Friday, April 27

Melitzanosalata

Melitzanosalata is a Greek eggplant salad. It isn't a leafy salad, it is actually an eggplant based puréed salad. Served traditionally as either a side dish or appetizer alongside a flatbread to scoop it up with.

Serves 4-6
Full time: 1 hour 20 minutes
You will need:

2 lg. eggplants
3/4 cup olive oil, divided 1/4 & 1/2 cup
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 tbsp salt
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp dried oregano

Let us begin:

Preheat oven to 350

Slice eggplant thick a little less then 1/2" but more than 1/4"


Spread slices out on parchment lined baking sheets


Sprinkle heavily with all the salt and drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil



Allow to roast in oven for 1 hour or until golden


Once done, remove from trays and put in blender or food processor. Pulse to a coarse chop


Add in remaining ingredients and purée down to a heavy chunky texture

Move to bowl and allow to cool. Serve with bread or meals!

Wednesday, April 25

HOW TO: Caramelize Bacon

Caramelizing bacon is one of the best ways to enhance the amazing flavors of bacon. It also allows you to incorporate the bacon more into sweet dishes. In my house we love to cook our bacon this way and enjoy it along side pancakes. Caramelized bacon is great as a stand alone or to enhance recipes were bacon is required, savory pies being the best use!


This will caramelize 1 pound
Full time: 1 hour
You will need:

1 lb bacon, thick slice does not work well
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp salt

Let us begin:

Preheat your oven to 350

Line a sided baking tray with aluminum foil, don't skip this step

Lay bacon out in a single layer on the lined tray

Sprinkle over half of the salt and pepper, flip bacon over and sprinkle over the other half of salt and pepper

Now sprinkle over the brown sugar, if it clumps together it is okay as long as the clumps are evenly spaced around

Bake in oven for 35-45 minutes, or until bacon begins to crisp and brown

Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes, this allows the brown sugar to harden slightly and make it easier to move

Plate and serve, or use in recipe

Tuesday, April 24

Creating a Noddle Bar

Noodle bars and noodle houses, have been a staple in Chinese, Japanese cuisine for decades, and most likely even centuries. They started to appear here a few decade ago, but it wasn't until recently that they became the "in" place to eat. I like making noodle bars for when friends come over for dinner. It is a great way to get interactive when dinning with friends.

It really allows people to independently build their own meal to their liking. Imagine walking into a friend's house for dinner and being told, I made this exactly the way you want it! I really love allowing my friends and relatives to have exactly what they want. Plus as a bonus you can feed a lot of people with very little work during the meal!

There is a little work a head of time, but it will pay off in the end. Here is what you'll need to do to create a great noodle bar for you guests.

This serves 8-10
Full time: 30-60 minutes (based on multi tasking)
You will need:

2 lbs. chicken breast tenders, cubed
2 lbs. thin slice pork chops, cubed
2 lbs. Chinese udon noodles
1 lb. spinach
1 lb. baby corn
1 lb. snow peas
1 quart sliced mushrooms
1 small bunch green onions, diced
3 tbsp butter, divided
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp Chinese five spice, divided
2 tsp salt, divided

For add ins:

Soy sauce
Duck sauce
Wonton Noodles, you can find these in bags in grocery stores, they are the little fried noodles you get from Chinese take away restaurants.

For broth:

10 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
1/4 cup green onions, diced (use same bunch as above)
1 tbsp Chinese five spice
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Lets get started:
  1. In a large pot combine all broth ingredients, bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat to simmer and hold there until ready to serve
  2. Get a pot of hot water boiling: Blanch baby corn for 2 minutes-remove from water but don't drain water. Now blanch snow peas for 2 minutes-remove from water but don't drain water. Add in noodles and cook according to package, drain and return to pot. Stir in 1 tbsp olive oil and butter to prevent sticking
  3. In a large skillet melt 1 tbsp butter with 1 tbsp olive oil. Add in pork, sprinkle over 1 tbsp five spice and 1 tsp salt, saute until cooked. Remove from pan
  4. In the same skillet melt remaining butter and olive oil, add mushrooms-saute 4-5 minutes or until the just begin to become tender. Remove from pan
  5. In the same skillet add in chicken, sprinkle over remaining five spice and salt, saute until cooked. Remove from pan
  6. Lets set up the bar: place a stack of bowls at one end of the table (my table goes right to left), close to the bowls place the noodles in a large bowl
  7. In a small bowl place raw diced green onions
  8. In a large bowl place raw spinach
  9. Plate remaining ingredients on plates or individual bowls
  10. Have the add in set up near the eating area with chop sticks and spoons
Invite your guests to build their bowls, layering noodles with their favorite ingredients. A little hint putting the spinach first under the noodles, will allow the spinach to wilt under the heat of the noodles and broth. Once they fill there bowl, top with one or two ladles of broth and enjoy!

PRODUCT REVIEW: FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer

Product Review: I want to start by saying this is not a paid advertisement, I speak for myself only, no companies have given me anything for this review. My opinions are completely my own.

"FoodSaver: Vacuum Sealer" Overview: Love it, simple to use, serious money saver

(Photo with front open)

I actually won my original FoodSaver from a contest at work. It was the FoodSaver Mini and honestly it sat in its box for almost two years. One day I was watching The Food Network and noticed how often chefs were using vacuum sealers for marinades, quick cooking, and preservation. I pulled mine out, gave it a whirl, and the rest was history. That was six years ago. in the beginning the small portable sealer worked well for me, usually cooking for 2, it allowed me to break up large packages of meat and easily store the remaining for later use.

I ended up outgrowing the Mini and got the Counter top version, its not the the fancy Gourmet Chef one, but it has all the same features. It gives you the option to change the type of seal you want with an easy touch of a button. These options include, marinade, canister (there is a little tube that attaches to the base for canning), dry or wet foods, which is great for vacuuming baked goods, and very airy foods.

What I like about the machine is it has a wide variety of sealing options. Most of which can be found in Target, Walmart, Stop n' Shop, Bed bath and Beyond, and on the web. Your options include:
* 8" vacuum bags
* perfect portion bags
* vegetable steamer bags
* canisters, similar to a Maison jar
* 8" sizable roll (shown to the left)
* 11" sizable roll (shown to the left)

Having this many options really allows you to seal exactly what you want, the size you need, and breakdown large packages into smaller ones. This is where the money saving part really comes into play. Being able to by the large bulk meats when they go on sale, break them down, and seal them really helps with the grocery bill. Vacuum sealing significantly extends the life time of frozen food, by almost 5-6 times. Meaning, I can buy chicken today and use it 6 weeks from now. With no freezer burn to worry about! Its great, I do all my meat shopping at the beginning of the month or when they have a great sale and the house is all set.

As I said in the opening, the machine is extremely easy to use. The buttons are one touch, lights indicate the mode your in, and it is ready to go in just under a minute from turning it on. The machine has a built in storage area (larger counter top models only) to keep the sizable roll in, and a safety covered cutting blade to easily slice the roll to your desired size. It also flips open with a touch of a button for easy cleaning. I will admit the counter top models are between 150-320 dollars, but it is a very good investment. I think the machine paid for itself within the first two months I owned it. Between the time saved from not shopping every week, to the money saved by buying bulk, the machine itself it worth it. As for how often you need to buy storage refills. I buy a refill box roughly once ever 4 months.

Monday, April 23

Taktouka-Morrocan Cooked Salad

Taktouka is a popular Moroccan cooked salad. It is often severed alongside bread for scooping up. It has a great roasted flavor and accompanies many meals. I like using it as an appetizer, but it can be a side dish.

Taktouka is not a leaf based salad but rather more of a spread. Traditionally you can find it either puréed or left whole, I prefer to purée but feel free not to.

Serves 4-6
Full time: 25-30 minutes
You will need:

3 large tomatoes, diced
2 large bell peppers, red or yellow, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tbsp dried cilantro
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp ground black pepper
1/2 tbsp paprika
1/2 tbsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Let us begin:

In a large sauté pan, over medium heat mix all herbs and spices


Now toss in the vegetables


Sauté until soft, approximately 15-20 minutes


Once soft, carefully transfer to food processor or blender


Pulse to a corse chop


Move to bowl to serve or cool in refridgerator

Friday, April 20

Sweetie Wheatie Chicken

Alright, this is admittedly my favorite thing in the world to eat. Seriously, I ask my mother to make it ever year for my birthday. This year the kids really enjoyed it, so I decided to add it to our fun occasional meals.

According to my mother, the story of this meal was nothing more than a fluke. Apparently one night while making dinner she reached for bread crumbs but didn't have any so she improvised and grabbed Wheaties cereal. A few years later she was making it for me and was out of condensed milk, so improvisation lead to the honey.

I love this so much and she rolls her eyes  every year when I ask for it for my birthday. I hope you enjoy as much as I do!

Serves 4-6
Full time: 45-60 minutes
You will need:

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into larger pieces
3 cups Wheaties cereal
1 1/2 cup honey

Let us begin:

Preheat oven to 350

Cover a baking tray with aluminum foil and spray lightly with cooking spray


Pour cereal into a bowl


Gently crush down to break pieces slightly but not pulverize them


In a large zip-bag or flat bottom bowl, pour honey


Add in chicken and coat heavily



Using tongs, remove chicken from honey and put into cereal


Roll chicken around to coat and move to the cooking tray


Once all chicken is coated, bake in oven for 35-50 minutes or until chicken had an internal temp of 180

Before

After

Allow to stand for approx 2 minutes

Carefully remove from tray to a plate and serve!

Wednesday, April 18

Pan Roasted Corn

Here is a super quick and easy way to brighten up a weeknight meal.

Serves 3-4
Full time: 20 minutes
You will need:

1 bag frozen yellow corn kernels
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Let us begin:

In a sauté pan melt butter over medium high heat


Add in frozen corn and spices


Cook for 5-8 minutes until it turns a deep yellow color


Turn heat up to high and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until butter appears to have seared off

Serve and enjoy!

Monday, April 16

Traditional Italian Baked Pasta

In the US, we tend to think of baked pasta as a dish containing sauce, ricotta, and pasta-topped with mozzarella and baked. In Italy baked pastas are a comfort foods. Families incorporate seasonal favorites, herbs, and pasta into casserole style dishes and bake until golden and bubbly. They tend to be lighter on the sauce and cheese, focusing more on the process behind making every ingredient stand out.

Although, slightly labor intensive, a traditional baked pasta can always wow a crowd or company. There are a few shortcuts you can take when making this dish, but I would recommend trying it the slow cooked way-at least once.

This will serve 4-6
Time saver full time: 45 minutes Full traditional time: 2 hours
You will need:

3-4 garlic cloves, oil poached and sliced fine *time saver use 1 tsp minced garlic
1 large eggplant, sliced-roasted and diced roughly
1 small bunch basil, chopped roughly
2 lbs plum tomatoes, blanched and peeled *time saver use 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 lb. rigatoni, cooked and cooled to room temperature
2 cups ricotta cheese
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground white pepper

Let us begin:

Preheat oven to 350

Once all your base ingredients are ready you can build your dish

In a large casserole or baking dish place your cooked and cooled pasta. Add in the tomatoes squishing them as you go, you want them to be broken into larger chunks
Add in the chopped eggplant
Add in basil and garlic
Add in salt, pepper, and ricotta. Stir with hangs gently to mix well
Top with Parmesan cheese
Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until pasta is warmed through and a light golden color has developed
Once out of oven, drizzle olive oil over the top and serve

HOW TO: Oil poach Garilc cloves



Oil poached garlic is a very easy thing to make and a great thing to keep in your refrigerator. The flavor which comes from using oil poached garlic is sweeter and more subtle that traditional garlic cloves. Oil poached garlic is used in simple home cooking baked dishes throughout Italy.



Full time: 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours

You will need:

12 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup olive oil
2 tbsp salt

Let us begin:

In a small saucepan, place garlic and oil and stir in salt

Turn heat to low and wait for foam to begin to appear

When foam appears, lower heat to simmer and cook 1-2 hrs.

Allow to cool and move to sealable conatiner. Store in refridgerator for 3 months!

Saturday, April 14

MAKE IT: Chinese Lemon Sauce

A Chinese restaurant menu staple is lemon chicken. It is usually a large boneless piece of chicken which had battered and fried. Most restaurants serve the sauce on the side, allowing you to sauce to your liking. The sauce is always the best part.

It is rich, thick, and slightly gelatinous. I love it! It is actually quite simple to make and goes well on any style chicken. Feel free to put it on baked, breaded, fried, or roasted chicken. It even goes great over turkey cutlets!

This will make approximately 3 cups lemon sauce
Full time: 20 minutes
You will need:

1 large fresh lemon, sliced
2 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup corn starch
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground white pepper

Let us begin:

In a wide bottom saucepan, combine stock, salt, and pepper-bring to boil


Carefully add in lemon juice and a sugar, whisk gently to dissolve sugar. Return to boil


While this comes back to a boil: mix cornstarch and cold water, using a fork make sure the starch is fully dissolved and not a giant lump


With whisk in hand, slowly pour starch mixture into boiling sauce. Whisk as you do this, because it will thicken almost immediately

Before

After

Reduce heat to a simmer and add in lemon wheels. Push them down towards bottom of pan with you whisk


Let simmer for 4-5 minutes, serve over or on the side of you main dish

Sauce will thicken on standing, so try not to remove from heat until meal is ready.