Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sausage and Roasted Peppers, Crock Pot v. Crackpot, and the Out of the Box Challenge

Last night I attended a wine pairing dinner where each of us were assigned to create a dish to pair with a specific wine.  Wellllll, as per usual, some people dropped out at the last minute and a couple of us were recruited to make another dish.   I decided to make sausage with roasted peppers, mainly because I had a pepper excess and hadn't figured out what to do with them.  

This is really so exceptionally easy that it is kind of embarrassing.  Luckily, I have no shame.  I originally found this recipe/idea in one of those little magazines that they have in the supermarket check-out lanes in like 1996.  ((God, I am old.))  I happen to be certain of this date because there is a picture of it from a really bizarre Fourth of July party that year which involved a "March of the Sacred Pencil."  And there was no alcohol involved.  Seriously.  There might have been a Zima now that I think about it.  I still like Zima.  Shutit.    

The original recipe has long since disappeared and I have modified it over the years.  Last night's version is undoubtedly the healthiest incarnation yet, which was totally necessary to offset the TEN THOUSAND FRICKIN CALORIE ((Yes, I'm still yelling about that)) risotto.

What you need:

4 bell peppers ((various colors, sliced))
1 onion, chopped
2 cups of fresh green beans
2 packages of turkey sausage/kielbasa ((pre-cooked))
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper

((I know, right?  Why are we even doing this?  Because people went ape-shit for it.  That's why.))

What you do:

Slice up everything:  the peppers, the onion, and the sausage.  Admire how pretty the peppers are.  See?

Just lovely.

Throw in pan.  Sprinkle with garlic powder and add salt and pepper.  Figure out how you want to "cook" it.

You can make a foil packet for it ((spray the foil with some olive oil cooking spray)) and put it on the grill.  You can throw it in a baking pan ((uncovered)) in your oven set at 350 for about 30-40 minutes.  You can put it under the broiler and let everything get good and broil-y.  ((Just watch it carefully so you don't get charred beyond all recognition peppers...  No, I have never done that!))  You can put it in a crock pot and let it slow cook for several hours.  Because the sausage is pre-cooked, you don't have to worry about it, you are just getting the peppers to soften.  But don't turn them to mush!  You want them tender-crisp, which is a ridiculous phrase, but means they are soft, but still have a little bite to them.  That wasn't very clear, was it?  Um, you want them softened up but not to lose their basic form.  ((That's a little better.  Gah.))

This time, I put it in the oven for about 40 minutes and then put it in a crock pot set to warm to transport it.  I actually think the slow cooker helped the flavors meld together more.  Do a combo.  Be a rebel.

((Side note:  I just learned that "crock pot" is two words while "crackpot" is one.  Learning is fun.))

WARNING:  This smells utterly divine.  There will be drooling...  by the humans and any resident canines.  People will love it and ask you for the recipe and you will also be embarrassed at how easy it is. Be secretive and make them think it is really hard.  

Nutritional Info:  Sainthood!  I entered the recipe into my fancy nutritional calculator and set it for 12 servings...  Calories:  120, Fat: 4 grams.  When set for 8 servings it is still only 175 calories and 6 grams of fat.    


Tomorrow I am beginning my "No Food from a Box or a Can Challenge."  Two reasons:  the kitchen has been taken over by produce and to see how a solid week of clean eating affects me.  I already eat overwhelmingly clean, but this should up the ante considerably.  This could be a total disaster, but should be good blog fodder.  We shall see.  Bye Nature Valley Dark Chocolate Granola Bars.  I will miss you.  Good thing I had like four yesterday. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sunchoke Risotto, Lots of Swearing, and How Many Brands of Malbec Can You Name?

This morning I took on Gordon Ramsey's recipe for sunchoke risotto.  A sunchoke is also called a Jerusalem artichoke and it looks like this:

No, that isn't ginger...  It just really, really looks like ginger.  Sunchokes are more like potatoes and can be roasted, put into soups, etc.

Let me say this.  These bastards are HARD to peel.  In order to get two cups, it took me over twenty minutes of peeling/paring, and I'm pretty proficient with a knife.  ((Yes, that is also a warning.))  I can do twenty pounds of potatoes in under 5 minutes with a knife.  So basically, this kind of sucked.  And that is when I started cursing my pal, Chef Gordon.

The cursing continued because the way in which the recipe was written was pretty vague.  I'll explain how I did it, but I frankly have no idea if that was what was meant to be conveyed or not.  What took me a few paragraphs to explain ((even with my editorializing)) was written in 5 sentences in the original.

What you need:

2 cups of peeled sunchokes
14 ((ohmygod)) tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cups of risotto rice ((I used Trader Joe's arborio))
8 cups of chicken broth
2/3 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup of Parmesan
Salt and pepper

What you do:

1.  Add some olive oil to a stock pot and add the rice over a medium heat stirring it constantly for 2-3 minutes until the oil is absorbed into the rice.  Working slowly, add approximately 1 cup of *hot* chicken broth at a time, waiting until it is absorbed until adding more.  This entire process takes about 25-30 minutes.  Keep stirring the goddamn stuff!!  It will stick and you will be really, really unhappy with Chef Ramsey if you mess this up.

2.  Throw SEVEN FRICKIN TABLESPOONS of butter into a saute pan.  ((Not the same one as with the rice.))  Let it melt and then add the sunchokes which you have cubed.  Don't let the pan get too hot or you will burn the butter and there will be more swearing.  Swoosh them around until they are soft, about 10 minutes or so depending on the size of your cubes.  Add 2/3 of a cup of heavy cream and let it reduce.  ((That's fancy talk for cook it until the liquid is absorbed.))  Be careful!  You do not want the cream to scorch.  Watch your heat and if you get scared, turn it down.  It might take longer, but it won't get ruined that way.

3.  Once the cream is reduced ((or you give up and declare it good enough)), remove the sunchoke concoction to a food processor or blender and puree it.

4.  Your rice mixture ought to be done by now.  Remove it from the heat and pour in the sunchoke/cream puree.  Mix it around.  Then...ohmygod...sorry... add ANOTHER SEVEN FRICKIN TABLESPOONS of butter to the pot and 1/2 a cup of fresh grated Parmesan.  Put it back over low heat until the butter and cheese has melted into it.

Start adding salt and pepper until you get it to where you think it should be.

I suspect it is impossible to make risotto photograph well, so I'm not really going to try.

The original recipe also called for grilled scallops with a sherry wine reduction, but because I am taking this to an event, I declined to do the scallops.  Scallops need to go out fresh and hot and I just thought it sounded like a nightmare to transport.  Sorry.  I'm sure it is delightful.

This is very, highly, extremely, a lot rich.  As if there is any question with nearly two sticks of butter and the cream and the oil.  I will also say this.  I have a bit more of a sophisticated palate than most...  Kids will not like this.  Most husbands will not like this.  Your foodie friends or those who can name 27 types of Malbec off without thinking however will definitely like it.  Save it for them.

Nutritional Info:  You do NOT want to know.  Seriously.  It is in the thousands for the entire recipe.  I'm not kidding.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Black Bean Quinoa Salad, Non Sequiturs, and Blonde Moment Admissions

I spent an hour this morning strolling through Trader Joe's, shopping for an event tomorrow...  That's when I realized I hadn't yet publicly confessed to my love of quinoa.  Yes, I realize that is a non sequitur.  I had an explanation at the time, but well, now I forget what it was.  ANYWHO, quinoa ((pronounced keen-wa)) is technically an ancient cereal grain which is high in protein and other stuff that's good for you.   It's become much more popular recently and can now be found in places like Target.  It's kind of like rice, but not really.  I'm at a loss how to better describe it though for the uninitiated.  Just trust me on this one.

One of my favorite ways to make quinoa is in a Black Bean Quinoa Salad.

So pretty.


Here's what you need: ((4 servings))

1 cup quinoa ((rinsed thoroughly under cold water))
2 cups of water
1 cup of black beans ((rinsed and drained))
1 tomato ((diced))
4 tablespoons green chiles ((roasted and diced or you can buy it prepared, no judging))
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Cilantro  ((the more the better))
EVOO which means extra virgin olive oil ((just a drizzle))
Sea salt
2 tablespoons feta cheese crumbles

To prepare the quinoa:  Measure out the desired amount and rinse it thoroughly using a very small mesh sieve/strainer.  These little bastards are *really* small, and you will lose all of them if you try to use a regular strainer.  ((No, I didn't do that the first time without thinking it through because I'm blonde.  Nope.))  Throw them in a small pot and add water according to the package directions.  Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until all of the water is absorbed and they are "sprouted."  About 10 or so minutes.  It should look like this when it is done.

See the little shoots?  That means it is done.

While that is cooking, chop up all of the fresh ingredients and rinse the black beans.

Fresh cilantro
Key limes

Throw all of that into a plastic bowl.  Add the quinoa and then give it just a really, really, really light drizzle of olive oil.  Squeeze the limes into it and give it a few cracks of sea salt.  Put the lid on your bowl and shake the beejeezus out of it.  ((Yes, this is technical, I know.))  Top it with the feta and done!
Mmmmm.  Quinoa.  

There are tons of different ways to modify this...  Leave out the green chiles and use a diced jalapeno.  Add sliced avocado.  Add corn.  You can do it however your little heart desires or whatever you have in your fridge.  This is equally good hot or cold and is insanely good the following day.

Nutritional Info:  Solid.  Right around 300 calories, 5 grams of fat.


I'm off to do some work and start my studying but tomorrow we are going off the calorie rails...  I'll be making a sunchoke risotto that is over 1,000 calories per serving and a much, much lighter sausage and roasted pepper dish.  Good lord, don't let me sample too much of the risotto.  Yikes.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Work-Work, Not Work-Work, and a Turkey-Spinach Wrap with Cucumber Salad

I have had a busy morning of a little bit of work-work ((meaning my current "real" job)) and a little bit more of my not work-work ((all things foooood.))  Honestly, I hope my not work-work becomes my work-work but not-work real job soon because I am loving every minute of it.  So far today I've made deliveries of the brown butter banana bread brunch cookies from the give-away on Facebook yesterday, planned a menu for an event I'm a part of this Friday evening, and am planning a menu for an event in a couple of weeks.  My name is Jules and I'm obsessed with menu-planning.  It's almost as good as actually cooking and eating.  Almost.


Consequently, lunch had to be fast, but not a diet-killer, because I'm going to a meeting tonight where I know there will be lots of temptations.  I opted for a turkey and spinach wrap with a super-easy cucumber salad.

Healthy, no?
Making this is really simple and takes less time than it does to nuke something that came out of a box in your freezer.  Plus, it tastes a gzillion times better.  Just take one tortilla ((I've been using whole-grain, low-carb lately, but I don't really mean it)) and pile on 2 ounces of shaved turkey breast.  Throw a paper towel over it and microwave it for 30 seconds.  Pile on some fresh spinach, some diced cucumber, a tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette ((I like Paul Newman's lite version when I don't make my own,)) and a few crumbles of fat-free feta.  A crack or two of black pepper couldn't hurt either.  I would have added diced tomato but the 24 that I have are still ripening which means they will all hit at once and I'll be up to my neck in marinara in a few days.

Ratio of green stuff to non-green stuff?  8:1.
For the side cucumber salad, I just sliced up some more of the cukes, added a couple of cracks of sea salt, drizzled it with 1/2 a tablespoon of the dressing, and added a little more feta, just because I can.

Cuke Salad

And just to make you jealous, here is one in the Arizona sun where the projected highs for the rest of the week are in the mid to upper 70's.  

Nutritional Info:  Halo status.  Both combined are a whopping 175 calories and 5 grams of fat.


I'm off to continue my plans of world domination which for today include booking more events ((I've added four more today--)) and finalizing my registration ((not as a sex offender, thanks though)) for the certifications I am pursuing!


One more thing...  If you "like" the page "Cooking Is Alchemy" on FB, I give stuff away occasionally!  Sarah and Colleen each got a dozen cookies and a special surprise for their Fido's today for being my testers.  I suggest joining up.  I don't want to hear any whining if you don't.    

Monday, February 20, 2012

Distraction, IGE's Brown Butter Banana Bread Brunch Cookies, and an Update

After waking up at 4 am ((again, uh,)) I took to the internet and started going through various food blogs that I follow.  Iowa Girl Eats had posted a recipe for brown butter banana bread cookies.  They are basically like the old Seinfeld "muffin tops" ala Elaine before "muffin top" took on a new meaning.  So think of the good part of a muffin, not the "you're falling out of those skinny jeans that you shouldn't be wearing anyway" variety.

I whipped up a batch this morning because I needed distraction from the inside of my head and they are so, so good.  Even better once they were drizzled with the brown butter powdered sugar frosting.  Wanna see?  I thought so.

Banana Bread Cookies with Brown Butter

I think the best part though was when I decided to go all "Jackson Pollack" on the frosting and just make a mess with it.  Kitchens are meant to get messed up.  It's part of the fun of it.

((I might have figured out how to post the link to the recipe.  Sorry if this doesn't work, I'm still figuring a few things out...  ))

I then promptly posted on Cooking Is Alchemy's Facebook page that I would give them to whoever replied first in the Valley.  While I love experimenting and trying new things that might be good for future events, I am NOT to be left alone with two dozen cookies.  I frequently make things, have one or two bites, and give them away.  You call it bribing people to be my friend; I call it a perk of putting up with my other nonsense.


In other news, I have spent the morning researching my other new ventures, vacillating between excitement and frustration.  I am *this close* to embarking on another new endeavor.  I'm just waiting on an email back.  What can I say?  When I shake things up, I shake things all the fracking way up.


In other, other, news, my little corner of the web here has over 500 hits in the past two days!  You can follow via Google Reader ((that's what I use...  it feeds new posts from all the sites you follow into one place,)) use Google Friend Connect, or subscribe via email ((there's a link at the top right of this page.))  C'mon over and "like" the new Facebook page by the same name too.  I'm also on Pinterest under "Julia Steele" if you want to hang out there.     

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Garlic-Ginger Shrimp with Kale

Another installment from the "Looks Fancy But It Isn't File..."  Today I made garlicky, gingery shrimp with kale and red pepper.

I have to confess.  This came together totally by accident, like many of my things do.  I'm always watching my produce to see what is needing to be used ((a quarter of my counter and three shelves in the fridge are full of produce-- thankfully I have two refrigerators.))  Today, that was the kale.

What you need for two servings:
-10 medium sized raw shrimp
-5-6 tablespoons of reduced sodium or light soy sauce
-1 clove of minced garlic
-1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder OR preferably, fresh ginger
-Red pepper flakes
-4 cups of kale, de-veined
-1/2 cup of red bell pepper, chopped
-Rice to serve it over ((I used long grain and wild rice))

What you do:

Start by marinating the shrimp.  Combine a couple of tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce, 1/2 a teaspoon of minced garlic, a dash of red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon ((ish)) of ginger powder in a small bowl.  ((I didn't have fresh ginger or I would have used that.  Make me proud and use the real stuff.))  Throw in the shrimp and let them soak up the juices while you prep everything else.

Raw shrimp.  Not photogenic.
Chop up roughly a 1/2 cup of red bell pepper and 2 cups of kale.  Don't be afraid of kale!  It just looks like something your seven-year-old self would hate!  Your seven-year-old self has been wrong about lots of things.  ((Exhibit A:  Boys are gross.  Oh wait.  They are kind of.  Moving on.))  Be sure to de-vein the kale.  That's just fancy-talk for "cut the white stem-looking-thing out of the middle of the leaf."

Throw the shrimp and the marinade in a pre-heated saute pan over medium-high heat.  Cook the shrimp until they are no longer translucent, about 3-4 minutes.  The soy sauce mixture will get kind of black on the bottom of the pan.  This is a good thing, it is the soy sauce caramelizing and you earning extra delicious points without trying.    

Shrimpies, not translucent, with free delicious points.  
Remove the shrimp to a separate plate ((not that earlier bowl, no cross-contamination)) and set aside.  Throw the chopped red pepper and another 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic ((and hopefully your fresh ginger because you prepared ahead, unlike me)) into the same pan.  Swoosh that around, scraping up some of the brown stuff on the bottom, until the red pepper begins to soften and the garlic looks golden-brown and the whole mess smells like heaven.  Add the chopped kale and a splash of water from your Aquafina bottle ((that's what I did, just being honest, maybe two tablespoons)) into the pan, cover and allow to steam for about 2 minutes. Kale cooks quickly.  You want it to just get wilt-y and bright green.

The light in my kitchen leaves something to be desired.
Throw the shrimp back in the pan with the kale,  add approximately 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and another dash of ginger powder.  Get it good and hot.

So happy together.


So pretty.

Serve on a bed of long grain and wild rice.

Nutritional info:  Saint status.  Approximately 300 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving.

Happy cooking!  Jules  

Pesto, Pizza, and Scientific Proof

Weekends require pizza.  No, really.  Scientific studies by people with lots of letters after their names, white lab coats, and smug, condescending attitudes have proven it.*

97% of statistics are made up and 84% of readers won't remember the number cited at the beginning of a statistic.*

*I just totally made that up.

Anyway, despite lack of scientific proof, my absolute favorite is mozzarella, tomato, basil, and pesto pizza.  

84% better weekend, guaranteed.*
There are two ((well, way more than two, but let's just talk about two)) ways to do this.  The quick way and the less quick way which really only have one difference:  the pesto ((aka the stuff I would bathe in if I could make enough of it.))

Making your own pesto is not hard, and it is so, so worth it.  Here's what you need:

-2 cups packed, fresh basil leaves
-1/4 cup toasted pine nuts ((you can buy them toasted or put raw pine nuts in the oven on a cookie sheet for a little bit or do them in a saute pan with a little bit of olive oil))
-1 garlic clove
-1/2 tsp of salt, plus one pinch
-1/4 tsp of fresh-cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
-1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

What you do:

Put everything BUT the olive oil and the Parmesan in a blender or food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped.  This will be a process because you basically want it very, very small, so there will be a lot of scraping of the sides.  It's all right.  Hang on.  You can do it.

With the machine running in spurts, slowly add a little bit of olive oil at a time until it reaches the consistency that you want.  Transfer the pesto to a bowl and mix in the Parmesan.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and be careful not to eat the entire bowl in the name of taste-testing.

Now the purists will be saying, "You can't use a food processor, you should use a mortar and pestle, you idiot" ((which I accidentally spelled as "pistol," Dr. Freud.))  But most people won't take the time for that, and hell, most people won't take the time of this way ((we're going to the "jar version" in a second.))  But if you want to be authentic, go for it.  This one from Le Creuset looks pretty and would be fun the one time you ever use it until it hides on a top shelf in your kitchen, untouched, for years.

Now for the pizza.  You can use whatever you like, but I like to keep it simple.  All you need for two servings is:

-One of piece of Naan ((Target has a good one made by Archer Farms.  Trader Joe's also have good ones.))
-1/4 cup of pesto ((if you can't bring yourself to make your own, Progresso's is quite good, I'm not a fan of Trader Joe's for some reason))
-1-2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts
-4 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese
-One fresh tomato
-Red pepper flakes
-Mediterranean Oregano flakes
-More of the fresh basil
-A little bit of the fresh Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400 ((or check the package.))  Spray a pizza pan ((preferably the kind with holes on the bottom)) with olive oil cooking spray ((or you can put it directly on the rack.))  Throw the Naan on there and using a knife, add a thin layer of the pesto.  Less really is more here, don't overdo it.  Sprinkle on your pine nuts and then add thin slices of tomato.  Layer relatively thin slices of the mozzarella on top, leaving some gaps.  Sprinkle the top with the red pepper and oregano and pop it in the oven for about 8 minutes.  I like to do the final minute under the broiler to make it nice and golden and bubbly.

Once you remove it from the oven, add some fresh, finely chopped basil and maybe a little more Parmesan.

100% goodness
Nutritional Info:  Ah, who cares?  Calories don't count on the weekend.  But, half would be around 350 depending on how much cheese you use.