Brought to you by Cook’s Illustrated

Andy was worried when he saw this recipe on the dinner menu. Not because he doesn’t like barbecued chicken (especially barbecued chicken with bacon!), but because it was a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. In his mind, that could only mean one thing: We were going to eat dinner at 8 p.m. I told him that it didn’t look too involved, and, by the way, there’s bacon in it, but he was still skeptical. When I told him that the side dishes were CI recipes too, he revised his original estimate. Forget eating at 8 p.m. Dinner wasn’t going to be ready until 10.

I suppose I can’t blame him too much for jumping to that conclusion, especially after my other CI experiences. I’m not completely unrealistic though. I stuck with easy side dishes – “Perfect Boiled Sweet Corn” and “Sauteed Swiss Chard.” And yes, true to form, dinner did take a little while, but it wasn’t ridiculous. We ate well before 10 p.m. Plus, I got to use my new food processor, so that was fun. ūüôā

The chicken cubes are tossed with salt while you make the sauce and prepare the bacon paste. Yes, I said bacon paste – raw bacon is whirled through the food processor and then mixed with sugar and paprika. The chicken chunks are coated with the paste before being threaded onto the skewers. They’re brushed with sauce and grilled to perfection. Using thighs instead of breasts helps keep the chicken moist, and the sauce is sweet and tangy, all at the same time. It’s a definite keeper here.

bbq-chicken-kabobs
We did have sweet corn with dinner too, but it didn’t last long enough for the picture.¬†

Barbecued Chicken Kabobs

For the sauce:
¬Ĺ cup ketchup
¬ľ cup light or mild molasses (I used whatever molasses was in my pantry, so it was a little darker than they recommended.)
2 tablespoons grated onion (I used the large holes on the side of my box grater.)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar

For the chicken kabobs:
2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1″ cubes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
4 teaspoons sugar
2 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens to a ketchup-like consistency and has reduced to about one cup. Remove the sauce from the heat and transfer about 1/2 cup to a small bowl to serve with the chicken. Reserve the remaining sauce for brushing on the skewers.

To prepare the chicken, place the chicken cubes in a large bowl and toss with salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30-60 minutes.

While the chicken is chilling, prepare the bacon paste. Mix the sugar and paprika together in a small bowl and set aside. Place the bacon in the bowl of a food processor and process until the bacon becomes a smooth paste, about 30-45 seconds. Scrape the bowl down twice during the process. Mix the bacon paste into the sugar-spice mix. (This is my deviation from the recipe РI see that CI says to mix the bacon in with the chicken and then add the sugar-paprika mix. I think either would work.) 

Prior to threading the chicken on the skewers, preheat the grill to high for at least 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and pat the pieces dry with a paper towel. Add the bacon paste to the chicken and mix until all pieces are thoroughly coated. Thread the chicken onto skewers, rolling or folding pieces as necessary to keep them all in 1″ cubes.

To grill the chicken, turn one of the burners off (on a gas grill) and leave one on high. Place the skewers on the lit side of the grill. Grill the skewers, turning them one quarter turn every 2 1/2 minutes, until they are well-browned and slightly charred, moving the skewers to the cool side of the grill if flare-ups occur. Brush 1/4 cup of sauce on the top of the skewers, then flip and cook until the sauce is brown in spots, about 1 minute. Brush the second side of the skewers with the remaining 1/4 cup of sauce and flip again, cooking until the sauce is brown in spots, about another minute. The chicken should read 175¬į on an instant thermometer (if you used thighs; breasts will read 160¬į). Remove the skewers from the grill and allow them to rest for 5 minutes. Serve with reserved sauce.

From Cook’s Illustrated, May 2011

Click here for a printable version.

Cheese Pie? Yes Please.

Andy is pretty easy-going about 99% of things in life, so when he does have an opinion, I try to pay attention. It usually works out well too. That’s how we ended up with one of our favorite chicken dishes and our go-to Meatless Monday¬†meal. So when he commented on a delicious-looking “impossible” ham and cheese pie from Cook’s Country, I figured I’d should probably check it out. I saved the recipe before it became “subscriber only,” but that’s as far as it went. For months.

It’s not that I meant to ignore it, but other things kept popping up (such as EVERYTHING in this book). Plus, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about that much¬†Gruy√®re. Swiss isn’t my favorite cheese, so I tend to be apprehensive about Gruy√®re. But I kept remembering how excited he seemed about it, and really, could something full of cheese and ham be bad? And the whole “impossible” pie concept intrigued me. Instead of lining the plate with a standard crust (which never goes well for me), you coat it with Parmesan cheese and wait for some scientific magic to create a crust while the pie bakes.Fun, right?

Of course, I took so long to  make it that Andy had completely forgotten about it by the time I served it for dinner. Whoops.

I’m glad I did make it though, because oh my goodness, it¬†was so good. Looking back, that probably shouldn’t surprise me, since it’s basically a pie full of cheese, but seriously. We could not stop raving about it. Or eating it. Andy declared it a five¬†after one bite. I wanted to keep the leftovers all to myself. In fact, giving Andy the last piece for lunch may be the most selfless thing I’ve done in our entire marriage. Kidding. Mostly. ūüėČ

I used a smoked¬†Gruy√®re, since that sounded better to me than regular¬†Gruy√®re, but that was the only change I made. It was really good with the ham, but I don’t think you could go wrong with bacon either. It took a little time in the oven, but it was easy to put together, so this is definitely going on the favorites list. And next time, I won’t wait almost a year to try something.

ImpossibleHam&CheesePie
Notice the giant salad in the background? That’s my attempt at balance. A giant plate of greens means I can eat cheese for dinner, right?

Impossible Ham & Cheese Pie 

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus another tablespoon softened for the pan
3 tablespoons finely shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded smoked Gruyère cheese
4 ounces of ham, cubed
4 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup half-and-half
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Place the oven rack in its lowest position, and preheat the oven to 350¬į.

Butter a 9″ pie plate with the tablespoon of softened butter. Evenly coat the pie pan with the grated Parmesan cheese.

Combine the shredded Gruyère, ham and scallions in a large mixing bowl. Mix together and then evenly spread in the prepared pie pan.

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper together in the now-empty mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs, half-and-half, melted butter, mustard and nutmeg into the flour mixture. When the batter is smooth, pour it over the cheese-ham-scallion mixture in the pie pan.

Bake until the pie is lightly golden brown and the filling is set, about 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve warm.

From Cook’s Country

Click here for a printable version.

My Showstopper

So, this is it. My new, “impress the company” meal. The reason we don’t need to go out for fancy dinners. I mean, why should I pay someone to make dinner when things this good can¬†come out of my oven?

Because then someone else does the dishes? Oh, OK, fine. ūüėČ

Kitchen clean-up¬†aside, this is one of those dishes you want to have in your back pocket, just in case someone important is coming for dinner. Like the president. Or the boss. (Do people really invite their bosses over for dinner anymore? Or is that an only-in-the-50s-on-TV thing?) Or your favorite friends. (Let’s face it; those are the people that I REALLY want to impress.)

Like most rolled items, it’s visually stunning (although my picture isn’t the greatest), and with pancetta, garlic, rosemary and lemon, it’s off the charts, flavor-wise. The pan sauce (made with the lemon-infused olive oil and juice of a caramelized lemon) is so good, I could drink it by itself.

The first time I made this, it literally took me all afternoon. Granted, I also made lemon pudding cakes, salad and garlic mashed potatoes to serve WITH the roast, but still. We loved it, but I figured that I’d only make it once a year (at the most). Who wants to spend ALL DAY fussing with dinner? (OK, I do, but let’s be realistic here. I also have to go to work, clean the house and have a life. Ha.)¬†

When I realized that we were flying solo for Easter, I decided to give the roast another try. Andy was a little worried about us eating Easter dinner at 7 p.m., but I thought it might be possible to “pause” the recipe and chill the roast after rolling and tying the meat. That way, I could assemble the roast on Saturday, then put the roast in the oven Sunday before church and use the delayed start to ensure that it was ready when we came home.

And you know what? It worked! I was a little concerned that the overnight rest would make the roast too salty, or draw out too much moisture, but I didn’t notice any issues with the final result! It also didn’t take me nearly as long to make the roast the second time around,¬†so either making it over two days REALLY helps or I just had to get over the learning curve.

Now that I am over the curve, I will definitely make this more than once or twice a year, even if the president isn’t coming for dinner. ūüėČ

TuscanPorkRoast

Tuscan-Style Roast Pork with Garlic and Rosemary 

1 lemon
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 2-1/2 lb. boneless center-cut pork loin roast, trimmed
kosher salt

Grate 1 teaspoon of zest from the lemon. Cut the lemon in half and set it aside.

In a large skillet (nonstick if you have it, but it’s not a deal-breaker if you don’t), combine the olive oil, lemon zest, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the garlic is sizzling. This should take about 3 minutes. Add the rosemary and cook for about 30 seconds.

Remove the pan from heat. Set a fine mesh strainer over a small bowl and pour the olive oil mixture through the strainer. Press on the mixture with a spatula to extract as much oil as possible. Set the bowl and strainer aside and allow the mixture to cool. Use a paper towel to wipe out the skillet.

Process the pancetta in the food processor until it becomes a smooth paste, about 30 seconds. Add the cooled garlic / rosemary mixture and to the food processor and continue to process until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous, about another 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Next, double-butterfly the pork roast. Position the roast on a large cutting board with the fat side up. Insert a knife one-third of the way up from the bottom of the roast along the long side of the roast and cut horizontally. Stop cutting 1/2″ before the edge. Open up the flap. Keep the knife parallel to the cutting board and cut through the thicker portion of the roast, about 1/2″ from the bottom of the roast. Keep the knife level with the first cut and stop about 1/2″ before the edge. Open up the second flap. If the meat is uneven, cover it with plastic wrap and use a rolling pin (or meat pounder, if you have one of those) to even it out.

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon kosher salt over each side of the roast, pressing it into the meat so that it adheres. Spread the inside of the roast with the pancetta paste, stopping about 1/4″ from the edges of the roast. Start on a short side of the roast and roll it up, keeping the fat on the outside of the roast. Tie with twine at 1″ intervals.

Place a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet and spray the rack with cooking spray. Place the roast, fat side up, on the wire rack and set in the refrigerator for one hour. (This is where I left it overnight, and we couldn’t tell the difference.)¬†

Place the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 275¬į. Remove the roast from the refrigerator and cook until the meat registers 135¬į, somewhere between 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Remove the roast from the oven, tent with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes .

While the roast is resting, heat 1 teaspoon of the reserved olive oil over high heat until just smoking. Add the reserved lemon halves cut-side down and cook until softened and cut surfaces are browned, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer the lemons to a small plate.

Remove the foil from the roast and pat dry with a paper towel. Heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil in the now-empty skillet over high heat until the oil starts smoking. Brown the roast on the top (fat side) and on the sides of the roast, about 4-6 minutes. Do not brown the bottom of the roast.

Take the roast out of the pan and place it on a cutting board. Remove the twine and slice the roast into 1/4″ thick slices. Place the slices on a serving platter.

Take the lemon halves and squeeze them over a fine mesh strainer set over a small bowl. Press on all of the solids with a spatula, making sure to extract all of the pulp. Whisk 2 tablespoons of the reserved olive oil into the lemon juice. Pour the vinaigrette into a serving dish and serve alongside the roast.

From Cook’s Illustrated, January / February 2016

Click here for a printable version.

Crock Pot Success!

If there was a popularity contest among kitchen appliances, I really doubt the crock pot would win. It’s not pretty, like the stand mixer. It doesn’t chop/slice/dice/mince/blend everything like the food processor. It doesn’t clean up after you like the dishwasher.

In fact, the crock pot would probably be the last one picked, usually through no fault of its own. I mean, there are a lot of not-so-good crock pot recipes out there. You know the type: You put ingredients in the crock pot before work and leave, thinking that you’ll be rewarded with a delicious meal at the end of the day, only to come home to an overcooked, tasteless pile of mush. Disappointing and wasteful. (Also disappointing: Crock pot recipes that only cook for 2-4 hours. I’m gone from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. How on earth is that supposed to help me?)

This recipe, though, is not one of those disappointments, at least for me. It’s easy to put together (a must when you have to assemble it at 6:30 in the morning), and it tastes good 10 hours later. I always add potatoes, since they’re my favorite part of the traditional “pot roast.”¬†When I remember, I add some minced garlic as well, since you can’t go wrong with garlic. ūüôā

PotRoast

Pot Roast with Potatoes, Carrots and Onions

1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoon water
8 medium carrots, peeled (or well-scrubbed) and cut into 3″ pieces
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
2 medium onions, each cut into 8 wedges
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 3-lb. beef Chuck roast
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

In a large (5-6 quart) crock pot, whisk together the cornstarch and water. Add the vegetables to the crock pot and season with salt and pepper.

Place the roast on top of the vegetables. Spread the minced garlic on top of the roast, then sprinkle the roast with salt and pepper. Drizzle Worcestershire sauce on top of the meat.

Cover and cook on low for 10 hours. (Martha says you can cook it on high for 6 hours, but I’ve never tried it. Like I said, I’m gone all day.) Transfer the roast and vegetables to a serving platter. If desired, strain the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer and serve alongside the meat and vegetables. (I take the lazy easy way out and simply drizzle a few spoonfuls of the pan juices over my plate before digging in.)

Adapted from Everyday Food Magazine, October 2008

Click here for a printable version.

A Pleasant Surprise

I’m always on the lookout for a new way to prepare salmon. It’s Andy’s favorite fish. It’s quick and healthy, and I have quite the stockpile* in the freezer. I have a couple favorites, but like I’ve said before, I’d rather not eat the same thing all of the time. One of my on-going goals is to try more recipes from my cookbooks and magazines (because there’s no point in keeping them if I’m never going to use them), so when I saw this recipe in an old Taste of Home issue, I added it to the menu.

I have to admit, I didn’t have high expectations for dinner tonight. It would be quick (a must for Monday nights around here), easy and healthy. I figured we’d eat dinner and then move on to the dessert in the fridge (leftover peanut butter pie). I mean, this is just salmon with some garlic and herbs, right? Where’s the wow factor in that?

OK, so I was wrong. It happens occasionally. ūüėČ

This was really good. I think we were both a little surprised at how much we liked it. The herb/garlic flavor was delicious, and I’m sure it would be even better with fresh herbs. Plus, it was done in almost no time. I think the only thing I’d do differently¬†is to grease the baking sheet. I skipped that step (even though the recipe said to¬†do it) since I lined the pan with aluminum foil. The skin ended up sticking to the foil, so learn from my mistakes. And don’t discount a recipe just because it doesn’t look like anything special. ūüôā

HerbRoastedSalmon

Herb Roasted Salmon

4 6-ounce salmon fillets, with the skin on
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for the baking pan
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease the foil with olive oil.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Place the fillets, skin side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the garlic/herb mixture over the salmon fillets.

Bake until the fish tests “done,” about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

From Taste of Home, December 2013

Click here for a printable version.

*My sister-in-law, Kim, introduced me to Zaycon Fresh more than a year ago.¬†They’re a great place to buy meat in bulk, and we’ve been really happy with both the salmon and chicken breasts. I’m trying the bacon next.¬†(We buy our beef from a local butcher/farmer, but since we’re¬†just a *few* miles¬†away from the ocean, buying local salmon isn’t an option.) In the spirit of full disclosure, Zaycon has no idea that I’m writing about them. I haven’t been compensated for this at all – it’s just my own two cents on the matter.

Zaycon does reward people for referring others to them, so if you were interested in signing up through my referral link, I would get a credit on my account for the next time I need fish. ūüôā Of course, then you can refer your own friends and family and benefit every time they order. Or, you can disregard the referral link and do things on your own. Totally your call. ūüôā¬†

Great Garlic Soup!

Let’s get something out of the way, shall we? This soup is not going to win you any points¬†at the office. You’ll be that person. The one smelling up the entire lunchroom/kitchen with your leftovers. And depending on how your coworkers feel, they’ll either hate you for stinking up the place, or they’ll hate you for not bringing enough to share.

I mean, 44 cloves of garlic? There’s no way anyone’s going to be ambivalent about this one.

We picked up a cold bug somewhere over the holidays, so soup sounded especially good. And since I’d made chicken noodle soup a few days earlier, I was looking for something different. This soup seemed to fit the bill: easy enough for a weeknight, soothing for a sore throat and fairly healthy. (After all, isn’t garlic supposed to be good for just about everything?)¬†

I was striking out when it came to a vegetable side to serve alongside the soup though. I didn’t feel like making a salad, and, let’s be honest: the few jalapenos in those biscuits don’t¬†come anywhere close to the¬†recommended daily amount of vegetables. Then I realized that I could wilt some spinach down into the soup and call it a one-pot meal. Ta-da!

To give us a head-start on dinner, Andy started roasting the garlic when he got home. It was done before I walked in the door, which meant that all I had to do was chop some onions and get things simmering away. I pulled some biscuits out of the freezer, and we were set.

Andy gave this one a five, and since my Grandma sent us home with LOADS of home-grown garlic, I think it’s safe to say that this will be making another appearance in our kitchen. I’m sure my coworkers will be thrilled. ūüėČ

GarlicSoup

44-Clove Garlic Soup 

26 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 tablespoons of olive oil
18 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 1/4 cups of diced onion
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 heavy cream
2 handfuls (about 4 cups) fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the 26 unpeeled garlic cloves in a small glass baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then stir to combine. Tightly cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes, or until the garlic cloves are soft. Remove from the oven.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves from their skins and discard the skins. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a stockpot or large saucepan. When the butter has melted, add the onions and thyme to the pan. Saute until the onions are tender and mostly translucent, with a little bit of brown on their edges. Add the roasted garlic cloves and the 18 cloves of peeled, fresh garlic. Saute for about 3 more minutes.

Add the chicken stock to the pan, scrapping up all of the browned pieces from the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan and bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat. Allow the mixture to simmer until garlic is tender, about 20 minutes.

When the fresh garlic is very tender, puree the soup with an immersion blender. When the soup is smooth, stir in the cream and then add the spinach. Cook over medium-low heat for a few more minutes, until the spinach wilts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve the soup, sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese in the bottom of the soup bowl and ladle the soup on top of the cheese. Squeeze a lemon wedge over the top of the soup. Serve immediately.

Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally from the February 1999 issue of Bon Appetit

Click here for a printable version.

My Kind of Comfort Food

We’ve been enjoying some unseasonably warm weather here in Wisconsin. Sunny days in the 60s aren’t typical in November, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining. However, all good things must come to an end, and it looks like things are headed back to “normal.” Not that normal is bad by any means. Living somewhere with four seasons is one of my favorite things about living in the Midwest.

Comfort food is another one of my favorite things about fall, and I made this dish on a very typical late fall¬†day – cool, cloudy and rainy.¬†Andy had spent the entire afternoon working outside (raking the leaves, washing and waxing the car, mowing the lawn), and even though I was feeling lazy, I didn’t think I should tell him to make a peanut butter sandwich for dinner. ūüôā So I went ahead and tried a recipe that one of my coworkers shared with me a couple weeks beforehand.

He raved about the recipe. “It will make squash edible!” With that ringing endorsement, I took a copy of the recipe but told him I’d probably make some tweaks, especially since the original recipe called for eight ounces of mushrooms. “You can’t omit the mushrooms,” he said. “They make the dish!” Umm… not in our household. Caramelized onions, on the other hand, are¬†something I can get behind. I added an extra slice of bacon (because more bacon is always better), and I roasted the squash on the bacon pan, rather than microwaving it. Not only was the oven already on, but I figured that roasting the squash (especially in bacon grease) would give things even more flavor. I used my cast iron skillet to caramelize the onions and make the sauce, and since it was already dirty, decided that it would be the perfect pan to finish baking the dish.

Wow. The squash was more than edible; it was amazing. The flavors came together in the perfect way. We ate half of the pan for dinner, and I seriously contemplated warming up the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. And it’s¬†safe to say that the rest of our butternut squash may not be destined for soup after all.

ButternutsquashPasta
If I was a better food blogger, I’d have a much more appetizing picture to share. But it was dark and we were hungry, so I snapped this one with my phone and dug in.

 

Baked Butternut Squash Pasta

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed (Approximately 3-5 cups of squash. The recipe called for three cups; my squash yielded closer to 5, and I used every bit of it.) 
1 large onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces short pasta
2 tablespoons of butter, divided
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons AP flour
4 green onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
5 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
3 slices of bacon
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
coarse salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place the uncooked bacon on the sheet. Bake bacon until it is crispy, then remove the pan from the oven and allow the bacon to cool on paper towels.

If your bacon left an overabundance of grease on the baking pan, drain off a little. Spread the squash cubes on the bacon pan. Place the thyme sprigs on the squash and season the pan generously with freshly ground black pepper. Roast until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes.Remove the squash from the oven. Place the squash in a large mixing bowl and lightly mash with a fork.

While the squash is cooking, melt one tablespoon of butter in an oven-safe skillet. Place the onion slices in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium to medium low heat until the onions are caramelized. Remove the onions from the pan and transfer the onions to the bowl with the squash.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, then drain and set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in the skillet and saute the white parts of the green onions. When the onions are tender, add the flour and cook, stirring often, for a minute. Slowly pour the milk into the skillet, whisking constantly. Keep whisking the mixture until it has cooked and thickened. Remove the pan from the heat.

Pour the sauce over the squash and onion mixture and stir to combine. Gently fold in the cooked pasta.

Spoon/pour about half of the squash/pasta/onion mixture into the bottom of an oven safe skillet or casserole dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded fontina cheese. Add the rest of the squash/pasta mixture to the pan and top with the remaining cheese, bacon pieces and green onions.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until the dish is heated through and the cheese is bubbly. Serve warm.

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, courtesy of my coworker, Rich

Click here for a printable version.

Who Wouldn’t Want This?

Remember me? You know, the long-lost blogger who has been MIA most of the summer? I’m going to blame my latest absence on our two-week vacation to Maine and New Hampshire, OK? And, for what it’s worth, I thought about blogging on our trip, but somehow never got around to it. (It’s the thought that counts, right?) We thoroughly enjoyed our time off and did our very best to eat New England out of seafood, ice cream and wild blueberries. I kid you not – we picked this vacation solely because blueberries were in season. See?

Pickingblueberries
Andy and his brother picking blueberries for our pancake dinner.

We were lucky enough to pick up some tomatoes from Andy’s parents on our way home from Maine, and we spent a steamy Friday evening processing tomatoes. (Literally. It was 80+ outside when we got started, and with three cauldrons pots of boiling water, our kitchen turned into a sauna in no time at all.) We put up 7 quarts and 27 pints of tomatoes, so I think we’re going to call that good for the year.

In other news, I feel like this has been the summer of the zucchini for me. I don’t remember receiving¬†nearly as many zucchini and summer squash in our CSA last year. And while we love our fritters, I can only handle so much of the same thing.¬†(Unless that same thing is chocolate. I have yet to reach my limit there.) So when this¬†¬†recipe popped up in my Facebook feed, I figured it was worth a try… after I made a few modifications, that is. I eliminated the mushrooms (still don’t like them, sorry Mom!), added sausage (I tried it with bacon as well, but it’s better with sausage), added some broccoli and onions, and used Swiss chard instead of spinach.

And… we have a keeper here. It’s filling and hearty without being too heavy. It’s loaded with summer veggies, which helps keep the crisper drawer under control. The leftovers reheat well too. As Andy likes to say, “Who wouldn’t want this?!” ūüėÄ

ZucchiniPastaBake
First thing, you’ll have to forgive the questionable picture. I was hungry. This picture is from the time I used bacon, but you get the idea…

Zucchini / Summer Squash Pasta Bake

8 ounces penne pasta, uncooked
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium-large zucchini or summer squash, sliced and cut into half-moons
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium head of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
6 ounces spinach or Swiss chard, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock
3 ounces cooked sausage, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 ounces cream cheese or¬†Neufchatel cheese, cut into 1″ chunks
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly oil a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, saute the onions until they begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add the zucchini and garlic and saute for another minute or two, until the zucchini begins to brown. Add the flour to the pan and cook for a minute or so, stirring often. Add the spices to the pan, and then add the stock, scraping up all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the broth has thickened and cheese has melted, about 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the broccoli about 3 minutes before the pasta is done. Drain the cooked pasta and broccoli and set aside.

Spread the pasta and broccoli mixture into the prepared baking pan. Stir in the zucchini mixture, sausage, Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and spinach/chard. Gently stir until pasta is coated and everything is well-combined. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the pasta.

Bake, uncovered, until cheese is browned and bubbly and mixture is heated through, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and serve hot.

Adapted from Taste of Home

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Rhubarb for Dinner

25 years ago, if you had asked me to eat this dish, I would have said no. (I’m sure that I would have said it in a completely stubborn AND¬†adorable way. I’m also sure my mom agrees with me here.) As a child, I was very much in the anti-rhubarb camp. Looking back, I’m not sure why. 99.9% of rhubarb recipes are dessert recipes, involving sugar, sugar, and more sugar. What five-year-old wouldn’t love that? (I actually think my childhood rhubarb hang-ups were more psychological. It looked like celery to me, and I was NOT a fan of celery.)¬†Luckily, my tastes have matured since then. ūüėČ

Even so,¬†if you had asked me to make this five years ago, I would have probably given you the side-eye and wondered why on earth you’d waste rhubarb in a main dish. Aren’t there enough crisps, cobblers, bars, cakes and pies for rhubarb? Why do we have to eat it for dinner? But, with age comes wisdom, and the¬†knowledge¬†that while there are indeed plenty¬†of delicious rhubarb desserts, man cannot (or should not) exist on sugar alone.

And since rhubarb season happened to coincide with my cake decorating class, we really didn’t need any more dessert in the house. I thought about freezing the rhubarb from our first CSA share, but I already put quite a bit of rhubarb up for next winter. So when I saw this recipe in the New York Times, I was intrigued. Skeptical, but intrigued.

I scaled the recipe down, since I didn’t have an entire chicken on hand (and let’s face it, an entire chicken is more than I need to make for the two of us). I was pleasantly surprised by how easily it came together AND by how well it turned out. You do need to plan ahead – the chicken should hang out with the thyme for a few hours – but as long as you do that, it’s totally do-able on a weeknight. I’ll be the first to admit that the sauce isn’t the prettiest, but its bright, tart flavor flavor makes up for the drab appearance. (I did forget to add the butter to the sauce, but since we didn’t miss it, I’m omitting it from my directions below.) It got a solid four out of five stars from Andy, which means I’ll definitely be hanging on to this recipe – you know, for those days when we need a break from rhubarb pie. ūüėČ

Rhubarb Chicken
Served this one with sauteed beet greens from our CSA and some sweet corn from my grandma. ūüôā

Chicken with Rhubarb Sauce

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
5 sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 scallions, white and light green parts finely chopped, dark green parts reserved for garnish
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 1/2 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1/4 cup white wine* (I used my favorite… again.)¬†
1 1/2 teaspoons honey

Pat chicken dry with a paper towel and place in a bowl. Generously season with salt and pepper and place the thyme sprigs in the bowl with the chicken. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for at least an hour. If possible, let chicken sit overnight with the thyme. (Mine hung out in the fridge for about 10 hours while I was at work.) 

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the chicken in the pan, skin side down. Reserve the thyme sprigs. Cook the chicken until skin is nicely browned and releases easily from the pan. Flip the chicken over and cook until the other side is nicely browned as well. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the white and light green scallion parts to the pan and cook until lightly browned and tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and reserved thyme sprigs and cook for another minute. Pour the wine into the pan and bring the mixture to a simmer, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add the honey, 1/4 teaspoon salt and several grinds of fresh pepper to the pan. Stir to combine.

Add the chicken back to the pan in a single layer.** Cover and cook over medium-low heat until chicken reaches 165 degrees. Garnish chicken with reserved green onions and serve with rhubarb sauce.

*Chicken broth can be substituted for wine, if you find that you don’t quite have enough wine on hand… not that I’d know anything about that… ūüėȬ†

**If your sauce looks too dry or like it’s in danger of burning, you can add a splash of wine or chicken broth when you add the chicken.¬†

From the New York Times

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Weekend Food

Let’s face it. There are some dishes that I will never make during the week (at least, not as long as I’m gainfully employed full time). Roasts (unless they’re hanging out in the crockpot). Yeast bread. Short ribs. Let’s add¬†risotto to that list.

It’s not like any of these foods are particularly hard to make; they’re just time consuming. And since we’d rather not sit down to dinner at 8 p.m., I’ve just accepted the fact that some things are better saved for the weekend, when I can take my time and make a complete mess in my kitchen. In fact, that’s one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon, especially if the weather isn’t the greatest.

I’d had my eye on this recipe ever since Annie posted it, oh, FOUR years ago. I kept waiting for that magical moment when asparagus, leeks AND peas would all show up in my CSA delivery at the same time. No such luck. I finally decided that I’d just suck it up and buy the veggies I needed. Except that I refuse to pay almost three¬†dollars for a tiny clamshell of chives, so I decided to use green onions instead. Which I forgot to add when I finished the risotto. Oh well. Such is life.

Whenever I make risotto, I do my best to have things chopped and prepped before I get going, which makes it easier to focus on stirring the pot. I rinsed the leeks, blanched the asparagus, shredded the cheese and measured out the frozen peas first. That way, I can give the risotto the attention that it deserves. (It’s such a needy dish… “Stir! Constantly!” Ha.)¬†

I was a little short on the amount of asparagus (because we had been roasting it for dinner), which worked out okay, since Andy didn’t love the texture of the asparagus in the risotto. I did add¬†extra lemon juice to cut the richness of the cream cheese. Next time, I think I’ll omit the cream cheese altogether – we thought that it was rich and creamy enough with just the Parmesan cheese. All in all though, it was an afternoon well spent.

Asparagus Risotto

Spring Green Risotto

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used a combination.) 
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
3 cups chopped leeks, rinsed and spun dry
1 1/2 cups medium-grain rice
2/3 cup dry white wine (I used my favorite wine, mostly because it’s what I have on hand most often.)¬†
1 lb. asparagus spears, woody ends removed
10 ounces frozen peas
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish if desired (We forgot about that…oops.)¬†
1/3 cup cream cheese, optional (I’ll leave this out next time, but that’s just me.)¬†
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and keep the stock warm.

Chop the asparagus into inch-long pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the asparagus until it’s crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Immediately drain the asparagus and place it in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Once the asparagus has cooled, drain it and set it aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil together in a large pan (I use my stainless steel Dutch oven because I don’t have a saute pan that I love). Saute the shallots and leeks until they are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the rice to the leek/shallot mixture and cook for about a minute, stirring to coat the rice with the butter and olive oil. Add the wine to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is almost all absorbed.

Ladle two scoops of stock from the saucepan into the pan with the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has absorbed into the rice. Continue adding the broth, two scoops at a time, cooking and stirring until the liquid is almost absorbed before adding more stock. When the rice has been cooking for about 15 minutes, add the cooked asparagus to the rice. Stir in the lemon zest and the frozen peas. Continue to add stock and cook the rice until it is creamy and tender but still slightly firm.

Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, Parmesan cheese and cream cheese (if using). Stir until the cheese melts and the risotto is creamy. Taste the risotto and then season with salt and pepper as desired.

Serve warm, garnished with Parmesan if desired.

As seen on Annie’s Eats, originally adapted from Ina Garten’s¬†Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

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