Friday, October 30, 2015

Baked Potatoes with Broccoli Cheese Sauce

Last Year's Post:  Chicken and Caramelized Broccoli Ramen
Two Years Ago:   Italian Tuna Sandwich (No Mayo)

Baked potatoes and broccoli are healthy, right?  Cheese sauce maybe not so much, but if you have this as a meal it's actually not too bad - just don't have it as a side dish to a big steak or something. It's a filling and very satisfying vegetarian meal on its own, or you could serve it with a salad on the side.   To me it's real comfort food.  Be sure to scrub the potatoes well so you can eat the skin as well as the flesh because there are a lot of nutrients right under the skin.

There are a couple of keys to making this recipe successfully although it's not at all hard.  First, don't under-bake your potatoes or they won't get that nice soft, fluffy texture. Second, grate your own cheese for the sauce because the pre-shredded packaged stuff at the store has an additive that keeps it from sticking together that also can cause clumping.  And third, use room-temperature milk because it helps eliminate lumps in the sauce.

I like to use fresh broccoli rather than frozen whenever possible.  If you cut the crown off the stem and then peel the stem before slicing, it's very edible - just cook the stem pieces a little longer than the florets.

The potatoes will take around an hour to bake, and you can cook the broccoli and make the sauce during that time which could qualify this as a weeknight meal if you have 60 minutes.  Otherwise you could bake the potatoes in advance and reheat them in the microwave while you make the sauce which would cut the time down a lot.  And if you have different family members coming home at different times, they can each reheat their potato and sauce whenever they show up so it works for a busy night too.

And if you have any broccoli cheese sauce left over (doubtful), just thin it out with more milk or chicken broth the next day, zap it in the microwave, and you've got broccoli cheese soup.  Maybe make a double batch of sauce...

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Baked Potatoes with Broccoli Cheese Sauce
Serves 4

Notes:    Cheese sauce is easy to make but also easy to mess up if you don't follow the directions exactly. Cheese should be freshly grated (the packaged, pre-grated cheese has an additive that keeps it from sticking together but can also make for clumping). Room temperature milk works best (zap it in the microwave to take off the chill). Be sure to take the pot off the heat and add the cheese very gradually, stirring well and allowing it to melt completely between additions.

Broccoli should be soft, not crisp-tender, if you plan to puree some or all into the sauce.

4 large russet (baking) potatoes
3 cups fresh broccoli florets and peeled sliced stem pieces, divided (about one large crown)
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk, at room temperature
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Adjust oven rack to center position. Preheat oven to 425°F.

Prepare potatoes by washing, drying, and pricking with a fork. Lightly coat each potato with olive oil. Place potatoes directly on oven rack, allowing some space between each one. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until potatoes are tender all the way to the center when pierced with a knife or small skewer.

Meanwhile, fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Place broccoli stem pieces in first for 30 seconds, then add broccoli florets and boil for an additional 3 minutes or until soft. Drain broccoli and set aside.

In the same pot that was used to cook the broccoli, prepare cheese sauce. Place over medium heat and melt butter. Use a whisk to stir in flour, whisking continuously until light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Continue to whisk while slowly and gradually adding milk. Whisk until sauce is smooth and thickened, approximately 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Add grated cheese, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until completely melted and smooth before adding more.  (Reserve a small handful of cheese for garnish if desired.)  Once all cheese has been incorporated and cheese sauce is smooth, stir in garlic salt, chili powder, and pepper to taste.

Stir half of the cooked broccoli into the cheese sauce. Use an immersion blender (or potato masher) to purée/mash the broccoli until the sauce is smooth. Stir in the remaining broccoli, reserving a few florets for garnish if desired. Taste sauce and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Slice the top of each potato with a small knife, then gently squeeze to open it up.  Serve with broccoli cheese sauce and reserved broccoli florets and shredded cheese on top.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Chicken Schnitzel Sandwiches

Last Year's Post: Korean Sliders
Two Years Ago:  Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese - All Grown Up

It's fall, and it's football season, which also makes it beer season.  I thought I'd get in the spirit of things by posting a very beer-friendly sandwich that's a twist on the classic veal or pork schnitzel - a chicken schnitzel sandwich with cider-braised red cabbage, Swiss cheese, and a combination of whole-grain mustard and mayo.  I even went all-out with pretzel rolls, but you could use hamburger buns or mini-baguettes if you can't find them.   Serve with your favorite craft beer and some chips or onion rings, and you've got the perfect pub meal.

You could certainly use veal or thinly-pounded pork in place of the chicken, but chicken cutlets are the perfect thinness without any pounding and are readily available in the grocery store.  If you can't find them, just cut chicken breasts in half horizontally.

The panko crumbs give the cutlets the perfect crunch to go with the tender braised cabbage.  The mustard-mayo sauce is creamy and full of flavor, but if you want to amp things up a bit you could add a little hot mustard powder or horseradish to the sauce as well.  Either way, this is a fun addition to your sandwich collection.

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Chicken Schnitzel Sandwiches
Serves 4

For the braised cabbage:
½ head red cabbage, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
½ cup apple cider
½ cup cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

For the chicken:
4 chicken cutlets (or 2 chicken breasts sliced in half horizontally)
Salt and pepper
½ cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil

For the sandwiches:
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup whole grain Dijon mustard
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 pretzel rolls (or other rolls or baguette)

For the cabbage:  heat a large sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the butter until melted.  Add the caraway seeds and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the cabbage and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the cider and vinegar and simmer for 15 minutes until the cabbage is soft, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper.  Keep warm.

Meanwhile, stir the mayonnaise and mustard together and set aside.

Assemble the chicken breading station by placing the flour, egg, and panko bread crumbs in three separate shallow bowls or plates, side by side.  Season the cutlets with salt and pepper and dip each one first into the flour, then the egg, then the panko crumbs making sure the cutlet is evenly coated.  Set aside on a baking pan until ready to cook.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, then add the vegetable oil.  Add the cutlets and cook until golden brown, approximately 4 minutes.  Turn over carefully, reduce heat to medium-low, and fry on the second side until golden brown and cooked through, an additional 3-4 minutes.  Remove from the pan and place on paper towels.

To assemble the sandwiches, smear the mustard-mayo mixture on the top half of each roll.  Place a cheese slice on the bottom half, then top with a chicken cutlet and some of the braised cabbage.  Place the top on each roll and serve immediately.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Grain Bowls with Halloumi Cheese

Last Year's Post: Seared Scallops with Herb-Butter Sauce
Two Years Ago:  Rustic Greens and Potato Pie

I recently came across an article in Bon Appetit about how to make the best grain bowls.  It started by discussing the grains and suggested using a combo such as black rice with red quinoa.  Hmm, I thought, I just happen to have both.  It went on to suggest greens such as kale or napa cabbage (I just happened to have a half head of napa cabbage sitting in the refrigerator).  Another suggestion to add was winter squash with Gochujang (who has Gochujang hanging around?  me!).  I felt like it was a sign that I needed to make this right now - all I needed was some butternut squash and halloumi.  Now, I realize that most normal people will not have all those ingredients but don't worry, there are many other options listed below.

As for halloumi, I've been wanting to try it for a while.  It's a cheese with a high melting point so you can grill or pan-fry it for a nice brown crispy exterior without it melting all over.  I remembered seeing some at the natural foods store but wanted to see if my neighborhood Safeway carried it since I was there anyway.  While I was checking out the cheese case I asked The Lawyer to talk to the deli employee to see if she knew whether they carried it.  The following conversation is absolutely true:

Me:  "Could you ask to see if they carry halloumi?"
The Lawyer:  "Do you carry hallooni?"
Me:  "Halloumi"
The Lawyer:  "Hallooni"
Deli Employee:  "Hallooni?"
Me:  "Halloumi cheese"
Deli Employee to 2nd Deli Employee:  "Do we carry hallooni?"
2nd Deli Employee:  "Hoonoony?"
Me:  "Never mind".  (Sigh.)

Off to the natural foods store.  Halloumi is a white cheese typically is sold in a block and packaged in plastic.  It may also be referred to as "grilling cheese".  You can find it in natural food stores, cheese shops, and some high-end grocery stores.  It has a mild taste similar to mozzarella and is not as salty as feta.

Grain bowls are fun and easy to customize with different grains, vegetables, greens and vinaigrettes.  I loved the idea of the spicy, creamy butternut squash with crunchy cabbage and halloumi cheese, but you could go with broccoli, tomatoes and kale, for example.  If you don't feel like trying halloumi, substitute feta or mozzarella or Jack cheese.  And use any one or more grains that you happen to have on hand, and any combination of nuts and seeds.  The maple mustard dressing goes particularly well with spicy foods and bitter greens such as kale, but you could also use a bottled balsamic vinaigrette.

We loved the butternut squash with Gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) but it will likely require a trip to your local Asian market.  You could substitute a little hot sauce, harissa or sriracha and get much the same effect, or leave it out entirely and just roast the squash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper if you don't want the heat.  Carrots or sweet potatoes could also substitute for the squash.

There is so much going on here in terms of flavor and texture between the grains, nuts and seeds, squash, cabbage, cheese and vinaigrette that you'll never notice the meal is both vegetarian and good for you.  Although there are a number of ingredients and steps, note that the grains, squash and vinaigrette can all be made in advance.  The remaining prep and toasting the seeds, nuts and cheese takes just minutes so this actually could be a great weekday dinner with a little advance planning.

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Grain Bowls with Halloumi Cheese
Serves 4

Note:  If you don’t want to make the Gochujang Squash recipe, just roast squash according to the directions and either eliminate the heat or substitute a small amount of hot sauce, harissa or sriracha

1 1/3 cups uncooked grains such a quinoa, rice, farro, or bulgur, or a mix (I used 50/50 red quinoa and black rice)
2 cups peeled butternut squash, cut into bite-sized pieces and roasted (see following recipe)
Maple Mustard vinaigrette (see following recipe) or bottled balsamic vinaigrette
2 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage or Tuscan kale
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
½ cup mixed seeds and small nuts (I used sesame, poppy, caraway, fennel and sunflower seeds plus pine nuts)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 (1/4-inch) slices of Halloumi cheese
Micro-greens, for garnish (optional)

Make ahead:  cook grains according to package directions and cool.  Cook squash according to directions (below) and cool.  Make maple mustard vinaigrette and refrigerate.

Shortly before serving, slice the cabbage or kale and put in a medium bowl with the apple cider vinegar.  With your hands, gently squeeze the cabbage or kale with the vinegar – this will soften it slightly.

Heat the olive oil in a medium non-stick skillet and add the seeds and nuts.  Toast, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.  Remove the seeds and nuts from the skillet with a slotted spoon but do not drain the remaining olive oil.

Toast the Halloumi slices in the remaining oil over medium heat until golden on one side, then remove to cool.

To assemble, divide grains between four shallow bowls.  Top with cabbage, squash, seeds and nuts, two slices of cheese per bowl, and micro-greens.  Drizzle with vinaigrette and serve.

Gochujang Roasted Squash
1 teaspoon Gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 cups peeled butternut squash, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 teaspooons minced chives
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Whisk Gochujang, soy sauce, oil, and sesame seeds in a medium bowl.  Add squash and toss to coat.  Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes until tender and browned on the edges.  Let cool; top with chives and salt.

Maple Mustard Vinaigrette
1/2 c walnut oil or canola oil
1/4 c maple syrup
1/4 c cider vinegar
2 T mustard
1 T soy sauce
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper

Whisk all vinaigrette ingredients together in a small bowl and refrigerate, covered, for up to two weeks.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Chicken Limone Pasta

Last Year's Post: Pretzel Chicken Bites
Two Years Ago:  Arroz Con Pollo

As the weather turns cooler many of us start to crave rich, hot cheesy pasta dishes.  Unfortunately, they're usually full of fat and calories.  I recently came across this dish on the menu of a local wine bistro and was attracted to it for three reasons:  it fulfills the hot pasta requirement, I love lemon, and it sounded much lighter than a typical spaghetti or lasagna.  I re-created it at home and was very happy with the results - it's very lemony and tastes rich even though the sauce is much lighter than a red sauce.  The herbs add a pop of fresh flavor and the rotisserie chicken is moist and meaty.  The entire meal takes less than a half hour to prepare, so it qualifies as a quick and easy weeknight meal.

Really, who doesn't like lemons?

I made it a little extra-special by using this fun egg tagiatelle with cool edges I found at the store, but you could use regular tagiatelle or pappardelle or even linguine or fettucine.

Buying pre-shredded rotisserie saves even more time than buying a whole rotisserie chicken and shredding it yourself - many stores now carry it in their deli or on their salad bar.  All you have to do is make a quick pan sauce while the pasta cooks, then toss the pasta with the sauce and herbs and top with chicken.

It not only satisfied my pasta cravings, it somehow managed to do so without the help of any cheese at all.  That's saying something.

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Chicken Limone Pasta
Serves 2

½ - 1 cup shredded rotisserie chicken
6 ounces dry pappardelle pasta (or spaghetti or linguine)
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
Zest of half a lemon
Juice of a whole lemon
2 tablespoons capers
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons mixed chopped herbs (parsley, chives, thyme, etc.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until just al dente – it will cook further in the sauce.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds or until fragrant but do not brown.  Add wine and simmer to reduce by half.  Add chicken broth, lemon juice and capers, then turn heat to medium-high and cook until reduced by half.  Add remaining tablespoon of butter, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Add pasta to the skillet and cook on low for a minute or two, tossing to combine the pasta and sauce.  Add the herbs and toss to combine right before serving.  Serve in shallow bowls topped with chicken and  lemon zest.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Smoked Salmon Cakes

Last Year's Post: Perfect Apple Crisp
Two Years Ago:  Forbidden Rice with Turkey, Roasted Squash and Walnuts

I came across a salmon cake recipe the other day that looked interesting, but I thought it might be a little bland made with plain old salmon.  Since The Lawyer has a smoker I asked him to smoke some salmon, thinking that would make them more interesting.  And were they ever!  The results were outstanding and the mild horseradish sauce made them even better.

If you don't want to smoke your own salmon, it's readily available in most stores.  Look for it in vacuum-sealed packages at the seafood counter.  Just be sure to buy hot-smoked salmon, not cold-smoked.  You can tell the difference just by looking at it - hot-smoked salmon is darkened from the smoke and is sold as a chunk.  Cold-smoked salmon is much lighter in color (it almost looks uncooked) and is sold as an entire fillet, typically thinly sliced.  Hot-smoked salmon has a more pronounced smoke flavor and a meatier texture which makes it perfect for the salmon cakes.

The key is to treat the salmon like you would treat lump crab meat - gently.  Break it into coarse flakes with your hands, then mix and shape the cakes gently so you don't break the flakes up.  Because there's very little binder, treat the cakes gently in the pan also - using two spatulas to turn them (one on top, one on the bottom.)

This meal comes together very quickly and it's healthy if you go easy on the horseradish sauce.  The Lawyer and I were so impressed with this dish that we agreed it would be appropriate for our Gourmet Club - high praise indeed.

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Smoked Salmon Cakes
Serves 4

For the sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves plus additional for the salad
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the salmon cakes:
18 ounces hot-smoked salmon
1 1/3 cups panko bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
2 rounded teaspoons Old Bay seasoning blend
½ small red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped plus additional for the salad
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
Salad greens
Salt and pepper
Lemon wedges, for serving

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate covered until ready to serve.

For the salmon cakes, break the salmon apart into coarse flakes using your hands.  (Make sure there aren’t any bones as you’re doing this.)  In a large mixing bowl, combine salmon, bread crumbs, eggs, Old Bay, red pepper, chives, dill, hot sauce and lemon zest (not lemon juice). Mix together gently with your hands, then form into 8 patties.  Place in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to firm up.

Heat a large fry pan over medium heat, then add the vegetable oil.  Place the salmon cakes in the pan and fry on the first side until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Gently flip over (using two spatulas, one on top and one on bottom) and fry 3-4 minutes more until browned on the second side.  Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain for a minute.

Toss salad greens with the lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper.

To plate, divide salad green among plates and top with additional parsley leaves and chopped dill.  Place two salmon cakes on each plate and serve with lemon wedges and the sauce on the side.