Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Something from nothing!

   I just created an absolutely perfect dish for everybody who loves comfort food but is watching their calories/staying healthy/doesn't want to feel guilty (circle whatever applies, don't be shy, I circled all of them!). I came home from work without any idea what I am going to cook for dinner, but I knew I wanted something flavorful, fresh, juicy, and satisfying. I opened the fridge, saw the broccoli and cooked chicken breast and... and I had a vision. I will be honest, I have no desire to be modest about that and I will openly admit that the dish I created is genius! Here is what you need:
2 cups of fresh broccoli,
2 cups of broccoli cole slaw mix (comes in a bag),
1 chicken breast, cooked and cubed,
olive oil,
fresh dill,
salt, lemon pepper and powdered ginger.

   Blanch the broccoli for 2-3 minutes, drain the water, and set aside. In a pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a pretty high temperature, add the raw broccoli slaw, and saute for about 5 min. Add cubed chicken breast, blanched broccoli, dill, salt, pepper, and a pinch of powdered ginger, and saute some more. I don't stir it too often to allow the veggies to brown a little bit in a pan, it gives them an unbelievable flavor.

   I wish you could smell that. Probably broccoli is not most famous for its wonderful smell but when you add ginger and some dill it gives an amazing aroma. I think we can all agree that this dish is similar to our beloved stir fry but without all the calories, grease, and artificial ingredients! If you are a veggie lover, you will love this!

Good luck.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Don't go bananas!

   Or better yet: don't waste bananas! I'm sure most of us buy too many of them once in a while and let them sit until they turn brown, soft, and are good for nothing! I had three of them, way riper than they should be, staring at me from the fruit basket, slowly turning into a perfect fruit fly attractant! I never throw away any food unless it's absolutely necessary, so it was high time to get creative and make some banana bread. Oh all right, it might not be the most creative dish, and probably not the most surprising considering over-ripened bananas, but it was definitely very spontaneous! I wish you could see Justin's face when he saw me taking my hand mixer out! Like a five-year-old on Christmas morning! Spikey also knew that something good was going on because he sat next to Justin with his huge cute ears up staring at me the entire time without even one blink! I love to make my boys happy.
   Well, but lets get back on track with the banana bread. I know I say it a lot, but the recipe is super easy, you will see. All you need is 0.5 cup of butter at RT (room temperature for all non-science people), 1 cup of white sugar, 2 eggs, 2 cups of all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1.5 cups of mashed bananas (I used three big once). Cream the butter and sugar until smooth, then beat in eggs and bananas. Add flour and baking soda stirring just until combined. Transfer it to the pan and bake for 45-60 min at 350F or until the toothpick comes out dry.

   Every time you open the oven to check on it, it smells so unbelievably good that you just want to eat it right away, despite the fact that your mama told you not to eat a hot cake! Clearly nobody listened to mama tonight, because the second my banana bread was cool enough to touch it (none of us seemed to care about the hot steam coming out) it was sliced and half gone!

   All the Christmas decorations, the smell of spices, and baking definitely makes it feel like the holiday season is on in the Morgan's household. I'm loving it already and it's only the beginning!

Take care,

Saturday, November 26, 2011

You knew it was coming!

   Thanksgiving is over and I hope everybody had an amazing time with their friends and family. Even though I've been in US for over 7 years it was my fourth "real" Thanksgiving spent with my new family eating traditional and delicious Thanksgiving dishes. I thought I was extremely lucky to have a mom who is a great cook and then I met my mother-in-law, and now I have two moms who are the best chefs in the world! So you can imagine that every holiday, no matter which mom we are visiting, is an explosion of flavor. This past Thanksgiving was no different. As always it was a lot of fun with a great company, but you have to come prepared! Every year is the same, we need to start fasting at least 24 hours before going over there and even then our stomachs are not empty enough. I don't even know if there is enough space in this blog to write about and put pictures of all the food Justin's mom cooked for us. There is absolutely no way I could give you the recipe, so I decided just to post a few pictures of my favorite dishes.
   Lets start with the appetizers, which each year are an absolute surprise. This year we enjoyed amazing stuffed (with I have no idea what) mushrooms...

   and shrimp and mango salad served in endive boats. Very refreshing!

   You would think that on a turkey day The Turkey would be a main attraction of a table, right? Wrong! The biggest hit, and the thing that Justin starts talking about in early October, is the mountain of fluffy and silky potato rolls. Different shapes, different sizes and one unbelievable taste!

   Trust me, Justin makes sure that we go home with a trunk full of them, and ever since we got the SUV, that's a lot of rolls! I know everybody is waiting for a picture of a turkey, but by the time I grabbed my camera and got to the kitchen Tio Curtis was already halfway through the bird! So here you go, I present you with a one-sided turkey, a very tender, juicy, and flavorful side!

   Of course there is no turkey without mashed potatoes...

    ... and stuffing full of veggies and chestnuts! Man that's good!

   Delicious! The last but not least is my absolute favorite dish of the night: corn pudding! Oh I'm getting the recipe for that one and as soon as I perfect it I'm gonna share it with you all. Right now all I can do is show you the picture and tell you that it's extremely creamy and corny (I said corny!!!).

    I would love to show you my mother-in-law's signature pumpkin pie, but I was so full after dinner and the camera was so far away... at least 3 feet away... that I just couldn't walk that far! We will have to leave the pie for a next year. Hopefully, I will remember to keep my camera closer!

I hope you enjoyed it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Total improvisation!

   Today was a perfect example of me cooking without any recipe and just creating a dish on the spot! All I knew is that I have a chicken breast in the fridge and that I have a craving for something with a "punch" which is a little bit sour and tangy. That's actually all I needed to know! I just opened the fridge and started to adding ingredients, which I knew were going to work well together and will give me the desired flavor I was looking for. For the best results you should marinate the chicken the day before but if you are like me and you realize in the middle of setting the PCR that you forgot to do this, don't worry you can "fix" it while you are cooking. It's all about building a right base before you put chicken in a pan. I heated some olive oil and tossed a handful of dried cranberries, chopped onions, a clove of garlic, half a cup of chopped cilantro, and some salt. When the onions became translucent I added 1 teaspoon of dried ginger, lemon pepper, and 2-3 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce... and that's when magic began! The Worcestershire sauce gives the dish one of a kind flavor, it's a little bit spicy, sour, and very aromatic, which is exactly what I was craving. The base is ready and all that's left to do is add cubed chicken breast and saute until it's completely cooked. I think it's high time to give you another one of my culinary secrets... whenever I want the dish to have a sweet/sour flavor I add 2-3 teaspoons of... wait for it... wait for it... ketchup!!! Here, I've said it, I am ready to take a beating from all the chefs out there, but yes I use ketchup in some of my dishes! Try it and you will see what I'm talking about, it's really good! I serve it with some rice noodles which bring additional Asian flavor to the dish.

   No recipe, never done it before and it turned out great! That's exactly what passionate and exciting cooking is about! Don't be afraid to experiment and mix and match ingredients, worst case scenario you will end up with a not so tasty dish, but if you wait 2-3 hours you will be so hungry that it will be good enough! 

Stay creative.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Got leftovers?

   I know I've got some! Remember my last post about delicious cheesy pierogi? Well I got so excited that I made way too much stuffing and ran out of a dough in the middle of it. No worries though, you don't have to throw it away, my mom gave me a great tip on what to do with the leftover stuffing. Just wrap it up in crepes (nalesniki to all "my" folks out there!), sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese, and broil until golden brown! You won't be disappointed.
    The crepe batter is really simple. All you need is 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 2 cups of milk, a pinch of salt, white sugar, and 2 eggs. As a special "treat" I add some nutmeg, which brings a little bit of a warm, sweet, and spicy flavors to the dish. Using an electric hand mixer beat all the ingredients together until the batter is smooth, pour 3/4 cup of it onto a frying pan, tip and rotate it to form a thin layer and brown on each side. Spread the potato/cheese stuffing on the crepes, wrap it however you like...

   ... sprinkle with some cheese, I used the combination of Parmesan and sharp cheddar, and broil it on "low" until the cheese is melted and a little bit browned.

   The crepes are a little bit crunchy on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside. Justin usually eats them with ketchup (like 99% of all other things!), but I think that the best pairing for it is just a cup of hot and aromatic red borscht. I use an instant powder, which I brought with me from Poland, but you can get one in the European market or just come by and enjoy one at my place!

   I think my mom was really creative to come up with such a great solution for leftover pierogi stuffing. What do you think?

Take care.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The time has come!

   Oh yeah, I've got the absolute proof that I am Polish (even though I don't think anybody doubted it). Besides my strrrrong accent and impossible to pronounce maiden name I also make my own pierogi from scratch! It takes some time and it produces a "little" bit of a mess in the kitchen, but it's absolutely worth it. For me it's not really such a big deal because I grew up with my Mom making them all the time, but when Justin saw me for the first time making the dough I can tell he was surprised, impressed, and excited all at the same time.

   You don't even have to worry about all the carbs and calories you are going to consume because making and rolling the dough works out every single muscle in you upper body and sometimes in your legs too (I have to stand on my toes to be taller and put more pressure on the dough)! All it takes is flour, 2 eggs, a pinch of salt and warm water. Be prepared to get dirty. Mix eggs with the flour and slowly add water until it forms the dough and knead it until it is not sticking to your hands anymore. It should be rather soft but not too watery, otherwise it will just fall apart when boiled. I cut the dough in half to check if it's uniform  and has no clumps of flour inside.

   Cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 10 minutes. It makes it a little bit fluffier and easier to work with. Roll the dough out and cut the circles using the desired size glass. We prefer ours to be larger so that's where the Budweiser beer glass comes handy.

   There are so many different stuffings you can use but I think the easiest and the most popular is cheese and potato. It can be tricky though, especially here in the States, because it takes special kind of white cheese which you can't really find in a regular store. I either make it myself or buy it in a European market, but I also discovered that you can substitute it with ricotta cheese. It's not the best solution and it doesn't taste exactly the same (it's a little bit sweeter then "our" cheese) but it will do just fine if you have no choice. Everybody makes their own version of the stuffing, but I believe mine is the best (and here my Polish modesty comes through!). I boil and mash 2-3 potatoes and when they cool down I add the cheese (1:1 ratio), chopped and caramelized onions, salt and lots of pepper, and I mean a lot. I have one secret ingredient which makes it the best stuffing in the entire world: chopped mint!!! Yes, that's right, mint... it gives the amazing flavor! Put the filling inside the dough circles and make sure you pinch the edges pretty good before boiling, because you will end up with a cheese water and empty doughy shells. I always make mine with my signature edges, which I think look cool and serve as a double protection from leaking!

   Put few of them in a boiling water and make sure they are not too crowded and don't stick together and cook until they all come to the surface! You can serve them with butter, bacon, caramelized onions or just plain straight from water! They taste amazing no matter what!

    I don't even know if there is anything left to say after this. All I can do is sit back and enjoy a piece of my Polish heritage on the plate! And let me tell you, it's a delicious piece!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fingers or toes?

   Can you guess what the post will be about? Chicken fingers, or should I say pretzel crusted chicken fingers... and I don't mean the actual fingers of the chicken, which I have had before and liked a lot. Oh, don't judge me, I'm Polish... and fierce... and try new things all the time! I think I already scared you enough with the chicken gizzards, so I will spare you "adventurous" ingredients for now, but trust me, they will be back! Today I'm just showing you the traditional, loved by everyone, and feared by no one sliced and breaded chicken breasts, misleadingly called chicken fingers! Yeah I get it, they are long and have a similar shape (those are some fat and deformed fingers!), but that's about all that they have in common with fingers! Oh well people choose to call them that and I am not going to argue with them. The truth is that they are super delicious and I couldn't care less if we call them chicken fingers or toes (well, that actually doesn't sound appetizing).
   Lets forget about the terminology and focus more on the flavor! I am very famous for having a "pretzel tooth" (yes, a pretzel tooth, that's exactly what I have!) so I try to use them as often as possible, and using them as a breading is the perfect example of this. I use the thinly cut chicken breast, marinate them over night in buttermilk mixed with soy sauce, ground cumin, and salt! These few simple ingredients are enough to give the chicken great flavor and moisture. The best part of preparing this dish is making the breading. Basically I just put 2-3 handfuls of pretzels in the Ziploc bag and smack as hard as I can with whatever I can find! There is no better stress reliever than that, just don't go too crazy otherwise you will have pretzel dust everywhere! Roll the chicken strips in it, put them on a baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes at 375F.

   They taste even better than they look! The buttermilk makes them moist and silky, cumin gives them nice, exotic flavor, and pretzels... well pretzels make everything taste awesome! Justin had only one problem with the dish, there were way too few of them!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater!

   Halloween might be long gone, but pumpkin, which is such a great staple of the fall is still popular and cherished in our household! Less as a decoration and more as a delicious and versatile ingredient used for cooking. I think most people have favorite dishes that they prepare at certain times of the year. I know we have quite a few of them. In the summer, for example we always have grilled asparagus and corn, in the spring we eat a lot of salads with fresh veggies, and the most traditional dish of the fall is definitely a pumpkin soup. If you need something healthy, nutritious, and delicious, go for a pumpkin soup, it makes you feel cozy and warm!

   It's super easy to make. I cook chopped celery, carrots, and onions in a little bit of water together with two bullion cubes, black pepper, parsley and cilantro. When the veggies are cooked, but still a little bit crunchy, I add one big can of pumpkin puree (Oh yeah, I use canned pumpkin to make my life way easier!) and adjust the density of the soup with water. I like mine pretty dense, it makes it much more satisfying and filling. Of course lets not forget about spices, which give the soup it's superpowers of comfort and warmth! I use two secret ingredients:  ground cumin and Chipotle Pepper Tabasco sauce to make the soup a little bit hot but not overpowering! Add a few crackers on the side and you got yourself a delicious, nutritious, and comforting dinner!

Stay warm.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rachael and Me!

   It's time for some dirty secrets of mine. If you ask me who is my celebrity crush I would have to say it's Rachael Ray! Yes, you've read it right, I have a crush on a woman! She is smart, gorgeous, very funny, has an awesome voice, loves dogs, but most importantly she is a great chef. How can you not have a crush on her?! I love watching her shows because she always has great tips and gives me the most inspiring ideas, even though I never really followed her exact recipe! So today I decided to change it up and actually cook something that she cooked on the show (with some modifications of course). It looked so good that I couldn't resist. She calls it "Green Pasitsio", the vegetarian version of a meaty Greek dish. It may not be the quickest dish I've ever made and definitely there was a time that I wished I had two extra hands (thanks God my wonderful husband lent me his), but at the end we couldn't believe how tasty the dish was.
   The recipe called for swiss chard but I used collard greens instead. I was always a little bit intimidated by this ingredient but I decided to give it a chance and I absolutely don't regret my decision.

     The recipe is kind of long, but I will try to shorten it without leaving any important details out. Saute onions and garlic with olive oil, add chopped collard greens, spinach, one cup of parsley, one cup of cilantro, salt and pepper. Collard greens tend to be a little bit tough when raw so I boiled them for about 10 minutes before that. Cook everything for about 5 minutes and add cooked pasta, and crumbled feta cheese.

   You know it's going to be good if feta cheese is involved! Put everything in the baking dish, pour the bechamel sauce on the top of it and cover with grated Parmesan cheese. I'm sure everybody knows how to make a bechamel sauce, but as a quick reminder: melt butter in a saucepan and then whisk in flour and milk with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bake everything at 375F for about 20-25 minutes, until it's brown and bubbly.

   After taking it out of the oven, wait for 5-10 minutes for it to cool down a little bit. It will be much easier to cut and serve, but it will also taste much better.

   I was thinking what can I write to explain how delicious this dish is, and I have nothing. It sounds good, it looks good, but trust me there is no words that can express how great it tastes. I guess you have no choice but make it yourself and enjoy it as much as we did!

Try it and you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Not so awful offal!

   Oh yeah, that's right, I cooked something that not everybody is too comfortable with! I do that sometimes. It took a while for Justin to get use to my craziness in the kitchen and while there are some things he likes more then others, there are also things he wont eat at all, but chicken gizzards are not one of them. I remember the first time I made them not too long after we just met, he looked at me, looked at the dish, and then again at me, but he was the bravest man ever and ate everything that was on the plate! After a few days he actually admitted that it was much better than he expected and now we have them every once in a while!
   The only thing you need to remember is that it takes a long time become tender, so unless you have all day to cook, I would recommend using a pressure cooker. Cut the chicken gizzards into smaller pieces (whatever size you like), add chopped onions, baby carrots, salt, pepper, 3-4 bay leaves, and a teaspoon of soy sauce. Pour enough water to cover the meat, close the pressure cooker, and cook for about 30 minutes. I know it's a long time, but trust me, those bastards can be hard to chew! After it's done add some flour and one or two tablespoons of sour cream to thicken the sauce and it's ready to serve!

    I usually serve it with barley or buckwheat which makes it extra Polish. To prepare it heat a little bit of olive oil, add crushed garlic and ginger, 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, a cup of frozen pees/carrots and cooked barley. Mix everything together, season to the desired taste with salt, and Ta-Da, delicious dinner is ready!

   I know it can be a little bit intimidating at first, but don't be afraid, it's delicious! Try it, you could be very pleasantly surprised! It's all about experimenting in the kitchen and trying new flavors and ingredients!

Hopefully I didn't scare you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Let's talk Indian food...

   ...or better yet, let's eat some Indian food! I am sure that all the Indian people out there will pull their hair out reading about what I made and that I tried to call it Indian, but for me it tastes very "Indiany" :). I never really cooked a lot with eggplant until I met my Indian friends and watched them use it a lot. Every time they made something with it, it was always flavorful and delicious, like most of the Indian food. The only thing I can't really handle is the heat level that most of my friends cook with. That's why I had to start making my own Indian dishes so that I could control the amount of heat and fully enjoy the amazing flavors.
    I don't even know what the name of the dish I made tonight is. I don't even know if that's an actual dish, because I just combined few of my favorite Indian ingredients and cooked it for a while so all the flavors can develop. I heated the olive oil to a high temperature, added a teaspoon of mustard and cumin seeds, garlic, onions and a little bit of pickled ginger. I then sauteed it for 2-3 minutes, added chopped eggplant and fresh tomatoes, salt, pepper, garam masala, coriander powder and of course the most famous: curry powder. After all of it was in the pot I decreased the heat and cooked it for 10-15 minutes until everything was tender and tasted like ambrosia!

   We all know that none of the Indian dishes would be complete without some soft, fluffy and delicious naan bread (courtesy of a local Indian market). You can buy it frozen, it keeps forever and takes 5 minutes in the oven to be ready!
   How can somebody not like a delicacy like that? Such an easy way to get one step closer to the wonderful Indian culture!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Two of my favorite things.

   Everybody who knows me well will tell you that I have a huge addiction to eggs. I could eat them all the time in every shape and form (like there is so many egg shapes!) and never get sick of them! Trust me, I tried! The second thing I absolutely can't live without is mushrooms. Fresh, dried, canned, steamed, cooked, roasted or raw... I love them all. So when I got this cooking magazine from my friend, and the first thing I saw was mushroom and egg tart, I thought I went to heaven and I knew it's going to be my Sunday dinner (the perfect day to be in Heaven!). Of course I changed the recipe at every single step. It wouldn't be me if I followed it exactly would it? First of all, rather than making a tart, I made it into a pizza (well I was too lazy to make a puff pastry), I used different mushrooms, red onions rather than yellow, and I completely changed the herbs because I couldn't find tarragon, which recipe called for, but I have a huge rosemary plant in my garden which I used instead!
   It's the easiest recipe ever. Saute thinly sliced red onions and mushrooms with butter until caramelized and add lots of rosemary, parsley and oregano. Spread it on pizza dough making 6-8 "pockets" where you can crack the eggs. Make sure the "pockets" are secure so the eggs won't mix together. I used 8 eggs so we can have 4 portions (guess what we have for lunch tomorrow?). Sprinkle with some Parmesan and bake in the oven at 400F for 10-15 minutes until the egg whites are set but yolks are still a little bit runny, depending on how you like them.

   It looks awesome, doesn't it? And it's delicious, too! It's definitely in the top ten dishes I've ever made! I had to be really fast to pack lunches for tomorrow because the boys (Justin and Spikey) got really excited and I was afraid there will be nothing to pack!

   Add a glass of cold beer and you have a perfect Sunday dinner!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Not your ordinary tuna salad.

   I think the first time I made this dish was over 10 years ago when I was in college and I've been making it every once in a while ever since. It's cheap, fast, easy, and delicious, which is perfect for students, busy professionals, or anybody who doesn't like to slave in the kitchen for hours. You make a big bowl and you have more than a few lunches and dinners for the entire family, well, as long as they like tuna. All you need is 2 cans of tuna in water, 4-5 boiled eggs, can of corn, jar of pickles, 2 cups of cooked pasta, fat free mayo, salt, and pepper. Cut the eggs and pickles into medium sized cubes, add the remaining ingredients, mix everything together, and voila, the salad is ready! I also like to add a teaspoon of soy sauce at the end, it gives the salad an interesting and naughty flavor.

   You can eat it with regular bread, wasa flat bread (as seen above), crackers or just by itself. It's good no matter what! If you don't want to eat it for next few days you can cut the recipe in half and it's still gonna be plenty.

Hope you like it.