Posts Tagged ‘recipe’

Brown Paper Bag Microwave Popcorn

May 12th, 2010

In May 7th’s New York Daily News, I read an article about a woman who is suing ConAgra for “popcorn lung.” Agnes Mercado alleges that she has developed an irreversible lung disease by eating two or three bags of Act II Lite microwave popcorn a day for the last 16 years.

I’ll share with you a way to make popcorn in the microwave (sparing you a several-page rant on my personal feelings regarding Ms. Mercado’s microwave popcorn habit and her lawsuit) that I am fairly certain will not induce the dreaded “popcorn lung;” and should you suffer from a two- or three-bag-a-day habit, will save you, by my best estimate, approximately $1,100 a year (those bags are expensive).

Several years ago I, and a couple of million other viewers, watched the Food Network with fascination as Alton Brown demonstrated Plain Brown Popper (I’ll also spare you my feelings on cutsey recipe names); a method for popcorn popped in a standard lunch size paper bag in the microwave. Note that his recipe has five ingredients: Popcorn, oil, salt, seasoning, a paper bag, and a stapler.

Although I started with his recipe, I have narrowed it down to only two ingredients: Popcorn and a paper bag. You don’t need oil; you don’t even need to staple the bag closed.

Oh, and since this is during My Eating Well Challenge, read up on 3 reasons you should snack on popcorn from

Brown Paper Bag Microwave Popcorn

– 1/4 cup popcorn kernels (any variety)
– 1 lunch size paper bag (NOT wax-coated)

Place the popcorn in the paper bag. Close the bag by folding the top three times, about a half-inch for each fold. Have the bowl you are going to place your popcorn in at the ready.

Put the bag in the microwave and set the timer to cook for five minutes on high. It is very important that you do not leave the room while the popcorn is popping. I repeat, DO NOT walk away! Although it has never happened to me, I imagine if left too long, the bag could ignite.

Listen carefully, and when the popping has slowed to approximately two- to three-seconds in-between pops, remove the bag from the microwave. It will continue to pop a little, and it does burn quickly, so keep a watchful ear! (My popcorn is generally done in under three minutes. Yours might take more or less time depending on variety of popcorn and microwave wattage.)

Immediately open the bag by pulling apart at opposite corners, avoiding the very hot steam, and dump the popcorn into your bowl. Do not leave the popcorn in the bag, or it will burn even though it’s no longer in the microwave, and nobody is going to want to watch a movie with that aroma permeating the house.

There you have it: Approximately six to seven cups of warm, fluffy, crunchy popcorn!

Now you’ve got choices. You could toss the popcorn with butter, parmesan, Bacon Salt, chopped herbs, cinnamon and sugar, or anything you can dream up. But my favorite is just a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a tiny pinch of salt.

Tarragon and Mustard Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping

April 20th, 2010

Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping

Necessity is the mother of invention. With Chef Loryn being temporarily out of business, and not having a Griggstown pot pie (my favorite) on hand , the temperature dropping from the 70s to the 50s, and in want of some comfort food, I set out to make my own chicken pot pie. One that could be made relatively easy on a weeknight. Earlier in the day I had been leaning toward a pork chop with a mustard tarragon sauce. I couldn’t make up my mind, so why not infuse my chicken pot pie with the flavors of tarragon and mustard?

At the market on the way home from work, I expeditiously found all the ingredients for the pot, but what about the pie? Pot pie may be fully encased in pie crust, puff pastry, or topped with a biscuit topping. Puff pastry was out of the question due to the defrosting, not to mention the fat content. Pie crust can be a little tedious, and I generally find pre-made crust not savory and thick enough for a pot pie. That left me with a biscuit topping.

For some reason, the market I was in had no biscuit mix. Not even a pop-the-can biscuit was to be found. I did find some frozen biscuits, which looked absolutely luscious when I read the description, and I thought would be charming if I made the “pies” in individual ramekins, topping each one with a biscuit. Then I read the nutrition information. Weighing in at nearly 300 calories with 9 grams of saturated fat each, well, that’s not exactly the semi-healthy direction I had started out in. I wandered around the market with those biscuits in my cart for a full 10 minutes. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Should I? Shouldn’t I? Wait a minute. Biscuits!

Remember the Cream Biscuits from December? The ones that were so easy to make? Why not use that recipe? And so I, very reluctantly, put the luscious looking frozen biscuits back on their shelf and went home with the ingredients for my filling. I am so glad I did, because my pot pie was wonderful.

The aroma and flavor of the vegetables, chicken, herbs, and creamy sauce are pure comfort food. The bite of the vegetables, the tenderness of the chicken, the creaminess of the sauce, and the biscuit layer provide a ton of texture, and the top adds buttery-ness without making the dish overwhelmingly rich.

Tarragon Mustard Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping
Serves 6 – 8

– 2 russet potatoes
– 2 tablespoons butter
– 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
– 3 strips bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips (lardon)
– 1 cup shallot, diced
– 1 large carrot, diced
– 3 ribs celery, diced
– 2 teaspoons canola oil
– 1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs, cubed
– 1/2 cup dry white wine
– 2 cups chicken stock
– 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
– 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
– 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
– Salt and pepper to taste
– 1/2 recipe Cream Biscuits (click link for recipe)

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.

1. Fill a saucepan with cold water. Dice the potatoes, put them in the saucepan, and bring the pot to boil. Boil the potatoes until they are just fork tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander, but do not rinse them. Set aside to cool.

2. While the potatoes are simmering, blend butter and flour together with your fingers to make a paste. Set aside.

3. In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper towel with a slotted spoon and set aside.

4. Drain all but a tablespoon of the fat from the sauté pan. Add the shallot, carrot, and celery to the pan, with a large pinch of salt  and a few grinds of pepper to taste, and sauté until the shallot is translucent and the vegetables are becoming fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Pour the vegetables into a bowl and set aside.

5. Heat the canola oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and sauté until it is cooked through. Add the chicken to the bowl with the vegetables.

6. Over medium-high heat, pour the white wine into the sauté pan and scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Reduce the wine by at least half.

7. Pour in one cup of the chicken stock, and reduce the stock and wine to at least half again. Pour in the last cup of chicken stock and reduce until there’s about a cup of liquid in the pan.

8. Break off about a tablespoon of the flour/butter mixture and whisk it into the pan. Continue to whisk until all lumps are gone and the sauce is thickened, just a couple of minutes. If the sauce is not thick enough, repeat with a bit of the flour/butter mixture at a time.

9. When sauce is thickened to the consistency of cream, stir in the tarragon, rosemary, and mustard. Taste, adding more herbs or mustard if you prefer. Pour this mixture over the vegetables and chicken, add the crisped bacon, and stir altogether. Place mixture into an oven-safe, deep casserole dish.

10. Prepare 1/2 recipe Cream Biscuts. Pat the dough out to fit the size of your casserole. Using a bench scraper or large, flat spatula, place the dough on top of the filling, patting the dough out to the edges of the casserole dish.

11. Brush the top of the biscuit dough with melted butter, or cream if you prefer.

12. Place pot pie in the oven and bake until top is golden and the pie is bubbling around the edges, 20-25 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes, and serve hot.

Almond and Herb Baked Tilapia

April 2nd, 2010

Almond and Herb Baked Tilapia

My husband discovered “The 10 Things You Need to Eat” while we were passing time at a bookstore before a show. A paperback with an illustrated cover and no photos, this unassuming book has me captivated. Among the “10 things” are nine ingredients my family loves to eat: quinoa, beets, avocado, lentils, berries, spinach, tomatoes, nuts, and cabbage. I was so intrigued by the recipes, I read it cover-to-cover in one evening. Interspersed throughout is commentary about the benefits of each main ingredient. What a bonus that the recipes are not just good, they are good for you.

The “10th thing” is fish, which I am not particularly fond of, but the recipe for Almond and Herb Baked Tilapia looked intriguing.  I’m glad I tried it, because it is absolutely wonderful, and it took less than 20 minutes to prepare! Add a side of steamed vegetables (I used the microwave-in-the-bag kind), and you have a healthy dinner on the table in no time. The combination of lemon, herbs, garlic, and fish is a no-brainer, but when you add the sweetness and crunch of the nuts, you get something incredibly fragrant and filling. I could eat this several times a month. It would be a great dish to make for guests, since the fillets cook conveniently on one sheet pan in the oven, there’s not the least bit of fishy-smell, and it’ll look like you slaved for hours.

Almond and Herb Baked Tilapia
by Dave Lieberman and Anahad O’Connor
From The 10 Things You Need to Eat: And More Than 100 Easy and Delicious Ways to Prepare Them, HarperCollins, 2010
Recipe © HarperCollins 2010

Tilapia has quickly become one of the most affordable and widely available fish at the supermarket. It has sweet, mild, meaty flesh that is tender as long as you don’t overcook it. This almond and herb topping is vibrant and flavorful, and the toasted sliced almonds add some crunch. But the topping also serves double duty, locking in the moisture of the fish. Lots of good extra virgin olive oil helps the cause too! Serves 4

– 1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
– Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
– 1 cup sliced raw almonds
– 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
– 1/4 cup very finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper
– 4 large, thick tilapia filets (about 6 to 8 ounces each)

Preaheat oven to 400°F.

Toss the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, almonds, garlic, and parsley together in a mixing bowl, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place the pieces of tilapia on a large baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil.

Divide the almond and herb mixture among the four pieces of fish and smooth the mixture over each piece to create an even coating.

Bake until the almond mixture has browned slightly and the fish is cooked through and flakes easily, about 15 minutes.

Weeknight Roast Chicken

January 19th, 2010
Roast Chicken and Green Beans

Juicy Roast Chicken and Green Beans

I know I said I’d cook more using recipes from my vast collection of cookbooks, but it was just one of those days. At work, tired, wanting something healthy and delicious to eat for dinner, but not wanting to cook. I knew I needed something to blog about, but whatever; the blog post could wait. I was thinking perhaps I’d pick up a rotisserie chicken from the local rotisserie chicken place or from Whole Foods and be done with it. No pans to clean, no carving, no hassle. That’s when I ran across a blog post by Michael Ruhlman, “America: Too Stupid To Cook,” and hung my head in shame.

The point of Mr. Ruhlman’s article is a bit different than this post, which is meant to give weeknight cooking a bit of perspective, but worth noting. Briefly, Mr. Ruhlman’s point is that Americans are made by the media to feel as if they aren’t talented enough to put a meal on the table unless it comes from a microwaveable box, or if they are specifically told a recipe is easy. I can’t agree with him more. Even shortcuts from shows like The Food Network’s 30 Minute Meals may overwhelm many. We never seem to have all the ingredients, and frankly it seems like so much work. To some, watching Rachael Ray, the show’s host, make one meal in her perfectly-organized kitchen with plenty of counter space is akin to watching a short-order cook assemble 20 breakfasts simultaneously. It’s daunting, and makes people uncomfortable in their own kitchens. (Note that I disagree with Ruhlman’s putdown of 30 Minute Meals. Watching Ms. Ray cook, or for that matter exist on this planet, may be akin to enduring nails on a blackboard (my thoughts, not his), but for the most part the show provides relatively-healthy, well-rounded recipes, that do involve “real cooking.” More power to her producers if the show actually does motivate some people to get past their fears and into their kitchens to cook.) Mr. Ruhlman goes on to state, “…the notion that cooking is hard and that it takes a long time and we’re just too stupid to cook is wrong.”

Which brings me to my point. Left to their own devices with only an oven and a piece of meat, I’m pretty sure anyone can figure out that they need to turn the oven on and put the meat inside the oven to cook it. But because people are hammered by TV, websites, magazines, and cookbooks with a million techniques, they become frightened and don’t cook at all. A million questions are then asked: What temperature do I cook the meat? It doesn’t matter much – either a low temperature for a long time or a higher temperature for a shorter time. Do I need to marinate? Nice, but not necessary. What about seasonings? Salt and pepper do just fine. When is it done? When it is cooked. Really, stop worrying! Block out the noise in your head. Do what feels right. Our grandparents did not have the luxury of meat thermometers, or ovens that told (or even held) an actual temperature, or a bookstore filled with hundreds of cookbooks, or exotic ingredients just a click away. They simply put real food on the table. That’s what we should aspire to.

To continue with the story of the chicken, my personal shame after reading Mr. Ruhlman’s article came not from a feeling that I couldn’t cook. My shame came from knowing that I can cook a perfectly delicious, healthy meal, without much trouble, and that I was choosing not to because I was tiiirrreeed. I’ve been choosing to do this for most of my adult life, and I should have learned by now that this is a terrible waste on so many levels. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re going to go the fast-food route, a rotisserie chicken is possibly one of the best options. But for me, someone with easy access to good ingredients, who knows how ridiculously simple it can be to roast a chicken, it seemed silly. I was about to spend too much money for too little food, with questionable nutritional value, for poultry that was probably raised in a factory. I decided I would get over myself and roast a chicken.

But, wait. Why just one chicken? Roasting one chicken is just as easy as roasting two, and if I roasted two I could make chicken salad the next day. And then if I had two roasted chicken carcasses, I could make quite a bit of chicken stock, which could go into soups and sauces. All of this would come from maybe 45 minutes of hands-on work all told. Here’s how it went:

Roast Chicken:

  • On my way home from work, I purchased two small chickens, about 2.75 lbs. each. (I find smaller chickens remain far more moist than their bigger siblings, and they feed my family of three perfectly.)
  • As soon as I arrived home, before I even changed my clothes, I turned the oven to 475 degrees F.
  • While the oven was heating, I cut two peeled medium onions, a couple of unpeeled carrots, and two stalks of celery into large chunks, threw them into a roasting pan, drizzled some olive oil, salt, and pepper on them, and tossed the vegetables with my hands. This would serve as the rack for the chicken, and provide some additional flavor. If I had potatoes, those would have gone in too, and I would have served roast potatoes with my chicken. But I had no potatoes, oh well. Next time! (Have no vegetables? No worries, leave them out.)
  • I patted the chicken dry with paper towels. I cut two lemons in half and shoved one half of a lemon into each of the chickens. The other halves I squeezed over the chicken and vegetables and tossed into the pan. (I love lemon with poultry, and I nearly always have lemons in the house. If you don’t have lemons, don’t worry about it – skip ’em!)
  • I shoved a half handful of rosemary and thyme in the cavity with the lemons. (I have rosemary and thyme plants in my home. You could also use a couple of tablespoons of dried herbs. Any combination of herbs is good here – oregano, sage, etc. Or you could skip the herbs altogether should you not have any at hand or are feeling particularly lazy.)
  • I drizzled olive oil on the chickens, then some salt and pepper, gave them a good rub down, and tied their little legs together. (I only truss a chicken to keep the leg meat from shrinking off the bones, and it keeps the birds shape nicer. If you have no twine, or have little inclination, it is not necessary.)
  • I put the roasting pan with the vegetables and the chickens into the oven and immediately turned the temperature down to 400 F.
  • For the next hour and ten minutes, I changed into more comfortable clothes and fiddled about on my computer a while. I figured I should check the birds for doneness just about an hour after I had put them in the oven. No need – I actually smelled a distinct difference in the aroma of the house. I ran downstairs, tested the thigh meat with a meat thermometer and pulled the birds out to let them rest. (No thermometer? Pull the leg away from the body just a bit and see if the juices run clear. No pink juice means they’re done!)
  • While the chickens were lying about, I put a bag of frozen green beans in the microwave to steam per the directions, dumped them in a bowl with a bit of butter and salt.
  • I then carved the chicken, and we ate. (“Carved” sounds more elegant than it was, which was more like tearing it apart with my hands. Chickens this small stay pliant and nearly fall into pieces.)
Roast Chickens Ready for Roasting

Roast Chickens Ready for Roasting

Roasted Chickens

Roasted Chickens

Ultimately, the only thing you *need* here is an oven, a chicken, a roasting pan, and some salt and pepper. I know some people would not use salt at all, but that’s completely against my culinary principles.

If you want to make things complicated, possibly the best roast chicken I’ve ever made was the one from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. You can see an adapted recipe here. This will require salting the chicken a day ahead, preheating a pan, searing the breast, etc. It is not difficult, and it’s definitely worth cooking, but it’s not necessarily something I’d want to tackle during the week.

The next evening I made chicken salad from the second chicken. This cranberry walnut version is a delicious recipe that takes only a few minutes to make. Chicken salad is super easy – it’s just diced chicken tossed with a perked-up mayonnaise dressing.

Two days later I made chicken stock. I pulled the skin/fat off the backs of the carcasses, cut some carrot, celery, and shallot (I didn’t have onions) into pieces, bundled some thyme and a bay leaf, put it all in a pot and covered it all with cold water. I left it on a high simmer for three hours. Because we did such a good job eating the chicken, there was very little protein or fat to skim off. I would up with four quarts of beautiful chicken stock!

Two chickens, several meals, and a valuable lesson learned. It truly didn’t take much effort to feed me and my family a few wholesome meals, and it cost significantly less money than take-out. So while I’ll continue with the cookbook experiment, you’ll definitely be seeing these toss-it-together weeknight recipes as often.