Monday, February 21, 2011

Grilled cheese and tomato soup! With a twist...

The menu: Croque Monsieur with Homemade Tomato Soup 2/21/11

So I had a little hankering for the beloved dish: grilled cheese with tomato soup. But I wanted to jazz it up a little (I hate that I just said jazz) so I decided to make Ina Garten's Croque Monsieur, with the Neely's tomato soup! It was a cold Thursday night, and the perfect evening for a heavy sandwich and some warm soup. The croque monsieur is not the healthiest for you (you also might want to keep some Gas-ex on hand) but it's so tasty, and ok to have once a blue moon.

Croque Monsieur

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups hot milk (I just warmed mine up in the, about 1 minute)

1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 ounces Gruyere, grated (5 cups- this might be a little too much, so use as much as you think you want).

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed

Dijon mustard

8 oz baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin (Just ask for it at the deli, they're happy to cut it just the way you like it!)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. The key to making this roux (a thickening agent, and a key component in any good creamy sauce) is go slow! Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.

To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

Tomato Soup

3 pounds, medium plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch sugar

3 tablespoons butter

4 shallots, chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 cups chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Arrange tomatoes, flesh side up, on 2 wire racks set on sheet trays. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, making sure they are well covered. Season with salt, pepper and sugar.

Roast in the middle rack of the oven until tomatoes are brown and tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly.

Melt butter in 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Saute the shallots for 2 minutes, and then mix in tomato paste for a few more minutes. Add chicken stock and cayenne. Add heavy cream and heat over low heat. Bring up to a boil then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes to the pan.

Puree with an immersion blender (or food processor). Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish generously with fresh basil

Now I didn't make a dessert for this meal (mainly because I felt so guilty with the cheese overload), but dang you know I had some wine! Here are some happy customers:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A trip to the winery!

This past weekend, Steve took me to a winery in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. It was a an old winery with creaky floorboards, Midwestern accents and a lovely assortment of cheese. As I was sifting through the bottles of Pinot and Chardonnay, I found my favorite bottle from the tour..a Riesling. What better excuse to make an awesome dinner than a delish bottle of wine?! I mean it's like...duh.

Garlic-Roasted Chicken Breasts

This was the easiest chicken dish I've ever made, and quite possibly the most moist and flavorful. It takes awhile in the oven, but nothing could have fewer ingredients and this much flavor.

4 heads of garlic
8 sprigs fresh oregano
2 whole roaster chicken breasts (rinsed and patted dry)
2 tbl olive oil
salt and pepper

*Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the tops from the garlic heads, resserving the bottoms; arrange the tops (cut side down) in the center of an 11x17 inch roasting pan or casserole dish. Place a sprig of oregano over each garlic top and arrange the chicken breasts over the garlic.

(P.S. Little tip, the garlic on the right is fresh and the one on the left is NOT. It's not that it's rotten, it's just better to use the fresh stuff...more flava)

*Place reserved garlic bottoms (cut side up) next to the chicken in the pan. Drizzle the chicken and garlic bottoms with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the remaining sprigs of oregano on top.

*Roast the chicken for 30 minutes, turn the garlic bottoms so that the cut sides are down, and rotate the pan. Continue roasting the chicken until the skin is browned, the juices run clear, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 165 degrees about 30 minutes more.

*Pour the pan juices into a measuring cup; skim the fat from the top. Serve the juices with the chicken and roasted garlic.

I can't emphasize how good this dish was. I'm a huge proponent of chicken, and this was the first time I've made chicken with the bone-in...let me tell you it's like double the flavor.

Since I've also been craving green squash, I decided to make the Barefoot Contessa's zucchini casserole. It's one of my go-to casserole dishes.

5 1/2 medium sized zucchini
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup Mozzarella cheese
1 cup Fontina cheese
3 tbl Pecorino cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
olive oil, salt and pepper

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare all the ingredients, chop the zucchinis into medium-sized slices and grate all three of the cheeses. Take a casserole dish (you can double the recipe and use a larger size dish) and begin layering the ingredients. Drizzle a little olive oil on the bottom of the dish and layer the zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

*Cover the zucchini layer with a layer of 1/3 of the Mozzarella cheese and 1/3 of the Fontina. Pour 1/3 of the cream over the cheese layer, and add 1/3 of the breadcrumbs and 1 tbl of Pecorino cheese. Repeat this twice more.

*Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until top of layers is browned.

Ok, ok so this dish isn't the healthiest. But when you tell people it has zucchini, that makes it ok right?

For dessert! My Mom sent me a care package (she is the cutest) and among my favorite staple items (pasta, nutella, puppy chow) there was a container of dried cherries. Although I do not really care for cherries (Love you Mom!) I saw an opportunity guessed it. New recipe. What is the harm in trying new things?! I don't see any.

Cherry Almond Chocolate Clusters

  • 1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

  • *In a medium bowl, toss together the almonds and the cherries. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper.
  • *Melt half the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over slightly simmering water, over the lowest possible heat, stirring frequently. Make sure the water is not touching the top pan. Remove thedouble boiler from the heat and stir in the rest of the chocolate.

  • *Remove the top pan with the chocolate in it, gently wipe the bottom of it and set it aside for a moment. Replace the simmering water in the bottom pan with warm tap water. Put the pan of melted chocolate on top of the warm water. This will keep the chocolate at the right temperature while you make the clusters.

  • *Stir the fruit-nut mixture into the chocolate. Spoon out heaping tablespoon-sized clusters of the chocolate mixture onto the baking sheet about 1-inch apart. Put them in the refrigerator to set for 15 minutes. Store and serve at room temperature.

Though the chocolate part is a little tricky, this recipe is very easy and all you have to do is throw them in the fridge. Compared to some other desserts, this is a little bit lighter and I don't feel AS bad about eating nuts and fruit!

After the winery tour, Steve and I walked around the cute little town of Cedarburg. We went into a little bakery and picked up some cinnamon buns and raspberry cream cheese croissants. You know...the perfect, healthy way to start a Sunday. I threw in some pictures of the deliciousness that was breakfast.

"Rich, fatty foods are like destiny: they too, shape our ends."
Author Unknown

Peace and Love.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Lesson in Graduate School- Do with what you have...

So it's Saturday've had a late lunch and it's past dinnertime. You are too lazy (poor) to go to the store to get dinner fixins'...what do you do? I know I struggle with this quite often, having the mindset that cooking involves going to the store, buying exact ingredients, and making a three course meal. However I think one of the most useful things to know how to do, is cook with what you have.

I found myself in this exact predicament this past weekend, and ended up making some delicious shrimp fried rice. I had some leftover frozen shrimp, a lemon, a red onion, a tomato, an egg and some 90-second instant rice I found in my car (yes you read that correctly..who keeps rice in their car? This guy). One of my favorite ways to cook is tossing everything into a sautee pan with a little salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and that is exactly what I did. I thawed the shrimp (just run it under cold water for 5-10 minutes), breaded it in flour and some Emeril's Essence to give it a little spice, and threw it in a pan with the chopped onion and tomato. I cut the lemon in half, squeezed it with the rest of the ingredients, and let the rinds sit in the pan so everything could soak up the flavor.

Right before everything was done (make sure the shrimp are pink and the onions are soft) I cracked an egg right in the pan (no shells!) and fried it, so I could cut it up into little pieces to toss into the dish.

As the rice was cooking rather quickly in the microwave, I tossed everything together and turned the heat on low before throwing the rice in with everything else.

Voila! Shrimp fried rice on a Saturday night, minimal effort involved.

Yesterday was also the Superbowl, which for me usually means amazing food. This year, I was pretty proud of my attentiveness to the game as well as what I was shoving in my mouth. I wore a Packers shirt and everything! I went to Osh Kosh (B'gosh) which is about an hour and a half away, to spend time with a friend's family.

My food contribution, was one of my absolute favorite dishes as a child, Strawberry Angel Food Cake. While not the most attractive dessert (even less so without a trifle bowl), it is deeeeelish and not terribly bad for you.

2 3-oz or 1 6-oz package(s) of strawberry Jell-O

2 10-oz packages of frozen strawberries, thawed with juice

2 tablespoons of sugar

Pinch of salt

1 10-inch angel food cake, torn into pieces

1 pint whipping cream, whipped

Dissolve Jell-O in 2 ½ cups of boiling water.

Stir in thawed strawberries, sugar and salt.

Cool in refrigerator until it begins to thicken.

Fold in whipped cream.

Cover bottom of a 9” x 13” pan (this can also be done in a trifle bowl, or really any's just a little less well-formed) with half the torn angel food cake pieces.

Add half the strawberry/cream mixture.

Repeat layer of angel food pieces and top with remaining strawberry/cream mixture.

Refrigerate 4-5 hours and enjoy! It was a big hit at the party....easy to make and tons of flavor.

*This last picture is a Sunday morning treat...just regular old chocolate chip pancakes but a little cinnamon in the batter.

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. —--Harriet Van Horne

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Real Family Dinner

Long before the guidos and guidettes of the Jersey Shore sat around their table to enjoy an Italian feast, I've been making a big family dinner on Sundays. By family, I mean making dinner for my boyfriend and his brother, my makeshift family since I moved from Connecticut to Wisconsin for graduate school last July.

I decided to create this blog to document my cooking and dining adventures in the Midwest.

Enjoy :)

Wednesday February 2nd, 2011


Crispy Apricot Pork Chops

I never usually have good luck with pork chops, but I decided to try this recipe from my new favorite cook book, "Great Food Fast". Mostly because apricot is so delicious! They were very easy, and didn't take long. Here's the recipe, along with some pictures:

1 Tbl Olive Oil

2 slices Multigrain bread

4 bone-in Pork loin chops

4 teaspoons apricot jam

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly brush a rimmed baking sheet with oil; set aside.

2. Tear the bread into large pieces; place in a food processor. Pulse until the large crumbs form. Drizzle with the oil; crumbs are moistened.

3. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper; spread one side of each chop with 1 teaspoon jam. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the jam, and pat them on gently.

4. Transfer the pork, coated side up, to the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the crust is golden and the pork is opaque throughout, 14-16 minutes. Serve immediately.

Baked Shells with Winter Squash!

Butter for the baking dish

4 Tbl Olive Oil

2 Large onions, thinly sliced

Salt and Pepper

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 lb Small pasta shells

1 package (12 oz) frozen winter squash puree, thawed

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

3 slices crusty baguette, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper. Cover; cook until onions are soft for about 15 minutes. Uncover; raise heat to medium. Cook, stirring until unions are browned for about 20-25 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon of rosemary.

2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water for 2 minutes less than the directions require. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot.

3. Stir squash and reserved pasta water into the onions; simmer for 2 minutes. Toss the squash mixture and 1/2 cup of parmesan with the pasta. Transfer to prepared dish.

4. Combine the bread cubes with the remaining parmesan, rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Top the pasta with the bread cubes. Bake until golden brown, 10-15 minutes.

Roasted Asparagus

This is my go-to vegetable whenever I need some quick, easy and super tasty.

All you need is 2 bunches of asparagus, 1 tbl of olive oil, salt and pepper and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Trim the tough ends of the asparagus...I've found if you just slightly bend the bottom part of the stalk, the end just snaps right off. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss asparagus in with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Roast until the asparagus is tender and cheese is melted..about 10-15 minutes.

Rustic Apple Tart

This dish would've turned out better if I had a rolling pin, but as a poor graduate student, a well-stocked kitchen is hard to find. But I did my best!

Flour, for work surfaces
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
3 Granny Smith apples
1/3 cup of sugar
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
2 tbl unsalted butter
2 tbl apple jelly or apricot jam (I made this the same night I made the pork chops, so my advice would be the apricot!)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry sheet (still folded) to an 8x14 inch rectangle. Trim edges and transfer to baking sheet...Place in freezer. Peel, core and slice the apples 1/4 inch thick. Toss in a large bowl with the sugar.
2. Brush the pastry with the egg wash, avoiding edges. Use a sharp paring knife to score a 3/4 inch border around the pastry. Place the apples inside the border and dot with butter. Bake until the pastry is golden and the apples are tender about 30-35 minutes.
3. In the microwave, heat the jelly with 1 tbl water until melted. Brush apples with glaze. Serve tart warm!

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti

Have a great week! Cate Reynolds