Tag Archives: Entrees

Yaki Udon

I’m a bit late in sharing this challenge with you, since I made it about two weeks ago. The challenge was to make an Asian-style noodle dish that I hadn’t tried before. I had some udon noodles in the pantry, so I started from there. After doing some reading on Wikipedia, I decided to make yaki udon, which is a stir-fried, Japanese noodle dish.

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Yaki Udon

To tell you the truth, this wasn’t such a challenging dish, but I did learn something new. Usually, when I stir-fry, I cook the meat first, then I add the vegetables. Last, I might throw in some cooked noodles, or I’ll toss it all on top of cooked rice.

This time, though, I cooked the veggies first, while I let the meat marinate. Then I added the boiled noodles. This enable the vegetables to get browned and tender, and the noodles to also brown a little, since there was no liquid in the pan. When they were done, I removed them to a plate and cooked the meat. I tried not to disturb the meat other than turning it once, so it would develop a crunchy, brown crust. Finally, I added the marinade from the meat and stir-fried until the sauce had thickened. Last, the veggies and noodles went back in to get coated with the sauce.

I think this made a real difference in the quality of the stir-fry. Every ingredient shone, and nothing was over-cooked. Although the sauce was evenly distributed, it didn’t turn gloppy. All in all, it was delicious, and a truly simple dish to make.

You can substitute any thinly sliced meat here (I used chicken). Scallops or shrimp would also work. And of course, any vegetables that you have on hand can be added. I like to slice the veggies thinly and on the diagonal for a nicer presentation and faster cooking. It is also good to add something with crunch for a garnish. I used raw bean sprouts, which provided just the right finish.

Yaki Udon

Serves: 2-3 people

  • ¼ lb. chicken or other meat, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • 1 tbsp. ponzu sauce
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. sesame seeds
  • peanut oil
  • 4 oz. udon noodles, cooked, drained and rinsed
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced diagonally
  • 1 small red pepper, sliced thinly
  • 8 spears asparagus, cut diagonally into 1-inch lengths
  • mung bean sprouts for garnish
  • soy sauce to taste

1. Combine the meat with the mirin, ponzu sauce, flour, sesame oil and sesame seeds, and set aside to marinate.

2. Heat some peanut oil in a wok or skillet until very hot. Add the vegetables and stir-fry until they are crisp-tender and beginning to brown. Add the noodles and continue to stir-fry until the noodles are brown in places. Remove to a plate.

3. Add some more peanut oil to the pan and heat until very hot. Drain the chicken, reserving the marinade, and add it to the pan. Let the chicken cook, turning once, until cooked through, browned and crusty.

4. Add the marinade and stir-fry the chicken quickly until the sauce thickens. Return the vegetables and noodles to the pan, and stir-fry until the well-mixed. Remove to a serving dish and top with the bean sprouts. Pass the soy sauce at the table.

Gigantic Stuffed Potatoes

This week’s challenge was to serve, as a meal, a stuffed baked potato. To be honest, I didn’t consider this to be much of a challenge. I love baked potatoes, and I have made stuffed potatoes many times before. But my husband said he wanted something different than the usual toppings, so I tried to get creative with this recipe. I also learned a new technique for crisping prosciutto, which definitely made the challenge worthwhile.

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These were some really big potatoes! I made two, but my husband and I could only eat 1½ between us, so I had leftovers for lunch the next day. They were delicious as well as filling. We both agreed that this challenge was a success. (My toddler won’t touch potatoes unless they are of the french-fried variety, so he doesn’t get a vote this week.)

For the stuffing, I decided to go a bit upscale. Truthfully, I looked in my fridge and based the stuffing on what I already needed to use up. I combined sauteed spinach, sauteed mushrooms, crispy prosciutto, and gruyere cheese. The flavor combination was outstanding, and I felt like together these ingredients made for a more-or-less balanced meal.

I wanted to add something crispy like bacon to the stuffing, but not use bacon. I had some prosciutto in my fridge already, and I found this technique for crisping it like bacon. It worked beautifully. Now that I know how to do it, I will definitely be adding crispy prosciutto to scrambled eggs, salads, soups, and whatever else I can think of.

When I was shopping for this challenge, I found gigantic potatoes at the grocery store. They were as big as footballs, seriously. If you use reasonably sized potatoes, half a potato would make a great side dish as well. And this recipe is completely open to adaptation, just by varying what you stuff the potatoes with. But please, do use cheese. You have to have cheese on baked potatoes, in my opinion.

Here’s the recipe. I don’t have exact amounts for the ingredients, so you’ll have to wing it. But that only makes this recipe easier to scale up or down.

Twice-Baked Potatoes Stuffed with Spinach, Mushrooms, Crispy Prosciutto & Gruyere Cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Figure on ½-1 russet potato per serving, depending on whether you’re serving this as an entree or side dish. Scrub the potatoes well and prick in several places with a fork. Rub them with olive oil. Place directly on the oven rack to bake until they give when gently squeezed, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Arrange the prosciutto slices (about 1 per potato) on a wire rack and place that on top of a baking pan. Slide the whole thing into the oven. Roast for 7 minutes and set aside to cool. The prosciutto will crisp up even more as it cools. Save the baking pan, as you’ll need it later.

Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium. Add sliced cremini or button mushrooms. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Saute until the mushrooms release their liquid and turn brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside in a bowl and return the skillet to the heat.

Add a little more olive oil, if needed. Put some baby spinach in the skillet (as much as you think you’ll need). Season and saute until the spinach wilts. Set aside with the mushrooms.

The potatoes should now be cool enough to handle. Cut each potato in half lengthwise. Carefully scoop out the flesh, leaving a shell of about ½-inch thickness. In a bowl, mash the potato flesh with butter, sour cream, and milk. Use your judgment for how much you need to achieve a creamy texture. I usually use 1 tablespoon of each per potato. Stir in shredded gruyere cheese, the reserved spinach and mushrooms, and the prosciutto, crumbled. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Carefully mound the potato filling into each potato shell. Top with a little more shredded Gruyere. Place the potato halves on the baking sheet and return to the oven for about 20 minutes, or until they are heated through and browned in spots, and the cheese is all melted. Enjoy.

Happy Anniversary! A Simple Italian Meal

This past Sunday was our wedding anniversary (six great years!). We held our wedding at a charming Italian restaurant in downtown Raleigh, NC, called Caffe Luna. The main reason we chose Caffe Luna was because we love their food. They feature simple but delicious Italian cuisine that changes according to the seasons. I’ve always had a great meal there.

For my challenge last weekend, my husband wanted me to make some food we might have had at our wedding. You see, we didn’t actually get to eat much of the lavish buffet Caffe Luna put on for us. We were too busy being bride and groom that we barely sat down. But we heard from everyone else how great the food was, and it certainly looked good.

The problem with this challenge was that I couldn’t recall any specific dishes that were on the buffet. I remembered vaguely a few things — mixed vegetables, smoked salmon, poached salmon — but nothing more specific came to mind. Unfortunately, Caffe Luna’s website is not a big help. While they do have a catering menu online, it’s pretty bare bones: cheese and crackers; marinated chicken; marinated flank steak. That’s as much description as you get. To tell you the truth, I don’t think the menu is set in stone, but is rather based on what’s in season and available, which is how it should be. I remember that the buffet table was groaning with food. There certainly was a lot more than seems to be listed on the website menu.

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So I turned to my mainstay for Italian cooking, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. If you like Italian food and you don’t have this cookbook, you are not cooking the best Italian dishes you could be. Every recipe I have made out of this book has been molto squisito. These recipes are very simple, as good Italian cooking should be. They let the ingredients shine and highlight the flavors with restrained additions, such as olive oil, fresh herbs, wine, salt and pepper.

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Unfortunately, because these dishes are so simple, my husband thought I cheated in last weekend’s challenge when I presented him chicken in white wine and lemon and a platter of baked vegetables. But even though the dishes weren’t a challenge to cook, they are a model of restraint, and the results were mouth-watering. They also reflected what I remember of Caffe Luna’s food at our wedding: good food and lots of it, simply prepared, wonderful to eat.

First up, the vegetables. Nothing could be easier. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Select an assortment of seasonal vegetables. I chose Yukon gold potatoes, red peppers, tomatoes and onions, but almost any vegetables will work. Peel the potatoes, peppers and onion. Cut everything into wedges (discarding the seeds and ribs from the peppers). Arrange on a large, oven-proof platter. Drizzle all over with very good olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss gently to make sure everything is well coated. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until the potatoes are browned on the edges and tender. The oil and juices from the vegetables combine in the bottom of the platter to make a delicious sauce, so don’t forget to drizzle the juices over the vegetables before serving.

While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the chicken. You can use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces or boneless chicken breasts for this recipe, although bone-in chicken will take longer to cook. In a large pan, heat some olive oil and butter over medium-high. Brown the chicken pieces on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add to the pan 3 peeled garlic cloves, the minced leaves from one rosemary stalk, salt and pepper. Pour in about ½ cup dry white wine. Partially cover and let cook, turning the chicken pieces once or twice, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a serving pan. The juices remaining in the bottom of the pan should be thickened and browned. Add the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Stir and scrape up any browned bits. Spoon this sauce over the chicken to serve.

Nothing could be simpler. But serve with good, crusty Italian bread, and you’ll have a meal fit for an anniversary celebration.

An Easy Chicken Saltimbocca

This week’s challenge was to make an interesting chicken dish — maybe stuff it with something. I have learned from experience that I don’t like stuffing foods, particularly chicken. Stuffing has always seemed like an overly fussy task to me, and boneless chicken breasts are just not that easy to stuff or roll or otherwise manipulate.

So while I knew I didn’t want to stuff the chicken breasts, I did want to get a lot of different flavors in there. The first dish I thought of when my husband told me the challenge was chicken saltimbocca, which usually combines prosciutto, sage and chicken. I checked my cookbooks and the Internet for saltimbocca recipes and was inspired by a recipe from Outstanding in the Field, which wraps the prosciutto around the chicken. I could slip something flavorful underneath — in this case, mozzarella cheese — and saute the whole bundle.

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I used chicken tenders instead of full breasts, because I figured this dish would be rich and we would want smaller portions, and it would be quicker and easier to cook the smaller bundles. (If you use full-sized breasts, you may want to cut them in half and pound them thinner so they will cook faster.) One piece of prosciutto wrapped neatly around the tender, and I secured it and a sage leaf on top with a toothpick, removed before serving. The prosciutto contained the cheese nicely and kept it from oozing all over the saute pan.

Both my husband and I loved these. The prosciutto was crispy and infused with sage. The mozzarella was oozy but not messy. And the chicken wasn’t at all boring. I would definitely make this again, and it was so easy that it could be a weeknight dish. We discussed stuffing different things under the prosciutto, such as roasted peppers or spinach. This would be a fun dish to experiment with.

I served this with a hearty Italian-style salad of chopped greens, cabbage, carrots, red pepper, celery and croutons, topped with a mustard vinaigrette.

Chicken Saltimbocca

Prepare 2-3 chicken tenders per person. Salt and pepper each piece of chicken (go easy on the salt, because the prosciutto will also add saltiness). Lay 1 slice of fresh mozzarella on top of each tender. Wrap each tender in 1 slice of prosciutto. Place 1 sage leaf on top and secure with a toothpick.

In a saute pan, heat a generous amount of olive oil over medium-high until shimmering. Lay the chicken pieces in the pan, toothpick side down, and cook until the prosciutto has crisped and the chicken has cooked halfway through, about 5 minutes. Turn over and cook the other side until the chicken is down and the prosciutto is nicely browned.

Remove from the pan to a plate lined with paper towels. Gently remove the toothpicks. The sage leaves should adhere to the prosciutto. Serve immediately.

Crusted Cod with Wilted Spinach and Mashed Potatoes

This week’s challenge was an open-ended fish challenge, i.e., make fish tasty for someone who doesn’t particularly care for it. I have been told I will see more of these challenges as the year progresses. This first time, I decided to play it somewhat safe with a crunchy baked whitefish.

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The results? My husband thought this dish had a lot of flavor and that I rescued fish from its major flaw: blandness. He gave it a 7/10, but placed it below the last two dinners, because it was still fish. I devoured my portion; I am a fish eater, and I thought everything on this plate worked particularly well together. My toddler gave it a thumbs down, though, and even went so far as to spit his fish out on the table; he did inhale all the spinach, though, which was definitely a big surprise!

I chose cod fillets for this meal, but any similar whitefish would work. Halibut is another good choice for diners who aren’t wild about fish.

Cod is easy to cook and not too fishy of a fish, so it pleases almost everybody. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Although I didn’t want to fry it, I knew that encasing it in a crunchy topping would make the fish much more palatable. But I needed more. I consulted a few cookbooks and finally settled on combining the cooking technique from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home wild cod recipe with the flavor suggestions from a similar recipe in High Flavor, Low Labor by J.M. Hirsch.

The recipe called for the fish to be slathered with a “secret sauce,” a mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard. That may sound a little gross — it did to me — but once I tasted it and realized it was a pour man’s approximation of remoulade sauce, I knew I was on to something. I added more flavor to the panko crumb topping: lemon zest, parsley and Parmesan cheese. If you are not familiar with panko bread crumbs, they are traditionally used in Japanese cooking. I chose them because they are light, crunchy and brown well. I recommend that everyone makes them a pantry staple.

Finally, I paired the fish with some favorite sides so nobody went hungry: garlicky wilted spinach and mashed potatoes. I almost always serve mashed potatoes with fish, particularly if there aren’t many fish lovers at the table. Those who find fish too light can fill up on yummy potatoes, and besides, I like to mix the flaked fish in with the creamy goodness. I’ll post my tried-and-true recipe for mashed potatoes tomorrow.

Crusted Cod with Wilted Spinach

Yields: 4 servings

For the fish:

  • 1 pound cod fillet or similar whitefish fillet
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons mustard
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, minced
  • Lemon wedges to serve

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Cut the cod fillet crosswise into 4-6 even portions. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Blend together the mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise in a small bowl. Brush this mixture on each side of each fillet. In a shallow dish, combine the bread crumbs, cheese, zest and parsley. Dip each fillet on both sides into the bread crumbs, pressing down to make sure they adhere.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in an oven-proof pan large enough to hold all of the fillets over medium-high. When the oil is very hot, add the fillets and let brown for 1 minute. Carefully flip them and let brown 1 minute more.

Transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking the fillets, which can take 10-15 minutes, depending on their thickness. The fillets are done when they are opaque all the way through and flake easily. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

For the spinach:

  • 8 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Olive oil

While the fish is cooking, wash the spinach and dry it. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan over medium with the garlic clove. Add the spinach and toss until it wilts, about 2-3 minutes. Serve alongside the fish.

    A Down-Home Meal: Barbecued Chicken and Coleslaw

    This week’s challenge was to make barbecued chicken and coleslaw: a summer meal in the middle of winter. I really enjoyed this meal. It was comfort food with a down-home feel, and it brought a little sunshine to all this winter weather we’ve been having. I think everyone else at the table liked it too. Even my toddler asked for a little of everything on his plate, and though he didn’t eat very much, that is still an improvement.

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    I have made the coleslaw recipe many times before, but this was an opportunity to really perfect it, and I think this was the best batch I have ever made. I’ll post that recipe tomorrow. (How come it is impossible to make coleslaw except in prodigious batches? I have some ideas for what to do with the leftovers, which I’ll also post.)

    But let’s talk about the barbecue. I have never made barbecue sauce before, and I didn’t really know how to start. So I picked up How to Cook Everything, of course. Mark Bittman’s recipe for barbecue sauce begins with 2 cups of ketchup, which I thought might be overwhelmingly sweet. I consulted a few other recipes and Bittman’s long list of variations, and finally decided on a base combination of 1 part ketchup, 1 part tomato paste, 1 part hoisin sauce and 1 part stock to thin it out some. To this I added apple cider vinegar and bourbon (although I think dark beer would also work well).

    All of the recipes I looked at called for chili powder as the main seasoning, but I decided to use Penzey’s BBQ 3000 mix instead, since I have a large bottle of it in my pantry (given to me as a gift). Chili powder can be substituted but will make the sauce a bit hotter, I think. To that I added salt, pepper, toasted onion powder and garlic powder.

    The sauce tasted good, but it was still very sweet and lacked a certain depth. I consulted all the recipes again and decided to throw in a couple of spoonfuls of mustard (I used Coleman’s yellow) and Worcestershire sauce. That was better, but one last finishing touch was required. A few dashes of Tabasco did the job nicely. I let the sauce simmer for about 30 minutes to meld the flavors.

    My husband really liked this sauce, so I consider it a big success for my first attempt. He wants me to make it the standard for barbecue sauce in our house.

    I dug up some old instructions for oven-barbecuing chicken, which basically consists of browning the chicken first, then slathering it with sauce and baking it until done. A quick broil at the end adds some “char.” I used bone-in, skin-on breasts, so if you add thighs or legs, your cooking time may be longer.

    To serve, I pulled chicken off the bone and plated alongside the coleslaw and the traditional white roll. I reserved about half the sauce for dipping.

    Oven-Barbecued Chicken

    Serves: 2 but this recipe probably makes enough sauce for 4 large pieces of chicken

    For the sauce, combine:

    • ½ cup ketchup
    • ½ cup tomato paste
    • ½ cup hoisin sauce
    • ½ cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
    • ½ cup bourbon (or substitute dark beer)
    • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
    • 2 tablespoons Penzey’s BBQ 3000 mix (or substitute 1 tablespoon chili powder or to taste)
    • ½ teaspoon toasted onion powder
    • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 teaspoons mustard
    • 1-2 dashes Tabasco

    Bring to a simmer. Let simmer over low, uncovered, 30 minutes.

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large, oven-proof skillet, drizzle 2 bone-in chicken breasts with a little olive oil, and sprinkle on both sides with salt and pepper. Brown both sides over medium-high and remove from the heat.

    Pour about half of the sauce into a bowl. Reserve the remainder and keep warm on low heat, covered. Slather the chicken thickly on both sides with the sauce. Bake until the chicken is almost cooked through, turning and re-basting as needed. This can take 20 minutes or more, depending on the size of the chicken pieces.

    When the chicken is almost done, turn on the broiler and cook a further 5 minutes, turning once. Serve with the reserved sauce on the side.

    Italian-style Chopped Salad with Chicken and Parmesan Crostini

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to post this. The week has not been off to a great start, thanks to an ice storm that has left me housebound with a semi-sick toddler. Here is the dish I developed to meet my husband’s challenge last week for a satisfying salad that works as a meal.

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    The verdict:

    • Husband: thumbs up! Comments: “delicious,” “flavorful,” “satisfying,” so I guess I scored on all counts.
    • Toddler: thumbs down! He didn’t even try the deconstructed version I made for him. Comments: “I don’t like tay-mos,” which is a bold-faced lie, by the way.
    • Me: thumbs up! Would I make this again? Definitely!

    I love chopped salads, so I decided to start from there, and I went with Italian flavors because Italian is my husband’s favorite cuisine. The salad even has all the colors of the Italian flag: red, green and white. I thought it looked great on the plate. I wanted to combine a lot of textures and bold flavors in the dish, and also to incorporate some protein and bread to make it really satisfying as a meal.

    For the base of the salad I used two greens, romaine and butter lettuce, which I sliced into ribbons. I wanted to use baby spinach, but when I got to the store that day, absolutely all of the salad greens were gone. We were scheduled to have an ice storm, so I figured that had to have something to do with it. I’ve heard of runs on milk and bread in the face of adverse weather, but not runs on salad, so I guess people really are eating healthier these days. I grabbed the only lettuce that was left: a head of butter lettuce. Fortunately, it worked out, because my husband loved both the lettuces I used.

    The rest of the components suggested themselves: broiled chicken for heft; green beans for crunch; grape tomatoes and picante peppers for acid and brightness; mozzarella cheese for a creamy contrast; and Parmesan crostini fill in for the bread. The recipe follows. Please note that I didn’t measure exact amounts, so use your best judgment if you decide to make it. As written, this recipe feeds 2, but it can be easily doubled or tripled.

    Italian-style Chopped Salad

    For the chicken:

    Place 1 boneless chicken breast in an oven-safe pan. Salt and pepper both sides, and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle the top with grated Parmesan, dried oregano and the zest and juice of ½ lemon.

    On the stovetop, cook the chicken uncovered over medium-high heat until it is halfway cooked through. Turn on the broiler and transfer the pan to the oven. Finish cooking the chicken through — the top should be browned and the Parmesan melted — and set aside to cool. Slice thinly.

    For the dressing:

    Combine in a jar:

    • the remaining zest and juice of the lemon
    • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    • 4 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
    • ½ teaspoon onion powder
    • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
    • salt and pepper

    Shake to combine well and set aside. You may have to mix the dressing again just before dressing the salad.

    To assemble the salad:

    Trim 2 large handfuls green beans and snap in half if the pieces are long. Blanch for a minute or two in boiling water, then transfer to an ice bath.

    Wash and halve about half the contents of a container of grape tomatoes.

    Cut 1 ball of fresh mozzarella into cubes.

    Thinly slice a small handful of peperoncini or piquante peppers packed in vinegar.

    Thinly slice into ribbons 1 small head romaine lettuce and ½ head butter lettuce. Toss in a bowl with half the dressing.

    Place some salad greens on each of two plates. On top arrange the green beans, tomatoes and sliced chicken. Drizzle the remaining dressing over. Scatter the peppers and mozzarella over the top.

    The crostini:

    Cut 4 thin slices of bread from a French baguette. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Mound freshly grated Parmesan on top. Put under the broiler for 1-2 minutes (watch closely!) until the cheese is melted and the crostini have browned. Serve immediately on the side of the salads.

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