Saturday, September 5, 2015

Stuffed Grape Leaves - Dolma

Every summer for the past 15 years I've made stuffed grape leaves in abundance, but why summer? Here in Massachusetts and New Hampshire we have the concord grape which grows wild and out of control. Every. Where. So I decided one day that I am tired of paying $5 for brined leaves when I can just pick my own! So I did just that. I always pick them from the same spot at my mother's house in NH. Out back way behind the pool where nothing but wild life roam. I know that my leaves are organic as no one planted the vines and no one touches them. No fertilizer, no pesticides....nothing.

So, I spray my legs with bug spray as there are a lot of ticks and then I find the best and most perfectly shaped leaves I can find. I usually end up with about 100. If having a party and you know everyone loves these, you could easily collect a couple hundred leaves from one spot.

Next, you have to wash them. They are wild. There are birds, insects and other strange things flying around. Wash each leaf in a bucket of water. It's refreshing to do on a hot day. I just dip them in and very lightly scrub, and then add to the pile. To the pile, I add more water, salt and lemon juice to help kill anything else and preserve the leaves. They keep very well in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but they will change color from bright green to dull brownish green. THIS IS OK!

The next part is difficult, trying to find that perfect recipe. Well, here is what I do, and everyone is different. I use beef and ground turkey or chicken, mixed. I use a little bit of rice, fresh lemon juice and a little mint or dill, chopped and of course, salt.

Grape leaves
1 lb of turkey and beef
1/2 cup rice
juice of one lemon
extra lemons, sliced
1 tbsp chopped dill or mint (or both?!)

Mix everything together except for the lemon slices. Lay out a perfect leaf and be sure to cut off the tough stem and as much of the middle vein as possible. The rolling might seem daunting at first, but it really is quite easy, just a little time consuming so get a prep space in front of the tv ready.

1. With the dark side down, add about a spoonful of mixture at the bottom where you cut.
2. Roll the part closest to you over the mixture.
3. Fold inthe sides and quickly roll so they stay tight.
4. Keep rolling and folding the sides in until you have a tightly rolled grape leaf.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

All American Baked Beans

Nothing screams summer (or English breakfast) like a crock full of baked beans. I grew up on these beans, waiting for every summer BBQ because I knew my mom was going to make them. While she made hers with navy beans and salt pork, I used red kidney beans and no meat due to having some vegetarians in the family.  You can really use any bean you like as long as it holds up during the grueling cooking time these babies require.

First off, I usually do about 1-1.5 cups of beans for a fairly large crowd. It may not look like a lot, but they grow during cooking. A very important thing about many varieties of dried beans, SOAK THEM, at least overnight (8 hours). What this does are two things; re-hydrate and reduce cooking time (thus preserving the nutrients) them and removes some of the oligosaccharides from the bean. If you don't remove the oligosaccharides you are in for a musical day the next morning. It removes the sugar that causes us to ....well...toot.

I change the water every few hours, maybe you don't have to, but I do. I don't know why. Anyway....After soaking, add them to your crock pot and cover with water, just maybe half an inch above the top of the beans. Next, add your ingredients all at once and stir. It's not going to look pretty, but just you wait.

 The ingredients are simple:
1.Ketchup or a small can of tomato paste
2. Yellow mustard
3. Molasses
4. Onion
5. Brown sugar or Coconut sugar

Chop the onion into large pieces. It will break down during cooking. Add a generous squirt of mustard, maybe a table spoon. Next, add the can of tomato paste, about 1/3 cup of molasses and brown sugar. You might want to add some onion powder too. Any additions is totally up to you. In the picture below, I added cocoa powder to see how deep I could get the flavors, forgetting that there is a lot of sugar in the beans.

Stir and set the crock to cook on low for the next 12 hours or so. You can stir every now and then. The sauce will become dark, thick and rich.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vietnamese Chicken with Garlic, Lime and Pepper

Again, another post!  This one surprised me a lot. The flavors were so yummy and made the house smell amazing. I need to stop showing you how easy these are, or else we might make our local restaurantes go out of business! (never!)

So, I was in search of something easy, with chicken and peanuts. I found a recipe that uses beef, but I am not the biggest fan of beef so I made this my own and added chopped Chinese long beans.

1 1/2 lb thinly sliced chicken
1 medium onion, chopped into quarters
3 tbsp toasted chopped peanuts

2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar (I used turbinado)
1 tbsp fish sauce

5 cloves minced garlic
3 tbsp oil (I mixed coconut and peanut)

1. In a small bowl, combine the garlic with half the oil and a tsp of black pepper. Set aside
2. In another small bowl combine the soy sauce, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce. Make sure the sugar is dissolved.
3. The other half of the oil should be mixed with another tsp black pepper.

You now have 3 small bowls.

In a large skillet, heat half of the leftover oil
over medium high. Place half the chicken in the pan and brown. Turn over and brown the other side. Once cooked, remove to a plate and set aside. Do the same with the other half of the chicken.

Next, if you are using a vegetable, add it now and saute for a couple minutes. You might need to add a little water to help steam cook. Next, add the chicken and the garlic and oil and saute for a couple of minutes, just until the garlic is slightly cooked.

Pour the mixed sauces and sugar over the chicken and vegetables until thickened. Once thickened and cooked, add the peanuts and serve.


Vietnamese Chicken Salad

I told you I've been on a Vietnamese kick this summer! It's the fresh taste that Vietnamese brings to us by using herbs like mint and cilantro. Here is a super easy salad to make which most restaurants sell for about $8-10. There is no need to spend that much on one portion and you will see why!

If you are interested in cooking Asian food there a few ingredients that you will have to spring for, and by spring I mean pay $3 or less. Here they are: Fish Sauce, Oyster Sauce, Low Sodium Soy Sauce, Chili Garlic Paste and just a small jar of minced garlic and one jar of ginger. All of these last forever in the fridge so even if you don't use them often that is ok.

Off to the Asian market and here is what I picked up for the salad.

1 Head Napa Cabbage, shredded
Bean Sprouts
Shredded Carrots (2-3)
One Red Bell Pepper, sliced
Chicken breast

Handful of mint and cilantro, chopped

2 tsp chili garlic sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp peanut oil
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin

Mix all of the dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Make sure the sugar is dissolved. Yes, the onion is included!

In a larger bowl, mix the salad ingredients. You can really put what you like in here, but I like this mix, although, in my pic I forgot the red bell pepper. Mix all of the ingredients including most of the mint and cilantro. Dress the salad by pouring the dressing over, including the onions. Top of the salad with the rest of the mint and cilantro and voila!

Super easy Vietnamese Salad!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Vietnamese Made Easy - Summer Roll!

We all love summer rolls, even if we don't love Vietnamese food. But, what isn't there to love about it? A few months ago I tried Vietnamese with a neighbor for the first time. I became addicted. I just had a summer roll and a banh mi sandwich, both were amazing. The flavors of Vietnamese are quite different than other Asian cuisines. I noticed how fresh and cooling the food was. The use of fresh mint surprised me, but in a good way. You know how we call pork "the other white meat?" Well I'd like to call Vietnamese food "the lighter and fresher other Asian cuisine." 
So, after I tried and became addicted to the banh mi, I went back and tried a noodle dish which consisted of vermicelli noodles, grilled chicken, a small egg roll, and a bean sprout and carrot "salad" oh and a light orange toned sauce which is quite delicious. For $8 you can't beat it, plus you know what you are eating is healthier than American-Chinese food.
This past weekend I decided to do it! I was at my local Asian market and picked up the summer roll wrappers. There were so many sizes and a couple of brands to choose from. I picked a size that I thought would work well. 
First step: Arrange your area with the ingredients for your summer rolls. This will make rolling them speedy and  easy. Place a wet paper towel near to the wrappers and water.

Step 2: Have a small skillet of water on low, lightly simmer, but not boil. Try to have your filling station as close to the water as possible. You'll need to transfer your rice paper to a wet paper towel in seconds.

Step 3: Begin!  Dip a rice paper into the water, swish around with your fingers, maybe about 20 seconds. You will start to see it change consistency quickly. Take it out before it is too soft or jello-y. If you leave it in too long, it will rip easily. These are delicate, but not too difficult to handle. If you leave them in the water for just the right amount of time, its almost as if they are slightly al dente, then move them to the wet paper towel so they don't stick or dry out.

Step 4: Move fairly quickly, the rice paper is still absorbing water at this point, so throw in your beautiful ingredients. For your first couple, don't worry about the way it looks just yet. Try to get the feel for this. I usually place the fillings closer to my body, then fold them over, tuck under tightly and fold in the sides as you would with an egg roll. The hardest part will be trying to find where to separate the wrapper from the paper towel, but with practice, its easy!

Filling the wrappers
 Rolling the rolls
 And here are the final products! Since you will be making more than one, and when you see how addictive easy it is, you will want to make many for leftovers. But, its not easy to keep them as they stick to almost everything. If making these for a party, you might want to have a damp paper towel at the base of your serving dish, and then use romaine leaves to secure each roll. Using the leaf like this will be sure to protect it from touching the others and creates an edible vessel to serve with!
Of course you will need to make plenty of Vietnamese Peanut Dipping Sauce to go with these!

Summer Rolls Ingrediets:
Rice paper 
hot water

shrimp or boiled chicken
fresh basil leaves
fresh mint leaves
rice or tofu noodles
Shredded carrot
thinly sliced cucumber
Shredded lettuce
thinly sliced green onion

Monday, April 7, 2014

Swedish Meatballs with Gravy

Who doesn't love Swedish Meatballs? They remind me of the 1970s, although, I wasn't alive then it just seems like something that was on every 1970s table. Yeah yeah, but now its 2014 and guess what, the little balls of heaven are STILL blessing our tables, especially thanks to IKEA. Sure, you could spend a small fortune for IKEA supper or you can just make it yourself and since I don't live near an IKEA, I made it myself, minus the lingonsylt which I can't make :(

Anyways....I made my gravy with non-fat greek yogurt and a little arrowroot and it came out DIVINE. You must try! If you can't find arrowroot, just use cornstarch.

1.5 lbs ground beef, chicken, pork (any mix you like. I used chicken and beef)
1/4 cup egg whites
1/4 cup matzo meal (or bread crumb)
1 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp all spice
Olive oil

Mix all together and shape into small balls. I usually make them slightly smaller than a golf ball, it lets me eat more! Heat enough oil to lightly cover a skillet and drop the balls in. DO NOT move them around or they will break apart! Fry the meatballs gently for a couple minutes on each side. Remove from pan when done and golden. Don't scrape or drain the pan unless there is a ton of fat.

1 15 oz can chicken or beef stock
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour (or can skip the roux all together)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup greek yogurt
2 tbsp corn starch or arrow root

This is the tough part. Over medium heat melt the butter and then add the flour.
Whisk gently adding a little water at a time. Your roux should be smooth and creamy, not lumpy. Adding more water and whisking should smooth it out. Let the roux cook for a minute or so. Next, turn up the heat a little higher and add your stock while whisking vigorously, you want to get all the browned meat off the bottom of the pan. Add the vinegar.

Your gravy will be very fluid at this point, add enough arrow root or starch to thicken it. I like my gravy VERY thick so I add quite a bit. Whisk until smooth and re-add the meatballs. Simmer for about 5 minutes and then TURN OFF THE HEAT (This part is super important). Let the gravy cool for about 2 minutes BEFORE you add the greek yogurt or it will curdle and look yucky. Whisk the yogurt into the gravy, taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

I served my meatballs with German Spaetzle, but you can use any flat egg noodle you like. I also added peas to the bottom of my bowl because I needed a vegetable and I didn't feel like sauteeing cabbage tonight.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Chutney and Cheddar Chicken

If you are like me, you make the same chicken recipes day after day, week after week. Don't get me wrong, they are yummy recipes, but can't we just try something NEW for once? The answer is yes! We can!
My mother makes a lot of fruit glazed chicken breasts and I was actually craving that tonight. Of course, I didn't have any fruit jam, but I did have one jar of a special gem that I made a few months ago, English Christmas Chutney. This chutney is not jelly like at all, but is a mix of chopped, vinegary and savory, sweet and dried fruit. I will post my recipe as soon as I make it again.

Anyways, I remembered that I had one jar left, and while I love to eat it spooned atop a nice sharp cheddar, I figured I'd try it out atop chicken covered with cheddar. The results were awesome!

I marinated my thinly sliced chicken breasts in lemon juice and Trader Joes 21 Spice Salute, salt free seasoning. If you can't find it, use Mrs. Dash or your favorite herb blend. Sprinkle the juice and herb blend of chicken and let stand for an hour or two. I sliced the chicken thin as if I were making marsala or piccata.
If you can't find chutney, use a thick jam or preserve that has chopped fruit in it. Apricot, cherry or blueberry would be awesome in this.

1-2 large and thinly sliced chicken breasts
lemon juice (half lemon)
Herb seasoning
cheddar cheese
1 small jar of chutney
coconut oil
salt to taste

1. Heat a skillet and add some coconut oil. When pan is heated add chicken.
2. Brown chicken on both sides, add some water to the pan and let the chicken steam for about 3 minutes
3. Spread the chutney on each piece of chicken and top with cheddar. Add more water to the pan if needed. Cover and let steam for another 3 minutes.
4. At this point, chicken should be thoroughly cooked through. Serve and enjoy!