Sunday, February 27, 2011

Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal

I was never a fan of cooked oatmeal for breakfast. I've always loved oatmeal cookies and granola and things like that, but something about the texture of cooked oatmeal was very off-putting to me. But I knew how good oatmeal was for me, so I kept trying. And then one day, I discovered steel-cut oats (Irish oats). What a revelation. 

If you've never had steel-cut oats (as opposed to rolled oats, the typical kind), the difference is in the processing of the grain, sort of like the difference between brown and white rice. They take longer to cook, but they have a nutty flavor and a much more appealing texture (to me). Because they take longer to cook, I find that baking them in the oven is more convenient. I can make this recipe on the weekend and have several servings left over for weekday breakfasts (it's easily reheated in the microwave).

This recipe is so customizable - you can add and subtract ingredients as you wish. What I've listed below is my favorite combination.

1 C. steel cut oats
3 C. milk
1 apple or pear, diced (I leave the peel on)
1/2 C. chopped dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, cherries, or dates - raisins seem kind of boring for this)
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 C. chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, or pecans)
1 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Pour everything into a baking dish (I use a 9x9 pan), stir, and bake at 375 until liquid is absorbed, about 45 minutes.

Serves 4-6. This recipe is easily doubled - just use a 9x13 pan.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chicken Noodle Soup with Homemade Chicken Stock

I love to make homemade stock. It is really, really easy and allows you to control the amount of salt. If you make a roast chicken (or steal the turkey carcass at Thanksgiving), you can make chicken stock. I don't bother to pick all the meat off the bones - it will fall off during the cooking process and you can pick it out later.

To make the stock, in a large pot, add the chicken carcass, one quartered onion, 4 roughly chopped carrots, the tops of one bunch of celery (the leaves have a lot of flavor), 3 or 4 whole cloves of garlic, 1 Tbsp. of chopped parsley, and 8-10 peppercorns. Fill the pot with cold water until everything is covered. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2-4 hours. Be sure that the water does not go below the top of the carcass/veggies. If it does, add some hot water to the pot (not from the tap - either heat in the microwave or use a kettle).

When the stock is finished cooking, strain out the vegetables, meat, and carcass. Throw out the veggies and bones, but pick through it first to find any pieces of meat and set them aside.

If you don't plan to use the stock now, allow it to cool and then refrigerate it. It will keep for a few days. When you take it out of the fridge, skim any fat off the top and throw it away. At this point, you can freeze the stock for several months.

I usually save half the stock and use the other half to make chicken soup!

After you strain the stock, put it into a clean pot and bring back to a boil. Add 3 or 4 chopped carrots, 1 or 2 chopped stalks of celery, and 1/2 a diced onion, and cook for about 5 minutes. Add any reserved chicken and 8 oz of dried noodles. Cook until the noodles are al dente (usually about 8-10 minutes more). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. It's based on one I clipped out of the Washington Post Food section many years ago. I like the chocolate chip to dough ratio and the fact that it only makes 24 cookies, which is just enough to last my family for a few days (before they go stale). They are best right out of the oven. Mmmmm...

    1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
      1/2 C. light brown sugar
        6 Tbsp. sugar
          1 egg
            1 tsp. vanilla extract
            1 1/4 C. AP flour
              1 tsp. baking soda
                1/2 tsp. salt
                  2 C. semisweet chocolate chips

                  In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars until well combined. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until blended. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, mixing just until it is incorporated. Add the chocolate chips and mix just until evenly distributed. 

                  Use a tablespoon to drop heaping spoonfuls of dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. 

                  Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes; the cookies will flatten slightly as they cool. 

                  Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

                  Friday, February 25, 2011


                  Here's another recipe that I go to when I need to make dinner in a hurry. Fridays are often the toughest days for me; after a long week, I usually don't have a lot of energy to make something elaborate. We try to avoid take-out as much as possible (for financial and health reasons), so I like to try to emulate popular take-out dishes with better control over the ingredients.

                  A calzone is a moon-shaped turn-over, similar to a folded over pizza, but without the sauce inside. Instead, the sauce is served on the side for dipping. When I have a little more time, I make the dough from scratch (my friend Emmy has a great recipe on her blog).

                  But on days like today, I use frozen dough. My grocery store sells a frozen NY style dough (regular or whole wheat), which has very few ingredients and no preservatives (what I look for when I buy pre-packaged food). I simply defrost the dough on the counter for the afternoon and it's ready to go by dinner-time.

                  To make the calzones, divide the dough for one pizza into four balls. Roll and/or pull each ball into a small circle. Lay on a large baking sheet and top half of the dough with vegetables and/or meats and cheese. Today, I used turkey pepperoni (a special treat), cremini mushrooms, diced onion, and shredded mozzarella. But the possibilities are endless. Then fold one half of the dough onto the other, to make a turnover. Bake at 425 for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Serve with tomato sauce for dipping.

                  Note: a serving should be one of these little calzones (or maybe one and a half if you're really hungry). Our pizza place sells a calzone that is equivalent to a whole pizza. Yikes! To keep from eating too much, serve a big salad on the side.

                  Tuesday, February 22, 2011

                  Cranberry-Chocolate Chip Scones

                  Today, the kids had a 2 hour delay so I decided to bake scones with them to pass the time before leaving for school. Since my older son was involved, chocolate chips had to be part of the equation! You can omit the cranberries, but without them, I find the scones to be just too sweet - the tartness of the cranberries really adds an extra dimension.

                  2 C. AP flour
                  1/4 C. sugar
                  1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
                  1/4 tsp. baking soda
                  1/4 tsp. salt
                  1/2 C. (1 stick) unsalted cold butter, cut into cubes
                  1/2 C. chocolate chips
                  1/2 C. dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)
                  1 tsp. vanilla extract
                  2/3 C. buttermilk

                  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Stir in the chocolate chips and cranberries. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and stir until just combined.

                  Turn dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and shape into a rectangle. Slice into 8 triangles. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool slightly and then enjoy!

                  Monday, February 21, 2011

                  Easy Roast Chicken

                  Well, it appears winter has returned to Northern VA. One meal I love to make when the weather is yucky is roast chicken. Not only is it super easy and delicious, but it actually doesn't take a lot of work. What it does take is time, so this is one that I save for days when I don't have a lot of running around to do.

                  I love using a whole chicken, because it's really economical; I get so many more meals out of it than if I just buy the parts. And the leftovers are so versatile: sandwiches, salads, soups, stir-fry. The possibilities are endless. And of course, I save the carcass to make homemade chicken stock, which is so much better than anything you can buy at the store. Look for my recipe for that (and chicken noodle soup) in a couple of days.

                  Easy Roast Chicken

                  1 roasting chicken (4-6 lbs)
                  4-6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
                  1 large onion, thickly sliced
                  4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
                  4-6 small potatoes, quartered (I leave the skin on)
                  1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
                  salt and pepper, to taste

                  Put the chicken in a small roasting pan (I just use a 9x13 baking pan). Place the onions, carrots, potatoes, and garlic around the perimeter. Drizzle everything with the olive oil, being sure to rub it evenly over the chicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast the chicken in a 425 degree oven for 60-90 minutes, or until the juices run clear. Let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

                  Friday, February 18, 2011

                  Summery Tomato-Corn Soup

                  We've been having some abnormal weather here in Northern VA; even though it's the middle of February, temps have been in the 70s. So I was craving something a little summery for dinner - luckily, one of our meals from the Six O'Clock Scramble this week was a tomato-corn soup. Her recipe was more tex-mex, so I adapted it a little.

                  1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
                  1 onion, diced
                  3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
                  1 can of crushed tomatoes with basil
                  1 cup vegetable broth
                  2 cups frozen corn kernels
                  1 Tbsp. honey
                  1 Tbsp. lime juice
                  salt and pepper, to taste
                  chopped basil, chopped scallions, and sour cream, for garnish

                  Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add the corn, tomatoes, and broth, bring it to a simmer, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Stir in the honey and lime juice, and season to taste. Garnish with basil, scallions, and sour cream.

                  I served it with a cucumber, tomato, mozzarella, and basil salad. And we ate on the patio for the first time in 4 or 5 months!

                  Tuesday, February 15, 2011

                  Take-out: Pho

                  Confession: Even though I love to cook, there are times when we enjoy take-out. We try to limit it to 2 or 3 times a month, though.

                  One of the best parts about living in the close-in suburbs of DC is the amazing variety of restaurants, especially ethnic ones. Chinese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Afghani, Peruvian, Ethiopian... you name it, we probably have it nearby.

                  Our go-to take-out meal when one of us is feeling under the weather is pho (pronounced "fuh") - Vietnamese noodle soup. There is a great pho restaurant about 10 minutes from us called Pho Vinh Loi.

                  If you've never had pho, it is thinly sliced pieces of beef and rice noodles in beef broth and served with an array of condiments so that you can flavor it however you like: plum sauce, sriracha (hot sauce), lime wedges, bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, jalapenos, onions, and scallions.

                  It's very inexpensive too, only $7 for a bowl (and I can get two meals out of mine).

                  Cinnamon Sugar Muffins

                  This is a super simple muffin that tastes sort of like a coffee cake.

                  Cinnamon Sugar Muffins

                  4 tsp. baking powder
                  1/2 tsp. salt
                  1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
                  2 C. AP flour
                  1 C. sugar
                  1 C. milk
                  1/2 C. vegetable oil
                  2 eggs
                  cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling on top

                  Preheat oven to 375F. Grease 12 muffin tins.

                  Combine dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients. Mix until moistened. Fill muffin cups and top with cinnamon sugar.

                  Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.

                  Saturday, February 12, 2011

                  Cincinnati Chili & Mini Corn Muffins

                  I love to travel, and one of the best parts of traveling is trying the local food. When my sister Kelly moved to Cincinnati, we didn't know much about the food there. When we visited, we were able to try many of the yummy regional specialties, including Graeter's ice cream, barbeque, Goetta sausage, and of course, Cincinnati chili.

                  Cincinnati chili is more like a meat sauce than a traditional Texas chili - it is spiced, rather than spicy, with hints of cinnamon and cloves. It is served over spaghetti, and you can order many different combinations (two-way, three-way, etc). We like the five-way version, which is the chili, spaghetti, beans, diced onions, and shredded cheese. And when I say shredded cheese, I mean completely covered in cheese. Check out photos at the popular Skyline Chili to see what I mean.

                  I doubt this recipe is very authentic. Evidently, every chili place in town has a slightly different recipe. Supposedly, the origin is from Mediterranean immigrants who opened a restaurant in town and served a traditional meat stew over hot dogs and spaghetti to try to entice the locals to try it.

                  Cincinnati Chili

                  1 lb. ground turkey (or other ground meat)
                  2 Tbsp. chili powder
                  1 tsp. cinnamon
                  1 tsp. garlic powder
                  3/4 tsp. ground cloves
                  1 tsp. sugar
                  1 can diced tomatoes, with their liquid
                  1 can red kidney beans, with their liquid (I used the kind with no salt added - otherwise, you might want to rinse and use water instead)
                  salt, to taste

                  Sauté the meat until nearly browned. Add the chili powder, cinnamon, garlic powder and cloves and cook for 2 - 3 minutes until the meat is no longer pink. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer the chili for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

                  Serve over spaghetti and garnish with chopped onions and shredded cheddar cheese, if desired.

                  Mini Corn Muffins

                  1/2 cup yellow corn meal
                  1/2 cup AP flour
                  2 Tbsp. sugar
                  1/2 tsp. salt
                  1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
                  1 egg
                  2/3 cup milk
                  1 Tbsp. oil

                  Combine dry ingredients. In a separate bow, beat egg, milk, and oil. Add to dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour into greased muffin pans and bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Makes 12 mini muffins (or 6 regular size).

                  Tuesday, February 8, 2011

                  Cranberry Orange Scones

                  I love tea, and when the boys are in school, I like to make snacks to enjoy with my mid-morning cup. For this week, I decided on cranberry orange scones. They are pretty simple to make and way better than the ones you/d get at your neighborhood coffee shop.

                  For the scones:

                  1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
                  1/4 cup sugar
                  3 tsp baking powder
                  1/4 tsp salt
                  1/4 cup cold butter (1/2 a stick), cut into small pieces
                  1/2 cup dried cranberries
                  zest of one orange
                  1/2 cup buttermilk
                  1 egg, lightly beaten

                  For the glaze:
                  1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
                  1 Tbsp orange juice

                  In a medium bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cranberries and orange zest. Add buttermilk and egg until mixture is just moistened. Turn dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. With floured hands, pat the dough into a rectangle and cut into 8 triangles. 

                  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, until golden. Mix together powdered sugar and orange juice into a glaze. Drizzle over scones and serve warm. (These are easily reheated in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.)

                  P.S. These are also great with blueberries and lemon!

                  Monday, February 7, 2011

                  Super Bowl Feast

                  I love a good excuse to cook all day. So, in honor of the Super Bowl, I decided to make pulled pork sandwiches and broccoli slaw, with nachos for an appetizer, and brownies for dessert.

                  I had never made pulled pork before, but it's surprisingly easy. You just need some time.

                  Rub a 2 lb pork loin with the spices of your choosing (I used 1 tsp each of chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, garlic powder, and salt). Then in a dutch oven over medium heat, brown the pork loin about 2 minutes per side. Top the pork loin with sliced onions, cover the pot and roast in a 300 degree oven for 2-4 hours, until the pork shreds easily with tongs.

                  Serve on rolls with barbeque sauce, if desired.

                  I am a big fan of cole slaw - for something different, I bought a bag of broccoli slaw and used my regular slaw dressing. Combine 3/4 cup of mayonnaise, 2 Tbsp sour cream or greek yogurt, 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp white vinegar, 1 Tbsp dry mustard, 1 tsp celery seed, and 1 tsp salt. Mix with whatever shredded veggies you're using and chill for several hours before serving.

                  For the nachos, I sauteed onions and bell peppers in olive oil, then added a can of black beans, a small can of green chiles, and 1 cup of salsa.

                  Spread the bottom of a 9x9 square pan with tortilla chips, top with the bean mixture and finish with pepper-jack cheese. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Serve with extra tortilla chips, sour cream, or guacamole, if desired.

                  P.S. I cheated and made brownies from a box this time. I do have a great scratch brownie recipe, which I'll share another time.

                  Saturday, February 5, 2011


                  As I've mentioned before, breakfast is my favorite meal. Today, because it is evidently World Nutella Day (thanks for the tip, Kathleen), I decided to make crepes.

                  I had always used Alton Brown's recipe, but my friend Emmy (who's French), posted a recipe for crepes on her blog the other day, so I decided to try it out. They turned out great, and the best part is that it only makes 8 crepes, which is perfect for our family.

                  I filled half with apricot jam and half with nutella and banana. YUM!

                  Thursday, February 3, 2011

                  Jamie Oliver's Tray Baked Chicken

                  I find recipes in all sorts of places. Tonight's dinner comes courtesy of a Jamie Oliver recipe that I saw in the Parade magazine supplement in a recent Sunday Washington Post. Several of my Facebook friends also tried this recipe - it really looks so appealing. I tucked it away for a day when I would have a little more time. Luckily, I had time earlier in the day to brine the chicken - I really do think it makes a difference.

                  I did tweak the recipe a bit: I used chicken drumsticks instead of breasts because that's what I had. I omitted the sage because it reminds me too much of Thanksgiving and just used extra garlic, salt, and pepper. I used just 2 big potatoes, one white and one sweet. I used half-n-half rather than heavy cream (trying to be a little healthier - ha, I still put the butter on top of the chicken...) And I left out the cheese.

                  Next time, I'd probably use less broth; the sauce was a little soupy. Also, the potatoes came out a little soft for my taste, so I'd probably put the chicken on sooner and cut the bake time down by 10 or 15 minutes. And I'd try some other herbs, maybe oregano.

                  I served it with a salad and some of the cheesy scones from the other day. Yum!

                  Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

                  Although I don't do it often enough, making salad dressing at home is very simple and tastes so much better than what you can buy at the store.

                  My favorite recipe is for maple balsamic vinaigrette. I know this one off the top of my head by remembering 2-2-2-2. Whisk together 2 tsp of dijon mustard, 2 tsp of maple syrup, 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, and 2 Tbsp good quality olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

                  I don't put a lot of dressing on my salads, so this recipe will dress 4-6 side salads. Store it in the refrigerator in a sealed container. You will have to let it come to room temperature and shake or whisk to re-combine.

                  Wednesday, February 2, 2011


                  There are some nights when I don't have a lot of time to get dinner on the table. Rather than turn to take-out, I have a few meals that I can make in less than 20 minutes with what I have on hand. Quesadillas are definitely the most versatile of these meals.

                  I've found the easiest way to make quesadillas is on the stove-top. Simply heat a skillet over medium heat. Add a flour tortilla, then top half of it with whatever you choose, fold over the other half, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Then, flip to cook the other side. I can do 2-3 at a time in my biggest pan.

                  The best part is that you can use whatever you have on hand for the filling. Tonight, I used a filling of black beans, corn, salsa, and pepper-jack cheese. Other favorites include spinach, onion, and monterey jack; apple and brie; pesto, lime, and cheddar; and chicken, onions, and peppers.

                  A few other tips:

                  • If you buy canned beans, look for the Eden brand - they don't add salt and the can liners are BPA-free. 
                  • I find that using sliced cheese is less messy than shredded cheese.
                  • Rather than sour cream, I like fat-free Greek yogurt. It is just as creamy and almost as tangy but much healthier.