Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Treat: Homemade Marshmallows

Mr. Fritz loves marshmallows. He's loved them ever since he was a child, when he'd go over to his grandmother's house and pour himself a big bowl of mini marshmallows and down them, three by three. So when we came upon an empty afternoon in his hometown, I didn't think twice about asking our niece, the eldest Miss Bowers, if she might like to make a batch from scratch. I figured that she and I could have some fun in the kitchen and Mr. Fritz (along with the rest of his family) could enjoy the outcome.

I've made marshmallows before. The first few times I made them, Mrs. Robertson was my partner in crime. A couple of years ago my sister, Mrs. Plourde, churned some out with me. Some time has passed since then, however, so I was a little rusty in my technique. Luckily Miss Bowers was a terrific helper and together we turned out a whole lot of marshmallowy goodness with very little effort.

Although there are a bunch of recipes floating around for homemade marshmallows, I have only used one, clipped from a Washington Post story from several years ago. It isn't available online, so I'll post it below. Suffice it to say, you need patience (Miss Bowers noted that it took a long, long time for the sugar and water and corn syrup to reach 240 degrees on the stove), a couple of different mixing bowls, and more patience (the marshmallows need to set for a few hours before you can cut them up). Fun cookie cutters are also a plus. We cut ours into stars, trees, hearts, bells, snow people, gingerbread men, even a big teddy bear.


Source: The Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2000

(Makes 45 to 50 marshmallows)

It takes only about 20 minutes to whip up your own batch of marshmallows, a relatively simple process that is greatly aided by the use of a candy thermometer.

Purists prefer the honesty of vanilla flavoring; substituting lemon extract cuts the sweetness of the confection. A bit of food coloring lends a festive touch, but we prefer a marshmallow that is snowy white.

Vegetable shortening for the pan

Confectioners' sugar for dusting, plus additional for the pan

2 1/2 packages (2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup cold water

1/2 cup hot water

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 egg whites*

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (may substitute lemon, almond, orange, peppermint or other extracts)

Food coloring, if desired

Lightly grease a 13-by-9-by-2-inch metal pan and sprinkle with the confectioners' sugar; tap out any excess sugar.

Place the gelatin in a large bowl and add the cold water. Let the gelatin sit for about 5 minutes.

In a saucepan over low heat, stir together the hot water, sugar and corn syrup and cook, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to medium and cook, without stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and threads; it should register 240 degrees on a candy thermometer (the soft-ball stage).

Stir the gelatin mixture into the sugar mixture. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the mixture until it triples in volume, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

In a medium bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites and vanilla or other flavoring (and optional food coloring) into the gelatin mixture just until incorporated.

Transfer the marshmallow mixture to the prepared pan, dust the surface with confectioners' sugar until it is lightly coated and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 3 hours or overnight.

To serve, use a sharp knife to cut around the edges of the pan. The bottom of the confection will be sticky. Cut the marshmallow slab into 1- or 1 1/2-inch squares (or whatever shape you prefer), then gently ease the pieces from the pan and toss them in a bowl of confectioner's sugar. This may be done in several batches. Transfer to a colander and toss again, to remove excess sugar.

To store: Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

* Note: Uncooked eggs may be contaminated with salmonella and should be avoided by young children, the elderly and anyone with immune system deficiencies.

Per marshmallow (based on 50): 38 calories, 1 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 gm saturated fat, 7 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dinner tonight... Salmon with Escarole and Lemon

Hooray, the newest issue of Everyday Food arrived while Mr. Fritz and I were visiting our families for Christmas! It was a treat to come back to it, especially since it looks to be filled with a whole spate of great new recipes. As I made my grocery list for the week, I included a bunch of them, so expect to see them in this space as the week rolls along.

First up: Salmon with Escarole and Lemon. I've never cooked with escarole, as far as I can recall. A leafy green, it cooks down to have a buttery taste. For this recipe, I used a whole head of it, and I found it to be a nice change from spinach. Mr. Fritz thought it looked like seaweed (specifically, those tangled green messes that wash up on shore), but he agreed that it was edible (I thought it tasted great, personally). We both thought the salmon itself was wonderful -- essentially you top the salmon with slices of lemon, then steam it for 12-15 minutes on a bed of wilted escarole and caramelized onions and garlic. It really couldn't be simpler. My only quibble: I ended up with a burned mess on the bottom of my pot, as some of the onions and escarole apparently cooked too much during the steaming process. Not sure how I'll remedy that in the future, but I'll have to figure it out, because I definitely want to make this again. Yum!

The recipe does not appear to be posted yet on Everyday Food's site; when it is, I'll link to it...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dinner tonight... Orange Glazed Salmon

If it's Sunday, it must be salmon, right? Not really, but that has been the case for the past couple of weeks. Tonight, I tried a recipe from grilling company Fire & Flavor called Orange Glazed Salmon. Unfortunately, I can't find the recipe on the site, so I'll just explain it below. Mr. Fritz and I both really liked it. I must admit that I didn't believe that such a small amount of orange zest would make any sort of difference whatsoever, but lo and behold, the orange flavor came through clearly once the salmon was cooked.

In any case, this was very easy and I was able to pull it together with ingredients I already had in my pantry and refrigerator (except for the salmon, of course). I'll definitely make this again, possibly on a cedar plank (tonight, I just roasted it in the oven on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil). I served it with jasmine rice and snow peas that I'd sauteed with a little olive oil and lemon juice. The whole meal was ready to go in 15 minutes.

Source: Fire & Flavor
Prep time: 5 minutes + soak
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4

3 Tbs. Dijon mustard
3 Tbs. maple syrup
1 Tb. balsamic vinegar
2 tsps. fresh orange zest
4 6-oz salmon filets, skin removed
1 cedar grilling plank, soaked

Preheat grill (or oven) to medium-low heat, about 350 degrees.

Combine mustard, maple syrup, vinegar and orange zest in a small bowl in set aside. Season salmon with salt and pepper and brush with desired amount of glaze.

Place smoked plank on grill, close lid, and heat for 3 minutes. Using tongs, flip plank and place salmon on heated side of plank. Close lid and grill for 12-15 minutes until done to your liking. Remove plank and salmon from grill and serve.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lunch today... Ginger-Sesame Chicken with Peanutty Noodles

Last night, Mr. Fritz and I completed all of our Christmas shopping. Yay! As a result, we were able to relax a little bit today, and I was able to make a decent lunch. So I decided to riff off of another recipe in the January issue of Real Simple: Chicken with Peanut Dipping Sauce. Their recipe calls for frozen breaded chicken breasts, which didn't appeal to me. I appreciated the peanut sauce recipe, however, and used it to launch my take: Ginger-Sesame Chicken with Peanutty Noodles. I started by boiling some Japanese udon noodles, which is sort of interesting, because to do so, you bring the water to a boil, add the noodles, then when the noodles start to rise to the top of the water, you turn the water down and simmer them for 10-15 minutes. Very odd way to cook what I think of as pasta!

While the noodles were simmering, I sauteed a couple of chicken cutlets in sesame oil, sprinkling them with ground ginger once they were in the pan. When they were cooked through, I removed them from the pan and threw in some Chinese pea pods and shredded carrot, let that saute for a couple of minutes, then added the ingredients for the peanut sauce: peanut butter, soy sauce, crushed ginger, fresh lime juice and brown sugar. After mixing that all together and sauteing everything for a few minutes, I added in the noodles (which I'd drained) and made sure it the noodles and vegetables were all nicely coated with the sauce and that it was all heated through. To serve, I put the noodle mixture in the bottom of a shallow bowl, then topped it with strips of the chicken. Good stuff, and very easy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dinner tonight... Lemon Chicken with Olives and Jasmine Rice

Tonight's meal was a winner. I once again turned to a recipe from Real Simple's "All-Time Reader Favorites" story in the January issue (Sunday's Cedar-Plank Salmon and last night's Last-Minute Lasagna were also featured in this article): Lemon Chicken with Olives. And it was great! So flavorful and tasty, with a nice presentation -- definitely dinner-party worthy.

To prepare, you dip thin-sliced chicken cutlets in a mixture of flour, lemon rind and cumin, dusting off the excess, and fry in about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes, just long enough for the chicken to brown. Then you set the chicken aside, lower the heat to medium and saute a sliced shallot for a few minutes, until it softens and caramelizes. Then you add halved green olives, chopped parsley, white wine and fresh lemon juice to the skillet, bring that to a boil, put the chicken back in with the rest of the mix, lower the heat to a simmer, and let it all simmer for 4-6 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. So simple!

I wasn't sure how I would feel about such a strong presence of olives, but I think that they were tempered nicely by the lemon and white wine sauce. I used chicken breasts that had been air-chilled and had no water added to them and I wonder if that made a difference, because they were so tender! I used half of a sweet onion because my grocery store was out of shallots. (Who would have expected a run on shallots at the Teeter?) And I paired it with jasmine rice, which always makes my kitchen smell lovely. Mr. Fritz said that the dish was a little tangy for him, but that he could handle it. This is good, because I will definitely want to make this again. Yum!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dinner tonight... Last-Minute Lasagna

On Sunday, I made a pan of Real Simple's Last-Minute Lasagna and divided it into six portions. I'm eating it for lunch each day this week (which is good, because work has been so busy that I can barely step away from my desk for the minute-and-a-half it takes to warm it up), and Mr. Fritz had it for dinner tonight (I had dinner out with a friend). This was another one of Real Simple's all-time favorite recipes and I must admit that it was in fact both easy to prepare as well as really tasty.

The recipe has only a few ingredients: refrigerated ravioli (I used tortelloni, because the grocery store was out of rav), frozen chopped spinach (thawed, with the water squeezed out), shredded mozzarella, marinara sauce (I used Trader Joe's Organic Vodka Sauce because I had a jar in the pantry), and shredded Parmesan. What makes it extra easy is that the filled pasta stands in for ricotta cheese and you don't need to pre-boil the pasta, since it's fresh, unlike regular lasagna sheets. You layer sauce, pasta, spinach, cheese, then repeat twice, finishing with sauce. It then bakes for 30 minutes, covered, in a 375 degree oven, followed by 5-10 minutes uncovered. Simple, tasty, good, and lends itself to lots of variations.

Some notes:
The recipe calls for one 24-26 ounce jar of marinara sauce, but I think it would have been better with more sauce, maybe even double that amount. Also, OCD girl that I am, I carefully placed the tortelloni in rows. I think that it would probably be fine to be a little less precise, but what can I say? I'm kind of all about the presentation. At least I didn't force myself to alternate between the plain pasta and the spinach pasta -- even I can admit that doing that would have been over the top!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dinner tonight... Pasta with Tomatoes, Sausage and White Wine

I'm continuing my quest to feed Mr. Fritz anything but Asian food this week, since he had his fill for awhile while on his business trip. So, tonight, I turned to another Real Simple recipe: Pasta with Tomatoes, Sausage and White Wine. It's from a story in their January issue called "18 Easy Upgrades for Your Favorite Convenience Foods." In this case, the convenience food is jarred marinara sauce. I picked up a 24 ounce jar of Mezzetta Roasted Garlic marinara sauce because I wanted to start with a decent base and thought the product could do the work for me of layering in a roasted garlic taste. (I used half of it tonight for this dish.)

To make this for two people, boil an appropriate amount of pasta (I used angel hair) and as that's cooking, follow these directions: "Heat 1 Tb olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 a pound of sweet Italian sausage (removed from casings) and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine and cook for 3 minutes. Add the sauce and cook until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve over the pasta." To make it for six people, follow the same directions, just use the whole jar of sauce.

Mr. Fritz and I both really liked this: it was flavorful and filling, and it took only about 10-15 minutes to pull together, which is perfect for a weeknight. In addition to using nice jarred sauce, I also picked up some good quality, house-made Italian sausage from the grocery store instead of going with a mass-produced variety. And it was another chance to use a mini-bottle of white wine, which I happily cracked open in lieu of using a full-sized bottle and having tons left over. I'll definitely make this again. It reminded me a little bit of the seriously tasty Italian-sausage laden risotto I made a few weeks ago, but with much less effort required.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dinner tonight... Cedar-Plank Salmon

Our dear friend Mr. Corbin is visiting from Austin, Texas, and we had the pleasure of hosting him for dinner this evening. Since it's a rare treat to see him, I wanted to be sure to make a special meal. So I decided to try something new (to me, anyway): roasted salmon atop a cedar plank that had been soaked in water. I was inspired by the January issue of Real Simple, where the editors published some of the magazine's all-time favorite recipes, including this one for Cedar-Plank Salmon.

It's super easy: You soak a special cedar board (I picked mine up at the grocery store) in water for at least an hour. (This is essential, so that the wood doesn't catch on fire in your oven) Then set the salmon on the plank (I used 6 oz salmon filets and as usual asked the fishmonger to remove the skin for me), then topped each piece with a mixture of brown sugar, dried thyme, cayenne pepper and vegetable oil. Then I set the plank on top of a rimmed baking sheet and put the whole thing into a 350 degree oven. Twenty minutes later, the salmon was perfectly roasted and wonderfully fragrant, as the scent of cedar had essentially smoked the fish. The brown sugar mixture had kind of hardened on top of the fish, sort of like the top layer of creme brulee.

I served the salmon alongside couscous studded with dried cherries and a salad of greens, feta, cucumber, cilantro and a lemon-white wine vinaigrette. Mr. Corbin seemed to like the meal, noting that the sweetness to the salmon rub was especially pleasing. For my part, I will definitely be experimenting with roasting on a cedar plank again in the future. Oh, and Mr. Fritz, who made it home safely from the tropical place, enjoyed the meal, too!

Drink: Pomegranate Soda

Friday night, the ever-stylish Ms. Yee joined me for dinner. As we caught up over our meal, we sipped specially made Pomegranate Sodas, concocted by drizzling 2 Tbs pomegranate syrup over a tall glass filled with ice, then topped with soda water.

The pomegranate syrup is created by dissolving 1 cup of sugar into 1/2 cup of pomegranate juice -- bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, without stirring, until it's syrupy, about 2 minutes. Let it cool and you can store it in the refrigerator for up to one week, then just use it to make individual drinks as needed.

I served the drinks with an iced-tea spoon so that we could stir the syrup up to better mix with the soda water. It makes for a very pretty presentation as the entire drink slowly gains a pink tinge -- and might make for a nice signature drink at a party. The recipe suggests topping each drink with a marachino cherry. I didn't have any, so I skipped that, but I think I might invest in a jar for the next time I have the chance to serve this tasty drink.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mr. Fritz forages for food in tropical place, reports back with findings

Since I didn't do any cooking this evening (I attended a benefit dinner for this amazing organization with the spectacular Ms. Hays as my date), I thought it might be fun to post a field report from Mr. Fritz, offering a glimpse of what he's been eating while he's been away on his business trip. It's short, because he was typing on his iPhone. Plus I don't think he gets as excited about waxing poetic over food as I do. And dutiful and wonderful husband that he is, he was kind enough to send a photo. His report:

"Tonight, we went to an all you can eat sushi bar. It didn't look expensi
ve... kind of had a fast food look. Ended up costing $30. Couldn't believe it. One draft beer was $12.50. But 50% off tonight. I think one bottle of cheap white wine ($5 in a store) cost $30.

"On my big plate is a breaded shrimp on a stick, some teriyaki, and a couple pieces of pork. The little plate had an assortment of sushi I picked out. I had no idea what I was picking. It was all colorful though."

Apparently, Mr. Fritz has eaten teriyaki every day this week. I think that means I should probably refrain from making Asian food for awhile upon his return!

Thanks, Mr. Fritz, for being tonight's guest blogger!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dinner tonight... Spring Rolls with Ginger Sesame Shrimp

A few years ago, my friend (and my entertaining role model) Mrs. Durham served me a truly fun meal: make-them-yourself spring rolls. She put the ingredients on a platter and we all sat around the table and assembled them to our tastes. I have thought about trying my hand at them ever since, but always thought that it was too complicated to pull off. But since I've been doing all this cooking of late, suddenly chopping up a few things seemed pretty simple, all things considered.

So tonight, when the very sweet Mrs. Gage joined me for dinner, I decided it was time to give them a go. Following Mrs. Durham's directions, I set out a carefully composed platter that included shredded carrots, thinly sliced cucumbers, fresh mint, basil and cilantro, cellophane noodles, mung bean sprouts, peanut sauce, fresh limes, and shrimp that I had sauteed in a little sesame oil with ginger and sesame seeds. I also boiled some water in my tea kettle and set that out in a large bowl. As the meal went along, we dipped dry rice paper wrappers into the hot water to soften them, then filled them with shrimp and the rest of the items on the platter, rolled the wrappers around the filling like you might roll a burrito, and ate them. It was a really fun, creative, relaxed way to share the meal and the flavors were all so fresh and bright -- a true treat.

Notes: you can find cellophane noodles and rice paper wrappers in the Asian section of the supermarket. I looked for the wrappers in the refrigerated section at first, not realizing that they would be sold in a manner similar to dry pasta. For the carrots, I just used my vegetable peeler to create long thin strips. And I sliced the cucumbers very thin as well. Pulling the elements together onto the platter took just a few minutes. Definitely worth the effort!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dinner tonight... Pasta with Mixed Mushrooms and Thyme

This week, Mr. Fritz is on a business trip to a tropical place. So I'm taking the opportunity to cook for friends, and tonight the very fun Ms. Rowings joined me for dinner. Since she's a vegetarian, I made a simple, tasty meatless meal for us: Pasta with Mixed Mushrooms and Thyme.

To prepare it, you saute a minced shallot in a little bit of butter, then add some white wine and let that reduce. From there, you add thinly sliced shitake and button mushrooms to the pan along with some fresh thyme. Once the mushrooms have softened, you add them to freshly cooked (and drained) pasta, and mix in some Parmesan cheese and a little more butter. Yum. Oh, and we balanced the decadence of the pasta with a salad of greens dressed in olive oil and lemon juice.

Notes: I skipped the step that involved dried porcini mushrooms, because I couldn't find them at the grocery store. I also minced a couple of shallots instead of just one, and I think that added to the flavor in a positive way. And finally, I can't remember if I've mentioned this or not yet, but my new favorite thing is individual mini-bottles of wine -- they are each about a cup and you can buy them in four-packs. They're perfect, in my opinion, for cooking, since you'll rarely need more than a cup of wine for any recipe. Plus, they have screw caps (how gauche, I know...) if you only need a small amount, so reclosing isn't difficult.

PS: Mr. Fritz took the camera to the tropical place (I insisted), so no photos this week. Sorry!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lunch this week: Enchilada Casserole

Every now and then I use my slow cooker on the weekend to make lunch for the week. So yesterday, I turned to one of my favorite vegetarian recipes: Enchilada Casserole from Cooking Light. It's a simple recipe that takes just a couple of minutes to mix together before it spends about 5 hours in the Crock Pot.

The base of the casserole consists of black beans, corn, chopped green chiles, enchilada sauce, salsa, cilantro and chopped scallions. You mix all of that together, set the slow cooker on low and let it go for four hours. Then you mix up a package of Jiffy corn mix along with some more green chiles, chopped roasted red peppers and an egg, and drop that in dollops over the top of the casserole base. Put the lid back on and let it cook for another hour. Finally, drop some shredded cheese over the whole thing, let it melt and you're done.

When I do big batch recipes like this, I try to immediately separate the finished dish into individual portions. Then all the containers go into the fridge and I can just grab one each day before I head to work. It streamlines my morning lunch packing routine and stops me from eating too much in any one sitting.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dinner tonight... Shrimp Pad Thai

One of the things I am most enjoying about feeding Mr. Fritz: at this point, I really feel like I can replicate a restaurant in my kitchen. One night, it's an American steak house, another night, an Italian trattoria, another night, a French bistro, etc. If we're craving it, I can (more or less) make it, and make it to order. So today, as I was planning this week's menu, I decided I'd give Pad Thai a try. I'd never made it before, but really like it. To my great delight, this recipe for Shrimp Pad Thai offered a very close approximation of what we'd get if we ordered it out.

Notable things: rice stick noodles, which look like my hair, were my hair translucent and white, can be hard to untangle. I only wanted to use half of the 8 oz package and ended up having to use scissors to cut off a slab of these dry, stiff, yet strangely pliable noodles in order to get the amount I needed. Also, this was my first time using fish sauce. I was hesitant, but figured that after all these years of avoiding it, it was probably time to just give in a buy a bottle. 2 Tbs of fish sauce is the equivalent to 2 Tbs of soy sauce and 1 Tb of anchovy paste. And, if you ever need to chop peanuts, try this method: put whole peanuts into a small ziplock bag, remove any excess air from the bag and seal it, then bang on it with a meat tenderizer. It works like a charm and is a lot easier (and safer) than triying to chop them with a knife. Finally, this recipe has a longer ingredient list than most of the ones I've used of late, but it really is worth it to gather everything, including the cilantro, fresh limes, scallions, and mung bean sprouts. Each ingredient really adds to the layered flavors and textures in the overall dish. Good stuff.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Dinner tonight... Chicken Fried Rice with Bok Choy

For as long as I can remember, my mom has told me that when life gives you lemons, you need to make lemonade. Towards the end of making Thursday night's meal, I set aside some chicken and a couple of cups of jasmine rice. And so, Thursday night's less than spectacular meal (i.e. the proverbial lemons) turned into tonight's Chicken Fried Rice with Bok Choy (i.e. some pretty tasty proverbial lemonade), the second part to another two-parter Everyday Food recipe set.

In any case, it was very easy. First you beat an egg and pour it into a large frying pan over medium heat and let it cook until it sets, then remove it from the pan, roll it up and slice it, it'll make long strips that you'll eventually add back into the rice. Next, chop some bok choy, dice an onion, mince some garlic and saute it all in a little vegetable oil over medium-high. When the bok choy has softened (after 5 or so minutes), you add in the leftover rice and the leftover cooked chicken (shred it first), some rice vinegar, soy sauce and bottled ginger, stir everything together until it's all heated through (again, about 5 minutes), then add in the egg, give the whole thing another stir, and serve. Super easy!

A couple of notes: this was my first time cooking with bok choy. I was a little nervous about it -- I knew I'd eaten it in Chinese food in the past, but couldn't really recall if or how much I liked it. (Turns out that in this dish, anyway, it was great.) The recipe said to core and then chop it. As far as I can tell, "coring" it means to avoid using the stuff in the very center and make sure to cut the botton off of each stalk, the way you would with celery. Also, cooking the egg according to the directions yielded a really cool superthin omelet, almost crepe-like in its thinness. It made me thing that it might be fun to experiment with making eggs like that in the future and rolling stuff inside, such as proscuitto, blanched asparagus, etc. So many possibilities!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dinner tonight... Braised Chicken with White Wine, Tomatoes and Peas

This will be a short post, unfortunately. Tonight I made Braised Chicken with White Wine, Tomatoes and Peas from the December issue of Everyday Food and even though it sounded good when I read the recipe and the end result presented well:

...It just didn't taste very good. So I'm not going to go into how I made it or any of that, because I just don't think I'd recommend anyone else give it a shot. Sigh. I guess it could have been worse: we could have ordered it in a restaurant, paid lots of money for it and then been disappointed. But still, kind of a bummer.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dinner tonight... Steak Tostadas with Cilantro Sour Cream

Here it is: part two of Monday's cliffhanger! As promised, I made Steak Tostadas with Cilantro Sour Cream using ingredients intentionally left over from Monday's dinner. Because I'd prepped everything in advance, this meal came together in about 10 minutes, which is just about as good as it gets for a home-cooked meal.

On Monday, I sliced the remaining flank steak into thin slices, chopped up a couple of scallions and put those ingredients plus the leftover roasted mushrooms and a small can of well-drained corn into a big tupperware container, each ingredient in its own little pile. I also mixed up the sour cream/lime juice/cilantro topping and put that into a smaller container alongside the rest of the ingredients. So tonight, all I had to do was mix everything together, put it on top of two tortillas topped with cheese, and heat the tostadas in a 475 degree oven for a few minutes.

A couple of notes: they say to put the cheese-topped tortillas in the oven for 4-6 minutes first, then top with steak mixture and put them back in the oven for another 6-8 minutes. I found this led to a really hard tortilla in the end. I think it would be better to just put the cheese and the steak mixture on the tortilla from the start and let the entire thing spend only 6-8 minutes in the oven. I also thought the flank steak was overly chewy, but that might just be because I don't like meat that much. Amusingly, at the end of the meal, I'd left a lot of the meat on my plate and Mr. Fritz had left a lot of vegetables on his. Together we'd make one really good eater (or one really bad one, I guess!).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lunch today... Easiest Indian Stew

Just a quick post tonight. I generally pack Mr. Fritz a lunch everyday that consists of a couple of sandwiches, cookies, chips, a piece of fruit, some carrots, etc. But my lunch is usually a lot more random. Could be just instant oatmeal some weeks or just vegetables other weeks. But occasionally I go all out and make something -- usually a vegetarian something -- divide it immediately into portions in tupperware and then eat it all week for lunch. This week I did that with this recipe from Everyday Food called Easiest Indian Stew. It really is simple and it features chick peas, which I love. So there you go, a mini post about feeding Mrs. Fritz. Cheers!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dinner tonight... Seared Steak with Roasted Mushrooms and Spinach Salad

You know how sometimes your favorite TV show will do a two-part episode, leaving a cliffhanger at the end of the first hour? Well, that happened tonight in my kitchen. I decided to tackle a two-part Everyday Food recipe series, where you make extra of a couple of things on Night One (in this case, flank steak and roasted mushrooms) and then re-purpose the extra in a second meal on Night Two.

So tonight, Mr. Fritz and I dined on Seared Steak with Roasted Mushrooms and Spinach Salad, and on Wednesday, we'll reconvene to enjoy Steak Tostadas with Cilantro Sour Cream. It's like planned leftovers. Or leftovers with a purpose. Or something. In any case, I'm already looking forward to dinner on Wednesday!

As far as tonight's effort went, it was very easy to create. First, I quarted the mushrooms, tossed them with a little olive oil and chopped garlic, salt and pepper, and put them on a baking sheet and into a 475 degree oven for 20 minutes.

As soon as they went into the oven, I prepared a rub for the flank steak by mixing together crushed oregano, sweet paprika, red pepper and salt and pepper. I rubbed a little olive oil all over the 1.5 lb piece of meat, then covered it on both sides with the rub. The recipe calls for searing the meat on top of the stove, but I decided to toss it into the oven as well, for 15 minutes.

Once both the mushrooms and the steak were roasting, I turned to the salad, which was really just spinach dressed with a vinaigrette made of equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When the mushrooms were done roasted and the flank steak was cooked to our desired internal temp, I sliced the steak thinly and plated everything together. Done and done!

Mr. Fritz really liked this meal and so did I, despite not being a huge meat eater. The rub enhanced the flavor of the meat and the high-temperature oven roasting went surprisingly quickly and resulted in a nice juicy steak. The roasted mushrooms were particular tasty -- they had a nice firm texture and a great woodsy flavor. Plus the garlic added a little extra punch. And the salad was nice and simple. After we were done eating, I pulled together the ingredients for the tostadas a made a little meal kit for Wednesday. I feel ahead already!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dinner tonight... Italian Pot Pies

Yum. That's the word to describe tonight's meal. Quick to pull together and ridiculously tasty, this recipe for individual Italian Pot Pies is absolutely fantastic. It comes together in two parts: first, you saute chopped onions and carrots for about 5 minutes, then add ground beef and saute for about 5 more minutes, until it's no longer pink. Next, you add some marinara sauce (I used refrigerated sauce from the grocery store), bring the sauce to a boil, then let the mixture simmer for 8-10 minutes.

Once that's simmering, turn your attention to the biscuit-like topping: mix together baking powder, flour, salt, rosemary (it called for dried crushed rosemary, but I used chopped fresh rosemary because it is my favorite herb), and grated Parmesan. Then make a little well in the dry ingredients and add melted butter and milk (it called for whole milk, I used skim because that's what I had on hand). Mix together until the batter is just wet, then divide ground beef and vegetables between 8 ounce ramekins and top with biscuit batter. Then place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake the pot pies at 450 on the lowest rack of the oven for 10-12 minutes.

The finished pot pies are great for a few reasons. First, who doesn't love being served an individual ramekin filled with great stuff? It makes for such an elegant presentation. The biscuit batter browns nicely and is wonderfully cheesy with melted Parmesan throughout, and the rosemary makes the biscuits flavorful. And they make for a great contrast to the tomato-y ground beef mixture that makes up the heart of the dish. Honestly, I couldn't get over how great these turned out, especially since they really didn't take much effort at all. Great comfort food on a rainy November evening, that's for sure. I'll definitely make this again!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Holiday Treat: Chocolatey Pilgrim Hats

For tonight's special Thanksgiving edition of Feeding Mr. Fritz, my niece, Miss Bowers, is taking over the keyboard. She and her family made a very fun and festive holiday treat to bring to The Original Mr. and Mrs. Fritz's house for Thanksgiving: pilgrim hats made out of edible goodies. Here's Miss Bowers, 7, with more:

"It's really easy! All you have to do is take a Fudge Stripe Cookie and then you put chocolate frosting around the hole in the center and then you take a Reeses' Peanut Butter Cup and put it onto the frosting upside down. Then, you have to take a candy corn and cut off the white part on the top and you push it into the Reese's Cup so that it looks like a buckle. And that's pretty much all you have to do. It's very chocolatey and very peanut butterish.

"If you want to make a lot, my family and I did an assembly line, so I would do the frosting and my sister would put on the Reese's Cup and my other sister would have the candy corn, so it went pretty fast. If you only want a few and you don't have an assembly line, it doesn't take very long either. I would recommend that anyone try making this Thanksgiving treat!"

Thanks, Miss Bowers!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dinner tonight... Pistachio-Crusted Chicken, Glazed Carrots, Pan-Roasted Potatoes

Mr. Fritz ate well tonight. In an effort to use up the fresh ingredients I had on hand before we head home to Ohio and Michigan, I ended up making a bigger meal than usual: glazed carrots, pan-roasted potatoes, and a salad of romaine lettuce with a lemon-white wine vinaigrette. And for the main course I adapted an Everyday Food recipe, Pistachio-Crusted Cod, to work with chicken (again, because I wanted to use it while it was fresh).

I really liked the chicken -- the pistachio/parsley/olive oil/garlic coating was a nice change from the standard variations I've made recently. But I see why they suggested using the coating for fish rather than chicken; since chicken takes longer to roast (I think I left it in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes), the coating got fairly brown. Using it to top fish, it would probably stay a vibrant green all the way through the much shorter cooking process. Regardless, I definitely recommend checking it out if you are a fan of the pistachio.

The carrots were a little sweeter than I expected, but it was a good experiment. The recipe calls for sauteing the carrots in olive oil for a couple of minutes, then sort of steaming them on low in some chicken broth, red wine vinegar and honey for several minutes, then uncovering them, raising the heat and letting the liquids cook off before swirling in a little butter at the end. Good stuff but a little labor intensive for something as simple as carrots.

As for the potatoes, I pretty much just sauteed them in olive oil with a little dill on medium high heat for 12 or so minutes, them lowered the heat to low for an additional 8 or so minutes (can you tell that I wasn't really dedicated to following any sort of cooking standards tonight?). And for the salad, I just tore up the romaine and splashed a vinaigrette that consisted of some fresh lemon juice, plus equal parts white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Done and done!

The only bummer about tonight's meal? Lots of dishes to do. Sigh.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dinner tonight... Braised Brisket with Cranberries and Roasted-Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Tonight, Mr. Fritz and I took a meal over to the Rev. and Mrs. Glade, my final meal-after-a-new-baby-delivery for this baby season. I'm not expecting to cook for another new mom until February or so when Mr. and Mrs. Robertson have their little girl. This particular delivery was extra fun because we ended up getting to share the meal with the Glades, and during the ensuing hour we had quite a few good laughs, especially when Mrs. Glade recounted her days in her high school marching band and one particularly unfortunate showing during a band performance in Toronto. There are few things as priceless in this life as dear friends. (Especially funny ones!)

In any case, I wanted to make something really special, so I decided on Braised Brisket with Cranberries as the main dish and Roasted-Garlic Mashed Potatoes for the side dish. The brisket takes four hours to roast in the oven at 350, so it's a meal to make when you know you'll be around for the afternoon. It requires very little babysitting.

You begin by searing the brisket for 8-10 minutes in a heavy pot, then set it aside and make a bath for it to braise in -- saute a little flour, then add red wine, chicken broth, water, blackstrap molasses, a bay leaf and half a bag of cranberries to the pot. Once that's mixed together, you place the brisket back in the pot and set it in a 350 degree oven with the rack placed at the lowest possible point. Then you leave it alone for three hours. At the three hour mark, you add a o
ne-pound bag of frozen pearl onions, and then at the 3:30 mark you add the rest of the cranberries. At the four hour mark, the brisket is done. But along the way, your kitchen will fill with the wonderful scent of the cranberries cooking and the beef roasting; perfect for a cold fall day! Even better: the end result was excellent. The brisket was incredibly tender and the cranberries and onions were lovely accompaniments. The liquids turned into a great gravy-like sauce and the whole dish together was fragrant and well-balanced. Definitely a keeper.

For the mashed potatoes, you also need to plan ahead just a bit because it takes an hour to roast the garlic (recipe below). I really need to pick up a potato masher; I ended up once again using my pastry cutter to mash them, which is not optimal. My mom uses her stand mixer to mash potatoes, but it's too much of a hassle for me to pull mine out for this. (My mother's potatoes, I should add, are legendary in how amazing they are.) Anyway, the roasted garlic definitely added a nice edge to the standard potatoes I typically make. (Roasting the garlic also made me recall the time I went to a restaurant in San Francisco called The Stinking Rose - an entire restaurant dedicated to garlic!). In any case, the potatoes turned out very nicely and I'm glad I went to the trouble of roasting the garlic.

Everyday Food Magazine, November 2008
Serves 8. Prep time: 15 minutes. Total time: 1+1/4 hour

2 heads garlic
1 tsp olive oil
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch cubes
Coarse ground salt and pepper
1 cup half and half
4 Tbs butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off and discard top quarter of garlic heads. Drizzle garlic with oil; wrap in foil. Bake until tender, 1 hour. Squeeze out garlic cloves; discard skins.

Place potatoes in a large sauce pan and cover with cold water by 1 inch; season with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are easily pierced with a paring knife, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and return to pan. Heat over medium, stirring, until a thin starchy film covers bottom of pan. Remove from heat; add half and half, butter and garlic. Mash until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Lunch today... Chicken, Feta and Pistachio Salad

Mr. Fritz and I have had a lovely day at home. The cold I came down with on Thursday seems to have passed (yay!) and so I've been able to get some things accomplished. Among them was making a real lunch, something that often gets short shrift on the weekend.

The December issue of Everyday Food has a great article on pistachio nuts -- their origin, what they can do for your health, and most importantly, recipes that incorporate them. There's a cool cheese log that I hope to make for a future event (no event in mind at the moment, but surely something will come up!), a chocolate pistachio cake (unlikely to be made by me, because I dislike nuts in baked goods, but seriously beautiful to gaze upon), a pistachio-coated fish recipe that I plan to adapt for chicken for dinner tomorrow night, and this really smart dish: Chicken, Feta and Pistachio Salad.

It has all sorts of tasty elements in it: chicken that's sauteed with a little ground coriander, crumbled feta (I used a light version), orange slices, toasted pistachio nuts (toasted on the stove, so easy!), parsley, crisp romaine lettuce, and a white wine vinaigrette comprised of equal parts white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil plus salt and pepper. I really liked the way the flavors of the various ingredients worked together. The oranges brightened the dish, the feta gave it a salty bite, and the pistachios a warmth. The chicken made it feel substantial and the lettuce offered the perfect crispness. All in all a really successful salad and one to which I plan to return.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dessert: Cranberry Trifle

The very gracious Mr. and Mrs. Fleming invited us over for dinner last night and when I asked what I could bring, Mrs. Fleming suggested dessert. Since I'm not a baker (as previously noted), I was at a loss for what to make. Luckily, the December issue of Everyday Food arrived this week (I know, I seriously am obsessed) and on the cover was a luscious looking Cranberry Trifle.

The trifle, a layered dessert with three elements (cranberry compote, store-bought pound cake and a creamy cream cheese whipped cream) comes together quickly and easily. First, you simmer cranberries, water, sugar and ginger for about 8 minutes, until the cranberries start to burst. Let that cool completely while you prepare a mixture of cream cheese, brown sugar, regular sugar, vanilla and heavy cream using a stand mixer. Then cut up the pound cake and begin the assembly process: first a layer of pound cake, then a layer of cranberry compote, then a layer of whipped topping, repeating the layering process two more times.

A couple of notes: I used gingerbread pound cake instead of vanilla pound cake and the tasters all agreed that it was an upgrade. Other substitutions: light cream cheese for regular cream cheese and jarred pureed ginger for chopped fresh ginger. Also, I made only half the called for amount of cranberry compote and used only 12 ounces of cake, but made the full portion of whipped topping and it still made enough dessert to serve at least 8 people if not more. Using a trifle dish is a nice because you can see all of the layers through the glass. I have a really pretty trifle dish (thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Meyer!) but if you don't have one, any reasonably high-sided baking dish will do. Finally, I think it would work nicely with chocolate pound cake and cherries as well. Maybe I'll try that combination next!

Everyday Food Magazine, December 2008
Serves 12, Prep Time 35 Minutes, Total Time: 35 Minutes + Chilling

2 bags (12 oz each) cranberries, fresh or frozen
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbs finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 bar (8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream
2 homemade or store-bought all butter pound cakes (12 oz each), cut into 3/4-inch thick slices
Candied Orange Zest (below) for garnish (optional)

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, 2 cups granulated sugar and 2 cups water. Bring to a simmer over medium, cook until cranberries begin to burst, about 8 to 10 minutes. Let compote cool completely.

Make cream filling. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, brown sugar, and vanilla on high until well combined. With mixer on medium, gradually add heavy cream; continue to beat until soft peaks form.

Arrange 1/3 of cake in a 3-quart serving dish. Spoon 1/3 of compote over cake; spread to sides of dish. Dollop 1/3 of cream filling over compote; spread to sides of dish. Repeat twice, ending with cream filling. Refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 1 day). Garnish with Candied Orange Zest if desired.

In a medium sauce pan, bring 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar, Add zest of 1 orange (peeled into long strips with a vegetable peeler), simmer, swirling occasionally, until zest is tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain, and transfer to a plate. Dredge zest in sugar and thinly slice.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Big Game is rapidly approaching!

Mr. Fritz and I attended rival colleges: he went to Ohio State and I to the University of Michigan. For those of you who are unfamiliar, this rivalry is large and intense enough that ESPN has made a series of commercials (including this one) that underscore how unlikely (and possibly just plain flat out wrong) it is for a Michigan grad and an Ohio State grad to fall for one another, much less marry.

Mr. Fritz's parents, The Original Mr. Fritz and The Original Mrs. Fritz, are huge Ohio State fans. In fact, just about everyone in my Mr. Fritz's extended family, save for one black sheep who actually (gasp!) went to Michigan, considers scarlet and gray to be their signature colors.

Luckily for me, however, The Original Mr. and Mrs. Fritz have always been very nice to me, despite my having gone to "the school up north." And with the Big Game coming up on Saturday (at noon ET, for those of you who don't want to miss it!), the entire Fritz family is celebrating what those crazy Buckeyes apparently call "Michigan Week" (a whole week dedicated to gleefully thinking about how great it will be if/when they beat us on the gridiron, something that is looking more and more in their favor this year, given the ro
ugh season Michigan is having under the new coach. Sigh.).

In that spirit, The Original Mrs. Fritz sent us a truly fantastic package through the mail, which we received tonight when we got home from work: two bags of gourmet popcorn. One bag contains scarlet and gray popcorn; the other bag, to my delight, contains maize and blue popcorn. And she even included tags that said "Go Bucks!" and "Go Blue!" What a fun surprise and a great reminder that despite my, ahem, questionable background, I have been welcomed wholeheartedly into their family. Yay! So, to The Original Mr. and Mrs. Fritz, I just wanted to send a virtual thank you. We will enjoy munching on our (separate!) treats as we watch the game unfold on Saturday. May the best team win!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dinner tonight... Made-to-Order Pizza

Tonight I continued my mission to use up the supplies I'd gotten for our weekend in the country, so it was pizza night for the Fritzes. And I'm glad I did: with the right materials (in this case, Trader Joe's fresh pizza dough, pizza sauce, plus pepperoni, shredded mozzarella and pre-sliced baby portabella mushrooms), homemade pizza can make it from pan to table in about 10 minutes. Cannot beat that!

So that's our pizza above. Can you guess which half was mine versus which half was made especially for Mr. Fritz?* Pulling it together was super easy. First, I preheated the oven to 425. Then I did that Italian thing where you stretch the dough with your hands, twirling it in the air. (Okay, so I didn't toss it into the air, but I did stretch it out nicely before laying it down on the pan.). Next, I laid down a healthy coat of pizza sauce. Onto that went a light layer of mozzarella, followed by pepperoni, followed by more cheese, followed by mushrooms on half. I sprinkled powdered oregano over the whole thing, then slid it into the oven for 8 minutes. When the time was up, out came a luscious looking and tasting homemade pizza. Delish!

When I made this for our friends this past weekend, I let everyone choose which ingredients they wanted, and among the options was sliced artichoke hearts. Other items that would work well, I think: pesto, different cheeses, chicken, barbecue sauce, you name it. (Obviously having lots of different and unusual pizza toppings is neither new nor innovative, but just thought I'd throw those out there...) Tonight, I was mainly grateful that I was able to make a tasty meal with minimal effort and in very little time. Not to mention that the cost of the ingredients was far less than what we'd pay for a pie from Papa John's or Domino's. I'll definitely return to made-to-order pizza night in the future!

*If you guessed that Mr. Fritz went with the mushroom-free variety, you'd be correct!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dinner tonight... French Toast, Apple Cider Donuts, Orange Slices and Free Trade Hot Cocoa

Mr. Fritz loves french toast. He loves it so much that he had it every day during our honeymoon back in June. (I didn't try it until the last day of our trip and boy was I mad at myself - that was some amazing french toast!) Luckily for me (and Mr. Fritz, come to think of it), my sweet mother is a pro at making french toast. She taught me how to make it when I was just a kid, so whipping it up is second nature to me at this point and tonight I went a little wild and served it for dinner.

The secret to really good french toast, in my opinion, is adding a dash of vanilla, a splash of cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar to the eggs before dipping the bread into them. Those additions elevate the flavor profile from bland to bodacious (sorry, couldn't think of another good "b" word. Also, I'm a little punchy tonight). In terms of preparation, I usually melt a little butter in a skillet, then dip the bread piece by piece into the egg bath before transferring to the pan. Then I cook the french toast on medium high for a few minutes per side -- basically to the desired level of golden brown. And I serve it with more cinnamon sugar, butter and maple syrup.

Tonight Mr. Fritz also noshed on couple of apple cider donuts from The Apple House in Linden, Virginia. These donuts make me think of the ones we used to eat when we visited the cider mill during field trips when I was in grade school. Michigan is known for its apples and where there are apples, you can be sure to find apple cider donuts. Apple House donuts are rolled in cinnamon sugar and are wonderfully dense and moist all at once. My donut connoisseur of a husband looks forward to getting his annual fix each fall.

And to finish off the breakfast-as-dinner theme, I cut up a navel orange into slices and served up a cup of Fair Trade Organic Hot Cocoa from Trader Joe's. This hot cocoa, along with Nestle's Double Chocolate Meltdown (available at most grocery stores) wins my pick for best instant hot cocoa mix. Both are rich, smooth, and call to me with their chocolately goodness when the temperature drops the way it has in the past few days.

What is your favorite breakfast-for-dinner meal? Share your picks in the comments!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dinner tonight... Calzones Stuffed with Pepperoni and Mushrooms

This weekend we went away to the country with friends and I was responsible for making dinner Friday night. Since I wasn't sure exactly how many people would arrive in time for the meal, I overbought on pizza ingredients from Trader Joe's. That meant that tonight, when it was time to make dinner for me and Mr. Fritz, I had leftover dough, pepperoni, mushrooms, cheese and sauce to play with. Instead of making yet another pizza, I decided to try making individual calzones -- basically big pockets of dough filled with pizza fixings.

The process was simple. I divided the dough in half and stretched each piece into a big oval. Then I layered the following over half of each oval, leaving about a half-inch bare around the edge: sauce, cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms (on mine only, since I know Mr. Fritz avoids them when possible), more cheese and a couple more dollops of sauce. Then I folded the non-toppings-laden half of each oval over the fillings, pinched the edges all the way around to seal the toppings inside, pricked our initials in the top of each one so that air could escape as they baked (and so that I could remember which was which when I went to serve them), and put them into the oven at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Pretty soon they were lightly browned and steaming hot. A complete meal which took all of 5 minutes to prepare. Simple, hearty, and perfect for a cold evening at the end of a busy, fun weekend!

PS: If you've never tried Trader Joe's fresh pizza dough, I must insist that you seek it out the next time you are thinking of making homemade pizza. It has a sweetness to it that makes it truly spectacular.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dinner tonight...Spicy Apricot-Glazed Chicken, Jasmine Rice and Steamed Green Beans

Tonight's meal came together in about 20 minutes -- can't beat that. I started by getting a pot of jasmine rice cooking on the stove. The kitchen almost immediately began smelling wonderfully fragrant, which put me in a happy mood as I continued to prepare the various parts.

Next, I set a steamer over an inch or so of water in a saute pan and steamed the green beans for five or so minutes. As soon as the green beans were on the stove, I put the chicken in the oven.

By the time the rice was finished (it takes about 15 minutes to simmer to completion), the chicken was nearly there (I roasted it for 10 minutes at 350), and the green beans were finished steaming, just waiting to be plated (and once they were plated, I sprinkled them with powdered ginger and spritzed fresh lime juice over them, along with salt and pepper). Easy peasy.
An all around tasty meal and one I would definitely make again.

A couple of notes: the recipe for Spicy Apricot-Glazed Chicken is pretty simple, but I simplified it even more by roasting instead of broiling, and by spreading the apricot jam onto the chicken before sliding it into the oven, versus midway through the cooking process.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dinner tonight... Braised Chicken with Dried Figs plus Parmesan and Pepper Polenta

Tonight's meal was good but not spectacular, possibly because my salt grinder (which arrived full with Mr. Fritz in May) is just about empty. Plus, I made a couple of changes to both recipes, some for better, some for worse. For instance, the polenta recipe, from the September issue of Everyday Food, is actually called Pecorino and Pepper Polenta, but since I was lacking Pecorino, I subbed in Parmesan instead. Pecorino is possibly a little nuttier than parm, so perhaps if I'd followed the recipe more closely, the end result would have yielded a fuller taste. It was also, to be fair, my first attempt ever at making polenta from scratch (corn meal, water, butter, salt, pepper and cheese) and perhaps with practice I could bring out the flavor. In any case, it really is easy to make and I will probably give it another try at a later date.

I also altered the recipe for the chicken, but in this case, for the better I think. The recipe, Braised Chicken with Dried Plums, calls for bone-in, skinless chicken thighs. I used boneless breasts instead. And I subbed in dried figs for the dried plums because the idea of prunes wasn't as appealing as figs to my palate. I followed the recipe just the same, which calls for browning the chicken first, then removing it from the pan and sauteing some onions, a little flour and then deglazing with white wine before returning the chicken to the pot, covering it and letting it simmer for 15-18 minutes before tossing in the dried fruit. The technique of braising left the chicken nice and tender, and the gravy that it cooked in made for a lovely sauce over the chicken and the polenta. I'd definitely make it again.

Also, a tip: miniature bottles of wine come in very handy when you generally only use wine to cook with. (Wow. Poor sentence structure there!) I picked up a four pack of pinot griegio at the Teeter a couple of weeks or so ago and have since used a couple of the 2-cup bottles in recipes such as this one as well as a reprise of the Tomato and Sausage Risotto that I made for Mr. Fritz for dinner Sunday night. Very handy and a relief not to have to open a whole bottle of wine when only a small portion is needed for a dish.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dinner tonight... Grilled Salmon with Ginger-Orange Mustard Glaze

Another Tuesday, another new-to-us salmon recipe. This time, I tried a recipe from the Complete Cooking Light Cookbook, Grilled Salmon with Ginger-Orange Mustard Glaze. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it in the CookingLight.com database, so I've included it below, adding in my own notes. If you happen to have this cookbook (the one with the purple cover), you can find it on page 225. It was worth typing in because it was really tasty - enough that Mr. Fritz remarked about its tastiness without provocation. (Always a good sign!) I paired it with sugar snap peas sauteed in a little olive oil, sesame oil and sesame seeds. And I rounded out the meal with dilled orzo. The whole thing came together in around 25 minutes, and clean up was pretty snappy, too, since I broiled the salmon on a baking sheet covered with foil.

Source: The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook

Prep: 5 minutes
Marinate: 30 minutes (I skipped this step and just brushed it on before broiling)

Cook: 10 minutes

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce

1/4 cup cream sherry (I skipped this because I didn't have any)

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

2 Tbs grated peeled fresh ginger (I used the bottled kind)

2 Tbs honey

4 (6-ounce) salmon filets (about 1 inch thick), silver skin removed

Cooking spray
Green onions and lemon slices (optional)

Combine first six ingredients in a large ziptop plastic bag. Add fish to bag, seal and marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Remove fish from bag, reserve marinade.

Prepare grill or broiler.

Place fish on grill rack or broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, basting frequently with reserved marinade (note, I didn't turn the fish over -- just let it broil the whole time on the same side and it worked just fine. I also didn't bother to baste while cooking. Instead, I spooned the marinade over the fish after I'd set the fish on the baking sheet and moved on.)

Place reserved marinade ino a saucepan; bring to a boil. (I skipped this step as well, because I didn't allow the rest of the marinade to come in contact with the raw fish. Since no contact means no worries about bacteria contamination, I was able to just pour the reserved marinade into a couple of sake cups and serve it as it was.) Serve with fish; garnish with green onions and lemon slices if desired. Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 fillet and 3 Tb of glaze)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dinner tonight... Orange-and-Thyme Grilled Shrimp, Couscous with Carrots and Cilantro, Shitake Mushrooms

We were delighted to have the newly-married Mrs. Palmer join us for dinner this evening. She's visiting from New York City and this is the first time we've seen each other for a non-wedding-related event (hers or ours) since sometime in 2007. Mrs. Palmer and I have been friends for more than a decade and although it was wonderfully fun to share our engagement seasons together after all these years, we both agreed that it was thrilling to just relax and catch up, relieved to have all manner of wedding festivities behind us. It was also fun to have the chance to cook for her. When she arrived, the first thing she said to Mr. Fritz was: "Tonight, Mr. Fritz, she's feeding me!"

And feed them I did. Tonight's meal consisted of two Everyday Food recip
es plus a repeat of the shitake mushrooms first attempted a few days ago:

Orange-and-Thyme Grilled Shrimp is a very simple and flavorful preparation. Marinate shrimp in a little orange juice, orange zest, olive oil, garlic and fresh thyme, skewer (I used metal skewers) and grill or broil for 3 minutes per side. Couldn't be easier.

Couscous with Carrot and Cilantro is great in that it takes about 10 minutes to make, yet tastes fresh and bright. To make, bring one cup of water to a boil, add 2/3 cup couscous, cover and remove from heat. Let it sit for 7 minutes, then fluff and mix in grated carrot and chopped cilantro, plus a little olive oil. The hardest part is grating the carrot, but a box grater does the trick nicely.

Shitake mushrooms with lemon and parsley rounded out the meal. I stir-fried the mushrooms in olive oil, then once they were softened, added a pat of butter, some chopped parsley and fresh lemon juice. Mrs. Palmer remarked with surprise that the mushrooms and the shrimp tasted better together than she expected. To which Mr. Fritz noted that shrimp and mushrooms are two of my favorite foods. To which I thought silently to myself: he's starting to actually pay attention to what I like to eat. Sweet! In all seriousness, the next time I make the mushrooms, I think I'll add a sprinkle of sesame seeds to finish them off.

This was, in all, a great meal to make on a night when I wanted things to come together quickly while also being able to enjoy time with our guest.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Baking for Mr. Fritz: Cranberry Bread

The title of this blog post will be amusing to those who know me, because the truth is, I don't really bake. Unlike my sisters -- who can bake cookies, cakes, fudge and more at what is basically a professional level -- I did not inherit my mom's baking gene. I don't have the patience for measuring things carefully and, well, I guess that's my main problem: I don't have the patience to measure things carefully, which is the key to baking success. Nevertheless, I feel like I ought to at least try to satisfy Mr. Fritz's active sweet tooth with something more than just his daily ration of two Entenmann's donuts. So, I decided to give this Everyday Food recipe for Cranberry Bread a try.

It's a fairly simple recipe: mix up the dry ingredients (flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt) in one bowl and the wet ingredients (melted butter, one large egg, and some whole milk) in another. Add the wet to the dry, fold in a bag of fresh cranberries, pour into a buttered and floured loaf pan and bake for 350 for an hour and 15 minutes.

I will admit, the freewheeling cook in me surfaced briefly while I was pulling it together and I ended up modifying the recipe just a bit: I had some leftover light coconut milk from another recipe, so I subbed that for the whole milk. I thought it might cut some of the tartness of the cranberries, plus I just didn't want to waste it. Hopefully it will work similarly to regular milk. I guess when it comes down to it, you can take the cook out of the kitchen but you can't take the kitchen out of the cook. Or something like that. Verdict on my Frankenloaf? Very tasty! Maybe I should try this baking thing more often. Or perhaps I shouldn't push my luck...

Starter: Pumpkin Stuffed with Bread and Cheese

Mr. & Mrs. Meyer joined us for dinner last night, and their visit seemed like the perfect opportunity to try something I'd read about a week or so ago on food writer Dorie Greenspan's blog: a stuffed pumpkin.

The concept is pretty simple: take a 2-3 lb pumpkin, cut a lid out the way you might with a jack-o-lantern and scoop out the seeds and strings. But then instead of carving a face in the little guy, stuff it with a mixture of bread, cheese and chopped garlic, then pour some heavy cream laced with nutmeg over the bread mixture, put the lid back on the pumpkin and roast the whole thing at 350 for 2 hours. What you end up with is an eggless bread-and-cheese strata surrounded by tender, fragrant roasted pumpkin. In a word: sublime.

Greenspan notes that you can use just about any combination of bread and cheese. I used Italian bread and Parmesan cheese because that's what I had on hand. But I think gruyere or brie and french bread or even pumpernickel and white cheddar would be equally scrumptious. I also think my pumpkin may have been smaller than what was called for -- I used a pie pumpkin that was probably closer to one and a half pounds than three pounds. Regardless, it came out really well.

To serve, I used a sharp knife to cut the pumpkin into four parts and we each dove into our personal hunk of pumpkiny goodness, leaving only the pumpkin's skin on our plates by the end. A wonderful treat for a fall evening and one I plan to return to again and again in years to come. Yum!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Starter: Jeanne's Famous Artichoke Spinach Dip

I should preface this by saying that I have no idea who Jeanne is. But she submitted a great recipe to Gourmet back in 1995 which subsequently made it onto the epicurious.com web site (though it disappeared off the site a couple of years later, strangely) and, ever since, it has been my favorite recipe for this ubiquitous party appetizer.

This version is perfect in that it's simple, quick to prepare, and most importantly, crazy tasty. We've served it at many a Mingleside Christmas Party and it's always been a big hit. If you have any servewear that stays hot long after it's been out of the oven (such as Wilton Armetale), I'd recommend baking it in that, as the dip becomes much less appetizing when it gets cold. I like to serve it with tortilla chips, but I suppose any sort of crackers would be lovely. And to Jeanne, wherever you are, thanks so much for sharing this great recipe with the world oh so long ago. You are definitely famous in my eyes!

1 13 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped finely
1 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry and chopped finely
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces)
2 1/4 cups coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese (about 9 ounces)
1 Tb freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Tortilla chips or crackers for dipping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine artichoke hearts, spinach, mayo, Parmesan, 1 3/4 cups Monterey Jack cheese and Pecorino Romano, stirring until combined well. Transfer artichoke mixture to 1 quart baking dish and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of Monterey Jack cheese. Dip may be made up to this point, covered, and chilled for one day.

Bake dip in middle of oven until cheese is melted, about 15 minutes. Serve with chips or crackers. Makes about 3 cups.

Source: Gourmet, May 1995, Jeanne Manzi of Dix Hills, N.Y.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dinner tonight... Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms and Green Beans

If I had more time, I think I could probably write a pretty good ode to the shitake mushroom. Shitakes are, by far, my favorite fungi. I discovered them in the mid-nineties, around the time that I decided to give mushrooms a chance in general. Unlike your everyday button variety, shitakes have a stronger flavor and a better, springier texture. They're sort of woodsy, if that makes sense. Regardless of the adjective, I can say without hesitation that I just love them and could probably eat them every day. Mr. Fritz, I learned tonight, doesn't quite share my passion for the mighty shitake. Although he enjoyed their flavor more than previous shrooms I've slipped onto his plate, the texture sort of stopped him cold. ("It's like chewing a snail," he noted.) Sigh.

Mr. Fritz does enjoy a good green bean, however, so tonight's meal, Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms and Green Beans from (where else?) the November issue of Everyday Food actually worked well for us both. I served him a few of the mushrooms along with a lot of green beans (that's his plate below) and then in turn did the opposite on my plate. End result? One happy mushroom eater (me) and one happy green bean eater (Mr. Fritz) with a touch of balance for us both as well. Good times.

This meal came together in just a few minutes. To prepare it, you set some green beans in a steamer basket over an inch or so of boiling water. Once the beans are in the pot, cover and reduce heat to low. Let the beans steam for 4-6 minutes. Meanwhile, saute chicken cutlets in a little olive oil over medium high heat for 3 minutes per side. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Toss the mushrooms into the now chicken-less skillet along with a tablespoon of butter, saute for a couple of minutes until they soften, add chopped parsley, fresh lemon juice and a little more butter and you're done. To plate, set the green beans alongside the chicken, then top the chicken with the mushroom mixture. The result? Crisp green beans, good (if standard) chicken, and truly fabulous mushrooms (the lemon, butter and parsley really enhanced them!). Yum! And all in around 10-12 minutes. I'll definitely make this again.