European Pecan Cookies

Blog Note:  I know I’ve been away for a while.  A long while.  I have no excuses.  But I do enjoy blogging, so I will work to get back into the swing of things.  You can also check out my Instagram (linked in the margin) where I’ll try to post little tastes of my daily life that don’t merit whole posts.  On to the recipe!

Blog Note 2: Apparently, I had posted this recipe to the blog years ago. This version has more detailed directions, so I decided to post it anyway. 
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I’ve been working on digitizing some of my recipe cards, because I often find myself searching my online recipe stash instead of thumbing through cookbooks or cards.  I figured I would also share them with you.  This one I got from my grandma, though she just called them “Refrigerator Cookies”.  I renamed them to European Pecan Cookies.  It’s a funny name, because pecans are natural to North America.  But I feel like the cookies have a more European sensitivity to the taste: they are not too sweet and they go great with coffee and tea.

Like many of my grandmother’s recipes, there are quirky notes in places that don’t make sense to me.  For example, her notes say that the flour is “not sifted”.  I never sift my flour unless a recipe says to.  However, she doesn’t give any guidance on how thick to slice them, which seems especially crucial. Don’t fear though, I took notes the last time I made them so that if you attempt them, you won’t have to experiment too much.

I recommend using the pecan “bits” or tiny chopped pecans that you can find in the store.  I find that if I chop them myself, they’re irregular and there’s a lot of pecan dust.  I haven’t found it hurts the cookies too much, it just feels messy and time consuming when I could just spend a little bit more to make it easy.

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Ingredients

  • 0.5 lb (2 sticks) butter
  • 0.5 cup packed brown sugar
  • 0.5 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 0.5 tsp baking soda
  • 0.25 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Cream butter and sugars together.  Add in the egg.  Then add baking soda, salt, and flour.  Then gently stir in the vanilla and pecans.
  2. Roll into 2 even rolls in wax paper. (I use a couple cheap silicone cookie sheet liners.)  Chill in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Pull one roll from the fridge.  Slice into 1/4″ slices and place on a cookie sheet about 1.5 inches apart.  Return the roll to the fridge while baking.
  5. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the cookies are light tan with a slighter darker color around the edges.  Cool on the pan for minute or two before moving to a rack to cool completely.

Butternut Squash Lasagna

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Fall.  Autumn.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s quickly becoming my favorite season.  Summer fruits are great, and spring has the wonderful warming feeling.  (I’ll admit I don’t like winter except for the holidays.)  But autumn has the perfect weather, and starts reintroducing us to our favorite comfort foods.  I got the first basket of my fall CSA last week, and we’re starting to drown in squashes.

I picked up this recipe from a cooking class, featuring the owners from one of my favorite local restaurants.  So, I’m just going to include an outline for the recipe, rather than the details, but it’s pretty flexible.

Ingredients

  • diced butternut squash (my lasagna was made in a 9×9 inch square pan and used about two pounds)
  • lasagna noodles (whichever kind you prefer)
  • shredded mozzarella cheese
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • herbs or spices (such as sage, cinnamon, nutmeg)
  • bechamel sauce (basic recipe below)

Method

  1. Saute the  butternut squash with some olive oil and spices.  When softened, transfer to a food processor, and process until smooth.
  2. Make your bechamel sauce and cook any other fillings you might want.  I added Italian sausage, and I’ve had a version with pecans that was really good.  I think the next version I try will have cremini mushrooms.
  3. Build your lasagna:  a layer of bechamel sauce, then noodles, then butternut (and your other chosen filling) then mozzarella, and repeat.  Top with a final layer of mozzarella and the grated parmesan.
  4. Cover and bake about 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Uncover for another 15 minutes until the top is bubbly and brown.  Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Bechamel Sauce

Bechamel sauce is a basic white sauce and one of the French “mother” sauces, and it’s not that hard to make.  I was making it before I knew what it was.  Three ingredients is all you need.

  • Butter
  • Flour (equal amount to the Butter)
  • Whole Milk or Heavy Cream
  1. Melt the butter in a sauce pan until it bubbles, but isn’t brown.  Add the flour and whisk until it forms a paste, about 1 minute.
  2. Add the milk slowly, whisking constantly.  Reduce the heat to prevent scorching (especially if using cream), and whisk until thickened to a consistency you like.

Recipe du Jour: Moroccan Stew

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I love cuisines that make great use of spices. India or Middle Eastern, it doesn’t matter. There’s something about the warmth of spices that turns something into instant comfort food. Herbs tend to make something fresh and light, but spices make it earthy and filling. And this dish is no exception. While I’m sure it’s not really authentic (it comes from Rachel Ray, after all), it still invokes some good flavors

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons oil or butter
  • ¾ pound ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 (14 ½ ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (14 ½ ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 (10 ounce) box couscous or equivalent bulk couscous

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil or butter over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook, stirring, until browned, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; discard the fat in the pan. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil or butter and the onion to the pan and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin and cinnamon and cook for 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas and 2/3 cup water to the pan and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat, stir in the beef and parsley and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the couscous according to package directions. Serve the stew over the couscous.

Notes: I haven’t ever made this with lamb even though the original recipe calls for it, mainly because I’m not sure where I would purchase ground lamb. It’s much easier for me to get a hold of ground beef, and that makes it an easy weeknight solution for me. I don’t think the couscous is necessary; you could easily eat the stew over anything starchy, or in a pita, or just by itself.

Slow Cooker Wednesday: Baked Potato Soup

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In this edition of Slow-Cooker Wednesday, I offer you a version of that favorite restaurant classic, Baked Potato Soup. It’s creamy, it’s savory, it will stick to your ribs on a cold winter night.

This recipe is based on the recipe from Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever. We’ve just changed the process a little. This is my favorite slow-cooker cookbook right now, mainly because it always uses whole ingredients. So many slow-cooker recipes rely on instant onion soup mix or other things that I don’t really consider food. The slow-cooker is supposed to make cooking a long meal easier, why take even more shortcuts with the ingredients?

Many of the recipes (including this one) assume a 5 to 7 quart slow cooker.  Mine’s only 4.5 quarts, so I cut the recipes into halves or three-quarters to not overload it.  The recipe below uses the amounts for the original recipe.

Ingredients:

  •  4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 medium leeks, finely chopped, using the white and some of the tender green parts
  • 4 large russets potatoes, peeled or unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice OR 6 medium red or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 6 green onions, finely chopped, using the white and some of the tender green parts
  • 8 strips bacon, cooked crisp, drained, and crumbled
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup sour cream for garnishing

Directions:

Heat the butter in a large skillet over med-high heat.  Add the leeks and saute until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer the leeks to the insert of your slow-cooker and add the potatoes and broth.  Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 3 hours or low for 5 to 6 hours, until the potatoes are tender.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup, or cool the soup and puree it in a blender. (You have to cool the soup first for a normal blender or you might get burned.)

Reduce the heat to low and add the milk.  Cover the slow cooker and cook for an additional hour.  Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with the remaining ingredients.

Serves 8-10.

Notes: For the potatoes, you can use any kind you want, but the kind will determine how smooth or chunky the soup is. If you’re using the russets, they make a rich creamy smooth soup.  The reds or golds are best for a somewhat chunky soup. If you leave the skins in, they will add a slightly earthier flavor to the soup. Also, make sure that the potatoes are really cooked, as the texture could be thrown off otherwise.

It reheats well, but you probably want to add more broth or water to it, as it can thicken up quite a bit in the fridge.  Also, this would make a great bread-bowl soup.

Recipe du Jour: Cracker Pan-Fried Fish

dsc01473Over Christmas break, I discovered that I liked breaded tilapia. Not surprising, really. I grew up eating fish sticks like almost every other American kid, and very few things are bad when they are breaded and fried. So, I started looking for a recipe for a really good breading.

This is a good one. I hesitate to call it the only one I will use, because it relies on processed foods, but I’m hoping that I can modify it later. For now, it works really well for us. My friend Erin was eating the breading straight before we put it on the fish, and Andrew used it later for some pork chops that he had.

I did a little bit of tilapia and Erin brought a big batch of crappie (pronounced kraw-pee, at least by her). Both were delicious, with sweet potato fries on the side. Unfortunately, we were all so hungry, that I didn’t get a picture of the actual meal. The picture above is of a bento I made for lunch the following day with the leftover tilapia. It’s one of the first bento that I’ve really focused on making pretty in a long time, so I was really proud of it.

This recipe originally comes from here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup oyster crackers
  • 1/3 cup Ritz crackers (a generous handful)
  • 3/4 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • 1/3 cup parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder or granulated garlic (optional)
  • Flour, for coating
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • Splash whole milk (original recipe calls for cream or half-and-half)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), for frying
  • 4 tilapia fillets, rinsed and patted dry
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Directions:

  •  Using a food processor, grind the oyster crackers, Ritz crackers, parmigiano-reggiano, parsley, chives, thyme, Old Bay seasoning and garlic powder, if using. Transfer to a shallow bowl. Place the flour in another shallow bowl. In a third shallow bowl, beat the eggs and cream.
  • Fill a large skillet with enough EVOO to reach a depth of 1/4 inch and heat over medium-high heat. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Coat the fish with the flour, shaking off any excess; coat with the egg mixture, then with the cracker crumbs. Working with 2 fillets at a time, fry the fish in the skillet, turning once, until deep golden, about 5 minutes.

Notes: Do not walk away while you are frying the fish. It cooks very quickly, and you do not want to overcook it. You may also need to replenish the oil, depending on how much fish you are cooking. This made enough breading for 3 tilapia fillets, about 10 pieces of crappie, and a couple of boneless pork chops. This is good with the lemon or without, so don’t worry.

Recipe du Jour: Tea Party Sandwiches

I’ve said before that I’m horrible about keeping in touch. I made a New Year’s resolution to try and keep in contact with my friends. Every time I’ve moved or changed social circles, I’ve lost contact with people, through nothing more than my own neglect. Out of sight, out of mind.

Back in the fall, I had a Groupon that was about to expire for a tea party, and so I used it as an excuse to meet up with some of my closer friends from grad school. We had a great time catching up, talking about what was new in everyone’s lives: new jobs, new classes, new students. It was nice. When I left grad school, I had never wanted to burn bridges. One of the things I had loved about grad school was the sense of community.

Not too long ago, we decided to recreate the tea party. The tea house was a bit far and a bit expensive, so I decided to host. My friends brought their own homemade treats and I made sandwiches and added a few store-bought scones, lemon curd, and other little things. I’d say it was a close approximation of the professional tea party. For tea, each person brought something, and I had a huge stash for us to pick from.

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From Center: Cheese and grapes, Cranberry Orange Scones, Chicken Salad Croissants, Hummus Turkey Wraps

Today I’m including the recipes for my tea sandwiches above, which are a (mostly) original creation. I was inspired by the chicken salad sandwich that the tea shop had, and then a sandwich that I had for lunch at work one day.

Continue reading Recipe du Jour: Tea Party Sandwiches

Recipe du Jour: Cornbread Stuffing

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Everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions. It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving unless it has the same foods that I had in my childhood. But, I’ve had other Thanksgiving dishes that I want to try. But you can’t try new recipes on Thanksgiving, and I don’t have enough friends (or fridge space!) to make doubles of everything to try new recipes.

So, when Andrew came across half-turkeys at our local grocery store, I saw an opportunity. Half a turkey would probably be the perfect size for the two of us, and I would have the chance to try a new recipe. Growing up in the Southern U.S., I’ve often encountered corn bread stuffing and liked it (my mom’s recipe is from the Northeast, so features sausage and bread cubes). It pairs well with turkey, takes gravy pretty well, and, if you’re careful, it can be gluten-free.

I decided to go with a slow-cooker version, partly because I love my slow-cooker, and partly because the oven was already going to be occupied with the turkey. The original recipe can be found HERE at one of my favorite slow-cooker blogs.

This meal is also a great example of how well Andrew and I work together as a team. I emailed him the recipe for the stuffing the night before. He prepped all the ingredients and put them in the slow cooker, prepped the turkey for the oven, and made mashed potatoes. I got home shortly after he had to leave for class, so he left directions for me to turn on the slow cooker and put the turkey in the oven. Everything took about 2 hours. He came back just as things were finishing up, so I just put together a salad, and he carved the turkey and we were good. A meal that might have taken a long time for just one of us to make went a lot faster because we split up the work.

Ingredients:

  •  a pan of baked cornbread (I used a mix to make it)
  • 4 slices of bread
  • 2 cups of celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (plus a little more)

Directions:

Try to let your bread and cornbread go a little stale before making this.  Lightly mix all the ingredients except the broth in a bowl, and then transfer to the slow cooker.  Add the broth, and cook on high for 2 hours.  If you like it a little more moist, add more broth after it’s done.

Notes: We forgot to grease the slow cooker before we made this. >.< Not a huge deal, as we don’t mind letting things soak before we wash them, but if you want instant clean, that might be difficult with this recipe.

As for the flavor, we both liked it. It was moist and very filling. Comfort food flavor, if a little bland. It benefitted a lot from some salt and pepper at the table, or gravy over the top. I also don’t think that it could be only a Thanksgiving dish. It tasted light enough that I could see using it as a starch accompaniment to a different, less heavy meal.

Recipe du Jour: Red Lentil Curry

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In the past year, I discovered a love of Indian food. I’m not an expert at all; I can’t tell you the names of everything I like, let alone what part of India the recipe originally comes from. But the warm spices, a bit of heat, served with rice and naan strikes me as comfort food, even though I didn’t grow up with it. It all started when I got a Groupon to try a local Indian restaurant. We loved it, especially since it’s just around the corner from us. A friend recommended a buffet-style place, which was also delicious. (You know it’s pretty good when all the Indian graduate students eat there.)

However, it’s expensive to eat out all the time, even when it’s good food. So I’ve been collecting recipes, hoping that we can make something at home that comes close to the food at the restaurant. This is the first. I should note that we are fortunate to live in a college town, so we have more options for acquiring international ingredients. We also have access to a spice bar, so getting good spices is not a problem either.

Despite that, we did have a hard time with some of these ingredients, as they are not as straightforward as they might appear at first. For one, curry powder is just a mix of spices. Every possible spice mix they use in Indian food could be considered “curry powder”. You can search the ‘net for a recipe that features the spices you like. We are still trying to use up a generic one from the super market, but after that I’d like to experiment with various combinations.

Similarly, curry paste comes in many varieties as well. Most common is Thai curry paste. We really wanted to try to make this like an Indian curry, so we searched specifically for Indian curry paste. We actually ended up not finding any, and so I just added more curry powder. Again, I’m sure there are many recipes on the ‘net on how to make your own, and I may do that in the future, if it can freeze well.

This whole search for ingredients has prompted me to start adding Indian cookbooks to my reading list so that I can truly understand how everything works. I feel it’s somewhat offensive to love a type of food and yet not know anything about it. Like not knowing that salsa comes in many varieties in Mexican cooking, for example.

In a worst case scenario, you can just get a jar of a simmer sauce like these. We did get a jar to try, but I really want to learn to make my own.

For the original recipe, click here.  Keep an eye on how many servings the recipe you’re making has.  My version below supposedly serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1-2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp curry powder (because I couldn’t find curry paste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (I used Ancho.  I may try a different type next time.)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp mince garlic (about one clove)
  • 1/2 tsp ginger root, minced (about a 1-inch piece)
  • 1 cup tomato puree

Directions:

Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear (this is very important or the lentils will get “scummy”), put the lentils in a pot with water to cover and simmer covered until lentils tender (add more water if necessary).  You may need to stir to make sure they are cooking evenly.

In a large skillet or saucepan, start caramelizing the onions in the coconut oil over low heat.  Do not let get brown!  While they are cooking, combine all the spices in a separate mixing bowl.  When the onions are cooked, add the curry mixture and cook over high heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in the tomato puree and simmer over a low heat until the lentils are done.

When the lentils are done, drain the remaining water from them and add to the curry mixture.  Serve with rice or naan.

Notes: This is exactly what I was looking for: warm spices, hearty filling fare, and vegetarian. Andrew really liked it. Mine turned out a little dry, probably because I completely drained the lentils. You might want to keep some of the cooking water from the lentils to help make the dish more sauce-y or perhaps use more tomato puree, as my dry version was hard to eat with rice.

Recipe du Jour: Mirin Glazed Salmon

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We all could stand to eat healthier, right? No matter what your definition, you could probably stand to make a small tweak or two, right? One of the ways I’ve been trying to eat healthier is eating more fish. This is a small problem when I don’t like many fish unless they’re breaded. Certainly, I can’t eat anything that looks like the animal it came from. And I can’t afford to eat sushi every day. So, I mostly eat salmon. I’ve found a reasonably priced source of wild caught salmon, so I feel ok trying to make it once a week.

This is one of my go-to recipes now. It’s simple, it’s quick, and most importantly, it tastes good! It’s easy to pair with healthy sides (brown rice and broccoli normally). It has an awesome texture that makes it feel like you’re eating something downright decadent. This recipe is originally from Nigella Express.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup mirin (a sweet syrup-y japanese cooking rice wine.  Can be found at asian markets)
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 4 (4 oz) pieces of salmon
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1-2 scallions, halved and shredded into fine strips (optional)

Directions:

Mix the mirin, sugar, and soy in a shallow dish that will hold all 4 pieces of salmon, and marinate the salmon in it for 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the second.  Meanwhile, heat a large skillet on the stove.  Cook salmon in the hot, dry pan for 2 minutes and then turn it over, add the marinade, and cook for another 2 minutes.  Remove the salmon to whatever plate you’re serving it on, and add the rice vinegar to the hot pan.  Pour the dark, sweet, salty glaze over the salmon and top with the scallion strips.  Serve with rice or noodles as you wish, and consider putting some sushi ginger on the table, too.

Notes: Supposedly these make great leftovers in a salad the next day. I’ve never had it happen because Andrew and I always gobble it down the night we make it. I might get the chance now that I’m focusing on eating smaller portions.

Recipe du Jour: Homemade Potato Chips

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So, Andrew thought it would be funny if he bought 50 pounds of potatoes right before Thanksgiving. For just the two of us. Thank goodness I have a mandoline slicer, it makes coming up with ideas for how to use them a lot easier. I’ve cut some for French fries, and made shoestrings for morning hash browns. Those are in the freezer (and barely made a dent!) This post is about the attempt that I don’t have to freeze: potato chips.

Ingredients:

  • 50 lb of potatoes (don’t do it!)
  • Oil (I used olive)
  • Salt/Seasonings

Directions:

I cut the potatoes thinly (scrubbed, but not peeled because I like the skins on my potato chips). Toss with oil until well coated and lay them out flat on a cookie sheet (use parchment paper for easy cleaning). Sprinkle with desired seasonings (suggestions below). Bake in a 400 degrees F oven for about 15 minutes, or until they look crispy but not burnt. Move to paper towels to keep crisp.

Notes:  If you want crunchy chips, it’s best to let them sit out for a little bit (perhaps overnight or so). I was disappointed with the results of my first batch until the next day when we taste tested them again and they were awesome. Andrew liked them so much, he wants me to make some more as soon as I can.

What could be wrong about homemade potato chips? You know what has gone into them, you can decrease the oil and salt if you want, and you can make sure that you get the flavor you like (assuming that you don’t like “everything” flavored chips). For flavor combinations, try salt and black pepper (my favorite from Kettle chips), seasoned salt, chili powder or taco seasoning, Parmesan, garlic powder, or a fresh herb (like dill). What’s your favorite potato chip flavor?