Monday, December 27, 2010

A Minnesotan Christmas Eve Meal

I have had free reign on my cooking creativity for quite a few months now.  My sous chef (slash dining companion) has an adventurous palate and an open mind - a quality that rates extremely high on my list.  He may give an honest opinion, but at least he'll be open to guinea pig status.  (In turn, I promise takeout if my food sucks.)

So my mom sent me an email a few weeks ago saying she didn't have any good ideas of what to make for Christmas Eve meal at her fiancee's house.  I automatically jumped at the chance to design a menu.  Visions of stuffed mushrooms, simply simple sweet potatoes, rosemary bread rolls and the like danced in my head.  I had an extravagantly delicious meal mentally planned... and then I was brought back down to earth.  Mom informed me that mushrooms were not liked and sweet potatoes were not preferred.  This was my Minnesotan family, and unfortunately adventurous palates are not part of their personalities.  So I was tasked with designing a menu that I felt proud of while suiting the rather bland taste buds of my family. 

Enter the dilemna of chefs trying to cook for a group of people.  I'm not the first to encounter such a challenge, nor will this be my last.

I enlisted my mother as a trusty sous chef (and dish washer) and away we went:
  • Slow Roasted Turkey and Sausage Apple Stuffing 
    • 12 pound Turkey was slow roasted at 325 degrees for 4.5 hours.  Slow roasting requires less basting than higher temps.  I stuffed the turkey with the stuffing, and put the rest into a casserole dish - it went in with the turkey for the last 30 minutes.

    I was busy cooking, so I forgot to take a picture of the final product, but I can assure you my turkey and stuffing looked semi similar to this one.  (Righhhhhhhhhhhtttt...)
  • Buttermilk Parmesan Mash Potatoes 
    • I made these as is.  Although I would have preferred to use a potato masher to make these, my mom's fiancee didn't have one.  Against my will, I was forced to use a beater to mash the potatoes.  Use extreme caution - over beating potatoes with a mixer/beater can result in potatoes that have the consistency of glue.  Also, be sure to use warm milk - it keeps the potatoes from getting too starchy.  Milk can be room temperature or simmered before adding to potatoes.

  • Broccoli Au Gratin with Parmesan Toasted Breadcrumbs 
    • our Burnsville Cub Foods didn't have Gruyere cheese, plus I thought it might be too much for my family's limited palate, so I used a mixture of grated parm and mozzerella.  I used a considerable amount more than the recipe called for as well - probably a cup.  I also toasted the breadcrumbs in a skillet - melted butter, add breadcrumbs, small amount of grated parm, keep it moving.  Added a delicious crunch. 

    Excellent stuffing making an appearance in the background.
  • Spicy Green Beans 
    • this was my favorite dish.  Probably because it was so clean (my mom tells me I eat clean, and after this Christmas feast, I feel like crap and totally believe her).  I added a PINCH of crushed red pepper and sauted with the garlic.  This added a perfect amount of kick - not overbearing, but enough flavor. 

  • Holiday Mac 'n' Cheese
    • created from a mix of this and this.  Basically, I made a Roux (mix of flour and mix, whisked well) and I whisked the heck out of it until it was boiling, then continued to boil and whisk for about two minutes until it was thick.  Once it was thick, I removed from heat, added a ridiculous amount of medium cheddar, mozzerella and a chipotle jack.  (In a Kelley world, I would have used a blue, a gouda, and other exciting cheeses, but again, MN family - God love 'em.)  Then I had my mom earn her keep, put some back into it and stir away until then were melted.  This was my most disapointing dish.  After Marry Me Mac 'n' Cheese, this toned down "safe" dish just didn't make me want to marry myself.  Actually, I probably wouldn't have even made out with myself drunk at a skeevy bar.  Regardless, my  mom liked it and she was happy, so all was right in the world.

Overall, I think I did pretty well.  My mom was a HUGE help.  I have always wondered why anyone might possible need a double oven... and yesterday I learned why they come in handy.  Sweet Baby Jesus.... I had a mild panic attack thinking of my 4.5 hour turkey taking up the entire oven.... how would I possible heat my other dishes?  But I tented the turkey after I pulled it out to keep the heat in and threw all the other dishes in the oven for 30 minutes while my mom's fiancee carved the turkey.  In the end, all was warm, all was cooked.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

My Kitchen, My Sanctuary wishes all of you a giant Merry Christmas!  After the last few days, I am sure all of you are sick of eating, eating, eating, but we'll be back with more posts from our holiday cooking!  I know I had some great meals recently, and I can't wait to share the recipes!  (and get back to the gym!)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hot Artichoke-Spinach Dip

I love spinach and artichoke dip. You'll see it as an appetizer at many chains. I think I first fell in love with it when the BF and I used to go to late night happy hour at Applebees after my grad school night classes finished. I think we went there because the beers were only $2.
I used a recipe from the Food Network.

Kosher salt
10 oz bag baby spinach
1 cup packed fresh basil
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
6 oz Neufchatel cream cheese
1 clove garlic, smashed
14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained, squeezed dry and finely chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
cayenne pepper
2 or 3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
black pepper
Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 450.

The first step is to boil water + Kosher salt. Toss in the spinach and basil after the water boils. Don't keep it in there for very long because next you'll have to drain and squeeze dry the spinach/basil. I HATE doing this. It's such a pain. It seems like the spinach is never dry enough. Then, roughly chop the spinach/basil. Set aside to work on the next step. Put the chicken broth, beans, cream cheese, and garlic into a food processor.
Puree and then fold the ingredients in with the artichoke pieces and the spinach/basil. Mix in 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and black pepper. Transfer to a casserole dish that you have sprayed with cooking spray. Top with the rest of the mozzarella cheese. Cook for 20-25 minutes. Serve with chips or crackers.

I was really rushed to have this dip ready for guests, and I forgot to take a photo of the finished dip. I managed to get this photo after most of the dip was gobbled up. This photo is evidence that the dip was a success!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dipped Ritz Peanut Butter Cookies

almond bark
Ritz crackers
peanut butter
sprinkles (optional)

Start by melting the almond bark. Follow the directions on the package. Slap a small amount of peanut butter between two Ritz crackers. Make a sandwich.

Dip the sandwich in the melted almond bark with a tongs.

After they are completely covered, let the cookies cool on wax paper.

Add sprinkles!* Happy Holidays!

*The BF did most of the sprinkling. I think that his participation made him feel better about the fact that he ate 90% of the cookies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dulce de Leche

I'm about to teach you lovely readers something amazing.  I almost didn't believe it myself.... until I actually did it.

Step 1:
Take a can of Sweetened Condensed Milk.  It costs about $1.19 or so at the store. 

Step 2 - Remove the label.

Step 3 - Bring to a boil in a pot of water- you can do more than 1, if they fit in the pan.  Make sure they are covered by an inch or so of water.  Bring to a boil and boil for about 15 minutes.

Step 4: Simmer for 2 to 4 hours.

I did mine for about 3 hours.  Carefully handling, they are hot.  Once they cool, take a can opener and open 'er up.

Now here's the amazing part:

I stole this picture from here
Ta-DA!  Homemade Dulce de Leche.  Doesn't it taste fabulous?  You should put in over ice cream.  On your cheesecakes. Straight up on a spoon.  This stuff is good.  Transfer to a container and it will lasts for weeks.  You could even jar it with a ribbon and give as gifts. 

How did I never ever know this secret before?  Mmmm....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hot Toddy!

This is probably the easiest hot toddy recipe on the planet.

Apple Cider & Whiskey

For snowy, cold days, start the crockpot! Add in apple cider, whiskey, and cinnamon sticks.

The proportions depend on how much you'd like to make and the size of your crockpot. I recommend using a 3:1 ratio for the apple cider and whiskey. There are lots of choices for whiskey, but I used Canadian whiskey. I added three cinnamon sticks to the crockpot, but you could certainly serve each toddy with a cinnamon stick.

Heat the mixture, but try not to let it boil. I started the crockpot on high but eventually turned it down to warm. Monitor the mixture to prevent it from boiling. If it boils, you'll burn off some of the alcohol. This is the best article that I could find on the topic of alcohol evaporation when cooking.

Stir. Test the temperature. Don't burn yourself. Serve by ladling into mugs.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Double Chocolate-Peppermint Crunch

These cookies are really delicious. I will definitely be making these again before Christmas.

The recipe is from Epicurious. You can find it here.

2 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (My grocery store only had the Ghirardelli brand, and they weren't cheap.)
1 1/5 cups flour
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp peppermint extract
2 eggs
4 candy canes, crushed

Preheat the oven to 375.

I don't always have the right tools in the kitchen, but I try to make do with what I have.

The recipe instructed to melt 2 cups of the chocolate chips in a metal bowl over simmering water. I don't have a metal bowl. I used another small saucepan. After the chocolate chips are melted, you are supposed to set aside 2/3 cups of the melted chocolate in a metal bowl. I used a small frying pan.

Next mix the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and salt. In another large bowl, beat the butter at room temperature. I used a mixer. Then, add the sugar, vanilla extract, and peppermint extract. Add the eggs and beat. Mix in the melted chocolate chips (not the 2/3 cups from the metal bowl that was set aside). Then, add the dry ingredients. Use an electric mixer to blend. Then, add 1/2 cup of the unmelted chocolate chips.

Form balls of about the size of 1 tablespoon of dough, and place the balls on your baking sheet. Bake for 8-9 minutes.

While the first batch of cookies are baking, start crushing the candy canes. To crush the candy canes, I used a beer bottle. It was really loud, and my neighbors probably wanted to kill me.

When the cookies are done baking, put them on parchment paper on a drying rack. I used wax paper, and it was fine.

Use the reserved melted chocolate (needs to still be warm), drizzle the chocolate on the cooled cookies. Sprinkle on the crushed candy cane pieces.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Roasted Tomato and Feta Shrimp

My office gets every magazine under the sun.  I love reading and so I frequently go downstairs to see good ones are downstairs in the mail room.  Recently, I grabbed my first copy of Southern Living.  I found this gem of a recipe inside.

Roasted Tomato and Feta Shrimp:
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes, halfed
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 pound peeled and deveined raw shrimp, halved
  • 1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
  • 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • arugula (optional)
  • French bread (optional)
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Place tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and pepper in a 13 by 9 glass dish and toss to coat.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until tomatoes are semi roasted.

Stir in shrimp and peppers and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until shrimp turn pink.

Toss with parsley, lemon juice and feta cheese.  I had some goat cheese on hand, so I threw that in as well, but it's a soft cheese, so it melted right away.  

You can serve this over a small portion of pasta noodles, with a side of french bread, or over arugala lettuce like I did.  I added a bit more fresh squeeze lemon over mine once I toss it all together. 

This was SO good!  Such a tasty, filling, relatively low calorie meal!  Bon Appetit!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Turkey and Spinach Curry

I found this recipe in the New York Times, and I modified it. I had already used some of the leftover turkey to make this dill soup. Now it was time to try making a curry dish.

2 T peanut oil
1 t ground ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 t turmeric
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
1/4 t cayenne
1 c chopped tomatoes
1 c coconut milk (unsweetened)
6 oz of fresh baby spinach, trimmed, chopped
2 c leftover Thanksgiving turkey
1/4 c Frank's Hot Sauce
Cilantro, chopped
White rice

Start by heating the oil on medium heat in a saucepan. Add the ginger, garlic, and onions until they are soft. Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander, and cayenne. If you are a spice wimp, cut back on the cayenne. Stir for one minute.Add the undrained tomatoes and coconut milk. I used some tomatoes that I had in the freezer. Toss in a dash of salt and pepper. Boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes.

Now, add the spinach and turkey. The spinach will wilt. After 5 minutes, check to make sure that the turkey is warm. Stir in the hot sauce (only if you like spicy food). Serve over white rice. Garnish with the chopped cilantro.

Check to see if it needs more salt. Serve!

Next time that I make this, I'll probably add some cashews and mushrooms.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Slow Cooker Tomato Rotini Soup

Want to wake up, throw some ingredients in a pot and arrive home 8 to 9 hours later to a delicious home cooked meal?  Below is the simplest soup recipe... if you mess this up - I suggest you plan to live on take out for the rest of your life.

Slow Cooker Tomato Rotini Soup:

  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 4 cups tomato juice
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium stalks of celery, chopped (about 1 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 1/2 cups rotini pasta (about 4.5 ounces)
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese, optional.

Four Steps:
1 - Chop ingredients

2 - Throw in a crock pot, set for 8 to 9 hours on high

3 - come home from work, add pasta.
4 - Cook for 20 to 30 minutes on low and serve.

I forgot to take a picture of the finished product.  What I can tell you is that I added WAY too much pasta.  I did much closer to the whole box (okay, fine, I did the whole box) and the result is less soup like and more pasta like.  It's still soupy - like a minestrone in both flavor and consistency - but the pasta was overkill.  I should have stuck to the recipe.

Also - it makes about 1,000 servings.  My freezer is filled with tupperware of this soup and I've eaten it for lunch for three days in a row now.  It's very good - but next time I would half the recipe.  My freezer isn't that big!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Turkey soup for your turkey leftovers

I whipped up a soup with the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. I did a quick inventory of the BF's fridge and came up with this concoction. It was very delicious and flavorful. The dill added a unique flavor twist.

4 cups (32 oz) of chicken broth
About 1/2 cup of chopped green pepper
2 baby red potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ cup corn (frozen)
½ cup of chopped onions
2 cups of turkey (roughly chopped)
1 tablespoon of dill

Start by bringing the broth to a boil in a big pot or Dutch oven. Next, I added about ½ cup of chopped green peppers. I used some that we had in the freezer from the BF’s aunt’s garden. (If you are a wimp about spices, I would wait to add the peppers toward the end of the recipe. I think that the recipe was quite spicy because I added the chopped peppers at such an early stage. ) Toss in the cubed potatoes, corn, and onions. Season with salt and pepper. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes.

Next, I added the turkey and dill. I let it simmer for about five minutes. Check the turkey to make sure that it’s warm, and serve!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Farfalle with Tomatoes, Onions and Spinach

Need a quick, easy, AND healthy weekday meal?  I got one for ya:

Farfalle with Tomatoes, Onions and Spinach from Cooking Light:
1 tablespoon, plus 1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces uncooked farfalle pasta (or pasta or your choice)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped vertically chopped yellow onion
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 cups baby spinach
3 tablespoons fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
3/4 cup crumbled feta

To get started, cook your pasta.  You can use a variety of different pasta shapes.  I knew there were a lot of different pasta types, but I didn't know there were this many.  This is a useful website for learning more about what types of pasta work best for various different dishes.

Don't forget to quick rinse your pasta when it's done cooking in either cool water, or a splash of EVOO.

As it seems many of my dishes lately start out this way - olive in a medium heat pan- saute onions and oregano.  There's about 12 minutes on this.

Add garlic, saute for another 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes and vinegar.  I didn't realize that I didn't have white wine vinegar - so I used a mix of both white wine and regular white vinegar - about two tablespoons of each.

Heat until tomatoes soften.

Once the tomatoes are softened, add pasta and spinach and continue to heat until spinach softens a bit - about two or three minutes.

Sprinkle with Feta and freshly ground black pepper and serve!

It seemed too easy.  It took hardly any time, was light on calories, fresh.... and surprisingly flavorful.  I thought it would be sort of boring given it's lack of any "sauce", but it was really good.  I even went back for seconds.