Friday, October 26, 2012

Artisan Meatloaf

Meatloaf is very trendy right now - don't be surprised to find it on restaurant menus.  They typically will give it their own special twist, like this recipe.  I know the term "artisan" is over-used but it's the best term I can think of to describe this meatloaf.  It's the best meatloaf I've ever tasted and definitely worthy of company.  What makes it so special?  For one thing, the amazing variety of ingredients - everything from spinach to rosemary to parmesan.  For another thing, it uses a mixture of mild bison and spicy Italian sausage as the meat base.  It's stuffed with mild creamy fontina cheese and finished with a homemade tomato herb sauce.  The combination of flavors is absolutely irresistible.  It cuts beautifully and the leftovers make great sandwiches.

So let's talk about bison.  That probably gave some of you pause when you read it in the sentence up above, but it shouldn't.  Bison is a very mild meat that tastes almost identical to beef but it's better for you.  The animals eat grass for food, spend almost no time in feedlots, and are not given drugs, chemicals or hormones.  Bison is higher in iron and vitamin B-12 than beef but has much less fat, cholesterol and calories.  It's even lower in fat and calories than chicken!  Check out this handy little chart that I found online.  I knew bison was lean but I didn't know it was THAT lean.

I don't eat beef but I love (and eat) bison. We often use it as a substitute for beef in recipes. This particular recipe is made even healthier by substituting turkey Italian sausage for pork sausage. Even though the proteins are lean, the result is still very moist because of all the other ingredients that are added to the meatloaf.  If you're still not convinced, you could certainly make this recipe with ground beef but I would still save the fat and calories in the Italian sausage by using turkey sausage.  You can find spicy turkey Italian sausage links with the other turkey products in your grocer's meat case, and you can find ground bison next to beef in almost every meat case these days.  It costs a little more than ground beef but I really think it's worth it.
If you have leftovers and plan to make sandwiches, think about adding something crispy or crunchy for texture variation since the meatloaf is relatively soft.  I had tomato slices and fresh spinach in addition to the meatloaf so I added texture by grilling the Italian roll until crispy.  You could also add crunch by layering sliced radishes or fresh zucchini into the sandwich.
Tip of the day: next time you're at the grocery store pick up a package of plastic gloves like the ones that  doctors use - they're usually by the cleaning products. They come in handy for recipes like this where you need to mix raw ingredients by hand.  That way you know you aren't contaminating the ingredients or vice versa, espcially if you happen to have a cut or scratch on your hands.  Plus they protect your manicure.  Very important.
Cheese-Stuffed Meatloaf with Tomato Herb Sauce
Makes 4-6 servings

Like all good meatloaves, the leftovers make great sandwiches, especially in a French or Italian roll.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/3 cups chopped onion
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs (not dried or packaged)
1/3 cup milk
1 lb ground bison
1/3 lb spicy turkey Italian sausage, removed from casings
2 eggs, beaten
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and moisture squeezed out
2/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/3 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
5 ounces mild fontina or provolone cheese, cut into 3” long, ½” by ½” strips

Tomato Herb Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup carrots, finely chopped
¼ cup celery, finely chopped
¼ cup shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups Italian-style diced canned tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh basil
Salt and pepper

For meatloaf: Preheat the oven to 350d. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook 5 minutes until soft. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Spoon mixture into a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool.

Combine bread crumbs and milk in a small bowl, and soak 5 minutes. Squeeze any excess milk from bread and discard. Add bread to mixing bowl along with all the remaining meatloaf ingredients except the fontina cheese. Using clean hands, mix until well blended.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread half of the meatloaf mixture onto the paper to form a rectangle 4 to 5 inches wide and approximately 9 to 10 inches long. Lay the cheese in 1 or 2 rows down the center of the rectangle, leaving a 1 inch border on all sides. Cover rectangle with remaining meat mixture, ensuring edges are well sealed. 
Plump up loaf with your hands to be 3 to 4 inches thick. Bake 60 to 75 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 150d.

Meanwhile, make the sauce while the meatloaf bakes. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and add carrot, celery, shallots, and garlic. Turn down to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Chop basil and add to the sauce; simmer 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cool 10 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor, adding water if too thick.

Remove meatloaf from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Cut into ½” thick slices and serve with sauce.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken with Roasted Squash

My mother often made roast squash when I was a kid.  She cut and cleaned an acorn squash, then roasted it until tender.  She would scoop out the flesh after it cooled, and re-heat it in a frying pan with butter, salt and pepper.  That simple method is still probably my favorite today. Since it's fall and there are so many beautiful squash varieties to choose from I wanted to feature her recipe in a post.  Roast squash is rich, smooth and ever-so-slightly sweet so it pairs perfectly with spicy flavors.  In particular, it pairs perfectly with the spicy chili powder, cinnamon, cloves and ginger in the Moroccan-Spiced Chicken.

The spice blend for the chicken is fabulous.  Be sure to cook enough chicken to have some left over for a second meal of either a Moroccan Couscous Salad or a quesadilla (see below).  You'll have a little spice mix left over from the first meal that you can use in the second meal also.

The squash takes an hour to cook so start with that first, then you can mix the spice blend while it roasts.  I found a really pretty red-orange squash at the market.

The flesh inside was just as vibrant as the outside.

Clean out the strings and seeds and get the squash in the oven so you can start mixing your spice blend.  The recipe calls for hot chili powder but I only had regular so I added a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.

After the spices are mixed, you add a little olive oil to make a paste and smear it on the chicken.  Note that the chicken now needs to go into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  (I somehow missed that until after the squash was done so it delayed dinner by about an hour.)

If you want to serve this dinner on a week night, roast the squash in advance and put the chicken breasts smeared with spice mix in the refrigerator overnight.  Then all you'll need to do is re-heat the squash and cook the chicken breasts, which only takes 4 minutes per side.  Dinner will be ready in about 15 minutes!

You can't tell from the pictures, but these were giant chicken breasts.  The two of us shared one for dinner with our squash and had one left for another great meal.  Suggestions for meal number two are a Moroccan Couscous Salad or a quesadilla.  For the Moroccan Couscous Salad, cook some couscous and add a little of your leftover spice blend, plus some dried currants or raisins, sauteed zucchini, toasted pine nuts, parsley and a little lemon juice.  Cube up your leftover chicken and toss everything together.

If you'd rather have a quesadilla, thinly slice the leftover chicken and put it in flour tortillas with mexican shredded cheese, mild diced green chiles, a little lime juice, a little more spice blend and some cilantro.  Saute in butter until both sides are golden, then serve with guacamole and sour cream.

All three meals are easy, healthy and delicious.  Even if you think you don't like squash, try the roasted squash recipe.  As my mom always said, "it might be your favorite new thing".

click here for a printable recipe

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken and Roasted Squash
Serves 4

For the squash:
1 hard-shell squash such as acorn, buttercup, etc.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper

 For the spice mix:
Grated zest of one orange
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon hot chili powder (or 1 teaspoon regular chili powder and ¼ teaspoon cayenne)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

For the chicken:
3 tablespoons plus two teaspoons Moroccan spice mix
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 small or 2-3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts (1 pound)
1 tablespoon canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350d.  Line a baking pan with foil or parchment paper. Cut the squash in half horizontally and scoop out the strings and seeds with a spoon.  Brush the cut sides with olive oil and place the squash halves cut side down on the baking pan.  Bake for 60 minutes or until the squash is tender and pierces easily with a fork.  Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, make the spice blend by mixing all spice mix ingredients together thoroughly.  Make a paste by mixing the measured amount of spice blend with the olive oil, then smear it on both sides of the chicken breasts.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When cooled, scoop the squash flesh out of the shell and into a bowl, then mash with a potato masher until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.  Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the butter.  Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until fully heated.

Heat the canola oil in a second frying pan over medium heat.  Saute the chicken breasts until cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Slice the chicken and serve with the hot squash.

Make Ahead: roast the squash and scoop the flesh into a bowl; cover and refrigerate overnight.  Prepare the spice mix and smear the paste on the chicken, cover and refrigerate overnight.  Proceed with the rest of the recipe the following evening.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lentil Soup with Spicy Italian Sausage

This soup is just perfect for a cool fall day - it's warming and hearty with rich lentils, spicy Italian sausage and a wonderful mixture of vegetables.  Serve it with some crusty bread and you have a rustic feast that will warm you from the inside out.

It's easy, it makes a lot and freezes beautifully, and it's very healthy besides being completely delicious - you can see why it's one of my favorite soups.  Be sure to use spicy Italian turkey sausage because it really makes a difference.  Regarding the lentils, I actually used the remnants of three different packages when I made it this time (I collect lentils) so the specific type doesn't really matter.  If you can find the small green french lentils called "lentils du puy" I would suggest adding some for a quarter or third of the total amount of lentils.  They retain a nice firmness that adds texture to the soup but used exclusively they won't thicken the soup properly.  If you can't find them or don't want to buy two different varieties, don't worry about it.  The soup will be perfectly delicious anyway.

Although it doesn't take all that long to make, I like to make soup on the weekend and have it ready for that worst day of the week when you know you're going to come home brain dead.  Even on that day you should be able to manage heating soup and bread, right?

It certainly came in handy recently as we returned from a trip to Africa and had no idea where we were or day it was.  To show you my mental state, the morning after we returned I woke up and heard a noise outside the window and thought to myself, "it must be the baboons".  These are the days when you need soup.

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Lentil Soup with Spicy Italian Sausage
9 main course servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb spicy Italian turkey sausage, removed from casings
1 large onion, chopped (about 3 cups)
2 large carrots, peeled, chopped (about 1 ¾ cups)
2 large parsnips, peeled, chopped (about 1 ¾ cups)
1 large celery stalk, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 ½ teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 lb brown or green lentils, rinsed
3 quarts (or more) low-sodium chicken broth
1 5-ounce package baby spinach
Shredded parmesan, optional

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, crumbling as it cooks, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a bowl. Add onion, carrots, parsnips, celery, and Italian seasoning to drippings in the pot; cook until onion is translucent and vegetables begin to soften, stirring often, 7 to 8 minutes. Add lentils; stir to coat. Add 3 quarts broth. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally and adding more broth by ¼ cupfuls if soup is too thick, 20 minutes.

Add sausage to soup and simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors blend, 10 to 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes.

Serve topped with shredded parmesan, optional.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Spicy Homemade Peanut Butter

I heard on the news this week that a peanut butter recall is going on nationwide so it seemed like a good time to publish this particular post.

Any time I make something that's readily available in a store I think of my mother and smile.  A few years back I called to chat and she asked me what I had done that day.  When I replied that I had baked hamburger buns there was this pause on the other end of the line.  Then she said, "why would anyone make hamburger buns when you can buy perfectly good ones at the store?"  Therein lies the difference between us.  I make things because it's fun.  Or because I've never tried them before.  My mother, on the other hand, was the original devotee of boiling bags and all things microwaved.  She gave away her pots and pans and now owns exactly one small knife that I think she uses to slice bananas.  The servers at local restaurants know her by name.  She occasionally wonders aloud how she could have a daughter who likes to cook - she primarily likes to discuss politics. 

Anyway, I was surfing the Internet looking for a recipe for a sandwich from the Dominican Republic and ended up finding one for spicy peanut butter from the Dominican Republic instead.  Of course I was immediately intrigued because I've never made peanut butter before.  It didn't seem too hard - all you do is grind up some peanuts with a little oil, salt and a hot pepper - so I ran out and bought the ingredients and some cute little jars.

The name of the peanut butter is Mamba.  It's made in varying degrees of spiciness by using anything from no peppers at all to using scotch bonnets, one of the hottest peppers on earth.  For my first experiment I decided to use a jalapeno because I was familiar with the degree of heat it has.  I first added half a pepper and The Lawyer and I both tasted it.  We could barely taste any heat at all so I added the remainder.  It still has just a slightly spicy flavor so the peanuts and oil must suck up the heat somehow. (technical explanation)  The overall flavor is more fresh than normal peanut butter and the texture is lighter and less sticky. It's great on toast or anywhere else you normally use peanut butter.  Next time I make it I think I'll experiment with adding some mild chile powder in addition to the jalapeno.  That's the fun of making your own!  If spicy isn't your thing, think of adding some cinnamon instead of the pepper - cinnamon and peanut butter go really well together.  Or how about pumpkin pie spice?  Get creative and you can experiment with all kinds of flavor combinations.

I used unsalted dry-roasted peanuts and noted that I needed a full two tablespoons of peanut oil to make it turn into a paste when the recipe only called for one.  I have the feeling that the author used oil-roasted, not dry-roasted peanuts.  Just be aware if you try the recipe that the amount of oil will vary according to what type of peanuts you use.  Be sure to use unsalted peanuts or taste before adding the salt if you can only find salted peanuts.

So, if you're one of those curious people like me, give it a try and see what you think.  It's really easy and you don't have to run out and get cute jars, you could just put it in any container you have to refrigerate it.  But I had seen these jars at Crate and Barrel and it was a great excuse to buy a couple.

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Spicy Homemade Peanut Butter
Makes about 4 ounces

1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
1-2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 spicy pepper (such as jalapeno or hotter), stemmed and seeded
½ teaspoon salt

Pulse the peanuts in a food processor until it becomes a smooth paste. Add oil, one tablespoon at a time, to make the paste smoother to your liking. Add half the pepper and the salt and pulse until well mixed. Taste, and add the second half of the pepper if you want it spicier. Pulse again until smooth.

Pour into a clean container with a tight-fitting lid and keep refrigerated.