January 29, 2011

Relishin' RelishRelish Recipes

The final thing I cooked from my collection of recipes from the RelishRelish menu service was your basic Pumpkin Bread. This is a quick bread recipe. Frankly, I'm still daunted by the idea of using yeast in anything other than that aging yet trusty second-hand breadmaker I've got taking up space in the kitchen. The machine sells for more than a hundred dollars; I got mine for fifty at the local thrift store - and it has been worth it.
The only quibble I had with the Pumpkin Bread recipe was the addition of a bunch of vegetable oil. I do my best to eliminate oil from baked goods, so never add any to brownies. I just substitute a no-nonsense applesauce and go on about my business. There's no difference in taste to me. and the fat content of the final product is lower. I didn't give in to the oil temptation here, but instead used extra pumpkin. I added a bit of butter in as well; so much for that lower fat content. 

The batter consisted of flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, eggs, water, and the aforementioned pumpkin and butter. The recipe also called for chopped pecans, so into the batter they went. It looked good and tasted good, too.

Pumpkin Bread batter

I was worried, though, because you never know what will happen when you mess around with ingredients. I also had to reduce the recipe by half because it was going to make two loaves. I only have one loaf pan and didn't want to improvise any further. I poured the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan, then baked for 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven. I crossed my fingers, went on to other things, and soon smelled a fabulous aroma coming from the kitchen.

I removed the bread from the oven and administered the "toothpick" test. The toothpick did come out clean, so I figured it was done. I laid the pan on its side to cool for a bit, and walked away.

I returned about five minutes later to find the center of the loaf slowly dribbling onto the stove. Oops! Looks like it wasn't really done after all. Back into the oven it went for another 15 minutes. And when it emerged, it did look tasty. This time I stuck it a few times with a toothpick just to be sure there would be no more messes on the stove top; that is until I cook again. (There's limited mise en place here, it's more mise en mess.)

I waited as long as I could and cut off a big hunk. Then I slathered on butter, and ate it up. The pumpkin bread was fresh, still warm from the oven and the butter melted with ease. I swooned. Since then, it's been my breakfast and late afternoon snack. It's all gone, and I still want more.

Pumpkin Bread and Butter

I'll confess, I am a certified RelishRelish junkie and heartily recommend the service for anyone looking for easy, fast, fresh food with a gourmet attitude. It's affordable, and you choose what recipes you want to prepare each week. The service also provides a grocery shopping list and all recipes every week.

When I've OD'd on Relish though, I look for other recipes that are equally satisfying and simple. And it's a long, slow slog through cookbook after cookbook, recipe after recipe, only to be disappointed. On the other hand, I discover delicious food, too. Wonder what I'll be cooking next? I sure hope it's not Alinea. There's a copy around here somewhere...

January 27, 2011

Spicy Tenderloin

Here are a couple more results from my selection of recipes via the weekly menu service at RelishRelish.

The crockpot-friendly Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes sounded promising. I haven't had a lot of luck with crockpots over the years; most of the time there's a funny taste, or the taste is just so bland that I'd rather eat towels. Dry, fluffy towels fresh out of the dryer.

Regardless of the condition of the towels at my house or in the kitchen, if I see a crockpot recipe, I automatically think of how it could be turned into a stove top recipe. This recipe was a breeze to make on the stove. First I browned the tiny tenderloin in my trusty Calaphon pan. I chopped sweet potatoes and onion, then placed them in a separate pot with garlic and brown sugar. The tenderloin went on top. I added chicken broth, covered, and let the whole thing go for about a half hour.

In the meantime I got going on the suggested side dish, Breadcrumb Broccoli. I created some instant breadcrumbs by whirring toasted and chopped bread with a hand blender; mine's a lovely shade of red. I definitely am not organized enough to keep breadcrumbs on hand or in the freezer, so the hand blender did good things on a short notice. It's also pretty hilarious to have itty bitty breadcrumbs flying all over the kitchen!

I steamed the broccoli until just tender and drained. In the pan the broccoli cooked in, I added the breadcrumbs and fresh thyme from my counter-top Aerogarden (love it!) When the breadcrumbs were golden, I removed from the heat and added broccoli, Parmesan, and pepper, then tossed to combine. This was easy and tasty.

Breadcrumb Broccoli

By the time the broccoli was ready for the table, the pork tenderloin and sweet potatoes looked luscious. This was just right for a cold winter evening - pure, satisfying comfort food. The chicken broth made the sweet potatoes extra-special, and the addition of the brown sugar? Perfect. I ate this at night, and then again for lunch the next day. Wonderful!

Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes
I also prepared the Breakfast Burrito with Spicy Hash Browns. While easy enough to prepare, and satisfying in a "fill me up" sort of way, the burrito wasn't anything spectacular that makes me beg for more. And the Spicy Hash Browns were not spicy. I also didn't finish those, so I believe they're headed down the drain through the garbage disposal. I have to say that's one of the worst things about cooking for yourself. If you don't like the recipe, you're stuck with it. You can't always pawn it off on a friend. You can't always find a friend who has an active compost pile in the middle of a snowy winter who would appreciate a bag of boring hash browns.

Score for RelishRelish thus far? Very good! I have one more recipe to write about: Pumpkin Bread is on the way.

Hash Browns looking good!

January 25, 2011

Sensational Southwestern White Bean Chili

This is recipe number two from my selection of recipes from the weekly menu service at RelishRelish.

Sometimes you like dinner easy and fast - and this recipe delivers up both, plus deliciousness. This spicy stew was pulled together and on the table in less than 40 minutes; longer lingering would lend more intense flavors. I browned the ground turkey and onion, then added parsley, cumin, onion powder, salt, and pepper. I didn't have celery salt, so substituted celery flakes.

Other ingredients followed: diced tomatoes, white beans, chicken broth, corn, and worcestershire sauce.

I was darn hungry, so quickly ladled a good size serving into a cobalt Fiesta dish, and added some shredded cheese.

Tasty! Easy! What more could you ask for? The recipe doubled with ease, and I have a bunch sitting in my freezer for later in the winter. If we have more single-digit days, I'll need it soon. And I have to say, this is easily another win for the cooks at RelishRelish!

January 20, 2011

Roasted Rosemary Chicken Breasts

FYI - This week I'm cooking from my a personal collection of recipes from the RelishRelish online menu service. I'm exploring the recipes I selected for the week of November 24, 2008.

RelishRelish recipes are easy to follow - most of the time. This one stumped me just a bit. The recipe admonishes you to use a sharp knife and slice the tops from two heads of garlic and reserve the bottoms. Then you're supposed to arrange the tops in the center of a large roasting pan. The object, it seemed was to use the garlic tops as a "rack" for the chicken.

Itty Bitty Garlic Tops

Yeah right. The itty bitty garlic tops were never going to be able to support the monster chicken bone-in breasts I'd purchased that weighed in at nearly a pound and a half each. I simply placed the chicken in the pan and proceeded on. I noticed no difference in taste.

The two garlic heads I placed alongside the super-duper-breasts and drizzled olive oil over all. I didn't have fresh rosemary, so simply sprinkled crushed rosemary around, and placed the heavy pan into an oven preheated to 425.

Chicken and Garlic Slathered in Olive Oil
 Thirty minutes later I removed the pan, flipped the garlic over, and returned to the oven for an additional twenty minutes. What emerged was roast chicken of utter perfection - crisp skin, glistening juices, and succulent, melt-in-your-mouth breast. 

Roasted Chicken and Garlic

Standing at the stove, temptation overtook me. I sliced some breast, squeezed a handful of baked garlic cloves. Then I sliced up day-old baguette and sopped up the juices directly from the roasting pan, and moaned with pleasure. Thank you RelishRelish!

January 18, 2011

Relish - Easy Gourmet Cooking For Everyone!

This week's cookbook...isn't an actual book. It is a collection of recipes from the recipe service provided by the fine folks at RelishRelish.com

RelishRelish is a weekly menu service. You pay a small fee, and each Thursday receive an email enticing you to come to the subscriber's-only area of the website and choose from fifteen different meals for the week. You end up with a total of five meals plus one dessert per week.

RelishRelish also offer special menus for seasonal events; one summer party suggestion was "Lobster and Lambrusco" complete with multiple recipes and invitation designs. They currently have a gluten-free service and a new iphone app; the app comes with a free one-month trial of the service. I've also heard tell that an email to customer service might net you a brief guest membership; following them on Twitter might land the same type of benefit.

The recipes scale from 2 to 8. As a household of one, I went with the 2-serving option and always have just enough left over for lunch the next day, but then, I eat like a bird. There are different options each week including vegetarian, kid-friendly, budget-friendy, low calorie, quick preparation, and crockpot recipes. Recipes call for mostly fresh ingredients and thus allow for substitutions and other spur-of-the-moment changes.

Each menu option includes a main dish and side dish. This week I'm cooking through the recipes I selected for the week of November 24, 2008:
  • Pumpkin Bread
  • Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes and Breadcrumb Broccoli
  • Southwestern White Bean Chili with Jack Quesadillas
  • Baked Tuna Melt with Cucumber Apple Slaw
  • Roasted Rosemary Chicken Breasts with Green Beans & Golden Raisins
  • Breakfast Burritos with Spicy Hash Browns

I started the week by heading to the grocery store, which is really easy with RelishRelish. When you select your week's recipes, you also get an easy to read grocery list. Mine starts out looking like this...

RelishRelish Menu Before Shopping

And ends up looking like this...
RelishRelish.com menu after shopping
Before I head to the store I review the menu items and check my pantry and freezer plus cross out items I already have and add in any substitutions. Then, once in the store, I cross things out as I throw them in the cart. The items in the left column, on the other hand, are basic pantry staples you will need through the week; you may or may not need to pick them up at the store.
And yeah, I can be found Aisle #4, pen in hand, gawking at the canned pumpking trying to find a 15-oz can. I'm probably muttering to myself, "Not a single 15oz can to be found." I got a 28-oz can instead.

I started the week easy with the Baked Tuna Melt and Cucumber Apple Slaw. The recipe for the Tuna Melt recommends baking the prepared sandwich for fifteen minutes - I didn't bother, so there was no melting involved. The Cucumber Apple Slaw was delicious. And as promised on the RelishRelish website, I was able to prepare and serve this in about 30 minutes. Spectacular!

Tuna Salad with Celery, Craisins, Shredded Cheese

Cucumber, Apple, Celery, Almonds, Yogurt, Lemon

P.S. I'm not associated with RelishRelish in any way. I did subscribe for about two years, but do not have a subscription at this time.

January 17, 2011

Sombreros & Stillettos - Margarita Bars for Breakfast

Who doesn't love a good margarita...and a satisfying breakfast after a night of too many margaritas? It would be hard to overindulge and come away soused with these bar cookies from page 261 The Stocked Kitchen because there's no tequila involved (a pity - hmm, recipe development anyone?)

A margarita conjures up summer and wide-mouthed glass globes crusted with salt, a cocktail umbrella or two, and let's add in a hunky pool boy walking towards you and your friends bearing additional drinks. Truth is, I don't drink much, but these cookies intrigued me in the middle of a frozen Michigan winter.

Take your average lemon bar cookie sprinkled with powdered sugar, substitute lime for lemon, add some salt, and you've got margarita bars. They're easy to make and utilize a boxed yellow cake mix for the base. I placed the cake mix in a glass bowl and added melted butter.

Cake mix and butter

I patted the mixture into the bottom of a greased 9x13 pan and baked as directed. The crust looked gorgeous coming out of the oven.

Crust just out of the oven

There are five eggs in the recipe - a load of eggs for me. A dozen eggs can last me several weeks, so five in one recipe feels extravagent. And ten in one posting? Outrageous! I mixed up the eggs with mandarin oranges, lime juice, and powdered sugar and poured it over the crust.

Eggs, mandarin oranges and powdered sugar resting on top of the crust.

The recipe also called for powdered sugar, which I'd forgotten to get at the grocery store. Thanks to powerful Google-fu, I made my own powdered sugar in a snap. You can too. Just put 1 cup granulated white sugar in your blender or food processor. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch and whir/pulse until the mixture is powdery. I used my red Kitchen Aid stick blender and created a mini powdered sugar dust storm in the kitchen; I haven't noticed a difference in the recipe at all.

Margarita Bar

I do like the contrast between the sweet, tarty lime flavor and the optional salt sprinkled on at the end of preparation. I'm sharing the recipe with friends, for sure, because this is a great cookie for cold winter days spent dreaming of sultry summer nights.

After a night of noshin' on Margarita Bars (or a night of drinking Margaritas) you probably need a good breakfast. For Sunday brunch I fixed the Ham & Cheese Bake on page 261. This was easy to prepare, but called for another five eggs. I didn't have time to let it rest overnight in the refrigerator, but gave it a good hour's rest to allow the day-old baguette to absorb a lot of liquid. This was a hearty Midwestern breakfast bake completed only by a squirt of catsup/ketchup. Hot sauce or salsa optional if you're living somewhere else in the U.S. And if you've got a sombrero or pair of stillettos, bring them along!

Ham and Cheese Bake

The Stocked Kitchen - Summary
I had a rough start to my week spent cooking with The Stocked Kitchen. And I have to say that I'd cooked with it before, and had mixed results. This time was the same, though I believe I fared better this time around. It's still not going to be a "go to" book for me - it's no Joy of Cooking, that's for sure. But I love the concept of maintaining a pantry and cooking from it. Now can someone do this for home cooks who love fresh, organic, local food who have gourmet tendencies? It's probably already out there. I'll find it. And I'll buy a copy. I think I'll give my copy of The Stocked Kitchen to my sister to see how she does with it, a hubby, three kids, a barn full of horses, dogs, cats, and a full-time job.

January 13, 2011

Sweet and Sour Stewy Something Or Other

I was so looking forward to making Sweet and Sour Stew on page 97 of The Stocked Kitchen. In print it reminded me of this Sweet and Sour Turkey recipe my mom has been making since the 70s, and that I still love today. I was hungry, and I wanted something satisfying.

The recipe was easy enough to follow, as are all of the recipes from The Stocked Kitchen. But for someone who's worked all day, and has only a few brain cells left, I had a lot of questions:
  • What temperature should you saute the meat at?
  • Should the pot I'm cooking in be covered?
  • In step four, what "flour mixture" are they talking about?
  • How do you chop the potatoes? In a 1" dice? Roughly chop them? 
  • Same question for the carrots? Should it be a dice? Half moons? Just wing it?
 I winged it, grabbed one questionable carrot from the bottom bin of the crowded fridge and chopped away. Chopped those taters up, too.

Questionable Carrot

I also subbstituted chicken for flank steak. As a rule, I don't prepare beef in the house. I was a vegetarian for some years, and just got out of the habit. I will cook chicken, fish, pork, but no beef. Now it's only weird to other people, not me. I figured the substitution wouldn't make any difference at all. It didn't, well, not right away. 

Here's the chicken covered with flour, just waiting to hit the heat.

I sauteed the chicken. The recipe calls for sauteing meat in one pan and cooking the stew in the other. I didn't want to mess up another pan, so didn't bother. Probably should have followed the directions as the sauce thickened very fast. Too fast. By the time I figured this out, though, it was too late to turn back.

Stew looks tasty!

In the picture above, the stew looks tasty, and it smelled mighty tasty too. I was having flashbacks to the 70s and mom's Sweet and Sour - all from some water, brown sugar, vinegar, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce. I was ready to just pour this over rice and dig in, but had to wait for a 45 minute simmer.

The recipe, however, called for a cup of carrots, two cups potatoes, and two cans of mushrooms. I dutifully added them in and read the directions. That's when I realized I had another 45 minutes to wait. On a Monday night after a long day of work and little lunch. And to top it off, there wasn't enough liquid to cover the vegetables, so I added more. It looked OK to me:

Carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and extra water added.

I covered the stew and listened to my tummy rumble for about a half hour. I ate the last of the dark chocolate covered almonds.  I read the mail. I Googled stuff to kill time. I came back to the stove and added even more water, for a total of two cups more than the recipe actually called for. I knew I was on dangerous, watered-down taste territory. I gave it ten minutes more and gave up.

Sweet and Sour Stew

I spooned out a steaming hot serving into my new yellow Fiestaware individual casserole serving bowl/dish thingie (a Christmas gift) and scooped up a spoonful.

It was way to hot for me. As in almost burned my mouth too hot. I waited a little bit longer to the sounds of my tummy organizing a group of protest marchers. I tried again. The chicken was tasty, moist. The broth was tasty, but really watered down; I wish I had not used the same pan to cook the meat and stew in. I also did not like the canned mushrooms, and I'm sure fresh button mushrooms would be a good substitute. But at least I don't have those darn cans of mushrooms staring at me anymore.

Was it sexy? Nah. Not for me. I'd rather be seduced with mom's Sweet and Sour which that fills me up and makes me happy (there are plenty of innuendos to be made with that statement; go for it.) Regardless, I'm not going to give up on The Stocked Kitchen. The authors are Michigan gals. I like to support local endeavors, and genuinely like the concept of the book -- one grocery list, endless recipes. Friends recommend the book so there has to be a recipe in here that can seduce me. But which one will it be? We'll see.

January 10, 2011

Afternoon Snack/Late Night Munchie - Seafood Nachos

Cookbook: The Stocked Kitchen ™ by Sarah Kallio and Stacey Krastins
Recipe: Seafood Nachos, page 180

One of the things that most frustrates me about cooking for one person is the amount of stuff I have sitting in the fridge that I’ll never use again. The authors of The Stocked Kitchen call these remainders “crusty little soldiers,” and have created a system to eliminate the army of half-used containers from your life.

January 9, 2011

Got Cookbooks?

Got cookbooks? Me too - more than a hundred at last count.

Do you cook from all of the cookbooks? Me either.

That's what I plan to do here.

Gonna get started soon enough.