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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

This chicken stew uses drumsticks or thighs, inexpensive cuts that make the dish more flavorful. Almost any side dish works with this stew, and it will serve your whole family. (Tastes Like Home)

Stewed chicken, family style

By Tastes Like Home / 10.12.12

There are certain dishes when made and eaten just set your soul at ease. They comfort and they fortify. That's what a big pot of stew does.

Perhaps stews evoke these feelings due to the process involved that results in succulent morsels and a sauce/gravy brimming with incredibly deep flavor from all of the ingredients. Such stews give you pause, they force you to slow down – to prepare them and to enjoy them.

A stew means different things for different people depending on where you are from, but for the purposes of this column, a stew means seasoned meat or poultry cooked low and slow with liquid and some flavorings that also gives color – burnt sugar, browning, tomato paste, tomato sauce, or annatto (achiote, a Caribbean spice).

One of the many things that's great about a stew is that it does not require expensive cuts of meats or poultry, actually, the cheaper the cuts, the more flavorful the stew. And you can add so many other things to a stew – vegetables, beans, peas, potatoes, and dumplings. It is a hearty dish that can feed a large family or a crowd. What's great about a stew is that the next day or the day after, it is even better!

Stewed chicken

Serves 4 – 5

10 chicken drumsticks or thighs
3 tablespoons green seasoning (a Caribbean relish)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons oil
1 cup diced onions
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon tomato paste
water, chicken or vegetable stock
chopped parsley or thinly sliced green onions to garnish (optional)

1. Wash and pat chicken dry.

2. Add chicken to a large bowl along with green seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Rub seasoning into chicken, cover and let marinate at room temperature for half an hour (you can opt to marinate longer or overnight in the refrigerator).

3. Heat oil in a large pot on medium heat and brown chicken in batches then setaside.

4. If there is too much oil in the pot after browning the chicken, remove all but 3 tablespoons.

5. Toss in onions, garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper; reduce heat to low and let cook until the onions are softened.

6. Push the onion mixture to one side of the pot; add the tomato paste smearing itwith the back of the spoon on the vacant part of the pot. Toast the tomato paste for 2 to 3 minutes by smearing and turning it a few times.

7. Mix the onion mixture with the tomato paste and cook together for 1 minute.

8. Raise heat to medium high and add back the chicken to the pot along with any drippings or juice from the chicken. Mix together and cook for a minute.

9. Pour in enough water or stock to come up to the same level as the chicken (but not to cover it).

10. Cover pot and bring it to a boil, when the pot comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, move the lid partially over the pot and let cook until the chicken is cooked through and the liquid has reduced to a sauce consistency you desire. Taste for seasoning (salt) and adjust.

11. Serve with rice, bread, pasta, mashed potatoes, cou-cou (polenta), foo-foo, or boiled ground provisions (root vegetables).

Related post on Tastes Like Home: Another kind of Roti & Curry

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Core and stuff apples with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, butter, and crystallized ginger for a simple and tasty fall dessert. (The Garden of Eating)

A delicious fall dessert: baked apples

By The Garden of Eating / 10.11.12

My big brother and my two adorable nieces are in town for a little visit this week so I handed the baby off to his dad during our older son's nap in order to pull together a simple but tasty dinner of grilled cheeseburgers with avocado and tomato, the world's best oven fries, a green salad with dried cranberries and toasted pepitas, and even (gasp!) dessert.
 I decided to make baked apples for three reasons: (1) They are yummy and comforting and warm, (2) It is apple season and the Hudson Valley is bursting with delicious, crisp, sweet-tart fruit, and, (3) Perhaps most importantly, they are amazingly easy to make.

I think baked apples are good pretty much any way but I included crystallized ginger to spice things up a bit (my husband loves ginger) along with some toasted pecans we had leftover from another meal.

The rest was easy – brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, butter, and some fresh apple cider that we got at a wonderful cider press party we'd gone to a few days earlier. 

I mixed up the filling in a bowl and then cored the apples, stopping an inch above the bottom to avoid going all the way through. I stuffed the apples with the filling and topped them with butter. I arranged them in a baking dish so that none would tip over while baking, and poured some cider into the bottom of the dish. Finally, I topped the whole dish with foil and put the apples into the oven for a while.

My advice: Eat with ice cream. The wonderful syrupy, spiced cider mix perfectly with the melting vanilla ice cream – it makes a great companion to the soft, sweet, slightly tart flesh of the apple and the sugary, nutty, gingery filling. It's simply a delightful and easy-to-make fall treat!

Baked Apples With Candied Ginger & Toasted Pecans
 Serves 4
4 large, fresh baking apples (Rome, Golden Delicious, or Jonagold)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tablespoons butter
A pinch of salt
3/4 cup apple cider (or water if you don't have cider)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Wash your apples then remove their cores to about 1/2 inch above the bottom of the apple. I used an apple corer in combination with a small, sharp paring knife – it was kind of messy/clumsy but worked. You should have a hole roughly an inch wide that does not go all the way through the apple.
 2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, salt and pecans. Place the apples in a small baking pan – you want one small enough to keep all the apples upright but not so small that they're crowded – they'll bake better if they're not touching. Stuff each apple with the filling mixture and top with a small pat of butter.
 3. Add the cider (or water) to the baking dish and bake the apples for 30-40 minutes, taking them out several times to baste them with the cider in the bottom of the dish, until they are tender, but not mushy. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Related post on The Garden of Eating: Perfect Oven Fries

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This easy do-ahead salad requires chilling the cooked lentils for at least eight hours. It also works well as leftovers or lunch the next day. (The Runaway Spoon)

French lentil salad with walnuts and goat cheese

By The Runaway Spoon / 10.11.12

When the weather turns chilly, it may seem that the time for cold salads has past. But this lovely, homey lentil salad is perfect for fall. The ingredients for this could not be humbler, but somehow the whole comes off as sophisticated. This is the kind of dish I imagine a French home cook would whip up if you just dropped by unexpectedly.

This salad is great beside a grilled piece of pork or a roasted chicken. It makes a great lunch with a piece of crusty bread, and can easily be packed to take to the office or a picnic. For company, I toss the nuts, herbs and cheese in right before serving, but the leftovers, or a fresh batch just for you, are great sitting in the fridge for a few days as you snack out of the bowl.

Walnut oil can be a bit pricey, but it is a wonderful treat to give salads and dressings a nutty zing. Something about it adds to the French-ness of this salad.  You can use olive oil, either as half the oil or all of it. French green lentils, or lentils de puy, are the perfect for salads because they cook up tender but still retain their shape. These lentils used to be only found at gourmet shops or mail-order, but I have finally shared this recipe because I now find them regularly in the organic grains aisle at my large grocery store.

French lentil salad with walnuts and goat cheese

6 cups chicken broth
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
2-1/2 cups petite green lentils (such as Bob’s Red Mill)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup walnut oil
salt and pepper
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
4 1/2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Pour the chicken broth into a large pot. Cut the celery and carrots into large chunks and add to the broth with the peeled garlic cloves and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and add the lentils, stirring well. Boil the lentils for three minutes, skimming off any green scum that rises. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes until the lentils are tender, but still hold their shape.

While the lentils are cooking, place the garlic, vinegar and mustard in a blender and food processor and blend until smooth. Add a good pinch of salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Drizzle in the oil with the motor running until you have a creamy dressing.

When the lentils are done, drain away any remaining liquid and discard the carrot, celery, garlic and bay leaves (It’s best to do this is in a fine strainer, these lentils are small). Transfer the lentils to a bowl, then pour the dressing over the warm lentils, tossing gently to fully coat. Cool slightly, then cover the bowl and refrigerate the lentils for eight hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, lightly toast the walnuts in a dry skillet until they are just brown and smell toasty. Toss the walnuts, parsley and crumbled goat cheese with the lentils. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Almost–too-French onion soup

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Edamame makes a colorful addition to this dish, but you can also use frozen peas as a substitute. Cook the edamame a day ahead for an easier prep at meal time. (Blue Kitchen)

Shrimp fideos with red bell pepper and edamame

By Blue Kitchen / 10.10.12

One of the things I love about cooking is how recipes for the same essential dish can be so different. For fideos – short, thin noodles toasted and then cooked into Spanish (and Italian and Mexican) stews and soups, this is spectacularly so.

Fideos is actually the name of a specific type of thin noodle, most often short, slightly curved pieces. According to Joey Campanaro, chef/co-owner of The Little Owl in New York, fideos is the Catalan word for noodles, and many Spanish cooks use it instead of rice to make paella. Typically, English-language recipes call for using vermicelli, cappellini, or spaghetti and breaking it into short pieces. 

The variations in fideos recipes start at the toasting of the noodles themselves. Some – the most authentic sounding to me – call for toasting them in a skillet or paella pan on the stovetop. With others, you toast them in the oven on a baking sheet. Still others would have you skip the toasting process altogether. This is just wrong; the nutty flavor the toasted pasta takes on is invaluable in this dish. And to me, if you don’t toast them, you end up with just another spaghetti recipe.

Even after I’d settled on a version using shrimp, variations abounded. Saffron, no saffron. Sweet paprika, smoky paprika (or both). Tomatoes or no. Wine, brandy; fish stock, chicken stock, stock flavored with ham hocks; clams, mussels, olives….

Chef Campanaro cooked a version for Martha Stewart using fava beans. I liked the nutty flavor and bright green color they add, especially with the red bell pepper. But fava beans aren’t in season right now and are a fair amount of work, what with shelling them twice. Edamame is a nice stand-in, offering the same nutty taste and touch of color. They’re available frozen at Trader Joe’s, among other places. As a bonus, you’ll end up with more than you need for the recipe – they make a great snack. If you can’t find them, frozen peas will add the color, but with a sweet note rather than nutty.

This recipe isn’t difficult at all, but there are a lot of moving parts. Doing some of them ahead – such as cooking and shelling the edamame, peeling and cleaning the shrimp, using the shells to flavor your stock (also optional) and even breaking the pasta into short pieces – makes it all come together much more quickly at meal time.

Shrimp fideos with red bell pepper and edamame
Serves 3 (see Kitchen Notes)

1 package frozen edamame (or 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed)
1/2 pound small or medium-sized raw shrimp
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chicken broth or stock, unsalted or reduced sodium preferred
8 ounces vermicelli or other thin pasta, broken into 2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 cup dry white wine [editor's note: substitute cooking wine]
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Do ahead. Cook the edamame according to package directions. This can be done a day ahead, storing cooked edamame in the shells in the fridge. An hour or so before cooking the, shell 1/2 cup of edamame beans and set aside.

Peel and devein the shrimp. If you wish to use the shells to flavor your stock (recommended – they add a nice extra to the finished dish), heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the shrimp shells, toss to coat with oil and cook, stirring occasionally, for two to three minutes. Add chicken stock and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 6 or 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly; then pour through a fine mesh strainer into a large measuring cup, pressing gently on the shells with the back of a spoon to release more liquid. Add enough water to bring liquid back to 2 cups (I added about 1/2 cup to replace what had cooked away). Set aside. You can do this as you prep your vegetables or a little before.

Cook the dish. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick sauté pan or deep skillet over medium flame. Season shrimp with salt and pepper and quickly sauté, about two minutes per side. Don’t worry if they haven’t cooked completely through – you’ll finish them later with the pasta. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Drizzle a little more oil in the pan and add the broken pasta. Carefully stir it to coat with oil and cook until nicely golden brown, stirring almost constantly, about 6 to 8 minutes. Watch closely – it can go from nothing to burnt quickly. Transfer to a large bowl with a spatula or other slotted tool.

Wipe skillet clean with paper towel. Add 2 more tablespoons of oil and sweat bell pepper and onion until softening, stirring frequently to avoid browning, 5 to 7 minutes (reduce heat if onion begins to brown). Season with a little salt and a generous grind of pepper. Stir in garlic and paprika and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add wine [or substitute] and cook until almost evaporated, scraping up any browned bits.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add pasta to pan along with 1/2 cup of broth. Cook, stirring, until broth is mostly absorbed into pasta. Add another 1/2 cup and repeat. Add the remaining cup of broth and continue cooking, stirring frequently to coat pasta. The pasta will seem to resist softening – alarmingly so as the broth level reduces. Don’t worry. At about 8 to 10 minutes in of total cooking time, it will start to relax. And even any errant strands that fail to totally soften won’t have that raw pasta taste, thanks to the toasting. Instead, they’ll have a nice, delicious crunch.

When pasta has cooked for about 6 or 8 minutes, stir in the edamame and nestle the shrimp into the pasta. (If you’re substituting peas, add them when you add the last of the broth to give them time to cook.) Stir occasionally and start tasting noodles at 10 minutes for doneness. Adjust seasonings and serve in shallow pasta bowls, arranging the shrimp on top. Top with freshly grated Parmesan, if desired, and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Serves how many? Here’s another place where recipes varied greatly. One claimed a pound of pasta made two servings. Um, no. With half that much pasta, this recipe served two of us well and made a more than generous leftover lunch. It would easily serve three as dinner.

Related post on Blue Kitchen: Talapia with miso and scallions

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Make a big tray of these sticky buns the night before, then reheat them in the microwave for breakfast the next morning. (The Gourmand Mom)

Autumn harvest buns

By The Gourmand Mom / 10.09.12

You know how real estate agents recommend throwing a batch of cookies in the oven just before an open house to fill the house with a warm, welcoming scent? Well, they should scratch that idea and throw these in the oven instead. Perspective buyers will be practically licking the walls.

I’d originally planned on making apple cinnamon buns. Then, I ran across a recipe for pumpkin buns and the idea of an autumn harvest bun came to mind. I made a few adaptations to the pumpkin bun recipe, then whipped up a little apple, pear, and walnut filling; similar to a thickened pie filling. Next, I rolled the sweet pumpkin dough with the apple, pear, and walnut filling, baked them, and drizzled the whole batch with a sugary glaze.

The entire process takes a little time, but the result is well worth it. You’re not going to get buns like this out of any can. And just wait until your home is filled with the aroma of warm cinnamon, pumpkin, and apples. Who needs seasonal scented candles anyway?

These buns are moist, doughy, and bursting with fall flavors; an autumn harvest, indeed! The best part is that the reheat really well the next day. So, make them a day ahead of time and reheat in the morning for a special breakfast treat! A few seconds in the microwave should do the trick.

Autumn harvest buns

For the buns
1 packet dry active yeast
1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F.)
3-3/4 cups flour (plus additional flour)
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup pumpkin puree

For the filling
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 large Granny Smith apple, diced
1 pear, diced
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped

For the icing:
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon water, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to combine. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Create a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the milk, butter, egg, and yeast mixture. Add the pumpkin puree. Stir until well combined. The dough should be sticky, but manageable.

Place the dough onto a generously floured surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, gradually incorporating more flour until the dough is smooth and elastic. Periodically, add more flour to your work surface, as necessary, to prevent the dough from sticking.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the kneaded dough into the bowl. Cover with a towel and allow it to rest at room temperature for about an hour, until the dough has double in size.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Combine the water and lemon juice. As you dice the apple and pear, place the pieces into the water mixture. Add the cornstarch, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Toss to combine. Place the mixture in a pan over medium/medium-low heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the liquid thickens and the fruit becomes tender, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the walnuts. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray a small baking sheet with cooking spray.

After the dough has risen, remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a well-floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 10x12 inches. Spread the fruit mixture over the dough.

Then, starting with the long end, tightly roll the dough. Cut the dough into 1-inch slices. Place the slices onto the prepared baking sheet. Pack them in, if necessary. Let the buns rest for another 20 minutes before baking.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes.

As they cool, prepare the glaze. Combine the confectioners sugar with the water and vanilla extract. Add additional water, a few drops at a time, until the glaze has the consistency of a syrup. After the buns have cooled for about 10 minutes, drizzle with the glaze. Serve warm.

**The dough portion of the recipe is adapted from the Cooking Light recipe for Pumpkin-Cinnamon Streusel Buns, found here.

Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Pumpkin chocolate chunk bread

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This recipe is inexpensive, fast, and most importantly, delicious. Toss mixed greens with roasted squash and cashews, scallions, a red chili, and cilantro. (Beyond The Peel)

Meatless Monday: Roasted squash and cashew salad

By Beyond The Peel / 10.08.12

I have been accused of cooking with expensive ingredients. And that’s not completely wrong. Sometimes I do. I love food and some of the foods I love aren’t cheap.

That being said, it is good to have some balance, and this recipe provides an affordable, healthy option. I bought a 2-lb. squash from a local farm for $2. From that one squash I was able to make this recipe and the cumin spiced squash with white beans (with a few other ingredients of course).

Not only was this inexpensive to make, it was delicious and fast. Sure roasting squash takes time, but that part can be done the night before while you’re reading or doing whatever else you like or have to do. Once that part is done, this comes together in 5 minutes flat! Beat that, Mickey D’s!

Roasted squash and cashew salad
Serves 2

4 cups mixed greens (we used young kale, mustard greens, small beet greens, and red lettuce)
2 cups squash, roasted and cubed [editor's note: try acorn or butternut squash]
2 scallions or green onions, cut on a diagonal
1 red chili, thinly sliced
1 handful cilantro
1/4 cup roasted cashews

Place 2 cups of mixed greens in two bowls. Top each with 1 cup of roasted squash, half the scallions, half the chiles, cilantro, and cashews. Drizzle with the yogurt lime dressing. Voila, done and delicious!

Yogurt lime dressing
1/3 cup plain full fat yogurt (use coconut cream as a vegan substitution)
1 tablespoon honey, raw is best (Vegans can substitute 2 tablespoons agave syrup)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1 teaspoon lime zest
salt and pepper

Place the yogurt, honey, lime juice, ginger, lime zest in a bowl. Whisk until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

To roast the squash, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Peel the squash using a sharp knife or peeler. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and cube into 1-inch squares. Toss the squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and spread onto a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and bake until tender. Approximately 45 minutes.

Related post on Beyond the Peel: Butternut squash and ricotta gnocchi

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Toss mushrooms, sugar snap peas, carrots, and green onion, or vegetables of your choice with soy sauce and fish sauce for homemade vegetable lo mein. (The Gourmand Mom)

Vegetable lo mein and pork egg rolls

By The Gourmand Mom / 10.06.12

For our ninja-themed party, I served a crowd-pleasing selection of Asian dishes. Though ninjas may be most closely associated with Japan, I planned the party buffet around a more familiar Chinese takeout menu, which I was certain would be enjoyed by both the adults and children at our event.

I made the sweet and sticky orange chicken, which I shared with you in a previous post, along with a mountain of homemade pork egg rolls (and a few veggie ones for our vegetarian guests) and a big batch of super simple vegetable lo mein. Grilled teriyaki beef skewers, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and jasmine rice completed the feast.

I’m sharing the "recipes" for both the lo mein and egg rolls below, though I should note that the batch I made was quadruple of what I’m sharing below and in the flurry of party-prep, I didn’t take exact measurements or record times as I cooked. Use the recipes as a guide, but as always, taste as you go. It’ll be "right" when it tastes good to you. And be creative with the ingredient lists. You can substitute any sort of veggies in the lo mein and add meat or seafood, if you desire.

Focus on Technique – How to Julienne

Julienne is a type of culinary knife cut, wherein the resulting pieces are long and thin, roughly the size and shape of a matchstick. A julienne cut is often used to make shoestring potatoes or can be used to cut a variety of veggies for sushi, soups, or garnish. A julienne cut appears most pleasing when the pieces are a uniform size, shape, and length.

To achieve a nice, even julienne, start by squaring your fruit or vegetable. To do this, cut off the rounded portion of one side. Lay the flat side down onto the cutting board, then slice off the rounded part of each side. Turn the fruit or vegetable to cut off the remaining rounded side. Then, thinly slice the fruit or vegetable, to about 1/8-inch thickness. Finally, stack the slices and carefully cut into matchsticks, about 1/8-inch wide.

*If you were to cut the matchsticks into teeny tiny 1/8-inch cubes, you would have a cut known as brunoise, pronounced broon-wah.

Vegetable lo mein

1 pound spaghetti or lo mein noodles, cooked al dente according to package directions
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas
1 cup carrots, julienned
2 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce or oyster sauce
Salt and pepper

Heat sesame oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and veggies. Cook for about 10 minutes, until tender, stirring frequently. Add the cooked spaghetti, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and/or additional soy or fish sauce, as desired.

Garnish with additional sliced green onions, if desired.

Pork egg rolls
Makes about 10 egg rolls 

For the filling:
1 tablespoon sesame or vegetable oil
1/4 lb. bulk pork sausage
4 cups cole slaw or Asian slaw mix (very thinly sliced cabbage, julienned carrots, celery)
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce 
Salt and pepper, to taste 

1 package egg roll wraps

Heat the sesame or vegetable oil in a large pan. Add pork sausage. Cook for several minutes, using a spoon to break it into small pieces as it cooks. Add cole slaw or Asian slaw mix. Cook for several minutes, stirring frequently until the cabbage is wilted and tender. Drizzle oy sauce over the mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble the egg rolls: 

Arrange an egg roll wrap with one of the points facing you. (If desired, you can layer two egg roll wraps, for a chewier egg roll.) Place a mound of the filling, about 1/3 cup, in the center of the wrap. Grab the point closest to you and wrap it up and around the filling. Then, grab each of the side points and fold them in towards the center. (Brush the points with a bit of water to help them stick.) Brush the top point with a little water, then continue rolling up towards the top point.

To cook the egg rolls: Heat about 1/2-inch vegetable oil over medium-high heat, to about 375 degrees F. Place a few eggrolls in the hot oil. Cook for a couple minutes on each side, until hot, golden, and crispy. Drain on a paper towel.

Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Corned beef and cabbage egg rolls 

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Easy to make after work, with plenty of leftovers to use for lunches, this rich and creamy mac and cheese dish is perfect for a weeknight dinner. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

Fontina mac and cheese

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 10.05.12

This is a recipe I found on Pinterest that isn't very low calorie or particularly healthy but is easy enough for me to cook and portion control. I chose it primarily because it uses up the rest of the fontina cheese I had bought for the Gnocchi Mac and Cheese I made earlier (boy, that cheese was good for three recipes). I also threw in some of the remaining gruyere from the same recipe since, to me, cheese is cheese and my taste buds aren't that discerning when it comes to rich, creamy pasta. Lastly, I added some diced chicken breast for protein and some thyme for flavor.  

I liked this recipe in that it's quick enough to make on a weeknight after work and it's easy to pack for lunches for the rest of the week or freeze in individual containers for later. When I don't want to eat takeout or processed frozen Lean Cuisines, this is the type of dish I'll cook. For more creative cooks with a wider array of tastebuds, this easily lends itself to more add-ins like broccoli, peas, carrots, meatballs, sausage, ham, etc. 

I made a couple of modifications to this recipe. The original recipe called for a pound of pasta shells but I thought that might be too much given the amount of sauce so I only made about 12 ounces. I'm glad I cut back on the pasta as this didn't make as much sauce as I expected. I also skipped the Panko and parmesan cheese combination on top and simply grated Parmesan Reggiano over it. It turned out OK.

I'm not the best cook (I prefer baking) and my taste buds for real food are somewhat bland so this suited me. It does make a lot though so I portioned all of it out and put half of the containers in the freezer for later.

Fontina mac and cheese

12 ounces small or medium pasta shells
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup heavy cream (I used 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/2 cup whole milk)
8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (I used a combination of fontina and gruyere)
1 cup cubed cooked chicken breast 
pinch of grated nutmeg
fresh thyme, to taste (optional) 
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs (optional)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to the package directions just until 1 to 2 minutes shy of al dente.

Meanwhile, dice 4 tablespoons of the butter and place in a large mixing bowl. Warm the cream in a small saucepan or the microwave. Cover to keep warm.

Once the pasta is cooked, add to the bowl with the butter and toss to coat well. Stir in the warm cream and the Fontina until the cheese starts to melt.  Mix in salt to taste, add the chicken, nutmeg and thyme.

Pour the mixture into a buttered 2-quart casserole dish. In a small bowl, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Mix in the Panko breadcrumbs and shredded Parmesan. Toss with a fork to coat evenly with the butter. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the pasta in the baking dish.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Related post on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Gnocchi mac and cheese

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Michelle Obama's "White and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookie" (l.) beat out Ann Romney's "M&M Cookies" (r.) by a slim margin. Readers of Family Circle tested and voted on their favorite cookie. Over the past 20 years, the election contest has accurately predicted who will proceed to the White House – except once. (Courtesy of Family Circle)

Which cookie will win the White House?

By Staff writer / 10.04.12

If you are one of the scores of independent voters yet to decide how you will cast your vote come November, here's a taste test that could tip your ballot: the great Presidential Cookie Bake-Off. A recipe for success is what this country needs, after all. 

For the past 20 years, Family Circle's Presidential Cookie Bake-Off has squared-off the mixing bowls of the candidates' spouses and asked their readers to decide: Who has the better cookie recipe? The editors at Family Circle claim their contest, in which readers test the dueling recipes and vote for their favorite, has resulted in correctly calling the actual elections outcome since 1992 – except once.

In 2008, Cindy McCain's Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies beat out Michelle Obama's Shortbread Cookies, only to have John McCain lose to Barack Obama in the general election. It's just the way the cookie crumbled. (Bill Clinton even got in the act that year with a healthy Oatmeal Cookie recipe when Hillary Rodham Clinton was dueling for the Democratic nomination.)

After four years in the White House, Michelle Obama is leading a nationwide campaign centered on cooking healthy food at home. Has she departed from her war on obesity to dole out cookies? We wonder about these things and if they may just give the upper oven mitt to Ann Romney's M&M Cookies over Michelle's inclusive-sounding White and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies.

The future can only declare if cookie history will repeat itself. Family Circle readers have already decided that it is Michelle Obama who will be heading back to the White House with more than 9,000 readers weighing in. "Just 287 votes separated the two women, our smallest margin ever," say the editors at Family Circle.

The voting continues a few blocks from the White House at the Occidental Grill & Seafood, where diners are given a sample of each cookie and asked to vote on their preferred choice. Weekly tallies are shared through the restaurant's social networks. The most recent results as of Sept. 29: 56 percent for Michelle; 41 percent for Ann; 3 percent are undecided.

Other retailers are getting into the election spirit with their own spin on things: Participating 7-Eleven chain stores are running the fourth "7-Election" voting campaign by having customers select either a red (Romney) or blue (Obama) coffee cup. The chain claims that their previous results have not only closely mimicked those of the past two elections, they have accurately predicted the winners. At the moment, the blue coffee cups are carrying most of the country on the campaign's results page. (We don't know how many of those coffees were decaf.)

With such a close election, here in the newsroom we held our own cookie ballot to gain an edge on election night coverage. Since all journalists like to hide their political stripes, party affiliations were left off the ballots, er, cookies, so the votes were based on taste alone (and also size). An election monitor made sure it was one person, two cookies; and any remaining uncast ballots were eaten immediately. A few broken cookies were tossed out for not having proper IDs.

Michelle's recipe has a surprising amount of butter and vegetable shortening but also an unexpected mint finish. She packed a lot in with three kinds of chips. The cookies seemed to spread thin in the oven, however, even though there were a lot of them. There were fewer of Ann's cookies although they were rich, colorful, hefty, and a little dry. They also called for the use of corn syrup, which could be problematic with the rising cost of corn. Voters were either drawn to or repulsed by mint and/or peanut butter flavors. Absentee ballots for the bureaus were not counted due to a mess-up at headquarters. Exit polls were too close to call.

Our newsroom results:

M&M Cookies: 55 percent

White and Dark Chocolate Chip: 45 percent

Ann Romney's M&M Cookies carried the newsroom! Now, anyone got milk?

Cast your vote!

The following recipes are reprinted with permission from Family Circle.

Michelle Obama's Mama Kaye's White and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 5 dozen cookies

Prep:   15 mins 
Bake:   12 minutes 375 degrees F. 

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 stick Crisco butter-flavored solid vegetable shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup each white chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips and mint chocolate chips (or Andes mint pieces)
2 cups chopped walnuts


1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream butter, vegetable shortening, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract.

2. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, beat in flour mixture. By hand, stir in white and milk chocolate chips, mint chips and walnuts.

3. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Ann Romney's M&M's cookies
Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Prep:   15 mins 
Bake:   18 minutes  325 degrees F. 

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups crunchy peanut butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup (such as Karo)
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4-1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking soda
6 ounces chocolate chips
2/3 cup M&M's candies


1. Heat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream sugars, butter, peanut butter and corn syrup on high speed until well combined. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in vanilla extract.

2. In a separate bowl, mix together oats and baking soda. Stir into peanut butter mixture until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and M&M's.

3. Using a standard-size ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets (about 9 per sheet). Bake at 325 degrees F for 18 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

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These energy-boosting muffins are perfect for breakfast. They aren't excessively sweet and pre-soaking the oats in buttermilk keeps them light and tender. (The Runaway Spoon)

Oatmeal get-up-and-go muffins

By The Runaway Spoon / 10.04.12

When the reality of the new school year and the end of summer hit, having a quick, portable breakfast on hand can be a serious boon. And these muffins fit the bill. I often find muffins labeled “healthy” to be leaden gut bombs, but these are light and tender, thanks to the magic of buttermilk. Oats provide a nice, sustained energy level and soaking them in the buttermilk prevents that chewy, gritty texture you sometimes find in baked goods with oatmeal. These are not excessively sweet muffins, so no sugar crash, and the applesauce keeps the flavor up and the fat content down.

But the real beauty of these muffins is their versatility. While delicious straight up, the recipe below is really the blueprint for your own creativity. When you stir in the applesauce, add your favorite dried fruit and/or nut combo, and any spice that tickles your fancy.

Try 1/2 cup dried cranberries and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice. Or make that 1/4 cup cranberries and 1/4 cup chopped walnuts. Or raisins and cinnamon. Blueberries and nutmeg. Pecans and apple pie spice. I often scoop half a batch of plain batter to the tin, then add my additions to the second half.

These muffins are delicious fresh, but will last for three days in an airtight container. When they are completely cooled, wrap each one individually in plastic wrap and pop into the freezer in a zipper bag. Just pull one out the night before and you are ready to go.

And one note on the yield. I have been fiddling with this recipe for years, and I simply lack the mathematical skills to make it an even dozen. If the anomaly truly bothers you, divide the batter between all 12 cups and you’ll get smaller muffins.

Oatmeal get-up-and-go muffins

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce

Place the oats in a large bowl and pour over the buttermilk. Stir gently with a spoon to cover the oats, then leave to sit for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 10 cups of a muffin pan.

Stir the egg and brown sugar into the oat mixture until combined. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir until just barely mixed. Add the applesauce (and any add-ins*) and stir until just combined. Don’t stir too hard or too long or the muffins will be tough.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cups (I use a large cookie scoop). Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields 10 – 11 muffins

Related post on Blue Kitchen: Zucchini lemon muffin gems

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