Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Another Pecan Pie Recipe

Well, hello there! After nearly three months, I decided it was time to dust of the blog and start posting a bit more. I can't say that there will be many more posts to follow, but I will try to do as I did last year, which is to end the year with a more organized slate. Trouble is that this year we'll be in a cabin in woods which, though very nice, doesn't have wifi. However, we'll be back in Chicago for a couple of days after the new year before we head home so I might get some quality blogging in then. Maybe.

On to today's post. For Thanksgiving, I wanted four different pies--chocolate cream, pumpkin, apple, and pecan. However, as I learned a few weeks ago when I made pecan pie squares, many desserts that I made years ago are now too sweet for my taste buds. I didn't want to lose too much sweetness, though, so I combined a Cooking Light recipe and the one from the Karo Syrup website. Results were good, though still a little too sweet for me to eat as much as I'd like. (Probably not a terrible thing, I know :). I used my regular dough recipe, so rest assured it definitely wasn't a low-cal affair. Also, although I used 1 1/2 cups of pecans, it still only made enough to fill a regular pie dish not a deep dish plate, which is what I used. Yes, I have at least 6-8 pie plates, but two were occupied by the chocolate cream pies, one held a pumpkin pie, and another was in the dishwasher, so all I had left was a metal plate, a couple clear Pyrex ones, and this deep dish plate that seemed to match the best. To address the problem of too much space, I simply rolled down the dough and made a crostada-like crust.

Another Pecan Pie Recipe
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1 cup corn syrup
2 eggs
2 egg whites
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cup pecans, halves and chopped
1 regular pie crust
Egg wash, if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll pie dough and place in pie plate, if not using frozen. There is no need to par-bake the crust.

Blend together corn syrup through butter until well mixed. Stir in vanilla, salt, and pecans. Pour into pie. If desired, give the crust a brush with an egg wash.

Bake for 60 - 70 minutes until center of pie is set (i.e. no more jiggling) and nuts are lightly browned.

Cool for at least 30 minutes, then serve with whipped cream.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Baking for the Freezer

One of the more unusual things I've been buying lately is prepared bread items. No, I'm not buying sandwich bread and still make my trusty Egg Sandwich Bread each week, but I have bought English muffins and more than my share of bagels. I've decided that that has to stop. This weekend, I'm going to do my best to stock the freezer with ready to eat baked goodies. Tonight, I made English muffins using a recipe from my favorite bread machine cookbook, the Bread Machine Bible.

Chocolate Chip Cherry Scones.

And Apple Pie Pocket Pies. This picture is from a few years ago. Since I was getting tired, I cut three apples, then made the rest fold-overs. Pie definitely don't need to be cute to be yummy.

Unfortunately, I then ran out of both all purpose and white whole wheat flour so I couldn't keep going. Tomorrow I hope to make bagels and at least one flavor of muffins, but that depends upon when I make it to the store. Also on the cooking agenda for staples is chicken stock, which I'm in desperate need of, yogurt, and bread.

What's cooking in your kitchen this weekend?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Roasted Vegetable Stock + Post-Moving Update

Well, hello there! It's good to see you again. As I anticipated, with moving went the death of my brief return to regular blogging. I can't promise that now that we're (nearly) settled in I'll improve, but I will promise to try. I do have several new recipes to share with you, albeit several are without pictures.

In general, the move went as well as to be expected. This was my first experience with a full-service move (i.e., they do the packing for you). In the past, I'd always had boxes and boxes ready to go and a bunch of sweaty guys simply loaded them up, disassembled a few pieces of furniture, and did the same thing at the destination. This time instead I had to deal with 4 sweaty guys taking ages to pack and load. In my previous 6 moves, I'd only had one experience where it ever took the movers longer than about five hours to be in and out of my life. (The previous time was when we left Hawaii and they point-blank told me that I was their only assigned job for the day and would be killing time so they weren't sent out on another.) Anyway, many things I never had to worry about or be annoyed about were involved in this move. For example, that they left the largest packing task (my kitchen) to a single guy, who obviously had no clue about how to pack efficiently as he packed about three dishes an hour, was maddening. Moreover, the foreman kept promising that they'd be done in a day. He promised this all the way up until 5:00 p.m., when I finally told him there was no way it was going to happen as my kitchen was still NOT packed! Other than their sluggishness during the loading, breaking a lamp with a CFL bulb 3 minutes after they arrived (a minor hazmat issue, btw), and numerous other minor annoying things like adding extra padding to a pack of rubber erasers and placing my super heavy bed frame in the wrong position twice (naturally I didn't notice the second screw-up until after they left), things generally went okay. Northern Virginia with its terrible congestion (think H-1 during rush hour) is a dimming memory.

Unpacking has taken quite awhile. My aunt and my husband's parents were in town for a week or two to help out so much got done while they were here. However, my husband and I moved into an "old" house (it's nearly 40, which I don't consider old seeing as I'll be that age by the end of this decade, but it's old) and there were a lot of little things that claimed our attention. Thus, instead of our extended family helping just with unpacking and picture-hanging (which they did do a lot of), they built a stand-alone pantry because apparently much cabinet space wasn't needed in the 1970s, and went to Lowes a dozen times for patio, lawn and garden gear. Speaking of which, I finally got my very own grill!!! This meant that all I needed to do most of my cooking was a cutting board, knives, and tongs. I even now make our weekly pizza on the grill. In short, we began making the house our home right off the bat, which didn't leave quite as much time for unpacking as I'd hoped.

However, Friday will be our 1-month anniversary of moving into the house and I'm determined to finish unpacking if it kills me, which it very well may seeing as it's now Wednesday and I haven't touched a box since the weekend. Despite all my complaints about the move, we're really loving this house. It's not a whole lot of space, but it's a lot more than we had. My son has nearly an entire room for his play area, as well as his bedroom, a portion of his Daddy's office, and assuming I ever get it unpacked a place in my craft room. We don't have a proper yard, but we do have a good-sized deck for his slide, picnic table, and other toys. What's best of all about this area is that there are sidewalks galore! We can walk to two libraries, a park, two farmer's markets, two lakes, a very nice mall, several play lots, and the neighborhood pool. Sadly, we cannot walk to either the Trader Joe's or the Wegmans as they are just over 3 miles away and across a major highway, but there are two grocery stores that we can walk to in a pinch. Plus, my husband's about 10 minutes away from work which means he turns up quite often during the day.

Wow, that was a much longer bit that I'd intended. Enough chatter and onto the recipe. One of the only downsides of this area that I've noticed thus far is that food prices are slightly higher than they were back in Northern VA. On the plus side, there are regular farmer's markets all the way till Thanksgiving so that takes a bit of the sting out of my weekly produce bill which was getting out of hand. (I'm willing to trade some organics for the farm-to-table experience and several vendors at the market are at least low-chemical, even if they are not certified organic). Anyway, in efforts to save a little, I'm again trying to front-load my meat and other major pantry-stocking purchasing to the beginning of the month. Since the freezer's still full, that I have no whole chicken to make chicken stock shouldn't mean a trip to the market. Enter vegetable stock. It's absolutely beautiful! As the title of this post suggests, I roasted my veggies first per this recipe, then simmered away as I usually do for chicken or beef stock. I haven't tried cooking with it yet, but I'm sure it will work splendidly for soups, rice, and other grains. The basic recipe is again more of a method, but I'll include what veggies I used below. If you check out the Food Network recipe I roughly followded, it has suggestions for "summer" and "winter" varieties.

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Did I mention it's beautiful? As you can see, there's next to no yucky fat to skim off.

Roasted Vegetable Stock
4 onions, quartered
4 carrots, cut into chunks
3 stalks celery, cut into chunks
8 garlic cloves, crushed
2 leeks, washed, rough stems removed and cut into chunks
Olive oil
1 TBS black peppercorns
Few springs fresh thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary (or large fresh spring)
2 tsp salt
1-2 bay leaves
3-4 quarts water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss veggies in olive oil and place on a sheet pan in a single layer. Roast for 45 minutes.

Add veggies and remaining ingredients to a large stock pot and fill with water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for and hour or two until the stock is a lovely golden color. Strain and cool before refrigerating or freezing.

I haven't portioned mine out but it looks like I got at least 14-16 cups worth.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Turkey Pot Pie + Update

After nearly a week of regular blogging, I fear I will again take another hiatus. Hopefully not too long of one, but I make no promises.

We're moving again. This time from Northern Virginia to Columbia, Maryland. I think this is my fourth move in three years. I can't really blame military life as my move from Chicago to Hawaii in 2010 was a bit overdue. For those of you who don't know, my husband and I spent the first nearly four years of our marriage living hundreds to thousands of miles away from one another. I was working in Baltimore when he was stationed in North Carolina. Then I moved to Chicago and he was transferred to Hawaii where he frolicked on the beach when he wasn't deployed to Iraq, then Iraq again, and finally Afghanistan for 6-7 months at a time. Fortunately, my work in Chicago allowed me visit him roughly once every other month or so and I didn't go quite too nuts during these numerous deployments. Naturally, once we decided that enough was enough and I relocated to Hawaii, took the bar there, and found a great job, boom, he was transferred to Northern Virginia. To be fair, move number 3 wasn't the military's fault. Last spring we moved on our own to a larger apartment in preparation for the arrival of our son.

In truth, we're excited about this move. Our new home will be an actual house, but not too much house for our first non-apartment experience. There's no basement and the yard looks manageable (fingers crossed that I'm right on that), but we will be getting a living room, a family room, and a separate dining area. The trade-off is the loss of an open-concept design, a closed-off kitchen (but with windows!) and smaller bedrooms. Assuming I remember, I'll try to post pictures in the coming weeks.

Okay, that's enough rambling. Onto today's post. It's not really new as I made this recipe with chicken last year. However, I did take new pictures so it's worth a separate entry.

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Turkey Pot Pie

Crust
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup ice water

Filling
2 cups cooked turkey
3-4 med carrots, diced
1 med onion, diced
1/2 c corn
1/2-1 c peas and or green beans, if desired
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 3/4 cups of chicken broth
1 cup milk

1 egg, mixed with 1 tsp water

To Make Crust
Using a pastry cutter or in the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt.

Cut in or pulse butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add in ice water a tablespoon at a time until the dough holds together without being wet or sticky.

Turn out dough onto a floured work surface. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

To Make Filling
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Remove dough from fridge.

In a saucepan, melt butter and saute onions and carrots until onions are soft and translucent. Whisk in flour, salt, pepper, and spices and cook for a minute. Slowly stir in 1 3/4 cup chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thickened. Gently stir in turkey, corn green beans, and peas. Cook for 2-3 minutes to bring everything to the same temperature.

Remove from heat and cool.

Assembly
Divide dough in half (if you haven't done so already) and roll into a large circle. Line the base of your pie pan. Roll the other half into a circle large enough to cover the pie. If possible, put both in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Spoon filling into pie. Cover with remaining dough and crimp edges with a fork (or fancy pie tool) to seal. Cut several slits to vent and brush with egg wash. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown.

Serves 4

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cherry Mini Pies

It's summer time and cherries are in season! No, we haven't been cherry-picking this year. Somehow berry picking in the summer turns out to be more difficult to schedule than apple picking in the fall. In June, the weekend we had planned to go turned out to the be the off weekend between strawberries and cherries. Since then the unbearable heat has made being outside for any length of time not ideal. Still, summer means fruit pies and I just so happened to have some frozen sweet cherries in the freezer.

A brief note on sweet cherries. Most pie recipes tend to call for sour cherries, but all I had were sweet. Fortunately, I stumbled upon this recipe for cherry pie filling from My Baking Addiction and these turned out great. A healthy dose of lemon juice provided some needed tartness. In general, I imagine you could just use less sugar in whatever pie filling recipe you use if it calls for sour cherries.

I also used a lighter crust than my usual pie crust with tasty results.

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Cherry Mini Pies

Dough
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup ice water

Filling
5 to 6 cups fresh pitted cherries, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds (or 16 oz frozen)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Also
1 large egg, whisked with 1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon raw sugar

To make dough whisk together flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter and cut in with a pastry cutter until coarse crumbs form. Add in water gradually until dough comes together, adding more water if too dry. (Alternatively, you can do this in a food processor.) Make a flat disc, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours.

To make filling, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine cherries, water, lemon juice, sugar and cornstarch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until thickened. Stir in extract. Cool.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll dough to 1/8"-1/4" thickness. Cut or slice into pieces for 6-10 pies. (My pies were about 3 x 2" and I got 10). Spoon a tablespoon or so of filling into each pie, add top layer of dough, and crimp shut. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Make a couple slits in each pie to allow steam to escape. Brush with egg wash and dust with sugar. Tip: Freeze pies for about 10 minutes before baking for flakier crusts.

Bake pies for 35 minutes until golden brown and filling is bubbly.

Makes 6-10 pies

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Note: I didn't bake this many pies on one tray, only put them there for the photo. You should space your pies a couple inches apart as they may ooze filling during baking.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

My husband loves, loves, loves raviolis. Even certain veggies that he does care for (e.g. mushrooms), he'll eat in raviolis. Hmmm, I wonder if I could put roasted beets in them? Anyway, I've been making this recipe for several years now, but just realized that it's never made it to my blog. It's an Emeril recipe from over a decade ago and I pretty much follow it precisely except to omit a suggested pinch of nutmeg and substitute 1/2 and 1/2 for the heavy cream. The recipe calls for shallots, but if I'm out, I'll often use a bit of onions and garlic.

When I first started making this recipe, I used premade wonton wrappers for the ravioli dough. Then two years ago we moved to Virginia and the ones from the local grocery store tasted weird. Ever since, I've always made my own dough using another Food Network recipe. I have a set of pasta rollers for my KitchenAide mixer, but when I'm feeling too lazy to haul out the entire apparatus, I just use a rolling pin and we eat a little thicker pasta.

A couple ways I speed this recipe along is to roast the butternut squash ahead of time and keep it in my freezer. Actually, for a good-sized squash, say 2-3 lbs, this recipe only requires half. So I might roast the squash, use half the same day, and freeze the rest to make the dish in another month. I'll also make the filling earlier in the day and chill it in the fridge till I'm ready to make the raviolis in the evening. That only shaves about 10 minutes of time, but eliminates an extra pan and chopping board. Pasta dough can also be frozen.

Wow, that's a bit more blathering about a dish than I usually do. On to the actual recipes!

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As you can see, the pasta's a little thick because I used my rolling pin last night, but I did punch cute little ravioli shapes for you, which I wouldn't ordinarily do.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Ravioli Dough
2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 TBS olive, plus a drizzle for later

Filling
1/2 c + 1 TBS butter, divided
3 TBS minced shallots
1 c roasted butternut squash, mashed
3 TBS half and half
3 TBS grated Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus 2 more for serving, if desired
salt, pepper
12 fresh sage leaves (or more), rinsed and dried

To make the dough using an electric mixer, please see the original recipe for directions. My method is as follows: Mix the flour and salt together and dump onto a clean counter top, forming a mound. (You can use a large bowl too, but you'll dump it later for kneading so I just use my counter.) Make a well in the center (think volcano) and add all the eggs and 1 TBS of olive oil. Whisk the wet items together. Carefully draw the flour from the base of the volcano towards the well and incorporate the mixture together. In a couple of minutes, all of the flour should be incorporated and it shouldn't be too sticky. Keep kneading and folding the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (Note: if your dough isn't coming together, add a drizzle of water or more olive oil. Conversely, if it's too wet, you can add a little more flour.) Drizzle your ball of dough with olive oil and wrap in plastic wrap. Allow to rest for 30 minutes while you make your filling.

To make filling, melt butter in large saute pan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the squash and cook until the mixture is slightly dry, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the half and half and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons cheese. Season again with salt and pepper, if necessary. Cool completely.

To assemble your raviolis, roll dough out to 1/8" thinness or less. (Original recipe states 1/4" but it's simply your personal preference so long as the dough isn't so thin that it won't hold your filling). Cut into your preferred size of ravioli. The picture shows 1.5" squares, though I tend to make mine about 2 x 2" or larger when I'm free-handing cutting them. Drop about 2-3 teaspoons of filling per ravioli. Lightly wet the edges to seal the ravioli. Place on a sheet covered in parchment paper and freeze for 5-10 minutes. (This step helps them hold together).

Cook raviolis in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes until they float to the top and are pale in color. Drain and keep warm.

To make the brown butter sauce, melt 1/2 cup of butter in a saucepan. Add sage leaves and continue cooking until butter begins to brown. Remove from the heat.

Spoon butter sauce over raviolis and sprinkle with cheese for serving.

Serves 4

Monday, July 8, 2013

Monday Breakfast

Good Monday morning! Finally, it's a decent temperature outside--mid-70s. While it won't stay that way long, it's a very nice break from the horrible heat we've had of late. Hopefully we'll be able to take a nice walk in a bit before it gets too hot.

Here's my simple breakfast:


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Blueberries, bananas and toast.

Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy

I have no idea what brought about this craving, but one afternoon about a week ago I had the urge to make chicken fried steak. The thing is, I'm not sure I've ever had chicken fried steak. It certainly isn't a dish I've ever made before or had at a friend or family member's house. Southern cooking, other than the occasional cornbread (and chili, if that's considered southern), just isn't in my food routine. I may have ordered the dish on a whim years ago at a chain restaurant such as Cracker Barrel, but I honestly don't remember.

Anyway, I had a nice piece of sirloin which I had intended to use to make beef with broccoli, but I just wasn't in the mood for that. After a quick Google search, I decided upon a recipe from The Pioneer Woman and one from Alton Brown. Essentially, I followed the Alton Brown recipe but applied Ree's method of battering the meat.

The results:

Fantastic gravy! I'd never made a white gravy until now and will definitely make it again. (The only gravy I'd made before is my caramelized onion-balsamic gravy that I serve with turkey.) Pounding the meat was fun, though a meat mallet would have worked a lot better than my rolling pin. Pan-frying wasn't nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be. The only real negative was a slightly oily crust, which was due to the double batter method from the Pioneer Woman and my not keeping my oil the right temperature. My husband gave it a thumbs up and I enjoyed leftovers the next day.

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Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy
2 lbs sirloin (or bottom round)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (seasoned salt would be tasty too if you can find a brand without MSG)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup + 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2-3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup oil
1 tablespoon of butter
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk (I used half and half for added richness)
1/2 -1 teaspoon dry or fresh thyme leaves

Cut steaks into 8-10 portions. I only had about 1.5 lbs of meat so I cut roughly 6 four-ounce pieces. Pound meat evenly to a height of 1/4". Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Whisk about a teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme with 1 cup of flour. Set up an assembly line and dredge meat first in flour, then in egg, and then again in flour. If you're more proficient that I am at pan-frying, do one more round in the egg and flour. Allow meat to rest for 10-15 minutes before frying.

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it's shimmery. Test it with a pinch of flour which should sizzle immediately when it hits the oil. Fry steaks about 4 minutes per side until golden brown. Be careful not the overcrowd the pan which will cause the oil temperature to plummet and your breading to become greasy.

Allow meat to drain a bit on a rack and rest while you make the gravy.

Discard all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the pan. Melt butter over medium high heat. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of flour and make a roux. Add the chicken broth and deglaze the pan. Whisk until the gravy comes to a boil and begins to thicken. Reduce heat and add the milk and thyme. Whisk until the gravy coats the back of a spoon, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste. Serve the gravy over the steaks.

Serves 4-6  photo ChickenFriedSteak3.jpg

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Breakfast Sunday

86 degrees with a heat index of 93 on this gorgeous Sunday morning and it's oatmeal for breakfast again.

Index Updated!

Since I've been posting a lot this weekend, I decided to give the Recipe Index a needed update. I still want to figure out a better and more attractive way of organizing the index, but at least most of my recipe collection is now linked from there. If you can't find something, please use the search box in the upper right corner of the page. Thanks for visiting my kitchen!

Mocha Chip Ice Cream

With the temps hitting the 90s each day, it was time to make some ice cream! I made this recipe a couple times last summer, but with the new little one, food blogging took a break. Last summer I generally followed this recipe from My Recipes.com and made coffee ice cream with chocolate chips. Yesterday, I decided to add even more chocolate and mixed the chocolate shavings right into the ice cream base. Then when churning I added another three ounces of shaved chocolate to recover the missing crunch. Fantastic!

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Mocha Chip Ice Cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (I've used 2% and whole)
1 cup half-and-half
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 tablespoons instant espresso
6 oz shaved semisweet or dark chocolate (only 3 oz if making coffee chip ice cream)

1. Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large heavy saucepan. Whisk in milk and half-and-half. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, 8 to 10 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat.

2. Temper egg yolk with about 1/4 c of hot milk mixture, then return to pot, whisking briskly. Whisk in espresso. Whisk in half of chocolate. (Skip this step if you prefer coffee ice cream with chocolate chip.) You may need to return the mixture to the heat over low to get the chocolate to melt smoothly.

3. If necessary, strain mixture to remove any solids. Pour into a bowl and cool for about an hour. Place plastic wrap directly on cream mixture; chill 8 to 24 hours.

4. Pour mixture into freezer container of a 1 1/2-qt. ice-cream maker, and freeze according to your machine's directions; stir in remaining chocolate halfway through freezing.

Makes about 3 cups

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Skirt Steak with Red Wine/Thyme Sauce (and Gorgonzola Polenta)

Hmmm, I thought this was a spring/summer recipe but a quick search on Cooking Light informed me that this recipe was found in the December 2012 issue. I guess I'm more behind on my magazine pile than I thought. Oh well. I've now made this recipe twice and each time I pan-seared the steak but you could easily throw it on the grill. I loved that this recipe allows the meat to shine, but also has a nice pan sauce that adds a touch of sweetness. As for the Gorgonzola polenta [NOT PICTURED], it was definitely interesting, but I much prefer my regular version which uses Parmesan cheese instead. All in all, a tasty and quick meal.

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The gorgonzola polenta is obviously not pictured. I served it with the steak the first time I made the dish but didn't particularly care for it so we had it with brown rice the second time. However, since the two recipes are paired together by CL, I figured I'd share them both.

Skirt Steak with Red Wine/Thyme Sauce and Gorgonzola Polenta
2 cups plus 1 TBS chicken broth, divided
1 c milk (I used skim)
2/3 c quick-cooking polenta
1 oz Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (about 1/4 cup)
1 lb skirt steak, trimmed and cut into 4 pieces
1 tsp butter
1 TBS finely chopped shallots
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp cornstarch (I increased this to at least 1/2 tsp, which is why the sauce pictured is so thick)

1. Combine 2 cups broth and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Gradually whisk polenta into broth mixture, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently, about 10-20 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover; let stand 5 minutes.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly oil pan or spritz with cooking spray. Sprinkle steak with salt and pepper. Add to hot pan and cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. You could also grill it. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest.

3. Melt butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté 1 minute. Add wine, thyme, and honey; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced by half (about 2 minutes). Combine remaining 1 tablespoon broth and cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add cornstarch mixture to skillet; cook 1 minute or until sauce slightly thickens.

Serves 4

Friday, July 5, 2013

What's for breakfast today?

Let's see, it's 87 degrees outside with a heat index of 94 and what am I having for breakfast?

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Oatmeal with strawberries and walnuts

Weekly Chocolate Pudding

Posting my chocolate pudding recipe is long overdue. I've been making this pudding recipe every single week (sometimes twice a week) for about three months now. It's simple and relatively idiot-proof once you get the hang of it and so very yummy.

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How did this begin? I have no idea idea. Pudding used to be a once-in-awhile treat in my house and always either from a mix or the refrigerated section of the market. Then one day in February, I got a craving for something chocolate, specifically pudding. As I often do for sweet treats, I turned to Martha Stewart and for the first couple weeks made this recipe. It was tasty, but not quite as rich as I'd like. Plus, 4 eggs meant a whole lot of fat and whatnot. Next I tried this recipe from A Cup of Jo. I liked that it only called for two egg yolks but still was richer due to the addition of chocolate chips, which I ignore for calorie and fat purposes ;) The only problem was that the result was runny as soup! Cooking it forever obtained the desired consistency, but was just too inconvenient. I was about to abandon the recipe when on a whim I tried the method used in the Martha Stewart recipe, i.e. adding everything including the eggs to the milk mixture right from the start. Success!

In general, though the pudding will thicken some when it cools, do not remove it from the heat until it thickly coats the back of your mixing spoon. This pudding tastes like a rich piece of chocolate cake and pairs wonderfully with bananas or strawberries.

Chocolate Pudding

3 cups milk (I use skim)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 TBS cornstarch
2 heaping TBS unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large egg yolks
3 oz. dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium heavy saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt. Whisk in milk and egg yolks. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture thickly coats the back of a spoon.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and chocolate chips until chocolate is melted. Portion into equal servings or pour into a bowl. Cool before refrigerating. If storing in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap touching the pudding. Chill for at least 6-8 hours.

Makes about 6 half cup servings.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Banana Nut Waffles

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This morning I was in the mood for waffles. Not just any waffle...banana waffles! I've made this recipe a few times now since I first found it on Lynn's Kitchen Adventures and couldn't believe that I hadn't posted it on the blog. Luckily, I had photographed it the last time I whipped up a batch for the freezer in March (hence the snowmen placements). What's awesome about this recipe is that all the yummy toppings, except for syrup, that I usually put on pancakes are in them, namely bananas and nuts. It's also a great way to use up over-ripe bananas and makes a hearty waffle.

Banana Nut Waffles
1 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
1 TBS baking powder
2 TBS sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 c milk
1/2 c mashed banana
1/2 c apple sauce
2 TBS oil
2 eggs
1/4 c chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

Preheat waffle iron.

In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and add all remaining ingredients except milk. Whisk the wet ingredients first, then gently mix with the flour mixture while adding milk. Try not to overmix.

Let batter rest for 5-10 minutes. (I usually forget this step.)

Cook in waffle iron according to directions for your machine. About 4-5 minutes works in mine.

Makes about 5 full-size waffles.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mahalo Thank You Card

Well, hello there! I figured I'd better post something new before a whole year went by. I haven't been paper crafting much at all since the arrival of my son last July. For updates on him, affectionately referred to as our little blueberry in blogland, check out my baby blog.

This is the last of the thank you cards I made for baby gifts last year. I honestly don't remember where I found the palm tree image, but I know there are palm trees on Pack Your Bags, Life is a Beach, Doodlecharms and more. The onesie is the stock on from CCR and the sentiment is from a Scrappy Moms' set called Sun-Kissed.

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I'm planning on posting all of the cards I have pictures of as sadly there's not many. I've started crocheting again and tackled a few rudimentary sewing projects, so if I get really ambitious I'll work on getting posts of those projects posted soon. Here's hopping!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Strawberry Rhubarb Scones

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I'd been dying to make strawberry rhubarb something ever since strawberry season began this year, but couldn't quite decide what to make. Then I stumbled up this recipe posted at a new-to-me blog called Dessert First. As you know, I love a good scone so I eagerly whipped up a batch of these guys one evening this week. Using my large muffin scoop, I got about 9 scones. My husband and I polished off 5 right out of the oven, then fought over the last two the next afternoon. Just outside the frame in the picture below, my husband is hovering with plans to grab the last scone and run. Suffice to say, this recipe is very tasty and since it's lower in sugar than my other recipe, I might try this as my go-to scones dough in the future.

Strawberry Rhubarb Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cupsugar
1 TBS baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 TBS butter, cold and chopped
1/2 cup chopped strawberries (I probably used 3/4-1 cup)
1/2 cup chopped rhubarb
1 cup half and half or heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper or by greasing and flouring.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add in butter using a pastry cutter (or two knives) until the mixture resemble coarse crumbs.

Gently toss strawberries and rhubarb in the flour mixture. Pour in cream and fold gently until the mixture comes together. Do not overmix.

You can now either turn dough out onto a floured surface, form into a rough circle about 6 inches wide and 1 inch thick, and cut into six wedges with a sharp knife. Or you can do as I did and use a large muffin scoop.

Place scones on baking sheet and bake for about 12-14 minutes, until tops are golden brown.

Remove and let cool on wire rack before serving.

Makes 6-9 scones

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Apple Walnut Coffee Cake

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Today I have a semi-naughty coffee cake for your breakfast or brunch needs. It's naughty because I used full-fat ingredients and a fair amount of sugar. Here's how that happened: My 10-month old son has yogurt with his oatmeal most mornings. Because he's a growing baby, whole milk dairy products are recommended. (He's only eating cheese and yogurt at the moment.) Last week I mistakenly bought vanilla-flavored whole milk yogurt instead of plain. Although he didn't seem to mind the vanilla flavored, he gets quite enough sugar as it is from all the apple sauce he gulps down. Thus, I switched him back to plain yogurt as soon as I made it back to the store. That left me with nearly an entire quart of whole milk vanilla yogurt, which neither my husband nor I really needed to eat. (I make two batches of my vanilla yogurt using skim milk per week.)

I suppose I could have made frozen yogurt with the rich stuff, but just happened to notice the recipe on the back of the yogurt container: Glazed Apple Walnut Coffee Cake. It sounded rather tasty and as I had everything needed on hand last night I gave it a whirl. Quite tasty, as well as nice and moist! Next time I may add a little more cinnamon, but it was still very yummy. You'll notice that I did not make the glaze. My thinking was that the cake was so rich that we really didn't need a sugary glaze and I think I was right. However, I have included the glaze recipe below if you're interested.

Apple Walnut Coffee Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
1/4 c brown sugar (org. 1/2 c)
4 eggs (I used 2 egg whites in place of 1 egg)
1 c vanilla whole milk yogurt
2 apples, cored, peeled and diced
3/4 walnuts, chopped

Glaze
3/4 vanilla whole milk yogurt
3/4 c apple cider
1/2 confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour angel food or bundt cake pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in 1 cup of yogurt.

With mixer on low, add flour mixture until just combined. Stir in apples and walnuts.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 60 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Rest in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack. Cool completely.

To make glaze, whisk together cider, 3/4 cup yogurt and confectioners' sugar. Pour over cake.

Serves 6

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Butternut Squash Risotto

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Happy Friday! I know it's practically summer, but I have another comfort food-type recipe for you today.

For dinner yesterday evening I had intended to make Butternut Squash Raviolis. Yet another post I will get around to writing one of these days. Basically, I roughly follow this Emeril recipe and make my own ravioli dough. Anyway, I intended to make raviolis, but by 5:30 p.m., it just wasn't happening. However, I had already defrosted the roasted butternut squash--typically I buy a sizeable butternut squash (2-3 lbs), roast the entire thing, use half for whatever recipe I'm making and then freeze the rest. So I hit the web for something easier I could make using the roasted/mashed squash.

I came across this slide show from Martha Stewart, which gave me a number of ideas, including butternut squash mac 'n cheese and these tasty-sounding pot stickers. Alas, I didn't have any wonton wrappers, which I also could have used to make raviolis had I had them. Then I came to her butternut squash risotto recipe. It looked quite tasty, but called for chunks of squash to be cooked with the rice whereas my veg was already roasted. I then found this recipe at All Recipes.com, which called for cooking and mashing the squash in the first step. Close enough! I switched up the method a little by adding in the roasted squash at the end instead, which I think made it a heartier or at least prettier dish, but either way works. This dish is great as a side or a meatless main.

Butternut Squash Risotto
1 lb butternut squash, roasted
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken stock (I used beef as that was all I had)
1/4-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (a large handful works)
Salt and pepper to taste

If you're not familiar with preparing risotto, it's a two-pot process. In one saucepan you'll saute your veggies and then prepare the risotto. In a second, smaller pot, you'll keep the broth/stock simmering on low so it's warm when you add it to the rice, which allows it to be absorbed faster (I think). If you add cold liquid, I believe your end result will be mushy and not the nice Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook and stir for 2 minutes until the onion begins to soften, then add in the rice. Continue cooking for another few minutes until the onions are beginning to brown.

Pour in the white wine; cook, stirring constantly, until it has been absorbed by the rice. Add 1 cup of the hot stock to the rice and cook, while stirring, until the liquid has been absorbed, 5 to 7 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium and add another cup of the remaining chicken stock. Continue stirring until the liquid has been absorbed. Keep adding the remaining liquid in 1 cup amounts, always waiting until the liquid is absorbed before you add more liquid. You will notice that the rice "drinks" the liquid quickly at the beginning, then slows down considerably. Continue this process until the risotto is creamy but still has a slight bite to the rice. You may not need all of the liquid. My total cooking time for the brand of arborio rice I buy is usually about 25-30 minutes.

Stir in the roasted squash and cheese until thoroughly incorporated and the squash is warm and the cheese melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Slow Cooker Corned Beef

As I just posted what I did with our St. Patty's Day leftovers, I should probably post the corned beef recipe I used this year, particularly since it was amazing! This was only my second time making corned beef and let's just say last year's attempt wasn't much of a success. So many recipes call for just using the included spice packet and water, which just doesn't do it for me.

This year, I started out with a pretty decently sized brisket, but by the time I was finished slicing it, we barely had enough for dinner, one sandwich, and this yummy flannel hash. Other than tossing the seasoning packet, an important step (for me) is to lightly rinse the beef before placing it in the slow cooker. I know corned beef is all about the salted meat, but trust me that you're not going to rinse it all away. This recipe is adapted from one at Taste of Home. Sorry there are no pictures!

Slow Cooker Corned Beef

2 cups potatoes, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 large onion, sliced
Up to 2 (3 lb) corned beef briskets (I only had one)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 TBS sugar
2 tsp ground coriander
1 TBS whole peppercorns
~4 cups water (see directions)

Discard the spice packets. Gently rinse the brisket and pat dry with a clean towel.

In the bowl of the slow cooker, toss potatoes, carrots and onion. Top with the brisket. Sprinkle the brown sugar, sugar, coriander and peppercorns over meat. Add about an inch or two of water. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or until meat and vegetables are tender.

Slice brisket across the grain and serve with vegetables, on rye bread, or make flannel hash.

About 4 servings.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Flannel Hash

Wow, another month gone by without a post. I have no excuses for you, but I do have a super tasty recipe. Two years ago, my husband and I went to NYC for a long weekend. We caught three shows, did some shopping, and hung out with friends. On our last morning, we stopped for a quick breakfast at a diner around the corner from our hotel. On a whim and looking for something more nutritious than bacon, eggs, and flapjacks, I tried something I had never heard of before: Flannel Hash. When it came, it was a huge plate of different colored cubes ("flannel"). Since I'm not a fan of breakfast potatoes or hash browns, I was apprehensive. I LOVED it. This dish is super easy to make and is perfect for those St. Patty's Day leftover. (Yes, we had this after St. Patty's Day and I'm just getting around to posting it now.) But, trust me, this dish is good enough to take the trouble to make all by itself, any time you can find brisket in the store. It's hearty enough for any meal of the day!

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Adapted from Simply Recipes.

2 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups chopped cooked corned beef
1-2 cups chopped cooked beets*
1-2 cups chopped cooked potatoes*
1-2 cups cooked sweet potatoes*
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried parsley
Salt and pepper

*I recommend roasting the beets, sweet potatoes, and potatoes for this dish. It brings out their natural sweetness. Cut into 1/2" cubes and toss on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until fork-tender and slightly browned.

Melt butter in olive oil on medium high heat. Saute onion until translucent. Add corned beef, beets, sweet potatoes and potatoes to the pan. Drizzle with Worcestershire sauce and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley. Go easy on the salt if your potatoes are well-season as corned beef is salty.

Press mixture into even layer, reduce heat to medium and cook for a few minutes until a nice crust begins to form. (This step isn't really necessary for taste, just makes it prettier and adds a little more caramelization.)

Serve by itself or with eggs.

Makes about 4 servings.  photo flannelhash3.jpg

Friday, April 12, 2013

Chicken Cacciatore (Slow Cooker)

One of my new year's resolutions, and possibly the only one I'm sticking to as I can't remember what any of the rest were at the moment, was to cook more from my cookbooks. I love trying recipes from blogs and other online sources so much that I neglect my more than decent cookbook collection far too much. One of the largest categories of cookbooks in my collection are dedicated to slow cooking. Today's recipe comes from The Italian Slow Cooker, which was an impulse by at an adorable little bookstore called Salt & Pepper located in historic Occoquan, Virginia. If you're in the DC/Northern Virginia area, I highly recommend a visit to this quaint little store. There aren't many independent bookstores out there anymore in general, let alone one dedicated to food, so it's nice to support the ones that are left.

Something interesting that this book recommends is to brown all the meat first, including the chicken. I regularly do that with beef in my slow cooker dishes, but for some reason never thought of doing that with chicken. It makes a difference! Often chicken is difficult in the slow cooker because it falls apart. Browning it first not only brings out extra flavor, but also makes the skin sturdier as to not melt away during cooking. One downside with chicken that is present in this dish is a much shorter cooking time than beef. However, it's perfect for a weekend meal that you don't have to get going until noon, then can leave cooking on the counter while you run a few errands and come home to a yummy smelling house. This dish was quite tasty too!

Chicken Cacciatore (Slow Cooker)  photo ChickenCacciatore3.jpg

4 lbs chicken (I used thighs)
salt, pepper, olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, cut into strips
12 ounces button mushrooms, halved
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 TBS all purpose flour
1 TBS good tomato paste (use 2-3 if using cheap stuff)
3/4 c dry red wine

Dry chicken pieces gently with a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Coat large skillet with oil, about 2 TBS, and heat over medium heat. Add chicken, skin-side down, and cook until nicely browned. Flip and brown other side. Transfer chicken to slow cooker.

Pour all but 2 TBS of fat from skillet and increase heat to medium high. Saute peppers and mushrooms until they begin to soften. Add onions, thyme, and garlic and cook for 3 more minutes.

Sprinkle flour over veggies. Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add tomato paste and wine and bring to a simmer. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get the yummy brown bits of flavor. Pour over chicken.

Cook on low for 5 hours or on high for 2.5 hours.

Serves 4

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Chocolate Chip Whole Wheat Muffins

I needed a quick dessert for a dinner with a crowd of fitness buffs so I didn't want to make anything that seemed too dessert-like. Chocolate cake wouldn't do, but I had a hunch that whole wheat muffins, albeit with chocolate chips might do that trick. And they did. Some of my guests had three muffins, and this was after a fairly hearty dinner. I love that these muffins are just sweet enough. Plus, there's texture and crunch thanks to the whole wheat flour and nuts. This recipe is slightly adapted from this one found at Food.com

Chocolate Chip Whole Wheat Muffins
 photo chocolatechipmuffins2.jpg 1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup light-brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk (I used skim)
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs, lightly beaten (I used 1 whole egg + 2 whites)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 c semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup walnuts or 1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Whisk together dry ingredients, except chips and nuts, in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients until well-blended.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and incorporate milk mixture until just combined. Stir in chips and nuts.

Using a muffin scoop, fill prepared muffin pan 2/3rds of the way.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool in pan for 5 minutes before turning out onto wire rack.

Makes 15-18 muffins.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Butternut Squash and Kale Chicken Pot Pies

Wow, how did it get to be April already? Apparently, I missed the entire month of March. Fortunately, even though I didn't post at all last month, I tried a bunch of new recipes which I hope to share with you between now and . . . say, June? :) Just kidding (I hope)!

Today's recipe comes from the February 2013 issue of Bon Appetit and is perfect for winter or fall. We absolutely love butternut squash and chicken pot pies, so an excuse to put the two together couldn't be passed up. Plus, I've also been on the lookout for new ways to try kale, so again this recipe fits the bill. The recipe absolutely did not disappoint. I used my regular pie dough instead of the suggested puff pastry and chicken which I had in the freezer from the last time I roasted a whole bird for stock. These pot pies are fantastic right from the oven but also freeze well.

Butternut Squash and Kale Chicken Pot Pies
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Pie dough for a 9" double-crust pie
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 TBS fresh sage (or 1 tsp dried)
1 small bunch kale, stem removed and leaves chopped (~2-3 cups)
1/4 c all purpose flour
3 c chicken broth
1.5 c butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2" pieces
1.5 cooked chicken, chopped or roughly shredded
1 egg, whisked with 1 tsp water
salt, pepper, olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Saute onion in olive oil until softened and beginning to brown. Add garlic and sage. Cook for 2 minutes. Stir in kale and season with salt and pepper. Cook until kale is wilted, about 4 minutes.

Sprinkle flour over mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 4 minutes. Whisk in broth and add squash. Bring to a boil, then simmer until squash is softened (fork-tender) and broth is thickened. Add chicken and adjust seasoning.

Roll and cut bottom and top rounds of pie dough appropriately sized for your pan(s). Grease and flour pie pan(s) and needed. Fill generously with mixture, allowing the filling to mound slightly. Add top layer of dough, crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork, and make a few slits to allow steam to escape Brush with egg mixture. I made individual pot pies and got 6 well-stuffed 4" pies with a little bit of both filling and dough to spare.

Bake 15-20 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake another 15-20 minutes until pies are a lovely golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes to allow filling to set before serving.

Makes 6 individual pot pies or 1 9" pie.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

MS Simple Waffles

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This bright and sunny morning called for some waffles. Though I intended to make buttermilk waffles as I had some leftover buttermilk to finish, this recipe from Martha Stewart was too simple to pass. I substituted white whole wheat flour for a healthier version and they turned out great! I also added a teaspoon of vanilla because that makes most breakfast items even better.

MS Simple Waffles
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat waffle iron.

In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk wet ingredients. Pour wet over dry ingredients and gently combine but do not overmix.

Pour into greased waffle maker and cook until golden brown.

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Makes 3-4 waffles.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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I found this recipe in January's Bon Apetit. It sounded like the perfect sweet and salty treat for a rainy afternoon like we had today. Since the issue is entitled "The Cooking School Issue," I suppose that accounts for the THREE different types of sugar required. I fortunately had them all on hand, however, I still have no idea why powdered sugar is necessary. Probably, if you didn't have any one hand, you might experiment with just a bit more granulated (~ 1/8 c) to achieve the same texture and taste. As has become my habit with cookies, I made a batch and froze the rest of the dough in little balls so whenever we next want cookies, I can pop them straight into the oven for a quick treat. This recipe makes large (3") relatively flat cookies with a nice crunch but also a little bit of chewiness. It's possible that the texture will be different when I bake the dough in the freezer, so I'll try to update this if that occurs. I halved the chocolate suggested by the recipe and thought the cookies plenty chocolatey. Very tasty cookie. Next time I might add some chopped walnuts, but these were great as is.

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies
1.5 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 c butter, room temperature
3/4 c light brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 c powdered sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
4 oz (org recipe 8 oz) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used 70% cacao), coarsely chopped
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients, except sea salt and chocolate.

In a separate medium bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks, egg, and vanilla until mixture is pale and fluffy.

Reduce heat to low, slowly add dry ingredients. Mix until blended--do not over mix. Fold in chocolate.

Using a 1 TBS cookie scoop, place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet at least 2" apart. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Cookies will still be very soft and will firm up during cooling.

Let cool for a few minutes on cookie sheet, then move to wire rack and cool completely.

Makes 2-3 dozen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Homemade Spreadable Butter

Without really meaning to, I've really gotten into making commonly purchased items from scratch. There's my homemade pizza dough, pizza sauce, taco seasoning, yogurt, and numerous sandwich breads. Despite all this, it never occurred to me that I could make spreadable butter. I've struggled for a long time to find a spreadable butter I liked. I love the convenience of spreadable butter as I frequently eat toast for breakfast or make grilled cheese sandwiches and never have the patience to allow regular butter to get to room temperature first. However, I absolutely despise the fake flavors of products like Country Crock or I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. For awhile, I regularly purchased Smart Balance spreads. There are good coupons available and the taste isn't too bad, however it's definitely an oil-like taste as opposed to a buttery flavor. Plus, when you're doing a pantry challenge and trying only to purchase fresh produce and dairy each week, buying fake butter really seemed wrong. So I turned to Google and came across different variations of this recipe. It looked super easy and I had a stash of butter in my freezer, so I decided to try it.

Well, it was a super simple recipe that I made even easier by whisking by hand rather than breaking out the stand mixer. I simply allowed the butter to come to room temperature first, then used a little elbow grease, and viola(!) spreadable butter without the mystery ingredients. It works just like the fake stuff and tastes so much better.

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Homemade Spreadable Butter
1/2 c butter, room temperature*
1/4 c canola oil
1-2 TBS water, if desired

*I used salted butter, but you could use unsalted and salt to taste.

Using a stand mixer or whisk, whisk together oil and butter. Add water to achieve desired consistency. Refrigerate and use as you would use the fake stuff.

Note: The fake stuff has food coloring in it to make it look more like butter. Adding oil to butter makes a pale-looking final product, but that's more an acceptable a trade-off.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Cream Cheese Frosting

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Last weekend I was in a cake mood. I wanted not just any cake, but a chocolate layer cake! However, when my son came down with a stomach bug, baking was put on hold. It turned out for the best as this cake made the perfect Valentine's Day dessert. I combined this cake recipe from Tracey's Culinary Adventures with a modified version of this espresso icing from the Baker Chick. The cake was moist and delicious and the frosting had the perfect amount of coffee flavor. Definitely a keeper (as you can probably tell by the fact that more than half the cake is gone)!

Chocolate Layer Cake
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 TBS cornstarch
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons room temperature water

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour an 8-inch round pan.

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, oil, and vanilla, beating until smooth. Gradually add the water, beating until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 35-37 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake is nice and springy. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes, then turn the cake out onto the rack to cool completely.

Espresso Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz butter, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese (I used low fat), room temperature
3 cup confectioner's sugar
2 TBS instant espresso powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-6 TBS half and half

Using a mixer, cream butter and cream cheese together. Add espresso and vanilla and beat well. Add sugar and half and half gradually until desired consistency is achieved.

Preparing the Layer Cake
My skills at assembling a layer cake are rudimentary at best, but I know the basic routine, in theory. For best results, chill the cake and frosting for at least a short while before getting to work (~30 minutes).

Using a large serrated knife, divide the cake into two even layers. My cake domed in the middle, so I actually trimmed the sides to get a smaller but taller cake. For easy maneuvering, use a cutting board or plate to stabilize the layers when flipping.

Place the bottom layer on cake stand (or doily or parchment paper if you prefer a super clean presentation). Generously smooth 1/3 to 1/2 of the frosting on top of the first layer. Top with second layer, doing your best to center it.

To obtain the cleanest finished product, first do a messy "crumb" layer of frosting. Then with a clean knife or icing tool, generously frost the cake with the remainder of the frosting or as desired. (I really wanted some of the cake to show, so I had at least a cup of frosting leftover.)

Store cake in the fridge until about a half hour before serving.

Please note that this is a single-layer cake cut in half. If you prefer thicker or more layers to your cake, please double the recipe.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pizza Fridays (Slow Cooker Marinara Sauce)

Over the last year and a half, Fridays have become pizza night in our house. My husband loves pizza and I like not having to plan what we're having at least one night a week. We started with ordering in, but my trusty bread machine soon took care of that. (For my honey whole wheat pizza dough, click here. For my cornmeal parmesan dough, click here.) Each dough recipe makes enough for two pizza nights (or 2 large or 4 small to medium pies) so I only have to make dough every over week and put half in the freezer. Typically, I keep shredded cheese and jarred sauce on hand--and that's all my plain cheese pizza-loving husband needs. (My pizza tends to vary more depending upon whatever fresh veggies are in the fridge.) Easy as pie. However, last month when we were eating down the pantry, I finally ran out of jarred sauce. Yikes! Luckily, I still had tons of canned tomatoes from my crazy summer of stocking up. Inspired by this recipe, I whipped up about 5-6 cups of tasty sauce with little to no work at all. I then froze the sauce in 1 cup portions right next to the extra dough. Super convenient!

I like that this sauce is simple, yet intensely flavorful because it simmers all day. It's a tangy, tomatoey sauce that's not too sweet like many jarred sauces. (If you prefer a sweeter sauce, which I do sometimes, just add a little more brown sugar. If you like it a little spicy, add a pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes.) We've enjoyed it on pizza, in lasagna, and over pasta.

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2 (28 oz.) cans tomatoes
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 medium onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 whole bay leaves
1 TBS dried basil
½ TBS dried oregano
1 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper

Saute onions in a little olive oil until softened. Add garlic in last minute. Add with remaining ingredients to slow cooker.

Cook on low for 8 hours. Remove bay leaves and adjust seasonings to taste.

If using on pizza, I recommend using an immersion blender to smooth out the sauce.

Makes 5-6 cups.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

This recipe reminds me of one of my grandmother's best recipes--her meaty spaghetti sauce. It seemed like it would take her all day to make with much chopping and many hours of watched simmering. This slowcooker recipe from Betty Crocker is much simpler and super tasty. (I was eating it with a spoon!) What's even better about it is that it can be made with ingredients I nearly always have on hand.

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1 lb ground beef
2 large onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (8 oz)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
28 oz diced tomatoes, undrained
24 oz tomato sauce (original recipe called for 30 oz, but this made for a heartier sauce)
6 oz tomato paste (the cheap stuff in a can--use only a few TBS if using good tomato paste)
1 TBS dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
2 TBS sugar*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Olive oil

Saute meat, onions, mushrooms and garlic in a little olive over medium heat about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through. Drain.

Add meat mixture and remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 8 to 9 hours.

To thicken sauce even more, vent lid during last hour of cooking.

*Note: Since I was using cheap canned tomato products and prefer a sweeter pasta sauce, I increased the sugar from 1 to 2 tablespoons. If you have nicer tomatoes, you may want to use less.

Makes about 6-8 cups of sauce.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Update!

Yikes, more than a month between posts! Oh well, it's not too surprising. My son is now 6 months old and more active than ever. Thus, instead of blogging, for the most part I've been playing with him. Not a bad trade off at all seeing how cute he is.

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Anyway, January was a fun month in the kitchen for me. Inspired by the Pantry Challenge at Good Cheap Eats, I made it my goal to eat down the freezer and pantry for the whole month buying mostly only fresh produce and dairy each week. I desperately needed room in my freezers and I had a number of pantry items with expiration dates approaching. (As you may know, I started couponing last year which led to some sizeable stockpiles.) For the most part, it was a fantastic success. Not only did we eat every bit of frozen meat except a turkey and prime rib roast, we also ate nearly all of my stash of prepared meals or meal components. We still have some shredded beef, chili, and soups but nothing like what we started the month with. Most of my pantry items now live IN my pantry--a big accomplishment! I no longer have two dozen cans of tomatoes, which is a bit sad, but this means I can stock up anew. My flours and sugars are no longer in the 10 lb+ range, which makes me worry less about spoilage and insects in the coming warmer months (as those things still don't fit in the pantry yet). Cash-wise I can't say that I saved a ton, because I have no idea what my average monthly expenditure is--from October through December, I spent anywhere from $300 to nearly $800. However, I did spend a reasonable amount in January, which makes me happy. That number will be my goal for the coming months.

Eating down the pantry requires meal planning based upon what's on hand. Since the cupboards and freezing were bursting, I had a lot to choose from for the most part. I will say that we ate a whole lot of chicken, especially chicken thighs at the end. Frankly that isn't too unusual, but since I soon dropped a regular menu item (taco salad) because (a) we were out of taco meat and (b) it seemed to be giving my baby gas (he's breastfed), we wound up eating chicken an extra night per week. I also started craving beef even though we had it once a week, which was odd but possibly because I had so much in December. We ate a good mix of family favorites and new recipes. In the near future, I hope to share recipes for chicken with a tomato-basil cream sauce, chocolate pudding, pizza sauce, spaghetti with meat sauce, slow cooker chicken cacciatore, vanilla wafers, and a new waffles recipe.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Creamed Turkey Wild Rice Soup

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Hearty creamed soups full of veggies are what I crave on those crisp fall or winter days. This one satisfies that craving and provides a good dose of fiber, protein and veggies without a whole lot of fat. It's also perfect for using up those never-ending turkey leftovers. This year I whipped up a batch of this soup after Thanksgiving with every intention of freezing some for later in the season. But there was none left! Although cream soups aren't always the best for freezing, this one should do just fine as the actual milk product is minimal--most of the creaminess comes from stock thickened with a roux. I worked off this recipe from Allrecipes.com, but I increased the veggies and omitted a few ingredients which were unusual to me such as lemon juice and almonds.

Creamed Turkey Wild Rice Soup
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2/3 cup uncooked wild rice
2 cups water
6 TBS butter
1 med onion, chopped
1-2 rib celery, chopped
1-2 carrots, chopped
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken or turkey stock
2 cups chopped cooked turkey (or chicken)
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
3/4 cup half-and-half

1. Bring wild rice and water to a boil in a small pot. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 40 to 45 minutes. Drain off any excess liquid, fluff the rice with a fork, and cook uncovered 5 minutes more. Set aside.

2. Melt butter in a medium dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Cook the onion and celery until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the flour, and cook until it turns a pale yellowish-brown color, 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Gradually whisk in the stock until no lumps remain. Add carrot. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook, whisking constantly, until the stock is thick and smooth and the carrots are tender, about 5 more minutes.

5. Stir in the cooked wild rice, turkey, salt, and pepper. Return to a simmer, and cook for 10 more minutes.

6. Stir in half-and-half and bring soup to a near boil. Adjust seasoning, as necessary.

Serves 4-6

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Crushed Red Velvet Cookies

Happy New Year! If you're looking for a fun and tasty holiday treat, these cookies may fit the bill. While visiting Pittsburgh, I discovered that Panera Bread had released a new holiday cookie, the Red Velvet Crinkle. I was fascinated with it as I've come late to the red velvet band wagon. It was very yummy, especially with the cream cheese chips, though a bit too crunchy for my liking. I scoured the net for a similar recipe and found this one from a website/blog called Granbaby Cakes and another from Cooking Classy. Success! What I came up with is a loose combination of the two.

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Crushed Red Velvet Cookies
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp red food coloring
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup white chocolate chips, if desired
Apprx. 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Add egg and vanilla, mixing well. Beat in food coloring.

Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Gently fold in nuts and chips.

Drop rounded spoonfuls onto a prepared cookie sheet, spaced about 1 1/2"-2" apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes until no longer moist to the touch.

Let rest for a minute on the cookie sheet before transferring to wire rack. Let cool slightly (room temperature is your goal) before dusting with powdered sugar.

Makes 2-3 dozen

Happy New Year!

Well, 2012 has finally wound down. I scheduled a couple of posts for later this week and made a good deal of progress cleaning up the Recipe Index. Goals for 2013 include making this website more user-friendly, posting at least 2-3 times per week, and improving my food photography skills.

Best wishes for a health and happy 2013!