Friday, December 31, 2010

Product Review: Trader Joe's Sugar Cookie Workshop

I stopped at Trader Joe's in search of macadamia nuts and came out with this Sugar Cookie Workshop--for 99 cents! I bought the Sugar Cookie Workshop because it was such a ridiculously good deal. By that time, I had already baked my socks off but I figured I'd have a chance to do these before the new year.

And I did that in the nick of time! This workshop really is a good deal. For 99 cents, I got sugar cookie mix, 3 cookie cutters, 2 packets of vanilla frosting and 4 different colors of sanding sugar. If you wanted to buy all these things separately, it would be well over $10. The mix for me yielded about 60 cookies. The cookies are delicious, but I still have some tips for you if you get this mix in the future.

1. There was not enough frosting for the amount of cookies the mix yielded. Don't fret. There are several ways to make your baking experience a success if you know ahead that there will not be enough frosting. There is plenty of sanding sugar, even if your kids have a heavy hand with sugar. I only had enough frosting for about 40 cookies. So, before you bake the remaining 20 cookies, make a little egg wash (beat one egg in a small bowl), and brush it onto the unbaked cookies. Then sprinkle some of the sanding sugar onto the egg washed cookies and bake as normal. These cookies are great for people watching their weight because it doesn't have the added frosting.

2. The frosting works better in the beginning than later, so frost and then decorate. It would be great if you had someone else helping you make your cookies. An assembly line would be great. Have one person squeeze the frosting promptly after the bag is kneaded and cut onto the cookies. Have another person spread the frosting around. If you are thinking you can use this box mix to make something like this, think again. This frosting doesn't work that way. So you can use the cookie mix and cookie cutters--but not the frosting. Use this frosting if you aren't really worried about a finished look but more of an artists take. This mix would be great for young children.

That's it, everything in the mix was great (I love that you can make the cookies with melted butter so you don't have to worry about getting it to room temperature) except the frosting wasn't as great. Lucky for me, I did my share of decorating this Christmas and had some extra frosting lying around so I used that in a pinch. You could also make your own really quickly if you were running low, but again, you'd have to have room temperature butter already on the play it safe and bake a few with sugar and no frosting.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Product Review: Marie Callender's Rigatoni Marinara Classico

My husband wasn't available for dinner tonight and I didn't feel like cooking or having the leftovers, so I pulled out a frozen meal. And you know how I feel about frozen meals.

This meal steams the meat and pasta over the sauce so the pasta is still al dente in the end and not soggy like some frozen pastas. This only takes 4 1/2 minutes to make and comes in a really solid plastic bowl.

The pasta and flavorful sauce is mixed with sausage coins and meatballs. I thought the flavor was good and relatively filling with the addition of a roll and a mango.

I would buy this meal again.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Caramel-Chocolate Macadamia Nut Tart

This Christmas Eve we brought dessert. We assumed we would be one of many desserts, but for the first time ever, we brought the only option. Thank goodness it was delicious!

We decided to make this caramel-chocolate Macadamia nut tart but we didn't really get started first thing in the morning (or the night before). So, as a result the tart took all day to make and we finished it just before we had to leave for the party. However, after rushing to make it, we could only think of one step we could've made ahead--the crust.

The reviews on Epicurious for this recipe said the crust was blah. Having made a pear & almond tart for Thanksgiving, we decided to use the almond tart crust instead. A lot of people thought that crust was shortbread in the finished product. It also comes together quickly in food processor and we knew it would work. After we had our tart crust chilled, rolled, baked and cooled, we got started on the chocolate ganache. We used Ghirradeli Bittersweet Chocolate and I would definitely not use anything more bitter. The ganache was very rich. It was offset by the caramel sauce we made in the finished product.

Also, macadamia nuts are hard to find and not cheap. We bought 10oz unsalted at Trader Joe's and toasted them briefly in the oven before chopping them. We used only the amount the recipe called for. We think salted macadamia nuts (which are not as hard to find) would have been a fine substitute.

This dish was delicious and rich. We served it with vanilla ice cream and the extra sweetness was much needed. We were able to serve 10 with this tart, but our slices were small. I think we could've used another dessert or maybe two of the same. Even the people who aren't chocolate fans (I know, seriously.) enjoyed this pie. It is a make again when we have lots of time treat!

Monday, December 20, 2010

California Snowmen

This Christmas season I have had entirely too much time on my hands. Yesterday, I was browsing through a few blogs looking for last minute crafts (yeah, I know.), and I came across two food related crafts that I thought fit the bill. One of them was these adorable melted snowman cookies. Not only did these scream adorable, but also perfect for California, cause when was the last time you saw a real live snowman in the Los Angeles sunshine?

I found the tutorial of how to make these over on Crazy Domestic (she's a better frosting piper than I am so click on the link to see), I should've known by the name of the blog what the project entailed. I sure am glad I undertook this project, but while I was doing it I thought of who else I know that might take the time (3 hours I think) to embark upon a decorating project like this. I couldn't really think of anyone. But, perhaps some of you are decorating experts, or, like me you think these are too adorable to pass up. Then go for it!

For this project, I followed the recipe for Royal Icing from Bake at 350's blog which was featured on the Pioneer Woman's blog a few weeks ago. I made a half batch which was still too much for my 14 cookies, and I made what is called Flood Icing which is made by adding tiny increments of water until it runs like syrup. I think I probably still made mine a little thick. Also, this frosting is particularly tasty but I didn't want to turn it brown with vanilla, so I left it as is.

For the red & brown frosting, I used Wilton decorating frosting that comes in the tube (cheaper at Michael's than Ralph's) and the Wilton decorating plastic tips that you can buy specifically to use with those squeeze bottles. The brown frosting is chocolate and adds a lot of flavor to the cookies. The red frosting has a nice taste too. For the blue frosting I used Betty Crocker's Decorating Pressurized can frosting and one of the tips that comes with it. For the orange frosting, I used Wilton Gel frosting which comes in a tiny squeeze bottle and is much easier to handle because of the precision tip. I might have gotten more gel frosting if I had known it would be easier to handle. For the green frosting, I used liquid food coloring and mixed a green with the white flood frosting--it was kinda runny but I liked how it came out on the finished project.

The cookies are sugar cookies--I used the Pillsbury kind that comes in the roll. I got 14 cookies and they are gigantic. I think you could probably make them smaller. I recommend following the directions on the package and cutting 1/2 inch rounds. I made the first 6 golf ball size and flattened them and they were enormous when they came out of the oven. However, if you are going to make your snowmen with kids, the bigger size might be easier to decorate. The heads are marshmallows that are heated slightly in the microwave so that they look deformed and melty.

I can't imagine that I will ever have time to make these again, unless I become some sort of expert decorator or have helpers. Even though I cheated on the cookies it still took several hours. But I found it fun and rewarding, and look how cute they are!!! Now to store them until Christmas...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark

This month's Martha Stewart Living talked about homemade Christmas gifts. I thought I'd give the chocolate bark project a try. I didn't follow the recipe really because I wanted to make a half batch--but then I botched that and only halved the dark chocolate portion. The result was a very thin sheet of melted chocolate with a nice swirly pattern. Since I used more milk chocolate & peanut butter than chocolate that is exactly how it tastes. I like my chocolate bark a little thicker so next time I will follow the directions--and also aim for a pan similar to the size requested. I am such a rogue! Besides my mistakes, this bark is the cat's pajamas.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark
12 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate (I used Hershey's Special Dark bar)
4 oz milk chocolate (I used Nestle milk chocolate chips)
1/4 C creamy peanut butter
parchment paper
Baking spray

1. Spray 9x12 pan (I think 9x13 would be fine) with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
2. Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler until smooth. Spread with a spatula evenly across the parchment lined pan.
3. Melt milk chocolate & peanut butter in a double boiler. Drop spoonfuls of the milk chocolate mixture onto the dark chocolate mixture and swirl with a chopstick or skewer.
4. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm. Peel off the parchment paper and break into pieces.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Emeril's Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I've been craving Mac & Cheese for days. Normally I would just make the old standard, but this recipe appealed to me because it was half the size as my recipe, it had bacon in it, and it looked creamy after baking--something Joey misses from my regular recipe.

This was a pretty quick dish to make--the most time consuming part was shredding the cheese and trying to make the bacon crispy (did not achieve this). We were very impressed with the creaminess. This recipe serves four adults as a main course. I didn't use the Parmesan the recipe called for and just increased the amount of cheddar.

3 slices bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2lb elbow macaroni
8oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4oz Monterey Jack, grated
1/2 t salt
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t nutmeg
12 oz evaporated milk
3 small cloves garlic, minced
3 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 475
2. Heat water over high until boiling, add macaroni and cook for 6 minutes, drain, noodles will be undercooked. After draining, return noodles to pot and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan over medium. Add bacon and cook until crispy, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds more. Turn off heat and, with a slotted spoon add bacon mixture to macaroni.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Add salt, cayenne and nutmeg. Add cheese and macaroni mixture and stir well to combine.
5. Pour mixture into an 8x8 or 9x9 pan. Bake for 12 minutes until sauce is bubbly. Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pacific Snapper over Spinach

Have you heard about Jessica Seinfeld? Jessica is Jerry's wife, it's true, but she is also a cook and cookbook author. I have one of her books--but while the meals are healthy, they can also be time consuming because most of them are filled with pureed vegetables. I thought it was the perfect book for cooking for Joey--a way to sneak in veggies. But I never used it because I felt bad about the sneaking part...and plus I don't have the time to peel, cut and puree all my vegetables.

Recently, Jessica published her second book. And, at the same time she taught one of her family friends how to cook. She taught her friend how to cook through a series of videos. But most importantly, she gave her friend family meal ideas that are quick, easy and healthy. The great thing about the videos is that she actually measures things showing you a healthy way to have some fats and salts too. On the food network, the chefs tell you how much to measure but then they don't do it. As a result I often don't measure things like olive oil or salt either. But I did this time, and it makes me feel better.

So today, my husband wasn't home for dinner. Normally when he isn't home for dinner, I rush out for Thai cuisine or sushi. Sometimes I just have leftovers or a chicken leg. But this time, I was going to the store anyway just before dinner, so I decided to whip up something fast, healthy and delicious. I recalled this recipe Jessica Seinfeld posted on her new website for baked halibut. My husband doesn't eat fish, so it was a perfect opportunity to try it!

I ran into a snag. The market didn't have halibut. I spoke with the fishmonger and decided on Pacific Snapper. It may come as a surprise to you, but while I LOVE sushi, I am rather uninformed on cooked fish--I never much liked fried fish and would prefer to eat fish raw--but I thought I'd try this. My dinner cost $7. It was fantastic. I followed the directions exactly from Jessica's video & website except that I cut it in half and used Pacific Snapper instead of halibut.

Next time I won't cut the spinach in half. I wanted more spinach. Next time I might try another fish. Maybe halibut. I want more of this delicious fish. Make this.

Did I mention this dish took 10 minutes from start to finish? $7. 10 minutes. Totally worth it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Toasted Ham & Cheese

Toasted Ham & Cheese should not be confused with Grilled Ham and Cheese. These two sandwiches are completely different.

While studying abroud in Austria, I discovered open-faced sandwiches. I was an amatuer cook and I was made to cook and shop for all of my meals. The thing about Austria is that the refrigerators are the size of a postage stamp so you are supposed to stop at the market daily--and cook fresh things. I shared our postage-stamp sized fridge with 2 others. Sandwiches were fast, easy, and I could try the fantastic cheeses and meats that could be found in the deli section (many of which I was unsure of the English translation).

Toasted sandwiches are fast, delicious and can be made in infinite combinations. Sometimes my sandwiches were fancy--bread rubbed with butter and garlic and then some delicious full-fat cheese and meat that you can only get abroad. And sometimes they were ridiculously simple.

This afternoon, I had a very Austria kind of day. I went hiking in the morning, had breakfast (pancakes are not as filling as I want them to be) and came home for a 2pm meeting. Around 4 I was starving. Knowing dinner wasn't going to be soon, I made myself a toasted sandwich. Last night I happened to buy a fresh loaf of Italian French Bread (this is the wider version of french bread, with a crispy crust and soft white inside). The sandwich was exactly what I needed to tie me over and it was delicious too!

Toasted Ham & Cheese
Fresh Italian or French bread (ok so you could use sandwich bread, but then you might want to reduce your cooking time)
Cheese of choice (I used colby jack)

Preheat Oven to 450
1. Slice bread to desired thickness (but thicker than sandwich bread)
2. Layer on ham and then cover the ham with slices of cheese
3. Bake on the top shelf in whatever pan you have on hand (that cake pan was out) for 5 minutes until the cheese is melted. The bread on the bottom will be slightly toasted. Eat warm.
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Friday, November 5, 2010

Product Review: Lovin' Scoopful

I've been wanting to have vanilla ice cream around the house. You never know when you need a perfect garnish for a rich dessert or a miniature ice cream sundae for that sweet treat after dinner. So I turned to the versatile vanilla as a flavor need for my freezer.

Have you been in the ice cream aisle lately? It is seriously overwhelming! There were at least 20 different vanilla ice cream options! I was torn. I didn't want to spend lots of money on the quart and I was aiming for something that was not full-fat. I considered the Dreyer's Slow Churned variety--but it was kind of expensive. I browsed the store brands but they didn't seem to have a light variety. I considered the vanilla ice cream taste test winner--Haagen Dazs 5 ingredient, but it is full-fat and tiny and expensive. So I looked on.

And I came across something new--and on sale and light--and with a cute name. Lovin' Scoopful Cozy Vanilla. This ice cream has 1/2 the fat and "fewer calories" than other ice cream flavors plus it shares 1/4 of its profits with causes like the Special Olympics.

And the flavor? Pretty good actually. I didn't notice the low-fatness of it in the taste and it had a certain creaminess that all vanillas have. If this brand were on sale again, I would buy it and I will certainly give the other flavors a try.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pretzel Ghosts

When I saw these ghosts on Tastespotting I knew I had to make them. They had such cute faces and looked so fun and easy for a halloween-themed snack.

I sped on over to Michael's and picked up some Candy melts (which is code for white chocolate that melts well and comes in big circles), and some edible food coloring pens. I got the fine tip pens remembering the adorable faces from the Tastespotting photo.

As you can see, I had a tough time getting the faces to work--they certainly weren't half as cute as the ones I saw on the other site. My pens weren't as fine-point as I expected and they either left little mark or made indentations in the white chocolate. I found that the impressionist art worked best, and writing with the side of the pen. I was going to try painting with liquid food coloring but that seemed like too much effort. I got some good ones..just not as adorable as what I thought I could do. Looks like I just need to order a better set of markers...which I might, it can't hurt to have edible markers around right?

In addition to my trouble with the faces, I was unable to get a smooth coating on the pretzel rods. I tried dipping the pretzels into the chocolate coating but it didn't really work that well, it was too thick. As a result, I had to spread the coating on with a knife. I thought it made them look like more realistic ghosts with folds and things--but I wish I could get them to be as smooth as the picture too. I also made some orange ones for variety--those ones looked cool too. I bet you could also dip some in chocolate and call them brooms! These are a delicious and fun snack but not as easy as they appeared.

Pretzel Ghosts
1 package pretzel rods
1 package candy melts - white chocolate (I probably used 1 Cup total of melted chocolate)

1. Melt the candy melts according to package directions (50% power for 1 minute+ until melted) in a tall microwaveable cup
2. Dip one end of pretzel rods into the melted candy. Spread if necessary. Set on a wire rack and let dry 15 minutes.
3. Once sticks are dry, draw on faces with an edible marker. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spinach & Meat Lasagna

Lasagna is the perfect meal to make ahead of time. You can pop it in the refrigerator overnight and then just throw it in the oven when the company comes over and sit down and talk with them instead of slaving over the stove. This time, I wanted to make a lasagna recipe that was filling with both meat and spinach that could take care of an entire meal. We whipped up a quick salad to go with it and added a loaf of warm bread and the meal was ready.

I mixed 3 lasagna, Ina Garten's, my mom's, and Monkey See, Monkey Do's recipes and came up with this one that is slightly easier than my all-time favorite and has spinach to boot. I used a lasagna roaster pan which is bigger and makes it so the lasagna doesn't go over into the oven. But this works in a 9x13 pan too. (This photo is before the lasagna was cooked, forgot to take an after shot)

1/2 lb lasagna noodles
2 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 67 oz Jar Prego Traditional Sauce
2 whole carrots
1 celery stalk, cut into 2 large chunks to fit pan
1/2 C chopped fresh basil, reserve 2 T for garnish
1/2 lb ground beef
1 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage (if you can't get bulk you can remove the casings yourself)
10oz frozen chopped spinach, defrosted (you can do this in the microwave)
15oz lowfat ricotta
16oz lowfat cottage cheese
1/2 - 3/4 c shredded Parmesan cheese
120z shredded mozzarella cheese
8oz fresh mozzarella thinly sliced

1. In a large saucepan, heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 cloves minced garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the sauce. Add the carrots, basil and celery and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer until you need the sauce for the next step (probably I did this for an hour, I'm not sure).

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl mix shredded Parmesan, ricotta and cottage cheese.

3. Defrost the spinach. Once defrosted, press with the back of a spoon in a colander to release excess liquid. Add spinach to cheese mixture. Refrigerate until ready to use.

4. Fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water. Place noodles (I needed about 10) into the hot water and let soak for 20 minutes. Make sure the water covers all the noodles. This skips the cooking step!

5. In a large skillet, heat 1 T olive oil. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add Italian sausage and beef and cook until brown. Drain fat, return meat to skillet.

6. Remove carrots & celery from sauce mix with tongs. Pour half the sauce into the browned meat mixture.

7. Set up a station for lasagna layering! Make a thin layer of sauce (the part without the meat) on the bottom of the pan. Top with noodles (they go across the 9 inch way of the pan), you may need to trim them to fit. Spread half the ricotta mixture on the noodles. Spread half the meat sauce over the ricotta mixture. Lay all the slices of the fresh mozzarella on top of the meat sauce.

8. Layer Two: All remaining Pasta noodles, rest of the ricotta mixture, Meat sauce (if it doesn't seem saucy enough, add some of the non-meat sauce here), All the shredded mozzarella cheese, 2 T basil for garnish. At this point you can cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the lasagna to cook the next day or later in the evening.

9. Try to remember to remove the refrigerated lasagna from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking so it isn't so cold--if you forget, no worries, just bake at least 60 minutes with the foil on.

10. Preheat the oven to 350. Cover pan with foil. If you used a 9x13 pan, put foil on the oven rack to protect from spills. Bake 50 minutes (60 minutes if you refrigerated all day) with the foil on. Then, remove foil and bake 15 minutes more until sauce is bubbly, cheese is melted and the lasagna is warm all the way through.

11. Let sit 10-15 minutes to help solidify the lasagna and make it easier to cut and serve.

Serve with bread and salad.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hands-Off Cooking

This week, I have been doing what I like to call hands-off cooking. This kind of cooking has a little before-hand preparation, and then it cooks for an hour or so and is ready. And, if that's not enough, almost every time only one or dishes are used! Since I'm not so tired from cooking an intensive hands-on dinner, I have also been doing the dishes right away--and this makes for a very relaxing night afterwards! Sure these meals may not be the healthiest, but they are delicious, portions are smaller, and they are a good deal!

So what have I been making?

Hands On Part - Heat Grill to high, mix spices and rub lightly into ribs, place on grill, reduce heat to low.
Hands Off Part - Cook for an hour
Hands On Part - Make some side (I made Jiffy corn muffins, 40 minutes into the Hands Off Hour)

Taco Salad
Hands On Part - Brown meat, drain, add spices
Hands Off Part - Simmer for 15 minutes
Hands On Part - Set out other ingredients for the taco salad

French's Hot Wings & Betty Crocker's Loaded Baked (scalloped) Potatoes
Hands On Part - Preheat oven, mix spices with chicken, whisk ingredients for potatoes, put everything in the oven
Hands Off Part - Cook for 50 minutes
Hands On Part - Serve

Isn't this great?!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cheesy Taco

Last night in an effort to try the salty meat in several different ways, I created the cheesy taco. Some of you might say this is just a glorified quesadilla. Maybe that's true--but doesn't it sound cooler when called a cheesy taco? This was seriously delicious--so much so that I had another today. It may be my new favorite go-to meal.

p.s. This is a good opportunity to see that the salty meat has a different color to it--sort of gray from the excess salt cooking

Cheesy Taco
Strips of meat of your choice (I used leftover salty steak from the salt block cooking)
Handful of shredded cheese
Chopped heirloom tomato
White corn tortilla

1. Place the tortilla in a small dry skillet over high heat, cook 1 minute.
2. Add half the shredded cheese to one half of the tortilla and cook until the cheese starts to melt.
3. Add tomato and meat on the same side and top with cheese. Cook 1-2 minutes until warm.
4. Using tongs, carefully fold the other half of the tortilla over the filling, the tortilla should be slightly crispy. Hold the tortilla folded with tongs 1 minute or until top cheese is melted. Carefully transfer to plate and enjoy warm.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Salt Block Skillet Steak

For my bridal shower, a friend gave me two Himalayan salt blocks. They are probably one of the most interesting gifts we received. Even though there is a lot of information on the web about what to do with the blocks, I had trouble deciding what to do with mine. Sure I could try many things--but then you need an adventurous crowd and risk failing. Tonight it was just my husband and I, so worse case scenario, we could go out to eat--or have cereal.

Salt Block Skillet Steak
Himalayan salt block
thin steaks

1. Place salt block on the grill. Heat until the grill reaches 400 degrees.
2. Put meat on block, don't crowd it. Cook on each side 1 minute. Make sure the meat is cooked through but not cooked too long. If it isn't cooked through you may want to finish it off on the grill because it gets really salty. I couldn't believe it actually got salty!

I cut this steak into strips and served it in tacos. I overcooked mine a bit (2 min/side) because it was hard to tell. But if you cook it right, it will be perfect--or you could use it in a salad! Or, make a cheesy taco!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Blackberry Nectarine Buckle

When I was little, my favorite thing to give my mom for holidays was a good old cookbook. I liked shopping for them and I got excited about the delicious looking pictures inside. It sure beat a calendar...

One year, I gave her a William Sonoma Cookbook about picnics. I don't think we went on many picnics but we could have these things for lunch and on the weekends. The only recipe I actually remember though is the Blackberry Nectarine Buckle--which is like a cake and crumb topping filled with fruit. I remember loving that dessert whenever we had fresh blackberries in excess to make it.

I found a copy of the recipe in my stores and decided to make it again now that it's summer and there are blackberries and nectarines at the markets. I brought 99% of this dessert into the office after seeing the uh, calorie count on the recipe and I didn't like it nearly as much as I remember. However, at work it was a BIG hit. So if you were going to make Paula Dean's butter cake anyway (you know, the closest calorie count I can think of), skip it, and throw together a little buckle. This recipe in the book says to cut the final product into 6-8 pieces. It is a 9x13 pan, so I think we can safely assume we can get more like 30 pieces and, therefore, cut those ridiculous calorie counts into bits at the same time.

P.S. I'm pretty sure even I could lighten this recipe up if I really wanted to, but wouldn't it be a great feature for cooking light?

1/2 C Coarsely chopped pecans
2 1/2 C flour
1/2 C firmly packed brown sugar
1 C granulated sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
pinch ground ginger + 1/2 t ground ginger
1 C unsalted butter
1 egg
2 t baking powder
1/4 C milk
80z blackberries
3 nectarines, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4 in pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9x13 inch baking dish. Spread pecans on a different rimmed baking sheet and toast lightly 5-7 min.
2. In a bowl, combine pecans, 1/2C flour, brown sugar, 1/4C granulated sugar, the cinnamon, the nutmeg and the pinch of ginger. Cut in 1/2 C of butter (in small pieces) into mixture and blend with fingertips until crumbly. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer cream together remaining butter and sugar. Add egg and beat until combined. In another bowl combine remaining flour, baking powder and 1/2t ginger. Alternately add the flour mixture and milk to the butter mixture until combined.
4. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Top with nectarines and blackberries. Cover fruit with crumb topping. Bake 45-55 minutes until skewer comes out clean. Let cool in the pan and then cut into squares.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Beans on Toast

We recently welcomed a Fresh & Easy Market to our town. I finally got a chance to go and see what the whole store was all about and ran into this little delicacy. Heinz Baked Beans--a variety of beans sold primarily across the ocean in England. The whole reasons the beans stood out to me in a store filled with all sorts of different products, was because I recently read an article about how Heinz had opened up a lounge in Gatwick airport where passengers waiting around can enjoy some beans on toast--the classic British comfort food. Not only did I think it was a spectacular marketing ploy for Heinz' "Welcome Home" campaign, but also I had a new craving for this beans and toast thing--nothing which I had ever even thought of before.

The only similarity between Heinz beans and American baked beans is that the are both beans. The Heinz beans are in a tomato sauce--not a thick bbq style tomato sauce--more of a thin soupy tomato sauce.

I consulted my British colleague before even attempting the classic comfort food beans on toast--and felt pretty ridiculous doing it because it seems like the most straightforward recipe--but I wanted it to be just so. Let me warn you now, beans on toast is about the most un-appetizing looking thing in the world, but taste wise it isn't so bad at all, as long as you can look past the presentation. I don't think my toast (regular sandwich bread) really held up as well as it could have. In the end, I found the dish to taste akin to the American comfort food--tomato soup but with beans in it, with a side of toast...oh and did I mention that we did cheesy beans and toast because supposedly that is the best way?

Beans & Toast
Serves 2

4 slices bread (thicker is better but it must fit in your toaster--well I guess you could toaster-oven it and then you can choose at your discretion)
1 can Heinz Beans (it has to be Heinz beans)
1/4 C Cheddar cheese, shredded

1. Heat beans in saucepan until bubbly. Add cheese and stir.
2. Toast bread
3. Ladle generous portions of beans on toast. Serve warm

And the best part is--you can have it for Breakfast, Lunch OR Dinner!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Variations on Caprese

Caprese is by far my favorite summer side dish. I love how the simple flavors of tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella meld together and taste farm fresh.

Last weekend, I was reading a food blog and saw a recipe for caprese panzanella and thought it would be a great use for the stale bread I accumulate every week. I decided to add a few things and a delicious salad and filling lunch was born!

1 cob corn
3-4 basil leaves, torn
2 fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 small avocado, roughly chopped
1 pickling cucumber, or 1 3 inch piece regular cucumber, roughly chopped
1 1/2 med. sized fresh mozzarella balls, roughly chopped
2 slices stale bread of any variety, roughly chopped
Balsamic vinaigrette

1. Slice corn kernels off cob onto a plate and microwave 1 minute on high
2. Toss together all ingredients, let sit 1-2 minutes before chowing down to let dressing soak into the bread.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Buttermilk Peach Ice Cream Float

I have a problem. Every summer Saturday I head over to the Farmer's Market and buy whatever fruits and vegetables strike my fancy. Recently, I have been buying peaches and nectarines every trip to the market. The thing is, I can't possibly eat all this fruit and Joey only likes them when cooked. So I end up with loads of peaches and nectarines at the end of every week.

Last week I made a crisp. This week, I stumbled upon a recipe for ice cream--buttermilk peach ice cream. As luck would have it, I had some buttermilk in the fridge!

This recipe actually takes 2 days--but if you are a regular ice cream maker, you know that most ice cream takes time due to cooling the custard. But get this, this recipe doesn't even use a custard base! So all you have to do is let the peaches set for awhile to soak in the delicious sugary flavors, puree, and mix. The Homesick Texan lets the peaches sit overnight. I was going to just do all day but then decided I didn't want to make it until the next day.

This ice cream is good but not sweet as you would expect. It reminds me more of yogurt--not the frozen kind. However, it is pretty tasty the more and more I try it. The mixture was a little big for our ice cream maker and nearly overflowed since there is so much liquid involved in the original recipe, however, it froze more solid in the freezer after.

I have been trying to devise a way to make this ice cream be better-- a sweet topping perhaps? However, I found a way by turning it into an ice cream float. I highly recommend this use of the ice cream--or you could eat on it's own...or with cake...or pie or something of that sort.

3-4 scoops Buttermilk Peach Ice Cream
1/2 can lemon-lime soda
tall glass
straw (I didn't have a straw and really missed it)
long spoon

1. Fill tall glass with scoops of ice cream, push down on the ice cream to make sure you leave no holes.
2. Pour lemon-lime soda into the spaces left by the ice cream scoops until it fizzes all the way to the top.
3. Top with thin curls of ice cream (if your ice cream is really hard, you can do this by scooping a very thin layer of ice cream and setting it carefully atop the bubbles.
4. Add spoon and straw and enjoy on the veranda for a cool & refreshing snack

Friday, August 27, 2010

Beer-Braised Sausage & Warm Potato Salad

Tonight for dinner I made this recipe which can be found on Martha's site and also in one of the recent Everyday Food magazines. The recipe didn't take long to make and was distinctly autumn. However, it didn't have that much flavor. The sausages tasted like Italian sausage without sauce and the potatoes--even when drowned in the sauce and a little oil & vinegar were bland. I probably won't make this again, but if I do, I'd add some seasoning, use bratwurst or apple sausage, add some apples to the pot and cook as directed.

Slightly disappointing, but it made the house smell great!

Berry Cobbler

The Pioneer Woman has been dangling this beauty in front of my face for weeks now. It seems that every time I go to her website and click the cooking tab, this delicious morsel pops up on the screen screaming for me to make it.

But here's the kicker, I go to the Farmer's market every Saturday only to find a ridiculously disappointing selection of berries that appear to be purchased from Ralph's on the way to the market.

Have you ever had a raspberry or blackberry right off the vine? A blueberry fresh picked from Maine or Michigan? Once you do, you'll never settle for berries from the grocery store again--you will spend your summer searching for fresh picked berries with flavor that shoots into your mouth and gets all over your hands and stains your t-shirt with purply goodness.

However, two weeks ago my friend and I decided to check out the Santa Monica Farmer's Market at lunch. This market is catered toward our rich city neighbors with higher prices and fancier products--but it is so convenient and open during lunch! As we walked the lanes searching for the perfect tomatoes, I spotted a stall selling fresh berries--real berries. I rushed over and had a taste. The golden raspberries were divine! They tasted like honey. I immediately bought 2 pints of golden raspberries and one of blackberries. I remembered the cobbler and decided to make it that night. Unfortunately, that didn't work out, because I was so berry deprived I ate 2/3 pints before I even got home that night (really before I got to the office but nobody's counting).

So Wednesday rolled around again and I was determined to go back to the market and get more berries--and have some left when I got home. And I did it! These golden raspberries weren't as good as the red raspberries this time--which is probably why there are only 3-4 red raspberries remaining for the cobbler. I added some blueberries I had around to the cobbler as well. Golden deliciousness ensued. I would make this again if I could get the berries to make it home guaranteed.

Mine didn't turn out as golden as hers and I'm sure it's the pan I used. I was going to use a tart pan but was worried it would get all over the place. I think I needed something bigger and thinner--that pan she has would be great--but I didn't have anything like it. Wish I did! Go check out the recipe on the Pioneer Woman's site (linked above) for picture tutorial!


* 1 stick Butter
* 1-¼ cup Sugar
* 1 cup Self-Rising Flour (instead of 1 cup self rising flour, I used 1 cup all purpose flour + 1 1/4t baking powder + 1/8t salt)
* 1 cup Milk
* 2 cups Blackberries (frozen Or Fresh)


Melt butter in a microwavable dish. Pour 1 cup of sugar and flour into a mixing bowl, whisking in milk. Mix well. Then, pour in melted butter and whisk it all well together. Butter a baking dish.

Now rinse and pat dry the blackberries. Pour the batter into the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle blackberries over the top of the batter; distributing evenly. Sprinkle ¼ cup sugar over the top.

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until golden and bubbly. If you desire, sprinkle an additional teaspoon of sugar over the cobbler 10 minutes before it’s done.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Nectarine Crisp

Remember this? Remember how I said I for some reason had a bunch of leftover shortbread dough? Well, I pulled it out of the freezer this morning and decided to put it to use! I really wanted some kind of peach or nectarine crisp. I have been seeing them all over tastespotting and wanted that juicy deliciousness with a hint of sweetness to be mine!

I totally made up this recipe and I didn't really measure either. I found that when you don't really measure you are a very messy cook--I don't know how I got flour on my foot...but the final product sometimes turns out to be amazing. That was the case here. If you don't happen to have any leftover shortbread dough you could just make a regular crisp...but since I know you probably DO have leftover shortbread dough then you should know this recipe takes no time at all.

Leftover Shortbread dough - about 1/2 Cup crumbled
2 ripe nectarines or peaches or you could throw in whatever fruit you want, diced (I left the peel on)
1 T butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 T brown sugar
Baking spice to taste
1 t Tapioca
1 T flour

1. Preheat the oven to 325
2. Put butter bits on the bottom of an individual size casserole dish or oven-proof bowl
3. Toss fruit, brown sugar, tapioca, baking spice and flour in a small bowl
4. Pour fruit mixture over butter, top with crumbled shortbread
5. Bake at 325 for about 20-25 minutes until bubbly and shortbread starts to turn golden
6. Cool briefly before eating. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream for a real treat!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Baked spaghetti & mozzerella

I love the days when all my magazines come in the mail. I curl up on the couch and dog-ear recipes I want to try. As soon as I saw the photo in this month's Everyday Food for baked spaghetti my mouth started to water. I knew that this recipe would be one I was going to make--and soon.

Hungry for gooey cheese and bubbly red sauce, I turned this recipe around in just 2 days from receiving the magazine! And let me tell you, it was well worth it. This dish was satisfying and delicious and both Joey and I loved it! Plus, it only uses a few ingredients, mostly staples!

The recipe says it serves 4 but I made enough for at least 6--maybe even 8. Serve this with garlic bread and if you want to round it out a nice salad.

salt & pepper
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 T oregano
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled (I am bad at smashing, so I peeled them and then used a meat tenderizer to smash)
3/4 pound spaghetti (I eyeballed it and clearly made more pasta than they called for)
2 C packed basil leaves
3/4 lb fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1. Preheat Oven to 400 degrees. Set a large pot of salted water over high heat to boil
2. Prepare basil, garlic, and mozzarella & open tomatoes
3. In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute
4. Add tomatoes, oregano & salt & pepper to taste, bring to a rolling boil. Simmer on a high simmer 12 minutes until sauce thickens slightly.
5. Cook pasta 5 minutes (it will still be hard), drain, return to pot
6. Stir sauce, pasta, basil & half the cheese with the noodles. Pour into a 3-qt oven-safe dish
7. Top with the remaining cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes until sauce is bubbly and cheese is slightly golden

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Herbed Potato Salad

We went to the Hollywood Bowl last night and brought a picnic. I have been craving some good potato salad for a long time but I always thought it was too hard to make and too much for me to eat alone. I decided this was the perfect opportunity. I decided against the mayo kind of potato salad and instead searched the web for a vinaigrette variety. I found this one from Kayotic Kitchen. I really didn't follow the recipe exactly but close enough that I can't claim it as my own, plus, she took pictures while I did not.

Herbed Potato Salad

1/2 bunch mixed herbs (I used basil, parsley & dill)
2 lbs baby potatoes of any color
1 small lemon
1 bunch green onions
3 T olive oil
2 T white vinegar (I used 1 rice and 1 distilled white, wine might have been better, I didn't have any)
2 T chicken broth (or veg)
1/2 T dijon mustard

1. Halve tiny potatoes (no need to peel) and boil 8-10 minutes in lightly salted water until fork tender
2. Meanwhile, whisk together oil, vinegar, broth, mustard & juice of one lemon. Add salt to taste.
3. Mince the fresh herbs and green onions.
4. Drain potatoes and toss with vinaigrette.
5. Tip: If you are serving this potato salad later, set aside your herbs and onions until less than an hour before serving--this way they will look green and crisp and not like bits of overcooked spinach.
6. Toss potatoes with herbs and onions & vinaigrette again. Add salt to taste and serve immediately.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cake, no pictures

A few months ago I bookmarked this recipe and set a calendar reminder that read "Consider making complicated cake for Allison's birthday." That same reminder popped up Thursday afternoon. Having completely forgotten the recipe I looked it up. Wowzer, what a doozy! This recipe was three kinds of sweet.

So I baked it, using all the box mixes expecting the worst. Since it was round I couldn't taste it ahead of time. I brought it to work, I waited patiently until 3pm, and sung the awkward office rendition of Happy Birthday and watched as the cake advertised as my baked good was sliced and served. And it was a hit! You only need a tiny piece, but this cake...or perhaps you'd call it a Pacakie is over the top perfection for a birthday celebration.

What is this ooey gooey goodness you ask? The Pacakie is pie crust, filled with a layer of chocolate chip cookie, a layer of cake, and then frosted. It doesn't matter the quality of the ingredients, it is a quick creation that yields utmost deliciousness. I followed this recipe. I used frozen pie crust, Krusteaz Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix, Pillsbury Funfetti Cake Mix and canned Whipped frosting (and a few sprinkles for decoration). Seriously, try this.

There's a lot of extra cake mix left and I also had some cookie dough left. So, I made cupcakes with chocolate chip cookie bottoms. You couldn't even tell from looking there were cookie bottoms, but there was a little crunch, those too were delicious. So even if you fear the Pacakie, try your hand at the cookie cupcake, your friends will love it!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Food Styling

Fresh produce from the Farmer's market...maybe I'll make something amazing with these peaches, pluots, nectarines and tomatoes...but maybe I'll just eat them plain, this is my favorite kind of candy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spinach Dip

Spinach Dip
Easy Spinach DipMix to your delight taste wise

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 0 minutes
Serves: 2
Yield 1 cup

1 container Greek Yogurt (plain)
1/3 cup Frozen Spinach
1 oz Shredded Carrots
3/8 cup Artichoke Hearts Quartered
1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
2 tbsp Parmesan Grated Cheese

Mix together. I like to let flavors sit overnight. Can add other seasonings to taste as well I usually throw it all in a tupperware, mix up with a spatula, seal it up and it's ready to go for work the next day. Dip whatever you like into it, fresh veggies are probably healthiest option. I like to use Reduced Fat Triscuits as well. Enjoy!

Cuisine Type:
Main Ingredient:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Grilled S'mores

It turns out that grilled s'mores are just as good--possibly even better than the traditional campfire ones. And they take about half the time because you don't have to let your marshmallow dangle over the open flame for several minutes to make it just perfect with the risk of burning. I recommend this quick summer dessert that Martha Stewart recommended to me.

Easiest Directions Ever to boot!

Graham Crackers
Chocolate bars

1. Preheat gas grill to medium (around 400) or set charcoal grill to indirect grilling over medium heat.
2. Prepare s'mores in sandwich form
3. Place on preheated grill on the cool side (I have this little top rack that I used, but you could always put them over the burner that isn't on).
4. Grill for 3-5 minutes (3 for me) until marshmallows are soft and chocolate is melty. Carefully remove from grill (two people would be helpful here).
5. Eat immediately!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

If you make nothing else this summer...

Do yourself a favor...and make these cookies. I know what you are thinking, I have pushed these cookies time and time again. And it is true, I have. But I cannot tell you how perfect they are for a summer treat or a surprise guest or for something small when you are really craving an entire pan of brownies.

And the very best part about these cookies is that you can keep them in the freezer indefinitely and they don't need to be thawed before you eat them!

So anyway, listen to me, you need to make these cookies! And then keep some ice cream in the house and you're set. Your friends will love you!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Frozen Lemonade

I happened to have a lot of lemons. It was relatively warm outside. What could be more refreshing than a tall glass of frozen lemonade? You've got it, nothing! Unfortunately as you can see in these pictures I was low on tall glasses, but it's still delicious in a bowl. I highly recommend this sweet treat for all the hot days of summer to come. You could probably make it with any citrus. Some people call this granita...I call it frozen lemonade.

This recipe only made two huge bowls for us and about 1/4 cup of lost recipe to the floor. Probably it serves four normally but it is so refreshing its hard to share! You could double the recipe and still have room in your ice cream maker. OR if you have extra time or no ice cream maker (I can't believe there are people who don't have one!) you can just put this in an 8x8 pan and freeze it for 2-3 hours and then slush it up with a fork. OR you can use your slushi maker...I remember that Katie had this cup that turned stuff into slushies and she wouldn't let me use it.

I followed the directions exactly from Pinch My Salt and it worked like a charm. So delicious!

scant 1 cup sugar
1 1/2 C water
fresh squeezed juice of 2 1/2 lemons

1. Heat water and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
2. Juice lemons over a juicer thing to strain out seeds.
3. When sugar syrup is cooled, add lemon juice and chill in the fridge until cold.
4. Pour lemon mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze 20 minutes or until appropriately slushed. Serve immediately in a tall glass.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brussel Sprouts

I went to the farmer's market last weekend and was drawn to the brussel sprouts. Do I even like these? I wasn't sure, but they were fresh and cheap so I got them. Then I scoured the internet for an enticing recipe. I found something but then when I went about making them I changed the recipe so much that I'm not even sure it could be called the same one.

If you already like brussel sprouts, this recipe is for you. It is flavorful and would be great with any vegetable, particularly anything that doesn't start with brussel and end with sprouts.

It turns out that even with bacon and garlic, I do not like brussel sprouts. But who knows, maybe you love them!

Some brussel sprouts (sorry I don't know how many I had but it seemed like wayyy too many), cut in half
1 shallot, diced
3 large garlic cloves, crushed
3 slices bacon
I T olive oil
1/4 water
Balsamic vinegar

1. Boil water, add sprouts and cook one minute. Remove, drain and place in ice water for another minute.
2. Meanwhile, cook bacon, drain on paper towels and cut into bits, set aside.
3. In the same frying pan, add shallot and garlic and cook 30 seconds in bacon grease. Add sprouts and bacon and oil if you didn't have enough bacon grease.
4. Add water and sprinkle some vinegar on top. Cook until liquid is reduced and sprouts are fork tender. Serve warm

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ice Cream Pie

We had some friends over this weekend and decided to make this dessert, Kona Coffee Ice Cream Pie. We've made it before but now with pictures! This is a simple dessert we make complicated by making all the layers ourselves. The easy way is to buy a chocolate cookie crust, 1 quart of ice cream (any flavor), some hot fudge and some whipped cream and layer it all together. What we did was make our own cookie crust, hot fudge and ice cream and then layer it all together and it tastes fantastic--maybe a little too coffee flavored for some but hey, you don't have to use coffee ice cream. Try it with peanut butter ice cream or mint or a dulce de leche instead of hot fudge...the possibilities are endless, the flavors are amazing and your guests will be thrilled.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lemon Lavender Sugar Cookies

During my daily blog reading, I spotted a recipe for lavender sugar cookies and thought those would be just the thing for the shower I held yesterday. But then I read the recipe and learned that it was vegan. It is very possible that it is still delicious, but it required me to pick up all these ingredients with which I was unfamiliar. I suppose I could have just substituted the non-vegan varieties but that didn't even occur to me at the time.

I searched the web for another lemon sugar cookie recipe and used that for the cookie base and then also made lavender sugar for the topping. Also unfamiliar with the properties of lavender, I made the sugar topping two ways. First, I contacted my sister about getting some lavender direct from her garden so that I could bake with it. Nobody knew if this was the right kind of lavender for baking but I thought I'd give it a try anyway, I didn't know where else to get it.

Next I took 3-4 lavender flowers and put them in a container with about 1 cup of white sugar. I sealed the container and let it sit for about 4 days. When I removed the flowers the sugar was clumpy but a good shake and some fork raking took care of that. This sugar lasted in the container a couple of weeks until I needed it.

The other lavender sugar I made the day of baking. I took 4 lavender flowers and ground them with 1/2 cup of sugar in the mini chopper. This made the sugar superfine and also gave the cookies a nice design with the little pieces of flowers inside. I think this looks best but both cookies have the same light lavender flavors on top of the tangy lemon. This is a perfect spring into summer dessert!

Lavender sugar of your choice
1 1/2 C sugar
Zest of 2 lemons
1 C. butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 T. lemon juice
2 3/4 C flour
1/4 t. salt
2 t. cream of tartar
1 t. baking soda

1. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla, eggs, lemon juice and zest
2. In a separate bowl mix the salt, cream of tartar, baking soda and flour
3. Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture slowly, mixing in between
4. Refrigerate the dough covered for at least an hour
5. Preheat the oven to 350
6. Roll dough between your palms (I was going for small cookies, you choose your size). Then roll dough balls into the lavender sugar
7. Place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet and bake 7-10 minutes or until lightly browned and puffy. The cookies will flatten when they are cooled, cool fully on wire racks.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Boysenberry Jamble Shortbread Bars

I'm holding a shower today and did a lot of advance baking. Some people are scared of advanced baking. They think that once something is in the freezer it automatically tastes like the freezer. Through my childhood, however, my mom proved to me that it is possible to freeze desserts and then have them taste as fresh as from the oven when you serve them. My sister has proved this more recently and I am proving it for the shower. Besides, all the recipes say you can freeze the cookies and bars so I'm set!

These bars are actually called Blackberry Jamble Shortbread Bars--but I switched it up and used Boysenberry jam filling because I really enjoy the stuff. It is slightly sweeter than blackberry and equally delicious. I think it is a great fit to these bars. This recipe is from the Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey cookbook I have been using recently.

This recipe was easy to make with minimal dishes (a big plus!). The only thing I did wrong was that instead of making a crumble on the top, I just made a second crust. This stemmed from the dough being too soft (I was impatient) and it didn't crumble. I also had a bunch of left over dough which is just weird...I don't know how that happened because my bottom crust seems thicker than it should've been. So, whoops. Now I'll have to make some shortbread cookies, darn. ;)

1 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 C firmly packed brown sugar
1 C sugar
2 t vanilla
1 t salt
3 3/4 C unbleached flour
1 C almond flour or very finely ground almonds*
1 1/2 C boysenberry preserves (or flavor of your choice)
1/2 C chopped almonds
confectioners sugar for dusting

*Use a spice grinder or mini chopper to grind sliced raw almonds smaller. Add 1-2 t flour so that they don't grind into butter

1. Combine butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat until creamy on med-low. Add vanilla and salt and beat until combined
2. Beat in flour and almond flour at low speed until a smooth soft dough forms.
3. Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray and press 1/3 of the dough evenly into the pan. Wrap remaining dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold and firm--this takes more than 30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 325. Bake the bottom crust until firm and just beginning to turn pale brown around the edges, about 20 minutes.
5. Remove the pan from the oven and spread with preserves, it may help to stir the preserves before spreading. Crumble the rest of the shortbread dough over the jam to form a pebbly topping. Sprinkle the chopped almonds over the top.
6. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes or until topping is firm and crisp and lightly golden in color. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
7. Cut bars into squares and then halve them diagonally for triangles. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar if you are serving them immediately. If not, freeze and sprinkle right before serving.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Chocolate Ice Cream

What do you do when you have a cup of cream and two cups of half & half that all expire today? Make ice cream of course! I decided to not go to the store and chance it that I had all the ingredients at home to make a simple chocolate ice cream based off this recipe from William Sonoma.

So I got home and happened to have a few minutes before dinner to whip up the custard. I scrounged the kitchen and found Baker's Semisweet Chocolate, a hazelnut IKEA chocolate bar, 5 eggs and the cream and half & half.

This ice cream is super creamy and very delicious and honestly I think you could do any variation on this and still make it great. I have to admit, I wasn't sure what would happen when I cut up the hazelnut bar and realized it had nuts in it and then used the bakers chocolate...but it all worked out! (you strain the custard so the nuts drop right out before you cool it.)

Chocolate Ice cream

1 C heavy whipping cream
2 C half & half
1 C sugar
1 t vanilla
pinch of salt
3 oz Semi Sweet Bakers Chocolate
3.5 oz IKEA hazelnut bar
5 egg yolks

1. Heat cream and half & half in the top of a double boiler until bubbly on the sides or steaming. Meanwhile, chop chocolates into small pieces.
2. Whisk together egg yolks and sugar and salt in a separate bowl.
3. When the cream is hot, remove from heat and stir in chocolate until it melts, make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom.
4. Pour part of the hot chocolate cream liquid into the eggs and whisk. Then pour the whole thing back into the top of the double boiler and whisk, stir in vanilla.
5. Heat over simmering water 10-12 minutes stirring occasionally until you can scrape a finger across the spoon and liquid is thicker.
6. Meanwhile, make an ice bath. Strain the hot custard through a sieve into the bowl over the ice bath. Cool and stir for 30 minutes. Then, cover the custard and place in the fridge for 4 hours or until completely cool.
7. Later, freeze in an ice cream maker 20 minutes (or whatever it says for that machine). Transfer ice cream to a covered container and freeze until ready to serve.*

*This ice cream was ROCK HARD when I took it out 8 hours later, it could be that our freezer is ice cold--but just microwave it on the defrost setting for 30-60 seconds until scoopable.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Vanilla Pudding and Lemon Cream Parfaits

I am still trying to create the perfect parfait. This week the only berries I had to work with were strawberries. I decided to try vanilla pudding (the most hands off dessert you can make), lemon cream of some kind, graham cracker and strawberries.

I purchased the vanilla pudding in the box and made it with skim milk. I read that if you place the plastic wrap right on the surface of the pudding as you let it set in the fridge it is creamier, so I went with that method.

I modified this recipe for Lemon Cream from the food network. With their directions, the cream was far too tart and more breakfasty than desserty. I really wanted desserty. On a side note, people in the reviews of this recipe go on and on about how it's healthy. Don't be fooled, despite using low fat ingredients, its still cream cheese.

Once you have all the creams made and set, layer them alternating with strawberries and graham cracker crumbs until you fill up the containers. I think they look best in the glass jars but everyone was thrilled by the bigger size of the custard cups and devoured every last bite.

Modified Lemon Cream
4 oz Neufchatel cream cheese
3/4 cup Plain Greek yogurt
1 t vanilla extract
2-3 t honey
zest of one lemon

1. Beat together all ingredients except the zest with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Taste, and add more honey until sufficiently sweet enough, beat after each addition. Stir in zest. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use (I did 24 hours). Whisk briskly before using, the mixture will be like the consistency of thin yogurt.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pastry Cream Parfaits

I have a certain affinity for cream puffs. I decided that the filling of cream puffs would make a great dessert parfait. As you know, it is the beginning of Strawberry season! In the perfect season for perfect fruit I created these parfaits.

Don't get excited yet, they were good, but they had a texture that just wasn't right. It was like a super thick pudding--much like tapioca except vanilla flavored. I will be revising my recipe and remembering that pastry cream belongs with pastries, not alone. Too thick in a parfait.

I have never successfully made thick custards before (you may recall the chocolate cream pie), this was an exception!! I had no trouble pulling this custard together despite my nerves. I used a recipe from Epicurious for the pastry cream. Note that the cream has to cool for at least 3 hours, so start early.

1 recipe pastry cream
assorted berries
4 smallish glass dishes or parfait glasses (these are candle holders that hold a single tea-light)
4 graham crackers, crushed

1. Make pastry cream, let cool for at least 3 hours in the fridge.
2. Later, prepare glass dishes.
3. layer first graham crackers, then pastry cream, then berries, then pastry cream, berries, and finally top with a few graham cracker crumbs and berries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, May 10, 2010

One-Bowl Chocolate Chunk Pecan Cookies

A family friend gave me this book Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey for my wedding shower and I have been wanting to make some recipe from it but haven't had the chance until this weekend.

I chose to make one-bowl chocolate chunk pecan cookies the key being that they use only ONE BOWL and no mixer PLUS they use melted butter, so you don't have to worry about leaving it out for hours.

Get this book! If this recipe was this delicious I bet the rest of it is outstanding!

A few notes about these cookies:
1. Refrigerate the dough for an hour like it calls for, do not be tempted to bake them before refrigerating.
2. Try to let the pecans cool before adding them to the dough--but add them before refrigeration, if you add them when they are hot the dough gets extra runny
3. Make small cookies, about the size of one scoop from a regular spoon. Small cookies mean big huge chunks of deliciousness
4. One of my friends gave me some extra concentrated vanilla from Penzey's, they say to use half of what the recipe calls for but I always forget so these cookies could be awesomer because I used twice the vanilla the recipe called for. You may want to do that.

My mom has baked the same chocolate chip walnut cookie for years and she volunteered that this cookie is superior and her new go-to favorite.

2 C pecan halves
1 C unsalted butter
3/4 C packed brown sugar
3/4 C granulated sugar
2 Large eggs
1 t salt
2 t vanilla extract (technically I used 4t see above)
2 1/4 C flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 baking powder
2 C semisweet chocolate chunks

1. Preheat oven to 350. Toast pecan halves 6-8 minutes until fragrant.
2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large microwave safe bowl for 1 minute. Remove from microwave and stir with a wooden spoon until fully melted.
3. Stir in sugars until smooth. Add salt, vanilla and eggs, stir until smooth.
4. Add flour, baking soda and baking powder and stir until a soft dough forms.
5. Fold in toasted pecans and chocolate chunks. Cover and refrigerate the bowl for at least an hour (especially if you didn't find time to cool pecans). Preheat the oven again to 350 if you turned it off.
6. Scoop small regular spoon sized scoops onto cookie trays. Bake 10-12 minutes until they look slightly golden brown.
7. Cool slightly before moving to a rack. Enjoy warm, or cold, or anytime at all, but be sure to make and try these cookies!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Beer Braised Chicken

Whenever I hear the word "braised" I think "cooking for a long time." This dish, however was a snap to prepare and yielded a delicious broth and a very satisfying and quick one-pot meal.

I altered the recipe a bit in the final 15 minutes of cooking by adding an additional 12oz of beer to help submerge the potatoes and chicken fully. If I were to do it again, I would double all the sauce ingredients so that the flavors are still all there but there is extra sauce.

From the Food Network Magazine

* 1/4 pound bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (honestly I don't think this was necessary
* 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 pounds)
* Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
* All-purpose flour, for dredging
* 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 (12-ounce) bottle beer (preferably brown ale) - I used No. 21 Brand Amber Ale
* 1 cup frozen pearl onions, thawed
* 1/2 pound small red-skinned new potatoes, halved - I used 2 pounds because I love potatoes and didn't want to serve anything else
* 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard or dijon
* 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
* 4 sprigs fresh thyme
* 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)


Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Add the olive oil to the drippings in the pot. Add the chicken in batches and cook over medium-high heat until golden on the bottom, 6 to 7 minutes, then flip and sear the other side, about 1 minute.

Add the beer, onions, potatoes, mustard, sugar, thyme and 1 cup water to the pot and stir, making sure the chicken is fully submerged. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Discard the thyme and stir in the bacon and parsley.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beef Daube Provencal

Last Saturday was a busy day and we decided to have friends for dinner. I chose to whip up a crockpot meal for dinner--and it was a good choice.

This dish had a rich wine broth like a soup (but someone told me I could've thickened it by cooking it a few minutes with the crock pot lid off at the end) and was delicious served over egg noodles. The meat pulled apart by itself. I served this meal with a simple salad and a loaf of the freshest grocery store purchased french bread. Dipping the bread in the broth was a real treat. I highly recommend this dish, and for those of you who, for some reason don't have a crock pot, you can make it in the oven too! Oh, and did I mention it is a cooking light recipe so it's sort of good for you too?

Beef Daube Provencal

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed (this is one small head)
  • 1 (2-pound) boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 cups chopped carrot in coins
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup less-sodium beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3-4 Sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3-4 Sprigs fresh thyme
  • Dash of ground cloves
  • 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups cooked medium egg noodles (about 4 cups uncooked noodles)


Preheat oven to 300°. Or if you are using the crockpot, do nothing

-Heat oil in a small Dutch oven over low heat. Add garlic; cook 5 minutes or until garlic is fragrant, stirring occasionally. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon, and set aside.

-Increase heat to medium-high. Add beef to pan; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook 5 minutes, browning on all sides (don't worry if every piece didn't brown). Remove beef from pan.

-Add wine to pan; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add garlic, beef, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, carrot, and next 8 ingredients (through bay leaf), and bring to a boil.

Cover and bake at 300° for 2 1/2 hours or until beef is tender. Discard bay leaf. Serve over noodles.

Or, if using a crockpot, transfer the whole dish to your crockpot insert, cook on high for 5 hours. I actually cooked it on low for 3 hours and high for 2 hours, but I don't think it matters--that was an accident and it still worked! I bet you could do about 7 hours on low too!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Product: Bertolli Skillet Meals

Our Target has just turned into the kind with a grocery store inside. In an attempt to get the neighborhood thinking about going there instead of their regular market, Target has been sending enticing coupons weekly.

A few weeks back, we received a coupon for Bertolli Oven Baked meals. I thought we'd try it out for sometime when we can't think of what to have. However, when we got to the store it was clear everyone else had already used their coupons. I noticed the skillet meals were the same price and snagged one hoping the coupon would work. It didn't--but the Target employee entered it in anyway, backwards, and we ended up getting a superb deal.

I'm not sure I would pay $7 for this, but then again for that price it does serve two. However, Bertolli has taught me I could do this myself too. Straight out of the bag and into the skillet the freeze dried penne, four chicken tenders, and chunks of frozen sauce looked unappealing. Ten minutes later it was on the table along with some asparagus and frozen baked rolls. And for ten minutes and $2, it was actually pretty delicious. Joey raved how surprisingly good it was. There was the flavor of real chicken Parmesan, the cheesiness and the bite of the sauce. Sure, I could do the same thing myself probably in 20 minutes--but then again, they already have it pre-made.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Curried Chicken Salad

We had some leftover chicken after I made the beast on Sunday and I had a mind to make my favorite curried chicken salad. I didn't want just any chicken salad though, I wanted it to be like the kind they serve here. And so of course, I scoured the internet until I found what I was looking for.

This salad was delicious, full of flavors and not to dry, it was the perfect lunch and I will make it again.

Curried Chicken Salad
adapted from Epicurious

3/4 lb shredded chicken, cooked
1/4 c mayo
3 heaping T plain yogurt
2 1/2 t curry powder
1/2 lime
1/2 t honey
1/4 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1 shallot (I used a shallot but was planning to use green onions, which I even bought, and then forgot)
1 mango, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 c red grapes, halved
1/4 c salted cashews, coarsely chopped

1. Whisk together all ingredients except for the chicken. Add chicken and coat with dressing. Serve with cucumbers. (I also put mine in a pita because I had one)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Whole Roasted Chicken Dinner

There was a great chicken sale at the market and so I was moved to try and attempt roasting a whole chicken. I have heard that this method is not worth the time and you can get the same effect from chicken pieces, however, it isn't really that expensive so it seems worth it. However, after working with 6 pounds of raw chicken, drying it off, realizing that this is the same weight as small babies, I must admit I was a tiny bit grossed out by the endeavor. The worst part is reaching in the cavity. The second worst part is trying to tie up the legs.

The best part is the smell of herb roasted chicken, the amazing flavor, and of course, the presentation. I mean this chicken is pretty much the only one you'll have to make again. The flavors were there, the skin was crispy and it could feed your family with a few hand-picked sides.

I sort of crammed the oven with other dishes, but if you're good at using the stove to make great sides, more power to you!

I roasted carrots, potatoes, and asparagus to go along with the chicken and finished it off with those delicious molten chocolate cakes I've been raving about. And this, is a dinner to remember. Something to impress that doesn't really consume your day but looks like it did.

I made Martha's Perfect Roasted Chicken and pretty much followed it to the T except that I didn't make the gravy, instead I served the onions alongside the chicken and they added a delicious layer and flavor.

Since I didn't do anything special with the rest of the dishes, or change the chicken recipe at all...I'll just give you a timeline of how to pull this off yourself. Dinner's at 7:30.

5:00 PM - Take the chicken out of the fridge and set it on a plate
Meanwhile cut up potatoes (bite sized pieces), carrots (sticks), asparagus (break off thick stems), onions
5:30 PM - Wash chicken and pat dry, set in roasting pan on onions, start roasting! (5:45)
6:30 PM - Put potatoes in the oven (use a small casserole so that you can fit the carrots and asparagus in later)
7:00 PM - Put the carrots in the oven
7:10 PM - Put the asparagus in the oven
7:15 PM - Take the chicken out of the oven and check the temperature--I threw my chicken back in for 10 minutes, but yours may be ready!
7:30 PM - Take out all the vegetables
7:35 PM - Serve, family style!