Monday, January 30, 2012

Black Bean Turkey Burgers with Spicy Chipotle Ketchup and Beer Battered Onion Rings and Jalapenos

I love making fancy dinners from time to time, and spending more time than I really need to on presentation.  But sometimes it's the simple food that's the best.  Last Sunday - which is grocery shopping day for the week - we came home with a rotisserie chicken for dinner.  I baked a couple of potatoes and heated up some canned baked beans.  Our simple supper of roast chicken and baked potatoes with a spoonful of beans on top was just right for a relaxing evening.

It reminded me of dinners as a kid - minus the chicken - as a lot of our meals consisted of affordable food like potatoes, rice and beans.  When I think of baked potatoes, I remember a night when Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was on TV for the Saturday night movie feature.  Since we didn't yet own a VCR, and this was long before there was even a dream of something such as a DVR, my parents pulled the TV into the kitchen and tweaked the antenna to get a signal, so we could watch the movie while we ate our dinner of baked potatoes and green beans.  This was a real treat, as TV was rarely allowed during mealtime.

Burgers and fried things are another of those simple foods that are everywhere around us, so they're sort of taken for granted.  For me, fries just aren't fries without a healthy dollop of ketchup.  I have a fondness for ketchup - that Jamie finds kind of odd - and I'll put ketchup on just about any form of potato.  I love it on hot dogs, even though mustard should be sufficient. But I like the combination of the ketchup and mustard, with lots of onions and relish.  I'll even put it on eggs, if it's a boring scrambled egg at a greasy diner.  Sub-par steak or pot roast...  yep, you guessed it.  Better with ketchup.  (Although, I will say, Jamie has never made steak that needed ketchup!)  Once when I was a kid, my brother and sister were teasing me about how I liked to put ketchup on everything, so my brother squirted some into my glass of water and dared me to drink it.  I won't say I enjoyed it, because I do draw the line at some point, but not being able to pass up a dare, I drank it and pretended it was the best thing ever.

Jamie's been saying for a while I should make my own ketchup.  But I decided not to make the classic version that's sort of bland and overly sweet.  Instead, I made a spicy chipotle ketchup that's smoky and intense, but not too sweet, with onion, garlic, chipotle peppers, red bell pepper, apple cider vinegar, molasses and brown sugar.  A few sweet spices like cinnamon and cloves.  And tomatoes, of course, the key ingredient.  I used canned diced tomatoes because it was cheap and convenient, but by all means use fresh ones if you prefer.  You could even roast the tomatoes first to deepen the flavor even more.

Super Bowl Sunday is almost upon us, and although I could care less about watching football, I have a boyfriend and friends who do like it.  Plus, it's an excuse to get together with friends, eat some great food and just hang out and relax.

The guys are having a chili cook-off (and I have been instructed not to help Jamie with his, because they didn't want him to have an unfair advantage).  Although he's not going to make chili, and has something else up his sleeve, for some reason he didn't agree that I would make a better pot of chili than he would. :)

For dinner last Friday night, I made Black Bean Turkey Burgers - the suggestion of which made Jamie grimace - but he ended up really liking them.  I seasoned them up with garlic, Italian seasoning and a little mozzarella to give them lots of flavor, and we topped our guilt-free burgers with some smashed avocado and a spoonful of the homemade spicy chipotle ketchup.

Our side dish was not so guilt free - lots of beer-battered fried things - but I wanted to do a trial run of these since I'm planning to make them for the super bowl party.  I kept the beer batter pretty simple - since the chipotle ketchup packs quite a punch - but if serving with a milder ketchup or sauce, then definitely zing up the batter with a little hot sauce to give it some kick.

The onion rings fried up perfectly golden and crisp, with really little oil retention since the oil was almost up to 400 degrees at times (it's hard to regulate on our electric stove).  The sliced jalapenos were spicy and yummy with their beer batter coating.  I tried a few mozzarella sticks, too, but those just exploded in the oil and the cheese escaped from the batter, so I may have to work on my technique some more for those.  The onion rings, jalapenos and chipotle ketchup made the perfect little marriage of flavors.

We now have a huge batch of chipotle ketchup in our fridge, waiting to be served up on Sunday.  I'm also going to make football brownies - very simply just brownies baked and cooled, cut with a football-shaped cookie cutter and frosted to look like a football. (Click this link for inspiration.)

Cute, simple and something I think everyone will love!  I might even make life easier for myself and make them from a box mix.  I know, I know.  But sometimes, baking from a box really is okay.  Especially when you made beer-battered onion rings and homemade ketchup.

Spicy Chipotle Ketchup
printable recipe

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeds and ribs discarded, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (28 ounces each) peeled diced tomatoes in their juices
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
  • 4 chipotle peppers in adobo seasoning (about half a 7 ounce can) (this will be pretty spicy - use just 2 peppers for a more mild flavor and level of spiciness)
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • juice of 1 small lemon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large stock pot.  Add the onion and red pepper and cook for about 5 minutes until softened.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chipotle peppers, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, molasses and lemon juice.  Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture until smooth (or puree in batches in a blender or food processor).

Add the ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, ground cloves, whole cloves, celery salt and kosher salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer uncovered for an hour and a half, until thickened and the flavors have developed.

For a "rustic" ketchup, remove the cinnamon sticks and the whole cloves with a slotted spoon and serve the ketchup as is.  For a smoother ketchup, pour the mixture through a mesh strainer (or a food mill) into a heat-proof bowl, pushing it through the strainer with a spoon to strain out the pulpy bits of the tomatoes, peppers and onion.  Discard the pulp and let the ketchup cool to room temperature (it will thicken a little more as it cools) and serve.

Yields 7 cups.

From Curly Girl Kitchen.

Black Bean Turkey Burgers
printable recipe

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 can low-sodium black beans, drained, rinsed and mashed
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, using your hands to mix everything evenly.  Shape into patties and grill until cooked through.  Serve with pepper jack cheese, avocados and spicy chipotle ketchup!

Yields 4 large burgers or 6 medium burgers.

From Curly Girl Kitchen.

Beer-Battered Onion Rings and Jalapenos
printable recipe

  • 1 large sweet yellow onion
  • 4 jalapenos
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce (leave this out if serving with the spicy chipotle ketchup)
  • 1 bottle beer
  • vegetable oil
Peel the onion and slice into 1/2 inch rings, separating all of the rings.  Slice the jalapenos into 1/4 inch slices (discarding the seeds, if you like).  Set aside.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Add the egg, hot sauce and beer, whisking until a smooth batter forms.  The batter should be thick enough to coat the onions and jalapenos, but not too thick.

In a large, flat-bottomed sauce pan, heat the oil over medium, or just over medium heat, until it reaches 370 degrees F.  (This will take a while, so you might want to get the oil heating first.)

Working in batches, dip the onion slices in the batter and carefully drop into the oil, about 5 or 6 rings at a time.  Cook, turning once, until crisp and golden brown (about 1-2 minutes each side), then set on paper towels to drain.  Between batches, make sure the oil returns to 370 if it drops too much while cooking the onions.  Finish cooking all of the onion rings. (If you like, you can keep them warm in a 200-degree oven.)

Lastly, drop all the jalapeno slices into the batter and toss to coat.  Scoop them out with a mesh strainer and drop into the oil, pushing them around to separate them a little.  Cook until crisp and golden brown, then drain on paper towels.

Serve immediately with the spicy chipotle ketchup.

Yields 4 servings.

From Curly Girl Kitchen.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lemon Cream Pie Ice Cream

I'd never seen a citrus tree until a trip to Phoenix, Arizona a couple years ago for a wedding.  The citrus and palm trees lining the streets were so beautiful, and it was amazing to see spring come so early there.  Flowers were already in full bloom in early April, and my allergies went into overdrive that weekend.

I wish I had taken some photos of the citrus trees that weekend, but sadly I didn't, so I'm sharing a few photos of the Ruins of Tuzigoot and Montezuma's Castle that we visited.  Both were built by the Sinagua people near Verde Valley around 700 AD.

Montezuma Castle
Demonstrating corn grinding at the Ruins of Tuzigoot

Ruins of Tuzigoot

Citrus continues to inspire me this month, even while it's snowing outside today, and after tasting that very rich Lime and Mascarpone Ice Cream, I thought I could create a lemony ice cream that was much lighter, using low-fat cream cheese, non-fat Greek yogurt, and 2% milk.  To make it even more amazing, I swirled in a little homemade lemon curd to give it more delicious lemony-ness.  Yes, I've decided lemony-ness is a word.

And as if the swirls of lemon curd weren't enough, I saw a little disk of pie crust dough sitting wrapped in my freezer - what about a lemon ice cream with bits of flaky pie crust throughout?  A Lemon Cream Pie Ice Cream...   The thought of all this lemon should be waking up your taste buds right about now.  If you're not salivating, then there might be something wrong with you!

Now, of course, the lemon curd and the bits of pie crust contribute extra fat and calories, which strays a bit from my original goal of creating a lighter ice cream recipe, but this recipe can totally be tailored to your own tastes and preferences with as little or as much of the lemon curd and pie crust pieces as you like.  And just the lemon ice cream on its own is amazing.

And totally cute served in a little frozen lemon "bowl".

Lemon Cream Pie Ice Cream
printable recipe

  • 8 ounces low-fat cream cheese (cold)
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • zest of 2 small lemons
  • juice of 3-4 small lemons (about 1/2 cup, give or take, according to how tart you want the ice cream)
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup 1% or 2% milk
  • 1/4 cup lemon curd
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped pie crust (1/4 of a standard pie crust, baked until golden and cooled)

In the mixing bowl of your stand mixer, combine the cream cheese, yogurt, lemon zest and juice, and powdered sugar.  Beat with the whisk attachment for several minutes until smooth.  Add the milk, and beat for another minute to combine.  Taste and add more sugar or lemon if desired.

Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions (about 10-15 minutes of churning in a pre-frozen Kitchen Aid Ice Cream Maker attachment).  Scoop ice cream into a bowl.  Working quickly, drizzle the lemon curd over the ice cream and sprinkle with the chopped pie crust pieces.  Fold into the ice cream so that you can see visible streaks of lemon curd throughout.  Transfer to a container, cover and freeze until firm, 4-6 hours.

Yields 1 quart.

Variation:  Instead of lemon curd and pie crust, swirl a little raspberry or blueberry sauce or jam throughout.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chinese Steamed Pork Buns and a Snowy Walk through Dalian...

Today there was a damp, biting chill in the air when I left the gym; Colorado doesn't often feel damp, but I kind of enjoyed the chill since I had just worked out.  Arms yesterday.  Legs today.  Pain tomorrow.  The hope that Jamie will give me a long massage tonight.  Hint, hint!

The chill tonight reminded me of winters in China.  It was hard to escape the cold since we walked everywhere, to classes, to the bus stop, all over downtown. 

"Duoshao?" was a question I was asked by Chinese men more than once when walking around the city.  Duoshao means "how much?".  I myself asked the question often, of street vendors, where haggling over prices was expected, and really, is considered part of the fun.  Although I was never a very good haggler and didn't particularly enjoy the practice.

But they were asking how much for me.

Dalian is in northern China, and although a large city (over 6 million), you'll find few white foreigners, so my friends and I were somewhat of a novelty there.  Being so far north, it's very near Russia, and Chinese men sometimes mistook me for a Russian girl.  And the common perception was that the Russian girls living there were either modeling or prostituting themselves, or both.  Whether or not that perception was based on any truth, I don't really know.

"Wo shi laoshi," I would reply, politely. 

I am a teacher.

They would nod, just as politely, as if they hadn't just asked if they could purchase my services.  There was no embarrassment on their part, at least not that I could see.  Just the open curiosity I had become so familiar with.

St. Sophia's, Harbin, China (left); Ice-covered trees in Jilin, China (right)

I suppose after a while these things didn't bother me so much anymore.  I was accustomed to the culture.  I became used to having people want to touch my curly hair, stare intently at my green eyes, even tug on my eyelashes to see if they were real.  Personal space was a luxury, rarely experienced.  I became used to these things, although there were days I wanted to hide and be invisible.  Or at least be able to blend in a little.

My students were just as curious in the beginning, but since we saw each other every day, we were very comfortable with each other, and they became very protective of me.  I became extremely good friends with many of my students - after all, at the time, I was only 4 years older than some of them.

One winter evening, I had come from downtown back to the campus by bus, and was walking back from the bus stop to my apartment.  The students' dormitories were right next to the teacher apartment buildings.  It had begun snowing earlier that day and the snow was piling up quite a bit.  When I saw one of my students leaning out a window to call out to someone, I impulsively scooped up a handful of snow and launched a snowball at him.  Ever notice how one snowball causes a chain effect of many, many snowballs?  After a huge snowball fight between students and teachers lasting the rest of the evening we were all exhausted.

Jessica and I in Jilin, China (top); Rocky Mountains, Colorado (bottom)
Rocky Mountains, Colorado (top); Heather in Harbin, China (bottom)

Winters in China were long and bitterly cold.  Dalian is a major harbor city, and the wide expanse of coastline brought a dry and biting wind off the salty sea, a wind that cut right through many layers of clothes, down to the long underwear I wore under my clothes.  The apartments were heated, but barely so.  Heat wasn't something we were able to control or regulate - it was turned on mid-November and turned off around March.  And during the winter months, it only cycled on (through radiators) for about an hour each morning and evening.  The buildings were extremely cold, to say the least, and I always slept with an electric space heater running.

One Christmas morning, I woke up to find an icicle protruding from my kitchen faucet!

Further north, closer to the Russian border, it was even colder; Harbin is famous for their beautiful ice festival every winter, and we traveled there twice to see it.  The second time, though, I couldn't help wondering if the ice sculptures were worth enduring those below-freezing temperatures again!  I remember wearing long underwear, jeans, plus another pair of pants on top of those, 3 or 4 pairs of socks, at least 7 shirts, coat, 2 pairs of gloves, scarf, hat...  and still being cold.

Lake McIntosh, Longmont, Colorado (left); St. Theresa's Cathedral of Changchun, Jilin, China (right)

On a typical Saturday, my friends and I would walk a quarter mile to the bus stop then ride the bus for 30-40 minutes until we reached downtown Dalian; once there, we'd spend hours walking around to all the shops and malls at Victory Square, zhongshan Square, Xinghai Square .  The walking helped to keep us warm.

If we got hungry, there were the street vendors selling a tempting array of snacks like fried bread, spicy meat on a stick, frozen fruit...  One of my favorite snacks, though, were the steamed buns.  Piping hot from their fresh steam bath, the soft, pillowy steamed dough was filled with a variety of meat and vegetables.  When you took a bite, the broth inside the bun would dribble down your hand, begging to be licked off it was so good.  I've never tasted steamed buns quite like those - they must have a well-kept secret.

For the first time I made these myself, in a bamboo steamer I recently bought at our Asian market in Denver, but so far have only used to steam tortillas for fish taco night.  The recipe came from my Asian cookbook, and the buns were really easy to make with a simple yeast dough and a pork and green pepper filling.  Mine turned out much bigger than I expected, so next time I'll either make them smaller or steam them immediately after shaping the buns, instead of letting them rise a second time.

I took the first bite, and told Jamie how it took me back, long before he and I ever met, to the bustling streets of Dalian, eating a steamed bun on a cold and windy winter day.

Chinese Steamed Pork Buns
printable recipe

  • 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (scant) very warm water
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 green pepper, seeds and ribs discarded, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Make the dough:
In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the sugar, yeast and 1/2 cup of the warm water.  Let stand until foamy, 5-10 minutes.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.  Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers.

Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl.  With the dough hook, stir the mixture on low, gradually adding the remainder of the water (no need to use all of it if you don't need to), until a soft dough forms.  Knead on medium low for 10 minutes.

Turn the dough out into an oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Make the filling:
While the dough is rising, get your filling ready.  Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet, then add the green pepper, celery and green onions.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic and the pork, breaking up the meat.  Cook until the pork is beginning to brown.  Sprinkle with the cornstarch and sugar; add the soy sauce and the sesame oil.  Cook for several minutes until pork is browned and the mixture is slightly thickened.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Assembly and Steaming:
You will need some kind of steamer, large enough to hold all the buns, and kitchen twine.  I used a two-layer bamboo steamer, lined with parchment paper to keep the buns from sticking, set over a pot of boiling water.  Get the water simmering while you assemble the buns.

Punch the dough down and turn out onto a floured surface.  Divide into 8 equal pieces for larger buns (they do get much larger as they steam, though) or 16 pieces for smaller buns.  Roll each piece out into a circle of dough about 5-6 inches in diameter.  Spoon some of the filling into the center of each piece of dough.  (I did this in steps, first rolling out all the dough, then setting them all out, and dividing the filling equally, so that I didn't end up with too much or too little filling.)

Gather the dough up and tie loosely with a piece of kitchen twine.  Set the buns in the steamer, leaving a little room between each, as they will rise and puff during the steaming.  Steam for 30 minutes over steadily boiling water.  Serve buns immediately.

Yields 8 large or 16 medium buns.

Recipe adapted from Pork-Stuffed Steamed Buns, from The Chinese and Asian Kitchen Bible by Sallie Morris and Deh-Ta Hsiung.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Citrus in Winter... Lime and Mint Mascarpone Ice Cream and Almond Shortbread Cookies with Lemon Glaze

This January, I find myself wanting to put citrus on everything.  I already love squeezing lemon onto fish and chicken, grating lemon zest over salads, adding the juice to salad dressing.  Its freshness and lightness makes me feel like spring might be right around the corner instead of the 5 months or so we have to wait - spring seems to come late in Colorado.

After I made the Caramelized Banana Chocolate Chunk Frozen Yogurt, Jamie picked the next ice cream to make.  Years ago, I bought a book of ice cream recipes, with the hope of someday making some of them (the "if-you-buy-the-book-the-ice-cream-maker-will-come" mentality).  After flipping through the book, Jamie pointed to a recipe for Lime and Mascarpone Ice Cream, which sounded amazing.  And it only called for 4 ingredients: lime juice, mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar and heavy cream.  Between the mascarpone cheese and the heavy cream, it was a very rich and creamy ice cream.  Although delicious!  After mixing up the ice cream base, I wanted a lot more lime in it, so I added a bunch of zest.  A little mint gave it a wonderful surprising zing also.

Since it was so rich, I wouldn't make it with the heavy cream again, and have rewritten the recipe to use fat-free half 'n' half or 2% milk, but I've noted both variations below.

And for another citrusy treat, I made Almond Shortbread Cookies with a Lemon Glaze.  Shortbread has a reputation of being very heavy on the butter and sugar - which, of course, is why it tastes so good (the basic shortbread formula is 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, and 3 parts flour).  But I'm always looking for ways to lighten up recipes without sacrificing the flavor or texture.

There's a triple dose of almond goodness in these cookies from almond flour, almond paste and chopped almonds.  I substituted some of the white flour with finely ground almond flour (while being appalled at how much almond flour costs...) and some of the butter with almond paste (the gooey texture of the almond paste makes it an ideal substitute for butter in this recipe, and as a bonus, the fat in almond paste is only made up of less than 10% saturated fat, whereas butter is almost all saturated fat).  Some chopped almonds for crunch.  And since I didn't want these too sweet anyway, there's not an overload of sugar in them.

Since I wanted to bake them immediately, I rolled the dough out between sheets of parchment paper, and cut them into small round cookies - after freezing for just a little bit, they baked up perfectly.  The dough can also be rolled into logs, refrigerated overnight, and sliced and baked the next day.

The brightness of the lemon glaze was the perfect finish to the cookies.

This cookie recipe makes a lot of dough (I only used half of it and still got 30 cookies out of it), so if you don't want so many cookies, just use the rest of a dough in a pie plate or tart pan and bake a pie.  How delicious would an almond shortbread crust be in a tart or pie?

Almond Shortbread Cookies with Lemon Glaze
printable recipe

cookie dough:
  • 8 ounces almond paste, very cold or frozen
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold or frozen
  • 1 1/2 cups fine almond flour
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 egg yolks, cold
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8-10 teaspoons ice water
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
lemon glaze:
  • zest and juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon skim milk
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • sprinkles or yellow sanding sugar for garnish

Cut the butter and almond paste into chunks, place in a bowl and freeze for about 30 minutes to thoroughly chill.

In a large bowl (or a large food processor) combine the almond flour, all-purpose flour, powdered sugar and salt.  Sprinkle the cold pieces of butter and almond paste over the flour.  Use a pastry cutter (or pulse the food processor a few times) to incorporate the mixture - there should still be visible chunks of butter and almond paste, so don't over process.

Whisk together the egg yolks and vanilla, add to the dough, and gently work into the dough (at this point, I had to stop using my food processor because it wasn't big enough, and just used a bowl instead.)

Sprinkle the ice water over the dough, a few teaspoons at a time, working it into the dough quickly so that your hands don't warm the dough too much.  Once the dough holds together, neither too dry nor too sticky, sprinkle the chopped almonds over the dough and knead a few times to incorporate.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  If you want to bake cookies the next day, then roll each piece into a log, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate overnight.  The cookies can then be sliced and baked when you have time.  Dough can also be kept in the freezer until ready to use.

To bake cookies right away, flatten each half of the dough into a disk.  Keep one out, and wrap the other in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use.  Roll the dough out, between two pieces of parchment paper, to a 1/4 inch thickness.  Use any shape/size cookie cutter (I used a simple 2-inch round cutter), to cut the cookies.  Place 1 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper (I fit 15 cookies on each baking sheet).  Roll out the scraps and repeat until all the dough is used up, trying not to overwork the dough.  Set the baking sheets in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake the cookies (straight from the freezer) for 12 minutes, until pale golden.  Cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To glaze the cookies, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, corn syrup, milk and powdered sugar until smooth.  Use a small, silicone pastry brush to brush about a teaspoon of glaze over each cooled cookie.  Sprinkle with sanding sugar before the glaze sets.  Let sit for about an hour to completely set the glaze.

Yields about 60 cookies, or 30 cookies, plus 1 tart/pie crust.

Note, this is a large recipe, and can easily be cut in half, but almond paste comes in 8-ounce cans, which is why I wrote the recipe to use the entire amount of almond paste.

From Curly Girl Kitchen.

Lime and Mint Mascarpone Ice Cream
printable recipe

  • 1/2 cup fresh or bottled lime juice
  • zest of 2 limes
  • sprig of mint (about 6 large mint leaves) finely chopped
  • 1 pound mascarpone cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2/3 cup fat-free half 'n' half or 2% milk (use heavy whipping cream for a richer ice cream)

Using an electric mixer, combine the lime juice, lime zest, mint, mascarpone cheese and powdered sugar, beating until smooth.  Add the half 'n' half or milk gradually, beating to combine until well blended.  (If using whipping cream, whip the cream until soft peaks form, them fold the cream into the mascarpone mixture.)

Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions, (about 20 minutes of churning in a pre-frozen Kitchen Aid Ice Cream Maker attachment), then freeze in a container until firm, about 4-6 hours.

Yields about 1 quart.

Adapted from Lime & Mascarpone Ice Cream, pg. 42, from Ice Cream: The Perfect Weekend Treat, by Susanna Tee.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Caramelized Banana Bourbon Ricotta Trifle

If you've ever been to one of those all-you-can-eat steak houses, then I'm sure you're very familiar with those giant vats of dessert they put out on the dessert bar - usually some sort of chocolate and whipped cream cake, a pan of strawberry shortcake with yellow sponge cake, whipped cream and strawberries, and of course, banana cream pudding.  I think all kids love being served a great big dollop of creamy pudding with whipped cream, bananas and those little wafer cookies.  For that matter, adults love it, too.

Caramelized bananas and apples were one of the few desserts available in restaurants in China - they came to the table piping hot and super sticky, so you had to eat them fast before the caramel hardened.  One of the other desserts we sometimes ordered was just a simple fried bread, dipped in nothing more than sweetened condensed milk.  Delicious.

When making dessert for two, there's always the challenge of trying to not overdo the portions.  If we have company, then I can have a lot of fun making a layer cake, tart or pie.  But we don't need a huge dessert sitting around for just the two of us to eat.

So I really like making little individual desserts that are eaten fresh, with no tempting leftovers.  This Caramelized Banana Bourbon Ricotta Trifle is an all-grown-up version of that familiar banana cream pudding.

Freshly made ricotta, slightly sweetened with honey and nutmeg, replaces the pudding and whipped cream.  Bananas are caramelized in brown sugar and bourbon until they're golden brown outside with soft gooey centers.  A sprinkling of crushed cookies, any kind you like, adds just the right amount of crunch.  And a touch of crystallized ginger on top adds a surprising element of sweetness with a tiny bit of heat.

I like to make my own ricotta, but the store-bought kind will work just fine, too.  This dessert comes together in about 10 minutes, and can easily be doubled or tripled for more people.  And even if you don't like bourbon on its own (I don't - the taste of it makes me think I'm being forced to take some medicine), it's completely delicious in desserts.

Caramelized Banana Bourbon Ricotta Trifle
printable recipe

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into 1-inch thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons good-quality Bourbon
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta (homemade or store-bought)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon light cream or fat-free half 'n' half
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup crumbled cookies (wafer cookies, graham crackers, lady fingers, etc)
  • pinch of crystallized ginger

Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Place the bananas in the butter in a single layer and sprinkle with the brown sugar.  Cook bananas for 4 minutes on each side.  Add the bourbon to the skillet and cook for about a minute to cook off the alcohol, swirling the pan around.

Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, honey, cream and nutmeg in a bowl until smooth and creamy and set aside.

Set out two martini glasses or individual glass trifle dishes.  Spoon half of the ricotta mixture into the bottom of each glass.  Top with half of the crushed cookies.  Add half of the bananas.  Add another layer with the rest of the ricotta mixture, the crushed cookies and the bananas.  Drizzle with any remaining caramelized bourbon liquid in the skillet, or with a teaspoon of honey.  Sprinkle the crystallized ginger on top.

Serve immediately.

Yields 2 servings.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup with Spinach, Basil and Parsley

Eggplant is a vegetable that I keep trying to like, but have a really hard time doing so.  Until now, I've only eaten it one way that I enjoyed it - loved it, actually - and that was a dish I frequently ate in China, with eggplant, potatoes and spicy peppers in a rich sauce.  Something about that dish was completely addictive.  I tried to create it myself once, but ended up with a pan of brown mush that was so spicy it was inedible.

But I don't like to shun any vegetable - except for beets - I really have no desire to make an effort to like beets.  So, I've roasted eggplant, I've sauteed it, etc...  but no matter what, I just can't wrap my taste buds around its weird spongy texture.  My mom fixed eggplant for dinner once when we were kids and left the peel on - my brother and sister and I decided it was like black electrical tape wrapped around a sponge!

I do still like the taste of it, though (the inside, not the peel), so I thought, why not embrace its soft texture by incorporating it into a smooth and creamy soup?  Sweet red bell peppers seemed like they would be a yummy match for the eggplant.

But when I suggested this soup to Jamie the other day, he made THE FACE.  You know the one.  The face that says, what, no meat?  And eggplant again, really?  I assured him that it would be good the way I was going to make it.  I'm not saying he doesn't like veggies - he eats pretty much anything - but he does like to have meat at dinner, too.

I started by roasting the peppers and eggplant with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Then into the pot they went with shallots, garlic, lemon, red wine vinegar and spinach.  A quick puree turned it into a beautifully smooth soup with a gorgeous orange color.  Basil and parsley added a touch of freshness, and Parmesan cheese gave it a wonderful creaminess.  A little crumbled turkey bacon on top made it not completely vegetarian, but it could certainly be left off.

With crusty pieces of garlic bread to dip in the soup, Jamie had to admit that it was good, and he even took leftovers to work for lunch.  I loved the flavor of all the vegetables and herbs, the smooth creamy texture, and the crunch of the bread dipped in the soup.  It was one of those meals that I couldn't wait to eat again the next day for lunch.

Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup with Spinach, Basil and Parsley
printable recipe
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds and ribs discarded
  • 2 eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 4 cups fat free, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan, Asiago, or Romano cheese
  • 4 slices turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • crostini or toasted garlic bread for dipping

Preheat the oven to 400.  Line a baking sheet with foil and place the cut bell peppers and eggplants on the baking sheet, cut side up.  Drizzle vegetables with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for 30 minutes.  Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Peel the skin off the peppers and roughly chop the flesh.  Scoop the eggplant flesh out of the peel and roughly chop the flesh.  Set aside.

In a stockpot, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers.  Add the shallot, with a small pinch of salt, and cook for 3 minutes, until it starts to brown.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the lemon juice and red wine vinegar and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the roasted eggplant and bell peppers, the spinach and the chicken broth.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth (or, working in batches, puree the soup in your blender).

Stir in the basil and parsley (reserving a small amount for garnish, if you like) and the grated cheese.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.

Simmer steadily over medium to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until soup has reduced slightly and is thickened to your liking.

Top each serving of soup with the crumbled turkey bacon, chopped basil and parsley, and an extra grating of cheese.  Serve with crusty garlic bread or crostini.

Yields 4 servings.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Healthy Oatmeal Almond Bars with Fruit Filling

A lot of people are saying, "New Year's resolutions be damned!" but I am still trying hard to create healthier versions of my favorite foods and desserts.  And I think I did a good job with these oatmeal bars.

I remember my mom making some sort of oatmeal and fruit bars quite a lot when we were kids - I think it's a pretty popular concept - although most recipes would use more butter and sugar.  Mine has very little butter (4 tablespoons divided between 16 servings, which isn't bad at all), a little sugar (1/4 cup), and lots of good grains and nuts (whole rolled oats, whole wheat flour and finely crushed almonds).

For the filling, I used a jar of jam that I made over the holidays, a cranberry blueberry jam, but you can use any store-bought jam in any flavor you like.  Low-sugar jam would be great, too, because the jam is where the majority of the sugar in this recipe comes from.  When berries are in season, they would be amazing added to the filling - my suggestions would be peaches, apricots, strawberries or blueberries, or even dates and figs - paired with a complementary jam.  Of course, frozen and thawed fruit could be used as well.

These bars are full of flavor, pleasantly crumbly from the oats, and just sweet enough to feel like a dessert and satisfy your sweet tooth without making you feel completely guilty.  They can be eaten for breakfast, too!

Oatmeal Almond Bars with Fruit Filling
printable recipe

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup finely crushed raw almonds (or coarse almond flour)
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup jam
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) chopped fruit or berries

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line an 8 or 9-inch square baking dish with foil and spray the foil with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, combine the oats, almonds, flour, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Sprinkle the oat mixture with the almond extract.  Add the butter and egg yolks and use a pastry cutter to incorporate the butter and eggs into the oat mixture until it's coarse and crumbly.

Scoop half of the mixture into the baking dish and press firmly against the bottom. (You may think the mixture is too dry, but it will work.)  Spread the jam evenly over the crust (warm the jam slightly if it's difficult to spread).  Add the fruit or berries.  Sprinkle the remainder of the oat mixture over the fruit like a crumble topping.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool for 1 hour in the pan on a wire rack, then lift the foil out of the pan and cool completely before cutting into squares.

Yields 16 bars.

Monday, January 16, 2012

His and Hers Fish 'n' Chips... and our Weekly Menu

Kitchen gadgety stores are completely addictive.  I'll go into them - just to look, of course - and leave with espresso powder, fancy seasonings, kitchen gadgets.  Things I can't do without, you know.  I'm pretty easy to shop for these days.

The other day, I stopped by World Market, looking for something very specific (something that only cost $3), and ended up leaving with about seven things!  I don't know how that happens.  The only thing that stops me from going to Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table every week is that they're both at big, busy malls where getting there and parking and all that is kind of a hassle.  My bank account would be in serious trouble if those stores were easier to get to, so I'm sure it's a good thing that something holds me back.

Otherwise, I'd have to start going to shopaholics anonymous meetings and introducing myself as Heather, the Kitchen Gadget Addict.  I kind of blame this blog a little bit for my addiction, and yet I love it so much that I can't be mad at it for too long.  :)

For a stocking stuffer for Christmas, I got Jamie a jar of Malt Vinegar Sea Salt I found at Williams Sonoma, and of course, the first thing he wanted to use it for was Fish 'n' Chips.

He did a beer-battered fish using a winter ale called Snow Day, and we also just happened to have a little duck fat in the fridge from cooking duck recently, so of course, that had to be used for frying the fish and potatoes.  If you've never tried frying something in duck fat, it's something you have to do at least once.  The flavor is just delicious.  And if you fry food at the right temperature (around 365), then the oil retention in the food should only be about 10 percent.  Frying at too low a temperature will allow the food to absorb way too much oil and become greasy and heavy.

The fish (he used Orange Roughy) was light and crispy and the malt vinegar sea salt added such a nice tangyness to everything.  A little ketchup and homemade tartar sauce on the side for dipping was the final touch.  I'm thinking we need to make some homemade potato chips with that sea salt next...  I'm a sucker for salt and vinegar chips.

This past week, I thought I would try a lighter version of fish 'n' chips with a Cheddar and Cornmeal Crusted Catfish with Sweet Potato fries - baking everything this time instead of frying.  Jamie thought the addition of the cheddar sounded weird, since everyone says you're not supposed to pair cheese with fish.  Except Parmesan, which is used with seafood all the time.  But the cheddar was subtle - the fish weren't cheesy at all, it was just the flavor that came through and was really nice with the cornmeal crust.

I seasoned up the sweet potatoes with salt, pepper, cayenne and garlic powder, and baked those until they were soft inside and crispy outside, about 35 minutes at 400.  I have to admit, I do generally like a fried fry better than a baked one, but these were good, too.

For the catfish, I seasoned them first with salt, pepper, ground mustard powder and Old Bay, a little dusting of flour, a quick dredging in low-fat buttermilk with beaten egg, then a final coating of cornmeal and finely grated cheddar cheese.  After baking for 20 minutes at 400, they were nice and flaky inside with a slightly crispy crust.  We dipped the fish in honey, which was really yummy.

Next time, I would add some bread crumbs to the cornmeal and cheddar, because the cornmeal didn't really get crispy enough on its own, so I've included bread crumbs in my recipe below.

Another really delicious baked side dish that tastes like they've been fried are these little baked Parmesan zucchini chips.  Hot and crispy from the oven, you'll find yourself wanting to eat a lot of these.

These were two really yummy versions of fish 'n' chips, and I like having a variety of ways to prepare the same meal.  Baked or fried, which do you prefer?

My recipes are below and Jamie used a recipe by Alton Brown.

And for our weekly menu... :)

Steak with Tomato Salsa over Brown Rice

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Fish with Corn and Black Bean Quinoa

Chili Shrimp and Avocado Tacos

Sushi Night

Cornmeal and Cheddar Crusted Catfish
printable recipe

  • 2 pounds catfish (3-4 fillets)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup finely grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup coarse dry breadcrumbs
  • honey, for dipping

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray.

Rinse the fish, pat dry and lay on a large cutting board.  Cut each fillet into 4 pieces (cut down the center of each fillet, then cut each of those in half).  Season with salt, pepper, ground mustard and Old Bay.  Sprinkle with the flour and turn each piece so that all are lightly coated with the flour.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk.  In a separate shallow bowl combine the cheddar cheese, cornmeal and breadcrumbs (I put the cheddar in a food processor and pulsed it a few times so that it was more fine).

Dip each piece of fish in the egg/buttermilk and then coat in the crumb mixture.  Place in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Bake at 400 for 20 minutes until the fish is cooked through.  Serve immediately with honey on the side for dipping.

Yields 4 servings.

Spicy Baked Sweet Potato Fries
printable recipe

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into evenly-sized fries
  • non-stick spray
  • salt and pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400.  Cover a baking sheet with foil.  Place the fries in one layer on the baking sheet.  Spray with the non-stick spray.  Sprinkle with the salt, pepper, cayenne and garlic.  Turn the fries over and season the other side.  Drizzle with the olive oil.

Bake at 400 for 35-40 minutes, turning once, until potatoes are browned and crispy and cooked through.

Serve immediately.

Yields 4 servings.

Crispy Parmesan zucchini Chips
printable recipe

  • 2 zucchini, washed and dried (unpeeled)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs (Italian seasoned would be good)

Preheat the oven to 375.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray.

Slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Arrange 3 shallow dishes, one containing the flour, another with the milk, and another with the Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.  Coat each slice of zucchini in the flour, then dip in the milk, then coat in the cheese/bread crumb mixture.  Place on the baking sheet in a single layer.

Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.  Serve immediately.

Yields 4 servings.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Waking up with Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cake Doughnuts

Cake doughnuts have always been a favorite of mine since I was a kid - much more so than fried yeast doughnuts - and getting to have those glazed sour cream cake doughnuts from the grocery store bakery was definitely a treat.  This morning I baked a small batch of Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cake Doughnuts for breakfast in my new doughnut pan, and the doughnuts brought to mind other memories of a house we lived in for a few months in South Carolina.

When I was 12, my parents sold our house in South Carolina, and before we moved to Colorado, we were temporarily renting an apartment of sorts in a large house that had been divided into 5 compartments.  Since it was a sectioned off portion of a house, the layout was a little odd and there weren't many rooms.  The main entrance led into a room that my brother, sister and I slept in on a pull-out couch - I have lots of painful memories of scraping my legs on the sharp hinges of that sofa bed.  Off that room was my parents' bedroom / living room.  There was one small bathroom we all five shared, a surprisingly huge pantry with high rafters where my mom would try to hide the chocolate chips from my dad, a small eat-in kitchen, and a little room off the kitchen that we used as a closet/dressing room.  But it also had a huge covered porch where we would eat dinner on warm summer nights, even when it was pouring rain out.  The warm rain misting onto our faces as we ate seemed sort of magical.

One day I had stayed home from school sick, although I must not have been that sick, because I remember I was in the kitchen helping my mom with something.  I heard a faint squeaking sound, and after hunting around for a few minutes, found a tiny pink baby mouse in the corner of the kitchen - it was so tiny it couldn't have been more than a day or two old.  Being the animal lover that I am, I put it in a box with a towel to keep it warm and tried spooning some milk into its mouth.  After a while, my mom convinced me that I should put it in the mouse hole under the kitchen sink so that it could find its mommy - of course, my dad boarded up that hole later that night, and I was sad for a few days wondering what became of the mouse.

Mice were only one of the problems in that house - we also had the occasional infestation of ants!  One morning I walked into the kitchen to see a black line of ants marching across the wall, onto the counter, and swarming all over the butter dish.

But that mouse and ant-infested kitchen was where I also remember starting to learn how to cook.  If mixing up boxes of muffin mix, instant rice and heating cans of beef stew counts as cooking!

But back to the cake doughnuts...  On Friday nights, one of our favorite family dinners was nachos with the works, which we called "smachos" (super nachos).  And if we were lucky, some ice cream with cake doughnuts for dessert, and sometimes a handful of red hot tamales.  We'd all crowd onto my parents' bed, since our only TV was in their room, and watch a movie.

Since cake doughnuts are made with a batter that's pretty similar to muffin batter, I decided I could tweak one of my muffin recipes to create a plain vanilla cake doughnut.  I mixed up a simple batter with lots of fresh vanilla bean, and instead of a thick glaze, just dusted the doughnuts with a little vanilla-infused powdered sugar.

They were so light and airy, soft and delicious.  For a basic cake doughnut  that's simple and very easy to make, this will be a great go-to recipe.  I'm looking forward to making some variations in the future with pumpkin, apple and lemon.

Although I just dusted these with powdered sugar, they would be amazing dipped in a powdered sugar glaze flavored with lemon or lime zest, or a rich chocolate glaze.  On a previous post for yeast doughnuts, I have a few basic glaze recipes.

These are just too pretty, aren't they?

Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cake Doughnuts
printable recipe

  • ½ cup sour cream, room temperature
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil 
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour  
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a standard cake doughnut pan with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, whisk together the sour cream, sugar, oil, egg, and half of the vanilla bean seeds.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.  Add dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until combined.

Spoon batter into a zip-lock bag.  Snip an inch off one of the corners of the bag and pipe the batter into the doughnut pan.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until golden and puffy, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool doughnuts in the pan for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.

Place the powdered sugar and the remaining vanilla bean seeds in a spice grinder or small food processor.  Pulse a couple of times to infuse the powdered sugar with the vanilla beans.

Dust the doughnuts with the powdered sugar and serve warm.

Yields 6 doughnuts.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lamb Stew with Root Vegetables and Dried Plums

With the holidays over, winter just feels like, well, winter now.  Cold, icy and gray, with a blue sky and a few clouds every so often.  I shouldn't complain - for as many freezing days we have, we get just as many gorgeous sunny days.

And yet, it's still winter and I miss wearing flip flops.  My hair and skin are so dry and I'm in perpetual need of a pedicure (a manicure, too, for that matter).  My nails are sadly neglected!  Jamie's feet are actually much nicer than mine since he always wears socks, and I refuse to wear socks around the house, for some reason that I don't even understand, even when my feet are cold.

Yesterday, I woke up to snow - not too much at first, just a light dusting.  And although Coloradans should be able to handle driving in the snow pretty well, there are still those who drive like complete morons.  Hence, the 300 plus accidents reported yesterday morning in Denver.

When I started out, I didn't think it would be too bad, but once I was on the highway, I saw the nightmare of sliding, skidding and crashing unfold.  It took me 45 minutes to drive just 10 miles, and with 40+ miles of my commute still left, there was no way I could keep going.  So, after turning around and spending another hazardous hour driving home, I was safe and warm working from home for the rest of the day.

It snowed steadily for most of the day and it just felt like a night to make stew for dinner.  Hot, filling, nourishing.  Something I could get going with 15 minutes of prep and then just let the dutch oven do the rest of the work while I tucked myself under a blanket on the couch to watch Modern Family.

The stew was hearty and flavorful with a mixture of lamb and beef, leeks and garlic, lots of root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, turnips and potatoes, and a handful of dried plums, all seasoned with bay leaves and thyme.  It was perfectly delicious for such a cold night.

Lamb Stew with Root Vegetables and Dried Plums
printable recipe

  • 1 1/2 pounds lamb for stewing, cut into chunks (or use half lamb and half beef, or substitute all beef)
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons flour, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 small leek, sliced into rings (white and pale green parts only)
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4-5 cups fat free, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4-5 small parsnips, peeled or scrubbed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled or scrubbed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 small red potatoes (about 1/2 pound), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 turnips, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup dried pitted plums, whole
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground thyme

Season the meat with salt and pepper and toss with 2 tablespoons of the flour to lightly coat the meat.  In a dutch oven, or a heavy stock pot with a tightly-fitting lid, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat until it's hot enough that the meat sizzles when you place the meat in the oil.

Cook the meat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until mostly browned.  Remove the meat from the pan, place in a bowl, cover with foil and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan.  Add the leek and celery, with a pinch of salt, and cook for 4-5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the red wine vinegar to de-glaze the pan and scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon.  Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour into the pan, stir and cook for 1 minute.

Add 4 cups of the chicken broth, the parsnips, carrots, potatoes, turnips, plums, bay leaves and thyme.  Return the meat to the pot.  Add a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to medium low to simmer steadily.  Simmer until the meat is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.  Add additional chicken broth if the stew is too thick for your liking, and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Serve alone, or with steamed rice.

Yields 4-6 servings.