Saturday, July 23, 2011

The joys of the microplane grater

I know, most of the time I post recipes, but today's entry is dedicated to one of the best non-electric kitchen tools ever - the microplane grater.

Watching Rachel Ray use it to grate nutmeg the first time, I thought "meh, I can buy powdered nutmeg what's the big deal?"

Then I saw someone else use it for zesting an orange, and I had to have one.  Some of the ones you'll see are long and narrow, and while I did find one, I also found one that was wider.  So I bought them both!

Microplane graters are the fastest, best way (in my personal experience) to zest fruit.  Lemons, Limes, and Oranges have been stripped of their color to flavor my dishes in nothing flat for a few years.

But I finally bought some whole nutmeg to see if Rachel knew something I didn't.  Oh boy, did I get schooled!  Fresh ground spices are MUCH better than buying spices already ground to a powder.  Nutmeg and cinnamon are amazing when freshly grated into something, and it's so very easy.  It convinced me to try what Indian folks do - toast and grind spices myself (though not with a microplane, it's still amazingly better).

Of course, you can also grate some of the hard cheeses like Parmesan super easy, it comes out like that angel hair stuff some folks decorate with around the winter holidays.  It just melts on your tongue and has a very nice presentation.

And last but not least - you can use your new toy (assuming you don't already have one) to grate ginger and cloves of garlic instead of mincing by hand.  If you peel your ginger root and put it in the freezer like I do, you can grate it frozen with the microplane and it works just fine.  It's a lot easier to clean than a garlic press, and frankly takes less work.  Like all graters, you have to be careful not to grate your fingertips because this one is extra sharp.

So there you have it, if you don't already have a microplane grater I really think you should go get one.  It's a time-saver, and quite versatile.

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Alan's Spicy Pork

I blame a coworker for this recipe, he said "if you come up with a pulled pork recipe that you think I might like, feel free to pass it along". within 5 minutes, I'd written the first draft, and then the final draft the next day:

The people in the Bengali region of India like to add a little sweetness to their recipes, so this is my nod to that part of India, designed for the American kitchen.  You could serve this on couscous, or shred it and make it into a sandwich or a wrap, or use leftover sauce and serve it over rice.  It's a pretty versatile idea.

 You’ll need a crockpot and a blender or food processor for this.


1 chipotle chili (from can with adobo sauce)
2 roasted Pasilla chiles, seeded and peeled
6 cloves garlic
2 tsp ginger (I was out of fresh, so used the kind in a jar)
½ cup lowfat greek yogurt
¼ cup honey
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 cup chopped onion
1 serrano chile, seeded
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp ground coriander

And of course, put a little in the bottom of the crock pot, put the pork in and then cover it with the rest of the sauce. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.

The review:

  • I used a 2 pound pork sirloin roast.  It was on sale for $5 and I figured it was a nice lean option
  • I was going to get poblano peppers instead of the pasilla, but honestly I don't know what the difference is and they didn't have poblanos, so you use what you can find.
  • I roasted the pasillas in the toaster oven to avoid heating up the whole house
  • I really didn't want to take the time to make a side dish, so I just made a box of wild mushroom couscous I had on hand.
  • The pork, of course, was so tender I had to use tongs and a spoon to get it out of the crock pot.
  • As expected, it wouldn't slice so don't plan on this being pretty for presentation.

As for the taste - it was spicy!  If you don't like it hot, you may want to consider putting only half of the chipotle in, or none at all.  I was expecting a slightly more sweet/smoky/spicy balance of flavors, but in spite of the honey it wasn't that sweet.  Still, it was definitely worth repeating and the next time I may just make the sauce and cook chicken breasts in it.  Your comments, of course, are welcome  :)

Bon Appetit!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Artichoke Pesto Pasta with Chicken

I made this up tonight, and am happy to say it turned out better than I'd hoped.  I like to use the "garden" pasta when I can because it's good fiber and counts as a serving of vegetables, plus it's kind of pretty.  The sauce on this is a pale pale green, so the different colored pasta looks nice under it all.

I adore artichoke hearts, and in a dish like this they taste so light and lemony it's pretty refreshing.  This is one of those rare dishes where I would be afraid to change anything because it came out so right.  The spiral/corkscrew pasta was really the right choice, because the sauce had enough body to it that it got in the nooks and crannies and stayed there beautifully.  I imagine you could garnish it with some basil ribbons without negatively impacting the flavor, but I don't think I'd do much more than that.

Artichoke Pesto Pasta with Chicken

2 cans artichoke hearts, drained  (not the marinated ones!)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 boneless skinless chicken breast
2 tsp chopped basil
½ cup of white wine (chardonnay)
½ tsp garlic salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ cup lowfat ricotta cheese
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ box of garden rotelle pasta (the corkscrew kind, aka rotini)

  1. Cook the pasta in lightly salted water according to package directions.
  2. While the water is heating up to a boil, in a large skillet turn the heat to medium high and put a tablespoon or two of olive oil in the pan.  
  3. Slice the chicken thinly, then cut the slice into 2 inch pieces.
  4. With one can of the artichoke hearts, dice it very fine with the basil and garlic to make your faux pesto.  Quarter the other can of artichoke hearts so you've got a different texture in the dish.
  5. Put the chicken in the pan until it’s lightly golden on one side, and turn the pieces over to brown on the other side.
  6. Add the pesto and the quartered hearts, and stir in the wine and cheeses, sprinkle in the garlic salt and pepper and stir well.  I know it almost sounds like a fondue sauce at this point, but what the heck.
  7. When the pasta is cooked, drain, rinse to cool it off and stop the cooking process, and add to the sauce and toss well.

Recipe makes 2 generous portions.

Alan's Lasagna

Like everyone, my recipe is based off of my mother's recipe, but I made a lot of changes and they worked out so well it's the only way I'll do it anymore.

  • I’m assuming you have dried oregano and basil in the house.
  • If you goof and use too much sauce in the first layer, you can skip the sauce for the ricotta layer without hurting the taste.
  • If you still wind up with a bunch of water in the bottom of the pan when you take the first piece out, it won’t hurt anything just use a baster to suck it all out and dispose of it (or a spoon).  Just reduce the sauce more next time, not a big deal.  People will still love it.
  • If you forget to cook the mushrooms first, you can put them in raw, but you will wind up with the aforementioned water in the pan.
  • You can cook the onions/garlic/mushrooms with the meat layer and use more “pure” sauce, and perhaps save some time, I just like doing it this way.
  • Don’t be afraid to add or subtract seasoning, like tossing in some black pepper or using more parmesan, make it your own.

Alan’s Lasagna

Shopping List:
1 lb ground sirloin (or see substitution list)
1 lb mild italian sausage
1 package sliced provolone
2 packages shredded mozzarella
1 8 oz container lowfat Ricotta
1 canister parmesan (you’re dusting the top, really)
1 jar prepared pesto (you’ll need 2 tablespoons of it)
1 package sliced crimini mushrooms (or regular mushrooms, I’m just a fan of criminis)
1 box lasagna noodles
3 large cans tomato sauce
1 large can tomato paste
1 large tomato
Red wine of your choice

Allow yourself 2-3 hours to make this, don’t try to rush it.  And don't drink too much of the wine until after it's in the oven.  :)

  1. Sirloin can be substituted with ground pork, or turkey, or an additional pound of Italian sausage
  2. If using an additional pound of sausage, you could use the hot kind if you prefer, but at least one needs to be the mild/sweet to get the flavor right
  3. Sauce shortcut – buy prepared marinara sauce and add a small can of tomato paste and just simmer to reduce it down.

  1. Cook the meat together in a pan, breaking up into lumps.  After it’s all browned, put in a colander lined with paper towels to take as much grease out as possible.
  2. Saute a chopped onion and 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic with a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Add the mushrooms, and when they’re done and have released their liquid drain the liquid out of the pan and add the tomato sauce, paste, and diced tomato.  Add some dried basil and oregano, and about ¼ cup of red wine and simmer til the sauce is thick enough to not be watery.
  3. Boil noodles as described on the package, then remove from heat and rinse with cold water to stop cooking (and make them easier to handle).
  4. Mix 2-3 tablespoons of prepared pesto with the 8oz of ricotta cheese
  5. Put about ¼ cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of your baking dish (11x9, or whatever fits)
  6. Put a layer of noodles in the bottom of the dish
  7. Add a layer of meat, using about half of the meat mixture
  8. Ladle some sauce over the meat, about a third of your sauce should be enough you don’t want to drown the thing
  9. Put slices of provolone on top of the saucy meat, sprinkle mozzarella to fill in the gaps
  10. Top with a layer of noodles
  11. Spread all of the pesto ricotta on top
  12. Spread a third of your tomato sauce on top of the pesto
  13. Put a last layer of noodles on top
  14. Put on the rest of the meat
  15. Put on the rest of the sauce
  16. If you still have some provolone slices left, use it up now on top, otherwise sprinkle liberally with shredded mozzarella.
  17. Sprinkle liberally with Parmesan.

Bake at 350 for about 45 mins to an hour, you want the cheese on top bubbly and just starting to brown a tiny bit.

Chicken, Blue Cheese and Bacon - paradise!

If you're not a fan of blue cheese or bacon, this is not the recipe for you.  But for the rest of us - yum!  After rolling up the chicken, I recommend wrapping the bacon around it so that the bacon covers the "open" sides of the rolled chicken to prevent the blue cheese from melting out.  Serve it with a nice mixed green salad and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Bacon Wrapped Chicken with Blue Cheese and Pecans

  • 4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup blue cheese crumbles
  • 1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • 2 scallions, sliced on bias
  • 4 slices good-quality center cut bacon
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half or cream
  • 2 tablespoons grainy mustard
  • Special equipment: toothpicks


Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butterfly the chicken breast pieces by cutting across the breast but not all the way through. Open the breasts up and pound lightly between parchment paper. Peel paper away and season the meat with salt and pepper.

Cover the seasoned chicken cutlets with blue cheese crumbles, pecans and scallions in equal amounts. Roll the chicken, wrap each roll with bacon and secure with toothpicks. Season the outside of the rolls with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken evenly all over, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a small baking sheet, place in the oven and cook 10 minutes more.

Melt the butter in the same skillet pan the chicken was seared in over medium heat. Whisk in flour, cook 1 minute then whisk in stock. Let thicken a minute then whisk in the half-and-half and grain mustard, season with salt and pepper, reduce heat to warm.

Halve the chicken and stack to show off the center. Set chicken in gravy or pour over top. Serve with rice (or pasta) and greens, if desired.  Ooh, a nice crusty warm bread with some light garlic butter would work well too.

Creamy Broccoli Soup

OK, so it's got a lot of vegetables other than broccoli in it, but this recipe has been a big hit any time I've served it.  It's also a *great* way to get nutrients into someone who isn't feeling well.

You can thin it a little (if it's too rich for someone convalescing) by just adding some milk instead of cream or half & half, and the flavor doesn't suffer a bit.  I don't recommend over seasoning the soup, because the blend of vegetables really makes up most of the flavor profile in the dish.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

1 bunch broccoli (2-3 stalks) diced into small florets -add as much stalk as desired
4 stalks celery with lots of leaves - chopped
2 large leeks - diced (both white and green parts)
2 carrots - diced
6-7 large mushrooms - chopped
3 bay leaves
marjoram to taste

2 cans vegetable broth (or chicken)
1 can water

Combine all above and simmer covered until vegetables are tender.


1/3 c butter
1/3 c flour
2 c half & half

Melt butter in saucepan.  Add flour and cook 1-2 minutes. Slowly add half & half and mix until smooth, slightly thickened.  Pour into vegetables and heat.  **If you have a hand blender, using it to chop the veggies down a little further before adding the creamy mixture makes for a smoother soup.

Congo Bars

I got this recipe from my friend Janys, and I haven't made a single change to it because it doesn't need it.  When you make these (and you will), you're going to have a tough time resisting the urge to dive into them because the aroma is so very intoxicating.  With regard to the orange peel, I used the zest from 2 oranges, and I use a microplane grater because it makes it so easy/quick to zest citrus.  You'll need to eat or juice the oranges because without the zest they tend to dry out, so use the orange pieces in a spinach salad with some thinly sliced fennel bulb or something while you wait for these to bake.

Congo Bars
Preheat oven to 350
Line a 15x10 jellyroll pan with foil

½ cup butter at room temperature
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 tablespoons grated orange peel
¼ tsp salt
2 ½ cups flour (all-purpose)
2 tsp baking powder
¾ cup chopped walnuts
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Beat butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, orange peel and salt til light and fluffy.  Add flour & baking powder, beat until blended.  Stir in nuts and chocolate.  Spread evenly in foil lined pan.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool in pan, then cut into bars.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Honey Oatmeal Bread

This recipe is fantastic for company, especially the overnight variety.  Say you've got guests arriving Friday night, staying over.  Make the dough up Friday before they arrive and stick it in the refrigerator to rise.  Saturday morning, as you start the coffee or teapot, take the dough out and preheat the oven.  Bake the loaves while you cook breakfast, and voila!  Warm bread with your breakfast!

Honey Oatmeal Bread

1 C boiling water
1/4 C butter (soft)
1/3 C honey
1 C sour cream
1 1/2 C oatmeal
3 tsp salt

1/2 C warm water
2 envelopes yeast
2 eggs (room temperature)
2 C flour

4 - 5 C flour

In a large bowl, combine the boiling water and the butter.  When the butter's melted, add the sour cream, oatmeal, honey and salt.  Stir well. 
In another large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Add the eggs and the 2 cups of flour.  When mixed well, add the yeast mixture to the oat/honey mixture.  After blended completely, add 4 cups of flour.  Add additional flour if necessary. 
Knead for 10 minutes on a floured surface.  Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.  Divide into 2 loaves and place in greased loaf pans.  Put the pans in plastic bags and refrigerate 2-24 hours before baking.
To bake, preheat oven to 375 and take the bread dough out of the refrigerator 10 minutes before baking.  Bake for approximately 40 minutes until golden in color.  The loaves should sound hollow when tapped.

Alan's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies

I can't take credit for creating this recipe.  My mom got it from the mother of a high school friend, and I've been making these cookies since I was in high school.

I've taken them to work, parties, and even delivered them warm to some friends who were working at my morning radio station - still warm.

They're almost an instant bliss hit, especially for hung over comedians.  (She was at the radio station, and she said on the air "These cookies are so good I want to mount the whole tray".)

Now for some words of warning - don't eat the frozen dough.  Not because anything bad will happen, but I've known people to eat an entire batch of raw frozen cookie dough and they never got a baked cookie out of it.  Don't make these if you're on a diet, either.

If you have tremendous willpower, these are great to have in the freezer so you can just slice two off and bake them in the toaster oven.  If you let them rest on paper towels long enough, they'll get chewy and stay that way forever.  If you want them crispy, put them in an airtight container as soon as they've cooled off.  And lastly, make sure they've cooled off enough so you don't burn your tongue or the roof of your mouth on the melted chocolate.  It may be worth it, but it still hurts.

So, here you are:

Alan’s Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup solid white Crisco (do NOT substitute)
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla

1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

3 cups uncooked oatmeal (not the quick-cooking/instant kind)

8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli double chocolate ones)
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Mix first 3 ingredients together until fairly smooth.  Stir in eggs and vanilla.  Sift the 3 dry ingredients together and stir well.  Mix in the oatmeal.  Then mix in the choc chips and nuts.

Shape dough into rolls, wrap in wax paper and freeze at least 2 hours before baking.

Preheat oven to 350.  Slice dough into ½” thick rounds, place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden.

If you want to use the drop cookie method and avoid the freezing time, it works well too.