Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sun-dried Tomato and Sausage Strata

This is an adaptation of a recipe that came from one of my many magazines, probably Sunset. I played with it to add some more healthy girth to the dish. The results were very colorful and a happy melding of flavors. It is definitely an improvement on the traditional egg and sausage casserole that inevitably shows up for brunch potlucks (which was the purpose of this dish).

Sun-dried Tomato and Sausage Strata
1 1/2 pound pork sausage
6 eggs
3 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 1/2 cup frozen corn
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained and julienned
1 cup green onion, diced
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp coriander
2 cups smoked mozzarella, shredded
1 loaf day-old Italian style bread, cubed

1. Brown sausage, crumble and drain.
2. In bowl, combine eggs, milk, ricotta, cilantro, cumin, salt and pepper and whisk until blended.
3. In separate bowl, combine tomatoes, green onion, mushrooms and coriander.
4. In greased 9x13 casserole dish, spread layer of bread cubes. Spread half of corn-tomato mixture, half of sausage and 1 cup mozzarella over bread. Pour half of egg mixture over the layers. Repeat the process with the second layer.
5. Cover and refrigerate for eight hours or overnight.
6. Remove from fridge for 1/2 hour before baking.
7. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until the egg is set.

Lessons learned: I couldn't find seasoned sausage that wasn't in a casing, so I seasoned ground pork with brown sugar, salt, pepper, sage, nutmeg, thyme and crushed red pepper. It worked just fine even though it was supposed to marinade for eight hours first.
I like that this dish has a lot of non-egg substance to it. The original recipe called for plum tomatoes, but I thought that would add too much water to the dish, so I used sun-dried tomatoes. I liked the results. Next time, I'll add in some garlic and a little more salt to the egg mixture. I also think it needs to bake a little longer than 50 minutes. The middle wasn't runny, but it didn't set as well as I would have liked. If you extend the cooking time, cover it for the last 10 to 20 minutes, so the sausage doesn't dry out.
I suppose you could substitute regular mozzarella or another cheese, but the hint of smokiness from the smoked mozzarella really is nice. And, it melts really well. It's worth the extra dollar or two to add it, I think.
The original also called for bacon instead of sausage. I am a firm believer that the only way to eat bacon is if it is crispy. This would have made it soggy, so I omitted it. It would be fine as a topping, though. Personally, I like the meatiness of the sausage. Turkey sausage would also work. Or, go more vegetarian and omit the sausage altogether. I think well-chopped broccoli would be a nice substitute.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dump (Fruit Pan Dowdy)

I know the name doesn't sound appetizing and last night's example was definitely not worth a photo, but since several people asked for the recipe, it must have turned out OK from a flavor perspective. In short, it's a fruit cobbler without all the work of a cobbler. So, here is one of my favorite last-minute recipes for a tasty and sweet dessert.

Dump (Fruit Pan Dowdy)
2 large cans canned fruit (peaches, apples or cherries)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 box white or yellow cake mix
1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 cube)
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

1. Pour contents of fruit cans (including syrup) into pan. Measure cornstarch into a small bown and add a little water until cornstarch dissolves. Add to fruit and stir over medium heat.
2. Stir in cinnamon, vanilla and almond extract. Continue to stir until mixture starts to boil and thickens. Stir until desired thickness is reached (no more than another minute or two).
3. Dump mixture into large glass dish (Pyrex works well).
4. Dump dry cake mix over the top and spread across the mixture.
5. Slice one cube butter into thin pats and spread it generously over the top of the cake mix.
6. If desired, sprinkle chopped pecans or walnuts over the top.
7. Bake at 350 for about an hour or until the top has browned.

Lessons Learned: I've called this Dump for years because you literally dump everything in. It's painfully easy to make and requires little thought. I've made it with apples, peaches and cherries, though peaches are my favorite. There's no reason why you couldn't mix fruits (say, peaches and apricots or pears and apples). Be creative.
You can use pie filling and omit the cornstarch and flavoring process, but canned fruit is so much cheaper and works just as well with a little extra effort. Depending on the brand of fruit, you may want to remove some, but not all, of the syrup. Too much syrup makes the dish mushy, which is fine from a flavor perspective, but definitely not from a mouth feel standpoint.
If your baking pan is pretty full, put it on a cookie sheet before sliding it into the oven. It'll be easier to pull out and you won't have caramelized syrup drippings at the bottom of your oven. If you're in a hurry, increase the temperature to 375 and start watching it for doneness after about 30 minutes. (The more butter you add, the more golden your crust will become and the better your cobbler will taste.)
It's best served very warm and a la mode. Whipped cream also works.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dessert Free For All -- Open Forum

I am obligated to prepare a dessert tomorrow evening for a function and I'm undecided on what to take. I'm tempted to take chocolate-pecan-praline dipped bacon, but that might be a little too random. And, the ho ho cake has already made the rounds, so I need something fresh. If you have a great recipe, please share it in the comment section. Thanks!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Chicken Coconut Soup)

A little restaurant in Torrance, Calif., serves some wonderful Tom kha gai (Thai chicken coconut soup). I've tried it elsewhere, but Tiffany's does it best. I've been meaning to try it on my own, but never got around to it until yesterday. A recipe out of the December 2008 issue of Sunset magazine proved just the inspiration I needed yesterday afternoon when the opened can of coconut milk either needed to be used or tossed. Like usual, I didn't have everything I needed, so I improvised a little. It was a complete hit with my husband, who loves Thai food. And, the fact that the entire thing went together in less than 10 minutes was just another perk of this dish. I'll give you the original dish, then tell you how I altered it.

Tom Kha Gai
1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk.
1 can (14 oz.) reduced-sodium chicken broth
6 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 lb. boneless chicken breast, sliced thinly
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Thai chili paste
4 tbsp basil
4 tbsp cilantro

1. Combine coconut milk, broth, ginger and lemongrass in pan. Bring to boil.
2. Add chicken, mushrooms, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and chili paste. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is firm and opaque, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Garnish each serving with 1 tbsp each basil and cilantro. Discard lemongrass.
Serves 4

Lessons learned: My adaptation of this recipe is a lesson in using what you've got. A while back, I bought several herbs packaged in tubes. They're made by Gourmet Garden and in a pinch, they'll serve as adequate substitutes for the real thing. I have lemongrass, basil and cilantro. (You can see where this is going, right?) The ginger also came from a jar. I used canned chicken (I can my own, which is much better than the stuff you get at Costco). I didn't have the requisite chili paste, but I did have a Sezchuan chili paste, which worked just as well. I went a little heavy on the paste and the sugar since I like the blend of spicy and sweet flavors. In true Thai form, the fish sauce added the saltiness and the lime (also bottled) added the tang.
Using pre-cooked chicken and pre-chopped herbs really cut down on the cooking time. I could literally dump everything into the pot at once and serve it once it was heated. Gotta love that!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Roasted Pears with Herbed Goat Cheese and Bacon

I'm signed up to receive Food Network's weekly e-mail. The photo on the right was the lead photo in today's e-mail. Though I haven't made it yet, I have every intention of doing so. Doesn't it look absolutely divine? Of course, anything with bacon in it has to be good, in my opinion. If you try it before me, please leave me a message on what you thought. Thank you, Tyler Florence, for such a recipe that really embraces the happiness of bacon.

Roasted Pears with Herbed Goat Cheese and Bacon

1/2 pound goat cheese
1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs such as parsley, thyme, and chives
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 baby pears
12 slices bacon, about 1/2 pound, cut in 1/2
2 tbsp honey
Arugula or dandelion greens, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 375.
2. In a small bowl, mix the goat cheese, herbs, and 2 tablespoons olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Halve the pears and scoop out the seeds and cores. Stuff each pear half with about a tablespoon of the cheese. Wrap each stuffed pear with a slice of bacon and place it on a baking sheet. Drizzle some olive oil over the pears and season with salt and pepper.
3. Bake until the pears are tender and the bacon is crisp, about 25 to 30 minutes.
4. Place the pears onto a platter, drizzle with the honey, and garnish with the arugula.

Lessons Learned: Coming. I will post, for now, that the best way to core a pear is with a melon baller. Why it took me nearly 35 years to figure that out, I don't know, but it works wonders!

Baked White Bean Artichoke Dip

I've loved artichokes since I was a kid. There's something novel about scraping the butter-dipped meat of the choke leaves off with your teeth for a light summertime snack. (OK, maybe not so light, but definitely delicious.) It wasn't until I became an adult that the world of artichoke dip was opened up to me. But if you're like me, you feel more than a little guilty dipping into the artery-clogging dip with your equally calorie-laden chip. I came across a recipe substitute that cuts out the bad-for-you mayonnaise without cutting out the creaminess -- pureed cannellini beans. Who knew?!

Bakes White Bean Artichoke Dip
1 can white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 14 oz. can non-marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup light mayonnaise (do not use fat free)
1 cup grated Swiss or Monterey Jack cheese
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup crumbed bacon bits

1. Puree rinsed and drained white beans in food processor until smooth.
2. Stir in remaining ingredients except bacon bits. Mix (do NOT puree) until fully incorporated.
3. Spray baking dish with cooking spray, then pour dip into dish. Sprinkle top with bacon bits.
4. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until bubbly.
5. Serve warm with chips, crackers or pita.

Lessons learned: I originally made the recipe without adding salt. I think it really needs some. The recipe I used also called for chopped green onions. I omitted them, but if I have some on hand, I'll probably include them next time. Or, I'll throw in some onion powder and call it good.
I'm not sure why fat-free mayo won't work. It probably affects the taste in an adverse way.

Tuscan Pork Tenderloin

Do you get into a cooking rut? I know I do. I make the same few things over and over again. While they are admittedly tasty, there are only so many times you can eat crescent chicken pillows before you want to huck one of the offending pillows out a window. Pork loin is another one. We love a crocked and cranberry-sauced pork tenderloin recipe that came compliments of my friend Beth O. But, whenever I pull a loin out of the freezer, that's my one go-to recipe. It's absolutely delicious and I promise to post the recipe, but not today. Last night, I was looking for something a little different. The thawing loin sat on the counter and I came across a Cooking Light recipe that was worthy of a try. I adapted it (slightly) to suit the ingredients I had on hand. Here is that adaptation.

Tuscan Pork Tenderloin
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper, coarsely ground
1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (1.5-pound) pork tenderloin

1. Preheat oven to 500.
2. Combine oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, lime, fennel and garlic in a small bowl. Rub rosemary mixture onto pork. Set pork on baking rack that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
3. Bake at 500° for 17 minutes or until a thermometer registers 155°. Let pork stand 10 minutes. Cut pork crosswise into 12 slices.

Lessons Learned: I used a Smithfield brand marinated pork tenderloin. I don't know if the moistness of the meat can be attributed to the pre-packaged pepper and garlic marinade, but this loin was perfectly moist and had a very nice crust on top. I had to bake it about 20 minutes to get it up to temperature. In my version, I omitted the pepper since the marinade already had plenty. Since I love garlic, I saw no need to cut back on that. It's really important to let the loin rest for 10 minutes. Like with steak, that 10-minute resting period allows all the juices that have flowed to the edges of the meat to settle back into the middle, creating the decadent moistness that made this dish so good.
Don't question the oven temperature. It's that high heat that helps create the crust. Anything lower and you'll end up with a lackluster outer coating.
One more thing, if you're wondering about portion sizes, the original recipe said three slices constituted a serving. The original also had a balsamic-glazed bed of endives and shallots for the loin to rest on as it bakes. Since I didn't have either, I just used a roasting rack. It worked for me.