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?!