Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mini Baked Brie and Jam

I really like to browse Tastespotting. I just love seeing all the beautiful pictures of food and sparking my mind for recipe ideas.  I put aside the fact that the people who run the site are super snooty about what pictures they accept and understand that I will never be a food photographer at that caliber. The thing is, if you're really cooking to eat, do you have time to take posed photos of all your food? The answer is no, no I do not have time to take pristine pictures of all my food.  But no matter, I still read the blogs of the people who do.

Last week I was perusing Tastespotting and saw a delicious looking recipe for Bite-sized Baked Brie appetizers. I happened to have a block of light brie cheese that loses something when eaten plain but was totally the same when melted.  I asked my family if I could bring the appetizer and they said yes!

On her blog, Joy the Baker puts sticks into her baked brie bites but I omitted the sticks. I also did something everyone was asking about--I made them early and froze them.  This worked just fine, I froze them first on trays and then threw them into a gallon sized ziploc once frozen so that they didn't freeze in a block.  Then we brought them on an hour and 20 minute car ride in a sub par cooler (standard defrosting).  The bites weren't completely defrosted but they cooked up fine in about 15 minutes in the oven at 375.  I forgot to put the salt on top but it wasn't necessary.  These appetizers were an absolute hit.  At times I felt I came across a pastry that didn't have enough filling so make sure to fill yours well.  Otherwise, make these.

Baked Bite-Sized Brie Bites Recipe

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Breakfast 2011 - Overnight Baked French Toast

As is our custom on Christmas morning since we got married, Joey & I hosted Christmas Breakfast for his immediate family and a few relations.  This year, I aimed for ease in preparation, aiming to please all the different palates but not spend every minute of the morning making individual portions of dishes.

So I checked online in late November and searched for recipes that might fit the bill. I was hoping for some kind of overnight sweet breakfast dish that could serve 7.  I stumbled upon overnight baked french toast--a recipe by Paula Dean with over 9,000 reviews and 5 stars.

I decided to make the "baked french toast" as a test weeks before Christmas and then ended up failing at that plan because I didn't realize it required overnight time.  So we went cold turkey on Christmas Eve/Morning with a new recipe.

I also made an error in my bread buying on the 23rd.  Paula called for French bread and I thought she meant those long thin loaves but it turned out after closer inspection that she meant the wider and flatter Italian French bread.  We decided to mix the bread choice from Giada's baked French toast recipe with the recipe for Paula's by using Challah bread that we cut into thick slices from two loaves.  We also used the Mario Batali Lasagna pan which is 9x13 but taller--3.25 instead of a traditional  9x13x(2inches?) which caused us to increase the ingredients a bit to make sure we had plenty of liquid.

The process was incredibly simple, the French Toast took about 15 minutes to assemble and slept in the refrigerator all night long. In the morning we took it out about a half hour before baking and then baked it for about 40 minutes with a topping making the FT soft in places and crispy in others--almost as perfect as the fried variety.

Paula Dean & Giada's Overnight Baked French Toast
adapted from The Food Network Recipe 1 & Recipe 2
Serves 10-12 (we served 7 and almost everyone had a second helping but there was enough for maybe 3 more)

1 1/2 loaves Challah bread, let the bread sit out for a few hours or longer so it dries out a bit in advance
9 Large Eggs
1 1/2 C Whole Milk
2 1/2 C Heavy Whipping Cream
2 T sugar
2 t Cinnamon (or to taste, we liberally added cinnamon)
1 t nutmeg (or to taste, I wasn't watching the person adding this)
1 t vanilla extract
dash of salt
butter for greasing the pan

2 T sugar
1 T cinnamon

1. Grease a 9x13 pan, preferably with higher than 2" sides, but that will work fine in a pinch (I totally missed this step and it made a difference in the clean up)
2. Slice the Challah bread into 1 inch slices and line the pan with the bread close together slices on end (like a file cabinet).  If you have holes, slice smaller pieces to fit into the holes. The bread should be tight enough not to fall over but not too tight so you can't get in between the slices with your fingers
3. In a large bowl, beat eggs until all the yolks have broken.
4. Add all other ingredients and whisk to combine
5. Pour liquid evenly over the pan of bread and use a spoon to distribute in between the layers.  Cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight
*The next Morning*
1. Remove the dish from the refrigerator when you get up
2. Preheat the oven to 350
3. Make the topping by combining 2 T sugar and 1 T cinnamon in a small bowl. Remove the cover on the dish and sprinkle the topping all over--this will make the top crisp
4. Bake 40 minutes or until toast is lightly golden brown and puffed and liquid is mostly set
5. Cut into squares and serve warm with syrup

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chocolate Bread Pudding

A couple of days ago we bought some Italian bread to take to an appetizer party along with our sourdough bread snowman and chimahurri sauce.  But then just before we were about to leave we found out that there would only be 20 people in attendance and we did not need to bring too much food. So the bread was left to waste away on the counter.

A day or so later I decided the bread needed to be made. So I searched recipes for bread pudding which is what one typically does with day-old bread. I wanted to make our recipe for pumpkin bread pudding that we did for Thanksgiving Testing 2011 but I didn't have pumpkin on hand and it wasn't time for shopping.

I ended up making a variety of Chocolate Bread Pudding from a recipe on Real Simple.  I had all the ingredients but I had to cheat a little on the types of chocolate I used--I didn't have enough squares of semi sweet available. I actually skimped on the chocolate and it was still enough.  I wish that this recipe had a dash of cinnamon or something to round out the flavor.

I also skimped on the soaking time and the weighing down the bread.  I did this because I decided to make the dish at 8pm and didn't really want it around the next day.  I brought the dish to work. It was completely gone by 5pm.  I think that's a sign of either a good dish or a compelling idea that people though sounded good, tasted, and threw away.  But I'll never know!

You should make this but follow the directions for soaking.  Since I didn't I found that the middle of the bread was still white (it should be brown and covered in chocolate).  I also found chocolate crusts on the top of the bread--as though I melted chocolate, let it harden, and spread it on top.  On the other hand, the dish was still good so do whatever you want if you make it.  I think I prefer bread pudding that isn't chocolate--believe it or not.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

New Product: Saffron Road Frozen Indian Food

Sometimes I want Indian food but the thing is, my husband doesn't eat Indian food so we don't go out to eat it ever.  I of course could go at lunch--but the problem there is that there is no good Indian restaurant in walking distance. And you know nobody drives at lunch.

Anyway, I was at Whole Foods the other day looking for hazelnuts and decided to buy two different frozen Indian dinners. I bought Amy's Paneer Saag which I have had before along with Saffron's Road Lamb Saag.  Nutrition wies the Paneer & Lamb Saag are pretty close and not incredibly terrible--but they aren't that filling either so fill up with lots of additional fruits and vegetables!

I was really impressed by the Lamb Saag.  The flavors were there, the lamb was incredibly tender and there was a good amount of lamb.  I think that this is a keeper.  Try it for yourself!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pizza Dough Breadsticks

As you know, Trader Joe's is not my favorite ever store. However, I was moved to go there last week to pick up some cookie butter.  I was hungry and picked up a whole slew of other ingredients including their world-famous pre-made pizza dough.

Little known fact: Joey and I have not once been successful at pizza making.  It's true, I know it's tough to even fathom being such cooks and bakers.  We can't believe it either.  Every time we try to roll out the dough it springs back into a small round.  When we finally have it so we think something else goes wrong and our pizzas aren't anything close to the likes of our favorite neighborhood shop.

So when I bought the pizza dough I was a little bit hesitant.  But I got it all the same. Then later in the week I picked up some toppings with every intention of making pizza.  By Monday night we still had no pizza and we decided to just order some because we'd been craving it for days!

With pizza already out for dinner (since we just had it), I knew I had to come up with something to use this pizza dough.  Tonight Joey had to work late so I didn't want to make anything to crazy-complicated for dinner. Plus, we really didn't have any food except the ingredients for pizza and canned goods.

As a result I decided on a light dinner of soup and breadsticks.  I would make breadsticks with the pizza dough.  Has anyone ever done this before I wondered?  I went to my old friend google and searched for "pizza dough breadsticks" nearly the first post was a favorite blog of mine "Playing House" with a recipe for pizza dough breadsticks using TJs dough!

After following the directions and letting the dough rest it was too sticky to roll so I added some flour.  Then I tried again.  I had the same terrible rolling results as usual. Luckily breadsticks are forgiving!  I rolled it to whatever I thought might be big enough, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled on some oregeno, garlic powder and a dash of salt.  I also added a quick shred of Parmesan.  I baked my whole-wheat sticks for 14 minutes and came up with a glorious warm side dish for my soup.  So delicious!  I highly recommend you skip the pizza next time and make these.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Salsa Marinated Chicken

I decided to marinate some chicken in salsa the other day in order to hopefully come out with a perfectly moist chicken with lots of flavor.  That..didn't happen.  The problem with the salsa lay in the inability for the marinade to soak into the meat.  It really just sat on top and flavored the top.  This marinade WOULD work if you added a little lime juice maybe a dash of oil--or you could just baste your chicken with salsa and serve it with salsa on the side.  But now you know if you're looking for a fast salsa-soaked dinner this is not the one.

The chicken was cooked perfectly though and had a nice light flavor--just not as much as I was imagining in my dreams.
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Product: Cookie Butter

One of my friends pointed me to one of our daily reads today and an article describing the delectable products Trader Joe's brought out this year for the holiday season.

Sure there are lots of products in the article that call out to me but the most significant is Cookie Butter.  Cookie Butter?!  My friend and I couldn't imagine how it couldn't be wonderful combining two things we love most--butter and cookies into one delicious spread.
I knew I had to have it.  I don't like Trader Joe's.  I go there and have to deal with tight parking lots, tight aisles and can never find anything I want with their crazy store organization.  But I was resigned to give it a try anyway because I couldn't pass up a chance to try the famed Cookie Butter.  I went there after work and actually discovered a store with more than one open space in the parking lot and rather roomy aisles.  Hurrah!

As I was driving home after buying what one can only refer to as a grocery bag of the before-dinner munchies, my aforementioned friend texted me with a message that the cookie butter is amazing.  She encouraged me to crack the jar in the car.  Sadly it was stuffed in the back seat amongst boxes of un-needed snacks near the bottom of the bag. I counted down the minutes to the garage and rushed upstairs to prepare dinner and sample the butter.

Glorious! The texture of peanut butter the flavor of gingersnaps with a tiny bit of crunch from the smashed up cookies.  This butter is terrible for you with 9g of fat per every 1 T but it would be delicious in a myriad of holiday sweets.  For instance just today I saw a recipe for chocolate cookies stuffed with peanut butter--but they would be great with Cookie Butter instead.  Or spread on toast with maybe a tiny dash of sea salt. Or spread onto cupcakes as a frosting.

Will I eat the whole jar without making a recipe? Doubtful. Could I? Very possibly.  But I'll share instead!