Monday, November 22, 2010

Healthy Alternative to The Green Bean Casserole

So my mom and I are in our 3rd week of weight watchers. This is somewhat embarrassing to admit but not as embarrassing as putting on my clothes and finding that none of them fit anymore!

Those of you who are familiar with Weight Watchers knows that the program assigns points to all food and each person gets a certain amount of points per day. 22 is my magic number and in a recent weight watchers meeting we calculated how many points is in our traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I guessed about 20-25 but I discovered that our family's usual Thanksgiving, including appetizers, dinner, and dessert, is 40 points! And guess what that does not include...WINE! :)

So my mom and I worked hard to shave off the points and calories by replacing traditional, aka fattening, Thanksgiving dishes with healthier options. Instead of green bean casserole (a whopping 4 points for every 3/4 cup) we will be having a delicious green bean saute with mushrooms and pearl onions. Still festive, still delicious but only a quarter of the fat and calories. One serving = 1 weight watcher's point! Make it right before you want to serve it.

Sauteed Green Beans, Mushrooms, and Pearl Onions
Makes 8-10 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 bag pearl onions (frozen and thawed slightly)
1 small container sliced button mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs green beans

Directions: Place a medium sized saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and once it begins to melt add the olive oil (measure it out! eye balling will increase the fat & calories!). Once the butter has melted with the olive oil and they are almost smoking, add the pearl onions. Increase the heat to high and cook the onions until they begin to caramelize (about 5 minutes) and then add the mushrooms and garlic. Stir everything together and cook until the mushrooms soften, about 4-5 more minutes. Finally, stir in your green beans and allow to cook until desired doneness. I like mine soft but with color, which will probably take 5 more minutes but if you like yours crisp, only saute about 3 more minutes.

Pour everything into a serving bowl and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Crispy Fingerling Potatoes w/ Lemon & Garlic Aioli

Recently I pulled a Rachel Ray when I decided to recreate one of my favorite dishes from one of my favorite restaurants at home. Anyone who watches RR knows what I mean. Almost every episode she is yapping about how something she ate at some restaurant was so good that it inspired her to make her 30 min meal. I would listen to her and kind of think that it was a cop out. I mean...come up with your own dishes Rachel!

But now my attitude has changed being that I have moved and can no longer eat at some of my favorite NYC restaurants. One of my favorite places in Harlem (which will remain nameless for fear of a law suit) had this fingerling potato appetizer that I absolutely loved and I have been craving them so much that I decided to go ahead and make them myself! Which actually wasn't that hard because every time I ordered and ate them, I would sit and marvel at their delicious simplicity and tell myself, or my friend Melissa who I always went to this place with, that I could make these!

So here is my first successful attempt at recreating a favorite dish and even putting my own little spin on it. Serve them as a satisfying starter! Anyone can make french fries but this takes them to the next level.

Crispy Fingerling Potatoes w/ Lemon & Garlic Aioli

1 Bag of Fingerling Potatoes
Salt & Pepper
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons parsley, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish (finely chopped)
1 small clove garlic (grated or minced)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
zest of 1/2 a lemon
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions: Put the fingerling potatoes in a medium sized pot, add about a tablespoon
of salt, and fill the pot with cold water. Put the pot over high heat and once the water
has come to a boil, allow the potatoes to cook for 10 minutes (or until fork tender).

While the potatoes are cooking you can make the aioli. Mix the mayo, parsley, garlic,
lemon juice and zest together in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste and
set aside.*

After the potatoes have boiled, drain and run cold water over
them. Once they have cooled enough for you to handle, slice
each fingerling potato in half lengthwise. Then, heat about 3-
4 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. You want
the pan to be very hot, but be careful not to burn the oil. Next,
place each fingerling flesh side down in the pan and allow to
pan fry for 3-5 minutes or until they turn golden brown.
(you may have to do this in 2-3 batches)

After the potatoes have turned golden brown, remove them
from the pan and place them on a paper towel lined plate.
Season liberally with salt and sprinkle with parsley. Arrange
potatoes on a plate and serve with the aioli as a dipping sauce.

*Time Saving Note: You can make the aioli ahead of time
because it gets better as it sits. Just cover with saran wrap
and refrigerate.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Puff Pastry: Advice From A Novice

As promised, I am making a post about puff pastry. I know...yawn! However, my recipe for Chicken a la King is best served over puff pastry cups and because there was already so much going on with that recipe, I decided to talk about it separately.

Pepperidge Farm makes two types of puff pastry available in most grocery store freezers: shells and sheets. (click here to go to their website to learn more) Ideally, puff pastry shells are what would work perfectly for the Chicken a la King so if you find those, absolutely buy them and follow the directions on the box. But if you are like me and cannot find puff pastry shells in your store and have to travel 90 blocks to only find the puff pastry sheets, go to this website to learn how to make puff pastry shells from the sheets: Puff Pastry How To

I found this on (my new obsession) and because all of the directions are there under "Puff Pastry Cups" there is no need to repeat them. But if you think that puff pastry is fancy and hard to work with, just know that I improvised and used a wine bottle as my rolling pin and a glass top as my cookie cutter. I posted the pictures of my first batch above to show that my cups did not turn out perfect but it did not matter once they were covered with creamy chicken goodness!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Recipe # 2: Chicken a la King

Chicken a la King

I had to make this dish 3 TIMES to get to this recipie! My grandafther’s recipie that I found just didn’t work for me (or my taste tester), so after talking to my grandma and mom at nauseum about chicken a la king, I am confident that this is the way it is meant to be enjoyed. A creamy, flavorful chicken sauce poured over puff pastry cups!

Now, judging from the ingredients, this dish may seem complicated but it really isn’t if you have everything prepped and ready to go. I suggest roasting the chicken and making the puff pastry ahead of time. And about 20 minutes before you want to serve this dish, chop up all the veggies and make sure you have all the other ingredients on hand. Once you turn on that burner, this comes together in literally 12-15 minutes.

Ingredients (Makes about 5 servings)

2 large chicken breasts (bone-in w/ ribs)

extra virgin olive oil

salt & pepper

4-5 oz container of white button mushrooms

½ medium yellow onion

¼ cup pimentos (roasted red pepper works too)

1 clove garlic

3 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

½ cup dry sherry or white wine

1 cup half and half (warmed in microwave)

½ cup chicken stock or broth

½ cup frozen peas

1 tbsp chopped fresh sage

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Juice of ½ a lemon

5-6 puff pastry shells (see next blog post for instructions)

paprika (for garnish)

Directions For Roasting Chicken Breasts

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange chicken on an aluminum foil lined baking pan. Brush or rub 1-2 tablespoons of evoo on the chicken and then season each piece liberally with salt and pepper. Once the oven has pre-heated, put chicken in to roast for 25 minutes. Once finished, take the chicken out and let it cool for at least 20 minutes. Then, remove and discard the skin and separate the breast meat from the bone (either with your hands or with a knife) Finally, dice the breast meat into 1 inch cubes and set aside.

Directions for Chicken a la King

While the chicken cooks, you can chop the veggies. Slice the mushrooms lengthwise (or buy the ones already sliced!) and then dice the yellow onion. Next roughly chop the pimentos, garlic, sage and parsley but keep them separate on the cutting board.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat and then add the mushrooms and onions. Sautee until the onions are clear and the mushrooms have given off all of their liquid, about 5 minutes. Then add the pimentos and garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Next, sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir until the flour soaks up all the liquid and then add the sherry or wine and let that cook until the alcohol has almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Next, stir in the warmed half and half and the chicken stock, season with salt and pepper and let the sauce boil for about 3 minutes. Once the sauce has thickened a bit, fold in the cooked chicken, peas, and sage and let them warm through for about 3-5 more minutes. Finally, turn off the burner and stir in the parsely and lemon juice.

To serve, pour about one cup of the creamy chicken mixture over one puff pastry cup and sprinkle the top with paprika.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What do I do w/ all these veggies?

So I planned to test a new recipe tonight but after an extremely long day I can barely keep my eyes open. So that is an undertaking that will happen another day. But I glanced in my fridge to see what my options were for dinner and what I found were all the "half vegetables" I used in the gazpacho. If you make the gazpacho, you are left with:

-Half a green bell pepper
-Half a red onion
-Half a cucumber
-And (probably) a whole bag of celery (because only 2 ribs were used)

Not to mention the parsley, garlic, and a bottle each of olive oil and vinegar that you may or may not have had in your kitchen anyway. So what to make? I'm thinking I might use the oil and vinegar to make a marinade for the veggies and then throw them on a salad.

So stay tuned for an easy "round 2" recipe to ensure these veggies don't go to waste. Also, feel free to comment with suggestions for what YOU would do with these vegetables! I know that alot of my friends and family reading this cook just as much, if not more, than me!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Beginning

Hopefully my followers so far have read the background about how cooking has influenced my life in both the past and the present. Though I think I need to make it clear the huge project I am embarking on. In other words, why am I blogging?

Like I said before I have been thinking alot about going to culinary school and opening a restaurant of my own. One random weekend as I was sitting on the couch watching tv (probably The Food Network or Top Chef), I began to think about this hypothetical restaurant and the kind of food I would want to serve there. The things that came to mind were family favorites that my Grandparents and Great-Grandparents would make. They come from Columbia, South Carolina so their specialty was southern comfort food. Things like shrimp creole, crab cakes, corn pudding, pecan pie, and apple brown betty were always my favorite and I could picture them being on the plates in my restaurant.

On that day, as I was remembering how good that apple brown betty tasted, a light bulb went off in my head! I realized that all of the dishes that my family would serve when catering parties and lunches were original recipes that my relatives passed down from generation to generation. So I decided that it was time for my relatives to get some recognition and credit for all the hard work that they do and have done in the past. I decided that I wanted to create a cookbook of all of these wonderful dishes.

After pitching this idea to my family, I got some help from my Uncle, Aunt, and Grandmother who still work at the private club in D.C. They gave me access to many of the recipes that my family has used for decades. As I looked over them, I noticed that some were very concise and some were very vague. For example, the gazpacho recipe that will follow was literally a grocery list and other recipes would tell you to add an ingredient but never say how much. So I knew that if I really wanted to write a cookbook, these dishes would have to be tested and tried and recipes with exact ingredients and measurements would have to be created.

Now here we are in July 2010 and his blog, "April's Cookin'" will be the place where I reflect on the dishes that I am trying and share some of the recipes I create. When I asked my friend Heather if I should start this blog, and if it was a little too "Julie and Julia" she said that it was. But then she said the worst that could happen is that no one reads it and the best thing that could happen is that I turn out like Julie OR Julia. I have to admit that this inspired me because both of these women reflect what I want to become; like Julie, I would love to be writer and like Julia I would love to be a chef! Either way, I am cooking my way through my family's history and hopefully creating something wonderful for my family, friends, and followers.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Recipe # 1: Gazpacho

It's 90 degrees outside and you don't feel like cooking because you don't want to be hot and you don't want the apartment to be hot. So what to make? Gazpacho! It's a chilled, tomato-based, raw vegetable soup and it is a dish that my Grandfather served alot in the summer months. Some people shy away from gazpacho because it's a cold soup (kind of an oxymoron). But on a hot day you really couldn't have anything healthier or more refreshing. AND THERE'S NO COOKING! The only thing that stands between you and this soup is ALOT of chopping. Here is the recipe:

GAZPACHO– Makes About 6 servings

7 plum tomatoes (seeded)

1/2 green pepper (ribs and seeds removed)

1/2 English cucumber

1/2 medium red onion

2 ribs celery (wipe off any dirt with a damp cloth)

1 lime or lemon (juiced)

2 cloves of garlic

3 cups Low Sodium V8

2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Salt & Pepper

Flat leaf parsley (for garnish)

DIRECTIONS: FINELY dice the first 5 ingredients or use a food processor being sure to only pulse a few times (the chunkier the better). Put the veggies in a large bowl and then add the juice of 1 lime or lemon, salt and pepper and stir to begin to break down the vegetables. Next using a micro plane, grate the garlic into the vegetables (chopped garlic is fine too) and add the V8. Then add the evoo, red wine vinegar, stir, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Finally, chill the soup in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 3 hours; the longer it sits, the better. Garnish with some fresh chopped parsley right before serving.

My friend Brooke tried it and said, "It could have tasted like V8 and vegetables but it really doesn't." Agreed! Because I think the oil, vinegar and fresh herbs really elevates it. If you want some heat, you can add a jalapeƱo or pass tabasco at the table. If you want it fancy, add some fresh seafood. The Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station has the best Lobster Gazpacho. I think lobster is great but you could also add cooked shrimp or some lump crab. I think fresh sliced avocado would be amazing in this too.


The Background

Typically whenever someone, especially a young person, is told what NOT to do, they end up doing the opposite. This was ALWAYS the case with me. DON'T stay out late, DON'T cut your own hair, DON'T drive too fast, DON'T get a tattoo...all things I was told not to do but guess what, I did them all anyway.

Though there was one "DON'T" that I heard alot when I was younger that I actually did take to heart. Growing up in Maryland I, along with everyone else in my family, frequently worked at the private club in D.C. that my Grandfather managed. We prepared and served the food for lunches and private parties hosted by Washington's elite. I loved working there because it was true quality time with my family, I liked to cook, and extra money was always welcomed in my broke teenage pocket.

Though every time I worked, my Grandmother would say: "April, make sure you get your education and get a good job. DON'T end up like your Grandfather and I." When I asked why I shouldn't end up like them she answered: "You don't want to be in your sixties getting up everyday and having to work on your feet, wash dishes, and cook for other people's parties. You want to get a nice office job with a salary so that you can become the one throwing the parties and enjoying your weekends."

I must admit, all of this made sense. I knew back then that working in a kitchen was exhausting, backbreaking work. And I always had dreams of becoming an educator and working with young people in the classroom. I never had dreams of making the big bucks but I was ready for a modest lifestyle that made an impact. SO I LISTENED TO GRANDMA! I made her very proud when I received not just my Bachelors but my Masters in Education, putting me in a position to be successful and to never have to work in the kitchen again. I am, 26 years old, living in New York City, a 6th grade teacher in Harlem, working with amazing kids and amazing teachers. But most of the time, the place that I want to be more than anyplace else is in the kitchen. It appears that somehow, cooking, which was always in my blood, has become my #1 hobby and the source of alot of joy in my life. And now true to form, I am planning on doing exactly what I was told NOT to do. I have aspirations to someday be a chef, cookbook author, and open and run my own family restaurant. Thus keeping me in the kitchen.

I am not sure if this would be disappointing to Grandma. Though I believe in my heart that it would make her proud because when I look back on the time I spent with her and my Grandfather in the kitchen, they may have been tired but I know they were both happy. My Grandpa was in his element making most of the food (he is an amazing cook!) and my Grandmother loved the time spent with family in the kitchen. Like her mother before her, she used the kitchen as a place for family and friends to be together, work together, and support one another in times of need. I know that it was hard work but I know it made her happy and I hope that in the long run, my quest for happiness, in the kitchen or otherwise, won't be lost on her.

So this is the it's time to begin this so called "quest for happiness." I hope you all will join me.