Friday, May 31, 2013

Mixed Berry Three Cheese Blintzes

To download a cookbook-style copy of the recipe for Mixed Berry Three Cheese Blintzes, click HERE.

Blintzes – eastern Europe’s simple and delicious version of a crepe – are perfect for breakfast, a light lunch, or dessert. This week’s recipe, Mixed Berry Three Cheese Blintzes, takes an early Kissing the Cook post for blintzes and reworks it in a new – and, I think, better - way.

Although fruit fillings are often used, the classic blintz is filled with a sweet cheese mixture made with cream cheese and either farmer cheese, cottage cheese or, in more modern versions, ricotta. This recipe combines both fruit and cheese. For the syrup topping and the fruit in the filling, I used a blend of fresh strawberries and fresh blueberries. For the cheese filling, to be consistent with the blintz’ eastern European origins, I combined farmer cheese (which has a consistency similar to ricotta) with the cream cheese and cottage cheese. If you don’t have farmer cheese available, or otherwise prefer not to use it, no need to worry; my grandmother, originally from Kiev, used cream cheese and cottage cheese in her blintzes.

A Cook’s Note before we begin:

  • A significant difference between this recipe and typical blintz preparations is that blintzes are normally cooked twice: once to cook the crepe, and once to fry or bake the filled blintz to brown the outside and cook the eggs in the filling. In my version, there are no eggs in the filling; except for the warmed mixed-berry syrup on top, the blintzes are served cold or room temperature instead of fried or baked. It’s an unusual way to serve a blintz, but having grown up eating the ones my grandmother made this way, I can assure you it can work wonderfully. (It’s still possible to fry or bake them if that’s what you prefer.)

The following recipe makes about 10 blintzes. Here’s what you’ll need:

For the crepes: 1 cup AP flour; ¼ tsp salt; 2 Tbsp melted butter substitute; 2 egg-substitute eggs; 1-1/2 cups skim milk; and butter substitute or oil for cooking crepes

For the cheese filling: ½ pound farmer cheese; 1 cup low fat cottage cheese; 8 ounces low fat cream cheese, softened; 3/8 cup sugar; 1/8 tsp cinnamon; 1/4 tsp salt

For the fruit syrup and filling:

1 cup granulated sugar; juice of ½ lemon; ½ teaspoon salt; pinch ground nutmeg; 1 lb. fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered; 1 cup fresh blueberries; confectioner’s sugar for garnish

First, we’ll make the crepe batter:

Combine flour and salt in a bowl, and form a well. Pour the egg-substitute eggs and skim milk into the well. Add the melted butter substitute and mix into the other liquids in the well.

Once the liquid ingredients in the well are combined, gradually mix in the dry ingredients. The result should be a thick batter with the consistency of heavy cream.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.

While the crepe batter is resting, prepare the cheese filling and mixed berry syrup and filling as follows. To make the cheese filling:

Put all the filling ingredients into a bowl and mix until well combined and fairly smooth. Refrigerate until needed.

To prepare the syrup topping and fruit filling:

Place a small glass plate in the freezer and put the granulated sugar and the lemon juice into a saucepan. Stir the mixture in the saucepan until the sugar is dissolved.

Add the salt, nutmeg and strawberries and turn the heat on very low. Cook until the strawberries are softened but not mushy, about 10 minutes.

Add the blueberries and cook until softened, about another 10 minutes.

Strain the fruit mixture, retaining the liquid. Set the fruit aside to cool.

Return the liquid to the saucepan. Simmer the liquid until a few drops cooled on the frozen plate have a syrup consistency. Set aside till needed.

While the cooked fruit is cooling, cook the crepes as follows:

Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat; remove the pan from the heat and melt about 1 tsp of butter substitute. Add about ¼ cup of batter, swirl around to cover the surface of the pan, and put it back on the heat.

When the crepe is lightly browned on the bottom and firm enough to be flipped (usually about one to 1-1/2 minutes, but keep an eye on it), turn or flip the crepe and cook on the opposite side till it has the desired brownness.

Stack the crepes on a plate, covered with a clean towel to keep from drying out. Repeat the above steps for each crepe, rebuttering the pan as needed.

Working one at a time, prepare the blintzes as follows:

Lay a crepe out flat. Put 1/4 cup of cheese filling half-way between the center-line and edge nearest you.

Place a little of the mixed berry mixture on top of the cheese.

Fold the crepe as you would a burrito. First, fold the edge nearest you over the filling.

Fold in the left and right sides.

Roll the crepe away from you to form the blintz.

To serve:

While warming the reserved mixed berry syrup, sprinkle some confectioner’s sugar on a plate as a garnish.

Place one or two blintzes on the plate, and pour a little of the syrup on top.

To download a cookbook-style copy of the recipe for Mixed Berry Three Cheese Blintzes, click HERE.

Hope you enjoy the comfort of this very special dish! And please visit again next week. Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Swedish Meatballs with Yogurt Gravy on Pasta and Carrot Ribbon Noodles

To download a copy of the recipe for Swedish Meatballs with Yogurt Gravy, click HERE.

To download a copy of the recipe for Pasta and Carrot Ribbon Noodles, click HERE.

There are many reasons why someone would want to make Swedish Meatballs. They’re easy, yet remarkably versatile, working just as well as an appetizer as they do when served as a main dish. Their signature spice blend takes flavors American cooks usually use only for cookies and shows they work just as well applied to a hearty, savory dinner. Then they’re paired with a creamy gravy instead of a vegetable-based sauce. The main reason to make Swedish Meatballs, though, is the simplest as well as the most important: they taste good.

The most authentic Swedish Meatballs are often served with lingonberry jam and pickled cucumber. While it’s possible to get nearly any ingredient on the Internet with enough advanced planning, I try as much as possible to cook with things that are available easily, locally and on short notice. With that in mind, I chose instead to serve the meatballs over noodles dressed up in one of my favorite ways, mixed with “noodles” made of thin-sliced carrot ribbons, cut to size and steamed to the same texture as the pasta noodles. (Click HERE to read more about that.) It’s a great way to add color, flavor and nutrition to your egg noodles.

Some additional Cook’s Notes before we begin:

  • Although beef and pork combinations are normally used when making Swedish Meatballs, other meat combinations are possible. (Insert your favorite Ikea joke here.) In this recipe I reduced the fat by using a combination of ground turkey and turkey sausage meat. For same reason, I’ve also replaced the traditional heavy cream or sour cream in the gravy with non-fat yogurt.
  • As with any meatball, getting the flavor right is a fairly straight-forward matter; the real challenge is getting the texture right. The ingredients must be there in the proper proportions, of course, but it also requires a light touch. Forget everything you learned packing snowballs; the goal here is delicacy. You can mix the meatball ingredients using either a stand mixer (with the paddle attachment), or by hand; if you use your hands, remember to mix, not squeeze.

This recipe makes 4 – 6 servings.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

*For the meatballs: Turkey bacon: two thick slices, or 3 – 4 thin slices 3 Tbsp butter substitute, divided; 1 medium onion, fine diced; 2 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into chunks; ¼ cup of skim milk; ¾ lb. ground turkey; ¾ lb. turkey sausage meat (removed from casings); 1 egg substitute egg; 2 tsp kosher salt; ½ tsp black pepper; pinch garlic powder; ½ tsp all-spice; ½ tsp ground nutmeg.

*For the gravy: 3 Tbsp AP flour; 2 cups fat-free, low sodium chicken broth; ¼ tsp garlic powder; ½ cup fat-free yogurt.

*Other ingredients for serving: 2 Tbsp dried parsley; cooked noodles with carrot ribbon noodles (download separate recipe).

To start the recipe:

Cook the bacon in a skillet until slightly crisp. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

When cool, dice into small pieces.

Next, prepare the meatball mixture:

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter substitute in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent and slightly softened, about 4 minutes, scraping the bacon leftovers from the pan the onions cook. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

While the onions are cooling, combine the bread and milk in a large bowl. Let the bread absorb the milk for several minutes.

Add the bacon, onion, ground turkey, turkey sausage meat, egg, salt, pepper, pinch of garlic powder, allspice, and nutmeg.

Using a light touch, gently mix the ingredients using a stand mixer or by hand for several minutes until a sticky mixture forms. (Remember: mix, don't squeeze!)

To form and cook the meatballs:

Using wet hands to keep the meat mixture from sticking to them, form the meat mixture into 1-inch balls. As you form each meatball, set it aside on a sheet of foil.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the skillet over medium heat. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding the skillet, brown the meatballs on all sides, for 8 – 10 minutes. After all of the meatballs have been browned, set them aside till needed. Retain the liquid in the skillet.

To prepare the sauce:

Sprinkle the flour into the liquid in the skillet and whisk constantly, scraping the pan, and cook for about a minute until the floury taste is cooked out.

Slowly whisk in the broth until the mixture is smooth.

Add ¼ tsp garlic powder. Cook until the mixture starts to boil and thicken, about 3 minutes.

Strain the liquid into a bowl and discard the solids.

Return the liquid to the skillet and whisk in the yogurt over low heat. Season to taste.

To finish cooking the meatballs:

Return meatballs to the skillet and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.

To serve:

Place some noodles on the plate. Put meatballs on top of the cooked noodles, top with some sauce, and garnish with parsley.

To download a copy of the recipe for Swedish Meatballs with Yogurt Gravy, click HERE.

To download a copy of the recipe for Pasta and Carrot Ribbon Noodles, click HERE.

Hope you enjoy this hearty, delicious – and reduced fat! – meal. And that you’ll visit again next week for another kitchen-tested recipe! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Baked Chicken Croquettes with Buttermilk White Sauce

To download a copy of the recipe for Baked Chicken Croquettes with Buttermilk White Sauce, click HERE.

A healthier version of a diner classic, this chicken croquette – a delicious blend of chicken, onion, celery, garlic and seasonings – is baked instead of fried, and crowned with an easy-to-make buttermilk sauce. (If you’ve never had a chicken croquette, think of a crab cake but made with chicken instead of crab, and you’ll have the basic idea.)

Chicken croquettes are meant to be simple to make. Although cooking the chicken is included in this recipe, if you have left-over chicken or even a store-bought rotisserie chicken, that can be used instead. Once you get the general method for making croquettes, there no reason even to limit yourself to chicken.

Some Cook’s Notes before we begin:

  • Croquettes can be formed into many shapes: balls, elongated sausage-shape, even cones (formed by using a funnel as a mold). In this recipe I’ve made my croquettes into flat, thick ovals. There’s a reason for this. Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I ate many a dinner of the frozen chicken croquettes Weaver made at that time. Since those were made in a flat, thick oval shape, that’s how I’ve been conditioned to visualize a chicken croquette. By all means, make yours whatever shape pleases you.

  • Although chicken croquettes are normally fried, the ones we’re making are “oven-fried,” or breaded and baked in a way that’s meant to remind the eater of fried. The breading mixture I like best for this uses crushed corn flakes for the breading. Panko works almost as well. I recommend avoiding regular bread crumbs, which are fine for normally breaded items but don’t give oven-fried food the texture you’re looking for.
  • Many chicken croquette recipes call for putting the chicken through a food processor. I prefer the mouth-feel of biting into a piece of chicken, so in this recipe we'll cut it into small chunks.

  • As part of the buttermilk white sauce, we’ll be making a roux. You might notice, however, that the 1-to-1 flour-to-fat ratio normally used for a roux is changed here to a ½ -to-1 ratio. This is because the buttermilk we’ll be using has its own thickness and texture to begin with, so we need to adjust the thickening properties of the roux we use.

A special note, too, about the number of servings we’ll be making. This recipe makes about 14 good-sized croquettes. How many portions is that? Let’s put it this way: when I served this at home, my wife’s portion was one croquette, and mine was two. With that in mind, you make the call for your family or guests. If it turns out 14 is too many, just reduce all the ingredients in proportion to each other. Note, however, that the cooked croquettes freeze very well, so making some extras may turn out to be a good idea after all.

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the chicken seasoning mix: 2 tsp dried parsley; 1 tsp dried oregano; 1 tsp dried tarragon; 1 tsp dried thyme; 1 tsp dried rosemary; 1 tsp celery salt; 1 tsp ground ginger; ¼  tsp white pepper; ½  tsp dried sage.

For the baked chicken: 6 Tbsp butter substitute; 2 lbs. boneless chicken breast (or two lbs. of pre-cooked chicken)

For the croquette mixture: 1-1/2 cups fat free, low sodium chicken broth; 1-1/2 cups skim milk; 8 Tbsp butter substitute, divided;  2 medium stalks of celery, fine diced; 1 medium onion, fine diced;  4 garlic cloves, minced; 1 cup AP flour; 1 egg substitute egg

For the breading station: 1-1/2 cups reduced-fat buttermilk; 3 cups crushed corn flakes; 1-1/2 Tbsp garlic powder; 1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt; ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper; 3/4 tsp paprika; cooking spray

For the buttermilk white sauce: 2-1/2 Tbsp butter substitute; 4-1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour; 1-1/2 cup reduced-fat buttermilk; 1-1/2 tsp dried parsley; ½ tsp dried dill; ¾  tsp kosher salt; ¼ tsp garlic powder; ¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper

To make the seasoning you’ll use for the chicken and the croquette mixture:

Combine the Chicken Seasoning Mix ingredients and set aside till needed.

Next, prepare the chicken. (If you’re using left-overs or other pre-cooked chicken, you can skip this step.)

Begin preheating the oven to 350 degrees.

Put butter substitute in a baking dish and place it in the oven to melt while the oven is pre-heating.

After the butter substitute has melted, remove the baking dish from the oven and stir 1 Tbsp of the seasoning mix into the liquid.

Rinse the chicken breasts and dry with paper towels. Place the breasts in the baking dish, coating each side with some of the butter mixture.

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, turning the chicken breasts over half-way.

When the chicken has finished baking, remove from the oven and let rest in the baking dish for about 10 minutes. After the chicken has rested, cut into small pieces and set aside till needed.

Prepare the croquette mixture as follows:

Combine the broth, milk and 1 Tbsp of the seasoning mix in a small saucepan over medium heat; turn off the heat when the mixture just begins to boil.

While the broth mixture is heating, melt 6 Tbsp of the butter substitute in a skillet. Add the celery and onions and cook over medium heat until just tender, then add the garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.

Reduce the heat under the skillet to low. Gradually stir in the flour, mixing very well, and cook until a lightly browned roux forms (about three minutes). Add additional butter substitute (up to 2 Tbsp) if the mixture appears too dry.

Add the broth mixture and stir until thickened and smooth.

Taste to make sure the floury taste has been cooked out; if necessary, cook for another minute or two.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Gently stir in the cooked chicken, and allow to cool fully. Once the mixture has cooled, stir in the egg substitute egg till combined. (Don’t try to short-cut letting the mixture cool; if it’s warm, it won’t hold its shape when you form the croquettes in the next step.)

To form and bread the croquettes:

Set up the breading station by setting the buttermilk in a bowl, and combining the crushed corn flakes, garlic powder, salt, pepper and paprika in a shallow dish. In the steps to follow, spoon out, shape, and bread one croquette at a time.

Spoon out enough of the croquette mixture to form a flat oval about 2-1/2” long x 2” wide x 1-1/4” thick. (Before forming the croquette, it’s helpful to compress it in your hands, similar to packing a snowball.)

Dip each croquette into the buttermilk, letting the excess drain, then into the breading mixture. Coat all sides. As each croquette is breaded, place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking pad. Once all the croquettes are breaded, refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours.

When you're ready to bake the croquettes:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Apply cooking spray to the top and sides of each croquette. After baking for ten minutes, turn each croquette over, spray the other side, and bake until golden (about another 8 – 10 minutes).

While the croquettes are baking, make the buttermilk white sauce as follows:

In a pan, melt the butter substitute.

Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook over a low heat for about 1 minute till a slightly browned roux forms.

Gradually add the buttermilk, stirring constantly, until a thickened sauce forms.

Add the dried parsley, dill, salt, garlic powder and black pepper, and stir till combined. Remove from the heat.

To serve:

Put one or two croquettes on each plate and top with some of the sauce, being careful not to over-sauce the croquettes. Serve with preferred side dishes.

To download a copy of the recipe for Baked Chicken Croquettes with Buttermilk White Sauce, click HERE.

And there you have it: classic diner food in the comfort of your own home.

Please come back next week for another great-tasting recipe! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)