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 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 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.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dinner tonight... Asian Noodle Bowls with Chicken and Snow Peas

Happy Election Night! I'm spending the evening with Mr. Fritz, while monitoring my work email for potential meltdowns. Thus, dinner needed to be superfast. I went with another one of Everyday Food's November "On the Short List" recipes -- Asian Noodle Bowls with Steak and Snow Peas. The one big exception? I subbed chicken for steak and seasoned the chicken with a little bit of powdered ginger to add a little zing, but otherwise followed the recipe as written. Mr. Fritz really liked this one, especially the dry-roasted peanuts tossed on top as a garnish. It's going to be a late night. Hopefully by this time tomorrow this crazy election season will be over.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dinner tonight... Shrimp with Scallions and Crispy Potatoes

The newest issue of Everyday Food magazine arrived last week, so I availed myself of it as I planned this week's menu. They have a section this month called "On the Short List," which is comprised of five complete, fast, diverse five-ingredient meals. I added a few of the selections to my plan for the week, starting with Shrimp with Scallions and Crispy Potatoes.

Suffice it to say, I was a little perplexed about the combination of potatoes and shrimp. Shrimp and grits, shrimp and couscous, shrimp and rice, shrimp and noodles -- all of those combinations sounded better to me than shrimp and potatoes. But I figured that they would not have featured it were it not worth making.

Since today was a fairly trying day for me at work, it helped that the method is super simple: chop a potato into 1 inch cubes, saute it in a little olive oil for about 14 minutes. Then add a little bit of chopped scallion and saute for another couple of minutes. Set that aside, add peeled and deveined shrimp to the skillet and saute for 2-3 minutes along with some curry powder and salt and pepper. Once the shrimp have cooked through, add the potato mixture back to the skillet, give it all a good mix, and serve.

The verdict? Surprisingly tasty! The shrimp and potatoes really complemented each other to a good end. And the curry really pulled everything together. One note: I halved the recipe (it's written to serve four) and after I plated it, it seemed sort of paltry, so I quickly sauteed some mushrooms to go along with the dish. Regardless, when we were finished eating, I told Mr. Fritz that I would be adding this one to my "must make again list." He approved. Yum!

PS: Mr. Fritz noticed the other day that if you click on any of the photos I've posted, you can see them in a bigger size. Just thought I should note that in case you are interested in getting a closer look at any of the finished dishes.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dinner tonight... Curried Coconut Chicken Over Noodles

I first started making this dish in 1999 but it's been a few years since the last time I attempted it. Happily, it was just as simple to make as I remembered it to be.

Curried Coconut Chicken Over Noodles, a Cooking Light recipe, is comprised of just a few ingredients: garlic, chicken, light coconut milk, thinly sliced onion, boneless chicken breasts, curry powder and fresh basil. I like to add a 4 or 5 oz of sliced mushrooms to it to give the dish a little more oomph. But other than that, it's great as is -- and it smells incredible as it's cooking. I used Somen noodles tonight (Japanese wheat noodles), but Soba or Udon noodles or even plain old vermicelli would work just as well. This recipe serves 2 but is easily doubled if you are cooking for a crowd. Really nice for a crisp fall day.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Lunch today... Quick Chicken Chili

Behold, my go-to chili recipe. I've been making Quick Chicken Chili for years and it literally could not be easier. If you can cut up and saute chicken, and if you know how to use a can opener, you can make this recipe. I generally serve it with shredded cheddar, avocado, fresh limes, sour cream and tortilla chips. Today, all I had on hand was the cheddar, but I mixed things up a little bit by serving it over spaghetti, which (strangely to me) is how Mr. Fritz usually eats chili. I think it's officially called "Chili Mac" when it's served this way, but I could be wrong. Also, I think that's an Ohio thing. Whatever works!

Also, a bit of trivia: in the months leading up to our wedding, we bartered with the debonair Mr. Vogt for dancing lessons. The deal was, Mr. Vogt taught us to dance, and I taught Mr. Vogt to cook. (Mr. Fritz' role? Dancing and eating. Not a bad deal!) This was one of the recipes featured during "Cooking and Dancing with Mr. Vogt and Soon-To-Be-Mrs. Fritz." Enjoy!