Thursday, September 29, 2011

some of my go-to recipes

The other day I brought dinner to a sick coworker. I debated on what to bring - apparently he's been getting a lot of pasta and also needs something hearty to help him regain weight. I also heard rumors that other folks in his household might be lactose-intolerant. To top it all off, I needed something that would reheat nicely since I needed to bring it into work with me. So what to make?

I ended up going with a bit of a Moroccan feast with a slow-cooker chicken tagine as my entree. I've made this recipe at least a half a dozen times and always have leftover so I know it's reheating capabilities. Bonus is that it's made with hearty chicken thighs and is pasta- and dairy-free. Of course, then I paired it with couscous (tiny pasta) and made a fig compote to go on top of ice cream (dairy) for dessert, but hey - at least the bulk of the meal was right! I also bought some hummos and pita for an appetizer. A three-course meal for a fabulous person going through a really tough time and it took me about 45 minutes on-hand time to make (prep + packaging it up for transport, actual cooking time was about 2 1/2 hours, but I was able to do other things during that time). Not too shabby. And unless he's lying to me, it was a hit.

So then I was thinking about it - what are some of my other go-to recipes? And why don't I share them with the world all in one post? I love recipes. I'll reread my cookbooks over and over again, imagining the possibilities. Some recipes I make so often I don't even need to reference the cookbook - or I've adapted them enough that they don't bear much resemblance to the original and thus referencing wouldn't do any good anyway. Others, like the tagine, I adapt slightly, but overall am pretty faithful to the recipe. And that's okay with me. I don't feel the need to muck around with a recipe if I trust the source. My creativity is expressed in what I pair with the dish and to whom and how I serve it.

I don't normally do jumps, but this is going to be a long one. So here are the recipes you'll find after the jump:

Chicken tagine in a slow-cooker
Spinach pie
Warm pasta salad
Salmon with tomato relish
World's Best brownies (my title, not my recipe)
Rosemary sweet potatoes
Red wine vinegar chicken sautee

If the recipe is available online, I'm going to just link to it in the title instead of copying everything out. Heck of a lot easier that way.

Chicken Tagine from Williams Sonoma

This is what I made for my coworker. He said he loved it and I know I always do. I like things spicy so I normally at least double the amount of cayenne and then I also double the amount of cumin because I feel that it balances the cayenne nicely. Plus I love cumin. I'll also make this with 8 thighs instead of 6 without increasing any of the other ingredients and it works nicely.

It reheats well because of all the sauce. Reheating a plain piece of chicken in the microwave often leads to rubbery ick, but add some saucy goodness and, well, you get saucy goodness.

Barefoot Contessa's Spinach Pie

 picture from Plum Pudding

I adore Ina Garten and the whole Barefoot Contessa brand. I bought her first cookbook back when it was the only one she had and I've loved it ever since. This spinach pie is great. It's kinda fun to make because while phyllo is fussy, the filling is easy. It's a great dish to add when you'll have just a few vegetarians for dinner. The meat-eaters can use it as a side dish and the veggie-eaters as their main. I also don't find it weird to serve, say, green beans as a side dish, where it can be tricky to find vegetable sides to other vegetable-based vegetarian dishes.

It's also delicious at room temperature or cold - and reheats well in the microwave. In case you haven't noticed, microwave reheating is quite important for this single girl!

Pasta Caprese from America's Test Kitchen

This became a go-to the first time I made it. It was about 6 months between the two times I've made it, but the second time I could still mostly recite the recipe list from memory. Love easy recipes like that. Of course, I was remembering my doctored recipe, but it was still delicious. So delicious that I think I'll always make it with feta instead of mozzarella, though I would like to actually remember the basil one of these times.

Salmon with Tomato Relish
This recipe started out from a Weight Watchers cookbook, but I think I changed it enough to call it a Debbie recipe. No picture, but trust me, it's pretty. I usually just make this for myself so the following recipe is for one serving, but have made it for others. Just multiply the portions by your number of servings. It's really just that simple.

1 piece of skin-on salmon
Garlic salt
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 or 2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Black pepper

* Heat up about 1 tsp olive oil in a nonstick pan
* Sprinkle the salmon on all sides liberally with the garlic salt. Add black pepper if desired (I usually leave it out).
* Add the salmon, skin-side up
* Cook for about 4 minutes until it's nice and brown
* Meanwhile, combine the tomato(es), garlic and about 1 Tbsp or so of balsamic vinegar in a small bowl and let the flavors combine while you finish the fish
* Flip the fish over and cook for another 1 minute
* Reduce the heat to low, add a lid to the pan and cook for about another 4 minutes (I like my salmon on the rare side, cook as long as makes you happy)
* Transfer to cutting board and let rest while you make the relish
* Return heat to high and add the tomoto mixture and let bubble for a minute or two to reduce the sauce slightly
* Remove the skin from the salmon if desired (I always do - it's easy enough to just slide a spatula between the skin and the flesh when you're transferring to a plate) and top with the relish

Ta-da! About 10 minutes, start to finish. I like this with some angel hair pasta, lightly buttered and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. It's also fab paired with broccoli that's just cooked lightly. The meltyness of the salmon and the slight crunchiness of the broccoli? Mmmmm

Barefoot Contessa's Outrageous Brownies

from Do Better

Another recipe from her first cookbook and MAN is it good! I have made this recipe over and over again and it always works. Even when I've slightly overcooked the brownies, it's still good. You cannot fail with this one.

When looking for a picture, I came across people who said that they couldn't imagine making a recipe that calls for a full pound of butter. And yeah, that is a little ridiculous, but this is not a recipe for everyday brownies. They're Special Occasion brownies. Plus, the recipe makes a TON of brownies and they're so rich and fudge-y that you really should cut them into smaller-than-normal pieces so you end up with an even bigger ton of brownies.

I do recommend making them at least a day ahead of time. They do well with a bit of a sit. I made them for a tailgate once and brought the leftovers into work and just left them in the kitchen anonymously and I overheard several people saying they were the best brownies they had ever eaten. I fully concur.

Red Wine Vinegar Chicken Sautee

This is from Marion Cunningham (aka Fannie Farmer)'s Learning to Cook, one of the first cookbooks I ever bought. And it's a good one. Simple, heartwarming recipes. Comfort food without all the calories. She also gives lots of good, practical advice and her recipes are solid. I can practically do this recipe in my sleep, but I always go back to the book because it just makes sense.

Now, I'm cheating on this post a little with this recipe. I can't find the recipe online and can't remember it well enough to feel comfortable writing it without the book in front of me, but I reallyreallyreally want to include it. So I'm going to just promise to try to remember (see my loophole?) to come back and post it this weekend.

Or you could just go out and buy the book yourself. You won't regret it. Even if just for this recipe alone. I mean, who knew red wine vinegar could be so fabulous?

You could also check out the version I cobbled together a few months ago to use with pork chops. Of course, not only was I going off memory, but I didn't have all of the ingredients. But it was still quite delish.

Rosemary Sweet Potatoes from the Washington Post
Back to recipes I actually have access to. I make these every year for Thanksgiving. They're so simple but that's a good thing when you have a table filled with dishes. It's also easy enough to be a weekday dish.

Rosemary-Roasted Sweet Potatoes
(6 to 8 servings)

4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges or about 1/2 inch thick
4 teaspoons minced garlic
About 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 or 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together the sweet potatoes, garlic, rosemary and oil. Transfer the potato mixture to a rimmed baking sheet, spreading the potatoes out into a single layer (may need 2 baking sheets).

Bake the potatoes until tender, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size and oven temperature. Toss with salt and pepper to taste and, if desired, parsley and serve immediately.

Per serving: 320 calories, 4 gm protein, 55 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 541 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

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