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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Make ahead Wheat Berry Salad

This salad is one of my top 10 favorite recipes.  The whole wheat kernel base is layered with artichokes, bitter greens, peppers and olives and finished with the classically Greek lemon-olive oil-feta flavor party.  Once you've got the wheat berries prepared, it goes together quickly and only gets better over the course of a couple days in the fridge...read: it *likes* to be made ahead and the leftovers are delicious!  It can stand to be out of the fridge for awhile (and tastes better served at room temp anyway) so it's suitable for picnics or dinner at your kids' Little League games. 

It's also a recipe that I never quite make the same way twice...it depends on what I have on hand and how willing I am to have 1/2 a can of something hanging around after I finish the recipe.  It's not so much a recipe anymore as guidelines :D  Originally, it was a recipe from the Washington Post food section.  They recommended serving this as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken, but I serve it most often as a vegetarian main dish.

Wheat berries
Wheat berries are the whole kernel of wheat, what comes off the plant before it gets flattened into cereal or ground into flour.  When cooked, the  individual kernels are chewy and toothsome.  They pop between your teeth like caviar or grapes.  They have a nutty, grainy flavor and make a much more flavorful salad base than rice (the usual grain-and-vegetable salad suspect) in my opinion.

Top Row: Red bell pepper, black olives, radicchio
Middle Row: Feta, chickpeas, lemon
Bottom Row: Radicchio, cherry tomatoes, artichokes
Cooking the wheat berries is a lot like cooking dry beans.  Some folks say they can be cooked without soaking first, but I prefer the results from soaking then cooking.  You can do either the overnight soak, then cook them, or do a "quick soak"...just like for beans!  Here is how I put together this salad last night for dinner tonight...I put the wheat berries in a saucepan covered with 1" of water and brought it to a boil.  I boiled for 2 minutes, then turned off the heat and covered the pan.  I let them stand for 1 hour (this is the "quick soak" method) while we put the kids to bed.  Then I drained them, rinsed them, covered them again with water, brought to a boil, reduced the heat, covered and simmered for 50 minutes while I zoned out and watched TV.  Drain.  Ta-dah!  Cooked wheat berries!  I measured and chopped the remaining ingredients this morning, but I could have done that while the wheat berries were cooking for 100% Dinner Done Yesterday ;)

This recipe lends itself to tweaking...use regular black olives or the fancy marinated olive bar ones, use fresh red bell pepper or roasted red pepper, use radicchio or arugula or a handful of salad from a bag of spring mix, whatever you have on hand!

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Doomsday Chicken and Peppers

Doomsday Chicken n Peppers with rice and bok choy salad
I misread a blog post title here and I can't get the idea of Doomsday Peppers out of my mind now LOL  Red, orange and yellow peppers are on big sale at my grocery store this week, so I am taking advantage!

Actually, if you had to throw together dinner quickly b/c the world was about to end, this might the recipe for you ;)  I'm prepping it ahead b/c I am doing Big Things later today but the prep is so quick that you could easily do this at the last minute without turning a hair.  You could freeze this as a kit as well since you cook the peppers and onions into a soft, chunky, peperonata sauce anyway so the fact that they loose their crisp in the freezer isn't an issue.

The red-yellow family of peppers is certainly attractive and highly nutritious with all those colors, but if you'd prefer, you certainly can use green peppers.  If you do have an abundance of inexpensive colored bell peppers available, you can roast them and freeze them in bulk or incorporate some of these recipes into your weekly menu:

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Party Wings

My husband, like most Y chromosome-bearers it seems, is a fan of wings.  I could go on and on about why I'm not such a fan, but talking down on food seems a strange choice for a food blog.  Instead, I'll say this...if I ever leave my husband for another man, it will be Chris Kimball of America's Test Kitchen.  If I ever leave Chris Kimball, it will be for Alton Brown.  And I ever leave Alton, it might be for Gina Neely. 

This recipe is a mashup of Alton Brown's wing preparation technique with the Neelys' wing seasoning mix.  The result is a crispy, spicy, flavorful oven-fried wing that doesn't need to be batter-slathered or drowned in butter, doesn't get sauce all over your fingers  and can be made pretty easily in large quantities with not a lot of attention from the cook.  Ka-chow!

I'm still working on the best way to make this for everyday eating.  This cooking method requires a rest between two stages of cooking...not hard to do, but hard to accomplish on an average weeknight. Alton Brown recommends steaming (therefore, partially cooking) the wings to eliminate some of the fat, then letting them air-dry in the fridge for no more than an hour (since you don't want partially cooked poultry hanging out too long...a big USDA food safety no-no), then baking them off. 

It makes ahead very well for a party as it can sit happily warming in a crockpot for a few hours.  If it's the weekend, and you've got the time to get through all those steps, it's just fine for a regular meal. I *think* the best thing to do if you want them for a weeknight meal would be bake them off entirely the night before (say on Sunday for Monday night dinner) at a slightly lower temp for less browning, fridge them, then reheat them under the broiler for a few minutes on Dinner Day.  But I haven't tried this, so I can't guarantee it.  If anyone does try it, report back please!  And it is prep-ahead freezer-friendly in that you can prepare the spice rub and apply it to the chicken wings then freeze them.

The step-heaviness of the process is SO worth the flavor and the bite of these little guys though.  You can of course adjust the spiciness by using more or less of the cayenne pepper, red chili flake and black pepper. 

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chicken Vegetable Croissant Loaf

Another recipe from my new cookbook, Fresh from the Farmer's Market.  I've fiddled just a bit with the recipe to make it a bit more svelte.  The OR calls for mayo, and I'm substituting light sour cream for a lot less fat and fewer calories.  I also skew the ratio of vegetables to chicken more heavily in the vegetable direction than the OR. 
Chicken Croissant Loaf with swiss chard

You can prep this dish ahead in a variety of ways.  Prepare the filling and fridge or freeze it (another benefit of using sour cream over mayo...mayo breaks badly in the freezer) separately from the dough, assembling and baking at the last minute.  You can also assemble the loaf up to the point of brushing the top with egg white and sprinkling with almonds and fridge it, covered in plastic wrap, until ready to bake.  I don't see any reason you couldn't freeze the assembled loaf, but I've not actually tried doing it so that is merely speculation.  If you fridge or freeze prior to baking, transfer the parchment paper and loaf to a room temp baking sheet rather than baking on the chilly sheet on which you stored/thawed the loaf.  You could also bake this off and reheat at 350F for 15 minutes or so.

A note on the croissant/crescent roll dough.  If you're a fantastic baker, by all means, make your own croissant dough.  Or another type of bread dough.  I buy 2 tubes of crescent rolls at the grocery store.  I have occasionally seen tubes of unperforated crescent roll dough...if you find that product, it's perfect for this recipe.  Otherwise you'll need to smoosh the seams on the unrolled crescent rolls to form a more-or-less solid sheet of pastry.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Snow Cream

We made "snow cream" by govdoc_library_lady
Kind of off-topic, but too much fun not to share. I heard about this from a mom on an online parenting forum I read, and it will definitely be a new family tradition for years to come!

When we're expecting more than an inch of snow, I try to remember to put a big bowl out on the back porch. Wide and shallow is better than deep and narrow for catching enough snow, especially from a light snowfall (a 13x9 pan would work well too). The proportions are just guidelines...use less sugar if want, as much milk as is needed to make a nice texture and ofc how ever much flavoring you like. Depending on how light and fluffy your snow was, you might end up with a texture anywhere from melted milkshake to double-whipped sorbet.

I highly recommend having all your materials and ingredients, including serving bowls and utensils, measured and laid out before bringing your bowl o' snow in (especially if you're doing this with impatient toddlers).

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Walnut butter bar cookies

Sorry this post isn't timely any more.  Parenting intrudes on my blogging some days ;)

I love these guys.  Finely chopped nuts top a dense, rich, buttery shortbread cookie and the recipe goes together fast.  In the time it takes your oven to pre-heat, you'll have the batter put together.  The cookie batter is made rather like chou pastry, in the saucepan you melt the butter in (if you melt butter on the stovetop).  It's not especially freeze-able, but it comes together so fast you don't need to worry about prepping ahead.

Recipe is from Reader's Digest's A Family Christmas (as all my holiday cookie recipes were this year LOL) That book calls these "toffee cookies", but I don't perceive "toffee" in this cookie so I choose to rename them.

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Fast Candy Chip Bar Cookies

As a kid, I spent what probably added up to months of my life baking cookies.  It was the only indoor activity my best friend and I could suggest that would guarantee parental permission to play inside during nice (read: sweltering, chokingly humid) weather.  For that and other reasons, I baked.  A lot.

I don't bake so much any more as an adult.  Partly because while I can put together entire meals days in advance, I can't seem to remember to soften butter to bake with.  Partly because the mixer takes up too much room in the dishwasher and requires its own wash cycle, either by machine or by hand.  And partly because I no longer find dropping dozens of cookies from a spoon or rolling dozens more into individual balls and flattening them one by one with a water glass relaxing or fun or a nice way to pass the time.  Mostly I just find it tedious.

So I LOVE cookie recipes that eliminate all of those issues.  This is really just the Toll House Chocolate Chip cookie recipe, but tweaked a bit.  I'm going from frozen butter to cookies in less than 30 minutes.  Shazam!  Pretty much all cookie batters freeze well unbaked, and this one is no different so that's extra points!  Freeze it on a baking tray if you have the room, or in a lump to spread into a baking pan after thawing.

My dad always made the Toll House recipe with melted butter rather than softened with the result that the cookies were somehow butterier than usual.  A perk of this method (besides yummy cookies) is that you can start with butter that's still freaking FROZEN and have cookies fast.  With liquid butter, you can also ditch the electric mixer to make the batter.  The texture you get from the melted butter also offsets the slightly tougher texture that can come from using whole wheat flour; as the butter incorporates more smoothly than softened solid butter, minimizing the risk of overmixing the batter which is a greater problem with higher gluten whole wheat flour than regular all purpose flour.

And lastly, by making these as bar cookies, there's no tedious cookie shaping.  Perfect!

Please note: I used cherry-flavored chips in this batch because I was overcome with Holiday Baking Brain Disease at the store when I bought these artificially-flavored droplets of partially hydrogenated Red No. 5 and I had to use them in *something*.  I also added 1/2 tsp of almond extract, which I highly recommend whether you use faux cherry food-like product in your cookies or not.

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Spinach burgers with green bean casserole

I have new toys :D  I was gifted a new cookbook for Christmas that I've already marked about 2 dozen recipes in called Fresh from the Farmers Market.  It's a nice mix of single-ingredient and convenience-food recipes and many include directions for freeze-ahead and prep-ahead cooking.  Keep tuned for a possible giveaway of this book and more recipes from it ;) 

Tonight's dinner consists of two recipes from this book...spinach-ified burgers and Emmitt Smith's Green Beans.  I'm tweaking (as usual) to suit ingredients on hand and to create less work (most notably the grilled turkey burgers are baked pork burgers tonight).  Both are prep-ahead friendly; the burgers are freezer-friendly.  Together, the recipes come in under 500 calories per serving (yes, we are counting calories as a New Year's resolution...sigh). 

My husband declared these burgers his "favorite ever", and the green beans could totally sub in for a lower-calorie (but still very rich tasting) version of the usual holiday green bean casserole.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Roasted spicy chickpeas

A tasty, low-fat snack to start your New Year's healthy eating resolutions off right!  I've made roasted chickpeas before following the South Beach Diet's recipe, but they're pretty darn bland and I can't get my husband or kids to eat them (for whose benefit they are made, after all!)

Beans are a pretty healthy snack that most people don't think of.  If you roast them, they'll hit the same crunchy texture points that chips and nuts do but with less fat...see below:

Per 1/4 cup        Roasted Chickpeas             Raw Almonds
Calories             75                                        135
Fat (g)               4.5                                        11
Carb (g)            10                                          5
Protein (g)         3                                           5
(calculated by myfitnesspal.com)

So I decided to try making roasted chickpeas like I do roasted nuts...tossed with a bit of oil and some kind of seasoning...and it turns out that they're pretty darn good this way!  I used homemade taco seasoning so they're salt-free, but you could use packaged seasoning mixes like ranch dressing, mixed minced fresh herbs or sweet spice mixes like pumpkin pie spice.

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