19 September 2012

Swedish Meatballs

Swedish Meatballs

Sometimes I make what I consider to be incredible meals. I don't follow any specific recipe, I use ingredients that I have available, and I'm more likely to experiment. That's how this dinner came to be. After making it a few times, I knew I needed to write it down so it would be forever preserved.

I've made Swedish meatballs a few times in the past (once after a trip to Ikea gave me a craving), recreating them from memory and enhancing the flavor of what can be a bland dish. I kept the spices in the meatballs because that's what makes Swedish meatballs unique, though instead of using three different types of ground meat I just used ground turkey. Then, I complicated matters by caramelizing onions. Doing so added an extra half hour to the recipe, and although it really enhances the flavor you could just saute them to shorten the recipe.

bag of onions

So, start with a lot of onions.

Swedish Meatballs
Swedish Meatballs

Just kidding, you don't need that many. Just a few cups of finely chopped onions. They'll reduce quite a bit as they caramelize so you need more than you would otherwise.

Swedish Meatballs
Swedish Meatballs

As the onions caramelize, I prepared the meatball mixture ahead of time so the spices could meld. I like using breadcrumbs in meatballs to create a spongier texture. I didn't have any when I first made them, so I used quick oats. It worked just fine! After softening the oats in a little milk, I mixed in the spices - freshly grated nutmeg and allspice, garlic, parsley, and an egg before gently folding in the ground turkey just to combine. A portion of the caramelized onions are added when they're ready.

Swedish Meatballs

Always sear your meatballs. I don't care if it's going in a sauce or you're eating them solo, sear them. It gives them a great texture and you'll get a nice fond for the pan sauce. I feel like the meatballs are less likely to crumble when seared, too.

Swedish Meatballs
Swedish Meatballs
Swedish Meatballs

The remainder of the recipe comes together quickly. Stir in flour, whisk in chicken broth and sour cream, then add the meatballs back in the skillet to finish cooking while you boil pasta. (I suggest egg pasta. If you live nearby an Aldi, see if you can find their spaetzle egg pasta.)

Swedish Meatballs

In about an hour, you'll have a dinner that will please everyone and hopefully something a little different than what you usually make.

Have you tried Swedish meatballs before?

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Swedish Meatballs
Recipe by Christina Provo

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients -

3 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
1/2 cup quick oats
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, plus extra for garnishing
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly ground is preferable)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 pound ground turkey
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
12 ounces dry egg noodles

Directions -
  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When it foams and sizzles, add the onions. Cook for 30 minutes until caramelized, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat if the onions are charring. Remove from pan, making sure to remove every bit of onion.
  2. While the onions cook, prepare the ground turkey. In a large bowl, add the oats, chopped parsley, and garlic. Stir in the egg, salt, spices, and pepper, then gently mix in the turkey, being careful not to overmix. Set aside; stir in 1/3 cup caramelized onions when they have finished cooking.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In the same skillet the onions were cooked in, heat 2 tablespoons oil until hot. Working in two batches, form half the turkey mixture into balls a little smaller than a golf ball. Sear meatballs for 4 minutes on both sides. Remove to a platter. Repeat with remaining turkey mixture and oil.
  4. If skillet is dry, add another 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil. Otherwise, whisk flour into remaining oil and stir for 30 seconds. Slowly pour in chicken broth and whisk until smooth, followed by sour cream. Season with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Add meatballs back to skillet; cover, reducing heat to maintain a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from sauce.
  5. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain. Add noodles to sauce and toss to coat. Divide between plates and serve with meatballs.


17 September 2012

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

I have officially welcomed autumn with my first pumpkin baked good. Pumpkin cinnamon rolls have always sounded tasty to me, but most of the recipes I saw only had pumpkin in the bread. I wanted the taste of warm pumpkin pie filling between layers of pastry.

Pastry. Not bready dough. My favorite cinnamon rolls of all time are from Victorian Pantry. Unlike your run-of-the-mill Cinnabons, Steve's cinnamon rolls are made from a laminate dough, which I've always been hesitant to make because of how complicated I thought they were. Then I made croissants a few months ago and even though the results were far from perfect, it got me over my fear.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

I searched online for a recipe the fit my description and ended up finding this one from one of my favorite cookbooks, Baking with Julia. Not only does this recipe take two days to make, it's more complicated than standard cinnamon rolls.

The brioche dough is enriched with eggs and butter and requires a long mixing in a stand mixer that I don't have, so I alternated between using a large, sturdy wooden spoon, my hands, and a pastry scraper. After finishing the dough, I watched a video of Julia Child and Nancy Silverton making these rolls together. I panicked for a moment because my dough didn't look anything like theirs did. I hoped it would be transformed overnight.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Day two: laminate the dough with more butter. Simply put, the dough is rolled out, dotted with butter, folded, and rolled and folded again. Thankfully, the dough was manageable and easy to work with.

As the dough rested in the fridge, I mixed together the pumpkin filling, using fancy Vietnamese ground cinnamon that my friend sent me. (It's stronger than regular ground cinnamon and smells like all the cinnamon sticks in one room.) The filling consisted of a cup of pumpkin puree, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, three tablespoons granulated sugar, 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (1 1/4 regular cinnamon), and 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg. It was good enough to eat on its own and didn't taste like raw pumpkin.

After the dough is filled, the logs are chilled in the freezer so that they're easier to slice. That they were, and I didn't even need dental floss. This extra step is worth the hassle because the layers don't smoosh together when sliced. Finally, they're left to rise one last time before being baked.

It wasn't a particularly cold day yesterday. However, the rolls were taking forever to rise, so I stuck them in the oven with a bowl of boiling water underneath. Pro tip: Why haven't I done this before? Do it.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

I brushed the rolls with a simple confectioners' sugar glaze immediately after taking them out from the oven. I like the look of rolls with a clear coating instead of a thick white icing that hides the beautiful layers.

The pumpkin filling was incredible and tasted just like pie, especially the centers that had the most filling. It almost reminded me of a McDonald's pumpkin pie. (I shouldn't be admitting that, should I?)

My biggest question was if this recipe was worth the extra effort. I'd say it was, but I'd only make them for special occasions. The rolls were lighter and flakier than regular rolls and came pretty close to the VP rolls I crave.

I'm submitting these rolls to Yeastspotting.

Click here for dough recipe and instructions

13 September 2012

Lentil Shepherd's Pie Stuffed Peppers

Lentil Shepherd's Pie Stuffed Peppers

Public service announcement to spammers: Your comments aren't going through. Blogger's spam filters work wonders. They're still sent to my inbox, though, and I chuckle over the vague, nonsensical comments complete with links to sites I'm too afraid to ever click.

In August, I developed a recipe for BeeWell For Life's blog, Bee Nutritious. Why did I create a winter-appropriate comfort dish in the middle of hell? I must have been in need of comfort, and once I came up with the idea I couldn't get it out of my mind. I was also wishing for fall, which is also why I had a pumpkin spice latte the first week of September when it was still 80°. Now that it's fall-ish, or now that I'm blogging again, it's appropriate to talk about this recipe.

Shepherd's pie is is traditionally made with ground lamb, though I have only ever used either beef or turkey. This time, I used lentils and portobello mushrooms. While the lentils cooked, I blanched the peppers and prepared the gravy, which is a mixture of onions, garlic, mushrooms, seasonings, and beef broth.

To vegetarianize the recipe, you'll need to sub the beef broth with another liquid - I think mushroom broth would work well. I also used Worcestershire sauce, so you'll have to find a substitute, such as Annie's Naturals, Bragg Liquid Aminos, and the like. Don't forget the butter and milk in the recipe, too.

Lentil Shepherd's Pie Stuffed Peppers

What I like the most is the presentation. Instead of a blob of deliciousness on a plate, which isn't very photogenic, you can present your guests with their very own stuffed pepper festooned with pillowy mounds of mashed potatoes. But if you don't want to bother with the peppers, just layer it in a baking dish and cook until the potatoes are golden. I was happy with the heartiness and flavor of the filling and would have eaten it alone had it just been for myself. That good.

I would like to give a quick shout-out to BeeWell for the awesome hat they sent me as a thank you gift that I've been wearing when I run.

Print this recipe

Lentil Shepherd's Pie Stuffed Bell Peppers
Recipe by Christina Provo

Serves 4

Ingredients -

4 green bell peppers
1 pound mini red potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup 1% milk, warmed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces baby portobello mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 3/4 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 3/4 cup cooked lentils

Directions -
  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; fill a large mixing bowl with very cold water and set aside. While water boils, prepare bell peppers by slicing off the tops and scooping out the seeds and veins with your hands. Level the bottoms if necessary so the peppers stand upright. Once water has come to a boil, place as many peppers as will fit in the pot and blanch for 2 minutes. Remove the peppers to the bowl of cold water. Repeat with remaining peppers if needed.
  2. Place the potatoes in another pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil; cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain, then add back to the pot to allow excess moisture to evaporate. Mash in a large bowl. Stir in warmed milk, melted butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper until smooth. Cover and set aside.
  3. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. When warm, saute carrot, onion, and garlic for 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and saute for 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and saute to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle flour on top of vegetables and cook for 3 minutes. Carefully pour in beef broth and Worcestershire sauce and stir until smooth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a bubbling simmer and stir in lentils. Cook for 10-15 minutes until mixture thickens.
  4. Spray a 10-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Remove peppers from water and pat dry; place in dish. Divide lentil mixture evenly between peppers. Top with mashed potatoes, smoothing the sides. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 25 minutes or until tops are a light golden brown and peppers are tender.


12 September 2012

Planning Race Travel with Room 77

Let's talk about races, specifically races that require travel. If you've ever run in a large race, chances are good that you had to travel for it. Upon registering, the next step would be to make travel arrangements and book a hotel. Finding a relatively inexpensive hotel near the starting line can be challenging, but Room 77 is here to help make your planning simpler.

Room 77 is a comprehensive hotel search site that enables travelers to find and book the best rates from across the Web in one search--meaning a search on Room 77 immediately brings up the prices for each hotel as listed on that and three other sites.

In order to get a feel for how the site works, I browsed it as if I were booking a hotel for a hypothetical redemption race in Pittsburgh next year (I clearly have not let that disappointment go..). It's easy to search for rooms according to what is needed. For my initial search criteria, I entered downtown Pittsburgh as the location, check in and check out dates, rooms required, and body count. Once a list of available hotels appears, you have the option of narrowing down your search criteria with Room 77's various filters. I set mine at price range, distance range, and preferred amenities like free wi-fi(so I can keep tabs on the weather) and free breakfast (because I love those waffles). Other available filters include neighborhoods, special rates, star ratings, etc.

Room 77 Review

Room 77 listed a good variety of hotels in wide variety of price ranges that fit the bill. I noted that distance seems to trump all the other criteria in the search, thus the motels are listed from first to last accordingly. While that may be annoying to some, it really isn't hard to note the different prices. What's really helpful is that for each hotel's price, the site with the best price is listed along with prices from at least three other sites. If one wants to compare what values the other sites offer for that particular hotel, it can all be done from the information Room 77 lists rather than having to open another tab. I could go on, but for me that one time saving feature of Room 77 means less time spent searching.

Using Room 77 takes the stress out of planning, so all I have to worry about is training for my (hypothetical) race. If, hypothetically, I weenie out of my race, I made a note that a fee is sometimes charged for cancellations. Be sure to read the fine print before booking because it's different for each hotel.

Never wonder whether you’ve gotten the best deal on your hotel room again. Check out Room 77 when planning your next travel adventure!

I was selected for participation in this campaign as a member of Clever Girls Collective.

11 September 2012

10 September 2012

Rustic Potato Bread

Rustic Potato Bread

I baked bread this weekend because I craved toast. Homemade (or store-bought artisan) bread has ruined mass-produced bread for me forever, especially in recipes like French toast, stuffing (or dressing - and yes, I bake homemade bread just for stuffing/dressing), and bread pudding. Needless to say, I haven't been eating much bread lately because I have standards (read: I'm lazy), so instead of running on Saturday, I decided to bake.

Not that I had an excuse to skip running since this bread only took a few hours to make... (But I'm going for a run after writing this post, so...)

Rustic Potato Bread

I've made this recipe a few times, though I've never talked about it before. It's rustic without all the work that traditional artisan bread demands. Cooked, mashed potatoes and its cooking liquid gives the bread moistness, flavor and, most importantly, makes excellent toast.

PRO TIP: After cooking the potatoes, drain them (after reserving the required potato water - very important) and return to the empty pot. Toss the potatoes a few times until surfaces appear dry. Place on a baking sheet to cool completely. This removes excess moisture. (I learned this bit of advice from a Julia Child mashed potato recipe.)

Rustic Potato Bread

PRO TIP #2: If you use a ricer to mash the potatoes, you don't need to peel them. Although I lost a little potato flesh this way, it cuts down on prep.

The original recipe uses Russet potatoes, but all I had were Yukon Golds (which are more flavorful anyway, so I recommend using them). I didn't even have enough and had to add quite a bit more liquid before the dough looked proper. When made with the correct amount of potatoes and liquid, the dough goes from crumbly to incredibly sticky before turning into supple bread dough, which I managed to avoid this time because I added additional water in tablespoons as needed. Upside!

Rustic Potato Bread

Another reason I like this recipe is that it takes just 3-ish hours from start to finish. Each rise is a mere thirty minutes and you won't have to devote half a day to baking. I may exaggerate, but that's what it feels like sometimes.

Rustic Potato Bread

If you don't have a baking stone, place the bread seam-side up to rise.

Rustic Potato Bread


I will be submitting this bread to Yeastspotting.

Print this recipe

Rustic Potato Bread
adapted from Baking with Julia

Yields two loaves

Ingredients -

1 - 1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and quarted
3/4 cup reserved potato water
2 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast
pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 3/4 cup unbleached bread flour
1 tablespoon wheat gluten

Directions -
  1. Place potatoes in a medium pot; cover with water and cook until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Reserve 3/4 cup water. Drain potatoes and return to empty pot, still over heat. Toss just until potatoes begin sticking to bottom of pan. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and air dry until cooled completely. Once cooled, mash or press through a ricer into a large bowl.

  2. Reheat reserved potato water to 100°. Stir 1/2 cup water into small bowl with yeast and sugar; proof for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the oil and salt with the mashed potatoes. Stir in yeast mixture, 1 cup flour, and wheat gluten.

  3. Add remaining flour, mixing with your hand to incorporate. If dough remains dry after a few minutes of mixing, add additional water in 1 tablespoon increments just until a cohesive dough forms. Turn out onto counter and knead until dough is smooth and slightly tacky, about 10 minutes. During this time, the dough might turn from impossibly dry to very sticky - if necessary, cover dough with bowl and let stand for 10 minutes, then continue kneading with the aid of a dough scraper.

  4. Return dough to bowl. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes - the dough will have risen but not quite doubled. Turn out onto floured surface and divide in half. Flatten each piece into a thin oval, then roll into a loaf starting at the narrow edge farthest away from you. When you reach the last roll, gently stretch the end towards you before wrapping on top of loaf. Gently roll the loaf to taper the ends into a football shape. Place seam side down on floured, rimless baking sheet. Dust loaves with flour and let rise for 30 minutes.

  5. While the bread rises, place a baking stone on the middle rack in the oven and preheat to 375°. Fill a small, oven-proof dish halfway with water and place on bottom rack to create steam.

  6. When dough has risen, gently roll the loaves onto the baking stone, seam-side up. Use spatula to help if necessary. Bake for 50 minutes, or until bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Place on a wire rack; cool 30 minutes before slicing.


08 September 2012

lacing up my running shoes & breaking out the whisk

lemon-glazed madeleines

After my race in August, I took a sabbatical from everything running and cooking related; my motivation for the former was waning and the latter began to feel like more of a chore than a pleasure. There isn't much to talk about here otherwise, so I put blogging on the back burner until I was ready to begin anew. Fortunately, my dry spell only lasted a month. (It could have been worse, right?)

During the last week of August, I finally had the desire to lace up my running shoes. My iPod wasn't charged and I didn't have my Garmin, but neither of those were necessary. I simply ran for fun, paying attention to just my breathing and the scenery. It got a little rough under the blazing sun, though for the first time in a while I didn't mentally quit. Since I wasn't able to see my distance and pace, I avoided subconsciously racing myself, which happens more than I care to admit. Not only did I feel proud of myself, I started feeling hungry. Not long after, I found my way back into the kitchen.

lemon-glazed madeleines

If you subscribe to Bon Appetit, you'll have noticed an incredible chocolate layer cake in August's issue. Something grand, something chocolate would have made an excellent choice!! But it was too much work - the cake layers, the crumb coat, the final coat, the hazelnut crunch. I needed something simpler. Homemade red velvet cookies sounded promising until I remembered that I was out of red dye. Eventually, I decided to bake madeleines, the simple little French cakes that look impressive without even trying.

lemon-glazed madeleines
lemon-glazed madeleines

Madeleines are made from genoise batter, which is a buttery sponge cake leavened by air (some recipes call for baking powder in addition). These cakes require a scallop-shaped tin or else they can't really be called madeleines. I looked up a David Lebovitz recipe I knew I could trust and set to work, preparing the tins to chill in the freezer and the batter to rest in the fridge. According to everything I've ever read about madeleines that Lebovitz' recipe confirms, lengthy chilling of both tins and batter aids in majestically humpy cakes, so make sure you plan ahead. Good things come to those who wait, though, and after a quick nine minutes of baking you will be rewarded with perfection.

lemon-glazed madeleines

Unlike cupcakes, which showboat under a mountain of fluffy frosting studded with sprinkles, madeleines tempt you with their delicate scalloped edges defined by a dusting of confectioners' sugar or a light glaze, quietly stealing the show with their elegance. They're small enough that you can eat three at once without inducing a toothache, because believe me, you're not going to eat just one - I speak from experience, people. Unfortunately, there are only a dozen left (I shared them, okay? I haven't been running that much), so I will have to make something else soon.

Hopefully this trend will continue. The cooler temperature will make for more pleasant running conditions, and I'm looking forward to fall baking. I even have a few ideas up my sleeve.

Lemon-Glazed Madeleines from David Lebovitz
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