Sunday, August 1, 2010

Living Up to My Expectations: The Perfect Hamburger Macaroni

Hamburger macaroni was one of the first recipes I searched for when I got into food blogging. It isn't a dish I grew up eating, but I always thought it looked so good. But despite my best efforts and several bookmarks, I never made any of the recipes I found. Why? Because I knew what I was looking for and it was clear that none of the recipes I found had it.

Based on the recipes I found, I realized that my take on Hamburger Macaroni might not be exactly the traditional. But I wanted it the way I always THOUGHT it would, or should, taste like. Flavorful, a little cheesy, a little spicy, and hearty. So I took the best of the recipes I had found to use as a guide and put together this: The Perfect Hamburger Macaroni.

The Perfect Hamburger Macaroni
4 servings

1 Tablespoon oil
½ cup Diced Onion (about half a medium onion)
3 cloves garlic
14.5 ounce can roasted tomatoes
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon italian seasoning mix
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
dash of paprika
Salt and Pepper to taste
¾ cup Shredded Sharp Cheddar (+ ½ cup for topping, if desired)
1 lb. Ground Beef or equivalent Vegetarian Crumbles
1 lb. Small Pasta (like elbow macaroni, medium shells, or anything else of similar size)

If using ground beef, brown in a large skillet. Drain and set aside.

Cook pasta according to the package directions and set aside.

Heat oil in the skillet.

Add onion and cook until soft.

Add garlic and cook about 1 minute, until fragrant.

Add roasted tomatoes and tomato paste to pan. Stir to blend paste into tomato liquid.

Add italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, paprika, and salt and pepper if desired. Stir to combine.

Mix cooked ground beef or vegetarian crumbles into tomatoes.

Cook until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.

Mix in shredded cheese. Once cheese melts into the sauce combine with cooked pasta.

If desired, top with another ½ cup shredded cheese and transfer to oven just until cheese melts.

For more great pastas check out this weeks Presto Pasta Nights- I'll post the link as soon as the dished are posted.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Inspired By Summer: Basil Cream and Strawberry Pie

Yes, I've been a little lazy about getting this post up. I blame summer. And to be fair, summer inspired it so it deserves a little reward.

I think I was first inspired to try this idea by the farmers market. The perfectly delicious strawberries and fragrant basil spoke to me. In fact, it may have been their idea. And it really is a perfect summer pie. It is light and refreshing while the basil custard surprises those who don't expect it and has won over those who were skeptical of the idea before they tried it.

I truly love this pie and am so proud of this creation. Even if the strawberries and basil ARE responsible for the idea, I'm going to take all the credit for this pie.

Basil Cream and Strawberry Pie

Pre-baked 9” Pie Shell
1 lb. Strawberries

For the custard:
2/3 cup Sugar
3 Tbsp Cornstarch
3 cups Milk
½ cup loosely packed Fresh Basil leaves
4 beaten Egg Yolks
2 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

To pre-bake pie shell:

Line pie dish with rolled out pastry.

Line with aluminum foil and fill with beans or pie weights. I find it works best to fill the entire pie shell to the top with your weights.

Bake on the bottom shelf at 400° for 20 minutes.

Decrease oven temp to 375°.

Remove foil and weights. Poke holes all around the shell with a fork, twisting the fork slightly as you go.

Continue baking at 375° until the inside is golden brown and the shell is fully baked. Check at five and ten minutes, using the back of a spoon to press down any spots that puff up.

Cool shell before filling.

For the pie:

Wash and quarter the strawberries. (Reserve a couple of the prettiest ones if you would like to use them for garnishing.)

Separate ½ cup of the cut up strawberries. Mash slightly. Mix with remaining cut up strawberries and set aside.

In a medium bowl, slightly beat the egg yolks and set aside until needed.

In a medium saucepan, stir together sugar and cornstarch. And milk and whisk to combine with the dry ingredients.

Add basil leaves.

Heat over medium, stirring constantly, until thick.

Once thickened, whisk about a half a cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, tempering them to prevent scrambled eggs from forming in your custard.

Add egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan while whisking, continue heating about 1 more minute while continuing to whisk the mixture.

Remove from heat and add butter, stir until melted completely into mixture.

Pour mixture thru a fine strainer to remove clumps and basil leaves.

Spread strawberries in an even layer across the bottom of the baked pie shell. Top with basil custard. Refrigerate until set, probably 4 hours is sufficient but I refrigerate overnight.

Garnish as desired with additional strawberries, bail leaves, and/or whipped cream.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beyond Grilled Cheese: Smoked Salmon Croque-Monsieur, Two Ways

I first heard of a croque-monsieur several years ago watching episodes of Rachel Ray. She is crazy about them and makes a few variations regularly on her shows. Once I tried one, I was pretty crazy about them too. If you like grilled cheese, you will like this.

Traditionally, a croque-monsieur is made with ham, and I generally use veggie ham but I was halfway thru putting this post together when I got my hands on some really good smoked salmon. (This stuff is amazing, truly the best smoked salmon I have ever had and you can get it here).  The light bulb went off, and next thing I knew I was starting from scratch with smoked salmon replacing the ham.

The first time I made croque-monsieurs I must have gotten lucky because we did everything right. Since then I have made some that, while not bad since it is probably impossible to make this sandwich bad, were not as good as they could be.  But along the way to getting it right again I learned a few things. So, let me share the secrets with you.

#1: Use sandwich bread. It normally seems intuitive that better bread equals better sandwich, and most people (like me) consider a fresh loaf to be better then bagged sliced bread. In this case however, sliced bread is the way to go (and according to my french roommate how you will find them made in their birthplace, Paris).

#2: If you are going to make these with cheese on the outside, shred it with a fine grater. This sticks to the bread better and gives a more uniform and thin layer.

#3: If your grilling it with cheese on the outside, grill it beyond the point of just turning golden. Grill it until the cheese gets crispy.  When the cheese is still soft, the whole sanwich just seems kindof mushy and greasy.

Most of the recipes I have found include a few defining components: ham, swiss-style cheese (swiss, gruyere, emmental), and sauce (bechamel or mornay), and the bread.

How these components are combined also has general trends but still a variety of styles. Sauce on the inside and cheese outside. Cheese inside and sauce plus more cheese outside. Sauce and cheese inside, neither outside. So play around with it, and find your way.

After trying a few variations I have settled on two I like in particular, presented in this post: Extra Cheesy and Monte Cristo Style.

The Monte Cristo style is the Rachel Ray version I first encountered, with cheese and sauce inside the sandwiches, then dipped in egg batter and fried.

For the extra cheesy style I decided I like the cheese on the outside AND the inside. Yum, cheese...

Smoked Salmon Croque-Monsieur, Two Ways:

For Both Sandwiches:
Bechamel Sauce
2 servings

1 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Flour
½ cup Milk
2 pinches Nutmeg
2 tsp Dijon Mustard
salt and pepper

Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan

Sprinkle flour over melted butter and whisk to combine into roux

Add milk and increase heat to medium-low. Whisk to mix roux into milk so no more think lumps remain.

Add nutmeg and dijon mustard, a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Continue whisking, over medium low to medium heat, until sauce thickens to the consistency of country gravy.

Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Monte Cristo Style,(from Rachel Ray):
(2 sandwiches)

Smoked Salmon, enough for 2 sandwiches (I used about 4 ounces)
4 Slices Bread
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce
1-1/2 to 2 cups grated Gruyere (or other swiss style cheese)
1 egg
1/3 cup Milk

Beat together egg and milk, set aside.

Spread all 4 slices of bread with Bechamel sauce, then sprinkle each with a thin but complete layer of cheese.

Top 2 slices of bread with smoked salmon, then top with remaining two slices of bread, cheese side down.

Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, swipe with or melt a little butter in pan.

Dip sandwiches into egg mixture and place in heated skillet. Fry until golden brown, about 5 min.
Flip and fry second side until golden.

Remove from pan, slice in half, and serve immediately.

Extra-Cheesy Croque-Monsieur
(2 sandwiches)

Smoked Salmon, enough for 2 sandwiches (I used about 4 ounces)
4 Slices Bread
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce
3 cups grated Gruyere (or other swiss style cheese)
2 Tbsp Softened Butter

Spread all 4 slices of bread with Bechamel sauce, then sprinkle each with a thin but complete layer of cheese.

Top 2 slices of bread with smoked salmon, then top with remaining two slices of bread, cheese side down.

Butter both sides of each sandwich with softened butter.

Spread a thin but even layer of finely grated cheese on a plate or cutting board. Press sandwich into cheese. Repeat so all 4 sides are covered in a thin layer of cheese.

Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, swipe with or melt a little butter in pan.

Place sandwiches into the hot skillet and grill until the cheese later becomes brown and crispy, about 10 minutes.

Flip over to cook opposite side.

Remove from pan, slice in half, and serve immediately.

Monday, June 21, 2010

As Good As Dessert: Strawberry Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast

For many years now I have been a big fan of going out to breakfast. For many people dinner, or maybe even lunch, seems like the more obvious choice. But a good breakfast is a great way to start off a Saturday or Sunday with friends, fueling up before any activities you have planned. 

Plus your more inclined to follow up with something active, which is always nice following a big meal. It also doesn't hurt that I live in a neighborhood with almost universal mimosa specials all weekend.

One of my biggest breakfast weaknesses has become french toast. But not just ANY french toast, not your average french toast. Fancy french toast is what calls to me. 

Crunchy french toast. Stuffed french toast. Banana bread french toast. When I see items like this on the menu I am helpless. I cannot resist. I must have it.

So when making a mimosa brunch at my place, I knew I wanted to put a great french toast dish on the menu.  Originally I planned to make a cinnamon baked-style french toast. But checking out recipes, nothing called to me. And then I got inspired-

French toast, stuffed not with simple cream cheese but cream cheese dressed up to resemble cheesecake. And topped with a delicious strawberry spread. And made with sourdough bread, because I love the way sourdough french toast balances sweet topping. (It's the only french toast I will ever top with syrup.)

Strawberry Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast
Recipe makes 6 servings
(the filling and topping can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for a quick breakfast assembly)

For the Filling:
8oz. Cream Cheese
2 Tbsp Sour Cream
5 Tbsp Powdered Sugar
½ Tbsp Lemon Juice

Soften the cream cheese.

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients, whisking together until smooth.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Topping:
1 cup Mashed Strawberries
1 cup Sugar
¼ tsp Salt
1/3 cup Water
2 Tbsp cornstarch (I used 3 and thought this was too much, so I am adjusting the final recipe. Your topping should be thinner then mine, which was more of a spread.)
¼ tsp Vanilla Extract

In a medium saucepan combine cornstarch, salt, and sugar.

Add water and mashed strawberries, stir to dissolve the dry ingredients as much as possible (there should be not large clumps).

Heat over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Continue heating for 2 more minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Allow to cool, refrigerate until ready to use.

1 Loaf Sourdough Bread: I recommend a good quality sourdough that is not too crusty, and a loaf will be much easier to work with then a boule
3 Eggs
1/3 cup Milk

Beat together eggs and milk, set aside.

Start heating a large skillet over medium heat and preheat oven to 350°.

Cut 6 thick slices, approx. 1-1/4” from the loaf of sourdough.

Cut an opening in each slice, leaving one edge intact.

Fill the open middle of each slice with cream cheese mixture.

When pan is hot, spray with cooking spray or swipe with a stick of butter.

Dip each stuffed slice in egg mixture, or spread a layer of the egg mixture over each side.

Cook slices in hot pan until golden brown (about 5 min), gently pressing down if necessary to cook evenly. Do not overcrowd pan.

When the first side is golden brown flip and cook second side.

When second side is cooked, transfer to a baking sheet and put in preheated oven to cook for an additional 8-10min. This will help to warm filling thru and cook any of the egg mixture on the sides of the stuffed slices that did not fry in the pan.

When filling is starting to turn golden and/or leaking from slices, remove from oven and transfer to plates.

Cover with strawberry topping and serve immediately.

It's safe to say we were all glad I thought up this little concoction. They were delicious. I only made 4, so there was leftover filling and topping. That worked out great the next day spread on some croissants.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

For the Winos: Fresh Blackberry Pie with a Wine Glaze

Have you noticed how amazingly good the berries are this year? I think it must be all the rain the west coast has gotten.  

Whatever the reason, the raspberries and blackberries have been better then I can remember for years. And cheap too!

This pie is simply delicious. I made it twice in one week for my co-workers and they adored it. I gave out the recipe to several people, and it couldn't be much easier to make.

So make this pie, and make it soon, while the berries are still this good.

Wine Glazed Blackberry Pie

Baked 9" Pie Shell*
6 - 6oz. packages of Blackberries (about 6 cups)
1/2 cup Water
1/2 cup Red Wine (I used Merlot. I think a Zinfandel would also be nice. Use whatever you drink.)
1/2 cup Sugar
3 tablespoons Cornstarch

*The recipe posted on tasty kitchen includes a recipe for a ginger pie shell. I used my standard pie crust recipe, the ginger just didn't sound appealing enough to me to change things up. But if it interests you, give it a try.

Pre-Bake your 9" pie shell: 

I currently do this by lining a 9" pie plate with rolled our crust. Line with aluminum foil, then fill completely with beans or pie weights. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes. 

Then I remove the foil and weights and poke holes in the bottom with a fork. 

Continue baking, poking more holes if any parts start to puff up. Bake until the inside is golden brown and the shell is completely baked.

For the Wine Glaze:

In a medium sauce pan mix together sugar and cornstarch.  Add water and wine, stir to combine with dry ingredients.

Add 1 cup of blackberries.  

Heat over medium heat until thick and boiling.

In a lege bowl stir blackberries and glaze until fruit is evenly coated.

Fill pie shell with mixture and refrigerate until cooled and set, usually 4 hours is sufficient but I generally chill overnight.

UPDATE: This pie and some very tasty looking others can be found on the Summer Fruit themed July pie round-up by You Want Pies With That?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Damn Good: Scrambled Eggs with Leeks, Fava Beans, Crispy Breadcrumbs, and Parmesan

Being my second egg recipe post it may SEEM that I like eggs, but I am actually not a big fan.

I particularly dislike scrambled eggs. Flavorless egg curds? It does nothing for me. However, this recipe from the Bon Appétit April issue stood out to me immediately. 

It was while I was still looking for recipes using leeks.  I have also been wanting make something with fava beans.  The huge Fava bean pods at the Farmers Market have been enticing me, I'm not sure why.  I have a tendency to become fixated on random things for no discernable reason.

After making this dish I have to admit that it is entirely possible I will NEVER EVER cook with fava beans again. They were very high maintenance, and I think lima beans would be pretty much the same.

I cut the recipe  in half, but other then that I pretty much followed it.  Thats pretty unusual for me, I can't really explain it. It's probably because I don't make scrambled eggs on my own.

Scrambled Eggs with Leeks, Fava Beans, Crispy Breadcrumbs, and Parmesan Cheese
Adapted from Bon Appétit, for 4 servings
(Recipe mostly split in half, I didn't decrease the amount of fava beans)

For the Breadcrumbs:
1 cups good quality bread torn in small pieces (recipe calls for French bread but I used sourdough)
1 - ½ tablespoons olive oil
Fine sea salt

For the Eggs:

1 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, chopped and rinsed
1 cup peeled fresh fava beans or frozen (double-peeled)
6 large eggs (preferably organic)
¼ cup crème fraîche or sour cream
a couple dashes of fine sea salt

Wedge of Parmesan cheese

Thoroughly coat torn bread with olive oil and a pinch of salt

Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake at 400° for 12-18minutes, until they are golden and crispy

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add the peeled fava beans and cook for approx. 14 minutes or until tender

In a large bowl, whisk eggs with cream and salt

Melt butter over low heat in a large skillet or sauce-pan

Add leeks and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes

Stir in fava beans and increase heat to medium-high, then pour egg mixture into pan

Let sit (without stirring) until edges start to set. Then use a heat-proof spatula to gently stir mixture. Keep repeating, stirring more often as the eggs become more cooked

 (There are good tutorials for easil;y making perfect scrambled eggs at Bon Appetit or Smitten Kitchen)

When eggs are still slightly creamy and a tad wet-looking, remove from heat and transfer to a serving dish

Top with crispy breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese

So, like I said before, I usually find scrambled eggs pretty gross. These were an exception! I may have to re-evaluate the opinion completely.  They tasted better then I ever knew scrambled eggs could taste.

I can't say EXACTLY why these are sooooo good, but I think it is worth substituting sour cream for milk in  a plain batch, they may be what made the difference.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Utilizing My Cookbook Collection: Cod with Leeks and Tomatoes from Everyday Cooking

I love cookbooks. I find them very inspirational. Especially ones with lots of pretty pictures.  

This is probably why I needed to own Everyday Food: Great Food Fast cookbook.  In addition to carrying the Martha Stewart brand name, it also has a picture of every single recipe.

But while I love looking at cookbooks, I rarely use them.  My collection is not too big yet, but it is hard to justify buying ANY when I fail to utilize the ones I already have. ( For example, although I have owned this Everyday Food: Great Food Fast cookbook for almost a year and a half, this is only the second recipe I have made from it). 

So I am making a concerted effort to try more recipes from my cookbooks.  And this recipe was a logical choice for me. It was one of the recipes that first caught my eye when I initially looked thru the book.  I have been trying to eat more fish. AND I have been wanting to cook with leeks, because I've never cooked with them before.

I did a pretty good job of sticking to the recipe, too.  The only adaptation I made was to add some carrot, because I thought it would be a good addition. 

Cod with Leeks and Tomatoes (and Carrots)
barely adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

2 medium Leeks
2 large Carrots
1 tsp Lemon Zest
2 tbsp Lemon Juice
1 tbsp Olive Oil
3 sprigs Fresh Thyme
Coarse Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
2 ½ cups Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
4 Cod Fillets, 6-8oz a piece

Thinly slice white and light green parts of the leeks. Rinse thoroughly until no grit remains. Pat dry.

Peel carrots, then use peeler to make thinly sliced carrot shavings.

In a 9x13 glass dish toss together leeks, carrots, lemon juice and zest, leaves from the sprigs thyme, and a little salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake at 450° until leeks soften, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice tomatoes in half and season both sides of the cod fillets with a little salt and pepper.

Remove baking dish from oven and stir tomatoes into the leek and carrot mixture. Place cod fillets on top and place foil back over the dish. Continue baking until fish is cooked thru, about 15-20 minutes.   


 I'm sorry to say I just did not think this recipe was anything special.  The vegetables came out pretty good. I think the carrots were a good addition that worked well with the leeks and tomatoes. I haven't cooked much with thyme and I don't think it is my favorite herb, but I can't blame the recipe for that.  

My main reason for being a bit disappointed was the fish itself: it just wasn't seasoned enough and came out pretty bland.  If I make this again I will have to try to give the cod more flavor.