Archive | October, 2011

Trick or Treat!

31 Oct

Last year, I scored a fantabulous Jack-0′-lantern cake pan from Freecycle the day after Halloween. It wasn’t until I tried baking a cake in it that I realized why its original owner gave it away to a total stranger. That’s because it’s wide and flat, and trying to turn an actual cake out of it is a losing proposition. Crumble city, baby.

This morning, I sprayed the pan liberally with baking spray (basically Pam with flour added into the mix), poured a batch of the world’s best brownies in there, baked them an extra five minutes over what the recipe said, and then let them stay in that punkin’ pan until they were room temp all the way through. And then I slid my biggest cutting board overtop the pan, held it with one hand, and quickly flipped the whole contraption over.

Success! He’ll get orange frosting later, but I wanted to show you how well he turned out.

Happy Halloween, gang. May your diet be chocolate for just one day, may your little ghosts and goblins have a wonderful (safe!) evening tonight, and may you use a brownie recipe next time you need a shaped and formed cake. 🙂

Barbecue Turkey Meatloaf

27 Oct

(pssst! Lookie up there in the upper right-hand corner of the screen–see the shiny new badge? I’m so excited that Playing With My Dinner was named one of 2011’s top 50 blogs written by women! What an honor! Thank you, Work At Home Woman!)

I shared a tiny tip about this with you yesterday. Today, though, I’m going to break down the whole recipe, starting with a single pound of ground turkey. That should be a relief from the original recipe, which started with three pounds (or the original-original Barefoot deal that started with five!).

Here’s the thing that sparked this recipe: I love barbecue sauce. I love it more than ketchup, more than mustard, and more than any other condiment I can think of. Barbecued chicken is among my favorite meals of all time, and nothing makes me happier than getting all sticky and sloppy-full at Red Hot & Blue, which I happen to think has the best barbecue sauce of all time.

I also love meatloaf but rarely make it because I am the only person in my house who feels that way.

You heard me. The same people who don’t like roasted chicken also don’t like meatloaf. Who doesn’t like meatloaf? Right? Un-American. It’s just not right.

So because DH was away this week, I made myself a meatloaf and converted it to barbecue-style at the same time I simplified the original recipe to get rid of a dirty pan and about four steps. And this delivered such joy to my meatloaf-deprived palate that I made it again a second night. I DIDN’T EAT BOTH. Sheesh. I made the second so I could measure what I was doing to tell you guys about it, and then I sliced it up and froze it for future lunches and dinners. Just for the record.

This is yummy and a fun new twist on an old dish that marries comfort food with a little southern lovin.’ Tell me that doesn’t sound good. You need:

1 pound ground turkcy (beef would work too)

1 egg

1/2 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs (or 1/2 cup plain crumbs with a tsp of Italian seasoning)

1/4 cup chopped onion or dried onion flakes

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp barbecue sauce, plus more to top the loaf

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Cover a rimmed sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray it with oil or cooking spray.

In a large bowl, blend all of the above ingredients together with your hands. Don’t squeeze! Just mix lightly with your fingers until you don’t see any identifiable lumps of breadcrumbs.

Put the meat mixture onto the sheet pan and form it into a loaf, about the size of a regular loaf pan (9″ x 5″ if you need a measurement–I eyeballed it). Spread extra barbecue sauce on the top and sides with the back of a spoon. Bake it until the internal temperature registers 160 degrees–it took about 25 minutes in my oven. Let it sit 10 minutes and slice and enjoy. Yee-ha.

Two Treats that are Excellent Tricks

26 Oct

Warp speed, gang. That’s the only way I can describe life in my house this week. Sports try-outs and field trips and dance class and Taekwondo and tons of work and a sick kid, oh my! So I don’t have a new recipe to share with you quite yet, but I do have two tricks that make some I’ve already posted more fun.

Are you on Pinterest yet? Holy addiction, Batman. If you are (and you really should be), you’ve seen all the pins to recipes that incorporate Halloween candy. Excellent idea, especially for the candy corn (any Lewis Black fans? Corn…that tastes like candy! Son of a …!). But if you’ve already tried to bake candy corn onto cookies or other sweet goodies, you’ve learned the lesson I figured out last year.

Candy corn melts in the oven. Into nothingness. You wind up with a sad orange dent where you thought the candy was going to be.

Fear not–there is a solution.

Yesterday, I made a pan of the most amazing brownies on the planet. I chucked in a handful of Ghiradelli chocolate chips that were wasting away in the pantry and baked them up. And then the second (the second!) they came out of the oven, I gently pressed candy corn onto the top of their yumminess. This works for brownies, cookies, or cake, all of which are soft and pliable in those first minutes out of the oven. You get a candy-studded goodie and the corn survives intact. Excellent.

Second trick:

DH was traveling this week. I miss him when he’s gone, but it’s a great opportunity to enjoy some recipes he’s not very fond of. One of those is the amazing turkey meatloaf I shared with you a few months back. I Texas-ed it up a bit, and it was amazing. To do that, add a tablespoon or two or Worcestershire to the meat mixture before you mix it up (I also used dried onion flakes instead of sauteeing onion in a pan, and that worked fine–so there’s a third tip for today!). Mold it into a loaf and put it on a lined cookie sheet, just like before. Only this time, instead of ketchup, use barbecue sauce on top.

Barbecue meatloaf. Yum, yes? YES! I had it for two nights with sweet potato fries on the side, and I was a happy single-mom camper.

Recipe tomorrow. I promise. Until then, happy tricking!

Super-Fast Friday: Cheesing your Pasta

21 Oct

Happy Friday, gang! We made it!

We haven’t done Super-Fast Friday in awhile (mostly because I feel like every day has been super fast lately), but I wanted to share this trick I learned from Everyday Italian on the Food Network. Yes, I watch and learn from it, and the food snobs can just shut it because there’s a lot of great stuff for real at-home cooks on that network. We don’t all earn five diamonds or want to spend hours figuring out ingredients we can neither pronounce nor find in a regular grocery store.

*ahem*

So I was watching Everyday Italian and heard Giada say she puts Parmesan on her pasta before she adds sauce. Hot pasta goes into a bowl or onto a plate, grated cheese is stirred in, and then hot sauce goes on top. This, she said, gives the cheese a minute to melt onto the noodles, and then the sauce has something to stick to. I tried it, and guess what?

The flavor difference is pretty amazing, even to my untrained taste buds. I started cheesing before saucing and have never looked back.

Give it a shot and see if you notice a difference. Have a great weekend!

 

Crockpot Pepper Steak

20 Oct

Another fly-by, gang. Another week of keeping my head above water, culminating in coordinating a camp-out for 80-some Cub Scouts, moms, dads, and siblings. We’ll talk about that next week–how I shop for that many kids and adults so nobody starves or complains (much).

Today, I’m sharing a fiddled-with recipe we all enjoyed. OK, the kids whined a lot about the peppers, which are apparently toxic to those under the age of really old, but I ignore that. *eye roll* DH and I loved it and the kids ate the steak and noodles, and thus it is deemed successful. The four of us ate this for two nights–it’s a lot of food.

You need:
2 pounds beef steak (I used London Broil because it was on sale)
garlic powder
1/4 cup beef broth
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup chopped onion (I used Vidalia)
2 large red bell peppers, sliced into strips
1 14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes, undrained
2 tbsp soy sauce (low-sodium)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp sugar

Slice your steak into strips, about 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle them with garlic powder and let them sit while you heat up a large skillet over medium heat.

Coat the pan with olive oil, lay the strips down, and brown them on both sides–you are not going for cooked here. Only brown on the outside. Remove them to your slow cooker with tongs (no grease, please).

Add in your onions and peppers.

Stir together the broth and cornstarch to make a slurry. Pour that into your slow cooker, and add the tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. Serve over rice or egg noodles.

Simple Fish with Tomatoes

18 Oct

Last week, I told y’all about the rockfish DH brought home from a business trip to Long Island. I also told you all about the rice I made to go with it. This is what I did with the fish, and it is so stinkin’ easy that you may never cook fish on the stovetop again.

Rockfish is a meaty fish. Our filets are super-thick (about two inches) and eating them is a lot like eating steak. They were perfect for this preparation. You could use a thinner cut, but adjust the time accordingly. You can also use a different kind of fish–this would be great with cod, halibut, or another white fish.

I threw this together in about five minutes and everybody ate their dinner without complaint. Seriously, does it get any better than that? You only need:

1 can diced tomatoes, drained (or about a cup of fresh chopped tomatoes, seeded)

1/4 of a sweet onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (or basil and oregano)

1 pound of fresh or frozen/thawed white fish (you can use less or more–just adjust the other ingredients)

1/2 a lemon

In a small bowl, stir together the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spices and let them sit about 10 minutes.

Preheat your broiler (to low if you have a choice).

Spray an ovenproof dish with olive oil or nonstick spray–I used a little casserole I got at Ikea a few years back, but use whatever you have that’ll fit your fish in a single layer with not much room to spare. Even a bread or brownie pan would work, but be sure to line it with foil so you don’t get garlic scent in your next batch of baked yumminess.

Spoon about a third of your tomato mixture into the bottom of the pan. Salt and pepper your fish as you’d like and lay on top of the tomatoes. Spread the rest of that mixture on top. Set it in the oven and broil it until it’s cooked through–my uber-thick rockfish took about a half hour in the hot box to cook.

Remove from oven. Sprinkle with lemon juice and enjoy.

Better-Than-The-Restaurant Homemade Pizza

11 Oct

DH came through the door last night just as I was slicing up the pizza I’d made. He dropped his keys, leaned over the counter, and grabbed a slice.

“I swear,” he said. “Your pizza is better than the ones we get out.”

I smiled and said thank-you, but didn’t tell him the truth, which is that the things that make my pizza good are more about technique than recipe. For the most part, crust is crust and sauce is to-taste and the cheese comes out of the grocery store in a bag, and I don’t do much to doctor those up. But I have tricks up my sleeve that came from a lot of thought about the pizza recipes I tried that were so-so, and the way my local pizzeria makes its pies.

Think about what happens when you walk into a pizzeria. You approach the counter and hit a wall of heat, yes? That’s because pizza ovens are screaming, center-of-the-sun hot. And they’ve been that way for hours before you order. Ditto for the pans your pie bakes on–have you ever seen a pizza chef toss dough into the oven on a cold pan? You have not. They prepare the dish on the countertop and use a pizza peel to slide it onto a hot pan.

You do not need a pizza oven or a peel or anything else fancy-schmancy to make restaurant-quality pizza. But you do have to follow a few rules and be willing to chuck the recipes a bit.

The one thing I recommend you buy is a pizza stone, which you can find for about $15 in your local Target or Wal Mart. Fancy is not on the agenda–cheap is your friend. These are unglazed ceramic and they are magic when it comes to crispy-chewy crusts. My stone lives in my oven all the time (it’s also phenomenal for making bread) so it doesn’t take up cabinet space or need any prep. I never wash it (oh stop–it lives in the oven, y’all, and gets sanitized several times a week), but I do take it out after it cools and scrape it down well with a bench scraper (you can grab one of those for a few dollars at Ikea or Target) before returning it to the oven.

I use a rimless cookie sheet as a pizza peel and it works beautifully. You want something dough can slide off. And the secret to that sliding? Cornmeal. You want a good layer of cornmeal on your cookie sheet and on your pizza stone before you bake (right before with the stone–cornmeal smokes up very quickly, so sprinkle it onto the pizza stone seconds before you slide your pie in the oven).

Preheat your oven a good long while before you want to bake–30 minutes at the minimum–with the stone in there, and crank that bad boy up to 450 degrees. You will not burn anything! (Turn on your exhaust fan at the outset if the previous owner of your house was a rocket scientist like the previous owner of mine and installed a hardwired smoke detector in the kitchen. Just trust me on that.)

Make your dough. My recipe is below, but really, you can use any one you like. The trick with this is to use half bread flour and half all-purpose flour. That bread flour gives the crust protein, which gives you that amazing crispy-chewy quality that your local pizzeria features. I wouldn’t go more than half and half on it, though, or your crust will be too soft. And the other trick with this is to prick the crust with a fork after you’ve rolled and stretched it into a circle, which will prevent the under-sauce part from rising in the oven. See?

You want to sprinkle oregano between your sauce and the cheese. And my final trick is to use a blend of cheeses that, at a minimum, includes mozzarella and cheddar.

I said cheddar. Once you try it, you’ll never go back. Promise. I use an Italian blend of cheeses that includes cheddar and can find that even in my sad Soviet-esque market, so I’m sure you’ll see it too.

So. You’ve heated up your oven and stone, made your dough, rolled and stretched it out, pricked it with a fork, transferred it to a cornmeal-coated rimless cookies sheet, covered it with sauce and oregano and cheese and toppings, and slid it into the oven right after sprinkling more cornmeal on your stone. The last thing you need to do is turn on your oven light and keep an eye on your pie without opening the door. You want all that gorgeous super-hot air to stay in there and crisp things up. When your cheese starts to brown–and not before—very carefully use that rimless cookie sheet to slide under the pizza, ease it out of the oven, and enjoy. (Turn off your oven and let it cool several hours before you try and scrape your stone–it takes awhile to reach room temp after this).

So that’s it. You’ll enjoy delicious pizza at a fraction of the price of your local delivery shack, and you won’t believe the results.

I use commercially-prepared pizza sauce (we’re partial to Trader Joe’s) and cheese (I like reduced-fat, which saves me from the pool o’ grease on top of most pizzas). To my my favorite crust, you need:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup bread flour

2 1/2 tsp yeast (one package if you’re using the envelopes)

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup warm water

1 tbsp olive oil

Mix the above together in your bread machine on the dough cycle.

If you don’t have a bread machine, mix the ingredients together with a mixer until they’re just blended, then knead by hand for about five minutes until the dough is soft and elastic. Spray a bowl with cooking spray or olive oil, put the dough in there, cover with a clean towel, and let it rise about an hour.

Punch the dough down, stretch and roll it into a pizza circle (make it a bit thinner than you want–it’ll rise again in the oven), prick with a fork, and then follow the directions above to make a pizza.

Spanish or Italian Rice

6 Oct

Once a year, DH heads to Long Island to go ocean fishing with a client. I like this for two reasons: first, DH really likes his client and they have a great time together, so there are many smiles when he comes back home. And second, the person who really hits the jackpot from these trips is me, because I end up with a freezer full of rockfish.

These, my friends, are some gorgeous pieces of fish. They come home in a cooler as massive sides, unlike the wafer-thin filets I can buy at the market. I cut them into steaks (and they really are–a good two or three inches thick), wrap them individually, bag them, and store them in their portions in my freezer, ready to be pulled out for whatever deliciousness I have in mind that night. I usually make fish tacos because everyone will eat them, but last night, I felt like Italian.

Which leads me to today’s recipe for rice. I envisioned a yummy tomato-and-garlic basted fish over rice last night, but plain old white rice wasn’t going to cut it, and something out of a box wasn’t in the cards either. I wanted that same yummy tomato-ness in my starch, and put my grade school math to the test.

Flavoring rice is pretty simple. Two cups of liquid to one cup of rice (except water or broth–if you’re only using those, subtract a quarter cup of liquid). That holds true for tomato sauce, the juice in cans of tomatoes, or any other liquid that goes into the pot. Two to one.

I did the measurements last night so you can skip it, and honestly, I’d have eaten a big bowl of this on its own. My kids gobbled it up (boo-ya!). DH ate without comment, which is a score unto itself. And it was delicious with my rockfish, which we’ll talk about next week.

Onward. Ditch your box, gang. Try this. Trust me. You need:

1 tbsp olive oil

8 oz (1 cup) chicken or vegetable broth

One 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, undrained

1 15 oz can of tomato sauce

3/4 cup water

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup diced onion

1 tsp Italian seasoning

2 cups of white rice

In a large flat pan (I used my Every Day pan by Calphalon) or stockpot, stir together all of the ingredients. Turn your stove to medium (start with everything cold and heat it up together–you’ll get fluffier rice), bring it to a boil, give it a good stir, cover it, and lower the heat to low.

Cook for about 20-25 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so, until the liquid is almost absorbed. Take the lid off for the last few minutes of cooking. When you don’t see any excess liquid in the pot. turn the burner off and let it all sit for a few minutes.

(To make this more Spanish, add a little saffron, cumin, and/or chili powder to the mix)

Autumn Veggie and Sausage Soup

4 Oct

We’re a month or so into the school year and the whole lunch thing is dragging me down.

Not the kids’ lunches. We’re set there. It’s my lunch that’s the issue. I am sandwiched and salad-ed out, completely over frozen entrees, and too busy (and cheap) to run out to eat every day or cook myself something new at 11 each morning.

Yesterday was rainy and cold and generally disgusting around here (again! paging Noah…), and it felt like a great day to break out the soup pot for a simple recipe that would last all week.

I started thinking I’d make a bean and sausage soup recipe I found online, but reviews of it said it needed more ingredients and was pretty blah as written. I went to the grocery store and started picking out things that looked good, and before I knew it, the original recipe was right out the window and a new one was born, filled with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Which is really the ideal way to cook and eat, saving yourself from older produce that’s been hauled cross-country, maximizing flavor, and keeping a little cash in your pocket.

This calls for a parmesan rind. I always keep a hunk of fresh parmesan in the house for grating over pasta and veggies. It seems expensive, I know, but you only use a little bit at a time and it’ll last almost forever wrapped tightly in plastic and stored in the fridge. For this recipe, you cut off the (inedible) rind and toss it into the pot, and then fish it out at the end. It adds a wonderful, subtle nutty flavor to the soup and is well worth the step. If you don’t have one, no worries. Go ahead without it.

I used smoked turkey sausage in this because that’s what I like. You can use whatever you enjoy, or substitute ham or bacon for a similar smoky flavor in the soup. Non-meat eaters can add extra beans to beef up the soup and toss in a little liquid smoke (a LITTLE–that stuff is potent) or smoked chipotle Tabasco for a similar effect.

This was warm and creamy (from the beans–neat trick, eh?) and smoky and comforting, and perfectly perfect for yet another cold, rainy day. I’m looking forward to my second bowl today and would love to hear what you think if you try it. You need:

Olive oil

4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 a sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 a butternut squash, peeled and diced (about a cup and a half of diced squash)

7 oz smoked sausage (I used turkey; mine comes in 14 oz packages, so I used half and froze the other half for another time), chopped into bites

1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well

1 zucchini, diced

The rind of a hunk of Parmesan cheese (I always have a hunk around. Add a little salt if you don’t have this)

A dried bay leaf

About 2 cups of chopped fresh kale (use spinach if you can’t find kale)

Salt

Pepper

About 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning

Half a lemon

Heat your soup pot over medium heat. Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Saute the onion and sausage until the sausage just starts to brown a bit. Stir in the garlic and keep it moving for about a minute.

Pour in the chicken broth and add all of the rest of the ingredients except the kale and lemon. Stir, cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the butternut squash softens, stirring every so often.

Stir in the kale, cook 10 more minutes, and fish out the Parmesan rind and the bay leaf. Squeeze the lemon over the pot, stir in the juice, and enjoy. Makes about four servings.

The Short-Order Cook Thing

3 Oct

Happy Monday, y’all.

So we talked a few weeks back about kids and pickyness and not being a short-order cook just because some short, income-less person decides they “don’t like” whatever you’ve worked to make for dinner. Yes? And how we all love, love, love our kids to pieces and wouldn’t know what to do without them, really and truly, but man would you just eat dinner one night without so much commentary?

Last night was one of those nights. We had an unseasonably cold, wet weekend and yesterday being Sunday and a football day for both of the teams our family follows (some wisely and some extremely misguidedly, but I digress), it was without question a chili day. I made a recipe very similar to this one, but with beef and on the stovetop–I’ll share it this week, promise.

My kids don’t like chili.

This one is an honest dislike. They’ve tried it more than once and they really don’t like it. Especially all spicy-like, which is how I made the batch yesterday. I try to get them to try foods honestly, but if they truly don’t like something, I don’t shove it down their throats. Nobody needs lifelong food issues.

The solution? Actually remarkably simple. Instead of buying a one-pound piece of steak for the chili, I bought a piece that was about 1 1/3 pounds. I diced up most of it for the chili pot, but kept that last third-pound whole, marinated it in some ginger-soy dressing, popped my cast-iron grill pan onto the stove, and grilled it up for the kids. They enjoyed their steak with broccoli and rice while DH and I had our chili and the same sides. Yeah, I had one more pan to clean, but it was much easier than listening to the complaining, wasting food, resorting to McNastiness, or making a whole different meal.

That’s my take on this one. I’d love to hear yours–if you’re making a meal you love but the kids don’t, how do you handle it? Comment below!

%d bloggers like this: