Monday, September 29, 2008

How to Fix Mac and Cheese

I made some Mac and Cheese on Friday and it was...weird. The recipe was called Cheesy Macaroni and Ham. I omitted the ham, but I should have omitted a couple of other ingredients as well. There were three things added to the dish that made me worried--but I figured that they would all fit together well in the end.

They did not.

The ingredients that worried me were Sour Cream, Nutmeg, and Dijon Mustard.

The Dijon Mustard was a huge flavor in the pasta, and not a very welcome one. The mustard overpowered the cheese! Mustard Pasta is not a taste sensation. Nutmeg was a flavor that I could pick out despite the overpowering mustard and it was a little odd. While apple pie may be served with cheddar cheese, pumpkin never is and the nutmeg brought back memories of pumpkin pie and pumpkin pie with cheese sounds disgusting. The flavor of the sour cream didn't come out nearly as strongly, however, it did add a little bitter aftertaste.

So we ate the dish anyway, but there were mounds of leftovers that I really didn't want to go to waste. I decided to go back to my roots and remembered Grandma Bev's love for no recipes. I decided I would fix the dish if I could.

I pulled out a small casserole and mixed together a little egg and sour cream (I was out of milk and this seemed like a viable solution). I then added a couple scoopfuls of mac and cheese to the casserole. I topped this concoction with a handful of shredded cheddar being sure to fill in any gaps. I added a little bit of shredded mozzarella. Then I put a few thin pats of butter on top and baked for 15 minutes.

The result was a glorious cheesy hot and bubbly mass of golden delicious pasta and cheese easily masking the taste of the disastrous mustard.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Deep Dish Pizza

Day three was a real test. My commute was a half hour longer because of an accident on the major interchange. I re-routed and took a decidedly round about way home a little farther north than I needed to be. I got home at 7, and I was tired and hungry and I was wishing for Joey to say I didn't have to cook. But he didn't, he told me he'd be right over. And so I kept with my pact and cooked.

After two so-so recipe's from Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals, I knew that this one had to be delicious. The surprise was that it was delicious and very very easy and quick. This was the perfect meal to make when I was tired, it used hardly any dishes to boot!

The recipe calls for 1 pound of pizza dough, but Pillsbury refrigerated dough comes in at slightly under. Instead of buying two rolls, I decided to just go with one. I knew that I could get 1 pound of dough at Trader Joe's but then I would have to roll it out. Pillsbury dough is pre-rolled. Unfortunately, my roll of Pillsbury dough had a hole in it! This presented a problem in trying to divide it into two--it was far less dough than it should have been. As a result my two perfect pizzas became one perfect pizza and one puny kid sister. Portion-wise it was a good size for me.

Deep Dish Pizza

1 pound pizza dough
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (I bet the ones with Italian seasoning or garlic would add something)
2 T tomato paste
1 t oregano
1 C mozzerella cheese
2 T parmesan cheese, shredded
Assorted toppings (I used pepperoni and bell peppers)
*Robin suggested picking up assorted chopped veggies from the salad bar--had I gone to the store before the salad bar was closed, I would have jumped on this idea!)

-Preheat oven to 450F
-spray two 9 inch round cake pans with cooking spray
-Spread pizza dough (divided in two) evenly over the bottom (the non holey piece was easy as pie to spread)
-In a small bowl mix together tomatoes, tomato paste, and oregano. Add salt to taste.
-With a rubber spatula, spread the sauce over the dough
-Sprinkle both cheeses over the sauce
-Add toppings as desired
-Sprinkle with a little bit of the remaining cheese if desired
-Bake for 10-12 minutes until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly
-Let sit for 1-2 minutes allowing cheese to set

*It was easy to get the pizza whole out of the pan but not easy to cut it inside the pan. Try moving the whole pizza to a wooden cutting board and serving it at the table for a rustic look

Friday, September 26, 2008

No Knead Bread

If you haven't heard about the No Knead Bread craze, you haven't been in the food blogger world long enough! No Knead Bread became a phenomenon last year after a New York Times article was published. For the busy,the stay at home mom, or the home office employee, this is just the kind of bread that is hands off enough to make over a two day period but hands on enough to make you feel accomplished.

I have made the bread several times and each time I think that it would be even better with the addition of rosemary--but then by the time I get to the stage where I would add in the rosemary, I completely forget. Next time I will remember!

I made the bread the other day in a shortened period of time and it still turned out delicious. I had the day at home, so I thought I'd give it a shot and if it didn't work out I'd just make something different as a side for the potato soup I was making. The only thing that didn't work out was that I forgot to flour or grease the bottom of the pot I made it in and as a result the entire bottom half of the bread was impossible to extract. Luckily, I was able to salvage much of the loaf and the rest dislodged during a hot water spa soak in the sink.

I use Jaden's directions because she does it in pictures so it is easy to follow. Also, it really shows you just how the bread should look on each stage. The best part about this was that when I made it in half the time yesterday, I compared mine with hers to determine its state of readiness. I think my bread was a little flatter because of the small amount of time I let it rise, but it still tasted great!

3 cups bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
Covered pot (five-quart or larger cast iron, Pyrex, ceramic, enamel…something that can go into a 450F oven.)

-Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl
-Cover in plastic wrap and set aside on the counter for 12-20 hours or overnight (I set it aside for 8 hours)
-Later, remove dough from bowl and place on a floured surface, form into a ball folding in all sides (this is where I would add the rosemary had I remembered it)
-Flour a cotton dishtowel and place bread on towel and cover. If you put the towel in a pot, the bread will shape like the pot, if you put it on the counter it will be flatter. Let sit for 2 hours (I did 1 hour).
-With 1/2 hour left in resting time, put pot in oven (without the bread) and heat to 450. Remove the hot pot and add bread (GREASE AND FLOUR THE PAN FIRST).
-Bake covered for 30 minutes
-Remove the cover and bake for an additional 12-15 minutes until golden brown
-Cool on a wire rack, the bread will crackle as it cools, serve the same day, I have not found this bread to be as delicious the next day.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cheddar Potato Soup

Well, night two came and went. I made Cheesy Potato Soup from Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals. I must admit right off the bat that I made a possibly major mistake right off the bat that might have ruined the soup.

Remember those tests in grade school where each question told you to do some kind of silly thing but at the top it said Read through all the questions first and somewhere near the bottom it said "don't do numbers 2-20?" Well this is one of those times when I would have failed that test.

The part I didn't read was the part where it says "Carefully, without burning yourself, puree the soup in a blender or food processor or use an immersion blender to do it right in the pot." This is an important piece because, while there are 3 choices of small appliances, I don't have any of them. Usually when I make a blender-required recipe, I just ask Joey to bring one of the appliances over. But he was already there and so was our friend, so I decided to just skip that step.

Big Mistake. Instead of pureeing, I mashed the potatoes and then mixed them with the broth. The soup tasted much like a baked potato. Joey and Nate added butter and more cheese to their soup--bacon would have been an excellent topper. The soup was missing something--I really expected it to be more creamy than baked potato-y. I challenge one of you to try it and puree it and tell me what it's really like!

Cheddar Potato Soup
2 T olive oil
2 leeks (I didn't realize that 2 leeks was two stalks so I only bought one and then I used finely chopped red onion to fill the void of the other one)
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (she calls for roasted garlic chicken broth which I have seen in other recipes but NEVER in the store)
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, chopped (I added this because I thought there would be no flavor, the garlic flavor did not come through at all)
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
chopped chives (optional)
crumbled bacon (optional)
extra cheese (optional)

-Heat oil in a large saucepan over med. heat
-Add leeks and cook, stirring until soft and fragrant, add garlic and cook one minute more
-Add potatoes, chicken broth, bay leaves and bring to a boil
-Boil partially covered 8-10 min until potatoes are fork tender
-Remove bay leaves
-Puree soup in batches and return to pot
-Add cheese and stir until melted
-Add salt and pepper
-Serve hot with toppings

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Roasted Sweet Potato

Remember when I told you that my mom sent me a giant sweet potato for my birthday and instead of cooking it it grew? Well I decided enough was enough, my mom is on her way to town next week and I'm sure she'd be hurt to see that I never used the potato she sent me mid-July. So I decided to cook it up.

I cooked it two nights ago to go along with the Chicken Tenders and Corn. I knew that I'd be the only one eating the potato, but really, it was time. Speaking of time, I didn't have it on my side so I wanted to make something quicker than a baked sweet potato but still with the sweetness one might have at Outback.

I scoured the internet for a recipe with these key words "Diced baked sweet potato." I realized I probably should have gone with cubed, but I found what I was looking for on a site I have never before heard of. I changed the recipe a bit because of the other recipe I was making and because I wanted something just a tad sweeter.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes
2 large sweet potatoes (I used only my giant)
3 T olive oil
1 t salt
1 t nutmeg
1/4 t pepper
3 T brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400
Cut the sweet potato into cubes
Combine the nutmeg, salt and pepper
Lay the potatoes in one layer on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil and spices
Bake for 20 minutes or until tender
Move to a bowl and sprinkle with brown sugar
Microwave for 1 minute until brown sugar starts to melt
Serve warm

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Orangey Oat and Herb Crusted Chicken Tenders

When I visited Chicago last, my Aunt Dean gave me her copy of a cookbook by Robin Miller that has ideas of what to buy, cook, and then cook again a different way. It also has a variety of quick recipes that are kid-friendly. I'm not saying that my fiance is a child, but child-friendly food is definitely the way to go.

This week, I decided to do something that millions of families across the world do regularly and rarely even think about it. I plan to make dinner at home every night and bring my lunch to the office every day. Of course, I bring my lunch all the time anyway, but I don't cook nightly.

Sunday night I went to the grocery store and bought the ingredients for 5 recipes--all from Robin Miller's book. Last night was recipe number 1. It was O.K., I have definitely had some chicken tenders that were better, and I might not even count them as chicken tenders--but they were edible and mostly eaten by both my fiance and I. And, they had a ton of flavor. Plus, it only took me about 30 minutes to put together in total!

The main problem was that the crust wasn't all over the chicken--it was just dotted in places. I had a lot of trouble spreading the orange marmelade. I think if I were to make them again I would try apricot jam but also I would heat the jam slightly and use it to dip or coat the chicken before shaking it around with the oats. Also, there were not nearly enough oats for the whole 1 and 1/4 pound of chicken--so I recommend adding more, or doing the shake up with half and then the other half later.

Orangey Oat and Herb Crusted Chicken Tenders by Robin Miller
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
2 T flour
1 t dried oregano
1 t dried thyme
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t onion powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds chicken tenders
1/3 c orange marmalade
Cooking Spray

Preheat oven to 400F
Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray
In a large ziptop plastic bag, combine ingredients through pepper. Close the bag and shake until combined.
Brush the chicken pieces all over with marmalade - this was hard so I recommend heating the jam
Add chicken to the oat mixture (half at a time) seal the bag and shake to coat.
Place chicken pieces on the prepared baking sheet and spray the tops with cooking spray.
Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and cooked through (mine were cooked through but were not golden brown)
Serve with BBQ or Honey for dipping

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cold Sesame Pasta Chicken Salad

This recipe is a winner, I have already made twice within a few days. I love the site all recipes because of all the reviews. I found this recipe on all recipes here & it had so many good reviews, I had to try it. Changes I made from original recipe: added peppers (also think matchstick carrots would be another good addition), used penne instead of bow tie (I think you could use any pasta you already have in your pantry), & cut down the oil from 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup.

Also, best to make the day before & let in marinate as the original suggests.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fresh Veggie Pesto Pasta Salad and Tomato Basil Rice Soup

We've just joined a CSA group, so we get fresh veggies from local farmers each Thursday. I thought it might be stressful to get the veggies and then have to figure out a dish, but it's actually easier than thinking up what to make and then going to the market! We had tons of fresh basil and zucchini, so I made up this recipe.

Fresh Veggie Pesto Pasta Salad

Basil Pesto (from The New Vegitarian Epicure by Anna Thomas)
5 oz. fresh basil leaves (2 C. leaves, packed)
1/2 C pine nuts (I didn't have these so I used raw sunflower seeds instead)
1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic
5 T. fruity green olive oil
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste

Wash basil leaves in salad spinner and remove large or thick stems. In food processor or blender, combine first 4 ingredients and process until nuts and garlic are finely chopped. Add the olive oil and process again, scraping down sides of container as necessary until you have a paste of the consistency you like. Add salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste.

Veggie Pesto Pasta
Pasta (any kind you like - I used ziti cut)
2-3 zucchini or yellow squash, chopped
1-2 carrots, diced
1 large fresh tomato, diced (don't saute!)
Basil pesto to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions. In a little olive oil, saute squash and carrots along with any other vegetables that you're inspired to use. When pasta is cooked, drain and return to pan. Mix in sauteed veggies and diced tomato. Mix in as much pesto as you like. Serve warm or cold, but it is especially good warm! Serves about 4. (I used a yellow tomato cuz that's what I had but it would look pretty with red!)

I LOVE Anna Thomas' book, The New Vegetarian Epicure. Anna lives in Ojai and wrote one of the original vegetarian cookbooks, The Vegetarian Epicure, in the 70s. She told me the other day that she's working on a soup cookbook and I can't wait! The great thing about this cookbook is that the recipes are seasonal, so you can always find something to make with the freshest veggies available. Here's a delicious - and easy! - tomato soup recipe that comes from her book:

Summer Tomato Soup
by Anna Thomas

4 lbs. ripe, red tomatoes
2 T. virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 t. salt, more to taste
handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 C vegetable broth
2 C cooked rice (white or brown, but brown is amazing in this!)
fresh-ground pepper to taste

Scald tomatoes in boiling water for 45 seconds. Remove and peel them and trim off their stems ends. Cut in halves or in quarters and process briefly in blender; they should be somewhere between chopped and pureed.

Heat the olive oi in a large, non-stick saute pan and stir the chopped onion in it over a medium flame for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another 2-3 minutes.

Add the pureed tomatoes, a teaspoon of salt, and the basil. Simmer for about 1/2 hour, until the tomatoes are reduced to a sauce and dark red. Add the vegetable broth and the rice, and bring back to a simmer. Taste, and correct the seasoning if necessary with a touch more salt or a little fresh-ground pepper.

Serves about 5

Monday, September 8, 2008

Braised Chicken with Dried Plums

Everyday Food magazine has a lot of great ideas for quick meals. I scour the magazine every month and dog-ear pages...and then I file it away without making anything. I don't know why this is, but it happens a lot. This month, I decided to hunker down and do some cooking.

On Tuesday night I went to the grocery store with my magazine in hand and bought all the things I needed to make the braised chicken recipe. This recipe calls for wine which usually stops me dead in my tracks. Beer and wine are not my forte. When a recipe says "dry white wine" I think, how could wine be dry? It's a liquid. When a recipe calls for an light but robust beer, I stare at the section long and hard in deep confusion.

However, Everyday Food didn't let me down this time. Someone must have asked them for a wine feature because not only did they do a Wine Basics section but also recommended a type of wine to use in this recipe - Sauvignon Blanc. That said, it still took me remarkably long to find this wine in a reasonable size. I finally decided on the cheapest one I saw with a brand name I recognized -Sutter Home, $3.33 on sale.

The recipe calls for dried plums at the end. If you don't like dried plums, also known as prunes (which makes them sound particularly disgusting) you can use any kind of larger dried fruit that you like--for example apricots. You could probably omit the fruit too and just serve non-dried fruit on the side. I only liked it because it added texture.

I served this with store-bought mashed potatoes from the refrigerator section. This would be good also with polenta (their suggestion) or mashed rutabaga and potatoes. It needs something though to "soak up the rich sauce."

This recipe was absolutely delicious and ridiculously easy to make. I highly recommend it.

Braised Chicken with Dried Plums
2 T. Olive oil
8 bone-in skinless chicken thighs (about 3 pounds) - my supermarket did not have skinless thighs so I just removed the skin prior to making the recipe
salt and pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T flour
2 C dry white wine SUCH AS Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup pitted dried plums

1. In a heavy 5 quart (or bigger and you can do just one batch) Dutch oven or heavy pot with lid heat oil over med-high. Season chicken with salt and pepper (be generous on the salt). Cook in two batches until browned 6-8 minutes turning once (be careful, the oil spits). Transfer to plate.
2. TO pot add onion and salt and pepper. Cook stirring until onion begins to brown 3-5 minutes (reduce heat if it cooks too fast). Add flour, cook stirring 1 minute. Add wine and chicken along with accumulated juices.
3. Cover and cook until chicken is opaque throughout 8-10 minutes. Stir in dried plums. Serve hot with sauce over mashed potatoes.

I took a bite before I remembered that I needed a picture.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Italian Sausage Lasagna

One of my great aunt's sent me Ina Garten's Family-style cookbook for my engagement. The book is filled with amazing pictures and, if you have ever watched Ina before, you recognize Ina's banter in the notes section. The first recipe I tried from the book was Ina's Italian Sausage Lasagna. We had a couple of friends over and served them the dish and it was a huge hit! Ever since I made it the first time, Joey has been asking me to make it again.

So last night we invited a few people over and made it again. The recipe is a little time consuming in the preparation, so I refuse to make it on a weeknight, but it is well worth the trouble.

Ina's recipe can be found in the book or here, but I'll rewrite it anyway for ease.

Italian Sausage Lasagna



2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 medium onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed, broken up into chunks with 2 forks
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
2T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 t Kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper

Cheese Mixture

15 ounces ricotta cheese
2 T parsley, chopped
3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 t Kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper


1/2 pound lasagna noodles (~10)
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or pan over medium low heat (I used a large dutch oven because last time it splattered all over the stove) add onions and cook for 5 minutes until translucent
3. Add garlic and cook for one minute more. Add Italian sausage and cook for 8-10 minutes until no longer pink
4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, basil, salt and pepper and simmer over med-low heat for 15-20 minutes until thickened.
5. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water and soak the noodles for 20 minutes
6. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients for the cheese mixture. Set aside.
7. Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9x13 baking dish (I use glass). Spread evenly across the bottom and then layer with half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the cheese mixture and 1/3 of the sauce. Top in the same way with the rest and finish with sauce.
8. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of Parmesan over the top.
9. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve with garlic bread and salad.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Applesauce Cake

I don't like those little individual servings of applesauce. I don't like them because they are so watery. So when I'm jonsing for some applesauce, I have to buy the big jar. Then I eat a little of it and that's enough and I don't know what to do with the rest.

I read somewhere that you could use applesauce in place of oil in any cake. But how often do you make cake? Then I had it, autumn is eminent, why not make an applesauce cake? I used Google Blog Search to find a recipe and came up with a golden ticket. As luck would have it, I had some extra buttermilk lying around too!

Unfortunately, I made an error in cooking time..or perhaps there is a misprint in the recipe? Either way, this is what happened. I cooked th cake in an 8x8 glass cake pan for the listed time, I tested it with a toothpick and it came out clean. I let the cake cool. Late into the evening--around 11, I decided to cut the cake into squares so that I could bring it to work and not eat it all myself. The edges were done, but unfortunately, the middle was not. It was completely raw, but it had been cooling for so long. I salvaged the edges and the bottom and threw the remainder away.

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. salt
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
½ tsp. vanilla
1 cup applesauce
¼ cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour the bottom of an 8x8 pan (next time I will use 2 regular circle pans)
2. Sift together the first seven ingredients
3. Beat together butter and sugar until fluffy.
4. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and applesauce.
5. The mixture at this point is very wet. Alternate flour mixture and buttermilk with the mixer at very low speed. Be sure to start and end with flour.
6. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.

This was a big hit at the office. Thanks for the recipe, Kristen!