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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 01/19/2011

Chat Leftovers: Too much of a good thing

By Jane Touzalin

Hay there, everyone. No, that wasn't a typo; it was my hat tip to today's Smoke Signals column about how restaurant chefs are smoking food in hay -- and how you can do it, too. Columnist Jim Shahin will be on hand at today's Free Range chat to answer your questions about the technique, or about any other grilling-related topic you can name.

Also in today's Food section, Tim Carman writes about innovative pho in Washington restaurants, and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson reveals his love affair with Armagnac.

Join in on the chat at noon, and bring your questions. While you wait, here's an answer to a leftover question from last week's chat:

What can I do with two 8-ounce packages of cream cheese besides make cheesecake, put it on bagels or make a dip for crackers?

I feel your pain. The holidays left me with a fridge full of ingredient leftovers, including a block of cream cheese. Or maybe two; I don't want to look.

Anyway, I can help you with this. Here are three recipes that, among them, will use up almost every tablespoon of your cream cheese stash. And they're all first courses or entrees: There's not a dip, frosting or cheesecake to be found here.

Let's do some oldies but goodies. We'll start with a very elegant shrimp opener from the great Anne Willan -- chef, author and cooking school founder -- that we published waaaay back in 1987. Next, a more down-to-earth burrito from the collective that runs the famous Moosewood restaurant. a recipe we ran in 2005. And finally, one of our Dinners in Minutes -- fast and easy, from 2000.

Shrimp With Caviar Cream Sauce
8 servings

For the Salmon Caviar Sauce
1 cup cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces red salmon caviar
3 tablespoons whipping cream, and more if needed

For cooking the shrimp
1 onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 quarts water
2 pounds shrimp, shells on

For serving
2 heads boston lettuce
2 tablespoons chopped chives

For the sauce: Beat the cream cheese with the sour cream until smooth. Beat in lemon juice, cayenne and pepper, then fold in the caviar. Add cream to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

To cook the shrimp: Bring the onion, thyme, bay leaf, salt, peppercorns, garlic and water to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat; reduce the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until they are opaque and firm to the touch, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size. Drain, let cool and shell them, removing the vein. May be cooked a day ahead and refrigerated.

Up to 2 hours ahead: Shred the lettuce and spread on 8 individual plates. Arrange the shrimp overlapping in a fan on top and refrigerate. Just before serving, spoon the sauce over shrimp to partly cover; sprinkle them with chives.

Spinach Cheese Burritos

Whenever these burritos with the creamy spinach filling are on the menu at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y., patrons ask for the recipe.

The sauce can be made while the burritos are in the oven, or substitute your favorite salsa.

4 to 5 servings

For the burritos
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 bunch scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
10 cups (about 10 ounces) loosely packed fresh baby spinach, stemmed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch nutmeg (optional)
3 cups (about 10 ounces) lightly packed Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, grated
1/3 cup cream cheese
8 to 10 7- or 8-inch flour tortillas
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

For the sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (may substitute 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
1 can (15 ounces) whole tomatoes, with juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick oil spray.

For the burritos: In a large skillet on medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the scallions, garlic and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the coriander, nutmeg, if desired, grated cheese and cream cheese. Remove from the heat.

To keep the tortillas from cracking, place them on a baking sheet (overlapping is fine) and heat them in the oven for a minute or two.

Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup of filling on the lower half of a warm tortilla, fold the bottom up and the sides in to encase the filling, roll it up and place it seam-side down in the baking dish. When all the tortillas are ready, brush the tops with the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil, cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake until hot, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the blender tomato hot sauce: In a heavy saucepan or skillet over high heat, heat the oil until it is almost smoking. Add the onion, bell pepper and salt to taste. Cook, stirring often, until the bell pepper is blistered and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, stirring to combine, and remove from the heat.

Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor. Add the tomatoes and puree.

Return the sauce to the pan and add the cilantro, if desired, and salt to taste. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, partially covering the pan to avoid splatters.

Serve the burritos topped with the blender tomato hot sauce.

Chicken With Garlic and Herb Cream Cheese

4 servings

With all of the hullabaloo about boneless, skinless chicken breasts, people tend to forget about bone-in, skin-on chicken. Not only is this oft-overlooked cut much less expensive, but when roasted at a high temperature, it results in a moist, flavorful entree. And there's enough hands-off time left to prepare the rest of the meal.

The skin should be left on during roasting to seal in the juices, but it may be removed prior to serving.

Adapted from "Mood Food" (Sterling, $24.95).

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cream cheese
3 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (such as chervil, chives, dill, marjoram, parsley, tarragon or thyme)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the butter in a baking dish and heat in the oven just until the butter has melted. Watch carefully; do not burn.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, herbs, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Using about 2 tablespoons of the mixture for each piece of chicken, rub the mixture under the skin, spreading the mixture to coat the meat evenly.

Transfer the chicken to the preheated pan. Brush the top of each piece generously with the melted butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Roast the chicken, uncovered, until cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

By Jane Touzalin  | January 19, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags:  Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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One of my favorite uses for cream cheese is making rugelach to bring into the office - they are always a hit. Dorie Greenspan, in her book Baking: From My Home to Yours, has a wonderful recipe. I make mine with whatever is on hand (always jam, sometimes chocolate chips, nuts, and/or dried fruit). However, you can use more or less whatever filling you want (including savory fillings). The dough has a high cream cheese/butter to flour ratio, which keeps the dough extremely moist and crumbly. Here is a link to Ms. Greenspan's recipe:

Posted by: caitlinevaughn | January 19, 2011 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Funny, I was also going to suggest rugelach. I use Ina Garten's recipe, which uses an 8 oz. block and makes 48 cookies. The dough can be divided into four pieces and frozen, so making a dozen cookies is as easy as thawing the dough, rolling it out and adding the toppings.

Posted by: margaret6 | January 19, 2011 11:34 AM | Report abuse

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