Monday, June 22, 2015

Hopping on the Kale Bandwagon

Kale has been trending for two years now, maybe more. It's everywhere -- blogs, magazines, cooking shows, restaurants. And since this past winter, it's been in my kitchen as well.

Two winters ago I had the zuppa toscana at the Olive Garden. It may not be my favorite restaurant, bit I really enjoyed the soup. I enjoyed it so much that when the temps hit frigid this past winter I took to Pintrest and played around with a few recipes until I found a variation my family and I liked.

The recipe I made this past week is not exactly new. It's a Cooking Light standby that I have been playing around with for about two years. But last week I finally found the variation my family likes best. The change this time? Swapping out baby spinach for kale.

The kale brings a heartiness to the dish, and stands up well to the quiona I started substituting for the rice over a year ago. And unlike baby spinach, I add the kale to the pot earlier during the cooking process, giving the kale plenty of time to cook down and absorb the flavors of the sausage, onions, and garlic.

Yup, kale has been trending for quite a while. But with the help of this dish, it's now trending in my kitchen, too.


Sausage, Kale & Quiona Bowl
Recipe from Country Cooking

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. sausage -- hot, sweet, or a mix -- casings removed
  • 1 bunch kale, removed from stems, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 cup uncooked quiona
  • Olive oil

Directions:

  1. Cook quiona according to package directions.
  2. Heat oil in a dutch oven. Brown sausage, breaking into pieces. (You can use a wooden spoon, but a potato masher works great, too.)
  3. Add onions and garlic. Sweat until onions become translucent.
  4. Add kale to pot. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if using. You may need to add some more olive oil as the kale cooks down.
  5. Deglaze pot with white wine and let reduce for a few minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Add cooked quiona and Parmesan and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

A Note from the Cook: We like to serve slices of a multi-grain bread fresh from our farmer's market on the side for dipping and sopping up any extra juices.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Battle of the Banana Breads

My son loves bananas, and I always have them in the house. But some weeks he is a little slow to eat them, and I need to make use of the overripe ones.

In the summer it's easy: I make all sorts of smoothies for him. He loves coming home from summer camp to find one ready for him in the fridge. It's a cool treat and a tad healthier than ice cream.

In the winter, I turn to my oven. I've made banana cookies, muffins, and even monkey bars, but banana bread feeds my family longer. The thing is, when you have a long winter like we've had this season, banana bread can get tiring pretty quick. So I made an effort to try some new recipes. I found two to try, taking a break from my go-to recipe, and here I rate them all.

Caramelized Banana Bread with Browned Butter Glaze
Recipe from: Cooking Light
Pros: Flavorful and moist. Does not develop a "crust" while baking
Cons: Cooking the bananas is not a step found in traditional recipes. If pressed for time it might not be a step you can afford to take.
Comments: A hit! Loved throughout the family. No one had any complaints, even though there aren't any chocolate chips in it.
Rating: 5 stars

Cinnamon Crumb Banana Bread
Recipe from: Little Bits of Baking, Crafting & Life
Pros: It has crumbs on top.
Cons: It has crumbs on top.
Comments: Originally from North Jersey, my husband and I are huge fans of the crumb bun, so we were excited to give this a try. Because the crumbs go on the bread before it goes in the oven, it takes longer to bake and subsequently develops a hard crust in order for it bake all the way through. I think it should be pre-baked for 15 minutes or so, before adding the crumbs on top and baking all the way through. I have not tested my theory, though.
Rating: 4 stars

Buttermilk Banana Bread
Recipe from: Grace and Good Eats
Pros: It allows me to use up both bananas and any buttermilk I have lingering in the fridge.
Cons: I added 1/4 cup Nutella to this recipe, which meant it had to be baked longer and the bread developed a crust.
Comments: Very quick and easy to make. At the last minute I decided to swirl a 1/4 cup Nutella into the batter once it was in the loaf pan. This resulted in a longer baking time. I would be willing to make this again without the Nutella -- to my husband's and son's disappointment.
Rating: 4 stars

Overall: We enjoyed all three of these recipes. Personally, I like a soft banana bread and the first recipe does not form a crust during baking. But if you have overripe bananas in your kitchen, any of these recipes is a great way to use them.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Passing It On

If you had asked my ten, fifteen, or even 20-year-old selves if I would grow up to enjoy cooking and write about my experiences in the kitchen, they all would have laughed at you. Even when I married my husband at age 26, the priest tried to squeeze "and cook for you" into the vows as a joke. Our guests erupted into giggles, and even then in the House of God, I could not make any culinary commitments. Growing up, I always viewed cooking as a tedious chore. It's amazing how much can change in 10 years.

And so, less than a week away from my 37th birthday, I found myself at Williams-Sonoma on a Saturday morning, watching my 6-year-old son roll out pie dough to make decorations for Thanksgiving pies. What the heck happened??

Saturday morning at Williams-Sonoma, working on pie crust.

A photo posted by @kmiracane on

My own culinary adventures didn't really begin until my husband and I moved to the Poconos in 2005. Before then, my repertoire consisted of Rice-a-Roni, Lipton noodles, and recipes from a 4-ingredient cookbook. I eventually worked my way up to a 6-ingredient cookbooks. Not exactly the stuff gourmet meals are made of. But when we moved my full-time job because a part-time contract position because I wasn't commuting from PA to Jersey City on a daily basis, and I found myself with extra time on my hands. So I decided it was time to learn to cook, and Rachael Ray was my first teacher. I became a student of Giada DeLaurentiis. The next thing I knew, colleagues at my new job were jealous of my leftovers, calling them a gourmet lunch. Somewhere along the line, I became a good cook.

And then I became a mom. Suddenly it wasn't just about eating a meal. It was about nourishing a growing boy. I became more selective in what I cooked, making sure I used as many fresh ingredients as possible. And he became my first audience, sitting in his high chair, eyes on me, as I explained what I was making for dinner and why I did it the way I did. I credit those early days for his current culinary interest. Well, that at the Food Network. (He wants to compete on MasterChef Junior and Chopped. He wants to be a judge on Cutthroat Kitchen.)

Stirring the vinegar mixture for homemade pickles.

A photo posted by @kmiracane on

So last week I let him cook dinner. He has helped me in the kitchen plenty of times before. We've made ice pops, lemonade, pickles, and had Kid Cook Saturdays last winter. But this time he did the bulk of the work under my supervision.

He made an easy chicken marsala recipe, the kind you find on a can of cream of mushroom soup. He pounded the chicken and browned it in butter. He measured out the marsala wine and deglazed the pan. He added the soup and whisked until it heated through. When he added the cutlets back to the pan he said to me, "Mommy, we should add those juices, too, for flavor." I taught him how to bend the asparagus so the fibrous ends snap off. I let him drizzle on the olive oil and sprinkle the grill seasoning over the stalks. No measuring spoon! Just knowing by eye how much is the right amount. The pride beaming from him over his meal could have lit the night sky.

I don't know if he will compete of MasterChef Junior or Chopped, or be a judge on Cutthroat Kitchen. But I do know he will eventually leave the nest and be able to cook for himself. He won't fall into the unhealthy habit of processed and fast foods. And he will continue to experiment with his palate way beyond the fare we are conditioning children to eat today -- hot dogs, chicken nuggets, pizza, burgers, grilled cheese, and macaroni and cheese.

And maybe, just maybe, he'll sit his son or daughter in a high chair and narrate the making of a meal. Maybe he'll roast asparagus and explain why Grandma like grill seasoning best. Maybe he'll insist on as many fresh ingredients as possible, having learned cooking is not just a chore, it's how we nourish our body and soul, and pass it on.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

I suspect it may be impossible to walk into any type of coffee shop and NOT see a pumpkin beverage on the menu. Even the supermarkets carry pumpkin coffee creamer. This gourd is everywhere!

My problem is while I am a huge pumpkin fan, I am not the biggest coffee fan. I do enjoy tea, though. And during these warmer autumn days, it's nice to have something cool to drink. So as part of my list of 25 things to do this fall, I decided to take the original Thai Iced Tea recipe I make during the summer months, and swap out some ingredients so it would be perfect for the season.

Iced Pumpkin Chai Latte

A Country Cooking Original Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 whole star anise pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 chai tea bags (I use Celestial Seasonings decaf India Spice)
  • 3 pumpkin tea bags (I use Celestial Seasonings Sweet Harvest Pumpkin)
  • 6 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
  • whipped cream to your heart's content
  • a sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat bring water, sugar, star anise pods, and cinnamon stick to a boil. Remove pan from heat and add tea bags. Allow to steep for 1 hour.
  2. Discard anise, cinnamon, and tea bags. Whisk in sweetened condensed milk. Pour into container and chill for at least one hour.
  3. Top with whipped cream before serving, if desired.

Just some notes:

  1. I like to make this the night before and let it chill overnight in the fridge.
  2. The original recipe called for 1/4 cup sugar, but I cut that in half because I found it to be too sweet.
  3. In the summer, I use 4 chai tea bags, omit the cinnamon, and when I add the tea bags I also add fresh mint to steep. Better than any Starbucks drink!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Out of the Box

School is in session here. That means, homework, after-school activities, quicker dinners, and earlier bedtimes. The quicker dinners, for me, are the more difficult adjustment. Without those lazy summer days, I feel more pressure to get dinner on the table by a certain time. And if I end up working late, that means having to put dinner together fast.

Now, when I was first learning to cook, before I discovered 30-minute meals, most of the recipes I made came from either the back of a can, a soup mix envelope, or a 4- or 6-ingredient cookbook. These recipes have I have long since abandoned, scoffing at their simple ingredient list and turning to more complicated recipes that will challenge my skills in the kitchen.

But sometimes, you gotta go back to the basics.

And as I lamented while trying to come up with last week's menu, my husband suggested I go through some of my older recipes. They may be simple, but I can get them on the table much faster than what some of my usual dishes.

And he was right.

So with school now in session, if there are any busy weeknight ahead of you, you might want to bookmark this recipe. It's fast, easy, and tasty. What more could you want?

Chili Mac Skillet
Recipe from Del Monte

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. ground beef
  • 1 15.25 oz. can corn
  • 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 4 oz. diced green chilies, drained
  • 3/4 cup uncooked elbow macaroni, or other small, short-cut pasta
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Cook beef in large skillet until brown; drain. Stir in corn, undrained tomatoes, beans, chilies, macaroni, chili powder, and water.
  2. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered 12 to 15 minutes or until macaroni is tender.
  3. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese, if desired. Cover and let stand 5 minutes until cheese is melted.

Note from the Kitchen: I made a corn bread and we stirred some into our individual servings. It was delicious, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

#BestSummerEver

Country Living magazine put out a list this year: 50 Ways to Have the Best Summer Ever. My family has been checking items off this list throughout the summer. We drank lemonade on our front porch, visited our farmer's market, made our own popsicles, and made something with fresh peaches.

Two items on the list are "make a dish with your backyard bounty" and "make a summer soup."

And we checked both of those off the list with this vegetable and polenta soup.

I got some push back from my husband when I told him I was making this. To say he is not a fan of polenta would an understatement. But this soup won him over. The polenta, despite the recipe title, is not a star ingredient. It sings background, thickening the soup, perfect harmony to the fresh vegetables up front and center.

So as summer days become fewer and fewer, make the most of what the days and your garden have to offer. Dive into a steaming bowl of this soup.

Rustic Vegetable and Polenta Soup

Recipe slightly modified from Giada De Laurentiis
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeds removed, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 medium zucchini, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (substitute vegetable broth for a vegetarian dish)
  • 1/3 cup instant polenta, such as Gia Russa
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:

  1. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, onions, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion begins to brown, about 6 minutes.
  2. Add the basil, rosemary, garlic, tomatoes, and zucchini, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a slow boil. Slowly stir in the polenta and cook until the soup thickens and the vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.
  3. Stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve with Parmesan cheese and crusty bread.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tickled Pink

When I first started learning to cook, I would write out recipes on index or fancy recipe cards and keep them in cute boxes or in binders. Over time, this became a bit labor intensive, so I started just printing the recipes, putting them in sleeve protectors, and storing them all in your average binder from an office supply store.

So, given how much time my sons spends in the kitchen with me, it was no surprise when his aunt gave him a Yankees binder the first words from his mouth were, "I can keep all my recipes in here!"

And keep his recipes he did. We have bought kid-centric and parent magazines over the years, torn out recipes we could make together, and stored them in his binder in protective sleeves. So when summer rolled around, he flipped through and said, "Mommy, we need to make lemonade."

And so we did.

He essentially made this himself with my supervision, which gave him a great sense of accomplishment and pride. And it warmed my heart to see that smile beaming from his face.

So as summer comes to a close, tickle yourself pink with this delightful drink.

Pink Lemonade

Recipe from Yum for Kids
Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4-6 lemons
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 cup cranberry juice

Directions

  1. Add sugar and water into a small saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Squeeze the juice out of the lemons using a juicer, or squeeze by hand, to produce approximately 1 cup of lemon juice.
  3. Add the cold water, lemon juice, cranberry juice and sugar water to a large pitcher. Refrigerate for approximately 1 hour before serving.