Tuesday, March 10, 2009

House Arrest and Lemon Cake

My 8-year old is flopped over on the couch for the third day straight -- rosey-cheeked with a fever, a pile of crumpled tissues (yes..some used) strewn across her belly, remote control clutched in her steamy little hand....'feeling poorly', as my Grandmother used to say. Zack & Cody, Hannah Montana, and SpongeBob are keeping her company in a steady, tvo'ed stream and she's sipping Coke on ice through a bendy straw.....she feels crummy, but at least she's comfy!

Remember being sick as a kid? In my day (I'm probably dating myself), my mom would set me up on the couch with "Love, American Style" on the tube, and a tv tray with 7-up and buttered toast. Before she left for work, she'd drag the phone (along with it's tangly, 10 foot cord) from the kitchen to where I lay in the livingroom "just in case you need anything". What a bummer when my show was over and I had to get UP out of my cozy spot to change the channel -- or else suffer through Richard Dawson and The Family Feud. My little patient has it pretty good. *sigh*..... I do feel bad for her though. Being sick is a drag.

So with all this talk of fevers and illness, you probably think I'm about to chat about chicken noodle soup -- actually, that's not a bad idea -- but unfortunately, that's not on the menu today. Since I'm tethered here at home by my sniffly, 53-lb. house anchor, I thought I'd head in to the kitchen and see what kind of trouble I could stir up. Heh, heh......stir up. Sorry.

Remember the Lemon Chicken I made a few days ago? I had a big, beautiful bowlful of lemons leftover (what can I say, I always overbuy - it's a weakness of mine), so I decided to bake up a batch of this tangy Glazed Lemon Cake.

I love this cake because it's not too sweet, it makes two loaves, and it freezes beautifully. It's nice to keep one on hand for a last minute dessert, and it's perfect with a cup of hot tea! If you have Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa PARTIES!, the recipe can be found on pp. 104-105. Otherwise, here you go....enjoy!

Source: Barefoot Contessa PARTIES!, by Ina Garten
Makes 2 8-inch loaves

2 sticks butter at room temperature
2 1/2 c. sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
1/3 c. grated lemon zest (from 6-8 large lemons)
3 c. flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. kosher salt
3/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 c. buttermilk at room temperature
1 t. vanilla

For the glaze:
2 c. confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 1/2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease two loaf pans and set aside.

Cream the butter and 2 c. sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and the salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 c. lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alterately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Combine 1/2 c. granulated sugar with 1/2 c. lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. ** see note *** When the cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a rack set over a tray, and spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the top of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

**note** I think this step is superfluous and I always skip it. I still love the cake, I just don't believe in making extra work for myself!

Monday, March 9, 2009

One for the "Keeper File"

I was dragging yesterday afternoon. It seemed like a pretty good day to drag around, actually. From start to finish, it did nothing but pour down rain….then sleet, and then snow…blech. I dashed out to Sendiks around 4:00, right when the rain was changing over to sleet. Perfect timing (note the sarcasm here) -- someone (*ahem*, dear?) had pilfered the umbrella from my glove box, so I got absolutely pelted by the needle-y (is that a word?) drops of freezing rain as I ran from the car to the store, all the while hoping I wouldn’t run in to anyone I knew -- since I had become a drowned rat in the parking lot.

I got my shopping done in record time and made it through with no girlfriend sightings (and no sightings of any girlfriend’s husband’s either). Phew! That was a close one.

Dreary weather and drowned rats aside,the absolute highlight of my day was the phenomenal Greek inspired shrimp dish we had for dinner. I found the recipe while perusing Food & Wine yesterday afternoon.

Of all of the cooking magazines I subscribe to, Food & Wine is one of my favorites. Their recipes are consistently good; I’ve never had one bomb on me (and this is saying a lot!). If you have the March ’09 issue handy, you can find this fantastic Shrimp Saganaki recipe on page 82. Large shrimp (isn’t that an oxymoron?) are sautéed along with onions, fresh tomatoes and olives, then finished with fresh basil and a sprinkle of feta cheese….wow. I think I’m in love.

As for alterations -- I did swap in the sale grape tomatoes (.99!) instead of the romas that were called for. I halved them and they worked beautifully! I also tossed in fresh basil (personal preference) instead of dill, with great results.

I served the Saganaki in shallow bowls, on top of a bed of the sale Rice Select Orzo. We had a big romaine salad and toasted pita alongside…..again, wow! I would even go so far as to call this a restaurant quality meal – certainly good enough for entertaining, and definitely one for the ‘keeper’ file.

As usual, sale ingredients are highlighted in green.

Shrimp Saganaki
Source: Food & Wine Magazine, March '09
Serves: 4

2 T. olive oil
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
1 box grape tomatoes, halved
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1 1/2 lbs. shelled and deveined large shrimp (Cen-Sea Brand)
1/2 c. pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. sliced fresh basil (or dill)
3 oz. crumbled feta cheese, plus additional for garnish if desired

Toasted pita bread, for serving

In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste and cook until softened, crushing them with the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and olives and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Stir in the basil and half of the feta and cook just until the feta is hot, about 1 minute. Transfer to shallow bowls, sprinkle with remaining feta, and serve with toasted pita. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

When the Stock Market gives you lemons.....make Lemon Chicken!

I've been paying entirely too much attention to the news in the past few weeks. Just yesterday one of my dearest friends gently accused me of having an unhealthy obsession with current events. Why would she say that? Just because when I'm at home by myself during the day, I keep CNBC on in my kitchen? Maybe I enjoy the company of all of those talking heads, and their non-stop chatter about stocks, bonds, charts, graphs, and all things financial.

I'm constantly checking that little green ticker in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen....usually I'm tracking it's downward trend...sinking, plunging, tanking. Around 5:30 I switch on Brian Williams, because I then need to get his take on the day's events. Of course, since I've been paying attention, he usually just re-hashes everything I already know.

Confession: I adore Brian Williams...clean-cut, preppy, smart...swoon! I once dreamt that he was my boyfriend....I know that's weird....don't tell anyone I said that out loud.

Anyway, my point is that all of this bad news puts me in a sour mood...hence, the 'you need a break from the news' lecture from my friend. "So, the economy is horrible," she said. "You can't do a single thing about it. Turn on HGTV or the Food Network! Take a weeklong break from the news and stop stressing!"

Because I also adore and have great respect for my friend, I've taken her advice. I've turned my attention to the gorgeous, sunshiny lemons that are on sale this week, and made this terrific Panko Crusted Lemon Chicken. Crispy on the outside, moist and juicy on the inside, with just a little hint of fresh lemon, it's just the ticket for kicking a sour mood.

See the side bar for a great side dish, Orzo Pilaf with Vegetables!

Here's the recipe:

Panko Crusted Lemon Chicken with Parmesan
Adapted from this recipe
Serves: 6

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 T. fresh lemon juice
2 large eggs
1 c. Panko breadcrumbs (find these on the bottom shelf of the Asian aisle)
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
2 t. grated lemon peel, rind only

2 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
Lemon slices for garnish

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Sandwich the chicken breasts between pieces of heavy duty plastic wrap, and take out your aggressions on the stock market by pounding each breast to a thickness of about 1/2 an inch. Place the pounded breasts into a non-reactive baking dish and pour 4 T. lemon juice over, turning to coat. Let stand 10 minutes. Beat eggs and remaining 1 T. lemon juice in a medium bowl. Combine Panko, Parmesan, and lemon peel in a pie plate. Season liberally with salt and fresh black pepper.

If you're in to making cleanup easy on yourself, have ready a large plate lined with foil.

Dip 1 chicken breast into the egg mixture. Dip in the Panko mixture to coat; gently shake off the excess. Transfer to foil-lined plate. Repeat with remaining chicken, egg mixture, and breadcrumbs.

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a heavy duty skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 pieces of chicken and saute until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes a side. Transfer to a serving platter and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining chicken in 2 more batches, adding 1 T of butter and 1 T. olive oil with each batch. Garnish your platter with lemon slices and serve.

Friday, February 20, 2009

You say tomato, I say.....let's make soup!

I'm a huge fan of those gorgeous, bright red stem tomatoes that are on sale this week. I'm a fan mostly I think, because of my love for all things red, and those little suckers grab me every time. They're so darned pretty, it's almost like they're calling me: "You know you want us....you must buy us! You need to find a use for us!" I think it's kind of funny that they would speak to me that way, because I don't actually like to eat tomatoes. I just think they're pretty. I'm weird that way.

But, I do love to pick up a stemmed cluster of four or five tomatoes and have a long whiff -- even in February, they're pure summer. I'm reminded of my dad, a weekend warrior who used to spend hours in his Minnesota garden, yanking tons of weeds. When he was through, he'd stretch his aching back, plunk himself down in the dirt, and munch tomatoes off the vine just like they were apples.

Still, even with the childhood nostalgia, I don't really care for tomatoes in their raw form. It's only been in recent years that I've come around to appreciating their cooked version. However, this simple, savory Roasted Tomato Soup is something I can't get enough of. Slow roasting tomatoes and garlic together brings out the most delicious sweetness, which is balanced by onions, oregano, sea salt and the tiniest splash of cream.

Now, on to a different subject: on sale in the Bakery this week are loaves of Sendik's Artisan French Bread with Rosemary. I see these specialty breads all the time and always wonder what to do with them. Today, I've cubed a few individual slices, tossed them in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil, and voila: rosemary croutons! They add a happy little crunch to the creamy soup. And I have to confess: I eat them like popcorn when no one is looking....you won't tell, will you?

Serve this to your crew for a weekend lunch, or as a light dinner next week. Use the rest of the Rosemary Bread for sandwiches; I might toast a few slices myself, and pair them with roasted turkey, lettuce, and mayo.....hold the raw tomato, of course!
Sale ingredients are in Bold Green!

Roasted Tomato Soup with Rosemary Croutons
Serves: 6
Source: Based on this recipe from Epicurious.com

4 lb. stemmed tomatoes, cut in half from top to bottom; core removed
6 cloves garlic, skins left on
3 T. olive oil
salt & black pepper
1 large onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

Rosemary Croutons, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 425. Line two cookie sheets with foil for easier cleanup (I'm all about easy cleanup!). Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the cookie sheets along with the garlic. Drizzle evenly with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for one hour. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Slip the garlic out of the skins.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion, oregano, and sugar. Saute until the onion is tender, about five minutes. Slide the tomatoes, the garlic, and any accumulated juices into the onion mixture. Add the chicken broth; bring to a simmer. Cover and continue to simmer for 30 minutes.

Transfer half of soup contents to a blender, and carefully (and I mean carefully, unless you enjoy cleaning tomato soup off of your ceiling. Start out slowly, holding a dish towel loosely over the lid.) puree the soup until smooth. Repeat with the other half. Alternately, you can use a stick blender, as I did. This works great too.

Add the cream to the pan, and heat the soup gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with Rosemary Croutons.

Rosemary Croutons
4-5 slices Sendiks Artisan French Bread with Rosemary, diced
2-3 T. olive oil

Place a large saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. When it's hot, add the diced bread. Toss with the oil to coat, and saute until cubes are toasty on all sides, five minutes or so. Season with salt to taste; serve with the soup.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Beef Soft Tacos

As I write this, the flurries are flying and the wind is whipping around outside -- it's a bonechilling, gray, and dreary day. Typical for Wisconsin in February, I know. I'm not complaining; I've got a toasty fire going and the makings for beef soft tacos simmering away on the stove -- I've gone far away to sunny Mexico, if only inside my head!

I had to get in at least one more pot of this fabulous stew before spring arrives. After all, while stew meat is a bargain shopper's friend, it's not exactly swimsuit friendly, right? As far as I'm concerned, February is still open season on comfort food - and since beef stew meat is on special this week for $3.49 a pound, I'll serve up these tacos once again this winter. Besides, I've got on a big sweater today, not a bikini.

A few words about the star of this dish: the stew meat. As I'm sure you already know, stew meat is not the cut of beef you can have on the table in 15 minutes - unless of course, you enjoy gnawing through tough and chewy chunks. It's usually cut from a chuck roast, which is a part of the animal that gets worked out a lot, so chuck is a little on the tough side. But, when it's braised nice and slow with a little TLC, stew meat can become incredibly tender and flavorful. Having enough time to pull off the tough-to-tender transformation is key.

You'll need a couple of hours to make this dish, I'm not gonna lie. (Just keepin' it real, as my kids say.) The good news: the time you invest in this dish will not be wasted. You will love it. I promise. Let your diners assemble their own soft tacos: set out some guacamole and pico de gallo from the Produce Department, a big bowl of the sale Sargento Shredded Cheddar, and the sale La Perfidia Flour Tortillas. Sit back and accept their praise, and dream of your own favorite warm and sunny spot!
Here's the recipe! SALE INGREDIENTS are marked in bold green print. Enjoy!

Beef Soft Tacos
Serves: 6

1 T. vegetable oil
2 lbs. beef stew meat, patted dry
1 jar Salpica Salsa
1 c. chicken or beef broth
2 T. minced garlic
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. soy sauce

1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
hefty squeeze fresh lime juice

Flour Tortillas, Shredded Cheese, Extra Salsa for serving
Optional: Fresh Guacamole & Pico de Gallo from the Produce Department

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Saute beef in batches being careful not to crowd the pieces, for about four minutes per batch. Transfer beef to a bowl as each batch is done. Return all beef to the pot. Add salsa, broth, garlic, brown sugar, and soy sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until beef is tender, stirring often, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Uncover pot and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes longer. Mix in cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Wrap your tortillas in a clean dish towel and microwave for a minute or two, or until hot. Serve the stew with the tortillas and accompaniments, allowing diners to assemble their own tacos.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Three Great Uses for Sale Asparagus

Well, in case you didn't hear it already, the groundhog gave us some bad news this week. Six more weeks of winter are yet to come, and as my good friend Lori would say, "What a BUST!" It's getting old, don't yah' think? The bundling up, the salty streets, dirty cars, and filthy snow are here to stay - at least temporarily, that is. BAH!

Today I'm thumbing my nose at winter with three great recipes for asparagus, a favorite vegetable of mine, as well as a harbinger of spring and the warm weather that (someday) will arrive. And besides the fact that it's on special this week for $1.49 a pound, what better reason do you need?
The first two recipes are simple sides that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes. Both are great for those nights that you're in a hurry to get dinner on the table, and either would be terrific served with most anything....a rotisserie chicken from the deli, for instance, or alongside a prepared meatloaf (on special this week) from the meat department.

The third recipe, and more of a main dish, is for a Simple Strata with Asparagus & Cream Cheese. Rich with creamy, melty cheese and crispy bread on top....mercy, it's good. This strata would be equally great for either dinner (with a green salad and some rolls) or Sunday brunch (with a fresh fruit salad and some muffins from the bakery).

It goes without saying, because by now you should know -- these recipes of course incorporate several items that are featured in the Sale Ad this week. You'll just have to suffer through reading all the way down to find out what they are. I know, the suspense is killing you, right?(Hint: all sale items are highlighted in GREEN.)
#1) (and the utmost in simplicity; I'm almost embarrassed to call this a 'recipe'):
Simple Roasted Asparagus
Serves: 4
1-2 pounds of asparagus, trimmed
1-2 T. good olive oil (please use good olive oil. please.)
coarse salt and black pepper to taste

Fire up the oven to 475. Line a cookie sheet (with sides) with foil. Place the asparagus on the cookie sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, and season liberally with salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 8-12 minutes, or until the spears can be pierced with gentle pressure from a fork. Transfer to a platter and serve.
#2) Roasted Baby Yukon Gold Potatoes and Asparagus with Parmesan
Serves: 4
Source: Epicurious

1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" piece
1 lb. baby Yukon Gold potatoes (this is about 5-7 larger babies)
3 T. good olive oil (I already asked nicely)
1/3 c. grated Sendik's Brand Grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat the oven to 450. Toss together the asparagus, potatoes, oil, salt and pepper in a large, shallow baking pan, spreading evenly.

(I'm going to pause here to tell you that spacing is important, because if your veggies are crowded, they will steam and not roast. Give them their space, for goodness sakes!)

Roast for 20 minutes; stir them around, and continue to roast for another 10 minutes or so. Sprinkle with cheese and roast until cheese is melted and golden in spots, about 3 minutes more. Transfer to a pretty bowl (if that's your thing) and serve!

#3) Simple Strata with Asparagus & Cream Cheese
Adapted from this recipe
Serves: 4

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
6 eggs
1 1/4 c. milk
4 T. butter
1 small onion, minced
Salt & Pepper to taste
4 slices Sendiks Brand Artisan Filone Bread, cubed
8 t. (or so, you can adjust this to taste) Whipped Chive Cream Cheese

You'll need an oven-safe non-stick skillet for this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 400. Place the asparagus in a microwave safe bowl. Add a tablespoon of water and cover tightly. Microwave for a minute or until bright green. Drain well. Whisk the eggs, milk, and salt and pepper in a bowl, set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Swirl the butter to coat the pan; add the onion and cook until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the bread and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread and onion are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; top with asparagus and pour egg mixture over. Drop the cream cheese onto the egg mixture in generous dollops. Bake until the bread on top begins to crisp, the top is puffed, and center is set, about 20 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve.
I'll leave you with this:

I love this picture!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Superbowl Food Hangover....and Fresh & Frugal Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Did I hear chatter about some big football game on Sunday night? And buzz over some hilarious commercials and a bigshot musician who played at half time?

Don't look at me....I wouldn't know. I wasn't paying attention....mostly because (and I'm not exactly proud of it) I was face down in this:

....totally addicting Layered Chipotle Taco Dip. Oh mama. I'll get to the soup in a minute but first things first.

This is a different and slightly grown up version of the taco dip we've all seen at the grocery store and scarfed down at parties. This recipe is made a bit more sophisticated with the addition of a smoky chipotle salsa and a slightly tart cilantro lime cream layer....mmm. See how easy it would be to get a little bit distracted?

I made it with several sale items, including two products I'd never tried before -- Amy's Spicy Refried Beans, and Amy's Chipotle Salsa, both outstanding products that I will definitely buy again (when they're on sale though; Amy's products are great, but they're not a regular purchase for a frugal gal like me). But I don't even want to talk about it right now.....it was so good -- too good. Maybe I'll share the recipe with you when I feel that I've purged myself from junk food for a few days. Ever have that feeling? Ugh. A junk food hangover is no good.

So I was craving a lighter dinner for Monday night -- something fresh, green, and healthy to counteract the feeding frenzy of the evening before. I found a wonderful recipe for Broccoli Soup with Cheddar, which hit the spot in two ways: it fullfilled the fresh and green requirement, and it was made with three sale items: broccoli crowns, baby vidalia onions, and aged sharp cheddar.
I loved this recipe for several reasons: first, it made great use of both the florets and the stems, with very little waste; and second, because the recipe doesn't call for pulverizing the soup to oblivion in the blender, you could actually tell that there was broccoli in the soup! The florets and the stems are added separately so that the stems will cook until tender, and the florets won't over cook, but maintain their bright, beautiful shade of green.

I served this soup with a big green salad and the sale demi baguettes from the bakery.... I'm feeling healthier already!

Broccoli Soup with Sharp Cheddar
Serves: 6
Source: epicurious.com

6 T. butter, divided; room temperature
2 pounds of fresh broccoli florets, stems and florets separated and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 bunch of baby vidalia onions, white and pale green parts only, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 dried tarragon
6 c. chicken broth
1 c. half and half

3 T. butter

2 c. grated sharp cheddar (about a half pound block)

Melt 3 T. butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add broccoli stems and onions, saute for about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and the tarragon, saute 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered until broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Transfer contents of the soup to a blender, being careful not to fill it all the way (unless you enjoy scraping soup off of your ceiling). Place the lid on the blender, removing the center plastic piece so that the steam can vent. Using a clean kitchen towel, gently hold the lid in place and start the blender on LOW. Wait a few seconds and then up the speed to medium, and blend until smooth.

Tranfer soup back to pot. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 3 T. butter and the flour with a fork to make a paste. ** Whisk the paste into the soup. Add the broccoli florets. Simmer until the soup thickens and the florets are tender, about 5 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Place 6 ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet. Divide soup among the bowls. Sprinkly 1/3 c. cheese over each. Broil until cheese melts and bubbles around the edges, about 4 minutes.

** Since I'm sure you want your money's worth for the time you spent reading this entry, I will tell you something you might not already know: the fancy French term for this mixture is 'beurre manie' (pronounced 'burr mon yay'), which translates into "kneaded butter". This is an easy technique you can use to thicken soups, sauces, and gravies.

Time well spent reading this blog today, right? At least you can walk away with some useful knowledge!

And if you must have the Chipotle Taco Dip recipe, I'll be posting that in the sidebar as well.
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