Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lasagna-Inspired Double-Stuffed Manicotti

I recently received an e-mail from loyal reader Judy asking if I had a good recipe for manicotti. Having no manicotti recipe, good or otherwise, got me thinking it was time to put one together.

For some reason, this also started me thinking about lasagna, and thus evolved this week’s recipe: Lasagna-Inspired Double-Stuffed Manicotti. The idea is simple: prepare manicotti pasta that’s a bit longer than normal. After you place your cheese filling and roll the pasta around it, spread seasoned meat filling over the remaining portion of the pasta, and continue to roll that around the cheese filled part. This creates a double-rolled manicotti with cheese in the inner roll and seasoned meat in the outer roll. Top it with sauce and some mozzarella, bake, and the result is simply delizioso!

Some Cook’s Notes before we begin.
  • The recipe uses hand-rolled pasta from scratch. Don’t be put off; it’s actually pretty easy. (I also used a wood rolling pin on a wood cutting board to roll the dough, which gives the finished pasta a slightly rougher texture than you'd get using a pasta machine; that roughness really holds the sauce.) Many people use store-bought manicotti shells, store-bought lasagna strips, or crepes made from a thinner pasta batter for their manicotti. Because this recipe has the pasta being rolled over twice, store-bought manicotti shells just won’t work. Either of the other two ways should be fine if you decide not to make your own pasta dough.

This recipe makes 8 large manicotti. That translates to 8 normal human portions, or 4 big-eater portions.

First, let’s make the pasta:

In a large bowl combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon dried parsley.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Put 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 3 egg-substitute eggs into the well and whisk the wet ingredients together.

After the wet ingredients are mixed, gradually stir in the flour mixture until a dough forms.

Knead for about five minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let rest while you prepare the remaining items, but not less than 20 minutes.

To roast the red peppers:
Place the peppers directly on the stove burner. Give them as much flame as you can without having the flame touch the pepper. As each side blackens, use tongs to turn the pepper till all sides are blackened. When the peppers have blackened on all sides, wrap them in foil and let them steam themselves until cool enough to handle, about 20 – 30 minutes.

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, use your fingers to remove the blackened outside skins. Dice the peppers and set aside.

To make the meat filling:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine 1-1/2 pounds of ground turkey and the following: 1-1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar; ½ tablespoon salt; ½ tablespoon fresh ground black pepper; 2 teaspoons dried parsley; ½ tablespoon garlic powder; ½ tablespoon onion powder; ½ tablespoon dried basil; 1 teaspoon paprika; 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (for medium-hot sausage; more or less to taste); 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed; a pinch of brown sugar; a pinch of dried oregano; and a pinch of dried thyme.

Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Add two cloves of chopped garlic and 1 medium diced onion. Cook until the onion is translucent. Add the turkey mixture and cook until it is browned.

Add 6 ounces of tomato paste and roasted red peppers for about the last minute of cooking.

To make the cheese filling:

In a bowl, add 2 cups of ricotta cheese and 2 egg-substitute eggs, and mix till combined. Add 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried basil, and 1-1/2 cups of grated parmesan.
To prepare the manicotti:

Lightly brush a 13” x 9” baking dish with olive oil, and spread just enough marinara sauce inside to cover the bottom, about ½ cup.

Cut the pasta dough into eight pieces. Repeat the steps below for each of the pieces. (Keep unused dough wrapped in the plastic to prevent drying out.)
  • On a well-floured surface, roll on piece a rectangle about 1/16” and as close to 6”x 9” as you can manage. (The dimensions won’t be exact and it won’t be a perfect rectangle; it’s ok.)
  • About 2” from one of the short edges, put about ¼ cup of the cheese mixture.

  • Fold the 2” piece over the cheese, and roll slightly to enclose it completely, leaving a little more than half of the pasta piece still unrolled.

  • Put some of the meat mixture (1/3 – ½ cup) on the unrolled portion of the pasta, enough to cover it while leaving some uncovered pasta at the far end.

  • Carefully roll the cheese-filled portion over it until it is enclosed by the meat-filled portion.

  • Repeat the above steps for all the pasta pieces, placing each in the baking pan as they are finished.

When all the rolled pasta pieces are in the baking dish, cover with 2 cups of marinara sauce and 8 ounces of grated mozzarella cheese.

Bake until bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Remove the manicotti from the oven, sprinkle the top with dried parsley, and let it rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Add a nice dry Italian red wine and you’ve got yourself a fresh-made meal that everyone will love. Buon appĂ©tito!

For a cookbook-style copy of the recipe in .pdf format, just click here

Please visit again next week for another home-made recipe! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Oven-Fried Marinated Beer Batter Mushroom Tacos with Mexican Corn

Although fish tacos have been a staple in Southern California for decades (and, in a purer form, in Mexico long before that), it’s only in recent years that they’ve become quite the fashion throughout the U.S. Generally consisting of deep-fried battered fish (cod or similar) with shredded cabbage, a spiced, creamy sauce, and a few other simple toppings wrapped in a tortilla, it’s no wonder fish tacos in the Southern Californian style are so popular; they’re delicious. Unfortunately, that deliciousness comes at a price: deep fried fish topped with creamy sauce will generally be on the fatty side.

But fear not, dear readers. In this week’s recipe we’ll make Oven-Fried Marinated Beer Batter Mushroom Tacos, a fish-taco inspired version that uses marinated portabella mushrooms instead of fish, and that reduces the fat by oven-frying them in a beer batter and topping them with a low-fat creamy sauce.

There’s also a quick, simple Mexican Corn side dish.

As usual, some Cook’s Notes before we begin:
  • Oven frying is very much like breading and baking except it has more crunch. I’ve experimented with many coatings over the years, and crushed cornflakes are the best coating I’ve found, much better than bread crumbs or panko. (Although you can buy crushed cornflakes in the bread crumb aisle, I recommend buying regular corn flakes in the cereal aisle and going over them with a rolling pin as shown below. It costs a lot less to do it that way, and you also get to control the size of the crushed pieces.)
  • Traditional fish tacos include shredded red cabbage. You can do that here too, but since we need only a small amount, and I didn’t want to waste most of a large red cabbage, I used radicchio in its place.
  • The heat in the sauce is mild. If you like it hotter, just increase the amount of hot sauce.

So let’s get started making this reduced-fat take on a Southern California classic that’s, like, totally awesome, dude!

This recipe makes eight soft tacos, which will usually be about four servings.

First, let’s marinate our mushrooms.
Slice 4 portabella mushrooms into strips about 3/4” wide.

Make the marinade by combing ¼ cup cider vinegar; 1 clove garlic, minced; ½ tablespoon of dried basil; ½ tablespoon of dried parsley; ½ tablespoon of dried oregano; ½ teaspoon salt; and ¾ cup olive oil. (Add the olive oil by drizzling it into the other mixed ingredients while whisking to keep a smooth consistency.)

Pour marinade into a gallon-size tight-sealing plastic bag. Place the sliced mushrooms in the bag with the marinade. Let them marinate for about 30 minutes, turning periodically for evenness.

Next, we’ll make our beer batter.

In a bowl, combine the following and mix until a thick, smooth batter forms: 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour; 1 teaspoon salt; ½ teaspoon ground white pepper; 12 ounces beer; and 2 egg-substitute eggs.

While the mushrooms are marinating, prepare the breading station.

Using a rolling pin, make 4 cups of crushed cornflakes in a gallon-size tight-sealing plastic bag.

Place 1-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour in a gallon-size tight-sealing plastic bag. Place the bowl of batter to the right of the flour. Place the crushed cornflakes to the right of the batter.

To bread the mushrooms, working one mushroom slice at a time:

Place the mushroom slice in the flour and toss to coat.

Dip each mushroom slice in batter till coated. Shake off the excess batter.

Place each coated mushroom slice onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking sheet. After all the mushroom slices have been placed on the baking sheet, cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 15 – 20 minutes.

While the mushrooms are in the refrigerator:

Begin pre-heating the oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the following till well-mixed to form the sauce: 6 ounces fat-free plain yogurt; ½ cup low-fat mayonnaise; juice of ½ lime; ½ teaspoon ground cumin; ½ teaspoon dried basil; ½ teaspoon dried parsley; ½ teaspoon dried oregano; ¼ teaspoon hot sauce (add more for a spicier sauce); ½ teaspoon garlic powder; ½ minced jalapeno (seeds removed); ¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro; ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper.
When the mushrooms are ready to bake:

Spray the mushrooms with cooking spray and bake for about 11 minutes. Turn the mushrooms over and reverse the position of the baking tray for even baking. Wrap eight 8” low-fat tortillas in foil and place in the oven. Bake the mushrooms and the tortillas for another 11 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through and the coating is crisp.

While the mushrooms are baking:

Prepare the Mexican Corn by combining 3-1/3 cups (about 1 pound) corn niblets (fresh or thawed frozen corn drained well); 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped; 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped; and 2 tablespoons chopped scallions in a very lightly oiled non-stick pan. (We want to brown the corn, not fry it.) Cook on the stovetop over medium heat until cooked through and some of the corn is slightly browned. When done, toss in a bowl with salt, pepper, butter substitute, and a squeeze of lime juice.

Prepare the following toppings: 1 radicchio, shredded; 1 bunch scallions, chopped small; chopped cilantro; and sliced fresh lime. (To shred the radicchio, just quarter it, remove the core from each quarter, and cut each quarter into 1/4" strips.)

To serve the tacos:

Along the center of each warmed tortilla, place some radicchio, two or three slices of mushrooms, some scallions, cilantro, and sauce.

Roll the tortilla and wrap in parchment or foil, with some of the taco sticking out.

Seal the roll by twisting the bottom.

Serve on a plate with the corn on the side, as shown in the photo at the top.

You can enjoy these soft tacos for lunch or dinner. (If you have any of the breaded mushroom strips left over, they’re also great heated up the next morning and served alongside some eggs for breakfast!)

To download a cookbook-style copy of this recipe, click here.

See you next week with another tasty recipe! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Green and White Holiday Cookies

I’ve come to believe it would probably have been better if Black and White cookies had been named something else. Don’t get me wrong: the name is accurate enough, if you can forgive that, technically, they’re really dark brown and white. It’s just that the name puts all the emphasis on the colors and completely overlooks what really makes these classic, round New York cookies a one-of-a-kind taste experience: their unique, almost cake-like texture.

Just as important (to me, at least), being able to change the colors and shape makes them one of the most versatile baked items for any occasion. Need an Easter cookie? Cut them in to egg shapes and make them pink and purple. Christmas? Try stars, Christmas trees or teddy bears and make them green and red. Valentine’s Day? Make red and white hearts. Your favorite team is playing in the Superbowl? Go with a football shape and the team colors. You get the idea.

Today’s recipe, for obvious reasons, makes green and white shamrocks. They’re all fun, all delicious and, of course, all reduced fat.

Some Cook’s Notes before we begin:
  • Cutting the cookies into shapes is easy, but needs to be done immediately after removing the cookie rounds from the oven. Although the cookies have a soft texture even after they cool, the sooner you are able to make the cuts, the cleaner they will be.
  • Speaking of cutting the cookies, there’s no need to discard the cut-away scraps. They may not be pretty, but they’re delicious. Save them for yourself to enjoy after the rest of the cookies have all been eaten.
  • The dual-frostings on a traditional Black-and-White cookie are chocolate (brown) and lemon-sugar (white). Although, for color reasons, today’s recipe doesn’t include a chocolate icing, feel free to substitute one if that’s what you prefer.

This recipe makes 12 cookies, each roughly 4” across.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a bowl, combine 1 cup of all purpose flour; 1-1/4 cups of pastry flour; ½ teaspoon of baking powder; and ½ teaspoon of salt.

In another bowl, beat ½ cup of softened butter substitute and 1 cup of granulated sugar together. When the mixture is combined and smooth, beat in 2 egg-substitute eggs, then ½ cup of skim milk; ½ teaspoon vanilla extract; and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture, a little at a time, until combined into a smooth, creamy batter.

Drop the batter in ¼ cup portions onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking sheet.

The batter won’t spread much on its own when you bake it, so use the back of a spoon to spread it into a circle about 3-1/2 to 4” in diameter.

Bake for about 11 minutes until the batter just begins to get firm. (Remember, after cooling, the finished cookie should have a soft, almost cake-like texture.)

If you want the cookies to stay round: let them cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then remove to a cooling rack until completely cool before frosting.

If you want to cut the cookies into shapes: cut the cookies with a cookie cutter immediately upon taking them out of the oven. Work quickly, since they won’t cut as well after they’ve started to cool.

Move the cut shapes to a cooling rack and let them cool completely before frosting.

As mentioned in the Cook’s Notes above, save any scraps. They make a great snack.

After the cookies have cooled, but before adding the frosting, apply a very thin coating of peach or apricot jam to each cookie. Let the jam dry before applying the frosting.

To frost the cookies:
  • In a bowl, mix together 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar; 1 tablespoon light corn syrup; ½ teaspoon vanilla extract; and 3 tablespoons of skim milk. This will be the white frosting.
  • Using a small spoon, apply the white frosting to half of each cookie.

  • Set aside a small amount (about two tablespoons) of the white frosting to use for any needed repairs after the rest is made into green frosting.
  • To the remaining white frosting, add the juice of ½ lemon, and enough green food coloring to get the frosting to be the desired shade. Add two additional tablespoons of confectioner’s sugar to offset the added liquid and keep the frosting thick.
  • Using a small spoon, carefully apply the green frosting to the unfrosted portion of each cookie.

Allow the frosting to dry and become firm before serving.

Click here to download a copy of this recipe in .pdf format!

See you next week with another great tasting recipe! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)