Thursday, October 29, 2009

Turkey Meatballs with Tomato-Basil Sauce and Spaghetti Squash

Lest we get too far and I lose pasta aficionados altogether, we DO have these meatballs on pasta quite often and they are super yummy. That being said, we also really enjoy them over spaghetti squash as a lighter, more autumnal alternative. So...go with what you know, or give this a try.

And, while some naysayers may be inclined to think that a "meatball" must be either beef- or pork-based...think again! These easy-to-make Turkey Meatballs can stand up quite well to their beef or pork brethren. It's all in the seasoning. Onion, garlic, green pepper, basil, parsley, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper offer great flavor, ensuring that the turkey is more than adequately enhanced to take on the role of an "Italian meatball." (Who knew the role could so easily be re-cast?!!) Plus, you brown up the meatballs before dropping them into any sauce which guarantees that they get a beautiful, golden layer on them first. Once browned, you remove them to a plate while you get your sauce simmering in the drippings they left behind...yum!

While you can certainly use a favorite bottled spaghetti sauce, this easy Tomato-Basil sauce comes together so quickly, and tastes so fresh, that it's almost as easy as popping open a jar. You start with really good, canned tomatoes (like Muir Glen Organic Whole Plum Tomatoes) and blend them up with a few fresh herbs.

Then you pop the pureed tomatoes into a skillet with some sauteed onions, garlic, tomato paste and seasonings, and let the whole lot simmer for awhile before adding your meatballs back in the mix.

The spaghetti squash practically handles itself. Once prepped and popped into the oven, it does its thing and comes out perfectly baked. In the meantime, you can get the sauce and meatballs started. By the time you're finished with that...the squash is ready. I'm always somewhat fascinated (easily amused, I suppose) by the "spaghetti/vermicelli-like texture" you get when you fork over the flesh of this squash and end up with these beautiful, yellow strands of "pasta." Our girls used to love handling this task when they were little...kind of a magic trick of sorts...squash to pasta, voila!

Turkey Meatballs with Tomato-Basil Sauce and Spaghetti Squash
serves 4 to 6 (makes approximately 15 meatballs)

1 to 1-1/2 pounds of ground turkey (I use a 3:1 ratio of white to dark meat, respectively)
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1/3 cup green pepper, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup bread crumbs (see note)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

Tomato-Basil Sauce:
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
fresh basil leaves (approximately 10-15 leaves)
fresh Italian parsley (approximately 5-7 leaf clusters)
(use herb portions to your liking...I just kind of drop in a handful of each)
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, worked into a paste with some kosher salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste (approximately 1/2 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon, respectively)
water or chicken broth to thin sauce, if necessary (depends on how thick you like your sauce)

Spaghetti Squash:
1 medium size spaghetti squash

Spaghetti Squash:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prick entire skin of squash, using a strong skewer, to ensure that steam will escape while baking (you don't want a squash explosion!). I find that a skewer allows you to easily poke holes in the squash without having to apply any (risky) driving pressure or stabs to the a knife or fork might require. (Placing the squash on a dish towel, or such, also helps keep it a bit more stable.)

Once out of the oven, just let it cool a bit before cutting it in half, lengthwise...

Then, using some tongs or a spoon, remove seeds and inner strands from squash to expose flesh...

Then, using a fork, gently scrap inner flesh of squash to easily shred it into pasta-like strands...

Place readied squash onto a plate and cover with foil to keep warm OR wait until your meatballs and sauce are ready before you cut and prep the squash.

Turkey Meatballs
1. Mix ground turkey and next 8 ingredients (through pepper). Form mixture into balls (approximately 1-2 inch in diameter...kind of like a golf-ball size).
note: while you can you panko or bread crumbs, I have to say that I used left-over pita chips for my crumbs this time around. We love the Stacy's brand of whole wheat pita chips but always end up with at least a quarter bag of crumbs. Rather than throwing them out, I just whisk them up in my food processor to a crumb-texture. My attempt at being thrifty!

2. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add meatballs. Brown meatballs, turning to evenly brown all sides. Remove to platter but don't wash out your skillet (you'll use this same skillet -- with drippings -- for your sauce!)

Tomato-Basil Sauce:
1. Empty canned tomatoes into blender. Add basil and parsley and puree.

2. In the same skillet you browned your meatballs in, add onion, garlic and tomato paste and stir to remove drippings from pan. Saute until onion is just tender. Add tomato puree and mix in thoroughly. Add Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, to taste. Let simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Return meatballs to tomato sauce in skillet and continue simmering for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Plate squash "pasta" and top with meatballs with sauce. Add a sprinkle of grated parmigiano reggiano cheese and serve.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Butternut Squash-Leek Soup with Fresh Apple, Orange and Spiced Creme Fraiche

You certainly can't walk into any market produce section, roadside stand, or farmers' market right now without seeing squash...galore. They're colorful and visually say the least. And they definitely say "autumn."

Thinking I might serve a butternut squash soup with our Thanksgiving dinner, I figured this was as good a time as any to try to get the recipe right! The recipe I tried around this time last year wasn't a hit. It kind of tasted a bit plain and too much like...well...squash. I know, I realize this sounds like a silly statement, but I wanted the soup to have more depth of flavor than it did...and a bit more sweetness. Strangely enough, I have three different butternut squash soup recipes in my file, all untested, and all offering just a little twist from the next -- with leeks or onion, pumpkin puree or carrots, apple, orange, sage...even bacon. In looking at these three recipes that interested me enough to warrant a "save," I realized I liked various components of each but couldn't fully commit to any one. So...I used bits and pieces of all three, thinking of the apples in both the salad and stuffing I'll be serving, and the fresh orange I always add to my homemade cranberry sauce.

This soup definitely has the natural sweetness I want from a butternut squash soup, and offers a great depth of balanced flavor -- with a bit of pumpkin puree, leek, apple, orange, and honey. It all comes together so well. And...the cool, fresh, spiced creme fraiche really adds the perfect, complimenting, final touch -- a must, in my opinion!

Butternut Squash-Leek Soup with Fresh Apple, Orange and Spiced Creme Fraiche
adapted from Barefoot Contessa, Bon Appetit, and Oregonian FOODday recipes
Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-1/2 to 2 cups leek, thinly sliced (about 2 large leeks)
5 - 6 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (1 medium squash)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix!)
1 apple, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used a Gala apple)
3 - 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (see note)
1/2 to 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (see note)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (adjust if not using low-sodium broth)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons creme fraiche
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch cayenne pepper

french baguette and grated Gruyere cheese...if you want to make broiled cheese toasts to accompany soup (recommended!).

1. Heat butter and olive oil in a heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. Add leek and saute for about 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Add squash, pumpkin puree, and apple. Saute another 1 to 2 minutes. Add 3 cups chicken broth, 1/3 cup orange juice, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over low to medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until squash is fork-tender. Add honey and simmer another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Transfer mixture, in batches, to blender to puree. Puree with tap released from top of blender to allow steam to escape. Return pureed batches to pot. Place pot on stove to reheat/maintain heat.

Note: Taste pureed soup. Add additional chicken stock and/or orange juice, to taste, to thin to a silky, smooth consistency. Add additional salt and pepper, to taste. Add additional broth and/or juice with each reheating, as necessary, to maintain consistency.

3. Mix creme fraiche with nutmeg and pinch of cayenne. Serve soup with a dollop of cream mixture on top and Gruyere cheese toasts along the side!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Apple Galette with Cinnamon-Flavored Whipped Cream

The decision to bake this classic apple galette began with the making of a flourless chocolate cake and caramel sauce. An unlikely transition, perhaps, but a learning experience nonetheless.

You see I offered to bring dessert to a dinner for eleven women. Me...the potato-cheese-bread girl! And not just any dinner, a birthday dinner for a beautiful, elegant, and wonderfully talented friend...who would be surrounded by a swarm of other beautiful, elegant, and wonderfully talented women...all of whom can cook and bake with the best of them. No pressure.

So, why didn't I offer to bring a salad? Well...I truly think that while I may not crave sweets, I really enjoy the creative precision of baking and the beauty of the final result. It's kind of like edible art. However, unlike savory recipes where I can more or less taste the final product by just reading the ingredients, I can't so much with sweets. If it has chocolate in it, and eggs, and butter, and sugar...a fairly predictable cast...then it must be good. Right? Wrong! Case in point: the recipe for Chocolate Flourless Cake with Caramel Sauce that I had so diligently clipped, filed and saved in "the binder." Conclusion: what you get is not necessarily what you might have expected. This experience proved what I already knew...desserts don't offer you the benefit of adding a bit more of this or that to balance their flavor or consistency. For me, cooking is fluid and amenable. Baking, though enjoyable, really isn't. Once baked, desserts are kind of a done deal.

I have to preface my decision to go with an untested recipe by saying that this particular chocolate cake was sampled by a particular reader, at a particular restaurant, and touted as "unbelievable." And...a particular mag had secured the recipe from a particular pastry chef and published it. So I figured it had to be particularly good (it certainly sounded good). 

Well...the batter tasted great and the cake came out of the oven looking sooo beautiful (exactly how I had hoped it would). And the caramel sauce was perfection. So I scrapped my initial plan of making this a "trial" cake and confidently placed it and the sauce in the fridge for the party the next day. Then, around 8 o'clock that evening, it hit me...I think I should taste the cake. Without hesitation, I pulled it and the sauce from the fridge, grabbed a plate and a fork, and dug a pile of mushy blandness. It was chocolaty, and it did have the consistency of what you might expect from a flourless cake, but it just tasted like an under-baked cake. Disappointed but not completely dejected, I resolved to consider Plan B the next morning.

After a quick email to another friend I learned that the birthday girl might actually prefer something more like a pie...maybe apple...and I immediately remembered this galette. I have made it several times and have always loved it...apples, sugar, lemon, apricot, what's not to love!Though simple to make, it's elegant (like the birthday girl) and beautiful (also like the birthday girl). It has a buttery-crisp, flakey-thin crust that is brushed with apricot jam and then covered with ever-so-thin slices of delicious apple that have been flavored and sweetened with lemon and sugar, and delicately arranged in tiers of concentric circles.

Topped with a dollop of fresh, cinnamon-flavored whipped cream, it was a worthy little birthday offering following a rather impressive and delicious meal. All simple, straightforward ingredients, not unlike those in many desserts...only these come together exactly as they should. Is it unbelievable? Hmm...that can be a misleading word. Let's just say it IS particularly good!

Apple Galette with Cinnamon-Flavored Whipped Cream
serves 8 to 10 (we stretched it to 12...but 8 is optimal)
recipe recommends: parchment paper and unrimmed baking sheet

For crust:
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3 - 4 tablespoons ice water

For fruit topping:
1-1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 4 to 5 large apples), peeled, cored and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons apricot jam (or preserves), divided
1 tablespoon water
milk (just for basting crust)

Crust assembly:
1. Blend flour and salt in a food processor. Add butter and blend by pulsing machine on and off until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and blend. Add additional ice water until dough begins to clump together. (Dough is ready when it clumps but still retains a coarse, loose presence.) Place dough on a non-stick surface and gather into a disk, kneading lightly until it holds shape.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and place in fridge to chill for at least 1 hour.

2. Roll dough between sheets of parchment paper to a 1/8-inch thick round that is approximately 14 inches in diameter. I put two overlapping sheets on the bottom to allow for the 14-inch diameter. As you roll, lift and move the top piece of parchment as needed to ease the process (don't turn it over though as it will get a little buttery from the dough...just makes it an easier, cleaner effort to keep the buttery side down to the dough. Transfer dough, along with bottom parchment sheets, to a large, unrimmed baking sheet. Chill for 15 minutes.

Fruit topping assembly:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine apple slices, 2 tablespoons sugar, lemon juice and zest in a medium bowl. Toss lightly to blend.

2. Remove chilled dough from fridge and spread 1/4 cup apricot preserves over surface, leaving about a 1-1/2 inch border on outside perimeter. Beginning from outer edge (just inside 1-1/2 border), arrange apple slices in concentric circles atop apricot spread, overlapping slightly.

Using the bottom sheets of parchment as an aid, fold the outer edge of dough up toward apples to create a rimmed crust. I kind of roll it a bit to hide the rough edges and then push it a bit up over the edge of the outside tier of apples. Then pinch dough to form a nice edge and correct any cracks.

3. Brush crust with milk and sprinkle entire galette (crust and fruit) with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for another 25 to 30 minutes, until crust is golden. Check galette to ensure that crust is browning well...protect with foil if necessary. Remove from oven. Carefully slide a thin knife around outer edges to loosing galette from parchment. Let stand on parchment for about 10 minutes to cool. 

4. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons apricot preserves and 1 tablespoon water in a small pot over medium heat, until just melted. Using a pastry brush, lightly dab galette with apricot glaze (very carefully so as not to MOVE apple slices out of position). You don't want to add too much liquid to apple surface, just lightly dab to glaze a bit. Using parchment as an aid, carefully transfer galette to your serving platter. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of cinnamon-flavored whipped cream, if desired.

Cinnamon-Flavored Whipped Cream
serves 6 (approximately)
While I tend to make this in an add-as-you-go fashion, here are approximate measurements for about 2 cups of cream topping.

1-1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar, to taste
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (more if desired)

1. Beginning beating cream on low to medium speed for 30 seconds or so (prevents splashing!) before increasing speed to high. Just before soft peaks begin to form, add sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Taste and adjust flavor, as desired. Continue whipping until soft peaks form. Serve immediately or place in fridge to chill. 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chicken Piccata (and Grated Zucchini Saute)

Attempting to improve on making Chicken Piccata may seem like a silly effort in that it is a fairly simple dish already... with just a few ingredients and nothing more exotic than a smattering of capers...but I think its simplicity may be the very thing that has eluded me. I suppose its standing as a "classic" -- like Chicken Marsala, Veal Scallopini, Beef (or Boeuf) Bourguignon, etc...-- makes me feel like there must be a tried and true method that ensures success.

Until now, however, my Chicken Piccata experiences have kind of reminded me of the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears. I've made it without the benefit of a proven recipe... and it was good. I've made it from published recipes (by well-respected chefs)... and they, too, were good. But I've always felt that, like Goldilocks, "this picatta is too lemony" or "this piccata is too bland." Then I came across the most recent issue of Cook's Illustrated and I think they've worked out (as they are known to do) the small little tweaks that I believe do the trick in overcoming the pitfalls I've previously experienced. While my photography skills are a definite work-in-progress, this piccata turned out beautiful (and truly delicious).

Here is what I gleaned this time around:

Thin your chicken breasts by cutting them in half horizontally (kind of like you do a bagel), so that you have two breast-shaped pieces from each boneless, skinless breast.

Unlike some methods where you pound the cutlets with a meat mallet to get super thinned cuts, this slicing of the cutlets allows you to retain the shape of the breast while still getting a "thin enough" portion (1/2 inch thickness or less). And it also allows you to get a number of them in your skillet without having to do numerous batches for servings of four or more.

Season your thoroughly dried cutlets generously with both salt and pepper BEFORE you lightly dredge them in flour.

While this might seem obvious, I've added the seasonings directly to my flour to expedite this step (as I've seen pros do as well) and you just don't get the same element of flavor. And you can run the risk of using too much flour (which isn't good) in trying to get your chicken well seasoned. By generously seasoning the cutlets prior to dredging, they really get the benefit of the salt and pepper.

Once seasoned, you can lay the cutlets in your dish with flour and easily just dredge them and drop them into your skillet. 

And... no egg dredging necessary. As pointed out by Cook's Illustrated, why get a great battered crust going only to douse it with sauce? It will just turn mushy.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit to allow you a warm oven to pop your cutlets into while you prep your sauce and/or finish up additional batches.

I've made the mistake of working my sauce with the cutlets still in the skillet or removing them to a plate, and covering them with foil to keep warm, and neither are good choices for obvious reasons: you can't get the sauce right with the chicken hanging around, and you can definitely goo-up your cutlets by wrapping them while still warm.

Adding lemon slices to your broth at the outset makes all the difference in getting it lemony without being acidic.

Many piccata recipes call for more lemon juice than this version which may seem reasonable but, in reality, it can just add to the acidity of the dish without really enhancing the flavor. And it seems like when you add the juice in too early you end up feeling like you need more of it to keep the lemon flavor from going flat. Dropping in lemon slices at the start of your sauce prep allows the rind to soften up and flavor the sauce without adding too much tartness. Then...adding the fresh squeezed juice at the end allows you to get that great pop of fresh lemon without having to use too much. Brilliant!

I sometimes serve this dish with garlic mashed potatoes but when I want something lighter I go with this Grated Zucchini Saute. It pairs really well with the lemon flavor of the piccata. 

While you might think this veggie will turn out mushy, it really doesn't. It cooks so quickly it simply doesn't have a chance to. You simply grate your zucchini on the larger-hole portion of your grater and pop it all into a skillet with a little melted butter and some olive oil.

Season it with salt, pepper, and some garlic powder, to taste, and you are done. It literally takes just minutes!! It's truly delicious (and healthy) and I think it makes a nice presentation for your chicken (or fish) to set upon. About six small to medium size zucchinis will make enough for four.

Chicken Piccata (and Grated Zucchini Saute)
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
serves 4

2 to 3 large lemons, cut one lemon into thin slices and keep the other for juicing (you'll need 1/4 cup juice)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, rinsed, thoroughly dried, and sliced horizontally to make two cutlets from each breast (approximately 1/2 inch or less in thickness)
1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
2 tablespoons drained small capers
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (room temp is fine)
2 tablespoons fresh italian parsley, minced (I forgot this and it was still great)

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

2. Prep your cutlets by generously seasoning them on both sides with salt and pepper. Place your flour in a shallow dish and your seasoned cutlets on top of flour. Set aside.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Using tongs, lightly dredge your cutlets with flour on both sides, one by one, and place them in the skillet. Saute the cutlets, without moving them, for approximately 2 to 3 minutes. At about 2 minutes check to see if the first side is nicely browned. If so, turn them over and brown the other sides. Again...for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and place cutlets on an oven-safe dish. Put cutlets in oven to keep warm while you cook up additional batches or start your sauce.

4. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to same skillet (DO NOT wash it out) and return it to the stove over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant (about 30 seconds)...being careful not to burn it. Add broth, wine (optional) and lemon slices. Increase heat to high and scrape skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen browned bits from cutlets. Simmer until liquid is reduced to about 1/3 cup. Add lemon juice and capers and simmer until the sauce reduces again to about 1/3 cup. Remove pan from heat. Add butter and mix in until melted. Add parsley (if desired). Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately. 

If you are serving your chicken over the Grated Zucchini Saute (see above copy for preparation), then simply spoon a bed of zucchini in the center of your plate and top with chicken piccata and then sauce.