Monday, September 24, 2012

Taco Quesadilla Pizzas

I have to admit...I kinda love Taco Bell!  Sure, it's objectively horrible, but there's something comforting about my favorite orders (bean burritos with no onions and tostadas with no lettuce...I don't like my Taco Bell to be too crunchy for whatever reason).  But, it can also be fun to make Taco Bell-style food at home (when you don't need your food in 30 seconds).  These taco quesadilla pizzas remind me of their Mexican pizza, but not too crunchy, just like I like it!  Of course you could also use tostada shells if you want a crunchier pizza.  The assembly is really simple: cheese, refried beans, and ground beef with taco seasoning are layered between flour tortillas and then heated up.  Then the quesadillas are topped with salsa and more cheese, and popped under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly.  The pizzas are cut into wedges and ready to devour! Of course, you can also make these fancier if you like, but I prefer them super simple.

Taco Quesadilla Pizzas (adapted from Closet Cooking, original recipe here)
Serves 2

1/2 pound ground beef
Scant 1/2 packet Trader Joe's taco seasoning
2 large flour tortillas
Refried beans
Grated cheddar cheese

1. Brown the ground beef in a large non-stick skillet and sprinkle in the taco seasoning.  Once the beef is cooked through, remove from heat.
2.  Cover one tortilla with the ground beef and drizzle with salsa.  Scatter some grated cheese over the salsa.  Spread the other tortilla with refried beans, and then place on top of the other tortilla.
3. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Carefully transfer the assembled quesadilla to the pan and cook 2-4 minutes per side, until the tortillas are browned and the cheese is melted.
4. Preheat the broiler and line a baking sheet with foil.  Place the quesadilla on the baking sheet.  Spread with an even layer of salsa, and then sprinkle on more cheddar cheese.  Broil for just a minute or two, until the cheese is melted.  Cut into wedges and enjoy!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cheddar-Cauliflower Pasta Bake

I made this pasta dish for a special farewell dinner.  Tim and I found our current apartment through a couple of good friends of ours who were moving out.  So, before they skipped town for good, we definitely had to have them over and show them what we'd done with the place.  This baked pasta is a great dish for enjoying with friends - simple and homey with a little bit of a twist.  Your usual mac and cheese is amped up with creme fraiche and an awesome crispy pancetta-breadcrumb topping.  Plus, there's cauliflower mixed in with the pasta to make everything a little healthier.  Leftovers kept well if you end up with extra at the end of the night.  My main complaint about this dish was that it made so many dirty dishes.  It comes from a Jamie Oliver cookbook that's aimed at 30 minute meals, and the estimated time to make the dish is actually fairly accurate.  However, a 30 minute meal doesn't save all that much time if it creates 45 minutes worth of dishes to wash.  Then again, the pasta bake was totally delicious, so I would make this again (maybe with a tag-team dish washer while cooking!)

Cheddar-Cauliflower Pasta Bake (adapted from Jamie Oliver)
Serves 6

8 thin slices pancetta
1 medium head of cauliflower
1 pound dried macaroni or other smallish dried pasta
Olive oil
9 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
4 thick slices of country bread
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked off of the stems
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup creme fraiche
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Fill an electric kettle with water and put it on to boil.  Fit a food processor with the grating attachment.
2. Lay the pancetta in a roasting pan (about 9x13 inches).  Place it on the top shelf of the oven.
3. Trim the cauliflower and cut it into quarters.  Place it a large saucepan, core down, and then pour the dried pasta over.  Cover with boiling water, filling and reboiling the kettle if necessary.  Season with salt, drizzle with a little oil, and give everything a stir to make sure everything is submerged in water.  Cook according to the pasta's package instructions.
4. Grate the cheese in the food processor and then transfer to a bowl.  Change to the standard blade attachment, and then add in the pancetta (now crispy), along with the bread, rosemary leaves, and a good drizzle of olive oil.  Process to a coarse breadcrumb consistency.
5. Put a colander over a large bowl to catch the pasta water, and then drain the pasta and cauliflower.  Return to the pot and break up the cauliflower with tongs or a potato masher.  Add in 1-2/3 cups of the pasta water, the garlic, the creme fraiche, and the grated Cheddar.  Stir to combine.  Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
6. Spread into the same roasting pan you used for the pancetta.  Scatter the breadcrumbs on top, and then bake on the top shelf of the oven until golden and bubbling, about 8 minutes or so.  Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Earlier this month, Tim and I visited our friends in their new home, Chicago! Here I am with Adelina in Millennium Park.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Beer-Braised Chicken and Peas

I rarely get Rachel Ray's magazine because I don't tend to find many recipes in it that I want to cook, but I caved on a recent plane trip.  Something about airplanes just makes me want to read food magazines for hours!  Luckily, this time I actually found a couple of recipes that I wanted to take for a spin, and this braised chicken was one of them.  It's great in that it's pretty simple to make and very tasty, plus leftovers keep well. (This is a big one for me lately because we definitely don't have time to cook every night and we've been trying to cut back on eating out.)  The most complicated part of the recipe is browning the chicken - it's not hard, but there are definitely some splatters and you might need to use two pans depending on how much chicken you're making and the size of your pot.  After that's done, everything else is pretty easy and most of the time is hands off while the chicken cooks in the oven.  I did think the sauce was fairly mild flavored for something made with strongly flavored ingredients (mustard and beer), but it was very yummy nonetheless - just be sure to season well.  I loved that the peas go in the pot with the chicken, since you don't have to think about preparing a separate veggie if you don't want to.

Beer-Braised Chicken and Peas (adapted from Rachel Ray Magazine)

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken drumsticks
1-1/2 small red onions, minced
1 cup pale ale
1/4 cup mild grainy mustard
2 cups frozen peas, thawed and drained

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Season the chicken with salt.  In a large ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven over medium high heat, add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.  When the oil is hot, brown the chicken, turning as needed.  Be very careful about spattering fat.  You may need to work in batches (or use two pans) depending on the size of your pan.  Transfer the chicken to a plate.
3. Add the onions to the pot and cook until beginning to brown, 5-10 minutes.
4. Add the beer and mustard and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up any browned bits from the pan.
5. Return the chicken to the pan in as even a layer as possible (it doesn't need to be perfect).  Cover the pan with an ovenproof lid or a large piece of foil.  Pop in the oven and cook 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and flip the pieces of chicken, making sure any parts that weren't in the liquid before are now in the liquid.  Cook another 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through (160 degrees on a meat thermometer).
6. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a serving platter.  Place the pan over high heat and add the peas.  Simmer about 5 minutes, until the peas are tender and the sauce is slightly thickened.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hawaiian Turkey Burgers

These turkey burgers are moist and really delicious.  I'm often not a huge fan of turkey burgers because they can turn out dry and flavorless, but after devouring the insanely good Greenbird at Umami Burger, I knew it could be done.  This one is a totally different style, but I'm definitely a fan.  The most important tip is to use the regular ground turkey rather than turkey breast.  The turkey is mixed with onion, steak sauce, cilantro, and Worcestershire sauce for lots of flavor.  Shape thin patties so that they'll cook through before the outside burns and so that they'll fill up your buns...I chose squishy potato buns, which were an awesome match for the burgers.  After the burgers are cooked, they're topped with a thick ring of fresh pineapple - juicy, tart, sweet, and the perfect partner for the burgers!

Hawaiian Turkey Burgers (adapted from Confections of  Foodie Bride, original recipe here)
Serves 2

3/4 pound ground turkey
1-1/2 T steak sauce, plus more to finish
3 T minced onion
2 T minced cilantro
A good dash of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
2 burger buns, split and toasted
2 thick pineapple rings, preferably cut from a fresh pineapple

1. Mix together the turkey, steak sauce, onion, cilantro, Worcestershire sauce, and a bit of salt and pepper.  Form into two patties (go for thinner rather than thicker to ensure the inside gets cooked before the outside burns).
2. Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Pour in a bit of oil and swirl around the skillet.  Add the turkey burgers and cook until well browned on the outside and cooked through.
3. Put the burgers on the toasted buns, top with pineapple rings, and then drizzle on a little more steak sauce.  Enjoy right away.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Apricot-Meyer Lemon Cake with Olive Oil

As you can tell from this photo, this cake was somewhat of a failure.  I definitely did not leave it in the oven long enough, and the middle was severely underdone...that crater in the middle only got bigger as the cake cooled.  Oops!  I'm including this recipe anyway because the edible parts (the ends and edges) were totally delicious.  I would definitely make this again, but just leave the cake in the oven longer...this is definitely one to test in a few places before pulling it out.  Cook-time aside, the apricots and Meyer lemon went together perfectly, and using olive oil for the fat gave the cake something special.  This is also a great recipe since it will work with pretty much whatever you have in your kitchen - I'm much more likely to have oil, milk, and eggs around than I am yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, etc.  I think the base would work well with a variety of add-ins if you don't have apricots and lemon on hand.

Apricot-Meyer Lemon Cake with Olive Oil (adapted from Cake Spy, original recipe here)
Makes one loaf cake

1-3/4 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
Zest of 1 Meyer Lemon
Juice of 1 Meyer Lemon
1/2 cup skim milk
3 eggs
2/3 cup olive oil
2 extra large or 4 normal apricots, pitted and chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and lemon zest.  Rub together with your fingers until well combined.  Whisk in the lemon juice and milk, and then whisk in the eggs and oil.
4. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and whisk until smooth.  Scrape into the pan.
5. Sprinkle the apricots evenly over the top of the cake (it will look like a lot!)
6. Bake 40-50 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.  Cool before serving.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Stuffed Pasta with Meat Sauce

Mmm, I love baked pasta - it's the perfect comfort food.  I haven't made stuffed shells or tubes in quite a while because it's more fussy than lasagna or even simpler baked penne.  But, it's also a lot of fun if you have a little more time on your hands (and a partner to help you fill the pasta).  Tim spotted some fantastic-looking pasta tubes at an Italian market and we couldn't resist!  The filling is homemade ricotta (though feel free to sub in store-bought) mixed with grated cheese and some zucchini to make the dish a tiny bit healthier.  Once the shells are stuffed, they're slathered in a quick homemade pasta sauce full of tomatoes and Italian sausage, plus red wine (a great excuse to open up a bottle).  Yum!

Stuffed Pasta with Meat Sauce (adapted from food & style, 101 Cookbooks, and the Pioneer Woman)
Serves 4

For the filling:
6 cups whole milk
3/4 tsp salt
4-1/2 T lemon juice
1 small zucchini, grated (about 1 cup)
4 ounces grated Italian cheese blend
1 egg
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

For the sauce:
Oil for the pan
1 smallish onion, minced
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage
1/2 cup red wine
1 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 24 ounce can whole tomatoes

To finish:
8 ounces pasta tubes or shells
Oil for the pan
4 ounces grated Italian cheese blend

1. Start on the filling.  Place the milk in a large pot and add the salt.  Turn on the heat to medium high and heat the milk, stirring often, until it reaches 180 degrees.  Add the lemon juice, stir to combine, and then let sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.  Strain through a cheesecloth draped over a large strainer.  Let drain while preparing the sauce.  This will create homemade ricotta cheese.
2. Start on the sauce.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook until softened, stirring often.  Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook until browned.  Add the red wine, bring to a simmer, and simmer until reduced by about half.
3. Add the crushed tomatoes to the sauce.  Drain the whole tomatoes and then crush them with your hands into the skillet.  Bring to a boil, and then simmer while preparing the rest of the dish.
4. Cook the pasta for half of the recommended time on the package.  They should be pliable enough to bend but not cooked through.  Drain, and then spread out on a sheet pan to cool slightly.
5. While the pasta cools, make the filling.  Combine the drained ricotta cheese (discard the whey or reserve for another use) with the remaining filling ingredients (zucchini, cheese, egg, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste).
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray an 8-1/2 by 11 baking pan with oil.
7. Stuff the pasta with a small spoon and arrange in an even layer in the baking dish.  Pour the hot sauce over top, and then sprinkle the remaining Italian cheese over top.
8. Bake 25 minutes, until bubbling and cooked through.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Masala Potatoes with Green Beans + Shishito Peppers

These tasty potatoes are total Indian comfort food - mildly spicy and super flavorful with a creamy texture.  They start off with a spice-chili paste that comes together quickly.  I definitely recommend using an immersion blender here if you've got one to save on the dishes.  Then just-tender potatoes are combined with more spices, green beans, and tomatoes to create a perfectly balanced dish.  I served the potatoes with an improvised cucumber salad based on this one, tomatoes, watermelon, naan, and  shishito peppers.

We got the shishito peppers in our CSA and I had no idea what to do with them.  Turns out they're basically a Japanese version of Padron peppers, which I first had with my dad last year.  I prepared them really simply, based on this recipe at Mad Betty - just sauteed in oil until blistered, and then seasoned with sea salt and lemon juice.  Amazing! Tim was not a fan, so I ate the whole basket (minus the one he taste tested).  I found them very addictive, and definitely recommend these little peppers if you find them at the market.  They're not too spicy and totally munch-able.

Masala Potatoes with Green Beans (adapted from Daily Musings, original recipe here)
Serves 3-4

For the paste:
1 T coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 jalapeno (or chilies of your choice), chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch piece of ginger, coarsely chopped

For the potatoes:
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into large chunks
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped tomatoes
1-1/2 cup trimmed green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
Naan, to serve

1. Make the paste.  Heat the oil in a skillet until shimmering.  Add the coriander and cumin seeds and let bubble in the oil until fragrant, a minute or so.  Add the jalapeno and saute for another minute.  Scrape into the container for an immersion blender, a regular blender, or a mini food processor.
2. Add a little more oil to the pan, and then add the onion, garlic, and ginger.  Saute until the onion is soft, and then add to the container with the spices.  Let cool slightly, and then blend until as smooth as possible (the paste can be somewhat chunky - just do your best!)  Set aside.
3. Make the potatoes.  Place the potatoes in a pot, cover with water by a couple of inches, and add a few good shakes of salt.  Bring to a boil and cook until almost tender.  Drain and set aside.
4. In a large pot or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and turmeric and stir for a minute or so, until fragrant.  Add the onions and saute until soft.  Add the tomatoes, and saute until soft, a minute or so more.  Add oil as you go so that the pot is never too dry.
5. Add the green beans and cook, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes.  Season with salt.
6. Push the beans and onions to the side of the pot, and add the masala paste.  Let bubble for a minute or so, and then stir into the beans and cook for another couple of minutes.
7. Add in the cooked potatoes and gently mix everything together.  Cook another 6-8 minutes, stirring every minute or so.  Taste for salt and add more if needed.  Serve with naan.