Monday, August 25, 2014

Last Meal At Home__Chicken Scalloppine

Well, Son3 leaves in the morning for school.  Fortunately his flight is not until 10 so we will not have to wake at the crack of dawn to get him to the airport.  He is so excited to get back to school and we are glad to see him go.  At the same time we will miss him far more than he misses us.  My ace in the hole is his food.  He is going to either be using his own money to eat out or eating in the cafeteria on our dime.  If he does like he did in the past he will eat in the cafeteria until he just can't stand it anymore and then he will venture out. The prices in the Upper West Side tend to be mainly out of his price range, so eating out means grabbing something cheap from a cart.  When he gets really hungry he can think of eating at home and even if he doesn't miss me he can at least miss my cooking.

 This was second on his list of  the "last week requests" and his choice for the final last week meal. Imagine thin chicken cutlets covered in a lemon burre blanc.  That is pretty close description of this.  It is a fairly quick cooking meal, but has more steps than I like for a typical meal, plus this has a boatload of butter in it. It needs to be one of those once a year dishes at the most.  (I don't think I have made this in the last two years and it will probably be that long before I make it again)

                                                         Chicken Scalloppine

6 small chicken breast halves, pounded into thin cutlets
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 grinds of a pepper mill
1/2 cup olive oil
2 small shallots minced fine
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
8 tablespoons butter
juice of 2 lemons
4 tablespoons chopped parsley

Between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap pound the chicken breasts until they are very thin. (I have a stainless steel 1 cup measure that is heavy and flat.  It makes an excellent pounder).  In a wide flat bowl mix the flour, salt and pepper.  Flour each chicken cutlet.  Set aside.  Heat the oil in a heavy skillet  and place the cutlets in one at a time.  I can only do 2 at a time in my largest skillet.  When they turn very pale brown flip them and cook through. ( This will only take three or four minutes if they are as thin as mine were) .  Remove the cooked chicken to a paper towel lined plate and finish cooking the remaining pieces.  Pour off any remaining oil in the skillet.  Saute the shallots in 1 tablespoon of butter until they are wilted and soft but not brown.  Pour in the wine and the chicken stock and cook it down until there is about 3 tablespoons of liquid remaining.  Turn the heat off and let the pan cool for about 1 minute.  Then add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, fully incorporating each tablespoon before adding another. Continue until all 8 tablespoons have been added.  Turn the heat to low and stir in the lemon juice and parsley.  ( Sauce should be thick and velvety)  Add the chicken to the sauce to coat.  Remove each chicken piece to a serving plate.  Give the sauce one more thorough stir and spoon it over the cutlets.  Garnish with thin sliced lemon halves and a sprig of parsley.

Well what can I say?  It's a rich delicious meal.  The chicken is so thin that is just about melts in our mouth.  Of course it might be that buttery sauce that makes it feel so melty.  It is just a mouth full of deliciousness. Ordinarily I serve it either over spaghetti noodles or a mound of couscous. Tonight I served it plain with dinner rolls and green beans and it was more than enough.  I had a little flour and 2 small chicken breasts after fixing the six the recipe calls for so I went ahead and cooked them.  Good thing I did because Son3 ate 4 cutlets.  That ought to hold him for a while!.  Maybe even until Christmas!

Wishing all the guys and gals returning to school the best of luck and happiness and wishing all the parents a lighter laundry load !

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Son3 is leaving to go back to school in a few days and this week I am letting him drive the proverbial food train.  He has asked for a few of his all time favorites and I agreed to make them and not complain.  How is it that most of his favorites are the most labor intensive dishes I make ( which is why we seldom have them).  I hope he enjoys them enough that the memory will carry him through until Christmas vacation ( next time he will be home).  By then I will be up for cooking more time consuming food again. Maybe.

Tonight's meal is actually looks and tastes like pretty simple fare . Picadillo filled empanadas are probably Son3's all time favorite dish.  Picadillo is a Cuban beef stew? hash?  Everyone seems to have their own recipe and everyone thinks theirs is better than their neighbor's or cousin's but not as good as their grandmother's.  My family has no Cuban roots so I did not grow up with in a picadillo competitive environment.  In fact I never had it until I was an adult and ordered it in a restaurant.  It was so incredibly delicious that I bought the restaurant's cookbook just to have the recipe.  I am sure they left out an ingredient or two that keeps it from being service perfect but, man, is it ever delicious anyway.  And as I said, we have no old family recipe to compare it with so it works perfectly for me.  Now imagine this deliciousness wrapped in flaky pastry and you have empanadas.

                                                     Picadillo Filled Empanadas


2 pounds ground beef
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 bell peppers, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
3 bay leaves
5 tomatoes peeled and chopped in a small dice ( can substitute 2 cans diced drained tomatoes)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup raisins minced
1/4 cup pimento stuffed olives, minced
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 cup burgandy

In a large pan, cook the ground beef until it loses its pink color.  Add the onions and peppers and cook until they wilt but are not browned.  Add the garlic and cook until it is golden. By now the beef should be browned.  TIlt the pan and, with a spoon, remove as much of the beef fat as possible.  Add the remaining ingredients except for the burgandy. Cover the pan and cook on mid low for about 20 minutes.  Add the burgandy and cover the pan again.  Cook for about 20 more minutes on low.
Traditionally this is served over rice and it is delicious that way, but in empanadas it is almost to die for.

*Pie crust (2 crust recipe)

For 25 emapnadas it took enough dough for 4 pie crusts but I don't re-roll the  cut pieces because it gets tough. If you had rather re-roll the scraps go ahead.  It would take  considerable less dough that way.

2 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon shortening or lard
about 1/3 cup ice water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a medium bowl stir the flour and the salt.  Cut in the shortening using a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture resembles cornmeal.  Add about half of the water and blend it with a fork.  Add the remainder 1 teaspoon at a time using your hands to work it into the dough.  Stop adding when it feels like a nice consistency pastry dough.  If it requires a bit more add it. Pastry dough is not a precise recipe so you have to go by touch.  If it is too crumbly it will fall apart and if it is too wet you can't roll it well.
When the dough feels "right and gives a bit when pressed, put it in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.  On a lightly floured board or pastry cloth roll the dough out to pie crust thickness.  Try to roll it in a rectangle for less waste.  I use a large yogurt container to cut my dough into circles.  It is about 3 inches in diameter, but I have made them smaller for appetizers.

 To make the empanadas

On a large cutting board or cookie sheet lay out the cut dough circles. With a slotted spoon place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle of each circle, being careful to get none on the edges.  Fold over the top half to the bottom half and crimp the edges. ( You will have half moon shapes with fancy crimped edges.) Transfer these to a clean baking sheet. ( I spray a very light coat of Pam)   As long as they are not touching you can put as many as you can squeeze onto your sheet.  There is virtually no spreading when they cook.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the pastry is dry and lightly browned.  Serve and enjoy!

Unless you make enough dough for about 5 pies you will have a lot of the filling left over.  It freezes wonderfully and the next time you get ready for empanadas you are just a thaw away. Or you could be a traditionalist and serve it over rice, but why?

I cannot begin to tell you how much we love these.  I make sure to have 4 per person, with a few extra for whoever asked me to make them.  We had a plate of 25 and at the end of the meal the plate was empty.  When you look at the ingredients you might get hung up on the combination of minced raisins and minced olives.  All I can say here is sometimes you just have to have faith.  I have served these to guests several times and without fail they have liked them and asked for the recipe.  Without fail they have balked (gagged?) at the idea of the raisin olive combo.  Without fail when they made them with the odd ingredient pairing they loved them.  These might even be last meal worthy.

I like these plain, but you might like them dipped in pineapple salsa. I have a weakness for Trader Joe's pineapple salsa and could eat it with almost anything. ( I hope someone in Trader Joe's corporate office hears about this and will consider building a store in Birmingham.  Please!  I am begging here!)

And now I am off to the Pig to buy chicken for  special request number 2.

* You can save a boatload of time by buying already made pie crusts sheets.  They are delicious and I have been known to use them just to speed up the process.  They are a little pricey though.  Usually during the fall Aldi has them for a very discounted price.  I stock up that week and keep them in the freezer for about 6 or so months.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

What do you get when you want to eat something and its got to be sweet and it's got to be chocolate and you gotta have it now? ( I think I just ripped off an old Cracker Jack ad song).

 I am not boycotting the grocery store, but we are definitely trying to eat everything I had frozen last summer  and at the same time I am reloading it with this summer's produce.  I found a bag of shredded zucchini and needed to use it.  It is probably my least favorite of the squashes because it squeaks when I chew it and I prefer my food to remain silent. ( Sounds weird, I know but it is a noisy vegetable.  I have no issue with loud crunchy raw vegetables but once they are cooked they should surrender and remain silent.  Zucchini always sounds like it is launching a meek protest.)  Since I was going to cook the whiney vegetable anyway, I thought it might as well be something delicious. Something chocolate. Something with enough non traditional vegetable ingredients to tame that zucchini into silent submission.

Viola!  I found a recipe at The Recipe Critic.  I had most of the ingredients and the things about it that I didn't like were flavors that could be altered without impacting the actual bread. ( I have an aversion to chocolate combined with cinnamon.  I love both flavors individually but they scream a huge foul in my mouth when tasted as one)  I am writing the recipe as I made it but check out the original.  It might be more to your liking.

                                              Chocolate Zucchini Bread

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4  teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup  cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil 
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cup  C grated zucchini
  • 1/2 cup chopped roasted pecans 

  • Topping:
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 2 T white sugar
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a  9 loaf pan.

  • Mix the topping sugars and set aside

  • Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa powder in a small bowl and set aside. With a mixer blend the oil, sugars, and eggs in a separate bowl until they are light and fluffy ( I was trying to contain my clean up and did this using just the  bowl and wooden spoon.  It. Took. Forever.  Save yourself effort and time and go ahead and get the mixer out) Stir in the vanilla and sour cream until it is well blended.  Stir the zucchini to mix well.  Stir in the flour mixture, being sure it is all incorporated well.  Fold in the chopped nuts and spoon into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle with the topping mixture and pop into the oven.  (If you look closely you will see I forgot to add the topping to mine.  When you make it in advance and put it aside, put it close enough to see it.)  Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. (I am not sure what kind of testers you use but I am partial to a long piece of uncooked spaghetti).  Remove from the oven and let it sit in the pan for about 5 minutes.  Invert it on a wire rack to remove from the pan.  Place another wire rack on the top ( actual bottom) of the bread and invert again.  Let it cool and enjoy the bread.
  • I am not sure I can give you an honest reaction to this bread.  The people who knew what it was did not like it at all, and the one who didn't thought it was really good.  I thought it was very tasty, but it had a consistency that was more like cake than bread.  I increased the cocoa since I did not have any chocolate chips at all and thought it might need the added  tablespoon of cocoa flavor.  I am not sure it really did as it was intensely chocolate.  

  • The zucchini had been cut on a box grater.  Next time I will whirl them in the food processor to cross cut it into a finer shred.  I thought the texture would have been better without strands of zucchini  in my mouth. ( But that is a physical issue rather than a taste one).

  • This weekend we are going to the lake and I am going to try it again, as a single layer cake ( 9 " square pan).  I will also put a thin layer of chocolate frosting on it.  I'm going to present as just a regular cake and see what happens.  I will let you know how it turns out.  We have a saying here: "What do you call a 2 day old cake? Bad cake!"   The true test will be exactly how long a one layer chocolate cake lasts.  Remember, I have only sons and quantity is as big an issue as quality .

  • Will let you know the unbiased verdict, and I don't have to worry about the test being compromised.  They never read what I write here anyway!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stuffed Banana (Pepper) Boats

Most summers, by this time in August we are tired of eating vegetable suppers.  Peas, okra, sliced tomatoes, summer squash, green beans and corn usually make up the bulk of our summer evening diet.  This year though, things have been a little different.  We have been to the lake__a lot, and I just don't do serious cooking when we are there. There are things I had rather be doing there than chop veggies. (Like watching boats go by while I am reading)  I am uncertain what my excuse for lackadaisical weekday cooking is, but give me a sec and I will think of one for that too!

 We do continue to eat out of the freezer in a futile attempt to use everything in there while right at the same time I am filling it back with this summer's harvest. ( Not my personal harvest, mind you, but the labor of the farmers at the Farmer's Market.)

Boat noises woke us early last Saturday so we decided to get up and ride around until we found something interesting to do.  We wound up exploring the small town of Columbiana*  and found a small truck farm where I bought beautiful tomatoes, green beans, peaches, and banana peppers,  I am generally banana pepper indifferent but these were beautiful and freshly picked, so I had to have them. I guess I am a sucker for pretty things.

I kept them in the fridge until Monday  ( I repeat, I really do not do "real" cooking at the lake.)   We had already decided that we would love to have the beans cooked with a few new potatoes so I put them on the stove.  I was going to do something with the peppers, but had no idea what it might be.  Then I remembered my handyman's girlfriend, Jana, had mentioned something long ago about stuffing banana peppers, and thought "Why not?" Since Jana told me how she made them over a year ago, and I have a notoriously short memory for details I used whatever I could recollect then just had to wing it.

Looking through the refrigerator I found a pound of sausage that was nearing its expiration date.  I had also been to the Pig and gotten all of their "on sale" meats and had a fairly large assortment to choose from.  Because I did not want to clean get the meat grinder out, I decided to use a bit of the ground beef I had purchased.  A few other ingredients and a quick trip into the oven and dinner was virtually cooking itself. 

I sat down to read the paper and eat bon bons fold multi loads of laundry and wait for the magic to happen.  About 35 minutes later we were eating a pretty decent summer meal.

                                                         Stuffed Banana Peppers

5 medium large banana peppers
1/2 pound ground sausage
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1/8 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons ketchup or chili sauce
1/2 cup bread Italian style bread crumbs crumbs
a few shakes of hot sauce ( I prefer Texas Pete's)

Wash the banana peppers and cut their tops off.  Make a slit lengthwise on one side only, from the cut  top, stopping about 1/2 inch from the bottom of the pepper.  Lay the peppers in the bottom of a medium baking pan, cut side up.

Mix all the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl until it is all well blended.  Stuff 1/5 of the mixture into each of peppers.  Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Uncover and let it cook for another 5-8 minutes to crisp the meat mixture.  Serve with steak sauce, ketchup, or chili sauce.  

We ate these with green beans, new potatoes, and a tomato, cucumber and vidallia  salad.  We all enjoyed it and will have it again if I can find such beautiful peppers.  The advantage to this over a stuffed bell pepper, in addition to portion control, ( the pepper and the amount of stuffing required  to fill it is substantially less than a bell pepper) is that the banana peppers have a much thinner pulp wall, so the pepper flavor was complimentary rather than the primary flavor.  I wish I had thought to do them sooner.  It might just be my new preferred way to eat stuffed peppers.

This is something we will try again soon.  I think I would like it a little better if it had a few more vegetables in it.  Next time I will add some chopped mushrooms and grated carrots to the meat mixture.
This amount of filling filled all 5 of the peppers.  I might have to adjust the meats or breadcrumbs down just a bit if I increase the vegetable amounts.

I am not always a big fan of cheese on meats, but TheHub and Son2 both thought some grated pepper jack would have been a fantastic addition to the top of it.  I will be happy to accommodate their tastes next time.

This recipe served 3.  Both guys ate 2 peppers each, but I was fine with just 1.

*Columbiana has a lovely small winery about 1 mile outside of town.  It also has 2 fantastic resale shops loaded with just about whatever suits your fancy.  Since it is in a small town with low overhead the prices are incredible.  It is worth the time to run by and check out the town.  If you do happen by and it's a weekend, give me a call.  It is just 10 minutes from the lake and we are always ready for company there. ( Unless you want something cooked and then it is a good idea to bring something with you since I don't do real cooking at the lake.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Leftover Beer? Bread!

We have a small refrigerator in our laundry room that is used mainly for drinks and extra produce. I was cleaning it out the other day and found 2 cans of beer stuck in the very back of the bottom shelf. They had been long forgotten and I was trying to remember when we bought them  I think it was for a  weekend family reunion 2 years ago. Whoa! I guess you can say we are not overly big beer drinkers. ( Or at least not Miller drinkers)

I wanted to just throw it out, but that gooby part of me that wants to use everything we buy wouldn't let me.  I started googling what to do with leftover beer.  No garden slug issues here so I didn't need to put it in in a dish to drown them.  I suppose I could have used it as a hair conditioner, but it is summer and my summer "do" is hair pulled back with a head band, twisted up and held with an alligator clip.

I kept searching and finally found this recipe for beer bread at Half Baked Harvest.  I liked it for a couple of reasons.  First it did not require self rising flour (I had none) and second, it did not require a boatload of butter .  The third reason was just a bonus , rather than using regular sugar this recipe used brown sugar and anytime I have an option I opt for brown sugar.  Oh, and did I mention it has only 5 ingredients?

                                                      5 Ingredient Beer Bread

3 cups flour
1/4 cup brown sugar (not packed)
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces of beer

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all the dry ingredients together.  Add the beer and stir until everything is moist, but not smooth.  Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 45ish minutes. ( I am always reluctant to sound dogmatic on baking times.  Everyone's oven seems to be calibrated differently and it can make the difference in a few minutes either way.)  Let the bread rest then pop it out of the pan.  Just make sure you have a stick of butter handy.  I am a firm believer in the cook having to sample the first bite of a new recipe.  After all you wouldn't want to serve others something that wasn't tasty right?  I am always willing to be the taster, I am just self sacrificing that way.

This was really good, even made with skunky beer.  I was surprised that the yeast in the beer was still active.  When I mixed everything together I let it sit in the bowl for a few minutes to see if it was going to rise and amazingly it did.  I really liked to yeasty, brown sugary taste.  I think the brown sugar added a little richer flavor to the bread than white sugar does. ( Did I mention I made one with white sugar also just for the taste comparison?  Brown sugar wins hands down.)

The loaf was not pretty.  It was a lumpy, crusty bread, but was very delicious.  The only change I will probably make is to spritz a dab of neutral flavored oil on top of the bread the last 10 minutes of baking.  I think it might make the top softer and a little prettier.

So next time you find an old beer hanging in the back of the fridge instead of pitching it, make bread.  Everyone will love you for it. That is, if you share!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

You Can Eat Your Veggies and Eat Cake Too!

I am always looking for ways to add vegetables to our diet so I visit several vegetarian/vegan blogs on a weekly basis.   Some have really good recipes but not great content, some great content but so-so recipes and the occasional blog has both. I read the blog The Chubby Vegetarian regularly.  He usually has something that interests me and when I saw this recipe for vegetable cake I knew I was going to try it.  I was intrigued but was a tad curious about how it would taste. I tweaked it a just a tad and this is how I made it.  If you want to see the original recipe go here but you will have to scroll a bit.

                                                                Vegetable Bunt Cake

2 medium peeled carrots, grated
1 small summer squash, grated
1 small zucchini, grated
1 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs
2/3 cup coconut oil, melted
2 cups light brown sugar
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup oven roasted chopped pecans ( would probably be delicious with walnuts too)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Grease and flour a bunt pan and set it aside
Measure out 2 cups of the grated vegetables. ( I used a box grater but will probably run the  grated veggies through the food processor blade next time. I think the veggies shredded and cross cut might have a better "mouth feel" See reactions below*) and set it aside

In a large mixing bowl mix the buttermilk, eggs, coconut oil and brown sugar until well blended.  Set aside.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder and pumpkin pie spice.  Mix it well to blend the ingredients then add it to the sugar mixture.  Stir well until all the dry ingredients are thoroughly blended and the batter is smooth.  Stir in the veggies and mix well to distribute them evenly throughout the batter.  Stir in the chopped nuts.  Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Pat the bottom to remove any air bubbles an put in the oven.  Bake for 1 hour until a knife inserted in the middle of the cake is clean. ( You are baking vegetables so it will not be totally clear, it will have vegetable juices on it, but no wet batter)  Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and let it cool enough to touch.  Shake the bunt pan a couple of times to loosen the cake, put a clean cooling rack on top of the pan and invert the cake.  If desired, place a plate beneath the cooling rack and drizzle the cake with lemon glaze. ( See below)  Let the cake cool completely and remove it from the rack and place it on a serving plate.

Lemon Glaze
Juice from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 box confectioners sugar

Whisk the mixture in a medium bowl until it reaches the consistency of honey.  Drizzle over the warm cake.

This cake had mixed reviews.  Son3 was the first to taste it and at first he declared it tasted good, but *then started gagging.  He is a tactile eater and hates the consistency of squash.  A strand of it found its way to his tongue and it was all over after that.  So I  guess you could call that a strong NO?  I sent a few slices to Mom and Dad.  Mom was indifferent to it especially since she does not like "spicy" food.  Dad loved it and ate both slices I sent him for a mid-morning snack.  My Beloved Sister was at Mom and Dad's later that day and Mom made her try the second piece I sent for Mother.  She thought it was very good.

I ate a piece that afternoon and another that evening.  I liked it so much I had to put the rest of it in the freezer so it would no longer tempt me.  It is in the freezer now yelling at me but I am trying to ignore its sirens call.  To be perfectly honest, it has what I consider an autumn flavor and I think it would love it best on a fall day with a mug of coffee or cup of hot tea.

One thing I might add is that this cake is a tad touchy, so don't do what I did and check on it and accidentally shut the oven door too hard.  It kind of (immediately) sunk a little in the center.  Be gentle with it and you will be fine.

You will also notice when you look at the picture that the glaze is conspicuously missing.  That would be because I completely forgot about using it.  It now lives in a container in the freezer waiting for a turn topping some other treat.  Trust me, my mouth did not notice it was not there. In fact, when I make it again this fall I'm tempted to use a maple glaze rather than lemon.

Since the summer squash and zucchini are in season right now I am grating it and freezing it, mixed together in 1 cup packages.  When the leaves turn colors and the air is crisp I will bake this again...several times.   Son3 will be back in school so I don't have to worry about his opinion and I won't share it with Mom.  Everybody else is welcome to drop by for conversation and cake!