Archive for August, 2010

Fettuccine Alfredo with Bacon

Friday, August 27th, 2010

This recipe is from Cooking Light magazine. I’m going to say that again, because you’d never expect it from the title, and it definitely bears repeating. This recipe is from Cooking Light magazine. It was very tasty, but somehow manages to be good for you (relative to other alfredo recipes, at least.

The sauce wasn’t quite as thick as I would’ve liked, so I may adjust the amount of flour next time. Using bacon drippings for a roux was a nice touch, as it added a smoky, salty flavor that wouldn’t have been included in the traditional butter. Normally, you don’t need a roux, of course, but it helps to compensate for the 1% milk in the place of the more traditionally heavy cream.

This wasn’t the best alfredo sauce I’ve ever had, but it was absolutely the tastiest “light” alfredo sauce I’ve ever tried. We’ll be making this again.

Photo from cookinglight.com

Fettuccine Alfredo with Bacon
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, January 2010

Ingredients

  • 1  (9-ounce) package refrigerated fresh fettuccine (I substituted a high-quality dry pasta)
  • 2  slices bacon, chopped
  • 1  teaspoon  minced garlic
  • 1  tablespoon  all-purpose flour
  • 1  cup  1% low-fat milk
  • 2/3  cup  (about 2 1/2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain.

2. While pasta cooks, cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 4 minutes or until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon from pan, reserving drippings. Add garlic to drippings in pan; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Sprinkle flour over garlic; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly; cook 2 minutes or until bubbly and slightly thick, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low. Gradually add cheese, stirring until cheese melts. Stir in salt. Add hot pasta to pan; toss well to combine. Sprinkle with bacon, parsley, and pepper.

Note: Even with all that cheese, the sauce wasn’t terribly thick. The original recipe suggested using some of the starchy pasta-cooking water to make the sauce, but I skipped it because I was afraid the results would be too watery. I think that was the right call. We had some leftover grilled chicken, so I threw that on top, but it would be fine without the chicken. whatever you prefer.

Dry-Rubbed Flank Steak Skewers with Basil Butter

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

First, I got a grill. Then, Rachael Ray dedicated a whole issue of her magazine to grilling recipes. The magazine had a great feature listing tons of grilled skewer recipes, including this one.

The dry-rub gave the steak an awesome flavor. It was slightly sweet with a smoky, spicy flavor. David grilled the skewers expertly, and we finished the steak off with a pat of basil-spiked butter. These were awesome. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Dry-Rubbed Flank Steak Skewers with Basil Butter
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray, June/July 2010

  • 3 tablespoons softened butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sweet smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 1/2 pounds flank steak, cut against the grain into 16 slices
  • 16 cherry tomatoes

In a bowl, combine 3 tablespoons softened butter and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil; season with salt and pepper; refrigerate.

Preheat a grill to medium-high.

In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons each sweet smoked paprika, garlic powder and extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon each chili powder, dried basil and dried thyme and 2 teaspoons dry mustard. Add 1 1/2 pounds flank steak, cut against the grain into 16 slices, and 16 cherry tomatoes; season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

Thread 2 pieces of steak, ribbon-style, and 2 tomatoes onto each of eight 12-inch skewers. Cover and grill, turning once, until the steak is just cooked through, about 7 minutes. Top with the basil butter.

Note: When grilling with skewers, it’s a good idea to soak the skewers in water for 15-20 minutes before loading them up with food. Wet skewers are less likely to burn over the high heat of your grill.

Stir-Fry Rice Pilaf

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

If I were to say that say I’m making a rice pilaf, you could probably conjure up images of several different rice side dishes you’ve been served at various restaurants or dinner parties. And you probably wouldn’t be wrong. The only thing required for a rice pilaf is to sauté the uncooked rice in oil or butter to give it a nice toasted flavor, and then to cook it in broth. Nuts, seeds, veggies, dried fruits, herbs, and meat are all optional add-ins. That makes rice pilaf an incredibly versatile side.

Most people use a long grain white rice to make a pilaf, but we keep this short-grain brown rice on hand, and that’s what I used. It worked just fine. I adapted the recipe from that website, where they posted the perfect template for a make-your-own-pilaf. I added sesame seeds and frozen stir-fry veggies, along with a bit of hoisin sauce and ginger to the broth. Though it takes a bit of time to make the rice from scratch, this was a delicious and versatile side dish. I know I’ll be making other variations when the mood strikes.

Stir-Fry Rice Pilaf

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 2 tsp oil or butter
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used chicken)
  • 1/2 cup of toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 ½ cups frozen vegetables (I used a stir-fry blend)
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger

Heat a heavy skillet on medium heat. Add oil and stir with wooden spoon. Add rice and continue stirring for 5 min or until grains are toasted. Add broth, cover tightly and cook for 45 min. Stir in remaining ingredients and continue cooking for 5 min. Serve. Makes 6 servings.

Note: This made a lot of rice. I’d half this recipe next time, and probably still have leftovers. We served this with hoisin-glazed pork chops and grilled pineapple skewers. Yum!


Versatile Pilafs

Rice pilafs are a method of cooking rice that requires sauteeing of raw grains to add a nutty toasted flavor. Any combination of herbs vegetables nuts and seeds and meats can be used with the rice. Always use a wooden spoon to stir rice to avoid breaking the grains.

Cooking Instructions:

  • 2 cup Lundberg® Long Grain Brown Rice
  • 2 tsp oil or margarine
  • 4 cup broth or water
  • 1/2 cup any nutmeats or sesame seeds
  • 1 package frozen vegetables or
    2 cup fresh chopped herbs
  • salt and pepper as desired

Heat a heavy skillet on medium heat. Add oil and stir with wooden spoon. Add rice and continue stirring for 5 min or until grains are toasted. Add broth or water cover tightly and cook for 45 min. Stir in vegetables nuts etc. and continue cooking for 5 min. Serve. Makes 6 servings.



Congrats to Kat & Jeff!

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Since I usually post pictures of my cake pops, I figure I might as well post these:

Devil’s Food Cake with white chocolate on the outside and sparkly silver crystal sugar (Courtesy of Duff, a.k.a Ace of Cakes). I made them Friday night for Kat & Jeff’s wedding shower on Saturday.

I’m especially proud of the little tags, actually. I thought they were a nice touch.

Thanks to Sarah and Leah for their help (mostly with tying those adorable little bows!).

Finally, a quick public service announcement: When it’s hot outside, cake pops melt. That is all.

Review: McDonald’s Real Fruit Smoothies

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

This isn’t the kind of thing I would normally review, because it’s not the kind of thing I would normally buy. I’m not that into sweet drinks, and I’m not a big fan of drinking your calories. But I’m recovering from multiple root canals and a wisdom tooth extraction, which has put half of my mouth out of commission. It’s also had me eating a lot of soft things, like oatmeal, yogurt, pudding, applesauce, and, well, smoothies.

I had the Strawberry Banana flavor, and I have to admit that the taste was surprisingly good. It tasted like “real fruit,” as advertised. Mostly strawberry, but with a touch of banana. This created a good balance of tart and sweet. There were strawberry seeds in the mix, and tiny bits of fruit, so it seems as though there’s some actual fruit in there somewhere. Not something I’m going to order all of the time, but I was surprised at how much I liked it.

The nutritional information wasn’t THAT bad, either. For the small size, the smoothie is 210 calories, only half a gram of fat, and 2 grams of fiber, (or 4 Points, for those counting). That’s a little on the high side for a snack, and a disaster if you buy a burger and fries to go with it, but if you were craving something cold and creamy like a milkshake, this is a pretty reasonable substitute. Just to compare, the same size Triple Thick Strawberry Shake will cost you 420 calories, and 10 grams of fat (9 Points) and a Strawberry McCafe Shake is even worse at 570 calories, 17 grams of fat, or 13 Points. In comparison, the smoothie seems downright angelic.

So do I recommend it? If you’re there, and looking for a cold treat, this is a pretty good option. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to get to McDonald’s for one of these smoothies, but I’m not a big smoothie fan in the first place. The small costs $2.29 here which seemed pretty reasonable, but again, I’m not a regular at Jamba Juice or other smoothie places, so I don’t know how that compares. I liked the Strawberry Banana, but I’ve heard that the Wild Berry is a lot sweeter, which certainly wouldn’t be to my tastes.

Cookbook Review: Chicago Cubs Cookbook

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Who didn’t see this coming? The Cubs came out with a cookbook, and I bought it. Pre-ordered it even. And it just came in the mail today.

I read through it from cover-to-cover today, and I’ve got to say, I enjoyed it. The pictures are great, the recipes are enticing, and it’s all for a great cause: to benefit the Dempster Family Foundation.

The recipes come from all over the Cubs universe, from players past and present (and even future!), the coaching staff, the broadcast booth, and even some Cubs-friendly Chicago restaurants who happily shared some top-secret recipes in the name of charity. I haven’t had the chance to make anything from the book yet, but I’m looking forward to trying a number of these dishes.

There’s also plenty of Cubs trivia and Wrigley Field history tucked into these 124 pages, making it a fun read for just about any Cubs fan.

I only see two drawbacks, and they’re minor. One, as you’ll see below, there are multiple recipes for some of the same dishes. Two for crab cakes. Three for meatloaf. I know this isn’t a traditional cookbook, but I’d still prefer a little more variety. Two, the book is bound with a plastic spiral, which I know is common in cookbooks, but I’m not a fan. It gets bent weird and twisty. I’d prefer a regular binding. (Neither of these are deal-breakers!)

It’s for a good cause, so Cubs fans should do their part and buy this fun book. You’ll be glad you did.

Chicago Cubs Cookbook: All-Star Recipes from Your Favorite Players

The book starts with a foreword from Tom Ricketts, an Introduction to Riley Dempster and the Dempster Family Foundation, and a short history of food at Wrigley Field. The first three recipes in the book are striaght from the concession stands, provided by Levy Restaurants.

From the Friendly Confines:

  1. House-made Black Bean Veggie Burgers
  2. How to Build the PERFECT Chicago Dog
  3. Signature Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli

Leading Off: Appetizers

  1. Mike Fontenot: Bacon-Wrapped Duck Breast
  2. Rudy Jaramillo: Baked Herbed Cream Cheese en Croute
  3. Randy Wells’ Hot Wing Dip

Pinch Hitters: Side Dishes

  1. Cubs Clubhouse: Yogurt Mashed Potatoes
  2. John Grabow’s Loaded Mashed Potatoes
  3. Pat Hughes: Grilled Asparagus with Garlic
  4. Len Kasper: Mother Kasper’s Slow-Cooker Stuffing
  5. Greg Maddux: Rosebud Restaurants Jalapeno Hash Browns
  6. Dave Keller: Blue Adobe Grille Green Chile Potato
  7. Alan Trammell: Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern Pepper Jack Creamed Spinach
  8. Carlos Zambrano: My Arepa Caraotas Black Beans

Heart of the Order: Main Courses

  1. Jeff Baker’s Mom’s Chicken Cordon Bleu
  2. Mike Bielecki: Protein Thai Noodles
  3. Ernie Banks: Harry Caray’s Tallgrass Meatloaf
  4. Maron & Andrea Byrd’s Baked Ziti
  5. Andrew Cashner: Grandma Pat’s Meatballs
  6. Tyler Colvin: Molly’s CHicken Broccoli Casserole
  7. Connie’s Pizza: Pizza Soup
  8. Ivan DeJesus: Pastelon de Amarillos
  9. Ryan Dempster: D’Agostino’s Grilled Chicken Parmesan
  10. Ryan Dempster: Hub 51 Broiled Sea Bass in Horseradish Broth
  11. The Fifty/50 Skirt Steak Sandwich
  12. Kosuke Fukodome: Hiro Aoyama’s Ginger Pork
  13. Jeff Gray: Southwestern Turkey Burgers & Sweet Potato Fries
  14. Pat Hughes: Caramelized Plank Salmon
  15. Jim Hendry: Crawfish Etouffee
  16. Jim Hendry: Chicken & Sausage Gumbo
  17. Koyie & Meghan Hill’s Pork Stew
  18. Hub 51: Build-Your-Own Steak Tacos
  19. Brett Jackson: Buffalo Spaghetti Squash Pasta
  20. Ted Lilly: Egg in the Hole
  21. Fergie Jenkins: Bagged Pheasant
  22. Derrek Lee: Wildfire Parmesan-Crusted Filet
  23. Ted Lilly: Stanley’s King of Chilis
  24. Sean Marshall: Sarah’s Mom’s Masterpiece Meatloaf
  25. Carmelo Martinez: Locrio de Pollo
  26. Lou Piniella: Anita Piniella’s Layered Chicken Salad
  27. Corey Miller: Corey & Maria’s CHicken Pasta
  28. N9NE Steakhouse: Ahi Tuna Tartare
  29. Lou Mitchel’s: Grilled Thick French Toast
  30. Xavier & Meredith Nady’s Meatloaf
  31. Mike Quade: Pecan-Crusted Snook with Cajun Cream Sauce
  32. Aramis Ramierz: Harry Caray’s Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
  33. Larry Rothschild: Wildfire Spit-Roasted Herb Chicken
  34. Ryne Sandberg: Margaraet Sandberg’s Chicken Tacos
  35. Ryne Sandberg: Harry Caray’s Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce
  36. Carlos Silva: Arepas
  37. Ryan Theriot: Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya
  38. Alfonso Soriano & Carlos Marmol: Mangu
  39. Geovany Soto: Arroz Con Gandules
  40. Geovany Soto: Harry Caray’s Bone-In Chicken Vesuvio
  41. Chad Tracy: Vinegar Grilled Chicken
  42. Steve Trout: Pan-Fried Trout
  43. Billy Williams: Sweet-Swingin’ Billy’s Grilled Pork Chops
  44. Carlos Zambrano: My Arepa Carne Desmechada

Extra Innings: Desserts

  1. Cubs Clubhouse: Peanut Butter Protein Truffles
  2. Sam Fuld: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
  3. Tom Gorzelanny: Grandma Ruby’s Oreo Cookie Balls
  4. Jim Hendry: Fig Cake
  5. Jim Hendry: Pecan Praline
  6. Micha Hoffpauir: Grandma Ernestine Adams’ Blonde Brownies
  7. Rudy Jaramillo: Cola Cake
  8. The Rickets Family: Cut-Out Vanilla Almond Cookies
  9. Len Kasper: Apple Crisp
  10. Jeff Stevens: Christina’s Banana Nut Bread
  11. Ryan Theriot: Joe’s Havana Dream Pie


Pork Chops with Country Gravy

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

As you can probably tell, I went on a Cooking Light recipe spree last week. I can’t help it; it’s one of my favorite places to get recipes, especially when I’m in the mood to really cook. The instructions are simple enough, but the recipes tend to be a little more involved than a lot of the other “light” recipe sources I’ve used. They also tend to focus on real ingredients, instead of canned soup or other pre-made products. I like that too. Finally, the website’s rankings, reviews, and comments all help me to determine which recipes are worth a try and what good updates might be. It’s all very helpful. (They have other kinds of recipes besides healthy; Cooking Light is just one of several magazines in the recipe index. Go to myrecipes.com).

This recipe is classic comfort food. It reminds me of the chicken fried steak I grew up with. Except for the nutritional information. This version substitutes lean pork chops for the fatty steak, skips the breading and deep frying, and uses a reasonable amount of butter with low-fat milk to form the gravy. You wouldn’t have noticed the “lightness” of this though, which makes it even better. Instead of the herbs listed below, I used a ¾ teaspoon of poultry seasoning, which worked great. I served this with mashed potatoes and reduced-fat biscuits (store-bought. Not everything can be made from scratch, especially on a Wednesday!).

Pork Chops with Country Gravy
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, June 2006

  • 1/4  cup  all-purpose flour (about 1 ounce)
  • 3/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  dried marjoram
  • 1/4  teaspoon  dried thyme
  • 1/4  teaspoon  dried rubbed sage
  • 4  (4-ounce) boneless center-cut loin pork chops (about 3/4 inch thick)
  • 1  tablespoon  butter
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2  cups  1% low-fat milk

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Place flour, salt, dried marjoram, dried thyme, and dried rubbed sage in a shallow dish. Dredge pork in flour mixture, turning to coat; shake off excess. Reserve remaining flour mixture.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Reduce heat, and cook for 10 minutes or until done, turning pork once. Remove pork from pan; keep warm.

Combine reserved flour mixture and milk in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until blended. Add milk mixture to pan; place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat, and simmer 2 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Serve with chops.

Two-Corn Polenta with Tomatoes & Basil

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

David and I have not, historically speaking, been big fans of polenta. My first experiences with polenta were way back when my mom was doing Weight Watchers in the late 90’s, when someone on the message boards convinced her to try the pre-made kind. It came in a tube, we sliced it and tried to pan fry it with olive oil, or maybe even cooking spray. Yuck. No flavor at all. Weird texture. No thanks.

Then, Alton Brown convinced me to try again. Not really compatible with Weight Watchers this time, since his recipe calls for plenty of cheese, butter, and whole milk.  It was also mildly complicated, as he extolled the virtues of “real” polenta, and asked me to avoid the instant stuff. Trusting Alton, I did. This was better than the first time, but I still remember being disappointed. Handfuls of good-quality cheddar, wasted. I ate my spoonful, but I didn’t really like it at all. It was mildly better sliced and pan-fried, but not great. I was ready to write off polenta altogether.

Except…

Something makes me WANT to like it. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why I’m so determined. I’ve had it at restaurants, and still wasn’t a fan. Cheese couldn’t save it. But for some reason, when I saw this recipe at the Cooking Light site, I was willing to give it another try.

And this time, I was pleasantly surprised. The fresh sweet corn adds additional flavor and texture that the other recipes I tried were lacking. The parmesan added a salty richness, but the flavor wasn’t overwhelmingly cheesy. The fresh tomato and basil balanced the flavors. I subbed shallots for onions (I do this often—where onions are too much for me, I’ve learned to like the milder taste of shallots) and even liked the flavor that they added. It was really good. I went back for seconds. I’m pretty sure David did, too. And I even ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.

I never got around to slicing and frying this batch, but next time I make it, I’d make sure I got to try that with the leftovers. And there will be a next time.

Two-Corn Polenta with Tomatoes & Basil
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, June 2008

Ingredients

  • 2  teaspoons  olive oil
  • 2  cups  chopped onion (2 medium)
  • 4  cups  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2  cups  fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
  • 2  garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1  cup  instant dry polenta
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/8  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  cup  chopped tomato
  • 1/2  cup  chopped fresh basil

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 8 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in broth, corn, and garlic; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Slowly add polenta, stirring with a whisk until polenta is thick (about 5 minutes). Add cheese, stirring to melt. Stir in salt and pepper. Remove from heat; sprinkle with tomato and basil. Serve immediately.

Note: Bonus points for this recipe—I got to use my dutch oven! A heavy saucepan would work just fine though.

Barbecue Chicken with Mustard Glaze

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

I was looking for grilling recipes and came across this chicken rub/glaze on the Cooking Light website. It looked promising, and the reviews were great, so I gave it a try.

The good news is, the ingredients were things I basically keep on hand. Sugar. Garlic Powder. Chili Powder. Vinegar. Mustard. Ketchup. I like when recipes can be made from the pantry staples that I keep on hand. (I also like stocking my pantry so I can make most things, but that’s another post). The other good news is that the recipe came out pretty tasty.

The not-as-good news was that it ended up tasting mostly like bottled barbecue sauce. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, but it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth if you’ve already got barbecue sauce on hand. Unless we’re out of our regular sauce or something, I don’t think I’ll be making this again.

The recipe called for bone-in chicken thighs, but I stuck with our standard boneless, skinless chicken breasts and everything turned out fine.

P.S. The tasty looking side dish you see with the chicken was an awesome two-corn polenta. Check back for that recipe tomorrow!

Barbecue Chicken with Mustard Glaze
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, July 2009

Ingredients

  • 2  tablespoons  dark brown sugar
  • 2  teaspoons  garlic powder
  • 2  teaspoons  chili powder
  • 1  teaspoon  smoked paprika
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  cup  ketchup
  • 1  tablespoon  dark brown sugar
  • 1  tablespoon  sherry or red wine vinegar
  • 1  tablespoon  Dijon mustard
  • 4  boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Cooking spray

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Combine ketchup and next 3 ingredients (through mustard) in a small bowl; stir with a whisk.

2. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat. Rub spice mixture evenly over chicken thighs. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; cook 5-7 minutes. Turn chicken over. Brush with half of ketchup mixture; cook 5-7 minutes. Turn chicken over. Brush with remaining ketchup mixture; cook 2 minutes or until a thermometer registers 165°.