Friday, March 26, 2010

Baked Salmon with Dill

Earlier this week, I set out to make an ambitious dinner menu - Maple Glazed Salmon with Pineapple, broccolini, and sweet potato fries.  After starting after 7pm and hacking away at 3 large sweet potatoes, my motivation waned and I decided I couldn't quite take on the pineapple, too.  Instead, I remembered that I had dill in my fridge for an upcoming spanakopita meal (stay tuned!), and realized that making salmon without using the fresh dill that I had way too much of in the fridge would be a crime.  So I did a quick search for an easy recipe and came across one that was originally published in Cooking Light.  It was perfect - minimal prep and minimal ingredients that were all in my kitchen.

The resulting dish is definitely a keeper.  It was so easy to prepare and really made a weeknight salmon dinner a little more special.  Unfortunately I can't say the same for the broccolini and sweet potatoes that went along with it - I way overcrowded the pan for the broccolini so they really didn't get the full effect of the butter and garlic I intended to toss them with, and I am still trying to figure out how to make baked sweet potato fries that are crunchy (please let me know if you have suggestions!).

Baked Salmon with Dill
adapted from Cooking Light

2 6-ounce salmon fillets (preferably wild)
Oil spray
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 350.  Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray with oil.

Place fish on the baking sheet and lightly spray fish with oil.  Sprinkle fish with dill, salt, and pepper. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.  Squeeze lemon over salmon before serving or serve with lemon wedge.

Makes 2 servings

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Banana Wheat Germ Muffins Revisited

Back in December, I made Banana Wheat Germ Muffins from Weelicious.  The were delicious, but my only complaint was that they didn't contain 100% whole grains - there was a cup of all purpose flour along with the cup of wheat germ.  Wheat germ is packed with nutrients, so the recipe probably works out to be as  wholesome as whole wheat muffins, but I'm greedy so I wanted to see if we could do better!  I just made these muffins again, but this time I replaced a half cup of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour, and I could not tell the difference!  Next time I'll try all whole wheat pastry flour and see if they still hold up.

The other change I made this time was to skip the hand mixer, as per my friend Julie's advice.  I just whisked the dry ingredients, then the wet, and added dry to wet in 3 stages.  This switch is up to you - the hand mixer's not that hard to clean, but I store mine on a shelf that I can't reach without a step stool, and the whisk is right on my countertop, so this approach is much easier for me (another example of my lazy chef approach!).

Here's the updated recipe:

Banana Wheat Germ Muffins

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup toasted wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 medium very ripe bananas*
1/2 cup agave
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tin with non-stick spray or line with cups.

In a small bowl, whisk together flours, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, mash the 3 bananas with a fork. Add agave, oil, vanilla, and egg and whisk together until well combined and fairly smooth (small bits of banana are fine). Add dry ingredients in 3 stages and quickly whisk together until just combined. Do not over-mix.

Fill prepared muffin cups 3/4 full with batter. Bake 15 minutes for mini muffins or 20 minutes for regular muffins, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 24 mini or 12 standard muffins

*Freezing bananas to use in baking works really well!  I peel mine and dump them in a zip top bag in the freezer, and defrost on the counter or in the microwave when I need them.  Note that a lot of the juices come out when they defrost, so make sure you add those juices back into the recipe.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Marinated Flank Steak

When hubby and I first met, he did not eat chocolate or red meat.  Given that these were two of the most important staples in my diet at the time, I decided these food restrictions made us incompatible and told him at least one would have to change if our relationship were to succeed.  I'm not kidding about that - I really did insist he start eating either chocolate or red meat!  Well, as it turns out, I managed to win him over on both fronts.  We can now share a chocolate dessert, and he has learned to appreciate a good steak on occasion.  He is still particular about his meat, however, and really doesn't like fatty cuts.  Which means when we go to steakhouses, he generally gets filet mignon.  But filet is such an expensive cut that I'm worried if I cook it myself I'll ruin it, so at home we stick to flank steak, which is inexpensive and very lean.  It is also incredibly easy to cook, although you do have to know what you are doing.

Flank steak is a tough cut of meat, which means that it really benefits from being tenderized by a marinade, and should be cooked quickly to sear the outside but leave the inside medium-rare.  Well done flank steak will be very chewy and less enjoyable.  It also needs to be sliced thinly, against the grain, for further tenderizing.  I have tried many flank steak recipes over the years, and just came across another one on Simply Recipes which looked  delicious.  This recipe has the benefit of including only a few simple ingredients that I pretty much always have on hand.  She also suggests scoring the meat before marinating, something I've never done before but sounded like a good idea.  The main change I made was the cooking method - living in the city, I do not have a grill, and while I do enjoy the taste of cooking on a grill pan, I do not enjoy the smoke or the clean-up.  So my new preferred method is broiling, which is so easy and much neater - simply cover a pan with foil and throw the foil away when you're done (assuming you're more talented than me and don't drip the juices on the pan as you're removing the foil ;).  You don't quite get the same crust on the outside, but in my opinion the meat is more evenly medium-rare throughout rather than being well done at the edges and rare at the center.

The steak came out great.  Not quite the best flank steak I've ever had (my mom makes a marinade with hoisin sauce which is really hard to beat), but definitely a good recipe to keep in the rotation!  The vinegar gives it a really nice tang, which is balanced nicely by the honey.  If you go to Simply Recipes, there are also a bunch of suggestions for different recipes in the comments section if this doesn't strike your fancy :)

Marinated Flank Steak
adapted from Simply Recipes

Marinade Ingredients
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Other ingredients
2 pounds flank steak
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Score the surface of the steak with 1/4 inch deep knife cuts, about an inch apart, across the grain of the meat. Whisk together the marinade ingredients. Place steak and marinade ingredients in a large zip top bag and ensure the steak is completely coated. Seal the bag and place in a bowl in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Take the steak out of the fridge 1 hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.  Coat a baking sheet with foil, and preheat your broiler on high.  Take the steak out of the bag, letting the extra marinade drip off, and place on prepared pan.  Generously sprinkle on both sides with salt and pepper to help the steak to form a savory crust*.

Broil the meat 3-4 minutes on each size for a thin steak (I had a 1 lb steak, and this was perfect for me), 5-6 minutes for a thicker cut.  When the steak has cooked to your preferred level of doneness, remove from the pan and place on a cutting board. Cover with aluminum foil to hold in the heat and to keep the steak from drying out, and let rest for 10 minutes**. 

Cut against the grain on an angle to make very thin slices. 

If you want, you can take the excess marinade and bring it to a boil, simmer for several minutes, and serve with the flank steak.   My steak was less than 1 pound, so I ended up with tons of marinade that I didn't want to throw out, so we did this.  I thought it was delicious, but hubby thought the flavor was a bit strong.  The oil will separate when you boil it, so you'll need to either whisk it back in or skim it off, depending on your preference.
Serves 3 people per lb of meat
*I have to confess that I completely forgot this step, but it sounds like a great idea so I wanted to share with you all!  Only thing is that the sauce is pretty salty, so you might not need/want the sauce if you have a salt crust.

**Ok, while I'm being honest, I put the meat in too late and the Red Wine Barley Risotto, despite taking forever to make, was ready by the time the steak came out of the oven, so my steak only got about 3 minutes of resting before I lost patience.  It was still good but the juices definitely came flowing out, so I'd highly recommend trying to give the steak its full resting time!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Red Wine Barley Risotto

Recently, my friend Kristin at Brooklyn Forager blogged about her Red Wine Risotto recipe, and it sounded so good it immediately went on my "to make soon" list.  When I finally had a chance to make it, I was torn - it sounded perfect as is, but, if you recall, the last time I blogged about risotto I swore off arborio rice in favor of the much more nutrient packed pearled barley.  And so, despite the box of arborio rice sitting right in my pantry, I decided healthfulness would win and reached for the barley instead!  The only other change I made was to use half an onion instead of the shallot because that was what I had on hand.

The result was really yummy, although I think the barley worked a little better in the veggie risotto recipe because the flavor of the barley is strong, so we didn't get the full effect of the red wine.  Although it did still have beautiful color, and hubby and I both thoroughly enjoyed it served with marinated flank steak (recipe to come soon!).  One thing I didn't mention the last time, though, is that barley takes a LONG time to cook!  I think it took over an hour for the risotto, but that is not all active time.  While it was cooking I managed to empty the diswasher and prep muffins (more to come on that, soon, too!), and I could have definitely done more in the kitchen had I been so motivated.  So my recommendation if you're short on time (and who isn't??) is to have some other kitchen activities planned while the risotto is cooking since really all it needs is a stir and the addition of more broth every few minutes.

Red Wine Barley Risotto
adapted from Brooklyn Forager

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup pearled barley
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
Salt and pepper, to taste (I used Romano, which I thought took care of saltiness, but did add several grinds of black pepper)

Bring chicken stock to a simmer on the back of the stove.

Melt butter in a small/medium pot.  Add garlic and onion and cook until fragrant.  Add barley and toss to completely coat in the butter mixture.  Let cook for a minute,  stirring constantly, and then add red wine.  Stir until wine has reduced almost completely.

Add 1/2 cup chicken stock and stir.  Stir every couple of minutes until it is almost absorbed, and repeat with remaining broth until barley is cooked through but still has a little bit of chewiness.

Stir in peas, cheese and seasoning.   Serve with additional cheese if desired.

Makes 2-3 servings

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Turkey Meatloaf Mini-Bites Revisited

After a week of feeding the munchkin french toast and scrambled eggs for dinner, I decided it's time to restock my freezer with some quick, go-to meals.  I've also been trying to figure out what to make with the ground turkey in the freezer and realized that my Turkey Meatloaf Mini-Bites would be perfect!  The only problem was that I didn't have any zucchini at home.  So rather than go to the store on a rainy, yucky day, I realized that I had some formerly-frozen chopped spinach in my fridge that I've been adding to the munchkin's scrambled eggs, and decided to see what would happen if I used that instead of zucchini.

I kept everything the same except I used about 3/4 cup of the spinach instead of the zucchini.  My first observation, not surprisingly, is that the mini-bites are green!  But as far as taste, they are just as yummy.  I couldn't detect any spinach flavor, but was happy to add a nutritional boost.  In fact, this experiment has made me wonder how much veggie goodness I can pack in - stay tuned to see what happens next time!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chicken Piccata with Pasta and Arugula Salad

When I was trying to decide what to call this blog, the first thing that came to my mind was "The Lazy Chef."  This is because I am constantly looking for short cuts, taking the most simple recipes and making them even simpler.  Sometime I find easier ways of doing things that don't compromise the end result, and sometimes I decide a little compromising in the end result is worth the savings in time, money, or effort.  This meal is a combination of both!

The first part was inspired by my sister-in-law, who made a delicious chicken picatta meal for a large group a few weeks back.  Despite the fact that she was in the kitchen for ages, she promised me that making chicken picatta for a few people was actually really simple.  Only problem is that most picatta recipes have a good deal of butter in them, so I searched for a lighter recipe and found one at Recipezaar.  Here's where my laziness came in: I immediately decided that I didn't need to include the fresh parsley because I really don't love the taste and I hate buying a big bunch of fresh herbs only to throw out most of it.  Then, as I sat down to review the recipe before starting to cook, I realized that we didn't have any white wine on hand that's suitable for cooking, so chicken stock had to fill in!

The salad was inspired by our recent vacation to Turks & Caicos.  On the last night, we went to an Italian restaurant that served an arugula salad tossed with olive oil, garnished with some shaved parmesan and a lemon wedge.  It was so simple and so delicious!  Hubby hasn't stopped talking about it since our trip and I thought it would tie in perfectly with our lemony entree, so I added it to this menu.  Talk about lazy - this salad didn't even require cutting vegetables or mixing up a vinaigrette!

So did my compromises work out?  I would consider this a very successful weeknight meal.  The chicken was good - not as yummy as my sister-in-law's, but really tasty and, in my opinion, well worth fewer ingredients and less butter.  Wine probably would have added a nice complexity to the sauce, but the lemon and capers added good zing and it still reduced nicely.  And the salad was as delicious as the one we had on vacation - in this case I don't think the simplicity is a compromise at all, and I would happily serve this to company.

Chicken Piccata
adapted from Recipezaar

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
*2 teaspoons butter, divided
*1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or white wine)
*4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (approximately 1 lemon)
*2 tablespoons capers
Cooked pasta for serving (optional; I used whole wheat spaghetti)

Place chicken breasts, one at a time, in a zip-top bag or between two sheets of plastic wrap/parchment paper/wax paper.  Pound to 1/4-1/2 inch thickness using a meat mallet, rolling pin, heavy skillet, etc.  Remove from the bag and dredge with flour mixed with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 teaspoon each of oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sautee chicken breasts for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked through.  Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to do this in two batches.  If so, use half of the oil and butter for the first batch and add the rest for the second.  I also got the first piece sauteeing and pounded/dredged the second piece while the first was cooking to save time.  Once cooked, remove the chicken pieces to a plate.
Add the chicken stock, lemon juice, and capers to the pan, scraping up the brown bits.  Cook for about 5 minutes or until thickened.  Add all of the chicken back to the pan, turning to coat with the sauce, and simmer for an additional 2 minutes.  Remove the chicken to a plate and stir one teaspoon of butter into the sauce.  Pour sauce over chicken.  Serve chicken with pasta or any other side you prefer.
Serves up to 4
*There was just enough sauce for the chicken.  If you'd like enough to toss with pasta (or if you just like a lot of sauce), I'd recommend doubling or even tripling the sauce ingredients.

Arugula Salad
adapted from Bella Luna restaurant in Grace Bay, Turks & Caicos
Ok, this isn't really a recipe because I have no idea how much of each ingredient I used.  But here is the basic idea in case you'd like to try on your own!
Olive oil
Lemon wedges
Chunk of romano or parmigiano-reggiano
Place enough arugula in a bowl for the number of people you are serving.  Season with salt and toss with just enough olive oil to lightly coat the leaves.  Serve with a lemon wedge and a few shavings or a thin slice of romano.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spinach Ricotta Dumplings

One of the earliest recipes I found on Weelicious was for "Spinach Gnocch-wee", which, aside from having such a cute name, looked irresistably adorable in the picture.  I read the recipe and filed it away until my recent effort to compile links to all of the recipes I want to try, when I came across it again.  And now, with my ongoing attempts to get more vegetables and dairy into the munchkin, I realized that this recipe could be perfect.

So I set out to give them a try and found the mixture (dough?  batter?) came together really easily - you really can't beat instructions to throw all of the ingredients into the food processor.  But when it came time to make those perfect little balls I was inspired by, well, I have absolutely no idea how she did it.  I tried flouring my hands, but they were so sticky there was no way I was going to be able to make them round!  Enter plan B - take a cookie scoop (most useful kitchen tool ever!) and dump them directly into the boiling water to cook.

And the result?  Delicious - even the munchkin gobbled them up! - but not nearly as pretty as the ones in the picture.  Oh, well...not everything needs to be perfect!  Also, another change I made was to the name...I couldn't really figure out how these related to gnocchi (the shape maybe?  or soft texture?), so I decided to just call them dumplings.  But whatever you call them, these are definitely a keeper in my house!

See?  Not the most elegant, but they sure tasted good!

Spinach Ricotta Dumplings
adapted from Weelicious

10 oz box frozen chopped spinach
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2/3 cup romano cheese, plus extra for serving
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp flour

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Defrost the frozen spinach (I did this in the microwave).  Squeeze all of the water out of the spinach by dumping it in a clean kitchen towel, making a pouch, and twisting until you can't get any more liquid out (don't worry, the green comes out in the wash!).

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth and thoroughly combined

Using a cookie scoop (you could probably also use 2 spoons), take approximately 1-2 teaspoons at a time and dump directly into the boiling water.  Do not overcrowd the pot - you'll probably need to do 2-3 batches.  Cook the dumplings for about 5 minutes (the last ones in probably cooked a little less than that).  Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.  They will be very soft when they first come out but firm up a bit as they cool.

Serve sprinkled with additional romano cheese.

Makes approximately 6 servings

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oatmeal Bars

Hi everyone, I'm back!  Sorry for the hiatus; attempting to sell my apartment and a week long vacation have kept me very busy the last two weeks, but I'm finally back in the kitchen and excited to share what I've been up to :)

As you probably can guess, I am always on the lookout for easy snacks to have around.  I have tried my fair share of bars and other packaged snacks, but they tend to be expensive and even the organic ones don't quite live up to my ingredient standards.  That's why I'm so obsessed with muffins, and why I was excited to see a new recipe on Weelicious for Oatmeal On-The-Go Bars.  The ingredient list is great - whole grains, minimal sugar, and the opportunity for wholesome add-ins.  Plus, they looked super easy to make - similar to muffins, but without the extra step of getting batter into muffin tins (and then having to clean said muffin tins!).

I ended up keeping them really simple - I skipped the add-ins because I wasn't sure what I'd enjoy and just wanted to test the recipe in its basic form.  The results were great - dense, chewy oatmeal that you can eat with your hands!  The muchkin was a huge fan, too - ate every last bite of her bar at snack time.  I think they have just the right amount of cinammon and sweetness to make them enjoyable but not dessert-like, but I also think they would taste delicious with a drizzle of maple syrup if you were so inclined.  Feel free to have fun with add-ins, depending on how you like your oatmeal (and feel free to leave comments if you find a great combo!).  I've included the suggested amounts below, but as I mentioned the recipe worked perfectly with no extras at all!

Oatmeal Bars
adapted from Weelicious

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cup milk (any kind you like)
3 tablespoons agave
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup dried fruit (optional)
1/2 cup nuts or seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray an 8x8 inch baking dish with oil or grease with butter.

Mix oats, flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl.  In a larger bowl, whisk together milk, agave, applesauce, egg, and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to combine.  Stir in any add-ins you're using.

Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, until starting to brown (mine was just a little brown around the edges and seemed to be cooked perfectly inside).

Cool, cut into squares, and store in fridge for up to 5 days or longer in the freezer.
Makes 16 squares