Monday, September 26, 2011

Smoked Turkey Apple Panini

I love sandwiches, don't you?  For one thing, they're a great excuse to eat potato chips, my all-time guilty addiction.  You may have heard me say I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but chips are my vice.  I can't keep them in the house or they're mysteriously gone within a few days.  Thin tortilla chips are good, but kettle chips are the best.  One of the mental games I play involves choices for my Last Meal (assuming I'm aware it is my last meal and have time to plan, of course).  Various components have changed over time but two that remain constant are potato chips and a lobster tail with lots of melted butter (not margarine, no-no-no!, it has trans fats as my friends Ron and Susie explained to me recently).  Some sort of cheese would have to be part of the meal also.

Sorry, back to sandwiches.  I particularly like this recipe for several reasons.  First, it tastes wonderful.  Second, it has a combination of textures (crunchy bread, gooey cheese(!), crisp apple, tender turkey) that's very appealing.  Third, heating the sandwich highlights the horseradish flavor without it becoming too strong.  And finally, it has a surprising combination of ingredients which makes it interesting.  When was the last time you had cabbage and apple in your sandwich?  It's kind of like a Reuben gone wild. 

It's apple time of the year, so simply choose your favorite for this sandwich.  I've never understood why so many recipes will specify a type of apple, especially if it doesn't have to cook down to a particular texture.  I've tried crisp sweet and tart apples in this sandwich with equal success - it all boils down to personal preference.

I tried heating the sandwiches two different ways - on a panini press, and wrapped in foil in the oven.  The foil-wrapped version was very good but was missing the crunch of the grilled bread.  It also didn't get quite as hot in the interior so the horseradish was more subtle.  Who knew there would be such a difference from two heating methods?  The one big advantage of heating them in the oven, however, is that you can do  them all at the same time.  I used that method to prepare a batch of these sandwiches at a deck-cleaning "party" last spring.  They were gone quickly!

This is so easy it's not really even a recipe, it's more just an ingredient list and assembly instructions.

** click here for a printable recipe version **

Smoked Turkey Apple Panini
Serves 4

1/3 cup sour cream (light works fine)
¼ cup horseradish
8 slices caraway rye bread
8 oz thinly sliced deli smoked turkey
6 ounces thinly sliced plain Havarti cheese
½ cup thinly sliced cabbage (bagged coleslaw mix works great)
1 apple
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Combine the sour cream and horseradish thoroughly.  Cover and refrigerate if not using immediately.

Preheat a Panini press, a griddle or a frying pan. (Or see below for oven heating instructions)

Core the apple and cut into the thinnest rounds possible.  Alternately (if you don’t have an apple corer) cut the apple into thin rounds and then cut the core out of each with a knife.  Cut each round in half.  In a small bowl toss the apple slices with the lemon juice to prevent browning. 

Place the bread slices on a work surface and spread each with horseradish sauce. On half the bread slices, layer (in order) the smoked turkey, apple slices, cheese, and cabbage.  Place the remaining bread slices on top.

Cook the sandwiches on the Panini press or griddle for about 5 minutes.  If using a frying pan you will probably want to add some margarine unless the pan is non-stick.  Serve hot. 
To heat in the oven, wrap each sandwich in foil and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Assembled through apple layer

Fully assembled and ready to cook

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Salmon with Balsamic Sauce

We recently returned from a weekend in NYC that was very fun.  Each day The Lawyer went to the U. S. Open Tennis Tournament with a buddy and I did the museum thing.  One observation:  Central Park is wider than it appears on a map.  If you optimistically decide to walk from your hotel on the east side through the park to a museum on the west side, then walk around the museum for a few hours and walk back, you will be in need of an adult beverage by the time you stagger into your hotel.  That is, unless you're flattened by a crazed bicyclist in the park who ignores all traffic signs, electronic and otherwise.  Of course we ate way too much of the stuff you're not supposed to eat much of at all. We found a fabulous french bistro/bakery three blocks from our hotel and ate breakfast there twice, plus dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill one night and our favorite Italian restaurant, Vice Versa, another night.  And of course bagels. Yikes.

Whenever I've been "overfed" for a prolonged period, I start to crave healthy, high fiber foods.  I guess that's good news!  This recipe is a great example.  Salmon is a sustainable fish that is very good for you.  Two of the vegetables are minimally cooked and the other is raw.  You could always substitute different vegetables if you don't happen to care for one or the other, but I thought the radishes were an interesting touch.  I could hardly wait to make this meal when we got back from New York. 

**click here for a printable recipe version**

Salmon with Balsamic Sauce

Serves 4

¾ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, minced

Four 6-ounce salmon fillets, skinned
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon margarine or butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 fennel bulb, fronds removed, cored and thinly sliced
6 ounces thin green beans
Four radishes, sliced

Hot cooked couscous or rice

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. 

In a small saucepan, combine the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until thick, about 12 minutes.  Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Line a small baking sheet with foil or parchment.  Place the salmon on the sheet and brush with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast until the salmon is almost cooked through, 8 – 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Heat a large pan of water to boiling and par-boil the beans for a minute or two to set the color.  Immediately drain the beans and place them in a bowl of ice water to stop cooking.  Drain again and pat dry with a paper towel.  In a medium skillet, heat the margarine over medium-high heat and sauté the sliced fennel for a minute or two, then add the beans and garlic and sauté for an additional two minutes.

To serve:  place couscous or rice on each plate.  Top with the vegetable mixture, the uncooked radishes, and a salmon fillet.  Drizzle the salmon with balsamic sauce.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Best Way to Cook Bacon

Who doesn't like bacon?  OK, it's not the healthiest food in the universe.  But come on, it's BACON.  Even my doctor advocates all things in moderation.  So I eat bacon, but not very often.  After frying bacon in a pan my whole life, I came across a new method a few years ago and haven't looked back ever since.  The problem with frying bacon is that it never fits the pan.  Therefore it cooks unevenly so some parts are burnt while others are still soft.  It curls up funny.  It smokes up the house and spatters all over the cooktop.  If it wasn't BACON we'd never put up with it.  But eureka, there's a better way.  Baking bacon in the oven eliminates the mess and results in large quantities of perfectly cooked, perfectly straight bacon pieces.  Cleanup is as simple as tossing a piece of aluminum foil.  I've seen two variations of this method - one advocates using a cooling grate on top of the baking pan to elevate the bacon while cooking, and one simply calls for putting the bacon in the pan.  I've tried both methods.  Although both work, I didn't notice any difference in the result and the bacon did tend to stick to the  grate.  Plus, it's one more thing to clean.  Therefore, I use the simpler method that is described below.

Baked Bacon
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Cover a large baking sheet that has a lip with heavy duty aluminum foil.  Place the bacon on the sheet without overlapping.  Bake in the oven for 6 minutes, then rotate the baking sheet 180 degrees and continue to bake until the bacon reaches your desired degree of crispness.  This will depend on your preference, your oven, and the thickness of your bacon.  In general, I allow about 10 more minutes but start checking after about 6 minutes and stay close to the oven to keep watching (bacon goes from perfect to burnt fairly quickly).  Lift the bacon off the pan with tongs and place on a paper towel-lined plate.  Pat the top of the bacon with another paper towel.  Serve.

Allow the aluminum foil and grease to cool before tossing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Roasted Stuffed Squash

Wow, is it fall already?  Time always seems to proceed normally until around July 4th.  Next thing you know, it's September.  I'm not sure how that works, but it does.  So, it's time to start mentally switching gears to fall-ish foods, which always means squash to me.  I love squash.  As a kid I hated squash on principle because it's a vegetable.  Plus, every squash recipe back then included brown sugar and mini marshmallows.  Blehhh.  At the risk of being called anti-American, I must confess I don't have much of a sweet tooth and don't like sweet stuff on vegetables.  But savory squash recipes are a whole different thing.  Even The Lawyer, a professed squash hater, has confessed to liking this recipe.  A convert!  The secret is to make sure you don't undercook the squash.  That's right, don't undercook.  Squash has to be very tender.  Baked with butter, salt and pepper, it's a great side dish.  If you then stuff it, it's a even greater complete meal.  Use any small squash that you prefer - the most common is acorn, but buttercup is also wonderful or any of the new, cute red varieties in the store.  This recipe is very flexible - use a different meat choice, no meat at all, different mushrooms, different nuts, etc. I've tried both hot Italian sausage and chorizo with great results.  Pepitas are toasted pumpkin seeds and a favorite of mine, but use whatever you like.  Finally, this recipe does take a while to prepare but the good news is that it's kind of like lasagna - you can do all the prep and assembly in advance and just bake it at the last minute which makes it a legitimate contender for a weeknight meal.  But, it's impressive enough for guests - just add a crusty french bread and a dessert, and you're all set.

**click here for a printable version**
 Roasted Stuffed Squash
4 servings

2 small squash - acorn, buttercup, etc.
1 cup uncooked rice pilaf or wild rice
Cut, cleaned and ready for baking
4 oz sliced button mushrooms (or wild mushrooms)
3 tablespoons margarine, divided
1 cup chopped red pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup shredded parmesan (plus additional 1/4 cup for garnish)
8 oz crumbled cooked hot Italian sausage (or chorizo or any leftover chopped meat)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup pepitas, toasted (or other toasted nuts)

After baking for 60 minutes, ready to stuff

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut a thin slice off each end of the squash, then cut in half crosswise.  Carefully scoop out seeds and fibers. Line a baking dish with parchment.  Place squash halves in the baking dish and rub the cut surfaces and the interior of each with 1 tablespoon margarine. Place a small amount of margarine in the bottom of each half.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roast at 400d for 60 minutes.

While the squash is roasting cook the rice according to directions, then drain and set aside to cool.  Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the remaining tablespoon of margarine, then saute the sliced mushrooms until the moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms are golden.  In a large bowl, combine the rice and mushrooms with the remaining ingredients except the garnish.  At the end of 60 minutes, remove the squash halves from the oven and fill each until mounded.  If you have rice mix left over, it makes a great lunch the next day.  (At this point the squash halves can be refrigerated for baking later.  If refrigerated, add 10 minutes or so to the baking time.)  Place the squash halves back in the oven for an additional 30 minutes, until the filling is hot.  Sprinkle with additional parmesan before serving.