Original and Practical Recipes. Inexpensive, Quick and Healthy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Goat Cheese and Marinara with Garlic Bread

This recipe my re-creation of one of my favorite dishes from Cafe Ba Ba Reba in Chicago.  I was inspired to make this because I have leftover goat cheese from the pizza I made on Sunday and leftover sauce from last night.

You will need:
1 1/2 cups Tomato Sauce (homemade or from a jar, any variety)
4 ounces of goat cheese
Fresh Italian or French Bread
2 teaspoons butter
2 cloves peeled garlic

Step 1:
Move an oven rack to the top position in your oven.  Then turn the broiler on.  Then while the oven is heating, pour the sauce into a saucepan and warm over medium heat until it bubbles.

Step 2:
Cut the bread in half vertically.  Spread a thin layer of butter on the bread.  Put the bread on a baking sheet and put it on the top rack of the oven.  Keep a very close eye on the bread, it will only take a minute or two for it to brown.

Step 3:
Remove the bread from the oven once it has browned.  Then rub the garlic on the bread.  The heat from the bread will help the bread absorb the garlic.  Then slice the bread into smaller pieces.

Rubbing the garlic onto the bread
Step 4:
Place the goat cheese in a bowl.  Pour the hot tomato sauce over the goat cheese.  Spread the goat cheese and tomato sauce onto the garlic bread.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Spaghetti Alla Rustica

When I was attending grad school in Manhattan, I spent my weekends hostessing at Centolire.  Every once in a while the manager let me order lunch off the menu.  I loved their Spaghetti alla Rustica.  The sauce was simple and delicious with just the right amount of onion and cheese.  I was able to find the recipe online and made a few changes and cut down on the amount of butter eliminate the use of olive oil.

This meal can be made in 20 minutes, and only requires a few inexpensive ingredients.  I paid only $10 for all of the ingredients and made enough for four or five people.  The restaurant in New York charges $18 a plate for this meal.

I am going to save the leftover sauce to use in two more recipes this week: pizza; and a goat cheese and marinara crostini.

You will need:
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons white wine
3 cups canned crushed tomatoes (1 large can)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 pound spaghetti
5 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Fresh Basil

Step 1:
Put a pot of water on to boil.  Then melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the wine and the onions.  Cook the onions for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the pasta to the water once it boils.

Step 2:
Once the onions are soft, add the crushed tomatoes and the salt.  Heat the sauce until it starts to bubble.  Let bubble, allowing the sauce to reduce, until the spaghetti has cooked.

Step 3:
Stir the cheese into the sauce.  Drain the spaghetti and toss the spaghetti in the sauce.  Top with chopped fresh basil and enjoy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Caramelized Onion, Poached Pear, Spinach and Goat Cheese Pizza

On Sundays my friends and I gather for dinner.  Usually there are 8 to 10 of us and we take turns hosting.  It is very informal, people just host whenever they have the time, but it works out really well and we probably have at least 45 SNDs a year.  This week it was a smaller group than usual because lots of people were still traveling back to Chicago after Thanksgiving with their families.  

I think I was inspired by some of the food I sampled yesterday at the tasting for my wedding.  One of our favorite items was a crostini with a pear, blue cheese, and a candied pecan.  I started thinking about how that could translate into an appetizer for SND.  I decided to make a pizza because it can be quickly assembled and cooked once I get to my friend's house.  I want to focus on healthier foods between Thanksgiving and Christmas so I thought of ways to reduce the amount of fat in the recipe.  I used wine to caramelize the onion and poach the pear, and decided to use goat cheese because it has less fat than blue cheese.

You will need:
1 large white onion
2 d'anjou pears
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
6 teaspoons Marsala Wine (or White Wine)
1 fresh ball of pizza dough (available at Trade Joe's and Whole Foods)
4 oz. goat cheese
fresh pre-washed spinach
2 tablespoons flour
Candied Walnuts (optional)

Step 1:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Then caramelize the onions - first chop the onions into long thin pieces.  In a frying pan over medium heat combine 2 teaspoons Olive Oil and 2 teaspoons Marsala Wine.  Add the onions.  Stir every couple minutes, until the onions are golden brown.  This usually takes about 10 minutes.  Remove onions from the pan and set aside.

Step 2:
Poach the pears.  Start by slicing the pears.  Then in the same pan you used for the onions, melt 1 teaspoon butter over medium heat.  Add 4 teaspoons Marsala wine, then add the pears.  Cook the pears for about 7 or 8 minutes until they are golden.

Step 3:
Dust your countertop and rolling pin with flour.  Then roll out the pizza dough.  I roll the dough out into a large square and bake the pizza on a baking sheet.  Lightly flour the baking sheet to prevent the dough from sticking.

Step 4:
Bake the crust for 5 minutes.  Then remove from oven and top with the spinach, onions, pears and goat cheese.  Return to the oven for another 15 minutes.  Then sprinkle the walnuts on top, slice and serve.

Caramelized Onions
Poached Pear


Sunday, November 27, 2011

This week on Kittchenblog

I returned from Maine last night, and Chicago has greeted me with cold misty weather.  I came home to an empty fridge, so I had to venture out in the unpleasant weather to buy some groceries.  After trip to Trader Joe's I have food for the week.  I thought I would let you know which recipes are heading your way this week.

Since it is Sunday, I will be going to Sunday Night Dinner with my friends.  Two of my girlfriends are hosting tonight, they just got a great new apartment, and while they were unpacking they decided to put up their Christmas Tree.  My contribution to dinner will be a caramelized onion, pear, goat cheese, and spinach pizza.  I just prepared with onion and pear, and will be assembling and baking the pizza at the girl's place.  I will post photos and the recipe tomorrow.  I used wine to cook the onion and pear and kept the amount of olive oil and butter to a bear minimum.

In addition to the pizza here are a couple other recipes I plan to post this week:
Roasted Chicken with Citrus
Veggie Pizza
Red Bliss Potatoes
Ribollita (Italian Minestrone Soup with Bread)

Sweet Potato Casserole

One last Thanksgiving recipe.  I promise that between now and Christmas I will be posting lots of healthy recipes.  These sweet potatoes are my brother's favorite Thanksgiving dish.  They are so delicious that they do not even need marshmallows on top.

You will need:
6 pounds sweet potatoes ( 4 large cans)
4 eggs
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup pecan halves
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup melted butter

Step 1:Drain & mash the sweet potatoes.

Step 2:
Using a mixer, beat the following into the sweet potatoes: 4 eggs, ½ cup of brown sugar and ½ cup melted butter, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Put in a casserole. 

Step 3:
Arrange pecans on top of the casserole, sprinkle with the ½ cup brown sugar and drizzle with ¼ cup melted butter. Place in buttered casserole dish and bake at 350 until hot.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Uncle Gordon's Pearl Onions

Uncle Gordon is my godfather.  Gordon and my Dad met over 30 years ago when my Dad picked Gordon up when he was hitchhiking.  Gordon is married to Susan who went to high school with my Mom.  When you live in a tiny town in Maine everyone is connected to everyone else in 15 different ways.  Gordon and Susan and their kids have always spend Thanksgiving with my family.  This year Gordon was unable to attend Thanksgiving dinner because he was sailing a yacht to the Caribbean.  It seemed like a pretty solid reason to miss Thanksgiving in Maine.  I did have one concern, if Uncle Gordon was going to miss Thanksgiving... would his pearl onions make it to Thanksgiving?

Susan stepped up to the plate and made the onions this year.  And they were delicious!  Thanks Susan!

You will need:
4 10 oz. pkgs. of gold, red or white pearl onions (sometimes we mix them)
6 tbsp. of butter
6 tbsp. of flour
3 cups of milk, heated almost to the boiling point
4 tbsp. of cream sherry (can add more to desired taste)
few drops of tabasco sauce
few dashes of ground nutmeg (to taste)
white pepper and salt to taste

Step 1:

To peel onions drop in a large pot of boiling water for 3 minutes. Rinse in cold water. Cut root end off and squeeze gently toward the root end until onion slips out. This is not as difficult as it sounds and can be done the day before.

Step 2:
To cook onions, drop peeled onions into boiling water.  Cook for 10 minutes once the water returns to a second boil (very important). Drain.

Step 3:

To make cream sauce, melt butter over med-high heat. When melted, add flour, stirring constantly with wire whisk, until all butter is absorbed. Turn heat down to low and add milk slowly, continue to stir with whisk. Add sherry, tabasco, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Fold in cooked onions and mix well.  Garnish with fresh parsley.

Last Day in Maine

I used leftover potatoes to make potato pancakes for breakfast. See previously posted recipe.

Then we dressed Milo up and picked out a Christmas tree.

Now we are off to a tasting for the wedding.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Day After Thanksgiving!

It has been a busy day for the Graham Fam.  My Dad made his famous soup which we ate for lunch.  He also cooked an additional turkey for us to eat tonight with all the leftover side dishes.  My sister was very concerned about the shortage of Mashed Potatoes, and she convinced me to make 5 more pounds.  She wanted enough for dinner tonight and potato pancakes in the morning.  You can find the recipe for these potatoes in a previous post.

Cranberry Mayo

Cranberry Mayo is a excellent addition to a post-Thanksgiving sandwich, and you probably have the ingredients in your fridge.  I use Stonewall Kitchen's New England Cranberry Relish to make this - but you can use leftover homemade cranberry sauce or cranberry sauce from a can.

You will need:
Cranberry Relish or Cranberry Sauce
Mayo - whatever you have in the fridge is fine

Step 1:
Mix 3 parts Cranberry Relish to 2 parts mayo.  Mix together.

Step 2:
Add to a sandwich.  I recommend Cranberry Mayo, Turkey, and Stuffing on a roll.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Deep Fried Apple Pie

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving my friends and I celebrate Friendsgiving. It is something I look forward to all year. 40 people bring their favorite Thanksgiving dishes - so there is lots of delicious things to try. Last year my friend Lawrie kicked things up a notch by introducing a deep fried turkey to the mix. And this year we decided that we need to use that deep fryer for more than turkey. At dinner the other night we were all brainstorming things that we could deep fry. Everyone was thinking of appetizers, and I wanted to come up with something outside the box. My contribution to the deep fryer would be individual sized deep fried apple pies, like McD's - but classier. If you do not have a deep fryer you could certainly bake these - doing so would definitely save you some calories! But Friendsgiving comes but once a year, so you might as well indulge.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the deep fried apple pies were a bit of a mess. Most of the burst in the deep fryer, but those that survived were tasty. We believe that the problem was that we should have put them in a cage, and then into the oil. If anyone has more experience with deep frying please leave suggestions in the comments! The pies that did survive frying were delicious.

You will need:
Store bought Pie Crust
5 peeled and sliced Apples
3/4 Brown Sugar
1 stick of Butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Salt
3 tablespoons Flour
1/4 cup Sugar
1 Lemon

Step 1:
Put the sliced apples in a pie pan. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and stir into the apples. Then using a fork mix the butter, sugar, cinnamon, flour, salt and vanilla together. Then pour evenly on top of the apples.

Step 2:
Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. You could serve right away with ice cream of you like. Or let it cool and then place in the pie crust.

Step 3:
Unroll your pie crust on a flat surface. Then using a large cup, like a big gulp, cut out large circles of dough. Place about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the apple filling in each circle, then fold in half and pinch closed with a fork.

Step 4:
Either bake until the crust has browned, which will take about 30 minutes at 350 degrees or deep fry for 7 minutes.

Chris thought my blog should have photos of people enjoying my food.  And he kindly agreed to pose for me.
Thanks Chris!

Happy Thanksgiving

My favorite day of the year has arrived and I have so much to be thankful for this year! In no particular order here are some things I am thankful for this year:

1. This blog! It was so sweet of my fiancé Charles and my friend Woody to set this up for me!
2. Charles - even though I am convinced he came up with this blog because he knew he would benefit from it!
3. Chicago - it is my favorite city in the world, and my home!
4. My parents - for planning my wedding next summer! Thanks guys!
5. My Chicago Family. We all say that we have 2 families, blood and friends. I love them so much and they make my life so much fun.
6. Sunday Night Dinners - they have been the highlight of my week for 3 years running.
7. My brother and sister for being hilarious.
8. My iPhone because it makes it possible for me to use my 2 hour a day commute to and from work for blogging.
9. My job and the fact that all my friends and family have jobs!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day After Thanksgiving Soup

Just in case I have not made this clear, Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday.  I love all the food, and especially the turkey.  My Dad and I could probably eat turkey everyday.  My Dad is one of few people who goes to the grocery store the day after Thanksgiving and buys a turkey on sale, goes home, and cooks it.  At first my mom thought that was crazy - but there is a very good reason for this.  The Thanksgiving turkey becomes Turkey Soup - and we need more turkey to eat with all the Thanksgiving side dishes.  So the obvious solution is to cook another smaller turkey the day after Thanksgiving.

I love this soup so much that having it once a year is not enough, so I make it with leftover chicken.  This soup freezes very well, I freeze individual servings and take them out as I need them.

My dad taught me that leftover gravy is the secret to a great soup. I strongly believe that it adds a lot of flavor to soup. I like to add gravy to all of my stock based soups. Feel free to add or omit any vegetables to this soup.

You will need:
2 quarts Stock (I posted the recipe last week)
1 cup or as much as you have Gravy (unless you already added it into the stock)
3 cups diced Turkey (or Chicken)
1 cup chopped white onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
1 package fresh cheese or ravioli or tortillini
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sprinkle of Parmesan

Plus 1 cup of any of the following vegetables:
lightly sauteed mushrooms
frozen spinach (defrosted and water squeezed out)
cannellini (white) beans
green beans

Step 1:
In a large soup pot (or if your large pot is already filled with the stock, use a frying pan - and then add the sauteed veggies to the stock) saute the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  After a couple minutes, once the onion is soft add the carrots and celery.  Continue sauteing until the onion is slightly browned.

Step 2:
Add the stock to the sauteed veggies.  Heat until bubbling.  Then add the gravy, diced turkey, and the remaining veggies.  I always put spinach, corn, cannellini beans, and green beans in this soup.  Let the soup bubble for a least 30 minutes cooking the veggies.

Step 3:
Add the fresh ravioli or tortillini.  Cook for another 10 minutes and serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan. 

I always freeze half of this soup right away and save it for later.  (Later is usually a day when it is -20 in Chicago and there is no way I am leaving my apartment).

Jack's Turkey Tips

My dad, Jack, loves turkey more than anyone I have ever met. He has also mastered the art of perfectly cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. Before I hop on a flight to Maine so I can enjoy his (and my Mom's!) cooking, I called my dad to find out his Thanksgiving turkey secrets.

1. Make sure your turkey is completely defrosted. Sometimes even fresh turkeys are frozen in the middle.
2. Remember to remove the giblets. You can add the giblets and neck to your stock if you like. My dad puts everything in the bag of giblets except the liver into a medium pot and starts his stock when he cooks the turkey. Then the next day he adds that into the big pot with the turkeys bones and stock vegetables.
3. Rise the turkey and the cavity. Pat it dry. Put salt and pepper on the cavity and then rub the outside of the turkey with olive oil.
4. In order to prevent the drumsticks from drying out put foil over the ends of the drumsticks. Tie the wings back with butchers twine.
5. Tent the turkey with foil. Remove the foil for the last hour of roasting to brown the turkey.
6. Baste the turkey with its own juices.
7. Once the turkey is fully cooked, let it sit for at least 20-30 minutes. You do this so the turkey doesn't loose it's juices when you cut into it. Cover the turkey in a couple layers of foil to keep it warm.
8. My dad cooks the turkey at 350 degrees and when he buys the bird he purchases one pound per person.
9. If you really love turkey, go to the grocery store the day after Thanksgiving - they will be on sale!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Great Grandma Graham's Pumpkin Pie

This pie is very easy to make and it is something that everyone looks forward to on Thanksgiving.  For a lower fat variation skip the crust and pour into ramekins.  Also note that this makes a lot of filling - it is made for a 10 inch pie pan.  If you are using a smaller pie pan pour the excess filling into a ramekin and bake along with the pie.  My mom always has just enough leftover filling to make a little bowl of crustless filling.  My sister laid claim to it years ago and she eats it every Thanksgiving morning as breakfast.

3/4 cup of butter- 1 & 1/2 sticks
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
Melt butter in saucepan. Remove from heat & add both sugar and stir to combine. Stir in flour. Cool 15 minutes (dough will be warm). Spray 10 inch pie pan with non- stick spray. Press dough onto bottom & up the sides of pie pan. Cover & refrigerate at least 30 minutes & up to 24 hours.

2 Cups pumpkin pie filling- 1 can
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon molasses
1 empty pumpkin can full of milk
3 eggs separated-beat the whites until very SOFT peaks and save
Slightly beat the 3 egg yolks, then slowly add and combine all ingredients except egg whites. When mixed well, gently fold in the egg whites. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 for about 45 minutes. Center should be rather firm. You may need a pie crust protector ring to reduce the browning of the crust.

1 & 1/2 cups pecans, chopped
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
Combine the nuts & brown sugar. After the pie has baked for 45 min. remove crust protector, sprinkle the nut topping around the perimeter of the pie. Continue baking until knife inserted comes out clean. You can broil for 30 seconds to caramelize the brown sugar. Watch the pie carefully to avoid scorching.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turkey Pot Pie

Pot pie is perfect fall comfort food. I first made pot pie a couple years ago. I made it in a big 9x13 inch glass pan, which was a lot of food for two people, at least half of it was leftover. The next day I went to the fridge to have some of the leftovers for lunch. But I could not find the pot pie anywhere. My fiancé liked it so much that he had eaten all the leftovers without saving any for me! He even cleaned up all the evidence by washing the pan and putting it away. I still give him a hard time about this incident.

My friends cooked 50 pounds of turkey for Friendsgiving last night. Forty people attended which means there was lots of leftover turkey. Dre told me to take as much turkey and gravy as I wanted, and I instantly decided that making a Turkey Pot Pie would be the perfect way to use these leftovers. One issue we have with Friendsgiving is that we always have a substantial amount of leftovers, and since most people are traveling to their parents house for Thanksgiving, no one wants to bring leftovers home.  Pot pie is a great use for these leftovers since I can freeze the pie and eat it after I return home from the holiday.

You will need:
Store bought Pie Crusts
2 cups cubed Turkey (or Chicken)
2 cups Chicken Stock
3/4 cup Gravy
3/4 cup Cream of Mushroom Soup
2/3 cup Mushrooms
2/3 cup White Onion
2/3 cup Green Beans
2/3 cup Corn
2/3 cup Carrots
1 tablespoon Corn Starch
2 teaspoons Butter
2 tablespoons White Wine or Marsala Wine

Step 1:
Saute the onion in 1 teaspoon butter and 1 tablespoon wine until slightly browned.  Then remove from pan, and use the same pan to saute the mushrooms.  Saute the mushrooms in 1 teaspoon butter and 1 tablespoon wine.

Step 2:
Combine the Stock, Gravy, and Cream of Mushroom Soup in a large pot.  Then add all the vegetables and the Turkey.  Add 1 tablespoon Corn Starch and bring to a boil.  Let boil for a minute or two until the sauce thickens.

Step 3:
Let the sauce cool for at least 20 minutes before pouring it into the pie crust.  You can save yourself a lot of fat and calories by making a single crust pot pie.  You can make a pot pie with only the top or only the bottom.  If you choose to use a top crust, cut a couple slits in it before putting it in the oven. 

Step 4:
If you decide to cook your Turkey Pot Pie right away it will take about 40 minutes to cook at 350 degrees.  Or you can freeze the pot pie and save it for later.  If you freeze the pot pie let it defrost for 30 minutes before putting it in the oven.  A pie that came out of the freeze will take 45-60 minutes to cook at 350 degrees.  In order to get a golden brown crust brush the top of the pie with egg white before baking it.  

What to do with Leftover Gravy

Gravy is always on hand on Thanksgiving to accompany the turkey and mashed potatoes.  But what do you do with leftover gravy?  Here are some great ideas:

1.  Add it to a soup or a stock.  Gravy really adds a lot of flavor.  If you aren't making a soup right after Thanksgiving - go ahead and make stock and add the gravy into that, then freeze it for later.  (My turkey soup recipe will be posted this week).
2.  Add it to a turkey pot pie.  Turkey pot pie is a great way to use a variety of your leftovers.  I will be making a pot pie this week - so recipe to come!  Pot pies can be frozen and cooked later if you are on turkey overload.  Or just make 2 at a time, one for now, one for later.
3.  Freeze the gravy in an ice cube tray, and add to sauces - or just use to top potatoes post thanksgiving.

How I make gravy:
You will need:
The pan drippings from a Chicken or Turkey
1 tablespoon Butter
1 tablespoon Flour
3-5 tablespoons White Wine

Step 1:
Scrape all the pan drippings from the pan you cooked your Turkey (or Chicken) in.  Pour the drippings through a strainer (one with a fine mesh) and into a clear container.  The fat will rise to the top.

Step 2:
Using the same pan that you just poured the drippings from, melt the butter and add the flour and mix together - making a roux.  If you have a lot of pan dripping you might want to add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons flour.  Then using a baster add the drippings back into the pan.  Suck up the drippings below the fat line and add.  You want to discard the fat that settles to the top of the drippings.  Mix into the roux and then add the white wine.  Add 3-5 tablespoons of white wine depending on whether you cooked a Chicken or a Turkey and how much gravy you are making.

Step 3:
Stir the mixture with a whisk and heat until it is bubbling.  At this point the gravy will begin to thicken.  Stir constantly for a minute or two until the gravy reaches the desired consistancy.

Recipes to look forward to this week

So, I really really try to eat healthy foods. But this week is Thanksgiving - so I am going to be posting about what to do with all of those leftovers.
Here are a couple upcoming recipes:
1. Day After Thanksgiving Turkey Soup - it makes the Friday after Thanksgiving just as delicious as Thanksgiving. I am going to post the recipe, but then post lots of photos on Friday when I help my Dad make the soup.
2. Turkey Pot Pie
3. Leftover Sandwich Ideas


I don't mean to brag, but I honestly think I have some of the most fantastic friends in the world.  They are genuinely nice people, we truly love each other like family, and we know how to have a blast.  Tonight my friend Hockema mentioned that when she runs into people she hasn't seen in a while they comment on how they can tell she is having the time of her life in Chicago based on photos they see on Facebook.  It is true, we are having the absolute time our lives.

When it comes to group events, we have a lot.  We celebrate everything: birthdays, flag day, prom, Christmas in July, Halloween, ugly sweaters, Purdue Football Games, the Golf Masters, the Kentucky Derby, Red Sox games, the Oscars, hating winter, the 4th of July - the list goes on and on - and yes we seriously had parties for all of those things.  But each year one event outshines all the rest.  Friendsgiving.

Tonight 40 friends gathered in Chicago to share a delicious meal that we all contributed to.  Three turkeys weighing in at a total of over 50 pounds were cooked.  And dozens of side dishes and desserts were brought by the attendees.  I brought my mashed potatoes, the Bailey's white hot chocolate, and mini apple pies that I deep fried (it was a minor disaster - but more on that tomorrow).  Part of the Friendsgiving tradition is to say what you are thankful for.  My friends, and 2 of the lovely ladies who hosted Friendsgiving, Caroline and Dre brought up two excellent reasons why all 40 of us should be thankful.  Caroline pointed out that for the first time ever, we are all employed.  And Dre said that it is amazing that we know 40 great people to celebrate Friendsgiving with.  I was reminded of how lucky I am to know each and every person at Friendsgiving.

Here are a few photos to give you an idea of how much food we had.

Yes I ate all this.  Special shout outs to Dre and John's great work on the turkey and gravy.  John's ravioli, and Chris and Mo's brussels sprouts!

A little walk down memory lane/proof that we really do have a blast.

Annual trip to Red Sox vs. White Sox game

Just a little birthday celebration

4th of July Party

Yes, we even send out a group Christmas card.

Thank you to everyone who made Friendsgiving such a success.  Thank you to whomever decided to use this event as a way to donate money to charity - my belly is full and I have a reason to feel good about myself!  And thanks to my crew of friends for being the best I could ever hope for!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Breakfast Tacos

Making tacos requires purchasing lots of different ingredients, and I always have leftover taco stuff. Instead of eating tacos night after night I use the ingredients to make breakfast tacos on the weekend. Breakfast tacos are very easy to make and you can add in whatever you like.

You will need:
5 eggs
a splash of milk
soft tortillas
Possible toppings:
sour cream
refriend beans
cheese (monteray jack, cheddar, or queso fresco)
caramelized onion

Step 1:
Crack the eggs into a bowl, add a splash of milk. Whisk together. Cook in a frying pan.

Step 2:
Once the eggs are cooked heat the tortillas in the microwave for 15 seconds. Add eggs and toppings to the taco. This morning I had a breakfast taco with avocado, cheese, sour cream and caramelized onion with a side of refried beans.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mascarpone Alfredo Eggs with Asparagus

I woke up really hungry this morning.  I looked in the fridge to see what I could put together for breakfast.  I thought about scrambling eggs, but Charles wanted poached eggs.  So I decided to use the leftover ingredients from the Mascarpone Alfredo I made the other night to make breakfast.

Charles thought that the sauce went really well with the eggs and the asparagus.

You will need:
2 tablespoons White Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Butter
1/2 teaspoon Flour
1/2 cup Milk
2 tablespoons Mascarpone
2 tablespoons Parmesan Cheese

Step 1:
In a small pan melt the butter.  Add the flour and mix together.  Then add 1/2 cup milk.  Mix and slowly bring to a boil.  Let boil for 1 minute, while stirring.  Then add the 2 tablespoons Mascarpone and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.  Mix until completely incorporated.  Then set aside.

Step 2:
Cut bottom inch off the Asparagus and throw away.  Then cut the Asparagus in half and add to boiling water.  The Asparagus takes about 5 minutes to cook.

Step 3:
Poach the eggs.  Add 2 inches of water to a frying pan, add 2 tablespoons vinegar and bring to a slow boil.  Then crack an egg into a small bowl - make sure the yolk is not broken otherwise this will not work.  Once the water has boiled, lower the egg gently into the water.  If the egg white spreads out a lot you can pull it together with a spoon.  Repeat putting up to 4 eggs in one pan.  After 2 minutes carefully make sure the egg is not stuck to the bottom of the pan and roll the egg over.  Cook for 3-4 minutes total depending on how runny you like your eggs.

Here is a video explaining how to poach an egg:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chicken Stock/Turkey Stock

Homemade stocks are so much tastier than store bought.  I do use store bought stocks when a recipe calls for a small amount of stock, but if I am making soup I make my own stock.  Stock can be frozen so even if you aren't planning to make soup right after Thanksgiving you should consider making a stock.  Purchase stock ingredients along with everything you need to make Thanksgiving dinner, then make stock the day after the Thanksgiving.

Next week I will teach you how to turn this stock into Day After Thanksgiving Soup - which my Dad taught me how to make.

You will need:
Chicken or Turkey bones - meat removed
1 large onion
2 cups carrots
2 cups celery
leftover gravy
a teaspoon of red pepper flakes
4 cloves crushed garlic

Step 1:
Chop the onion, carrots, and celery.  Your chopping doesn't need to be nice and neat since these vegetables will be strained out of the stock.

Step 2:
Put the chicken or turkey bones in a large pot and fill the pot with water until it is 3/4 full.  Put on a burner over medium high heat and bring to a simmer.  Add in the onion, carrots, celery, gravy, red pepper flakes, and garlic.  Let simmer for 2-3 hours - until the stock reaches a nice golden color.  I always add leftover gravy to my stocks and soups if I have any on hand because it adds so much flavor.

Step 3:
The most important step in making stock in putting a collander in a large pot in the sink.  Do not forget to put the collander into a pot otherwise you will be dumping your stock down the drain.  Pour the stock through the collander and into the other pot.  Throw away the vegetables in the collander.  Either use your stock to make a soup, or freeze and use later.

Tip: if you have a Parmesan rind add it into the stock. Chop it into a few chunks and it will completely dissolve into the stock.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Steak Tacos

The five food groups taste so much better when you take them out of the pyramid and put them in a taco.  You can add whatever you like into a taco.  Tonight I made steak tacos with carmelized onions and mushrooms.  I am sure I will be posting about other taco combinations in the future.

Charles loved these tacos, especially the mushrooms.  He told me that we eat mushrooms all the time and that these mushrooms are the best.  Charles also made a great suggestion that next time I add peppers.

This recipe can also be made with chicken instead of beef.

You will need:
1.5 pounds Sirloin Steak
Taco Seasoning Sauce - I highly recommend Frontera Grill's Roasted Tomato and Chipotle sauce which is available at Whole Foods.  For those of you who can't find this - find a sauce not a seasoning packet.
Soft Tortillas either corn or flour
1 large Yellow Onion
8 oz Mushrooms
Queso Fresco (or Monterey Jack)
Low fat or fat free Sour Cream
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Olive Oil
Serves 3
Total Prep and Cook time 1 hour

Step 1:
Put 1/4 cup of the seasoning sauce aside.  Use the rest of the sauce to marinate the steak. Marinate for at least 30 minutes.  You could marinate all day if you like.

Step 2:
While the meat marinates cut the onion in half vertically and the chop from top to bottom so that the result is big round pieces of onion. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan and add the onion. Stir frequently for about 15 minutes until the onion has absorbed all the oil and has caramelized. The onion will be golden brown.

Step 3:
Turn your oven on to broil. Then heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a frying pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot add the steak. Sear each side for about 2-3 minutes. Then put the steak on a baking sheet, spoon the leftover marinate on top of the steak and put it into the oven. Cook for 10-15 minutes more depending on how well done you like your steak and how thick your steak is.  I used a massive 1.6 pound steak and it was about 2 1/2 inches thick - I cooked it for 20 minutes in the oven and it was perfectly medium.

Step 4:
While the steak is in the oven, add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon oil olive to the pan you used to sear the steak. Do not wash the pan first (unless it is just too messy), the steak juices will lend flavor to the mushrooms. Melt the butter, add the 1/4 cup of the marinate that you set aside and then add the mushrooms. Sauté for 6 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed.

Step 5:
Take the steak out of the oven and slice it into long strips. Then assemble your tacos adding the onions, mushrooms, cheese and sour cream.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mascarpone Alfredo

Giada De Laurentis is responsible for my obsession with marscarpone cheese. If you watch her show regularly you will learn that Giada loves it - so much so that she even figured out how to add it to cupcakes! Over time I learned that it is one of those magical ingredients that makes a dish creamy and delicious. So this recipe is inspired by Giada, and by my love of cheese.

Alfredo sauces are so good but all that cheesy goodness comes at a cost - which is lots of fat. This "Alfredo" is healthier than the traditional because it has much less butter and uses whole milk instead of cream. Sometimes recipes call for cream because cream is thicker than milk. I have found that using a rue base (equal parts butter and flour melted together) and whole milk you can make a rich thick sauce with fewer calories and less fat.

You will need:
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 oz Mascarpone
3/4 cup Parmesan
2 tablespoons Marsala wine
8 oz Mushrooms
1 cup chopped Asparagus
Salt and pepper
3/4 of a 1 pound box of pasta
Serves 4-6
Total Prep and Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Step 1:
Put a large pot of water on to boil.  Then in a frying pan add 1 tablespoon of butter.  Melt over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and then the Marsala wine.  Adding Marsala wine to sauteed mushrooms is a great way to add flavor, while also reducing the amount of oil or butter used to saute.  After the mushrooms have absorbed most of the liquid, add in 1/2 tablespoon of butter and the chopped asparagus.  Stir until the butter is incorporated, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then top with a lid and turn the heat to low.  The steam will cook the asparagus.

Step 2:
Once the water has boiled add the pasta.  Cook the pasta according to the directions.  While the pasta is cooking made the sauce.  First melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter and mix with 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour.  Then add 1 1/4 cups of whole milk.  Stir over medium high heat until the sauce boils.  Let boil for 1 minute while stirring constantly, this will make the sauce thicken.  Then add the Parmesan and Mascarpone cheeses and stir until melted.

Step 3:
Drain the pasta, and return it to the pot.  Pour the Mascarpone Alfredo over the pasta, and then add in the sauteed mushrooms and asparagus.  I served this with some of the leftover chicken from the Chicken Piccata I made on Monday (without the lemon butter sauce).

What is your favorite food?

I am asking all my friends what their favorite food is, and my plan is to create healthier recipes for them.  So far I have received two requests: 
1.  Macaroni and Cheese (from Wolf)
2.  Chicken Tetrazzini (from Caroline)
I can honestly say I have never had Chicken Tetrazzini but I am excited to try it, and Mac and Cheese is one of my all time favorites.
Do you have any suggestions?  Please leave them in the comments!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chocolate and Bailey's Ganache

Chocolate ganache is very quick and easy to make and it can be used on cakes, cupcakes, and cookies. I have found that using ganache to top cupcakes instead of frosting is a big time saver. The ganache can be spooned on top of cupcakes, or the cupcakes can be dipped into the ganache. You can also use ganache as a glaze poured over the top of an already frosted cake.  Ganache does take a little while to set up, so I recommend putting the ganache covered cupcakes, cake, etc. in the fridge for an hour to chill.

I had made chocolate ganache before but recently began adding Bailey's instead of the teaspoon of vanilla I had used previously.  As is often the case, the inspiration for this recipe came from my friends since we are always gathering to eat together.  My friend Zinni loves chocolate, so for his birthday I decided to make him a giant birthday cake (pictured below - and more details to come on that recipe later).  I wanted to make a cake that was very chocolaty, but also had a little something else to it.  So I thought, what would make a chocolate cake even better, and the answer I came up with is Bailey's.  Since that point I have had a bottle of Bailey's in my kitchen and I find ways to add it to desserts - like the Bailey's Hot Chocolate.

You will need:
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup of Bailey's
1 cup of chocolate chips (semi sweet, milk chocolate, or white chocolate)
*Mint Bailey's and Milk Chocolate Chips would be a great combo

Step 1:
Pour the chocolate chips and the Baileys into a small bowl.

Step 2:
Slowly heat the cream in a saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly (so the cream doesn't curdble) until the cream is steaming hot. 

Step 3:
Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips. Stir quickly with a whisk until the chocolate has melted.
Zinni's Birthday Cake - it was huge, and so heavy!
Ganache covered cupcakes

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chicken Piccata

Chicken piccata is perfect for a quick weeknight meal because it only takes about an hour to make.  I love the buttery lemony flavor of this meal.  This version is slightly different from other Chicken Piccata recipes because I added in mushrooms because I found them in my fridge.

You will need:
2 pounds thinly cut Chicken Breast
2 cups Italian Breadcrumbs
3 Eggs (whisked together)
5 ounces of Mushrooms
1/3 cup Chicken Broth
1 Lemon
1 tablespoon Capers
3/4 cup White Wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
4 tablespoons Butter
1 tablespoon Olive Oil

Step 1:
Bread and saute the chicken.  Melt a tablespoon of butter and a splash of olive oil in a frying pan.  Then take the chicken breasts and dunk them in the breadcrumbs, eggs, and back into the breadcrumbs.  Then brown in the pan.  Once the chicken has browned, put it in the oven at 275 degrees.  It will take 30-45 minutes for the chicken to cook depending on how thick the chicken is.

Step 2:
Make the sauce.  Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a pan and stir in 1/4 white wine.  Add the mushrooms and saute for 5 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Then add in 2 tablespoons, 1/3 cup chicken broth, the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon capers, and 1/2 cup white wine.  Heat until bubbling. 

Step 3:
Take the chicken out of the oven and pour the sauce on top.  I served with fresh linguine.  The sauce is very good poured over pasta.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mushroom Pepper Cheddar Strata

Strattas are an easy way to feed a crowd breakfast. They can be made a day or two ahead of time and you can add in whatever you like.

When I made this Strata I was working with what I could find in my friend's fridge, but you can add your favorite veggies, bacon or sausage.

You will need:
1 large onion
1 package of mushrooms
3 peppers (I used red, orange and green)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar
3 cups cubed bread (a good quality white or wheat)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup milk
18 eggs
2 tablespoons butter
a 9x13 inch glass casserole pan
Serves 10-12

Step 1
Chop all the veggies. Sauté onion, mushrooms and peppers in butter until soft (about 3 minutes).  Let cool for at least 15 minutes.  This is very important because otherwise the heat from the veggies will partially cook the eggs.
Step 2
Butter the baking dish then line the bottom of the pan with the bread.

Step 3
Whisk the eggs, milk, salt and pepper together. Pour 1/2 of the egg mixture over the bread. Spread 1/2 of the cheese over the egg. Pour the sautéed veggies on top. Then add the rest of the egg and then the rest of the cheese.

Step 4
Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, until the egg is fully cooked. The top should be browned.

Please note that this needs to be made in a shallow baking dish, otherwise it doesn't cook evenly.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Artichoke Dip

This very quick and easy to make dip is a crowd pleaser and a staple at every Graham family holiday party.

You will need:
2 cans Artichoke hearts or bottoms
1 cup Mayonaise
1 cup Parmesan
Dash Worchestershire sauce
Dash hot sauce

Step 1
Chop artichokes. Then mix all ingredients together.

Step 2
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve with crackers or pita chips.