Monday, January 31, 2011

Product Review: Betty Crocker Supreme Bars Mississippi Mud

A few months ago, I bought this box of brownie mix at the store. I was excited that they were not just brownies but brownies with a cookie crust and marshmallows! I thought they sounded interesting. Once I took them home though I discovered that the ingredients called for a stick of butter and I decided that because of that this would be something I would make and share.

And then we never had anyone over.

But finally, this weekend, we had someone over! The ingredients are butter, water, eggs and the mix. You dirty two-3 bowls plus one 8x8 pan, but I think I can reduce that for you. The end result is pretty delicious, I thought maybe it was a little bit sweet and was great with a nice glass of milk but would be equally as good with unsweetened whipped cream. Everyone else agreed that the marshmallows were a nice change of texture. Maybe I should just make brownies with marshmallows and skip the oreo crust?

Directions to dirty less dishes
1. Melt 1/4 stick of butter in one mixing bowl. Melt the other 1/4 stick of butter in the 8x8 glass pan.
2. Mix the oreo mix and the butter right in the 8x8 pan and then press down and into the corners
3. Mix the brownie mix in the other mixing bowl with the other ingredients called for

Yay! only 2 bowls!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


This was a fun centerpiece while it lasted--It really added a nice simplicity to our Christmas table, but I'm tempted to do it all year round. You can't beat $5 for a 10lb bag of oranges and some greenery from around the neighborhood. I'd love to buy some of those decorative centerpiece balls but I can't bring myself to spend the cash when they aren't even as beautiful as the real thing!
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Double-Churned Ice Cream

I have learned a lesson--if you haven't used a small appliance in a while, you should double check that you have all the parts before you start.

We haven't made ice cream in a couple of months and when I pulled out the ice cream maker to churn I didn't realize I was missing the lid. Everything looked fine so I poured and started the clock for 20 minutes. I returned to the kitchen when the timer dinged ready to add the mix-ins and was extremely disappointed to see frozen edges and liquidy middle. What happened I wondered? I knew the custard was good--but what happened with the machine? Did we need a new one?

I scraped out the semi-liquidy ice cream and put it back in the fridge to melt back to original state. I had to defrost the ice cream freezer completely to clean off the frozen edges. A few days later, I checked my custard and it was still good and totally a custard again (not half frozen). So I re-churned. But before I did I found the clear plastic lid that holds the whole contraption together.

The result? Thick churned ice cream ready to eat immediately after the second churn. If you're adding mix-ins add early. The downside is that this ice cream is in the freezer and now as hard as a rock. Churn twice, eat immediately.

*Update* After heating the ice cream in the microwave for a few seconds it was once again soft like regular ice cream but the double-churned texture was by far the best.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Homemade Applesauce

We headed over to my sister-in-law's house for New Years Eve and were privileged to taste hot, fresh homemade applesauce. There is something about that flavor that makes me crave gingerbread and think of childhood and this was no exception. Upon arriving home that next morning (A whole year later!), my husband insisted that I get the recipe and make it ourselves.

And so, this weekend we did make the sauce ourselves. As it is with this kind of thing, it never tastes exactly the same as the first time you have it. My husband tells me our sauce is sweeter and it should be tarter--but it is not bad, still delicious, just different. The thing is the recipe calls for 6lbs of apples, so reducing the recipe to 2lbs of apples is tricky--but a more manageable amount of sauce for 2. I'll tell you how we adapted the recipe this time...but likely next time we'll try a slightly different combination of ingredients--or just use 3lbs of apples!

2lbs apples (any variety, we used fuji and pink lady)
1/4 C apple cider (we used Simply Apple Juice from the refrigerator aisle)
1/4 C brown sugar, not packed trying to get something like 1/6 C
1/3 of a Lemon
1 cinnamon stick

1. Peel apples and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
2. Add apples and all other ingredients to a pot making sure to submerge the cinnamon stick in the flood of apples
3. Simmer for 30 minutes over medium heat stirring occasionally. Puree with immersion blender or mash with potato masher to desired consistency. Serve warm or refrigerate.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Product: La Tortilla Factory Corn Tortillas

A few weeks ago I noticed these new La Tortilla factory tortillas in the grocery store set apart from the other tortillas near the cheese aisle. I picked up a package and couldn't believe how soft they felt. I put it down and went on with my shopping.

But I did not forget them. This week, I had occasion to make a Mexican meal. I went back to the aisle and picked up these corn tortillas. I was not disappointed.

These tortillas are made in Santa Rosa, CA. They are local and maybe for that reason fresher than other store-bought tortillas. They come in packages of eight which is a good size for our family of two. The tortillas are soft and malleable right out of the bag. When heated in a skillet they preserve their soft texture. These tortillas taste more like the kind you would make at home. They are thicker and fresh and delicious. I used these for enchiladas and they added both flavor and texture to the dish. I will buy these again without question. If they are available in your local market, go for it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

4-Ingredient Pasta Sauce

The other day I was talking with my sister in law about what to make for dinner. We had a bit of a vegetarian streak last week and I was getting tired of coming up with meals that were both vegetarian and something my husband would like. Let me tell you, it was tough. Sure I could've served pasta and marinara sauce all week long but I was trying to be healthier about it and make meals that were filling not just dinner.

I did not succeed. We survived on a week of cheese and bread with smatterings of broccoli and asparagus. This was hands down the hardest week of cooking I have ever had to do.

So anyway, we were talking about quick dinners that were delicious, and also vegetarian. Vegetarian in a way my husband would eat. And she brought up this 3-ingredient pasta sauce that is simple, cheap, hands off, and delicious. Once I learned the recipe, I had to make it. And I had to change it. I just couldn't believe that only 3 ingredients would make it delicious, it sounded plain. But I only changed it a little and I'm told that the 3-ingredient is good be my guest, try it BOTH ways. It will not break the bank.

This recipe makes about 4 servings of sauce, maybe a little more

1 28 oz can tomatoes (I used pureed but my SIL uses whole and you could use diced if you want a chunkier sauce)
1 onion, quartered
1 stick butter (1/2 cup) *We think that maybe you could make this with half the butter, maybe.
Handful basil, chopped (optional!)
Pasta, for serving

1. Pour tomatoes into a pot. Add butter (whole is fine), basil and onion quarters.
2. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, cover (leave the top a bit open) and simmer for 40 minutes. If the heat is too high this sauce will pop and splatter, be prepared! I had to transfer to a new burner to get the heat down. It is one of those times when you actually have to wash the lid of the pan!
3. If you used whole tomatoes or chopped tomatoes and you want a smoother sauce, puree with an immersion blender. If you used pureed tomatoes already, skip this step! Serve with pasta.

Baked Tortellini

Tortellini is a satisfying comfort food. This dish adapted from Giada's Everyday Pasta cookbook comes together in a flash and looks impressive. We think it would be better with meat-filled tortellini but liked the appearance of the tri-colored pasta we used.

1 lb cheese tortellini (or filling of your choice)
1/4 C chopped parsley
1/4 C chopped fresh basil
1/3 C mascarpone cheese
2 C marinara sauce (jarred is fine)
1/2 t salt or to taste
2+ oz thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
3 T shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
1 T olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 475. Lightly oil an 8x8 pan or small casserole dish with olive oil
2. Cook tortellini in boiling water for 2 minutes until slightly tender, drain and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, mix salt, basil, parsley, mascarpone and marinara sauce. Add tortellini and mix until pasta is coated.
4. Pour pasta mix into prepared pan and top with sliced mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake 20 minutes until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Easy Cheesy Enchiladas

I am always tempted to order cheese enchiladas at Mexican restaurants. There is something about the ooey gooey cheese spilling out of soft tortillas smothered in tangy sauce that makes me feel warm and comfortable. Despite my fondness for them, I didn't realize how easy and economical they are to make at home!

Sure I cheated and bought sauce from the store instead of making my own and it was still good. Next time though, I'll listen to the people at Simply Recipes and try making the sauce myself.

1 1/4 C cheese (I used mozzarella and colby jack)
1 small jar red enchilada sauce
6 corn tortillas

1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly spread 1 T olive oil over the bottom of an 8x8 glass square pan.
2. Heat the tortillas in a lightly oiled frying pan over medium high heat. I used this method in step 1 of Simply Recipes Enchilada post. Set aside.
3. Grate cheese and toss to combine.
4. Take one tortilla and place some cheese inside. Roll and place seam-side down in the prepared pan. Repeat, squeezing enchiladas close together to keep their shape in the pan.
5. Pour sauce over the enchiladas and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 10-12 minutes or until cheese is melted and sauce is hot.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse Parfaits

I discovered mascarpone cheese this week. It is the most delicious cream cheese I have ever had. Smooth and creamy as though it is whipped with a slight sweet taste and no tang--like whipping cream in a semi-solid form.

It doesn't take much mascarpone to make an amazing dessert. As I searched the web for a way to use the rest of the carton, I found thousands of choices. Citrus would be the best choice because it would compliment the flavor of the cheese while chocolate would be rich and delicious. At first I was smitten by these brownies with their deep brown color and silky ganache on top but I felt that the cheese would just make these brownies moist and get lost in the flavor.

Finally I settled on a remix of these mini tarts. I don't have mini tart pans and I didn't have enough cheese left to make an entire tart, so I decided to make the same mousse (although can you call it mousse if it isn't light?), but serve it in parfait form, a favorite dessert discovered this summer.

Our grocery store Ralph's is now making its own Chocolate Hazelnut Spread to compete with the ever-so-popular Nutella brand. I bought the Ralph's brand because it was much cheaper and could not tell a difference. At fancier stores they actually sell chocolate-only spreads. If you don't like the hazelnut flavor of Nutella, try for one of those.

This dessert is fast, easy and super rich so you only need a little for each person. I think I could've made 4 parfaits with the recipe I used below, but I encourage you to make them smaller...very rich. Serve with tea or coffee to soften the extreme richness.

2/3 C chocolate hazelnut spread
2/3 C mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
4 oreos (or chocolate wafers), crumbled
1/4 t vanilla (or to taste)
3 T chopped salted roasted nuts of choice (I used macadamia, pistachios would look pretty, peanuts would be great, whatever you like)

1.In a stand mixer whip the chocolate hazelnut spread so that it is less solid. Add mascarpone and vanilla and mix until whipped.
2. In small clear glasses (shot glasses would work well), layer oreos, mousse, and salted nuts. Don't be skimpy on the nuts, they will cut the sweet.
3. Serve at room temperature. I think once you refrigerate the dessert will get thicker and less mousse-like

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Soft Pretzels

Recently I stumbled across a blog called Hide the Cheese. I loved the creative name and soon the content and the pictures. I scrolled through countless blog posts and came across one for Homemade Soft Pretzels. Once I saw the picture, I HAD to have them.

A few days went by and finally I decided to make the pretzels to accompany some soup that I was making. I started at 2pm and mixed together the ingredients and then set aside the dough to rise. When I came back an hour later it had not doubled in size as the recipe told me it was. It occurred to me that since our house was, at that time, less than 62 degrees in the kitchen (because it was 62 upstairs and obviously I needed to turn the heat up), the dough wasn't warm enough to rise. So, I brought the bowl upstairs and turned up the heat. I waited an additional half hour and the dough....still didn't look that big but I decided to go for it anyway.

Now tell me, friends, when was the last time you rolled out a dough snake? Unless you hang out with kids all day, I'm guessing your answer will be something like 20 years ago. And that was my answer. I first tried to roll out dough snakes in the air but then I realized it would be lots easier if I rolled the snakes on the counter, with two hands, starting from the center and moving outward. So much easier! If you have kids around this is an activity that they can help you with!

Anyway, these pretzels were delicious and a great addition to our dinner table.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Italian Fondue

What is the most romantic kitchen appliance? According to every wedding registry, it is the fondue pot. To me, eating fondue is not really that romantic...but people think it is and so we ordered one for our wedding. And we tried traditional fondue and Joey didn't really like it--it tasted too much like wine and swiss cheese--not a favorite. So the fondue pot went back into the small appliance closet and collected dust.

Until last week, I came across a blog post for Italian Fondue. This fondue, unlike traditional swiss is more like a cheese custard made on a double boiler with eggs and milk. It uses a milder cheese-fontina. It yields the same silky dipping sauce with a milder flavor. Joey and I agreed that it might be delicious if mozzarella were mixed with the fontina but I think this fondue will be added to our recipes as a win.

I copied the recipe from The Gastronomer's Guide except that I didn't add the cayenne pepper. I recommend splitting the cheese to half fontina and half mozzarella if you want a milder flavor and also adding a little bit more salt to the final product.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pickled Herring Bites

Pickled herring is one of my favorite holiday treats. It isn't something I buy any other time of year but I always hope it is on the Christmas Eve or Christmas table. Unfortunately, not many people share my love for pickled herring. I knew, however, that at least one other person in my family would eat the herring and so I decided to serve it at our party.

I happened to read a recipe in Eat Well for a pickled herring paired with potatoes, sour cream, onions and dill. This appetizer was the biggest hit on the buffet table. The flavors mixed really well together making the herring more of a bing bang zing.

1 4 oz jar pickled herring (I used the ones in vinegar but you could use the ones in cream sauce--buy them at IKEA! Such a good deal!)
1 sprig fresh dill
2 or 3 red potatoes, boiled but still sturdy
1 T or so of plain yogurt or sour cream (I used greek style plain yogurt)
1/4 chopped red onion

1. Boil potatoes but make sure they are still sturdy enough to be cut into slices and hold the herring. Cool potatoes and then slice potatoes hamburger style into thin but sturdy slices
2. Top potatoes with a slice of herring (cut them in half if they are big), a dollop of yogurt, a sprinkling of red onion and dill. Keep cold until guests arrive.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Roasted Carrot & Potato Soup

My husband and I hosted my family at our house for Christmas day. I wanted the food to be delicious, elegant and hands off. So, I decided on roast beef, roasted potatoes and carrots, green beans, seasonal fruit salad and dinner rolls. My family was very impressed! The dinner went off without a hitch. Near the end, however, I realized we had lots of leftovers. No problem for the beef--we could just have French dips. But what was I to do with a bunch of roasted potatoes and carrots? The worst part was those potatoes and carrots didn't come out crispy--they were more steamed than roasted and they weren't very flavorful alone.

I mentioned to my sister in law how I had an overflow of leftover roasted vegetables and she suggested, quite simply, make a soup. A soup, I thought? I don't really make soup. But hey, what did I have to lose? We wouldn't be eating those potatoes or carrots anyway. So today I whipped up a roasted carrot & potato soup--it is fantastic! I used the immersion blender and it turned a beautiful yellow color--the sunshine that has recently disappeared from the Los Angeles skyline. I didn't measure for this soup--I just threw some things together. The only negative effect of not measuring was a heavy hand with the pepper. This soup is a tad on the spicy side. I was able to cut it a little with some milk which was a nice addition to the soup regardless, but next time I'll be careful with the pepper.

1 brown onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
roasted potatoes & carrots *I can't be sure how much I used but I know I originally roasted a bag & a half of carrots and about 4 pounds of new red potatoes. This filled a rimmed baking tray to the brim--which is why they steamed instead of roasting in one even layer...)
herbs de Provence
dried thyme
salt & pepper
2 Cups vegetable broth (1 can)
2 Cups water
2 T olive oil
1 C (or less) whole milk or cream (optional, I needed it due to the pepper)

1. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Add onion and saute until translucent and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
2. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds
3. Add potatoes and carrots, vegetable broth, water and all the spices to taste (watch out for the pepper!).
4. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for at least an hour or until potatoes and carrots are very soft and can be smooshed with a spoon.
5. After simmering, puree soup with an immersion blender until smooth. Add milk or cream if desired and serve warm.