Friday, September 30, 2011

Fresh Corn Muffins

The cooler temperatures of fall and winter call for soups, stews, and chilis, and when I have soup, stew, or chili I require some sort of bread product for dipping, be it crusty bread or rolls, crackers, or even a grilled cheese. When I made Three Sisters Stew, my thoughts immediately turned to cornbread, which I'd been craving for weeks. While even the simplest corn muffins make from Jiffy mix are delicious, I like to put extras into my corn muffins, like fresh corn, peppers, cheese, or bacon (or any combination of those ingredients). This corn muffin recipe is a great basic recipe, with just a bit of sweet fresh corn and spicy jalapeno pepper to punch up the flavor. The whole wheat pastry flour keeps the muffin light and airy and contributes just a touch of nutty flavor, instead of the traditional all-purpose flour that disappears completely behind the flavor of the cornmeal. These muffins take just a few minutes to whip up and any extras can be frozen and reheated quite successfully, so keep a batch in the freezer to make even a meager meal of canned soup a little bit special.

Fresh Corn Muffins
adapted from Food and Wine
makes 12 muffins

6 tablespoons canola oil 
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels (from 1 ear)
2 jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped 
1 cup yellow cornmeal 
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour 
1/4 cup sugar 
1 tablespoon baking powder 
1 cup buttermilk 
1 large egg, lightly beaten 

1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a medium skillet. Add the corn and jalapeños, season with salt and cook over moderately high heat until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape onto a plate to cool slightly.

2. In a bowl, whisk the cornmeal with the flour, sugar, baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the buttermilk, egg and the remaining oil and stir until blended. Quickly stir in the corn mixture and pour the batter into the muffin cups.

3. Bake the muffins for about 16 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cheddar Chicken Salad with Fresh Corn and Red Onion

Did you treat yourself to some Italian Burgers with the game this weekend? If so, you may be looking for some lighter fare and for that I offer up yet another salad creation. This salad has a Southwester bent to it, and thus is perhaps a bit more appropriate on a steamy summer day, but is still packed full of flavors that can be happily enjoyed on a fall day. If you're lucky enough to get some of the very last of this year's sweet corn I would definitely use it here, although high-quality frozen sweet corn will do just fine in this recipe. Typically I would make this salad with grilled chicken, but the photo features this salad made with baked tofu because at the time I came up with this recipe I had just discovered how to make my own baked tofu and was going through a bit of a culinary obsession with it, as I so often do with ingredients. Whichever way you decide to go, either protein is beautifully complemented by sweet corn, slightly assertive red onion, and rich, sharp cheddar cheese. (And if you're craving a bit of extra saltiness and crunch, crumble some tortilla chips over the top). I keep thinking my desire to share new salad recipes is going to wane with the falling temperatures, but I'm still not ready to give up on this summer mainstay of my diet. Although fully embracing the wonderful ingredients of fall (apples, pumpkin, and squash, just to name a few) I intend to enjoy copious amounts of fresh greens for as long as the farmers' market supply allows.

Cheddar Chicken Salad with Fresh Corn and Red Onion
serves 1

4 ounces mixed salad greens
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced*
1/2 cup fresh corn (or frozen corn, thawed)
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 ounce shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 ounces cooked boneless skinless chicken breast or half recipe baked tofu, sliced
Cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Broken tortilla chips, for garnish (optional)
Salad dressing (honey mustard, ranch, or thinned barbecue sauce all work well)

*If raw red onion is too strong for your taste, wash the onion in cold water and dry before adding to the salad.

1. Rinse and dry salad greens, chop if necessary, place on a large plate, topping with red onion, corn, and scallions. Add chicken or baked tofu, sprinkle cheese over the top, and drizzle with dressing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Italian Burgers

Like so many people born and raised in Wisconsin, for a few months every year, Sundays mean Packer football, and for me, Packer games also necessitate Packer snacks. Since I was just a little girl watching the games with my dad, the ritual of Packer football always included some kind of special (junk) food. I insisted that the first bite of the Packer snack be taken at the exact moment that the kicker's foot hit the ball at kickoff, a ritual I try (unsuccessfully) to enforce with my husband when I make Packer snacks today. Despite a cloudy sky and heavy mist in the air, I decided to grill up some burgers for the game, eager to seize the opportunity to grill one more time before the grilling season completely abandons us. These burgers are rich, savory, and full of delicious spices, almost a meatball sub in the burger form. Truth be told, I made these to use up odds and ends of ingredients I had around, but are truly worthy of purchasing the ingredients to make them for a special Packer (or Badger) snack. Serve them up with some fries seasoned with Italian spices and Parmesan cheese for a really decadent meal or some roasted vegetables to keep it on the lighter side, and if you're watching some Wisconsin athletics, a cold Wisconsin microbrew.

Italian Burgers
serves 2

4 ounces ground pork
4 ounces ground Italian sausage
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 small or 1 large roasted red pepper, cut open and patted dry (halved if large)
1/2 small onion, roasted or grilled (if you have time), and thinly sliced
2 slices provolone cheese
2 hamburger buns, split and toasted
2 tablespoons marinara, plus more for serving (if desired)
Spinach or lettuce leaves, for serving (optional)

1. Preheat a grill pan or gas grill over medium to medium-high heat or prepare a charcoal grill (my personal preference). Combine ground pork and sausage, divide into two patties and season each side with salt and freshly ground black pepper, if necessary (your Italian sausage may already have enough seasoning to carry the burger). Add burgers to the grill and cook until internal temperature reach 160 degrees F.

2. While the burgers are cooking, spread 1 tablespoon marinara on each of the top halves of the toasted buns and place spinach leaves or greens on the bottom halves. Once the burgers are cooked through, top each burger with roasted red pepper, half of the sliced onion, and one slice provolone cheese, cooking until the cheese is melted and the vegetables are warmed through. Transfer to the bottom halves of the hamburger buns, top with the other half, and serve hot with additional marinara for dipping, if desired.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fig, Almond, and Feta Salad

This salad is a perfect example of the kind of lunch or dinner I'll make for myself when I'm not feeding my husband as well. Combinations of dried fruit, nuts, and cheese on a pile of fresh, crunchy greens are a staple of my diet, which I round out with a roll or piece of crusty bread with butter and a piece of fresh fruit for a complete meal. The sweet and chewy figs are complemented by the salty and slightly pungent feta and rich, crunchy almonds, with all the ingredients melding together wonderfully on a bed of crunchy greens. I like to dress this simple salad lightly with balsamic vinaigrette, with the sharp taste of the dressing adding another distinct element to the flavor profile of the salad. This salad is enough for a fully satisfying dinner, but also a great meal to pack for lunch at work (or school), especially when you're getting tired of the same old sandwiches or trying to incorporate more vegetarian meals into your diet. With the cooler weather slowly creeping in most people's desire for salads as meals is likely to wane, so take the opportunity now to try out this recipe before the days are dark and cold.

Fig, Almond, and Feta Salad
serves 1

4 ounces mixed baby greens
1/4 cup sliced, toasted almonds
1/3 cup chopped dried figs, stems removed and quartered
1 ounce crumbled feta cheese
Salad dressing, for serving

1. Divide the lettuce mix between two plates and top each with half of the almonds, figs, and  feta cheese. Place sliced chicken on top and drizzle with your favorite dressing. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Smoky Chipotle Salsa with Pan-Roasted Tomatillos

Since the season for tomatillos at the farmers' market is nearly at an end, I'll take the opportunity to share one last stellar salsa recipe, from the genius mind of the inimitable Rick Bayless. This is not a salsa for the faint of heart, packed with smokiness and lots of heat courtesy of the chipotles en adobo. Unless you really love spice, you can't dig into this in like fresh or roasted tomatillo salsa, but just a small amount adds a ton of flavor to tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, or quesadillas. It also blends beautifully with sour cream as a dip for tortilla chips, tempering the heat of the chipotles with creamy, rich sour cream. And if you're stuffed from allergies or your first cold of the season, make up a batch of this spicy salsa to clear your sinuses right up!

Smoky Chipotle Salsa with Pan-Roasted Tomatillos
from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless
makes about 1 1/4 cups

3 garlic cloves, peeled
4 medium (about 8 ounces total) tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and cut in half
2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo (or more, if you like really spicy salsa)

1. Set a large (10-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (if you don't have a nonstick skillet, lay in a piece of foil). Lay in the garlic and tomatillos (cut side down). When the tomatillos are well-browned, 3 or 4 minutes, turn everything over and brown the other side. (The tomatillos should be completely soft).

2. Scoop the garlic and tomatillos into a blender jar or food processor, along with the chiles and 1/4 cup water. Process to a coarse puree. Pour into a salsa dish and cool.

3. Thin with a little additional water if necessary to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency. Taste and season with salt, usually a generous 1/2 teaspoon.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Three Sisters Stew

At some point during your childhood, you probably heard of the Iroquois legend of the Three Sisters-the smallest, who could only crawl and was dressed in green, the middle, clad in yellow who liked to run off by herself, and the eldest, robed in pale green with flowing yellow hair standing tall over her sisters and protecting them. In a nutshell, the legend tells the story of how the youngest and middle sisters are taken from the field and the eldest stands mourning their loss until she is reunited with her beloved sisters at the harvest. More than just a charming story, this Indian legend explains the symbiotic relationship between these three vegetables, who are currently in the midst of their family reunion. These are truly the glory days of the farmers' market, where one can still buy the last of the sweet corn, myriad beans, and the first of winter squash, and this stew is the perfect way to unite those last flavors of summer with the first tastes of fall.

With temperatures dropping into the thirties overnight this week and only reaching the sixties during the day, I was more than ready to embark on soup/stew season. This thick and hearty stew is overflowing with delicious vegetables and flavors that make for an immensely satisfying meal on their own, but are also happily soaked up into a piece of crusty bread or fresh corn muffin. (I've been craving corn muffins/corn bread for a while and this stew was the perfect excuse to whip up a quick batch-believe me, the effort is well worth it.) While I chose a comforting combination of butternut squash and pinto beans, this soup would gleefully accomodate black, cranberry, or kidney beans, acorn squash, or even sweet potatoes. So grab a big pot, an armful of fall vegetables, and make this stew to protect yourself against the impending cold.

Three Sisters Stew
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4

1 quart water 
One 1 1/2-pound butternut squash—peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 ears) 
One 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves 
2 tablespoons canola oil 
1 large onion, coarsely chopped 
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped 
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped 
1 teaspoon ground cumin 
1 teaspoon dried oregano 
1 teaspoon smoked paprika 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil with the squash and corn. Cover and simmer over moderately low heat until the squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Add the beans and cook until the beans are hot. Transfer 3 cups of the squash mixture to a blender along with some of the liquid and the basil; puree. Return the puree to the pot and keep warm.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat  the oil. Add the onion and bell peppers and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 minutes. Add the cumin, oregano and paprika and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 4 minutes. Stir the vegetables into the stew and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the stew into bowls and serve.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chicken Cordon Bleu Salad

Although they don't rank quite as highly on my list of favorite sandwiches as a reuben or cubano, I'm always happy to dig into a chicken cordon bleu sandwich. With a combination of moist chicken, smoky ham, and rich Swiss cheese under a blanket of honey mustard, what's not to love? And as it turns out, this fantastic combination coexists just as happily on top of salad greens as it does on bread. With some bread crumbs (or croutons) for a bit of crunch, you won't miss the bun and you can feel a little bit better about indulging in a big pile of meat, cheese, and caramelized onions.While grilled chicken is the easiest and healthiest option, I doubt anyone would turn down this salad prepared with breaded and fried chicken. That being said, this is a salad for the meat enthusiast, not the health nut, and a good way to sneak a little nutrition into the diets of your favorite carnivores.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Salad
serves 2

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 tablespoon butter or canola oil
1 small white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces mixed salad greens
4 ounces sliced ham steak, cubed
4 ounces shredded or cubed Swiss or cheddar cheese
1/4 cup whole wheat panko (or 1/2 cup whole grain croutons)
Salad dressing, for serving (I suggest honey mustard dressing)

1. Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Cook chicken breast until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F, remove from heat, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Shred or slice into small pieces.

2. While the chicken is cooking, preheat a pan over medium heat and add the butter or oil. Once the butter is melted and foaming has subsided or oil begins to shimmer, add the thinly sliced onions and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until the onions get just a bit of color. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until onions are soft and browned, but not falling apart, about 10 to 15 minutes total.

3. Meanwhile, wash and dry greens and chop, if necessary. Distribute greens evenly between two large plates, topping each with half of the onions, ham, and Swiss cheese. Add the sliced chicken to the top, sprinkle with bread crumbs, drizzle with dressing, and enjoy!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Salsa de Tomatillo en Molcajete

In my opinion, these are really the glory days of the farmers' market. Summer delicacies like sweet corn and watermelon are still plentiful, but a bumper crop of apples and pears have started to appear and the first winter squash are making their appearance. As the seasons change, my diet will move toward heartier fare, but I'm not quite ready to let go of tastes of summer just yet, and couldn't resist another salsa with one of my favorite, but fleeting, ingredients, tomatillos. This is a fairly typical roasted tomatillo salsa recipe, with the exception of one ingredient-extra-virgin olive oil. Just one tablespoon of olive oil makes the salsa smooth and rich, a perfect contrast to the spice from the serranos and acidic punch of the lime juice. It's a great salsa to transition from summer to fall, with its roasted and luxurious flavor bridging the light and bright quality of summer fare with the smoky, hearty flavors of fall. While irresistible piled high on a tortilla chip, this salsa also makes a fantastic sauce for enchiladas (or topping for any other Mexican-inspired dish) and accompaniment to collegiate or NFL football.

Salsa de Tomatillo en Molcajete*
from Saveur
makes about 1 cup

1 lb. tomatillos, husked and rinsed
4 serrano chiles, stemmed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 tbsp. minced white onion
2 1/2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. olive oil

(*A molcajete is a Mexican mortar and pestle, typically made from basalt, traditionally used to grind spices, make guacamoles and salsa, and could be used here, if desired)

1. Position an oven rack 4" from broiler; heat to high. Place tomatillos, chiles, and garlic on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil, turning often, until blackened in spots and cooked through, about 10 minutes for the garlic and chiles, and 15 minutes for the tomatillos; remove each ingredient as it finishes cooking.

2. Place roasted chiles, garlic, and salt in a food processor and puree until smooth; add tomatillos, cilantro, onion, and lime juice. Pulse until roughly chopped. Transfer to a bowl and stir in oil.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Creamy Shrimp and Rice Stuffed Peppers

Are you ready for some football? With the NFL season premiering tonight, it is prime season for consuming mass quantities of delicious snacks. Although I usually use Packer games as an excuse to indulge in junk food (and Wisconsin microbrews), sometimes it's nice to have something a bit healthier(though never at the price of flavor) and these stuffed peppers fit the bill. They're creamy, cheesy, and satisfying, but filled with seafood, whole grains, and vegetables, and easy to prepare in large quantities if you're having friends and family over for the game. And what's more appropriate than something smothered in cheese with the game if you're a Packer fan (like me)? Serve these alongside some chips and salsa for a game day snack you can indulge in without feeling guilty. Already have big plans for some deep-fried deliciousness with the game? Make up a batch of these with a side of veggies for a quick and tasty dinner another night.

Creamy Shrimp and Rice Stuffed Peppers
serves 4

4 small bell peppers or large poblano peppers
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup roasted tomatillo (or other) salsa
1 cup cooked brown rice
8 ounces cooked salad shrimp, thawed, rinsed, and patted dry
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Place peppers, cut side down, on prepared baking sheet and spray top side lightly with cooking spray. Roast peppers, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until peppers are tender but not falling apart, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, mix sour cream and salsa together in a large bowl. Add rice, shrimp, scallions, and cilantro and stir well to combine. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

3. Divide rice mixture evenly among the four pepper halves, top with shredded cheese, return to the oven, and cook until cheese is melted and just starting to brown, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Blueberry Pecan Chicken Salad

Although psychologically summer has ended for most us with the passing of Labor Day, we're still not far enough into the depths of fall and winter for main-course salads not to still be a staple of my diet, although their composition definitely evolves with the seasons. This recipe follows my oft-used formula of greens, dried/fresh fruit, nuts, cheese, and protein, and although it's not going to end up on the cover of Food and Wine, it's a delicious combination well-worth sharing. Healthy and satisfying grilled chicken happily coexists with sweet-tart blueberries, creamy, tangy goat cheese, and rich and crunchy walnuts, with just the right hint of sharpness from the raw red onion. Although this salad was even better earlier in the summer when I could get fresh Wisconsin blueberries at the farmer's market, I'll treat myself and splurge for an out-of-season ingredient every once in a while, particularly when I'm eager to culinarily reminisce about a season past. A warm, crusty roll with a healthy slathering of butter is the perfect companion to this salad, leaving you full, but not stuffed, with all your tastebuds satisfied by the diverse palate of flavors.

Blueberry Chicken Salad
serves 2

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
8 ounces mixed salad greens
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup blueberries
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
Salad dressing, for serving (I like balsamic vinaigrette or honey mustard dressing)

1. Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Cook chicken breast until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F, remove from heat, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Slice evenly into thin slices.

2. Meanwhile, wash and dry greens and chop, if necessary. Distribute greens evenly between two large plates, topping each with half of the red onion, blueberries, cheese, and pecans. Add the sliced chicken to the top, drizzle with dressing, and enjoy!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

One of my coworkers and I have somewhat of an obsession with tomatillos. Probably like most people who enjoy tomatillos, we both mainly use them for salsa, but I've been searching for new recipes with a lot more fervor lately. But as great as it is to get creative, it's always good to start with the basics, and where better to start for Mexican recipes than the incomparable Rick Bayless.

Contrary to what their name may lead you to believe, tomatillos are members of the nightshade family and closely related to gooseberries, not tomatoes. Tomatillos are a staple in Mexican cuisine and used in many of the same applications as tomatoes, both raw and roasted. While raw tomatillos are bright and fresh, roasted tomatillos are smoky and smooth with just an acidic bite. Both forms are delicious and you can't beat the ease of fresh tomatillo salsa (blend tomatillos, garlic, and hot chiles in a food processor, add chopped onion, cilantro, and salt to taste), most of the time I think it's worth it to roast the ingredients. You'll definitely get hungry and impatient as the aroma of the roasting tomatillos, garlic, and peppers wafts through the house, but it'll all be worth it when you can load up some tortilla chips and dig in. (For what it's worth, my favorite tortilla chips are Frontera brand, Rick Bayless' company). The roasted salsa also holds up longer in the fridge than the fresh version if you have enough self-control not to eat an entire batch in a day or two. And if you're generous enough not to want to keep it all for yourself, take this simple but scrumptious salsa to your Labor Day cookout or football game and please your friends and family with this likely unfamiliar ingredient.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
from Rick Bayless
makes about 1 cup

8 ounces (3 to 4 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (1 or 2 serranos or 1 jalapeños), stemmed
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
6 sprigs of fresh cilantro (thick bottom stems cut off), roughly chopped
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped

1. Roast the tomatillos, chile(s) and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler, until blotchy black and softening (they’ll be turning from lime green to olive), about 5 minutes.  Flip them over and roast the other side.  Cool, then transfer everything to a blender, including all the delicious juice the tomatillos have exuded during roasting. Add the cilantro and 1/4 cup water, then blend to a coarse puree. Scoop into a serving dish. Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove excess moisture.  Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually 1/2 teaspoon.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Chicken, Pear, and Gorgonzola Salad

While I've always been happy to dig into a big salad for dinner, I've had a real obsession with main-course salads recently and have been coming up with at least one new salad recipe every week. For whatever reason, nothing makes me happier right now than chowing down on a big, hearty salad with a crusty, buttered roll on the side and to my delight, my husband has been really enjoying my recent spate new of salad recipes as well. Although I was initially sad about the impending close of summer, I'm now really excited to embrace the crisp, cool weather and flavors and ingredients of fall, finding myself craving heartier salads, as opposed to the veggie-packed plates that so often find their way onto my dinner table in the summer. This hearty fall salad combines pungent blue cheese with sweet, crisp pears and toasty, crunchy walnuts, the rich nuts and cheese balanced perfectly by the freshness and crunchiness of the greens and pears. Although blue cheese is a flavor all its own, if you're not a fan (and I realize many people are not), goat cheese, feta, or even a sharp cheddar could be substituted, and apples could stand in for the pears (and would pair particularly well with sharp cheddar). Instead of being disheartened by the end of summer, welcome the beginning of fall and celebrate the bounty of the new season with delicious recipes like this one.

Chicken, Pear, and Gorgonzola Salad
serves 2

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
8 ounces mixed salad greens
1 pear, cored and thinly sliced
2 ounces crumbled gorgonzola
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
Salad dressing, for serving (I like raspberry vinaigrette)

1. Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Cook chicken breast until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F, remove from heat, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Slice evenly into thin slices.

2. Meanwhile, wash and dry greens and chop, if necessary. Distribute greens evenly between two large plates, topping each with half of the red onion, blueberries, cheese, and pecans. Add the sliced chicken to the top, drizzle with dressing, and enjoy!