Friday, October 31, 2014

Sausage and Lentils

Last Year's Post: Italian Tuna Sandwich (No Mayo)
Two Years Ago:  Holiday Breakfast Strata

There's something about sausages and lentils that says "fall" to me.  Add in some roasted vegetables and you have a beautiful rustic dish that's both healthy and filling.  My inspiration for this dish was two-fold.  First, if you're a fan of Costco, you'll understand completely that we wandered by a tasting table and liked the roasted pepper sausage with manchego cheese they were tasting.  We now have four packages waiting in the freezer.  One of my games when that happens is to find new and interesting ways to use the Costco ingredient without repeating the same recipe over and over.

My second inspiration was seeing some gorgeous French baby carrots at the grocery store.

Because my carrots were so small I roasted them whole rather than cutting them up, and I roasted the very smallest ones separately so I could take them out faster.

After that it's just a matter of cooking the lentils and sauteing the sausages.

You have a couple of choices with this dish.  The first is the type of sausage you use.  Definitely buy precooked turkey or chicken sausages (Amy's or Aidells are two good brands), but the choice is whether you buy primarily savory (Italian, roasted pepper, etc.) or slightly sweet (chicken, apple and maple, for example).  If you buy savory sausages the recipe calls for manchego cheese; if you buy an apple or maple variety you add maple syrup to the dressing, substitute blue cheese for manchego cheese, and adding fresh apple pieces.  Your choice.

The other choice is whether to serve it hot or at room temperature.  If you decide to serve it hot I'd suggest adding the cheese at the last minute on top so it doesn't melt into the dish.

Either way, it's a great and unique fall and winter dish.

printable recipe
Sausage and Lentils
Serves 4

For the salad dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (if using sausage with apple or maple flavors, otherwise omit)

1 cup of small French green (or small black) lentils, uncooked
1 fennel bulb
1 small red onion
4 carrots (less if adding apple, below)
1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
3-4 precooked smoked sausages (your favorite flavor), cut into ½” pieces on an angle
½ cup cubed Manchego cheese (if using savory or spicy sausages) or crumbled blue cheese (if using apple or maple sausages)
½ cup fresh apple cubes (if using apple or maple sausage, otherwise omit)

Mix ingredients for dressing together in a jar with a lid. Shake well.

Cook the lentils according to package directions; drain.

 Preheat the oven to 450d.  While the lentils are cooking, roast the vegetables: slice the carrots in small chunks about the size of your thumb. Trim the leaves off the fennel bulb; core and cut into ½” wedges. Slice the onion into ½” wedges. Toss the carrots, fennel, onion and garlic with a tablespoon of oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and then place on a baking sheet. Bake on the center rack for 25-30 minutes, turning over after half the time, until the carrots are fork-tender.  (If your carrots are larger or smaller change the baking time accordingly.) 

While the lentils are cooking and vegetables are roasting, sauté the sausage pieces in 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until browned.

Toss the warm lentils with some of the dressing.  After the lentils have cooled somewhat, add the remaining dressing, roasted vegetables, browned sausage, cheese and apple (optional) and serve.  Garnish with additional thyme leaves if desired.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chicken and Caramelized Broccoli Ramen

 Last Year's Post: Tomato Soup and grilled Cheese - All Grown Up
Two Years Ago:   Greek Shrimp and Orzo

Ramen make a great base for any number of different noodle bowls - I particularly like them with leftovers as a clear-out-the-refrigerator dinner.  Garnished with soy sauce or sriracha, they're an easy and interesting way to use up bits and pieces.  Here's another idea for ramen, this time served with deeply caramelized broccoli, tender chicken and savory mushrooms in a sour cream-based sauce.  It's very flavorful and the caramelized broccoli lends a nutty flavor.  Everything (except the noodles) is cooked in the same pan which streamlines clean-up too.

The key to caramelizing broccoli is to cut each floret in half, so they have a flat side.  They're placed flat-side-down in the pan for even browning, then covered and steamed until tender.  The mushrooms are browned after the broccoli is done, then finally the chicken and onions are cooked.  Everything is stirred together with the noodles, sour cream and spice mix for a very easy and very tasty dish.

printable recipe
Chicken and Caramelized Broccoli Ramen
Serves 2-3

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces broccoli florets (about 1 crown)
½ cup water
8 ounces fresh button, shiitake or cremini mushrooms, sliced
6 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 3-ounce packages of chicken-flavored ramen noodles
8 ounces light sour cream

In a large pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil.  Add the noodles (reserving the seasoning packets) and boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain.

Meanwhile, cut each of the broccoli florets in half lengthwise.  To a large frying pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the broccoli pieces, cut side down.  Cook until richly browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes, checking occasionally for brownness.  Add the water, cover and turn to medium-low.  Cook until the broccoli is just tender and the water has almost evaporated, about 6-7 minutes.  Remove the broccoli and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and return to medium heat.  Add the mushrooms in a single layer and cook until tender and lightly golden, 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove the mushrooms and set aside.

Add the third tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and set over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté for one minute, then add the chicken pieces and sauté until lightly browned and cooked through.

Mix the sour cream with the two reserved seasoning packets.  Toss noodles with the mixture, then add the broccoli, mushrooms, onion and chicken.  Let the mixture rest for a few minutes to blend and absorb, then toss again and serve.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Korean Sliders

Last Year's Post: Rustic Greens and Potato Pie
Two Years Ago:  Artisan Meatloaf

A new and unfamiliar ingredient can divide people into two camps just as fast as religion or politics.  There's the "I don't want to buy a new ingredient for just one recipe that I don't even know what it is or what it tastes like or where to find it" camp.  I call them the Uber-Practicals.  Then there's the "What's that ingredient?  I've never heard of it before!  I feel an adventure coming on!" camp.  I call them the Insatiably Curious with Possibly Not Enough To Do.  Guess which camp I fall in?

So, I've been on a Korean food kick lately and decided I wanted to make Korean sliders because I thought the bold flavors would work particularly well in slider form as opposed to a big burger.  Midway through my recipe research, I stumbled across Gochujang.  Hmmmmm.  Gochujang?  An opportunity to head to my local Asian market!    Turns out Gochujang is a hot pepper paste that's quite common to Korean cooking - at least it comes in a tub that's big enough that I assume they use it a lot.  This was the small sized tub - the large size was at least twice as large.  At least it wasn't expensive.

The description "hot pepper paste" gave me pause, but The Lawyer and I tasted it by itself before adjusting amounts in the recipe and our tongues didn't fall off.  The top of the tub characterized it as medium on the hotness scale, and I would agree.  I suggest starting with a smaller amount of Gochujang in the cabbage relish and sauce, then adjusting by tasting and adding more until you reach the heat level you like.  As written, I consider the sliders to be medium on the heat scale but everyone's tastes are different.

For you Uber Practicals, you can substitute Chili Garlic Sauce (easily found in the ethnic aisle of most grocery stores) or Sriracha sauce or any hot pepper sauce you have on hand - just be sure to start with a small amount before adding more to your taste.

I decided to go with a cabbage relish on the top of the sliders that's vaguely reminiscent of kimchi, the Korean fermented cabbage dish that's spicy and sour.  This version is fresher, not as hot and not as sour plus it doesn't involve the addition of dried shrimp (bleh). If you're a Kimchi fan by all means feel free to substitute. 

A bit of the Gochujang goes in the cabbage relish, so it's slightly spicy and also has a vinegary bite.  Garlic, green onions and ginger go in the sliders (made with turkey so they're healthy) which are pan-browned and coated in a wonderful sauce made from Gochujang, sesame oil and soy sauce.  You can adjust the amount of heat you like by adding more or less Gochujang in both the cabbage and sauce.

Cucumber and radish add freshness and crunch, and a light coating of mayo adds creaminess and tones down the heat a bit.

I was really pleased with the way these came out.  If you like Korean food I hope you give them a try.  And by the way, they're perfect pub food with a cold beer.  Now what to do with the rest of the Gochujang?

printable recipe
Korean Sliders
Makes 8 sliders

Note:  Gochujang is a Korean hot pepper paste, commonly sold in a tub.  You’ll find it in the grocery aisles of your local Asian market.  If you can’t find it, chili garlic sauce may be substituted, which is readily available in the ethnic aisle of most grocery stores.

3 cups finely shredded Napa cabbage
½ cup thinly sliced green onions, divided
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons minced garlic, divided
4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, divided
2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, divided
4 teaspoons Gochujang, divided*
1 carrot, shredded
1 lb ground turkey
2 teaspoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup mayonnaise
4 radishes, sliced
8 thin cucumber slices
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
8 white or whole wheat slider buns

To make the cabbage relish, combine cabbage, ¼ cup green onions, rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon each garlic and ginger, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon Gochujang.  Set aside, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour or so to soften slightly and meld flavors.

To make the sliders, combine ground turkey, remaining ¼ cup green onions, remaining 1 tablespoon of garlic, remaining 1 tablespoon of ginger, and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil.  Shape into 8 small patties; flatten like mini-burgers.

In a large non-stick pan, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add turkey patties and brown on both sides. 

While the patties are browning, in a small bowl mix together the remaining 1 tablespoon Gochujang, soy sauce, honey, and 1 tablespoon sesame oil.  When the patties are browned, drain off the fat (if necessary) and add sauce ingredients.  Turn the patties to coat with sauce and simmer on low, turning regularly, until the patties are nicely coated with sticky sauce and fully cooked through.

To assemble, lightly spread slider buns with mayonnaise and place cucumber and radish slices on the bottom of each.  Top with a turkey patty, then sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.  With a slotted spoon, drain cabbage relish mixture slightly before placing some on top of each patty.  Serve the remaining cabbage relish on the side.

*If you’re unfamiliar with Gochujang, start with a smaller amount  and add more after tasting until you reach the heat level you prefer.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Seared Scallops with Herb-Butter Sauce

Last Year's Post: Arroz Con Pollo
Two Years Ago:  Moroccan-Spiced Chicken with Roasted Squash

Scallops make a wonderful special-occasion seafood meal as a change from lobster, shrimp or crab, and are often less expensive.  They're easy to prepare and particularly delicious when seared to a caramelized crust in a very hot pan.  There are two things you need to know about scallops - bay vs sea scallops, and wet vs dry.

Bay and sea scallops taste very similar - the main difference is in size.  Bay scallops are much smaller and are available fall through spring.  Sea scallops can vary from medium-sized to very large and are available year-round.  Your best bet for consistently good quality throughout the year is sea scallops, although bay scallops in season are also delicious.  I personally prefer smaller (vs giant) sea scallops because they're easier to cook correctly without over-cooking the outside or under-cooking the inside.  You never want to overcook scallops or they become tough and rubbery.

The second question is wet vs dry scallops. Wet scallops are commonly treated with phosphates as a preservative.  When scallops are soaked in phosphates, they absorb water making them weigh more and thereby costing you more. (Take in mind, that you are paying for added water.) The absorbed water evaporates during cooking and, in turn, shrinks the scallops leaving them smaller, dry and somewhat tasteless.  Furthermore, the added water doesn't let scallops brown properly during cooking. It's generally easy to tell if they've been treated as they will usually appear snow-white in color.

Dry scallops are all wild and natural, and haven't been treated with any chemicals.  They're harvested directly from the ocean, shucked on deck, then immediately frozen on the boat to capture their quality.  Dry scallops generally have a natural vanilla color and will sear to a deep golden brown color.  If in doubt, ask your fishmonger if their scallops are wet or dry.

I bought  10 dry medium-sized sea scallops (approximately 2/3 pound) for $7.99 at my local Costco weekend "seafood event", and it was plenty for two people as dinner with a big salad.  Scallops are sweet and rich, made more so by the butter sauce of course.  Both The Lawyer and I thought they were the best scallops we've ever had.  And the recipe is very fast to prepare, which makes it perfect for a special occasion or romantic dinner.

printable recipe
Seared Scallops with Herb-Butter Sauce
Serves 2

For the scallops:
2/3 pound dry medium sea scallops (“dry” means no added preservatives – ask the fishmonger if they are “dry” or “wet”)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Sauce:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
2 tablespoons finely diced shallot (1 medium)
¼ dry white wine
¼ cup finely chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley and chives
¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemon wedges for serving

Tip:  be sure to have all ingredients prepped (chopped, measured, etc.) before beginning to sear the scallops.

Remove the tough abductor muscle from the side of each scallop (if it hasn’t been removed already).  Rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the 1 Tbsp oil and 1 Tbsp butter and heat until quite hot.  Pat the scallops dry once more and put them in the pan in a single, uncrowded layer with one of the flat sides down.  Season with salt and pepper and let sear undisturbed until one side is browned and crisp and the scallops don’t stick to the pan, 2-3 minutes.  Using tongs, turn the scallops and sear until the second side is brown and the scallops are almost firm to the touch, about 2 minutes.  Take the pan off the heat, transfer the scallops to a plate, and set them in a warm spot.  Let the pan cool for a minute before making the sauce.

Return the pan to medium heat.  Add one piece of the butter and the shallots and sauté until the shallots begin to soften, about 1 minute.  Add the wine and simmer until reduced by about half, another 1-2 minutes.  Add the herbs and lemon zest.  Reduce the heat to low, add the remaining butter, and whisk constantly until the butter is melted.  Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the scallops with butter sauce poured on top and lemon wedges on the side.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pretzel Chicken Bites

 Last Year's Post: Forbidden Rice with Turkey, Roasted Squash and Walnuts
Two Years Ago:   Lentil Soup with Spicy Italian Sausage

The terms "football food" or "pub food" normally conjure up visions of delicious but unhealthy treats that are often deep-fried, drenched in cheese, or both.  I was therefore very happy to stumble across this recipe for pretzel chicken bites - little nuggets of chicken meat, coated in mustard and crushed pretzels - that are baked rather than fried.  If you manage to stay away from mustard cheese dipping sauce and serve it with mustard instead, it's actually very healthy.  Just don't tell the football fans.

Pretzels vary widely in terms of their saltiness, so be sure to taste one of the pretzels before you start.  To my surprise, these little thin ones weren't actually all that salty so the chicken bites needed seasoning before serving.

If you like a little spiciness you could add some chili powder to the mustard egg wash or sprinkle a little southwest seasoning on the chicken after baking.  You can also add some kick by serving the chicken bites with Dijon or Wasabi mustard in addition to honey mustard, which I particularly like because then everyone can decide how much kick they prefer.  If you use honey mustard for both the coating and the dip, these are very mild and very suitable for children.

The chicken is very easy to prepare but a little tedious in terms of rolling each flour-dusted piece in egg wash and then in crushed pretzels.  Not hard, but gloppy.

After that you just bake the chicken, turning once, and serve.  They're equally good hot or cold and make a good addition to a buffet table, plus they go great with beer.

printable recipe
Pretzel Chicken Bites
Serves 6

Note:  these are very mild if you use honey mustard and eliminate chili powder or southwest seasoning.  To make them spicier, you can add spice to the flour, or sprinkle it on at the end of baking, or use Dijon in place of honey mustard.

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
¼ cup flour
Chili powder or southwest seasoning, optional (see note)
1 egg
1 cup honey mustard or Dijon mustard (see note)
5 oz crushed pretzels

Preheat oven to 425d.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl or a large zip-top bag, toss chicken with flour and optional chili powder or seasoning.  In a shallow bowl, whisk egg and 3 tablespoons mustard.  Place the crushed pretzels in a second shallow bowl.  Dip chicken pieces in egg, then roll in pretzels.  Place on the parchment-lined sheet and bake until cooked, turning once, about 15 minutes.  Season with salt and/or optional seasoning powder; serve with mustard for dipping.