Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Home for the Holidays

No kitchen to cook in! What am I going to do with myself? No doubt I'll be up to no good.

The Beanpole and I are migrating south for the winter...Or at least the next couple of weeks. We'll be staying with his parents and soaking up as much of the warmth as we possibly can; catching up with old friends; meeting some new friends; and relaxing.

I've heard a rumor that now that I'm officially Mrs. Beanpole I'll have access to some of my mother-in-law's tried and true recipes. I can't promise to post them all. After all, some recipes (like my bloody mary recipe, which would knock any of your socks off and have you begging) are just better kept secret!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan

I've always loved the color of eggplant (aubergine if you're feeling sassy) but have found it more difficult to enjoy the vegetable itself. The health and environmental benefits of eating vegetarian meals are well-documented and I'm trying to incorporate more of these into our diet. To help with the transition I'm using a lot of eggplant and mushrooms to help our meals have that "meaty" feel without actual meat. Don't be surprised to see a lot more of both around these parts! This recipe, while good, needs some modifications to be more authentic. First, I wouldn't call it "eggplant parmesan" as it ended up more like a lasagna and totally lacked in breadcrumbs - the best part! Roasting the eggplant first did add a nice layer of flavor and I'll try that technique with some other recipes.

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan (adapted from Good Housekeeping)
2 small eggplants, ends trimmed, cut into 1/2" thick slices
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 28oz can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped (I used fresh as they were on hand)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley (I omitted)
4 oz shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place eggplant slices on cookie sheets and brush oil on both sides. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt. Roast 15 minutes; turn slices and roast until browned and tender, about 20 more minutes.

Meanwhile, in large skillet, combine tomatoes, remaining salt and pepper; heat to boiling over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have thickened, about 20 minutes.

Turn oven to 400 degrees. In shallow casserole dish, layer half of eggplant and top with half tomato sauce. Sprinkle with half mozzarella. Repeat layers; top with grated Parmesan.

Cover loosely with foil. Bake until bubbling, about 10 minutes. Remove dish from oven and let stand about 10 minutes prior to serving.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spicy Shredded Pork

I have a confession to make. I love folded foods in any form, except pizza. It actually angers me to watch silly people fold a slice of pizza in half and nonchalantly munch away. That may or may not have something to do with my Chicago pizza devotion. But I digress. Like everyone I'm subject to food ruts and when they strike almost inevitably find myself indulging in some fashioning of a taco. I find it fascinating that nearly every culture has spun its own version of folded food. So when I ran across this recipe for spicy pulled pork I knew I'd have to make it. Turns out it's insanely delicious and as you can see below both TheBeanpole and I kept sneaking little pieces and were hardly even hungry by dinner time. It's that good. Trust me.

Spicy Shredded Pork (Annie's Eats, adapted from The Pioneer Woman)
4-7 lb. pork shoulder
1 onion, quartered
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ cup brown sugar
3-4 garlic cloves
1-2 tbsp. salt
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
2-3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 cups water

Rinse and pat dry the pork shoulder.

Combine the onion, spices, brown sugar, garlic, salt and pepper to taste in the bowl of a food processor. Add the olive oil and white wine vinegar. Blend mixture until totally combined. Pour over the pork shoulder. Rub over the whole surface of the pork, being sure to cover any folds or crevices.

Place the pork in a Dutch oven or roasting pan and add water to the pan. Cover tightly and roast at 300° for several hours, turning once every hour. When it is fork tender ( about 6-7 hours) turn the heat up to 425°, remove the lid, and roast skin-side up for 15-20 more minutes until crispy. Let rest 15 minutes.

Shred the pork shoulder using two forks. Pour some of the juice from cooking over the shredded meat to keep it moist. Serve with warm tortillas, lime wedges, sour cream and pico de gallo.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Challenge Three, Round One - Wild Mushroom Strudel

It's the last challenge of 2008! I was somehow duped by Beans (not to be confused with The Beanpole, of course) over at Mmmm...Tastes Good into making something with mushrooms. It was sneaky of her but given my recent infatuation with variations of these fun-guys I'll let it slide. In fact, just this week we'd eaten Pork Chops Marsala and Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms Caprese. The Beanpole and I were headed to an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party so the recipe needed to be cab-friendly and easy to eat. Nothing from my ever-growing collection of cookbooks and magazine stash appealed and I started to lose hope until I found this recipe for mushroom strudel. Most of the recipes I use are designed to taste great and be relatively simple to recreate and I'm using these challenges to break out of my comfort zone a little bit and learn about a new technique or flavor combination. I hadn't worked with puff pastry before and decided to take this opportunity to test myself. It's not the easiest ingredient to manipulate but with a little bit of patience and SK's easy-as-pie wrapping method they turned out beautifully! Check out Smitten Kitchen for her gorgeous photo how-to on the phyllo. You'll thank me later!

Mushroom Strudel (Smitten Kitchen)
12 to 18 sheets phyllo pastry (12 to make four large strudel, 18 to make smaller triangles)
1/2 cup butter

1 pound mixed, fresh, wild and cultivated mushrooms (we used only creminis, and ended up with plenty of flavor. If you omit the stems, start with 1.5 pounds)
1 medium onion, minced
3 tablespoons butter
Freshly grated nutmeg (optional, we skipped it)
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Leaves from 1 sprig marjoram or thyme
4 to 6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling, if you wish (the latter amount for the minis)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Clear a large work surface for this, big enough for two full sheets of phllyo, your egg wash, parmesan and filling–trust me, you’ll need it.

Make the filling: Make sure the mushrooms are dust- and sand-free, wash if necessary, and trim if need be. Cook the onion in the butter and, when soft, add the mushrooms with the nutmeg. Saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until liquid has been released and has partially evaporated. Add the sherry and evaporate the alcohol by cooking over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, herbs, and some salt and pepper, and let cool. The mixture will be moist.

To make small, triangular strudel: Take one sheet of phyllo at a time from their package; cover the remaining sheets with plastic and then a damp towel, ensuring they are completely covered. Brush one half of the sheet lengthwise with butter. Fold the unbuttered side over the buttered side, carefully, smoothing out any wrinkles and bubbles but not worrying if you can’t get them all. Again, brush one half of this lengthwise (a few inch-wide column) with butter, and fold the unbuttered side over it again. You’ll end up with one long column.

Dollop a spoonful of the mushroom filling near the end and sprinkle a teaspoon of parmesan over it. Begin folding one bottom corner of the phyllo strip over the filling until it meets the opposite edge, forming a triangle, as if you were folding a flag. Place the triangle seam side down on the baking sheet, brush lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with parmesan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Waste Not, Want More Pasta

The Beanpole is working from home this week and it's taking some adjustments to making "man-sized" meals again. I started to prepare the Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms Caprese, took one look, and realized that the poor guy would just not be satisfied with one little mushroom cap. We're heading to the in-laws' for Christmas early next week and kept the grocery shopping to a minimum and instead planned on making a couple bigger, heartier dishes that would yield plenty of leftovers and no waste so choices were limited. I threw on a pot of pasta, grabbed acouple items that would pair well with the mushrooms and was rather surprised at how tasty the dish turned out. True, it's difficult to ruin pasta but this surprisingly flavorful dish is perfect for rushed evenings!

Waste Not, Want More Pasta
1/2 lb penne pasta
1 14oz can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, drained
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup milk
fresh parmesan for grating
1-2 slices proscuitto, chopped

Cook pasta according to package directions. Stir in tomatoes and spinach, let warm. Add cheese, stirring to combine. Pour in milk, stir, and cook 2-3 minutes. Serve warm with topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and proscuitto.

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms Caprese

Oh, how I love summer and the abundance of fresh tomatoes and basil. I make some variation of the Caprese salad at least every week and sometimes even every day during those warm, long days. But alas, winter has finally officially hit the city and there will be no more denying it. So what's a girl to do? Slap it all on a portabella mushroom cap, pop it in the oven, and enjoy all the delicious flavor while watching the snow fall outside.

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms Caprese

Portabella mushroom caps, 1 per person

Olive oil
Fresh basil


Balsamic vinegar

Mozzarella cheese (I used shredded since it was on hand, but sliced would be fine)
1-2 tbsps plain bread crumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Gently wipe mushroom caps with damp towel and remove stems. Brush tops lightly with olive oil and bake 3-4 minutes. Remove from oven and layer basil, tomato, dash of balsamic, salt and pepper, and cheese. Top with breadcrumbs. Bake about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and starts to bubble. Place under broiler 2-3 minutes until cheese is golden brown.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Challenge Two, Round Three - Prosciutto Wrapped Pears

A couple years ago a friend hosted a fun little jewelry party and served up what quickly became my favorite appetizer. Ever. Except for all the others I love so much. These have been a hit every time I've served them and tend to disappear before I've even set the plate out. They're extremely easy and take almost seconds to assemble!

Proscuitto Wrapped Pears
2-3 ripe Bartlett pears
Light Garlic and Herb Boursin Cheese
1/2 lb thinly sliced prosciutto (best from deli counter, but packaged will work)
1/2 can lemon-lime soda, in bowl

Slice pears and soak 1-2 minutes in lemon-lime soda to prevent discoloring. Pat dry and spread with Boursin cheese. Top with an arugula leaf, and wrap with one slice prosciutto.

No, really, that's it!

Challenge Two, Round Two - Poached Pears in Marsala

Ohhh, drunken pears! The last time I had fruit this alcohol-saturated was a better forgotten incident with the infamous Purple Jesus. It goes by several names but is almost certainly ladled out of a dirty cooler in a backyard. Unfortunately much of the fault for this failure lies in my hands. Not only did I make some poor substitutions, I blatantly ignored several of the instructions and thus we ended up with a sickeningly sweet, boozy dessert. Do not do any of the following: use vanilla extract in place of the bean; Sweet Marsala in place of Dry; forget to add the water; or become so engrossed in your current glass of wine that you forget the sauce is reducing filling your friends' apartment with smoke. I haven't gotten the nerve to try again with the leftover Marsala yet, but maybe someday.

Poached Pears in Marsala
2 cups dry Marsala
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
2 long strips orange peel
6 7-ounce Bosc pears, peeled, stems left intact
8 ounces mascarpone cheese (optional)

Combine 2 cups dry Marsala, 2 cups water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, split vanilla beans, and orange peel strips in heavy large pot. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peeled Bosc pears. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover pot and simmer until pears are tender, turning pears occasionally, about 40 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pears to platter. Boil liquid in pot until reduced to 1 1/4 cups, about 12 minutes. Pour syrup over poached pears. Chill until cold, turning pears occasionally, at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

Divide poached pears among 6 shallow bowls. Strain syrup; discard solids. Drizzle syrup over pears. Top each with dollop of mascarpone, if desired, and serve.

Challenge Two, Round One - Pear and Cranberry Empanadas

These were the winner! I made a berry version of these empanadas last summer and was instructed by some friends to bring them to every gathering going forward. We discussed several variations to suit each holiday and cooking methods to improve the already delicious treat. I first fell in love with this fun little folded treat after trying one last winter at tiny empanada shop in the neighborhood, and then again in Buenos Aires when The Beanpole and I visited on our honeymoon. They're incredibly versatile and hold up to just about any filling one can imagine, sweet and savory. I read through several pie recipes prior to baking the filling and played around with the ingredients to taste, so while it's not the most exacting of recipes but is a great jumping-off point for anyone who dares to try their own! The tartness of the cranberries perfectly contrasted with the sweet pears and was the perfect finishing touch to a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner.

Pear and Cranberry Empanadas
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup chicken stock
1 egg

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder and mix well. Add shortening and break it up by hand until it resembles cornmeal. Add chicken stock and knead until all is incorporated. Let it rest, covered, for at least 30 minutes in cooler.

3 large ripe pears, diced
1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
dash of nutmeg
dash of orange zest
squirt of lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place all ingredients into pie dish and stir to combine. Bake about 15 minutes or until pears are tender and cranberries are slightly mushy. They will also cook slightly when frying empanadas and when reheating if needed so be careful not to overcook. Let cool slightly.

When dough has cooled, turn out onto slightly floured surface and roll to 1/4" thick. Cut circles from dough with 4" pastry cutter. (I had a 3" cutter on hand and used that, then rolled dough to about 1/8" thick as I like a less doughy empanada but either will work.) Spoon filling onto middle of each circle. Brush sides lightly with egg wash, fold into half-moon, and press sides together with fingers or tines of a fork.

Heat a pan filled with oil (I used Smart Balance) to 350 degrees. Fry empanadas until golden brown turning occasionally , about 4-6 minutes, and remove. To reheat, cover with foil and warm in 350 degree oven about 5-10 minutes. Dust lightly with confectioner's sugar if desired.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cranberries and Cinnamon

I first tasted homemade cranberry sauce only a few years ago and have been changed forever. I'd only known the schlooooopy, sloshy mess oozing out of a can with rings intact so it's easy to see why this magic escaped me. But oh, fresh cranberry sauce is now a favorite and I long for it every year. Our Thanksgiving hostess this year used a canned sauce. GASP! But, the first cinnamon-flavored bite of the Harry and David (can they do wrong?) sauce begged me to recreate it with the leftover cranberries. Most recipes call for at least a cup of sugar but I decided to sweeten it another way and chose frozen blueberries. This is going to be delicious on top of some Greek yogurt tonight, and a nice morning bowl of oatmeal tomorrow!

Cranberry-Cinnamon Relish
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
8oz fresh cranberries
4oz frozen blueberries
cinnamon to taste (
I like a lot!)

Bring water to a boil over medium head. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add cranberries and blueberries, return to boil. Reduce heat and let simmer about 10 more minutes or until cranberries burst. Add cinnamon, stir, remove from heat and let cool. Transfer sauce to refrigerator and let cool completely. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Thanksgiving Feast

The Beanpole and I spent a lovely Thanksgiving holiday here in the city. We'd been planning to for months and were looking quite forward to a relaxing day of football, food, and friends. And oh, was there food. I can't take credit for the majority of the dishes, but will be posting some recipes soon in the next ingredient challenge post. It's never just a party with this crowd and as expected there was plenty of food to feed the six of us and even enough to make leftover care packages!

Hors d'Ouevres
Cherry Tomatoes on Crackers with goat cheese
Stuffed Olives
Bread with herbed olive oil for dipping
Prosciutto wrapped pears with boursin and arugula
Barbecue Ribs (regular and baby-back)
Deep-fried turkey
Sweet Potato Bake
Apple Stuffing
Green Bean Casserole with plain fried onions
Green Bean Casserole with cheddar fried onions
Butternut Squash Cranberry Bake with Almonds
Cranberry Relish
Apple Cookies
Roasted pears in Marsala
Apple Pie Empanadas
Pear and Cranberry Empanadas
Copious amounts of wine, including several reds, a sparkling white, and a pumpkin wine that shall never be spoken of again.