he has become a highly respected food writer and has cooked with many famous chefs.  So basically, he is one of my idols, and if I am going to meet him I should buy his book first right?
It is quite a large book - over 1,000 pages.  Mario Batali (excellent Italian chef) has said this is the only cookbook you need, you could throw out your others.  Really Mario?  You think I should throw out Molto Italiano and The Babbo Cookbook?  I doubt I'll go that far, but I can see how this new one will get a lot of use.  There are so many recipes - for appetizers, entrees, and desserts...meat and vegetarian...Italian, Asian and all-American...even how to bake bread.  I've only skimmed it, but I like that a lot of it is not specific recipes that need to be followed to the letter, but the basics of how to do things so that creativity is encouraged. His basic premise is that fancy food should be left to the restaurants.  "Everyday cooking is not about striving for brilliance but about preparing good, wholesome, tasty, varied meals for the ones you love.  This is a fundamentally satisfying pleasure."  I agree!
There is also information on tools, techniques, food safety and buying the right ingredients.  The list price is $35, but I ordered it from Amazon for just over $20.
I can already tell I will be posting a lot of cooking from this book...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chocolate Layer Cake

I made this chocolate layer cake with chocolate fudge frosting on Saturday for my cooking club, our theme for the night was Comfort Food.

(This is from Joy of Cooking.  I doubled the recipe and had enough for the 3 layer cake + a little extra.)
  • 2C sugar
  • 1/4C light corn syrup
  • 1/2C half-and-half, plus extra
  • 1/2C heavy cream
  • 1/8t salt
  • 6oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2T unsalted butter, softened at room temp
  • 1t vanilla extract
Combine 1st 5 ingredients (sugar through salt) in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute.  Brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in warm water (this is necessary to prevent crystals from forming on the sides of the pan which will get into the frosting and ruin the texture) and remove from the heat.  Stir in chocolate until melted and completely smooth.  (Mine didn't melt so I put it back over low heat.)
Brush down the sides of the pan again, set pan over medium heat, place a warmed candy thermometer in the pan, and cook the mixture, without stirring, until it reaches 238F, the soft-ball stage.  (A limp, sticky ball that flattens between your fingers.)  Remove from the heat.
Here's what the chocolate looks like as it's boiling, which took quite a while:

Add but do not stir in butter and vanilla.  (Stirring could cause graininess.)  Cool chocolate mixture to 110F (put some cold water in your sink, then put the pan in the sink to sit).  
Transfer the cooled fudge to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on low speed until it begins to thicken and loose its sheen, 5-10 minutes.  Watch carefully, or it may thicken too much and become unworkable.  Once fudge begins to thicken, beat in 1T half-and-half just until blended. Let stand for a few minutes before checking consistency.  If necessary, stir in more half-and-half, 1t at a time, until the perfect spreading consistency is obtained.  (I needed to add quite a lot of half-and-half, maybe 1/4C.)  Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap.  This will keep for about 1 week at room temp, 3 weeks refrigerated, or frozen for up to 6 months.  Soften before using.

We ate half of it, and I brought the rest home to Corey and his poker group.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Kitchen Sink Stir-Fry

Yesterday Corey and I had a nice day together running errands and enjoying the weather.  We stopped at a small market in Narragansett (Roch's) to pick up something for dinner.  I ended up getting a top round steak, just because it was so inexpensive - $2.71 for about 3/4lb, and decided to make a stir-fry.  I didn't really know what we already had on hand at the house, so I just grabbed some veggies - 1/2lb mushrooms (half shiitake, half white to save on cost), an orange pepper, some asparagus, and mung bean sprouts.  I didn't think to get fresh ginger so I used dried.
What resulted from this was absolutely delicious, and so much better than takeout.  I really dislike "American" Chinese food, while Corey prefers it over more authentic Chinese food.  Somehow, this stir-fry satisfied both of our palates.
Here's what I did:
1. Slice all the veggies - pepper, mushrooms and asparagus, cut an onion into wedges, and mince about 1T of garlic.  Keep all of these on a board separate from each other, or in individual bowls.
2. Cut the steak into small pieces against the grain, and put the steak in a dish with 1T low-sodium soy sauce and 1T dry sherry.
3. Make sauce: Mix together 1/4C low-sodium chicken broth, 1/4C low-sodium soy sauce, 2t rice vinegar, 2t toasted sesame oil, 1t crushed red pepper, and 1t sugar in a small bowl.
4. Make thickener: Mix together 2t cornstarch with 2T chicken broth into another small bowl.
It is important to have all of these done before you start cooking, because stir-frying is done very quickly.
5. Add 1T oil to a wok or skillet (I used safflower oil, you could also use peanut or vegetable).  Add steak and stir-fry until just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove to a clean bowl.
6. Add onion to the wok and stir-fry until light brown, about 1 minute.  Add garlic and fresh ground ginger (I used about 1t ground), and then the asparagus.  Cook for 1 minute, and then add the pepper and mushrooms.  Cook for about 2 more minutes and then mix in bean sprouts.
7. Return the steak to the wok.
8. Whisk the sauce in the bowl, and add it to the wok, mixing together with the veggies and steak.  
9. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until slightly thickened.

This would be great with rice or Asian noodles.  I used rice noodles, which are so easy because you only have to soak them in hot water until they are tender.
Once the noodles were tender, I added them to the wok and mixed together with everything else until they were coated.

Stir-fries are great because you can use any vegetables you want, along with whatever protein you prefer.  Just cook the vegetables in stages, starting with the one that takes the longest to cook, and only for 1-2 minutes each so that everything will be crisp-tender at the end.

Corey loved this so much, he asked where I have been hiding this all this time.  I have made stir-fries before but this sauce was really the best.
Make this, and your mate may chase you around the house with a big grin, just as mine did.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chicken Soup for the Soul, Deconstructed

I really love to cook, everyone knows this.  Usually my cooking is a result of whatever I happen to be craving or inspired by on that particular day, or something my fiance Corey wants.
Not yesterday, however.  I was 2 days into this awful cold I got - chills, aches, cough, the works.  I had been eating this wonderful minestrone soup I made for a few days, and now I had a cold.  Everyone knows you should eat chicken soup when you're sick, but I had had enough of soup.
I had no energy to stand in front of the stove for any length of time, but I hadn't eaten much all day, so I knew I had to make something good.  And I didn't want takeout or something out of a box - I wanted something nourishing and delicious, so I would be sure to devour it even though I had no appetite.  That's another thing everyone knows - you need to eat when you're sick, and get plenty of fluids.  But when Dayquil and Nyquil are a major component of your daily diet, it can be hard to get excited about food.  Especially when it will require a trip out to the grocery store and you don't even want to get off the couch.
So I started thinking, what can I make that is nourishing, comforting, and delicious?  And then I remembered seeing this recipe on before -

Chicken Stew with Lemon and Rosemary


  • 8 chicken thighs, roughly 2 1/2 pounds (each thigh about 6 ounces)
  • Kosher salt, plus 1 teaspoon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 carrots, sliced into 1-inch bias cut (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 4 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch bias cut (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium canned
  • 3/4 cup frozen pearl onions, thawed
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Buttered noodles, accompaniment
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a Dutch oven (12-inch diameter) over medium-high heat. Lay half of the chicken pieces skin-side down in the skillet. Cook the chicken, until golden-brown on both sides, turning once, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the carrots and celery, and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Add the rosemary, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add the lemon juice, and scrape up any browned bits that cling to the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the broth, onions, lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon salt and bring just to a boil.
Return the chicken skin-side up to the pot, taking care that the skin is just over the surface of the liquid, and then put the stew in the oven. Cook, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through, tender, and lightly glazed and brown, about 40 minutes. Baste the chicken occasionally in the last 20 minutes of cooking. Meanwhile, use a fork to work the remaining 2 tablespoons butter into the 2 tablespoons flour to make a paste.
Remove the stew from the oven. Remove and discard the rosemary and arrange all the vegetables and chicken (reserving the juices in the pan) in a serving dish/bowl. Place the Dutch oven over medium heat and whisk the butter/flour mixture into the juices until dissolved. Bring to a boil and simmer until thickened. Pour sauce over the chicken and serve immediately over buttered noodles.

It has the major components of chicken soup - chicken, carrots, celery, onions, noodles and stock, but it's not a soup.  It's such a basic recipe, but it sounded so delicious that I actually went out to the store in order to make it.  And it was perfect!
I made it basically as written, but I made 2 servings, and used 2 whole chicken legs.  It wasn't so much a chicken stew - it was more like braised chicken with a delicious gravy.  The rosemary and lemon really take it up a notch from ho-hum chicken.  I had it over egg noodles (no additional butter needed, the gravy is enough).
It takes a little while to cook, but most of the time is in the oven.  All you have to do is brown the chicken, saute the veggies, then put it all in the oven and wait for deliciousness.
If you try it, let me know - I'd love to hear about it!