Archive | March, 2012

Deli-Style Potatoes and Onions

29 Mar

I was watching Anne Burrell yesterday (my current favorite TV chef–food is fun, yo!)  making this very fancy-sounding French dish with sole, and she said, “This is French. French, of course, is code for ‘lots of butter.'”

As luck would have it, I’d made potatoes and onions the day before, and told my kids they were deli-style. Which is a phrase I use the same way my girl Anne uses French. Code. Butter. Salt. Decidedly not healthy. But fine for a treat every now and then.

Side note: Yes, I mean that. Every once in a great while, you should eat something that’s chock full of unhealthy, delicious ingredients. I do not mean chemicals. Don’t go using butter and sugar substitutes or fat-free this or that, because all of it’s been crammed full of crappy chemicals you can neither pronounce, define, nor guarantee aren’t eating you from the inside out while you eat it the other way ’round. Real food, boys and girls. The stuff your great-grandparents lived on back when we all moved enough to justify it.  Every so often.

These are not healthy. But I had a bag full of potatoes and a big Vidalia onion laying around, and this is one of the few side dishes my kids beg for. We, my friends, have been known to drive an hour away to get deli potatoes like this, because there’s only one restaurant we know of that does them perfectly right and it’s in Annapolis, which is a heck of a long way to go for breakfast, but you have to do what you have to do sometimes.

So. Occasional treat. Which is FINE. Two or three times a year. Without guilt.

Onward.

This is a pretty basic dish: you take potatoes and onions and you cook them up in butter and salt until they get all golden brown and delicious, and then you stuff yourself with them because they are just that good. They should definitely be on your list of 10 things to have on a deserted island. And your kids…let me tell you, your kids are going to think their real mother or father was kidnapped by aliens and replaced with an amazing chef-mom or dad, and you will not hear a peep out of them for the entire meal because they’ll be cramming these amazing ‘taters into their mouth like the world might end tomorrow, before anybody else takes what might even remotely be part of their share. These potatoes are, in a word, a miracle. The deli angels brought them to earth or something. I promise.

Ready to treat yourself? Of course you are. You need:

Potatoes. I use regular white baking potatoes, about 1/2 large or 2-3 baby per person

Onion. One large Vidalia.

Butter. Don’t even ask.

Salt to taste.

Pepper if you want it.

Bring a big pot of water to boil on the stove. While that happens, wash your potatoes and slice them into about 1/4 inch slices. Leave the skins on.

Once the water boils, dump your potatoes in and let them cook about five minutes, until you can pierce them with a fork easily but before they soften up and fall apart completely. Drain them really well–you don’t want any water in the next steps.

While the potatoes boil, heat a large skillet over medium until it’s really good and hot–a too-cool pan will steam your potatoes, which is not at all what we want here. Cut your onion in half through the stem, and then cut each half-onion into slices across their grains (you should end up with half-circle slices). Plop about two tablespoons of butter in your hot pan, use your fingers to separate those half-circles into onion strips, and cook them until they start to soften, adding a pinch or two of salt.

Once your potatoes drain, mix them up with the onions in the pan. Here’s where this gets a little odd, but trust me: To get them golden crunchy brown, you want to smoosh them down onto the pan. To do that, carefully lay a dinner plate on top of the potatoes and onions, and weight it down with a big can of tomatoes or something from your pantry–don’t use a plate that touches the sides of the pan, or it’ll crack. Yours should look like this:

Every three or four minutes, use an oven mitt to remove your can and plate (the plate will be hot!), give the veggies a stir, and put everything back together. If the pan gets dry, add more butter.

When the potatoes look crunchy brown and yummy, it’s time to eat and soak up the accolades. Once in awhile. Which is fine.

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Baked Eggs Florentine

28 Mar

You know those mornings when you wish you could snap your fingers and have a healthy, hot, delicious breakfast appear? This is kind of like that. You dump everything into a ramekin and toss it in the oven, and voila. Eggs and vegetables that magically bake together into something that’s sophisticated and yummy, and jam-packed with nutrients to boot.

This is a riff off the baked eggs I posted not long after this blog was born. That’s still a great recipe, but I had a bunch of spinach and mushrooms in the fridge this week. They, I decided, looked like breakfast. And so it was. The result reminds me of something you’d get in a fancy restaurant–chi-chi places love putting eggs over salad–and it’s perfect for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. If you have a bunch of ramekins, you could do this for a party–they’re quick and easy and the single portions are perfect for a late morning gathering. And because they’re low-carb, they should work for just about everyone you’d want to entertain.

I am making this again today, gang. It is that good. For one serving, you need:

A small handful of spinach leaves, rinsed well

Two mushrooms, sliced or broken

Two eggs

A pinch of Parmesan cheese (omit if you want, but I wouldn’t)

Olive oil

Other veggies you have laying around–tomatoes, broccoli, onion, asparagus would all be nummy.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray your ramekin with olive oil. Put it onto a small baking pan to make moving it into and out of the oven easier.

Smoosh your spinach leaves into the dish–it’ll cook down quite a bit, so put in a little more than you think looks reasonable. Give them a small drizzle of oil, and top with the other veggies. On top of that, carefully break your eggs.

Sprinkle with a touch of Parmesan cheese (it’s salty–you don’t need extra salt) and pepper if you so desire. Bake it for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on your oven; take it out when it looks slightly undercooked, because it’ll keep cooking in the dish for a minute or two after you take it out of the hot box. Grab a spoon and enjoy.

Perfect Lemon Cake

26 Mar

I noticed yesterday that the leaves on the Japanese red maple tree outside my dining room window have burst open from their buds. This makes me a bit giddy for two reasons: First, I wanted a Japanese red maple for years and finally received one as a Mother’s Day gift, and it’s right outside that window where I can see it from both my dining room and my kitchen, turning my happy place even happier this time of year (I am not a gardener–things that spring alive with color year after year without any intervention on my part are my favorites). And second, it’s the last tree in our yard to leaf out. When its little red leaves pop open, spring is officially here. And that, my friends, means it’s time for lemon. Lots and lots of lemon.

I become a lemon freak when the weather turns warm and the trees get their leaves and things seem lighter and fresher all-around. Salmon with lemon. Pasta with lemon. Asparagus with lemon. Lemon everywhere, and especially mixed with flour and sugar and butter and eggs, because lemon cake is among the most perfectly perfect desserts this time of year. This one I especially like because it’s light and airy and doesn’t put me into a food coma half an hour after eating a slice (or two).

I made this for dinner with friends on Friday night. It took about 10 minutes to put together the cake, which I cooled, wrapped in plastic, and let sit on my counter overnight; this is a great trick with anything lemon, because it lets that amazing citrus flavor develop and shine. The next morning, the icing came together in five minutes (Side note: this is the most amazing lemon frosting I’ve ever tried. I could easily eat it all by itself with a spoon and be very very happy). The cake was frosted, wrapped gently, and put in the fridge to await dinner.

This really is best served cold. It also dries out after day 3, mostly because you only frost the top of the layers, leaving the cake’s sides exposed. I doubt eating it all before then will be a problem. The recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, and I haven’t changed a thing except some of the more onerous directions that seemed pointless to me (we’ll talk about that soon). Definitely worth adding to your personal recipe box–it’s a favorite around here. To make it, you need:

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (or 2 tbsp vinegar mixed into enough regular milk to measure 2 cups)
The zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the icing:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
The zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 350. Spray two 8-inch round baking pans with Baker’s Joy or another flour-added spray.

Beat sugar and butter together until they’re light and fluffy. Beat in your eggs.

Stir in 1 cup of the flour and all of your baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Then mix in your buttermilk (or substitute), and then mix in the last cup of flour–stir in the flour on your mixer’s lowest speed so it stays light and fluffy and doesn’t activate the glutens. Finally, stir in your lemon zest and juice.

Split your batter between the two pans. Give each one a good, firm whack on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles (this helps you get an even-topped cake). Bake for about a half-hour, or until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Let cool, wrap, and leave on your counter overnight (if you have overnight–if not, just let them cool all the way before you frost them).

To make the frosting, dump all of your ingredients into your mixer and let it beat it all together. Gently frost the top of your bottom cake layer, then carefully stack the layers and frost the top of layer #2. Wrap carefully and store in the refrigerator.

Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes

22 Mar

This is my favorite veggie dish of all time. Bar none. It’s sweet, it’s comforting, it’s packed with nutrients, and it’s super simple. I had a big bowl of it for lunch yesterday and I may well have another for dinner tonight. The leftovers are delicious heated up or cold, and don’t even get me started about recycling it as a breakfast dish with a poached egg on top (oh yummmmm).

You should make it, and that’s really all I have to say about it. Really–words don’t do it justice.

You need:

Sweet potatoes (about 1 per person)

Honey (1 tbsp per potato)

Olive oil (1 tbsp per potato)

Salt to taste (I use about 1/4 tsp per potato)

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray it with olive oil or your nonstick goodness of choice. Do not skip this step–you will be very sad when your nuggets of sweet potato deliciousness stick like cement later.

Peel your potatoes and cut them into 2-inch pieces (I half them lengthwise, then cut each half into a half lengthwise, and then cut them into slices cross-wise). Plop them into a bowl and stir them up with the oil, honey, and salt. Lay them onto your nonsticked sheet pan with their flat sides down–they’re gonna get all brown and crunchy against the pan, and you want the biggest side to do that because it is so stinkin’ delicious that your taste buds will throw their own little party right there in your mouth.

Slide your pan into the oven and let those babies roast for about 20 minutes, until their bottoms start to crunch up. Flip them over, give them another 15 minutes or so, and serve.

 

Luck O’ The Irish

16 Mar

It’s 8 a.m. and I’ve just pulled two loaves of Irish soda bread out of the oven. Not because I’ve been up since 5 and not because I’m amazing, but because it’s super easy and super simple and super fast, and you really should make it the day before St. Patrick’s Day and let it sit overnight.

So it’s cooling on my countertop and I won’t be haunted tomorrow. Which is awesome. To find out why and see the recipe. click here for last year’s post. Which, in my humble opinion, is totally worth revisiting today.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, gang!

Amazing Balsamic Chicken

14 Mar

My 10 year old christened this dish “amazing chicken” tonight. If I could have found the number, I’d have called the Vatican and reported a miracle. There it was, right at my kitchen table. Amazing. The kid ate two pieces, which is one and a half more than normal. And so I had to delay the recipe I wrote today that I planned to share with you (quinoa magic–stay tuned) and instead post this one, which is mostly from Cooking Light magazine. They called for a few more steps that we found unnecessary–this was delicious when kept on the simple side.

This entree starts on the stovetop and finishes up in the oven, which makes for some amazingly moist bird. If you fear dry chicken, lay that worry to rest. And if you’re not sure your skillet is ovenproof, just wrap its handle in aluminum foil before you start. It’ll be fine.

We had this with some rice pilaf and steamed broccoli, which made for the perfect spring dinner. Huge hit. To try it yourself, you need:

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup soy sauce (I used low-sodium tamari)

1/4 cup chopped onion

3 tbsp brown sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp olive oil, divided

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, onion, garlic, and half the olive oil. Put the chicken in a plastic bag, pour the sauce mixture over it, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Heat a small saucepan and a large skillet over medium heat. Carefully remove the chicken from the bag and put it in a bowl, and then pop it back in the fridge for a few minutes. Pour the marinate into the small pan and bring it to a boil. Then cook it for about five minutes, until it’s reduced by half. Pour some of that mixture into a bowl and save it.

Once that happens, coat the bottom of your large pan with the remaining olive oil. Add your chicken and cook it for about 4 minutes. While it cooks, brush the raw side with the sauce from the pan on the stove. After four minutes, flip the chicken, brush the top side with more sauce, and pop the pan into the oven for six minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Use the sauce in the bowl for dipping if you want to (we didn’t).

DIY Brownie Bites

12 Mar

Those boxes of pre-packaged mini-muffins and mini-brownies torture me in the grocery store. It’s not because I want them (at all), but because my kids do. They see friends snarfing them down at lunchtime and it’s all “Mom, please!” and “I’ll never ask for anything ever again,” and “You can have some too!”

Bleh.

You can’t explain (well, you can, but it won’t matter) to a 10 year old that those packages only loosely fit into the category of “food.” The kids don’t care that almost nothing on the ingredient labels of those things is found on the shelf of any grocery store, and they also don’t care that four or five mini-muffins is more than any one child needs at any one sitting. You can explain all of this, but it won’t help. They still want them. They’re fun! And cool! And yummy!

Ick.

Know what helps? Taking 10 minutes to throw together your own mini-snacks out of real ingredients that you can identify and control, and then dividing them up into reasonable portions and tossing them into your freezer for later lunchbox distribution. It helps even more if you involve your kids in making the goodies, because everything tastes better when you had a hand in it, yes?

We talked about this awhile ago, and I shared my DIY Little Bites recipe with you (it’s still a hit around here). Yesterday, my daughter donned her pink apron and her chef’s hat and her oven mitt, and we spent those 10 minutes making bite-sized brownies to bag and freeze and put into lunchboxes today in pairs, which are far more reasonable than the portion size in the boxes of the factory-made bites.

This is my favorite brownie recipe (note: if you’re making brownies from a mix, please go read the labels. Recognize all of what’s there? Any of what’s there? Right. This seriously takes seconds to throw together.) with a little baking powder thrown in; that helps lighten these and make them rise just a touch, so they look like the commercially-produced brownie bites. They taste better, though, and they’re not full of dexty-hywhatsis or poly-bythingies. Simple, pure ingredients. Sweet.

Don’t skip the paper muffin liners on these. I tried it. It wasn’t pretty. Just a hint. 🙂

DD and I had a ball making these and they’re happy in my freezer and a welcome, much more reasonable treat than the stuff my kids used to beg for at the Giant. To make them, you need:

6 tbsp butter

2 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened baking chocolate

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup flour

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a mini-muffin tin with paper liners.

Chop your chocolate (roughly) and cut your butter into tablespoons. Put those into a microwave-safe mixing bowl and nuke it for one minute. Take it out and stir it for a minute to melt the rest of the chocolate; if it doesn’t melt after stirring, nuke it again in 15-second increments, stirring well after each (over-nuking scorches chocolate. That’s gross.). If you don’t have a microwave, you can melt them together in the bowl set on top of a pan filled with water on the stove.

Once the chocolate is melted into the butter, stir in the sugar. Then, stir in the vanilla and eggs. Finally, stir in everything else. Drop by tablespoons into your mini-muffin tins and bake for about 12 minutes, or until done. Let cool.

I put mine into snack-sized bags, two in each bag, and then put all of those bags into a freezer bag and popped the whole mess into the cold box. In the morning, I pull out however many bags I want and put them into lunchboxes; they thaw in about 15 minutes.

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