Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Creamy Polenta with Mushroom and Sausage Ragu

Have you ever read the "Splurge vs Steal" section of Marie Claire magazine? You know, the section that shows you witch Target nail polish will look exactly like the Chanel one you really wanted. How about the "Just Like Us" section of Us Weekly? You know, the section that shows you how walking your dog at 5am so they won't eat the couch while you're at work is exactly like walking your dog at 2pm on a Tuesday in sunny Brentwood. Totes the same, right? Those are always my fave parts of magazines - Cooking Light included! My favorite pages in Cooking Light are the "Feed 4 for Under $10." Love it! Sometimes they are not that cool, like another grilled sammy. But oftentimes they are awesome. This one is awesome. It's been on regular rotation in our house since I first read it back in 2010.

Creamy Polenta with Mushroom and Sausage Ragu - from Cooking Light
Serves 4

For the Ragu
Olive oil
1 pound of sausage - removed from it's casings (I used sweet Italian chicken sausage)
1 medium onion - chopped
1 pound mushrooms - sliced
2 large garlic cloves - minced
1 can of diced tomatoes - with all the juices
Pinch of salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes - about 1/4 teaspoon or less if you like milder food

For the Creamy Polenta
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup polenta
4 ounces cream cheese

I love Better Than Bullion for recipes that call for a small to medium amount of broth. It's easy to mix up however much I need, it keeps in the fridge for a long time, and I don't waste cups at a time from a larger carton.

In a large, high sided pan, cook sausage and red pepper flakes in olive oil until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add in mushrooms, onions and garlic and cook until onions have softened and mushrooms are tender. About 7 minutes. Add in salt and canned tomatoes. Simmer for about 15 minutes. The mushrooms will release all of their juices and the sauce will become richer as it cooks.

While the sauce cooks, start on the polenta. Boil the water and chicken broth in a pan with a lid. Once the liquid boils, add in the polenta and stir well. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut the cream cheese into chunks and stir it into the polenta until well incorporated and smooth. 

Dish up polenta and spoon over the mushroom ragu. Top with a bit of Parmesan cheese for some extra goodness. 

A few things about this recipe...

I'm always looking for ways to lower meat and up veggies in recipes. I've made this with a lot of zucchini and no meat. I've also added roasted red peppers. Alternately, I've made this with chopped chicken thighs and even with sliced steak. It's really adaptable. 

Grits is polenta. Polenta is grits. Both are just coarse-ground cornmeal. Antoinette has a great Shrimp and Grits recipe... check it out here.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Curry Chicken Kebabs

It has been a whirlwind in our house. I'm not sure we've been able to hit the snooze button since Thanksgiving. I am spent. Totally wiped out. And in need of recipe inspiration. I was SO glad when a friend of mine mentioned these super easy oven-baked kebabs. They came together really quickly, and while they needed some marinating time, the results were wonderful. I served these with some couscous and changed up veggie fritters.

Curry Chicken Kebabs - recipe by Cuisinart
Serves 4

1+ pounds boneless chicken - I used 1 1/3 pounds of boneless, skinless thighs
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt - I used Greek

Mix together curry powder, yogurt and coconut milk. Chop chicken into two inch chunks and mix with yogurt marinade. Toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 or so hours. (I had to work around a baby nap and left this batch in the fridge for 6 hours and it was great.)

Once the marinating is done, preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

String onto skewers and line a baking sheet with foil. Give the foil a quick spritz with cooking oil and bake the kababs for 25-30 minutes or until the internal temp is 170.

I served these with couscous and zucchini and carrot fritters. These were based off the zucchini and onion fritters I made this summer. Here's the new recipe.

1 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup shredded carrot
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

For cooking directions and photos, please see this post.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Flavored Kale Chips

As you all know from the Facebook page, the Duncan household is taking part in the Daniel Fast.  At the beginning of every year, my husband and I get our eating habits back on track by taking part in what I like to call the “vegan +” fast.  You are only allowed whole foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.  It’s tough, but it helps me to get creative in the kitchen – making a lot of substitutions that I wouldn’t normally make.  I try to carry some of the principles throughout most of the year, but by the time the holidays roll around, I always manage to lose all self-control.

Kale chips are my new healthy snack.  They are crispy, salty, and are a healthy alternative to potato chips.  I know, I know…they’re not like potato chips but they really are good and they get so crispy they almost melt in your mouth.  For this post, I tried two different flavors.  One of the flavor ideas was the spiced kale, which came from my cousin.  She figured that if you’re going to be healthy, why not boost your metabolism as well?  So she recommended I combine three metabolism-boosting spices: cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne pepper.  The second flavor was garlic just because I can’t resist garlic-flavored anything.  My husband liked the spiced kale chips best and I liked the garlic.  Try any spice combination you want and be sure to let us know what your favorite is!

Flavored Kale Chips

1 bunch kale (~ ½ bag)
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp garlic salt

1 bunch kale (~ ½ bag)
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 300F.

If using fresh kale, wash and dry very thoroughly.  Cut out thick stems and ribs.  Chop kale into large pieces.  (If using bagged kale, skip this step.)

Place kale in a large plastic bowl.  Add olive oil.  Using your hands, rub oil into the kale to make sure all surfaces are evenly covered.  Add seasoning and repeat the rubbing process.



Tip: Rubbing the seasoning and the oil into the kale makes it stick and evenly coats the kale.  Be sure to watch salt quantities!  Use less than what you think you would need because the salt concentrates after the kale reduces in the oven.

Place the kale pieces in a single layer, on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 300F for 20 minutes or until leaves just start to brown and are crispy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Stuffed Peppers and Mushrooms…with Buttercream Icing for Touchdown Cupcakes

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL????  We are!  My husband and I started a couples fantasy football league and to culminate the season, we decided to throw a football party for NFL playoffs.  All of the couples in the fantasy league came over to watch football, eat great food, and drink…a lot :)  Here is the list of things we served: buffalo wings with homemade blue cheese dressing, nacho bar, stuffed peppers and mushrooms, potato skins, cupcakes and cookies.  Whew!  Yes, I’m exhausted…to say the least!

In preparation for all of your Super Bowl parties, I wanted to share the recipes for the stuffed peppers and mushrooms, and the homemade buttercream icing I made for the cupcakes.  Both were a huge hit!  The idea for stuffed peppers and mushrooms came from my mother.  She has been making these stuffed mushrooms for years!  However, I am not a huge fan of mushrooms so I decided to try the stuffing on peppers and…OH MY.  Needless to say, I think you could put this stuffing on pretty much anything and it would make your day.

Stuffed Peppers and Mushrooms

16oz cream cheese, softened
16oz shredded Swiss cheese
2 pork breakfast sausage rolls (2 lb)
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1.5 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
Bell peppers
Baby portabella mushrooms

Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat.  Brown sausage in skillet.  In a separate bowl, combine cream cheese and Swiss cheese.  Add sausage and stir until combined.  Add remaining ingredients and stir until well-mixed.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Remove stems and dig out insides of portabella mushrooms.  Fill mushrooms with sausage mixture and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet.

Cut jalepenos in half, removing seeds and stems.  Fill each half with sausage mixture and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Cut bell peppers in quarters or the desired size for filling.  Fill each with sausage mixture and place on the same cookie sheet.
Cook at 375F for about 20mins or until peppers and mushrooms have softened, cheese is melted, and stuffing is warmed through.

Note: Heating times may vary for peppers and mushrooms. 

Unfortunately, during all of the party craziness, I forgot to get a good picture of the final cooked peppers and mushrooms.  I know...that is a food blog NO-NO!!!  Hopefully by now you trust me, but if not, this is the best I have :)

As for the cupcakes, I call these my semi-homemade Touchdown Cupcakes.  They were perfect for the football party and people couldn’t get enough of them.  For the cake, I used the box Duncan Hines confetti cake mix.  Here is the recipe for the deliciously buttery and creamy icing:

1c butter, softened
3c confectioner’s sugar, sifted
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp heavy whipping cream

Place butter in a stand mixer and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add sifted sugar.  Start mixing on the lowest speed until sugar and butter start to combine.  Increase speed to medium.  Sugar and butter will clump together.  Once the clumping occurs, increase speed until butter mixture is creamed.  Reduce speed and add remaining ingredients until combined. 

Note: You can store icing on the counter overnight in a sealed container.  If storing in refrigerator for a couple of days, bring to room temp and whisk before using.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad

Growing up my brother and I did NOT have the cool-kid lunches. There were nut and twig-covered slices brown bread, there was liverwurst (don't google that.) Occasionally there were those generic Oreos that are so totally not Oreos and they were generally ditched out of embarrassment. My brother and I still give my mom a hard time about the scarring that these lunches caused. Thankfully, there was a lot of tabbouleh. While it wasn't really cool back then, it was deliciously redeeming. (I love you, mama!) My mom used to make this with couscous and I've switched over to quinoa for a complete protein and a nice rich flavor. Make what you like! Did you know the largest tabbouleh salad ever made weighed 9,532 lb 12 oz? True story. 

Tabbouleh Salad - adapted from my mom 
Serves 4 as a side salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1 packed cup chopped parsley (the crinkly kind)
1 1/2 cups chopped cucumber
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon - juiced and zested

Quinoa cooks just like rice. Rinse and drain grains. Bring grains and water to a boil, cover and reduce to very low. Cook on low about 30 minutes, or until grains are tender and a little "tail" has separated from the nut. I check the quinoa at about 20 minutes - I've found packages take really different cook times.

Chop parsley, cucumber, tomatoes and onions and add to a large bowl. Juice and zest the lemon and combine with olive oil in a smaller bowl.

Add the lemon and olive oil dressing to the quinoa and let the dressed grains cool for a while before combining with the veggies. 

Most recently we ate this with some baked chicken, hummus and feta cheese. We also like this with naan or some whole wheat tortillas and a dollop of tzatziki sauce. It's a delicious salad!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chicken with Melted Lemons

This is not the first time that Antoinette and I have been on the same food page... a few weeks ago we both wanted comfort food... here and here... now we are both craving fresh, clean, lemony flavors. 'Twas the season to overindulge and 'tis the season to get back to reality!

This is a rip-off meal - my take on a chicken dish at a local Italian restaurant that is so delicious I could eat it every day. I had to find an at-home solution to avoid going broke. They call it Chicken Stephano, so to us, this is Chicken Stephano McIver, and it's one of our faves.

Chicken Stephano McIver, aka Chicken with Melted Lemons

1 pound chicken beast cutlets
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

2 lemons 
6 ounces feta cheese
2 tablespoons capers
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a shallow bowl or on a dinner plate combine flour, salt and pepper. Dredge chicken tenders and set aside on a clean plate. Over medium-high flame heat olive oil in a saute pan or dutch oven that has a lid. Lightly brown chicken on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.

When chicken is browned on both sides, cover cutlets with sliced lemons. Reduce the heat to low and cover the dish. Cook for 10-12 minutes. Add in marinated artichokes and the liquid they are packed in. (I found a large jar at Trader Joes and used only some of the liquid. I usually buy the smaller jars and use all of the liquid.) Cover and continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Add in capers and feta cheese, cover and cook 3 more minutes or until the cheese has melted a bit.

We like to eat this with butter and oil pasta. Ok, I understand this kind of negates the "fresh and clean" aspects of this meal, but it's seriously good and that's how Nona's does it. And people, Nona's is right. 

Butter and Oil Pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 pound of pasta
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons minced chives

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and while pasta is hot, toss with butter, olive oil, garlic and minced chives. The hot pasta will melt the butter and bring out all of the garlic flavors. Amazing. Simple. 

A few things about this recipe...
Nona's throws in some crispy pancetta. Delicious. Bacon also works in a lovely way.
The cutlets cook for a long time on very low heat, so they are really forgiving... 10-12 minutes can easily become 15-18 minutes if you find yourself caught up making a salad.
The pasta is delicious with a little bit of red pepper flakes instead of chives.
Make sure you get some of the lemony sauce on the pasta... it's wonderful.
Don't eat the melted lemons. Promise, it's not good.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lemon and Caper Salmon En Papillote

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!  You know what it’s time for…resolutions.  After eating nothing but rich sweets made mouthwateringly delicious by sugar and butter, it’s definitely time to get into some healthier eating habits.  I don’t know about you, but I totally fell off the wagon towards the end of the year.  Who can resist all of that macaroni and cheese, cobblers, and pies???  I can’t.  But now that the holidays are over, it’s time to get back in gear.

This salmon will help you get there.  It’s very healthy.  Salmon is great for you!  It’s a good source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. I try and buy wild-caught instead of farm-raised because the salmon are allowed to swim freely and aren’t held in what I consider to be an underwater prison.  Wild-caught salmon also are lower in fat because they have more room to roam and are more active.  However, I do understand the cost constraint so make the best decision for you and your family.  I hope this recipe will aid in helping you to meet all of your resolutions for 2013!

Lemon and Caper Salmon En Papillote – slightly modified from Giada De Laurentiis

4 salmon fillets
¼ c EVOO
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 ½ tbsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
8 lemon slices
¼ c lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
½ c Marsala wine or white wine
4 tsp capers, roughly chopped
4 pieces of aluminum foil

Brush top and bottom of salmon fillets with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary.  Place each piece of seasoned salmon on a piece of foil large enough to fold over and seal. 

Top each filet with 1 tsp capers, 1 tbsp lemon juice, and 2 tbsp wine.  Place 2 lemon slices on top.  Wrap up salmon tightly in the foil packets.

Tip: Make sure all of the edges of the foil are curved up before pouring the lemon juice and wine over the salmon to prevent it from leaking.

Heat grill pan over medium-high heat.  Place the foil packets on the hot grill and cook for 8-10 mins for a 1” thick filet. 

Giada recommends serving these in the packets.  This is definitely possible but I also think that this is great served over couscous or rice and pouring all of the yummy cooking liquid over the grain to allow it to soak up all of that lemony flavor.  Either way works!  I promise :)