Sunday, October 30, 2016

Mushroom Alfredo Wonderpot

I haven't been this excited about a recipe for a long time. It capitalizes on the pasta wonderpot trend, which involves making a pasta sauce, adding extra liquid to it, and cooking pasta directly in it. Obviously, this is NOT the traditional way to cook pasta, which involves cooking in copious amounts of boiling water, draining it, and adding it to a separately prepared sauce. Three benefits of the wonderpot method make it superior than the traditional method for this recipe. First, as the name indicates, it only uses one pot. Second, and more importantly, since you are not draining away the starchy cooking liquid from the pasta, the liquid reduces and thickens, enhancing creamy pasta dishes by making them extra creamy and eliminating the need to make a separate roux. Third, because the pasta cooks in the sauce, flavor is infused throughout the pasta, not just the sauce.

This seemed like the perfect technique to make an ultra-creamy mushroom alfredo sauce in which the mushroom flavor infuses through the entire dish. This recipe is incredibly simple, with just a few basic ingredients. It would be a perfect dish to serve at a dinner party: deceptively easy to make and hard to mess up, but sophisticated in flavor. It is easily customizable: add bacon or chicken for extra protein, spinach, chard, or kale for extra veggies, and whatever herbs you have on hand.

Mushroom Alfredo Wonderpot
2 t butter
1 lb mushrooms (I like cremini), thinly sliced
6-7 cloves fresh garlic, minced (I like it really garlicky, so I do 7)
your choice of herbs (1 t dried Italian seasoning or thyme is a good bet. I had fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano, and parsley from my garden, so I used those. Note that dried herbs are more concentrated, so I used about a tablespoon of each fresh herb)
1 t salt
black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
5 cups total milk and water (I don't keep cow's milk on hand, so I use 12 oz canned evaporated 2% milk from my pantry plus 3.5 cups water. 3 cups 2% milk and 2 cups water would be equivalent.)
1 lb pasta of choice (I like Barilla's white fiber spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 T lemon juice (optional)

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, saute mushrooms in butter on medium-high heat until golden brown. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Add remaining ingredients except Parmesan cheese and lemon juice, if using. If using fresh herbs, reserve to add at the end. Bring to a low simmer and cook, covered, for about 15 minutes. The pasta has a tendency to stick to itself and the bottom of the pan, so stir frequently. When pasta is al dente, remove from heat and stir in Parmesan, lemon juice, and fresh herbs, if using. Pasta should be fairly saucy at this point. If it is too dry and thick, add a bit more water or milk. If it is too thin, let stand, uncovered, for a few minutes to thicken.

Serves 5-6.

Reheats and even freezes well. Just add a little water or milk and reheat gently.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Three ingredient chickpea flour flatbread a la three cultures

Chilla chillin' on a plate
There's a lot to like about chickpea flour. It is much higher in protein and fiber and lower in carbs than flour. It's also gluten free. But I think my favorite part about it is that it makes delicious flatbread with just three ingredients and no leavener!

The interesting thing is that separate cuisines in the Mediterranean and India have created their own versions of this flatbread. Indian chilla or pudla is somewhere between naan and a crepe, and it's my favorite chickpea flour application. It's what I usually dip in my curries because I can't be bothered to make or have on hand naan. It would also make a great gluten-free wrap. Socca (from France) and farinata (Italy) are thicker, sturdier, oven-baked flatbreads, often infused with copious amounts of olive oil and herbs. If I want a quick and healthy pizza dough, I'll make a farinata-style flatbread in a cast-iron pan, and then top with my favorite pizza toppings.

Chickpea flour is also called besan or gram flour (NOT graham flour). You can find it at any Indian grocery store for a pittance, and I've noticed more grocery and high-end stores selling it in the natural foods section.

Chilla (Indian crepe)
1/2 cup chickpea flour
pinch of salt (1/4 t)
seasoning of choice, optional (I like 1/4 t garlic powder)
shy 1/2 cup water (I heard that warm water works best, so I just use warm tap water)
2 t butter

Mix together dry ingredients in a cup or bowl. Add water slowly, mixing to ensure there are no lumps. Add enough water to make a very loose pancake batter. Let stand for 5 minutes, if you have time. It seems to come out fine if you use the batter immediately, too. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and melt butter. Pour all batter and swirl around so that it covers the entire bottom of the pan. Cook for a few minutes, pulling up an edge occasionally to check for browning. Once it is golden brown, flip the entire pancake with a big spatula. Cook on other side until golden brown. Makes one large chilla, which serves one or two, depending on how hungry you are!

Farinata or Socca (oven-baked flatbread, great as a pizza crust)
3/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 t salt
seasonings of choice, optional (I like 1/4 t garlic powder and 1/4 Italian seasoning or rosemary
shy 3/4 cup water
1 T olive oil

Mix together dry ingredients in a cup or bowl. Add water slowly, mixing to ensure there are no lumps. Add half of the olive oil and enough water to make a very loose pancake batter. Let stand for 5 minutes to 2 hours, if you have time. It seems to come out fine if you use the batter immediately, too. Heat oven to 450 and place a large cast iron skillet inside to preheat. Remove from oven, oil skillet. Pour in batter and swirl around so that it covers the entire bottom of the pan. If using as pizza crust, cook about 7 minutes, until set. Add pizza toppings and return to oven until toppings are cooked. If eating plain, allow the farinata to cook a bit longer, until golden brown.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Loaded hashbrown breakfast casserole

This is an easy breakfast to make ahead to feed guests, especially hungover guests. It turns hashbrowns into a satisfying, infinitely customizable meal.

Loaded Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole 
cooking spray, butter, or oil
1 onion, diced
1 T minced garlic
2 lbs shredded potatoes (frozen is fine)
1 1/4 cup sour cream (10 oz) (I used low fat)
7 eggs
3/4 t seasoned salt
black pepper to taste
8 oz cheddar, shredded

optional add-ins:
4 jalapenos, seeds and membranes removed, minced
1 bell pepper
1/3 cup bacon bits or 1/2 lb breakfast sausage
1 bunch green onions
1/2 t smoked paprika
hot sauce, to taste

Saute veggies and meat (onion, jalapeno, bell pepper, garlic) in large greased saute pan. Once lightly browned, add potatoes, and saute on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, until lightly browned in parts. While that is cooking, mix together eggs, sour cream, seasoning, and most of the cheese (reserve a handful). Mix in potato mixture and pour into a greased 11X13 pan. Top with remaining cheese. Bake at 400 for 40 minutes, until edges are browned and potatoes are tender. Serves 7-8.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Perfect Recipe Project is 5 years old today!

Happy birthday to my blog! I started this blog five years ago with the goal of documenting my recipe experiments for replicability and for the internet to enjoy! Five years and more than 73,000 views later, I'm still true to my cooking philosophy: perfect recipes are creative, simple, healthy, inexpensive, and delicious. 

Although I may not post frequently, the 182 recipes I've already posted should keep any visitor to my blog busy for a while. The truth is, my recipe collection has almost reached saturation. I mostly cook recipes that are already posted. You can see my favorites here. When I develop a new staple, every now and then, I'll post it. 

For nostalgia's sake, here is a link to my very first recipe post, Brown Rice Jambalaya. I've served it more times than I can count since first posting it, and it's been the centerpiece of many get-togethers.

Crockpot or Instant Pot Chipotle Pork Chili

We are huge fans of pulled pork in my house. I wanted to try something a little different and make it into a one pot meal. The result is like pulled pork and chili had a Cuban black bean baby. It is wonderfully inexpensive and versatile. You can eat it on its own, in a burrito, on tacos, on nachos, or over rice.

Update: I recently bought an Instant Pot, and have been enjoying converting my slow cooker recipes to super fast pressure cooker recipes. Serious Eats just posted this article about how pressure cookers are usually at least as convenient as slow cookers and produce food that tastes better. I agree. I like that with a pressure cooker, I can put the meal together just an hour or two before I'm ready to eat, rather than having to plan ahead and do it in the morning before I leave for work. Plus, the Instant Pot allows you to saute right in the unit, adding a richer flavor. Regardless, the Instant Pot also has a slow cooker setting, so there is a lot of flexibility. I'll be updating some of my older slow cooker recipes, including this one, with information about how to convert them to Instant Pot or pressure cooker recipes.

Chipotle Pork Chili
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 bell peppers
6 cloves garlic roughly chopped
4 lbs pork loin or sirloin roast, cut into 3-inch chunks
2 t Goya Adobo seasoning
1.5 T cumin
1.5 T oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
1 T paprika or ground New Mexico chiles
1/2 -1 can chipotles in adobo, mashed with a fork in the can (a full can will make a spicy chili, half a can will make a moderately spiced one)
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 T Worcestershire sauce
3 15 oz cans black beans, drained thoroughly (I like the kind with garlic and oregano), or 3/4 lb dried beans, soaked in water overnight and drained. If using dried beans, add an extra 1/2 cup water to the pot before cooking
1 T sugar or Splenda

Slow cooker instructions:
Dump everything in slow cooker and stir. Cook 8 hours on low. Shred pork with two forks and return to pot. Pork should be fall-apart tender at this point, so break it up a bit with a spoon.

Instant Pot or pressure cooker instructions:
Saute veggies in Instant Pot while preparing remaining ingredients. Dump everything in and stir. Set Instant Pot to "beans/chili" setting for 60 minutes. Use quick steam release. Pork should be fall-apart tender at this point, so break it up a bit with a spoon.

Suggested accoutrements:
sour cream
salsa or pico
tortilla chips
corn tortillas

Friday, March 25, 2016

Three-Ingredient Apple Yogurt Cake

I'm really more of a cook than a baker, but I like to have a few "cheater" dessert recipes up my sleeve in case I am asked to bring one to a potluck or something. This Apple Yogurt Cake is the next installment in my series of few-ingredient recipes, like my Two-Ingredient Pumpkin Bread, Three-Ingredient Whoopie Pies, Magical Four-Ingredient Cookies, and Super-Easy Low-Carb Fudge. I have no pretenses about these recipes. Some of them are just one step better than picking up a premade dessert at the grocery store. And I'm ok with that.

Three Ingredient Apple Yogurt Cake: the name is basically the ingredient list. Some might argue that a product like "cake mix" does not count one ingredient, but rather a series of ingredients. To that I say, lighten up! It's a slippery slope. Most people would accept "cheese" as a single recipe ingredient, but in fact, it contains several ingredients. Basically, cake mix is a single item I have to buy, and I'm calling it a single ingredient!

This dessert is somewhere between apple pie and cake, with a subtle creaminess and tang from the yogurt. The cake is very low fat if you use low-fat or fat-free yogurt. It's a very moist cake with lots of fresh apple flavor and texture. It is perfect on its own or paired with ice cream.

Three-Ingredient Apple Yogurt Cake
1 cup plain yogurt of choice (I like Greek lowfat)
1/2 cup water
1 box cake mix (I like yellow cake mix, but spice or carrot cake mix would also be good)
3 apples of choice, peeled and chopped into 3/4 inch chunks
2 t cinnamon (optional, best if used with yellow cake mix, spice or carrot would not need it)

With a mixer or by hand, beat cake mix, yogurt, water, and cinnamon, if using. Fold in apples. Bake according to cake mix instructions. You might need to add another 5-10 minutes onto baking time.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cheeseburger Cauliflower Helper

In the wake of my Baked Fake-Ziti and my Cauliflower Cheese, I've been playing around with the general theme of turning pasta-based casseroles into low-carb, veggie filled dishes using cauliflower in place of noodles. Here is my latest creation, inspired by the low-brow but very nostalgic Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni. This is supremely comforting food, and I bet it would go over well with kids.

Cheeseburger cauliflower casserole
approximately 40 oz cauliflower florets (I use frozen)
1/2 t salt
1 onion, diced
1 lb lean ground beef
1 T minced garlic
30 oz canned diced tomatoes (I like to use the kind with green chilies)
1 T Worchestershire sauce
black pepper to taste
1/2 seasoning salt (I like Tony Chachere's)
1/2 t smoked paprika (optional)
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
6 ounces shredded low-fat cheddar, a few handfuls reserved for topping

Salt the cauliflower and cook until al dente. You can microwave it for about 10 minutes or do what I like to do, which is roast it in the oven at 450 for 30ish minutes while I'm preparing the rest of the ingredients. If any liquid pools in the bottom of the pan after cooking, drain it to prevent it from watering down the sauce. (This only happens to me if I microwave it.)

Saute onion in skillet. When softened, add ground meat and garlic and cook until meat is no longer pink.

Combine all ingredients (except reserved cheese) in bowl. Transfer into a 9 x 13 baking dish (or equivalent) and top with reserved cheese. Lower oven temp to 375 degrees and bake, uncovered for 30 minutes or until the casserole is bubbling, cauliflower is tender, and the cheese is completely melted. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.