Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Baked Polenta with Sausage and Tomato-Pepper Sauce

Not the prettiest photograph, but I have discovered that is the norm with comfort food!

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about this dish, all the way up until I sat down at the dinner table and had my first bite. And then, WOW, it was delicious! The spicy tomato sauce with the sausage and peppers combined with the melted cheese and slices of polenta really came together to make a great, comforting meal.

Polenta is a bit of a discussion point in our house, so I was also trying to sneak this into the dish without Chuck knowing. In efforts to vary the starches with dinner in the past I have made the more traditional creamy polenta, with regular cornmeal that you cook slowly and mix with cheese, butter, and milk, among other things. Chuck didn't like the texture, so now that is relegated to when I make dinner for myself or for a dinner party when he won't complain anyway. ;)

But he ended up really liking the way this polenta was prepared. For those of you who don't know, the type this recipe calls for looks like this:

and can be found in or near the refrigerated gourmet cheese case near the deli section of your supermarket. It is a little on the expensive side which may lead to me figuring out how to prepare this on my own in the future.

Since I wasn't sure whether we would like this enough to freeze the leftovers, I halved the entire recipe and was able to make it in an 8x8 (or 9x9) square Pyrex baking dish. WARNING: Pyrex and Corningware are NOT safe for under the broiler - the heat is too high and you risk cracking the dish. But I had nothing else this size; so I moved it further away from the broiler and baked it with a cookie sheet under it in case it broke and held my breath pretty much the whole time it was in there! It didn't break (this time) but I would highly recommend using stoneware or a ceramic dish instead if you have it. Enjoy!

Baked Polenta with Sausage and Tomato-Pepper Sauce
from MyRecipes.com
Makes 6 servings

5 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 medium yellow onion, halved lengthwise, then cut into thin wedges
1 medium yellow, red, or orange bell pepper, cut lengthwise into thin slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon each salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes
1 pound bulk Italian sausage, sweet or spicy, casings removed (I would suggest omitting the red pepper flakes if you use the spicy sausage)
2 tubes (16 ounces each) prepared polenta, sliced into 1/2-in.-thick rounds
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, drained and sliced into 1/4-in.-thick rounds

Preheat broiler to high. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan set over medium heat, then add tomatoes and oregano and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes, and stir to combine. Cover pan, lower heat to medium, and cook until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add sausage, stirring and breaking it into small pieces with a wooden spoon as it firms up, about 5 minutes.

Cover pan and cook until vegetables are tender and sausage is cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes more. Add tomato sauce and simmer 10 minutes.

While sauce is cooking, pour remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil into a 9- by 13-in. baking pan and tilt to coat bottom. Add polenta slices to pan and turn to coat with oil, then arrange slices lengthwise in 3 slightly overlapping rows.

I could only find polenta with sundried tomatoes in it; hence those unidentified red pieces.

Broil polenta about 4 inches from heating element until golden brown and crispy, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour sauce over broiled polenta, then arrange mozzarella slices over the top.

Broil until cheese is melted and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Monday, September 29, 2008

French Chicken Stew

Last year when the weather started to get cooler, I began to make a soup or stew at the beginning of each week. I would instantly have at least two lunches already taken care of; plus more for the freezer. Each recipe made at least four to six servings so my freezer was stocked and I was nice and warm eating lunch!

My mom found this recipe in her Better Homes and Gardens magazine (which I shamelessly scour for recipes each month at my parents' house). She made hers on the stove due to lack of slow cooker, and it was delicious! I was inspired to make it again yesterday and used the slow cooker set on high, so this was thrown together before dinner and ready to package up by the time my 9:00PM TV show was starting!

I copied the original recipe below; but when I made this I left out the olives and added a little more green beans and potatoes than it calls for. Also, I had some extra crushed tomatoes so I substituted them in for the tomato sauce at the end. My mom did not use tapioca, so don't stress if you don't have it, it will just add to the thickness of the soup.

Chicken thighs are great in the slow cooker, so tender and you can pull them apart with two forks. In fact, I recommend separating the thighs into smaller pieces you are not stuck with a whole piece of chicken surrounded by the broth. Top with Parmesan cheese if you wish!

French Chicken Stew
from Better Homes and Gardens
Makes 6-8 servings

4 cups (or 8 ounce package) sliced button and/or shiitake mushrooms
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 medium carrots, thinly diagonally sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red potato, cut in 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup fresh green beans, cut in 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup pitted ripe olives, halved
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
5-8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (1 3/4 to 2 pounds total)
1/2 teaspoon seasoned or garlic salt
1 14 ounce jar tomato pasta sauce or one 16 ounce jar Alfredo pasta sauce
French bread (optional)

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker combine mushrooms, undrained tomatoes, carrots, onion, potato, green beans, olives, broth, wine, tapioca, herbs de Provence, thyme, and pepper.

Place chicken on top; sprinkle with seasoned salt.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 to 7 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 to 4 hours. Stir in pasta sauce. If desired, serve with French bread.

Fall Harvest Bread

This bread is SO good. I made it several times last fall/winter and whenever someone tried it for the first time they loved it as much as I did. I make it exactly the way Katie has it on her blog, and it fills my house with a fantastic baking aroma.

Despite the fact that it only has 1/4 cup of oil in it, this bread is very moist because of the pumpkin and applesauce. So that leads me to believe it's fairly healthy for as well (so eat a lot!).

This bread only cooks for 55 minutes in my oven so check it after 50 minutes or so depending on your oven. Also, I would save peeling and cutting the apple until right before you add it to the batter so it doesn't brown.

Fall Harvest Bread
from Good Things Catered
Makes 1 loaf

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 can (or 7.5 ounces) canned pumpkin
2 large eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup apple juice
1 small apple (I like granny smith) peeled, cored, and diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x5 loaf pan (or can sub muffin pan or double recipe for cake/bundt pan) with Pam with flour for baking -- or grease and flour.

Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt in bowl. Combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil, applesauce, and juice in large bowl. Mix until just blended.

Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture and stir until just moistened. Fold in apples. Spoon batter into prepared pan (it will be all lumpy - don't worry).

Bake for 60-70 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pumpkin White-Chocolate Chip Scones

Before you say anything, I know that there are regular chocolate chips in these scones. This was a decide-the-day-of baked good, and all I had were mini-chocolate chips that were hanging out in my pantry. But you should really use white chocolate chips if you are going to make this for the first time. I never thought of white chocolate and pumpkin as a tasty combination but OH MY it is good.

And don't be afraid of making scones, either. These are super easy and if you use cold enough butter and enough flour while you are kneading the dough, these will come out great. Use a very sharp knife to cut them into scone shape and don't worry about them being pretty - they will be good regardless!

I used my other little measuring cup from Mollie, too!
Pumpkin White-Chocolate Chip Scones
Makes 8 scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
1/3 cup buttermilk
½ cup pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the egg wash:
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon milk or cream
Preheat the oven to 400° F and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs.

I told you that you would need a pastry blender!

Stir in the white chocolate. In a separate bowl mix together the buttermilk, pumpkin and vanilla, and then add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Mix just until the dough comes together. Do not overmix the dough.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead dough gently four or five times and then pat the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches round. Cut the circle into eight equal triangles. Place the scones on the baking sheet. Brush the tops of the scones with the egg wash.

Place the baking sheet inside another baking sheet to prevent the bottoms of the scones from over browning. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Creamy Cajun Shrimp Linguine

This was one of those dishes where I realized the improvements that could be made after we tasted it. So my recipe below shows the changes I made to begin with as well as the changes I will make next time to make it better.

That being said, this dish came together very quickly. I started to boil the water for the pasta and shrimp when turned on the skillet for the vegetables and all of a sudden the veggies were done and I was still waiting for my water to boil! I used fat free half and half, so of course the end result would be creamier with regular, but it was still rather tasty with the low fat version!

Creamy Cajun Shrimp Linguine
adapted from Cooking Light
Makes 4 servings

8 ounces uncooked linguine
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
about 6 slices bacon or turkey bacon, cooked and chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 (8 ounce) package presliced mushrooms
7 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and sliced or 1 large red pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Bring medium pot of water to boil. Add linguine and cook 5 minutes. Add shrimp to pot and cook 3 more minutes. Drain and keep warm.

Melt butter in large skillet. Add roasted red peppers and mushrooms; saute 4 minutes or until moisture evaporates.

Add flour, seasoning, and salt to pan; saute 30 seconds. Stir in half-and-half; cook one minute or more until sauce thickens, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat. Add pasta mixture, bacon, and parsley to pan; stirring to combine.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Spicy Garlic Roasted Broccoli

The list of vegetables that Chuck likes and the way he likes them prepared is pretty short; hence I am always looking for new ways to prepare them! He like broccoli and he likes garlic, so when I saw this recipe I knew I wanted to try it.

And yes, you are reading the recipe right, it calls for FIVE cloves of garlic in about 3 servings of broccoli. But don't worry - garlic is much less potent when you slice it, it's the mincing of it that really lets out that garlic flavor. And the fact that it is roasted just leaves all these little yummy, brown, garlic tidbits surrounding the broccoli.

Seriously, do not fear the garlic. You will not be sorry.

Spicy Garlic Roasted Broccoli
from Erin's Eats
Makes 2 servings plus leftovers

2 large broccoli florets
olive oil
4-5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
crushed red pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
lemon pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim the stem of the cleaned broccoli. Cut the broccoli into large chunks and place on a baking sheet.
Coat the broccoli with olive oil. Add the garlic slices, crushed red pepper, salt and lemon pepper. Toss to coat.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the garlic begins to lightly brown.

Lemon Chicken

Susan Branch seriously writes the cutest cookbooks. They are all written in her handwriting, and she has pretty artwork surrounding every recipe. She gives tips on all sort of things around the house, and her recipes just make you want to move to a little cottage and make them all!

This recipe was a nice, classic dish. It is from her Heart of the Home cookbook. I have made a few adaptations in order to bring the serving sizes down and use a wee bit less butter than she calls for!

You will see that my sauce at the end looks more like a pesto than a sauce. That is because I used even less butter than I indicate below, but next time I will use the full amount! Chuck commented on the lemony flavor and really enjoyed this.

Lemon Chicken
adapted from Susan Branch
Makes 2 servings with leftovers

1 pound chicken scallopini, or 1 pound chicken breasts, pounded thin
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wipe off chicken breasts with damp paper towel. Put flour and pinch of salt and pepper in large resealable plastic bag and drop the breasts in. Shake to coat.

Melt butter and oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken breasts in skillet and cook approximately 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until cooked through.

When they are done, salt and pepper them and place in oven-proof dish. Keep warm in a 250 degree oven while you make the sauce (or just cover them with foil if you are serving immediately).

To make the sauce, add the 2 tablespoons butter to the chicken skillet, and melt; scraping up all the brown bits in the pan. Remove from heat; add parsley and lemon juice. Pour hot sauce over breasts and serve.

Corn Bread with Green Onions and Parmesan Cheese

You can serve all sorts of things with chili. I used to serve mine over rice, but with my 6-Hour Chili I have really found that corn bread is the perfect side dish. This particular corn bread adds the flavors of green onions and a hint of Parmesan cheese in addition to the creaminess of buttermilk.

Since I make this with my half-recipe of chili, I halve this as well, with PLENTY of leftovers. All the ingredients are easily halved and you can make it in a 1 1/2 quart (8x8) baking dish, with the same baking time.
Corn Bread with Green Onions and Parmesan Cheese
Makes 10 servings
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups chopped green onions
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
1/3 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with nonstick spray.
Melt butter with oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add green onions; sauté 3 minutes. Cool.

Whisk cornmeal, flour, cheese, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pepper in large bowl to blend.

Whisk buttermilk and eggs in medium bowl to blend. Add buttermilk mixture and green onion mixture to dry ingredients; stir until just blended (do not overmix). Transfer batter to pan.

Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool. Cover with foil and store at room temperature. Rewarm uncovered in 350°F oven 10 minutes.) Serve warm.

Monday, September 22, 2008

6-Hour Chili

Nothing says fall and football season (although it is still 70 degrees during the day here in the Northeast) like chili. I am always on the lookout for new kinds of chili, but everyone needs their 'staple' that they will make all the time. THIS is my staple, a perfect dish to throw in the slow cooker on a Sunday morning and have ready by 4:00 kickoff.

A lot of people in my family either don't like or cannot eat beans, and this is one of the few chili recipes that doesn't call for them! Although of course I am always thinking of ways to change things, so adding a can or two of white or kidney beans would only make this taste better, in my opinion.

This recipe makes a LOT, so make sure you have a large enough slow cooker. I always halve it and even HALF still properly fills my 6-quart slow cooker:

I also use ground turkey to make it a little lighter, so feel free to sub in that or use half turkey, half beef instead. Get ready to enjoy a hearty, comforting, delicious bowl of chili!

6-Hour Chili
from Williams-Sonoma
Makes 8 to 10 servings

5 lb. ground beef
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 can (28 oz.) chopped tomatoes with juices (use 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes if halving)
6 to 8 Tbs. chili powder
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/3 cup cornmeal
2 cups unsalted beef stock (or broth)
Sour cream, chopped red onion, grated, cheddar cheese and/or chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, brown half the beef, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a slow cooker. Repeat with the remaining beef.

Add the garlic, yellow onion, tomatoes with juices, chili powder, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, cornmeal and stock to the slow cooker and stir to blend. Cover and cook for 6 hours on low according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Skim the fat off the surface of the chili. Ladle the chili into warmed bowls and garnish with sour cream, red onion, cheese and/or cilantro.

Serve with Corn Bread with Green Onions and Parmesan Cheese.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Deluxe Chocolate Marshmallow Bars

Ok, last recipe from Penn State. I have made these bars before and YUM, they are delicious! Chocolate, peanut butter, and marshmallows can't really be combined in one recipe and NOT taste good. They travel well and are easy to make, so they are the perfect football dessert! They do taste better chilled though (so the topping stays hard), so make sure you have enough cooler space if you decide to make them for your own tailgate!

I apologize for the lack of "finished product" photos - I guess that's what happens when you are cutting them into bars at 5:30AM while trying to get out the door. These are very rich, so while I specify that the recipe makes 24 bars, I actually cut each of those in half to make 48. I used a 13x9" baking dish instead, so all times in parentheses apply to that size dish.
Also, I wanted to show you all something Mollie sent to me after I wrote that I did not like using peanut butter because of how messy it is. This little guy is GREAT. You just move the contraption to the amount you need, spoon your ingredient into the space, and push it through. Nothing sticks on the sides and you aren't left with a spatula full of peanut butter. Genius!

Deluxe Chocolate Marshmallow Bars
Makes 24 bars
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons baking cocoa
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional (I omitted these)
4 cups miniature marshmallows
1 1/3 cups chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups crisp rice cereal
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until fluffy. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture.

Stir in nuts if desired. Spread in a greased 15 x 10 x 1″ pan. (13x9") Bake for 15-18 (20-25) minutes.

This is only the beginning of the 3-layer deliciousness.
Sprinkle marshmallows evenly over cake; return to oven for 2-3 (5) minutes.

Using a knife dipped in water, spread the melted marshmallows evenly over cake. Cool completely.

For topping, combine chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and well blended.

Remove from heat; stir in cereal. Immediately spread over bars. Chill until ready to eat!