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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Polenta, Broccolini & Sweet Sausage Bowl

Last night I made a super easy hearty dish that I know you'll love! I have made a similar dish before, I won't go on and on about this one ;). Simply put, I cut up prepackaged polenta rounds, pan-fried them in a little bit of butter until both sides became crispy. Then I took Trader Joe's sweet Italian sausage links and chopped them up into smaller pieces and sautéed them with olive oil, diced onion, garlic, thyme and oregano until aromatic. Then I added a store bought tomato sauce and simmered it all together with a handful of fresh basil. To add some green, I steamed broccolini and added it to my delicious bowl with a garnish of parmesan cheese shavings and fresh basil. Yup, it's that easy! Yum!!



Holiday Traditions

This holiday season, I saw it all. I enjoyed a beautiful Hanukkah celebration with my  fathers side, a traditional Christmas meal in Fergus Falls Minnesota with my husbands family and a second Christmas dinner with my mother's side of the family. It dawned on me while feasting on all of these treats

that people rarely stop to ask themselves why we eat certain foods on certain days of the year. I am always curious about food traditions in various cultures, so I decided to dig a little deeper. Let's start with the traditional Scandinavian Christmas. I had the pleasure of eating ham at both Christmas dinners. Every year for me anyway, it's always been ham! But WHY HAM?... it began way back when the Germanic people wanted to pay tribute to their Pagan god, Freyr. Freyr was associated with boars and in order for the people to receive blessings for the New Year, they needed to sacrifice a boar to please Freyr. As Catholicism began to rise, people began increasingly cooking ham for Christmas as a statement of polarity and hostility toward the Jewish people who traditionally do not eat pork. Lefse on the other hand has not always been a Christmas tradition. Lefse has been a traditional Norwegian dish for centuries. Lefse has gained a place at the Christmas table from the large Norwegian population throughout Minnesota and the midwest. Lefse is a flatbread cooked on a griddle made of potatoes, cream and flour or lard. Lefse can be served with butter, sugar, cinnamon or even savory foods. Other Christmas classics in my family have always been some sort of potatoes gratin, candies carrots, rolls and maybe even a salad :).

Now moving on to the Hanukkah dinner table. As always, latkes are a staple of any Hanukkah table. Latkes are a variation on the potato pancake, eaten all over Europe. Latkes in the Hanukkah tradition are used to remind us of the oil which lit the ancient temple in Israel for eight days and is believed to be the Hanukkah miracle. Latkes are usually made of shredded potatoes, egg, seasoning and a bit of flour for binding. Latkes are usually eaten with sour cream and apple sauce. This year we combined sweet potatoes, Idaho potatoes and zucchini for our latkes. As taboo as it may seem, I am in love with ketchup, so I made up a BBQ ketchup for my latkes along with a cilantro, lime and chipotle sour cream which was a hit! My dad, as shown in the photo, is and has been the fryer guy ;). 
At our table we also had a lovely green salad, dill roasted salmon and my mom's delicious spinach and cheese soufflĂ©. For dessert, I made some fabulous maple pecan bars as shown below. I will share with you my top secret recipe, so consider yourself lucky!! 










Rachael's Famous Maple-Nut Chocolate Bars
(makes about 20 2inch bars)

3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar 
1 cup brown sugar 
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tbsp maple flavoring
2 large eggs, 1 egg yolk
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cups diced chocolate bits, 1/2 cup for melting on-top
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, cinnamon and stir with a whisk to combine. Place sugars and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer until well combined. Add maple flavoring and eggs; beat until combined. Add flour mixture; stir until well combined. Stir in pecans, coconut and chocolate. Spread mixture evenly into 3/4 of a cookie sheet, so that the dough rises about 3/4 inch in the pan. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack. When bars have cooled, melt remaining chocolate and drizzle on top. When chocolate has hardened, cut into bars and store in airtight containers at room temperature. Enjoy!!







Thursday, December 22, 2011

Blue Cheese Drummies n' Greens

Last night I made up my own blue cheese dressing and paired it with crispy chicken drumsticks. Drumsticks have always been my favorite piece of chicken for a few reasons, one being the taste factor: the meat is darker, juicier and much more tender than breast and thigh meat. Secondly, I find it much more fun to eat meat on a bone! Lastly, the crispy skin is tremendously delicious :). I used a light flour and spice batter to coat the chicken, and baked it in the oven until crispy and golden brown. I have never made blue cheese dressing before, so it was a bit of a taste experiment, which is always fun. Blue cheese is either a cow's, goat's or sheep's milk cheese with mold added to create the grayish-blue marbling.
Blue cheese tends to be a sharp and salty cheese, which pairs well with a fried or roasted chicken. The final product had both sweet and tart flavors, which worked nicely against my crispy, salty drummies. Give it a try!

Blue Cheese Drummies n' Greens 
(serves 2)
4 chicken drumsticks, thawed
3 tbsp room temp butter 
1 cup flour
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp onion powder 
1 tsp garlic powder 
4 cups romaine lettuce
1 cup sliced red onion
1 cup diced celery
Dressing (you'll have plenty leftover for another night!):
1 cup blue cheese 
1 cup low fat mayo
1/2 cup sour cream 
1/4 cup cider vinegar 
1-2 tbsp honey (taste for preferred sweetness)
1/2 tbsp onion powder 
1 tsp garlic powder, salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat drumsticks with butter set aside. In a shallow bowl mix flour and spices, then drudge chicken into flour and spice mixture. Place on a sheet pan sprayed with cooking spray. Cook in oven for about 40-45 minutes or until skin is crispy turning once during cooking process. For the dressing add all ingredients leaving a few blue cheese crumbles for the top of your salad. Mix and set aside. Plate salad and drizzle dressing and extra blue cheese on top. Add drummies and you're ready to eat!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Dinner tonight: BUTTERNUT SQUASH KORMA WITH COCONUT RICE


For dinner tonight I wanted to make something healthy and vegetarian. I came across a recipe for a vegetarian korma, which is a South Asian dish combining coconut milk, nuts, yogurt and curry. I love Indian food for its rich and complex flavors, and use of powerful spices. The sauce in this recipe is enhanced by the use of garam masala, a popular Indian ground spice blend including pungent ingredients such as coriander, cinnamon, clove, cumin and star anise. I strayed a bit from the recipe by substituting sweet potatoes for butternut squash, using scallion instead of cilantro, adding carrots, and adding mango chutney and half of the coconut milk to enhance the sauce mixture. The final product was wonderfully fragrant and flavorful. I love the mix of sweet, spicy and tangy all in one bite. The plain yogurt on top adds the right amount of tang and the salty cashews add crunch and nuttiness. I love the addition of tofu, which absorbs the sauce like a sponge! The coconut rice needed a a few more minutes to cook than what the recipe allows, just be sure to double check your own timing. I would defiantly make this dish again and I hope you'll try it too!


Click here for the recipe!

Mexican Hominy Chowder

Tonight's soup was taken out of a Cooking Light magazine.
 I am afraid I cannot say a whole lot about it other than the 
fact that the recipe calls for WAY too much chipotle pepper. I love my spice, but I would recommend halving the 
chipotle unless you want to sweat! 


Sunday, December 4, 2011

HOME SWEET HOME: WARM ISRAELI COUSCOUS SALAD

I'm not sure about you, but after being on vacation and eating out for every meal, I cannot wait to have a home cooked meal. Tonight, I wanted something healthy and comforting with all the fixings, so I dug out my Israeli couscous and got to work. Israeli couscous is much larger than traditional couscous and tastes like a small pasta grain. Israeli couscous grew in popularity in Israel from 1949-59 when rice became scarce. The prime minister at the time developed a wheat based product as a substitute for rice and called it Israeli Couscous. This couscous can be found in most major grocery stores and is served warm or cold. Couscous is very simple to make and can be a great base for most any protein or vegetable. Couscous absorbs sauces easily, so developing a delicious dressing or sauce is key. Follow my recipe below or try your own variation!

Rachael's Sweet and Tangy Warm Israeli Couscous Salad 
(serves about 4)
2 tbsp olive oil 
2 cups dry Israeli couscous
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth 
1-2 tbsp shawarma spice (or a blend of garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, clove, cayenne pepper and cinnamon)
1 tbsp olive oil 
2 cups brussels sprouts, washed and halved
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 onion, diced
2 tbsp garlic
Salt, pepper
1 dozen shrimp
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup diced green onion (for garnish)
Sauce:
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4- 1/2 cup mango chutney 
1/4 cup olive oil 
Salt, pepper 

Begin by adding olive oil to a large skillet and heat over med/high heat and add couscous. Cook couscous until slightly brown and aromatic. Add chicken broth and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the broth has thoroughly absorbed. Add shawarma spice and mix well, set aside to cool. In a separate skillet, add a drizzle of olive oil, brussels, onion, salt, pepper and garlic and cook over medium heat until lightly browned. Add cider vinegar and simmer for 5 minutes, add shrimp until cooked and let rest with the heat off. Meanwhile, whisk up all sauce ingredients and pour over cooled couscous. Mix in almonds, cranberries and green onion. To plate, ladle couscous mixture on the bottom of a shallow bowl, followed by the brussels sprout mixture and place shrimp and extra green onion on the very top. Enjoy! 






Thursday, December 1, 2011

LAST TASTE OF HAWAII


For one of our last days in Hawaii, we wanted to try once more the infamous Hawaiian lunch plate. We stopped at a small market called Pono in Kapaa, Kauai. We shared two plates, the first featuring the spicier version of poke with spicy mayo, kimchi, a korean cabbage salad, rice (duh!) and kalua pork, a popular local pork dish cooked in an underground oven for many hours. The smokiness of the pork is so wonderfully intoxicating, you can almost taste the pit. The kimchi and poke are bites I've had before but oh sooo good! The second plate features lomi salmon, lau lau, rice and Hawaiian macaroni salad all of which I've touched on in previous hawaii blog posts. Adam and I had just gotten back from deep sea fishing on the rolling waves of the sea (I caught the only fish ;)  and we could not wait to hop onto land at last and dig into some Hawaiian comfort food! As an aside, BEING A SEA FISHERMAN WILL NEVER BE A CAREER ON MY LIST!!