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August 29, 2005

30-Minute Get Real Meals: Beef Stroganoff over Buttered Parsley-Cauliflower ‘Noodles’

This recipe is a good example of the problems I found throughout 30-Minute Get Real Meals. To keep things “low-carb,” Ray substitutes cauliflower for the traditional noodles or rice pilaf that are usually served with stroganoff. And while this might sound interesting on paper, in practice it just doesn’t work.

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The recipe calls for 2 pounds of beef to serve 4 people. That’s a whopping 8 ounces of meat per serving. And the amount of cauliflower called for? One small head. The result was that I had enough meat to feed several strong manly men, and a teeny-tiny little bit of cauliflower that my husband and I finished off in one sitting. Bad proportions. In my revised version, I’ve reduced the amount of beef to a more realistic 1 pound. And I’ve added noodles. The sauce proportions remain the same in the revised recipe; it may look like a lot of sauce, but the noodles will soak it right up (that’s the whole point of serving beef stroganoff with noodles or rice — to make sure you can sop up all the sauce!)

The instructions for the stroganoff don't seem to have been tested. The recipe tells the cook to sear off 2 pounds of thinly sliced beef in a single layer in a “large” skillet. Unless you’ve got a skillet the size of a ping-pong table, this isn’t going to work. Even in my revised recipe, the cook needs to sear off the meat in two batches. Ray’s recipe also tells the cook to add the meat back to the sauce before adding the sour cream. If you follow those instructions, you’ll be trying to incorporate the pesky sour cream blobs into the sauce while beef strips are hanging off your whisk. Do the sensible thing and add the sour cream first, making a nice smooth sauce for the beef to simmer in.

Ray’s recipe doesn't allow enough time for the caramelized meat to simmer in the finished sauce; only “2 to 3 minutes.” Seared meat can be somewhat hard around the edges, and a longer soak in the stroganoff sauce is necessary to make the beef tender. I recommend 10 minutes.

The cauliflower “noodles” are a ridiculous idea. Ray would have the cook cut a head (a small head, remember) of cauliflower into slices crosswise and then lengthwise, to approximate a sort of noodle shape. If you’ve ever used cauliflower before, you probably already know what happened. The “noodles” fell apart long before they ever hit the water. A large head of cauliflower might hold its shape better, but only if the cook doesn’t remove the hard central core, which takes longer to cook than the delicate florets, and doesn’t taste as good. This idea is a silly gimmick that doesn’t work. If you really want cauliflower with this dish, just boil the florets for a couple of minutes and then toss them with butter and parsley. Better yet, forget the cauliflower altogether and serve the stroganoff atop a bed of egg noodles, the way Count Von Stroganoff intended.



Beef Stroganoff with Egg Noodles
(revised version)

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound beef tenderloin
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, sliced
2 Tbsp flour
2 15-oz. cans beef consommé
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley, divided
6 chopped cornichons or baby gherkins, for garnish (optional)
12-oz. package egg noodles, large elbow macaroni, or other pasta
1 Tbsp butter

Place the beef into the freezer for 10-15 minutes. (This is a recommendation that Ray makes in 30-Minute Get Real Meals, and it's a good one. Putting it in the freezer for a few minutes firms up the meat and makes it easier to slice.)

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. When water is boiling, salt liberally and add pasta. Cook according to package directions then drain. Toss with 1 Tbsp butter and 1 to 2 Tbsp chopped parsley. Set aside and keep warm.

Thinly slice the beef and trim pieces so that you have 2-inch by 3 or 4-inch strips. Preheat a large skillet with 1 Tbsp of the vegetable oil over high heat. When very hot, add half the beef in an even layer and sear for 2 minutes without stirring. When caramelized on the first side, turn with tongs and continue to cook for about 1 more minute. Remove beef and repeat with remaining vegetable oil and meat. Reserve all the beef on a plate.

Reduce heat to medium low and add 2 Tbsp butter to the pan. When melted, add the sliced onion. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the flour, stirring to distribute. Cook flour for 30 seconds, then whisk in the beef consommé. Add Dijon mustard, then reduce heat to low. Simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Whisk sour cream into the stroganoff sauce. When completely incorporated, add the meat back to the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes. Check seasoning, correcting for salt and pepper if necessary. Serve atop a bed of buttered pasta. Garnish with cornichons and remaining parsley, if desired.



Beef Stroganoff over Buttered Parsley-Cauliflower ‘Noodles’
(from 30-Minute Get Real Meals)

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 pounds beef tenderloin
salt and pepper
5 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, sliced
2 Tbsp flour
2 15-oz. cans beef consommé
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 small head cauliflower
1/2 cup chicken stock or broth
3/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup sour cream
6 cornichons or baby gherkins, optional

Fill a large skillet with 1 inch of water. Place the skillet over high heat and bring to a boil for the cauliflower “noodles.”

Preheat a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over high heat. You will be searing the meat in this pan, so you want it to be screaming hot.

Thinly slice the meat and cut into 2-inch long very thin strips. Season the meat with salt and pepper and add to the hot oil, spreading the meat out in an even layer. Sear the meat, caramelizing it, for about 2 minutes without touching it, then toss and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.

Remove the meat from the pan and reserve on a plate. Reduce heat on the burner to medium low. Cool the pan for a minute, then add 2 Tbsp of the butter to the skillet, melt and add half of the sliced onion. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the flour, stirring to distribute. Cook the flour for 30 seconds. Whisk in the beef consommé and the Dijon mustard and turn the heat down to low, gently simmering for 10 minutes.

While the stroganoff sauce is cooking, prepare the cauliflower “noodles”: With a paring knife, remove the stem of the cauliflower, trying to keep the head intact. With the cut side down on the cutting board, slice the cauliflower into 1/4-inch thick slices. Stack those slices and cute them in half, lengthwise. Add some salt the cauliflower “noodles” to the skillet with the boiling water. Cook for 2 minutes. Drain the cauliflower in a colander. Return the pan to the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, the remaining onion, salt, and pepper; cook for 1 minute.

Add the cauliflower and chicken stock to the onion, stir to coat, and cook for 3 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender. Turn the heat off and add the remaining 3 Tbsp butter and 1/2 cup of the chopped parsley. Toss to coat and reserve while you finish off the stroganoff. Add the meat back to the pan with the stroganoff sauce. Add the sour cream, stirring to combine. Turn the heat back up to medium high and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, to finish cooking the meat. Taste the dish, checking for seasoning, and arrange the beef stroganoff on a bed of the cauliflower “noodles.” Garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup chopped parsley and the chopped cornichons.

 

August 26, 2005

30-Minute Get Real Meals: Bucatini with Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

This is the dish that Rachael Ray is posing with on the cover of 30-Minute Get Real Meals. And I have to say, I think the food stylist cheated. Because what Ray's holding is a balanced plate of pasta and sausage, but what the recipe makes...well, it should be renamed "Sausage with Onions, Pepper, and a Few Strands of Bucatini."

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For 4 servings (4 BIG servings, as emphasized in the book), the recipe calls for 1/2 pound of pasta and 2 pounds of sausage. What I ended up with was a big bowl of sausage with a couple of lonely tubes (bucatini are fat, hollow spaghetti, more or less) looking forlorn in the midst of all that meat. This is where the low-carb mandate of the cookbook fails, because there's just no way to make a dish like this and have the sausage overpower the pasta — the end result is not good. I also questioned the use of bucatini, since a shaped pasta such as orecchiette (ears) or large shells seems like it might catch the sausage bits better. Sure enough, when I remade this recipe using a full pound of orecchiette, the balance between meat and pasta actually...balanced. And the shaped pasta were easier to eat.

In my revised recipe, I recommend that you chop the onion and peppers, rather than slice them into thin strips. I found the long strips in the original recipe difficult to pick up, and rather unwieldy while also trying to find a bit of pasta and spear a chunk of sausage. Chopped veggies fit onto the fork and clung to the orecchiette better.

The original recipe calls for cubanelle peppers, which aren't easy to find in my neck of the woods. I substituted pasillas, another mild green pepper. If you can't find any mild green peppers other than bells, use a couple more red, orange, or yellow bell peppers. Don't use green bell peppers: they have an unpleasant flavor and I avoid them whenever possible.

In an unfortunate bit of editing, the original recipe also calls for a "can" of crushed tomatoes. No indication what size. I used a 15-oz. can of fire-roasted tomatoes from Muir Glen, which added a nice smokiness to the dish.



Orecchiette with Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
(revised version)

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4-6 servings

16-oz. package of shaped pasta, such as orecchiette or shells
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
1 pound bulk hot Italian sausage
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
2 cubanelle peppers (or other mild green peppers, such as pasilla or poblano), cored, seeded, and diced
15-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup (20 leaves) fresh basil, torn or shredded

Bring a large pot of water to boil. When boiling, add salt (at least 2 Tbsp) and pasta, and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Heat a very large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and all of the sausage. Brown and crumble the sausage, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove sausage to a paper towel-lined plate and reserve. Drain off pan drippings, leaving 3 Tbsp in the pan. Add the garlic, onion, and peppers to the pan and cook until tender, 6 to 7 minutes. Once tender, add tomatoes and heat through. Add sausage back to the pan and combine. Season the mixture with a bit of salt and fresh black pepper. Add the sausage mixture to the pasta, and stir in cheese, parsley, and basil.



Bucatini with Sausage, Peppers, and Onions
from 30-Minute Get Real Meals

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 BIG servings

1/2 pound bucatini pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
1 pound bulk hot Italian sausage
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large yellow onion, quartered, then thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, quartered, and thinly sliced
2 cubanelle peppers (long, light-green mild Italian peppers), seeded and thinly sliced
1 can chunky-style crushed tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup (20 leaves) fresh basil, torn or shredded

August 24, 2005

30-Minute Get Real Meals: Grilled Tomato Stoup with Prosciutto and Mozzarella Portobellos

Another successful recipe from 30-Minute Get Real Meals, although not completely without problems. I’m not a fan of cutesy names for food. “Stoup” strikes me as... well, dumb. It’s a soup! It’s a stew! It’s “Stoup!” Whatever... Besides, the texture of this “stoup” is nowhere near stew-status. It’s soup. Just soup. Nothing wrong with calling it what it is.

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The first thing that struck me as weird with the recipe (okay, the second thing, after “stoup”) was the instruction to heat up an outdoor grill, or an indoor grill pan, and then to also preheat the oven to 450 degrees. You're supposed to grill the tomatoes and bread, but roast the portobellos in the oven. Why? I have no idea. Not wanting to heat up my house, I cooked the mushrooms on the grill right alongside the tomatoes, and they turned out swell. The only reason I can think of to cook the mushrooms and tomatoes separately is to keep within the time constraints of the book, but if you've got a grill bigger than a hibachi, I don’t see what the issue is. And if you don’t have a grill at all, you could cook all the elements of this soup in the oven. The tomatoes and bread can be browned under the broiler, and then the portobellos can be roasted. Either way, only one is needed: oven or grill. Not oven and grill.

Ray’s side note about the recipe notes that it can be made completely without bread, but that she can’t resist adding it. I concur: the consistency requires some bread. I used a BIG slice (about 1 1/2 inches thick) from the middle of a country-style loaf of artisan bread. If you like your soup a bit thicker, you could use more bread. But don’t leave it out, whatever you do. Life’s too short to be afraid of a few carbs.

As written, the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes. This produced a bit of a kick; if you don’t like spicy food, reduce the amount of red pepper by half, or more. The instructions don’t bother to remind the cook to remove the thyme sprigs from the soup, and while it may seem obvious, I do think the reminder should be there, just in case. Also sloppy: the instructions call for the plum tomatoes to be halved, but there's no instruction to remove the stem ends, which are hard and inedible. I recommend that you use a paring knife to quickly cut out the stem end of the tomatoes (just like hulling strawberries) before halving them.

The other weird thing about this recipe is the Prosciutto and Mozzarella Portobellos themselves. Are they a garnish? A side dish? What the heck? The recipe says to serve them “alongside” the soup, which means you need a plate, fork, and knife for this mushroom cap topped with ham and cheese. It’s a bit bizarre. Not wanting to dirty up all those extra dishes (plus figuring that simpler is always better) I decided to try chopping the portobellos and adding them into the soup. This was delicious, as well as easier to eat. The soup can be garnished with slices of fresh mozzarella, and bits of prosciutto if you wish. I left the prosciutto off altogether after trying it on the mushroom caps, and the final dish doesn’t miss it at all.

Like many soups, this one tastes better the day after it is made. If you have time to make it ahead, definitely do so. The flavors meld together and become quite complex after the soup has sat in the refrigerator for a day or two.



Grilled Tomato-Portobello Soup with Fresh Mozzarella
(revised version)

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 large portobello mushrooms, stems discarded
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp crushed hot red pepper flakes (for less-spicy soup, use 1/4 to 1/2 tsp)
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 quart chicken stock or broth
8 large plum tomatoes, stems cored and halved lengthwise
1 slice (1 to 2 inches thick) crusty bread
4 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
4 Tbsp store-bought pesto, optional
4 slices prosciutto, optional

If using a grill: Preheat the grill. Drizzle portobellos, tomatoes, and bread slice with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place mushrooms, tomatoes, and bread on grill and char on all sides, about 5 minutes (bread may take less time; watch carefully). Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly, then chop bread roughly. Chop portobellos into fine dice and set aside separately until serving time.

If using the oven: Preheat the broiler. Drizzle portobellos, tomatoes, and bread slice with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place mushrooms and tomatoes on a baking sheet and broil for about 5 minutes. Turn veggies over with tongs and continue broiling until mushrooms are well browned and tomatoes are charred, about 5 more minutes. Broil bread during last 2 minutes of cooking time. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then roughly chop the bread. Chop portobellos into fine dice and set aside separately until serving time.

While charring veggies and bread, make the soup base. Place a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil, onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and thyme sprigs. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for ten minutes.

To make the soup, combine the charred tomatoes and chopped bread in a blender with about 1 cup of the broth mixture. Purée until smooth. Remove thyme sprigs from broth, then pour the purée back into the soup pot and combine well with remaining broth. Simmer about 5 more minutes. Add reserved portobellos and simmer 2 to 3 more minutes, or until heated through.

To serve, top soup with thin slices of fresh mozzarella, a dollop of pesto, and bite-sized bits of prosciutto, if desired.



Grilled Tomato Stoup with Prosciutto and Mozzarella Portobellos
from 30-Minute Get Real Meals

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 large portobello mushrooms, stems discarded
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp crushed hot red pepper flakes
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 quart chicken stock or broth
8 large plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 slice crusty bread
4 slices prosciutto
4 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
4 Tbsp store-bought pesto, optional

Preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan on high. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

Place the portobello mushrooms on a baking sheet. Season both sides with salt and pepper and arrange the mushrooms gill side up. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Put them in the oven and roast for 12 minutes, or until cooked through.

While the mushrooms are roasting, start the soup. Heat a soup pot over medium-high heat with 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and thyme sprigs. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the chicken stock ad bring up to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer the stoup for 10 minutes.

Drizzle olive oil over the plum tomatoes and season them with salt and pepper. Place on the grill and char on all sides, about 5 minutes. Drizzle the slice of bread with a little olive oil, place on the grill, and cook until well marked on both sides, about 2 minutes. Remove the tomatoes and bread slice from the grill and roughly chop. Add them to a blender with about 1/4 of the simmering broth. Purée for about 1 minute. Add the tomato-bread purée to the simmering soup and continue to cook for 5 minutes.

Top each portobello cap with a slice of prosciutto and a slice of mozzarella. Return to the oven or the grill, and heat until cheese melts. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with pesto, if desired. Serve the portobellos alongside.

August 23, 2005

30-Minute Get Real Meals: Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps

At last, success! A recipe from 30-Minute Get Real Meals that didn’t require major tweaking. I think the root of this one’s success is that Ray didn’t have to fiddle with the basic idea to make chicken lettuce wraps fit the book’s low-carb mandate. It’s already a low-carb dish, just by its nature.

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The only change I made was to increase the amount of hoisin sauce. As written in the book, the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons, which left the chicken a little dry and underseasoned to my taste. Since I’m not worrying about keeping things low-carb, I increased that amount to 1/3 cup, nearly double the amount in the original recipe. (Hoisin sauce has quite a bit of sugar in it, which I assume is the carbophobic reason for the small amount in the original recipe.) The increase made for moister, tastier chicken.

The recipe calls for 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 pounds of chicken. I used a somewhat smaller package, about 1 1/4 pounds. That amount of chicken could be browned in one batch in a large skillet; if you use a larger package of chicken, you may want to cook it in two batches. If your grocery store carries thin-sliced chicken, or chicken "cutlets," use it. It makes the chopping easy. Ray doesn’t specify how small to chop it; when I’ve had this dish in Chinese restaurants, the meat is often chopped very, very finely — nearly minced. Not wanting to do that much work, I chopped the chicken into small bitefuls (about the size of an almond) and was happy with the results. You could substitute oyster mushrooms for the shiitakes, and if you want to get a few more veggies in there, use the entire red bell pepper instead of the half specified in the recipe.

I'm not sure what purpose the iceberg lettuce serves. The original recipe calls for the iceberg heads to be quartered, then placed on the serving platter. Whether or not they're there for eating the chicken is unclear, since you’ve also got Boston, Bibb, or butter lettuce leaves. At any rate, if you want iceberg, go for it. I stuck to simply butter lettuce and was quite happy with the end result.

The recipe below has been revised slightly (for clarity) from the 30-Minute Get Real Meals recipe.



Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 cups fresh shiitake or oyster mushrooms
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds thin-cut chicken breast or chicken tenders
2 Tbsp light-colored oil, such as vegetable or peanut oil
salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely chopped
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 red bell pepper, diced small (use the whole pepper if desired)
8-oz. can sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped
3 scallions, chopped
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, core removed, quartered
1 head of Boston, Bibb, or butter lettuce, leaves separated, washed, and dried
Orange wedges, for garnish

Remove the tough stems from the mushrooms and brush with a damp cloth to clean; slice the mushrooms. Chop the chicken into small pieces.

Preheat a large skillet on high heat.

Add the oil to the hot pan. Add the chicken to the pan and sear for a minute or two. Add the mushrooms and cook for another minute or two. Season with salt and pepper, then add garlic and ginger. Cook for a minute more. Add orange zest, bell pepper, water chestnuts, and scallions. Cook for another minute, stirring continuously. Add hoisin sauce and stir to coat evenly. Transfer to a serving platter and serve with lettuce leaves and orange slices. To eat, pile spoonfuls of chicken mixture into lettuce leaves and squeeze an orange wedge over the top.

August 22, 2005

30-Minute Get Real Meals: Nutty ‘Creamsicle’ Pie

I thought I’d give dessert a chance; after all, even though several of the recipes I’ve tested thus far from 30-Minute Get Real Meals have been problematic, the desserts might not be. Er, yeah. This pie recipe is seriously flawed.

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The pecan crust ingredients are way out of proportion — 6 tablespoons of butter to 1-1/2 cups pecans produced pecan soup. After cooking for the recommended 8 minutes, it was nowhere near done. I cooked it for an additional 10 minutes, and then gave it up as a hopeless cause. There was no way that amount of pecans could support all that butter, and even if it did firm up once cold, I didn’t think it would have a very good texture. Discarding the greasy mess, I started again, this time using a recipe from The Joy of Cooking, aka Old Faithful. The proportions in the Joy recipe make more sense: 4 tablespoons butter to 2 cups pecans. Joy also allows you to use 3 tablespoons of sugar (versus Get Real Meals’ one tablespoon), since Joy doesn’t suffer from the restrictions of the low-carb lifestyle. Joy also adds a pinch of salt, always a good idea. The Joy recipe worked fine, although I think that the nutty pecan crust is too overpowering for the delicate orange cream filling. It’s another flaw of the low-carb mandate: what this pie really needs is a graham cracker crust, but that's too high in the forbidden carbs, so Ray makes do with a nut crust. But the flavors of the filling get lost.

What I recommend is that you use a graham cracker crust for this pie. To make things easy on yourself, you can always use a premade one from the store. Or use the recipe from Joy of Cooking, below. The pecan crust needs a stronger-flavored filling, and you can make this delicious chocolate pudding pie with much better results than the orange creamsicle filling here.

The other problem with the recipe as written is the filling. One-half of a teaspoon of the gelatin did not firm up the cream cheese layer enough, while the remainder of the gelatin almost firmed up the heavy cream too much! I adjusted the amount of gelatin added to the cream cheese to get a firmer texture. Having less gelatin in the heavy cream makes no difference to its final consistency, and in fact somewhat reduces the risk of overmixing the heavy cream and getting it too firm to spread. (The recipe in 30-Minute Get Real Meals calls for an “.03” oz. package of gelatin, instead of an 0.3 oz. package. Just a typo, but it’s a sign of sloppy editing. You'd almost need a microscope to see .03 ounces of gelatin.)

A caveat about pie plates: as written, the recipe doesn’t specify what type of plate to use. If you’re like me and you only have Pyrex pie pans, you're going to have to add a not-insignificant amount of time to the cooling-off process, since putting a Pyrex pan hot from the oven directly into the refrigerator or freezer could result in the Pyrex breaking. If you have a metal 9-inch pie plate, use it.

Bottom line: the filling is quite tasty (it really does taste like a Creamsicle), and with the adjustments I’ve made, the texture is a bit better. The nut crust is delicious, if you use a recipe that works. But it’s too intense for the orange cream filling. Use a graham cracker crust, and save the nut crust for a more assertive filling.



Prep Time: 20 minutes
Chilling Time: at least two hours
Yield: 8 servings

Creamsicle Pie with Graham Cracker Crust
(revised version)

1 1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
6 Tbsp melted butter, warm or cool
1/4 cup sugar
8 oz. whipped cream cheese
Zest and juice of one orange
1 packet (0.3 oz.) sugar-free orange gelatin, divided
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine crumbs, butter, and sugar. Spread mixture evenly in a 9-inch pie pan. Using your fingers or the bottom of a drinking glass, firmly press the mixture over the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. Bake until crust is lightly browned and firm to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. If you have used a metal pie plate, you can put it in the refrigerator or freezer to expedite the process. If the pie plate is Pyrex, wait at least an hour before putting the pie plate into refrigeration.

When the crust is cool, mix the cream cheese, orange juice, and 1 teaspoon of the orange gelatin in a bowl until smooth. Pour the mixture into the pie plate and spread evenly.

Combine the heavy cream with the remaining gelatin in a clean bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Don’t overmix; the gelatin will cause the cream to seize up quickly if beaten too much. Pour the cream over the cream cheese filling and spread evenly. Sprinkle the orange zest on top and refrigerate at least 2 hours.



Nutty 'Creamsicle' Pie
from 30-Minute Get Real Meals:

1 1/2 Cups (6 oz.) pecan halves
1 Tbsp sugar
6 Tbsp butter, melted
8 oz. whipped cream cheese
Zest and juice of one orange
1 packet (0.3 oz.) sugar-free orange gelatin
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a mini food processor, chop the pecans until very fine and transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Stir the sugar into the pecans and add the melted butter. Mix until the pecans are completely moistened. Press the nuts evenly into the pan with your fingers to create an even creust. Bake until the crust is golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool. (Pop it into the freezer or fridge to speed up this process.)

When the crust is completely cool, make the filling. Mix the cream cheese together with the orange juice in a bowl until smooth. Open the gelatin packet, add 1/2 teasoon to the cream cheese mixture, and stir vigorously until well mixed. Pour the mixture into the chilled crust and spread it evenly with a spoon or spatula. Pour the heavy cream and remaining gelatin into a clean bowl. With an electric hand mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Pour the cream over the cream cheese filling and spread it decoratively over the top. Sprinkle the orange zest over the pie and refrigerate for at least two hours.

August 21, 2005

From My Kitchen: Chicken Soft Tacos

Virtually no prep required. Start with a grocery-store rotisserie chicken, and buy as many pre-prepped ingredients as you can find. Most stores have bags of shredded lettuce, and some carry pre-diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers, which makes this recipe easy to pull together. Place everything in bowls on the table, and let everyone build their own tacos. Pick and choose which ingredients appeal to you: the tacos could be as simple as chicken and lettuce in tortillas, or you could serve all the ingredients listed for taco-palooza. The amounts can be adjusted upwards or downwards, depending on how many servings you need.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 4-6 servings


1 rotisserie chicken, from the grocery store
Package of 10 flour or corn tortillas, taco-sized
15 oz. can chili beans, pinto beans, or black beans (seasoned, if available)
12 oz. bag shredded cheese (Mexican, cheddar, jack, etc.)
6 oz. bag shredded lettuce, or chopped salad greens
2 tomatoes, diced
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 small yellow or red onion, diced
(Or, if available at your grocery store, buy mixed tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers already pre-diced)
1 avocado, diced
sour cream, guacamole, fresh salsa, sliced black olives, cilantro leaves

Remove skin from chicken and discard. Pull meat off bones and shred into bite-sized pieces; set aside in a microwavable bowl. When ready to serve, reheat briefly to get chicken piping hot.

Heat beans in microwave or saucepan until hot.

Wrap tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave about 1 minute, or until hot.

Place ingredients in bowls and let everyone assemble their own tacos.

From My Kitchen: Soup and Salad with Crostini

A very simple way to dress up canned soup. You can assemble the salad while the crostini are baking. Be sure to use high-quality Parmesan cheese. If it's too much of a pain to grate your own, buy it pre-grated in the small containers available in the deli section of your grocery store. Don't ever use the stuff that comes in a green can. That's not Parmesan (it barely even qualifies as cheese) and won't melt properly. Depending on how hungry your family is, you can use three, four, or even five cans of soup. I recommend a tomato bisque or a minestrone, but you can use whatever soup strikes your fancy.

A long, thin (3 inch diameter) French-style baguette is easiest for making small crostini, but if that's unavailable, you can substitute a regular baguette. Just cut the slices into quarters before adding cheese. The bread needs to be sliced pretty thinly in order to crisp up nicely. Use a serrated knife to get nice thin slices.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: Four servings

3, 4, or 5 15 oz. cans of tomato bisque or minestrone soup
1 long thin baguette, or regular-sized loaf of French bread, if small baguette is unavailable (see note, above.)
Approximately 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat soup in a saucepan. Keep warm over low heat while making crostini.

Slice baguette into 1/4 inch thin slices. Line a baking sheet with foil and place baguette slices onto sheet. Sprinkle cheese over bread slices. Bake about ten minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and turning golden (Start checking after five minutes. The slices are thin and will burn quickly). Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

While baking crostini, assemble the salad:

6 oz bag prewashed salad greens (Romaine, spinach, etc.)
Approximately 1/3 cup salad dressing (Balsamic vinaigrette, Italian, oil and vinegar, etc.)
6 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained, optional
Thin slices of red onion, optional
Sliced black olives, optional

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl, increasing the amount of salad dressing if desired.

To serve: place soup in bowls, and top with two or three crostini apiece. Serve salad alongside, and top with additional crostini, if you like.

From My Kitchen: Frito Casserole

Classic Frito pie is just a bag of Fritos topped with chili. This version is a bit more involved, but it's still extremely simple to throw together, and tastes delicious. The amount of spices given below is an approximation; I usually just toss them in until the chicken looks well seasoned. I cook the spices with the chicken for a couple of minutes to tame the harshness of the chili powder and bring out the full flavor of the spices. Preheating the chicken and beans also means the casserole spends less time in the oven.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

10 oz. bag Fritos Original corn chips
10 oz. can white meat chicken, drained
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dry oregano leaves
1/2 tsp garlic powder
16 oz. can refried beans, any flavor (zesty, vegetarian, original, etc.)
8 oz. jar salsa or picante sauce, any variety
4 oz. can diced green chilis (not jalapeños)
2.25 oz. can sliced black olives, drained
12 oz. bag shredded cheese (Mexican, cheddar, colby/jack, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a deep (at least 4 inches) casserole dish with nonstick spray. Pour approximately one-third of the Fritos into the bottom of the casserole, and smush them down slightly with your knuckles. They don't have to be flat; just break them enough so that they're not all sticking up.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, combine the chicken, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and garlic powder. Mix well, breaking up the large chunks and coating the chicken well with the spices. Cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes, or until spices are fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside in a medium bowl.

In the same skillet (no need to clean it), combine refried beans and salsa. Stir until hot and combined, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Drop half of the bean mixture over the top of the Fritos in the casserole dish, in dollops. Try to get even coverage, but don't worry if the chips aren't completely covered; the beans will spread out in the oven. Spread half of the chicken mixture over the beans, as evenly as possible. Sprinkle half of the green chilis and half of the black olives over the chicken. Spread half of the cheese over the top. Reserve a couple of handfuls of the Fritos for garnish; pour the rest over the top of the cheese (crushing in your hands as you drop them in). Repeat the layering of the beans, chicken, chilis, olives, and cheese.

Cover the dish with foil, or its lid if it has one, and bake 35 minutes. Crush the reserved Fritos into small bits, and then sprinkle over the top of the casserole for garnish. Delicious as is, and it only gets better if you add sour cream, guacamole, and/or fresh salsa.

August 20, 2005

About Me

I'm Colleen Flippo, a 1999 graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and a former test-kitchen cook.

I love cookbooks. I love the glossy photos of the pretty food, the myriad ideas of all the different meals I could make, the vast potential of deliciousness that each book represents. What I don't love, a lot of the time, is trying to actually cook from cookbooks. So many cookbooks are so terribly flawed, and it frustrates me. Even tried-and-true classics aren't always perfect. One of the very first cookbooks I ever got, Julia Child's The Way to Cook, has a dreadful index, which may not seem like that big of a deal, until you can't find what you're looking for because it's not cross-referenced.

The worst offenders are "celebrity" cookbooks. You know the ones; they've got the smiling mug of a Food Network star chef on the cover, and they promise that you too can cook just like Emeril Lagasse or Rachael Ray or Wolfgang Puck. Open them up and start trying recipes, however, and more often than not you'll find that the proportions seem off, or the instructions aren't clear. And if the recipes don't outright fail, well, sometimes they're just not...all that good-tasting. What gives?

It's my suspicion that most celebrity cookbooks undergo very little testing before they're rushed into publication. When recipes seem as though they were cobbled together by an intern? They probably were. So here's my mission: to test cookbooks and see which ones actually work. I'll be selecting popular cookbooks and trying the recipes in my home kitchen. I'll give assessments of how realistic the time estimates are, how easy it is to follow the instructions, and most importantly, how good the food tastes.

I'm a cooking school graduate, but I'm not super-speedy in the kitchen, so my time estimates will be pretty realistic. I have little patience for recipes that make me stop and scratch my head, so unclear instructions will be called out for what they are: sloppiness and lack of respect for the consumer who's going to try to cook these celebrity chefs' recipes without the help of a backstage staff doing all the prep work.

I'll also be posting other odds and ends: my ideas for quick dinners, various favorite recipes I've used over the years, random magazine recipes that pique my interest, and so on.

If you have comments or suggestions, please let me know: Colleen@thecookbookcritic.com.


Off to the kitchen!

From My Kitchen: Turkey Manicotti

A fairly easy dinner to throw together. You can use lean turkey or fat-free. Same with the ricotta: low-fat, part-skim, or whole-milk all work fine. Avoid fat-free ricotta, as the texture isn't that great. Be sure to squeeze the hell out of the spinach, otherwise the filling will be watery. You can use the entire package of spinach if you want, but I prefer to leave out a good handful (1/2 to 3/4 cup), for a creamier filling. If you've never filled manicotti before, it can take a couple of tries to get a feel for it. I don't bother with a pastry bag, since that's one more thing to clean up. Just use a smallish spoon and put a tablespoon or so of filling into the pasta tubes at a time. If a tube splits, don't worry. Hold it flat in your hand and place the filling on top, then roll it back up and place it seam-side down in the baking dish.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Yield: 7 servings (two manicotti per serving)

8-oz. package dry manicotti
1.25 lb. package ground turkey
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp thyme leaves
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper
26-oz. jar and 14-oz. jar tomato-based pasta sauce (I like Classico's Tomato and Basil)
15-oz. package ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, drained, and squeezed well to get all the moisture out (remove up to 3/4 cup of spinach and discard, if desired; see note above.)
1 egg


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13 inch Pyrex baking dish with nonstick spray. Pour the 14-oz. jar of pasta sauce into the bottom of the baking dish.

Put a large pot of water to boil -- the bigger, the better. The manicotti will cook faster if they have room to move. When water comes to a boil, add salt (plenty of it; at least 2 Tbsp.) and manicotti. Cook according to package directions (about 9 minutes) and then drain and set aside to cool slightly.

Place a large nonstick skillet on medium heat. Mix the turkey with the Italian seasoning, thyme, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Cook until turkey is no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Add the 26-oz. jar of pasta sauce to the turkey and combine thoroughly. Turn heat off and set aside while making cheese filling.

In a large bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, spinach, and egg. Mix thoroughly. Fill manicotti tubes with a spoon, stuffing the filling into the tubes a tablespoon at a time. Fill them completely; this recipe makes enough filling for all fourteen manicotti that come in a standard 8-oz. package. Place filled manicotti into the baking dish. Pour turkey mixture over the top, making sure to cover all of the pasta tubes.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake 35 minutes, until bubbly. Cool slightly and then eat!

Chocolate Pudding Pie with Pecan Crust

Here’s a filling that can stand up to a pecan crust. It’s quick and easy to assemble. Allow at least 3 hours of chilling time.

Prep Time: about 10 minutes for the crust, plus cooling time. And about 10 minutes for the filling.
Cook Time: 15 minutes for the crust.
Chill Time: 3 hours
Yield: 8 servings

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp melted butter


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine pecans, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Pour into a 9-inch pie plate (preferably metal) and add butter. Mix with a spoon or your fingers until well combined. Press firmly into the bottom of the pie plate (the nuts will cover the bottom of the pan, but not the sides). Bake until deep golden, about 15 minutes (start checking after 10 minutes; nuts burn quickly). Remove from heat and allow to cool. If using a metal pie plate, you can speed up the process by putting it in the refrigerator or freezer. If using Pyrex, do not put the pie plate under refrigeration until it is quite cool, as a hot Pyrex dish could shatter.

When crust is cool, make filling:

First layer:

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
1/2 cup Cool Whip (any variety), thawed

Combine cream cheese and sugar in a medium bowl. When smooth, add Cool Whip. Pour into crust and spread evenly. Be careful -- the crust will lift up out of the pan if you pull the filling too hard. Use a gentle touch, and don't worry if some of the nuts get mixed into the filling. Make as even a layer as possible. Refrigerate while making the next layer of filling.

Second layer:

4-serving package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 1/2 cups milk

Mix well in a medium bowl until the pudding starts to thicken. Pour over the first layer in the pie plate, and refrigerate until the pudding is set, about 10 minutes.

Third layer:

1 cup Cool Whip, thawed

Spread over the top of the pie. Refrigerate until the filling is completely set, about 3 hours.

 

 

 

©2005 Colleen Flippo. All rights reserved. Contact the author.