Breakfast, Brunch and Dinner

Every once in a while, I email Chris a note about what I'm planning on making for dinner. Usually I get an "Ok." If it's taco night, I might get a "Yay!" But last night, this is what he emailed back:

"That's ambitious."

I made a crustless quiche with cheese and herbs and baked apples stuffed with sweet potatoes, sausage, candied pecans, apples and cranberries. It might sound like a lot of work to my dear husband, but for the Gourmess, it was a breeze. (It was ready and waiting in about 45 minutes.) And, it was tasty.

For the Crustless "Quiche," I whisked together 6 eggs, some sour cream (about 1/4 cup), a 1/4 of milk, about 2 TBS of ricotta cheese I wanted to use up, and 1 TBS of herbes de Provence. Then, I poured it all into a greased pie pan. It baked at 375 degrees (on my convection oven's fan bake setting) for about 30 minutes, until the top was lightly browned.

While that was baking, I browned some crumbled pork sausage in a large skillet along with cinnamon, garlic powder, herbes de Provence and 1 TBS of pure maple syrup.  I washed two large Granny Smith apples, cored them and cut a thin slice off the bottom to make them stable.  I cut about 1/2 inch off of the top and peeled a strip from the top as well, to help with even baking.  (Put a bit of lemon juice on the unpeeled part so they don't turn brown while they're waiting.) Then, I carved out a larger hole in the middle and diced those extra pieces of apple and tossed in with the sausage.  I also added in about 1/2 cup of dried cranberries and 1/4 cup of chopped "Pecan Pie" glazed pecans to the sausage pan.

I love using the Ziploc Zip 'n Steam Microwave Bags -- and a few weeks ago, when prepping for vacation, I steamed some halved and peeled sweet potatoes and threw them in the freezer for future use.  Jump to last night and I heated the thawed potatoes in a small pan and roughly mashed them.  I stirred in a bit of butter, maple syrup, garlic powder and cinnamon and then mixed the potatoes in with the sausage mixture, adding salt to taste.  A few spoonfuls went into each apple.

Now, here's the secret to getting this all done in less than an hour:  I added about 2 TBS of water to microwave-safe dish, then gently placed the stuffed apples in the dish. I covered the dish and microwaved the apples for 5 minutes.  When 5 minutes were up, the apples were tender but not mushy. It usually takes about 40-60 minutes to bake apples in the oven--but, I think the microwave method does just fine in the absence of time.

When the eggs were ready, I took the pan out to cool a bit and placed the apples in the oven for another minute or so, then placed an apple and a serving of quiche on each plate.  To finish, I stirred a bit of butter and about a splash of maple syrup into the juices that were left in the dish, then spooned that over each apple. A sprinkle of cinnamon, ground pepper and more pecans, and they were done.

I felt like we were having a lovely brunch somewhere. All that was missing were some mimosas.  The tart apples and the sweet stuffing went nicely together, and the cheesy, eggy "quiche" helped balance all the flavors on the plate.

I know "brunch" is breakfast for lunch, but Chris and I were trying to come up with a new word for having brunch for dinner.  Any suggestions?

I was thinking: "Yum."


Happy National Peanut Butter Day!

Go nuts for peanuts!

Re-posting an oldie but goodie: 


Feisty Chick Stew (Chickpea and Couscous Stew)

I'm a feisty chick.

Some days, I can be super witty and sassy and sharp as a tack. Other days, I am cool as a cucumber and relatively low-key. But, no matter what, I like to keep things light and fun.  Kind of like this stew I threw together last night in about 30 minutes. It has some color and spice, but cilantro adds light notes as well. It's comforting, yet bold and bright -- the perfect thing for a foggy, winter weeknight. (Although, I'm told we should really have had pizza last night, since Chris said it was "National Pie Day." How did I miss that?)

Feisty Chick Stew 
Olive oil cooking spray
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2  teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of curry powder
1-2 teaspoons garam masala (optional, but if you leave it out, you're missing out)
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded, then diced (or 1 cup canned diced tomatoes, strained)
1 15 oz can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
2 cups chicken stock or broth
12.5 oz can of chicken, drained (or 1 cup shredded, cooked chicken breast)
Kosher salt
1 heaping TBS chopped cilantro (fresh)
1 cup cooked couscous
1/2 cup diced carrots (see note)
To Do:
  • Lightly coat the bottom of a large soup pot with olive oil spray, then turn stove on medium-high heat.
  • Add the garlic, tomato paste and seasonings, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often.
  • Add the tomatoes, chickpeas and chicken and cook for another minute or so. (Stir gently)
  • Pour in the broth and stir to combine. Add salt to taste, and reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  • In the meantime, cook your couscous according to directions, except add 1/2 cup of diced carrots to the water before you bring it to a boil.  
  • When the couscous/carrot mixture is done, gently stir it into the stew.
  • Adjust seasonings if needed and stir in the cilantro.
  • Ladle into bowls and serve with pita bread or a few slices of cheese. This stew is so filling (and good for you, too!) you won't need much on the side. You can even make it without chicken and with vegetable broth if you want a more vegetarian-type dish. A great light dessert of mandarin oranges tossed with fresh chopped mint rounds out the meal.

I mean, really. Who needs pizza?

Chocolate Pudding Cake/Brownie Cake

Cake, anyone?

I aim to please around here, and when Chris mentioned the other night that he wanted some cake, and not just any cake, but chocolate cake with chocolate pudding between the layers, I went to work. The next evening, he didn't have exactly what he asked for, but he did get a lovely chocolate pudding cake AND some brownies. (That should get me an automatic nomination for Wife of the Year, no?)

I adapted the recipe for "Chocolate Self Saucing Pudding Cake" that I found here. I made some slight changes: I added a dash of cinnamon and a few pieces of dark chocolate (from our trip to Grenada) to each ramekin before baking.  And, I skipped the whipped cream topper, since Chris isn't a huge fan. And, I didn't fill eight ramekins -- I only did six, and then poured the rest of the batter into a greased, round cake pan, which I baked and then topped with Nutella for a quick, cake-like brownie, or I guess you could call it a brownie cake?

The cocoa and addition of the dark Grenada chocolate gave both of these a lovely chocolate flavor that goes beyond any boxed mix. The pudding cakes are best served right out of the oven, or re-heated quickly in the microwave. They reminded me of my favorite Soufflé au Chocolat dessert, but weren't as decadent. And the brownie cake was rich and gooey and the perfect balance of chocolate and hazelnut. After Chris and I sampled the cakes (yum!), I put the extra ramekins in the freezer (another reason why it's fun to make individual servings) so the next time there's a request for chocolate cake, I can just open the freezer and pop the ramekin in the oven or microwave to reheat once thawed.

It didn't take very long to make these desserts -- I had everything I needed in my pantry and fridge.  I know boxed mixes are convenient, but when you can, try to make it from scratch, folks. You won't be sorry.


Khao Soi: Chiang Mai Egg Noodle Curry Soup

There's nothing like a good curry soup to warm you up on a winter's night!

I gave Chris an Asian cookbook: Essentials of Asian Cuisine for Christmas. It's one of his favorite types of food, and we always have fun together in the kitchen, so I thought it would be a neat stocking stuffer.  This weekend, we tried a recipe from the book: "Khao Soi," which is a classic noodle curry soup from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and a staple found at many of the soup stalls there.

I was surprised that I actually already had about half of the ingredients, and for the rest, we found almost everything in the International food aisle of our grocery store.  There were a few items we couldn't find there, and we could have gone to several other grocery stores or we could have taken a road trip to an Asian grocery store a few towns away, but we didn't want to spend the whole day searching for three ingredients, so we improvised instead (based on suggestions from the cookbook and some web searches).  And, you know what? The soup still came out terrific. So, the next time you feel the hankering to make something exotic and don't think you can find all the ingredients -- go for it.

To get us started, we made summer rolls with some shrimp I'd sautéed in sesame oil, a handful of julienned carrots and cabbage, some chow mein noodles, mint leaves and rice paper wrappers. Chris rolled his much more neatly than mine, of course. Then, once we had our snack, we got down to business and made the lovely curry soup.

Here's what we did:

  • We cooked a few cloves of garlic and some shallots in vegetable oil until they were brown and caramelized.
  • Then, we stirred in some madras curry powder,  red curry paste, anchovy paste (we were supposed to use shrimp paste, but the anchovy paste we found worked in a pinch), and cane sugar (we couldn't find palm sugar) until it changed to a darker color and became fragrant.
  • Then, in went 5 cups of coconut milk and 5 cups of chicken stock, lime zest (we couldn't find kaffir lime leaves), lemongrass stalks (we found these at Stop & Shop!), lime juice and red chilies. 
  • We brought the soup to a boil and while it was heating up, we put a pot of water on the stove for the lo mein (Chinese egg noodles) and also brought it to a boil. Into that pot went the noodles, and after about 6 minutes of cooking, we drained them and set aside.
  • Then, we sliced about a pound of raw chicken breasts into thin slices.
  • About 5 minutes before we were ready to eat, the soup was turned down from a boil and in went the chicken to cook for about three minutes on medium high heat.
  • When the chicken was cooked through, we placed some noodles in each bowl and then ladled the soup and chicken over them.  
  • We topped the soup with some sliced shallots, a handful of chow mein noodles, some cilantro, basil and mint (we didn't have Thai basil, so we used equal parts sweet basil and mint) leaves, a spoonful of kimchi (we didn't have preserved mustard cabbage, but kimchi is basically pickled cabbage so worked fine) and a few lime wedges.
  • We squeezed our limes over our bowls and dug in...YUM.  

The soup was sweet and salty, sour and spicy, creamy and crunchy all at the same time.  We did a really great job -- Chris took the lead on this, so he actually should be blogging about this one.  It was so tasty and a really fun way to spend a chilly Sunday evening.

Now, the only question is, which recipe shall we, er Chris tackle next?

Lovely Lasagna

I made a terrific lasagna last night, if I can say so myself.

My new favorite discovery is no-boil lasagna noodles. (I know, where have I been?) I don't make lasagna very often because it always seems like such a process, boiling the noodles, adding the layers -- and making stuffed shells or lasagna roll-ups seemed more fun.  But, now with oven-ready noodles (I like Ronzoni's the best), I can have the lasagna prepped in less than 15 minutes and on the table about an hour later (or, just put it in the fridge to bake the next day). I can even make two and pop one in the freezer after baking. The following recipe is using a 9x9 baking pan (there are only two of us), but you could easily double the ingredients for an actual lasagna pan-sized lasagna.

Easy Cheesy Lasagna

About 1 lb. ground turkey
Garlic Powder
Dried oregano and basil
1 15 oz. tub ricotta cheese (not skim)
1 6.5 oz. tub garlic & herb cheese spread (Alouette makes a good one)
1 24 oz, jar good quality marinara or tomato basil sauce
1-2 boxes no-boil lasagna (one should be fine, but you should have enough sheets to make at least 6 layers)
1 16 oz bag shredded mozzarella cheese

To Do:

  • Season the turkey with salt, pepper, garlic powder and herbs to taste, then brown and drain any excess liquid, then return to the pan. Stir in about 1 cup of the sauce, adding more if needed, until the meat is coated with it, but the mixture is not runny. Set aside.
  • Mix the ricotta and cheese spread in a bowl until blended, set aside.
  • Use a few tablespoons of the sauce and coat the bottom of your pan.
  • Cover the bottom of the pan with lasagna sheets -- you may need to use more than one, or break a second one into a smaller piece to fit the space. It doesn't have to look pretty -- no one will see it.
  • Spread a generous layer of the cheese mixture on top of the sheets, then top this layer with another round of lasagna sheets.
  • Cover with 1/2 of the meat/sauce mixture and top with another round of pasta.
  • Add another layer of the cheese mixture, and this time top with a couple handfuls of mozzarella, then cover with lasagna.
  • Add the rest of the meat mixture, and top it with a handful of mozzarella, then cover with lasagna sheets.
  • Add one last round of the cheese mixture (if you have extra left over, use on crackers or bagels, or stuff in crescent rolls before baking) and cover with lasagna sheets.
  • Cover the top sheet with sauce, spreading it all over the top and sides -- you want the entire lasagna covered in sauce, which is why it's important to use a good, thick sauce.
  • Top with mozzarella cheese --let no spot go un-cheesed.
  • Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees for 60 minutes.  Cover with foil for the first 45 minutes, then remove foil so top layer of cheese gets browned and gooey, dark crunchy spots are good.
  • Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving with garlic bread and green salad.

Tasty. Easy. (And a little messy.) 
Gotta love it.

That's One Spicy Meatball!

Today is apparently National Spaghetti Day!  Hooray for pasta, red "gravy" and meatballs!

What's your favorite spaghetti recipe? Are you a fan of wheat pasta? Do you prefer thin spaghetti or regular? Do you mix the pasta with the sauce or serve separately? Do you make meatballs or use ground meat? Speaking of meatballs, do you use leftovers in your meatballs?  What kind of meat? Beef? Pork? Veal? All three? What's your favorite sauce recipe? Do you use whole tomatoes or diced? Garlic or onions? Both?

And, is it wrong that I'm having lasagna tonight instead?

Tell! Tell!

Corn Cookie, Ham & Cheese Melts

Cookies and grilled ham & cheese. What could be better?

I'm a big fan of pastry maven Christina Tosi and her treats from Momofuku Milk Bar  -- whenever I have lunch at David Chang's má pêche, I stop there on my way out for some compost cookies.  I also love her blueberry & cream ones.  I'm not a huge fan of her corn cookies for dessert (I don't like sweet corn bread either), but Chris likes them, and there was a cool recipe using them in the latest version of Chang's new magazine venture, Lucky PeachNaturally, when Chris and I met for lunch at má pêche last week, we grabbed some so we could make it for New Year's.  It's basically a grilled corn cookie, ham & cheddar melt sandwich. Which is okay with me, because I can see the corn cookie working well that way.

So, on New Year's Day, we bought some sharp cheddar and deli ham and some coleslaw -- for our version of the traditional pork and sauerkraut dinner.  We went home and put a cookie flat side down on a cast iron pan that was heated to medium-high, added the cheese and ham, topped it with another cookie and then did the same for the second one.  We cooked the sandwiches until the cheese was melty and the cookies had browned on both ends, about 6-8 mins for each.  I didn't even need to grease the pan, the cookies were so buttery...

Btw, Chris got a soda machine for Christmas from someone in his office, so he made some homemade cola  to go with our lunch.  I'm looking forward to having homemade fizzy drinks more often. Tasty!

The sandwich was sweet, salty, gooey and greasy -- the perfect thing after a night of lots of bubbly.  The cold, crisp soda and crunchy coleslaw paired well with it, too.  I think we went directly into a food coma after finishing the sandwiches, but they sure were fun to eat, and a cool way to ring in 2012.

Next time, I might use a cheese like pepper jack to add some spice, but I can see this working really well for a Superbowl party.  (Chris thought we could make mini versions using cornbread for party bites.) Good news for those of you not living near NYC: Williams Sonoma now sells the Milk Bar cookie mixes and you can get the Milk Bar cookbook here.

Let me know if you get either!