Saturday, December 19, 2009

Easy Christmas Treat

You can cover anything in white chocolate and it seems Christmas-y: pretzels, peppermint, cereal, dried fruit. Here's something easy and delicious to package up for the neighbors or add to a Christmas tray. It's very simple to do, but takes a little bit of time because they are so small (about the size of a quarter each). They taste like white chocolate Reese's peanut butter cups.

White Chocolate Covered Ritz Bits

1 box peanut butter Ritz Bits
1 package Almond bark or CandiQuik (you can use white chocolate, but you may need to add a little oil)

Melt white chocolate in microwave according to package instructions. Using two forks, dip the Ritz Bits into the white chocolate one at a time. After one is covered, lift up with the fork and gently tap off the excess over the bowl.

Carefully put the candy on waxed paper and add sprinkles before it hardens.

Danish Sugar Cookies

Okay, these pictures are mostly of the boys, but those are Christmas cookies they're decorating! We got together with some friends and made and decorated cookies last week. I've been using this recipe for a long time, but I haven't posted it, so here it is.

The cookies are soft with slightly crisp edges, which is the way I like them. If you like a crunchier cookie, roll out the dough thinner and bake them a bit longer. This recipe works well with cookie cutters, but they do spread a little bit. They taste great, though! The addition of sour cream and nutmeg makes them just a little different. They come from a Scandanavian cookbook that someone gave our family (our grandmother was Norwegian). The original recipe uses all shortening, but the Danes probably used lard.

Oh, and my friend's husband declared these sugar cookies "freakin' awesome!" which makes me happy. :-)

Danish Sugar Cookies
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. butter
2 egg yolks
1 egg
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
5 cups of flour, plus more to roll out

Cream butter, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat eggs together lightly and add to butter mixture; mix together. Add sour cream and mix. Sift dry ingredients and add gradually. Roll on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters adn bake at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes, or until golden and lightly browned on edges.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Butterfinger Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

I was looking for something different and found this little delight. It's excellent, and quite easy to make. The layers come out of the pan beautifully (but make sure to grease and flour thoroughly), and the frosting is easy to work with. It is very sweet, so I added more peanut butter to the frosting and next time I would add more salt for a counterpoint. The recipe below comes from The Candy Bar Cookbook, but I am including it here with my changes.

Butterfinger Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:
6 (2.1 ounce) butterfinger candy bars
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup buttermilk
For the frosting:
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter
To prepare the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F Grease and flour two 9" cake pans. In the food processor, coarsely chop the candy bars; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix in the mashed bananas and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk alternately to the egg mixture (in two to three additions each) and incorporate thoroughly. Fold in two-thirds of the chopped Butterfingers and divide the batter between the cake pans.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes on wire racks for 10 minutes. Invert onto a rack and cool completely before frosting.

To prepare the frosting: In a large mixing bowl, blend the cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the powdered sugar and peanut butter and mix until smooth.

To frost the cake, place one layer on a serving plate. Spread 1/4 of the frosting over the top. Place the second layer on top. Spread the remaining frosting over top and sides of the cake. Garnish with remaining crushed Butterfingers.

Makes 12 servings.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Cookies 2009

Peppermint Meltaways
Yummy No-Bake Bars
To-Die-For Cranberry Coconut Bars
Mocha Truffles
Meyer Lemon Cookies

More recipes coming soon!!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Potato Croquettes

When I have leftover mashed potatoes, I often make gnocchi. But I wanted something to go with steak, so a couple of weeks ago I made potato croquettes from Thanksgiving mashed potato leftovers. They were fantastic: I'll make extra potatoes in the future just so I can make these again! I started with a Paula Deen recipe and tweaked it a little to make it not so rich. Everyone in the family loved them, though of course Ben ate them with ketchup!

Potato Croquettes


2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon chopped green onion or other kind of onion - can use more.
2 egg yolks, beaten
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups mashed potatoes
1 egg, beaten
Sifted dried bread crumbs (I used panko)
Peanut oil or vegetable oil, enough to coat frying pan

Add milk, salt, pepper, chopped onion, beaten egg yolks and flour to mashed potatoes. Chill and then shape into a flat pancake, about 3/4 inch thick. Dip in the beaten egg, then roll through bread crumbs. Fry each croquette in oil, turning to brown on both sides.

Cook in small batches, making sure croquettes do not touch. Add more oil if needed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

The boys are helping me break up bread for stuffing as we begin our Thankgiving preparations. I love this holiday - I truly have so many things to be thankful for, and it's great to have a day with not much else to do but enjoy family. And cook! Thanksgiving foods are seasonal, traditional, and delicious, and even though (or maybe because!) it's a lot of work to make the meal, it's fun to see it all come together.

Here's what we have planned.

Thanksgiving 2009


Brie stuffed mushroom caps
Righteous Herb Cheese Spread
Pumpkin Dip

Chex Mix (Chris)

Main Course

Smoked Turkey
Roasted Turkey
Mashed Potatoes (Beth)
Rolls (Chris)
Butternut Squash Puree
Cranberry Apple Salad (Beth)
Sweet Potato Casserole
Cranberry Maple Carrots
Spinach, Bacon, and Butternut Squash Salad
Fresh Green Bean Casserole
Jello Salad (Chris)
Five Cup Salad/Ambrosia (Aunt Terri)


Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake (Beth)
Apple Pie
Turkey Brownie Pops
Gingerbread Pear Trifle

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Jalapeños

"This is the best macaroni and cheese you've ever made!"

 I love classic mac 'n' cheese, and I wondered if the additions would detract from the traditional flavor. They didn't! I still knew I was eating macaroni and cheese; it just had a spark of flavor every now and then.

This recipe was developed by a Cooking Light message board poster named Canice. It's not light, but it is not as decadent as many versions, such as this delicious one from Martha Stewart. To make it more kid-friendly, I baked a portion without peppers in a glass pie plate.

Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Jalapeños

8 ounces cavatappi pasta or elbow macaroni
Two strips bacon
Two jalapeño peppers: slice lengthwise and remove membranes and seeds. Cut into thin half moons.
Two Serrano peppers, sliced thinly (retaining membrane and seeds)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1-3/4 cups milk, slightly warmed or room temp
6 ounces sharp orange cheddar cheese
4 ounces Monterey jack cheese
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions, draining after minimum stated cooking time. Rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Set aside.

While pasta cooks, prep peppers and shred/mix cheeses. Reserve one cup cheese mixture.

Using the same pot, cook the bacon until quite crisp. Remove bacon and set aside on paper towels. Reduce heat and add peppers and garlic to hot bacon fat and cook until soft. Set aside with bacon and wipe out pot.

Place butter in pot and melt over low flame. When the butter has stopped foaming, stir in flour and whisk continuously for three minutes, to cook out raw flavor. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook five minutes, whisking continuously.

Remove from heat and whisk in cheese, keeping mixture in motion until cheese is melted.

Crumble bacon into cheese mixture and stir in cooked peppers and mustard.

Pour in cooked pasta and mix well to combine.

Place in a heatproof 9x11 or casserole pan and bake 30 minutes, uncovered.

Remove and top with reserved cheese and cook 10 minutes more. Finish under broiler for a minute or two if you like the top to get crunchy.

Let rest five minutes before serving.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Have a Monstrously Fun Halloween!

The boys and I made these little brownie bite monsters as an adaptation of Bakerella's spider bites. Why can I not find shoestring licorice? Anyway, we bought the raspberry gumdrops for eyes but improvised with other candy we had in the pantry. They were really fun to make, and we had fun coming up with their goofy faces!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Baked Scallops

My mom made these for my birthday this year, and they are delicious. I got great scallops at Super H Mart the other day, so we had these with crusty multi-grain bread and green beans. The picture is from an iPhone; they aren't really so pink.

This is a quick but impressive recipe. Rinse and drain scallops on paper towels before using.

Baked Scallops

1 c. cracker crumbs or panko bread crumbs
2/3 c. light cream, half and half, or buttermilk (Legal Seafood uses buttermilk)
salt and pepper to taste
garlic salt to taste
1 lb. sea scallops, patted dry
1/4 c. butter
flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
lemon wedges

Melt butter and mix with crumbs. Add garlic salt and parsley. Put scallops in casserole dish. Add cream and top with bread crumb mixture. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees, uncovered.

Serve with lemon wedges.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Marinated Cheese (Romano marinated in olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, and red pepper)
Garlic Shrimp (from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipe in the World)
Spanish Hot Chocolate (also from Bittman's TBRitW)
 If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the bruschetta - absolutely 5-star, restaurant quality. It has a lot of steps, but you can take some shortcuts, like using jarred roasted red peppers rather than roasting them yourself.
I'm not posting the recipes here because the post would be enormous, but if you are reading this and plan to make any of the recipes, let me know and I'll give you my notes on the recipes.
My first foray into Spanish cuisine was lots of fun - I'm thinking of hosting a tapas party or making tapas for the next gourmet club night.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Phở and Scallion Pancakes

I used to eat phở at a Vietnamese noodle restaurant in Illinois, and sometimes I crave the unique anise/ginger/umami broth. I had some rice noodles from Super H-Mart and some ground pork, and Mark Bittman's recipe calls for pork rather than the traditional beef, so I decided to try making it myself.

I made the scallion pancakes to go with the soup because Ben is more likely to eat soup if it has some "bread" on the side - or at least some crackers or chips he can dip into the soup. Besides, despite the short ingredient list, they are surprisingly delicious! I first ate them with Korean friends, and I make them now when I need some starch to go with an Asian meal. They are also from Mark Bittman (his How to Cook Everything cookbook mentioned in the post below).

This is the time of year for soup for dinner - I love it, and fortunately, so does the whole family!

Phở (adapted from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World)

2 T. vegetable oil
1 T. minced garlic
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound ground pork
10 cups beef stock or broth
1 t. ground anise or 4 star anise
1/4 t. pepper
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced, or 1 t. ground ginger
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla) kind of like Asian worcestershire
1 T. sugar
1 pound dried rice noodles
Toppings: cilantro, basil, Thai chiles, scallions, limes

1. Set a stockpot over medium heat and add the oil. A minute later, add garlic and chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. When onion is cooked, add pork with a large pinch of salt. Turn heat to high; brown quickly, about 5 minutes. Add stock, anise, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, fish sauce, and sugar.

3. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until the pork is cooked through. Meanwhile, cook the rice noodles in boiling salted water until tender (follow package directions). Strain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

4. When the pork is cooked, add the noodles to the broth and reheat them. Remove star anise, if using. Divide soup among 6-8 serving bowls. Garnish with cilantro, basil, chiles, and scallions, squeezing lime juice over all.

Scallion Pancakes (adapted from How to Cook Everything - Bittman)

This recipe makes one pancake, but you can easily double it.

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus a little more.
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup boiling water, plus a little more if needed
1/2 cup. finely chopped scallions
1 T. vegetable oil
coarse salt

1. Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Slowly add boiling water, stirring until it forms a ball. Add a little more water if needed.

2. Knead by hand for about 1 minute. Place in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and let rest for an hour.

3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pancake out to about 1/4 inch thick. Press scallions into pancake.

4. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium low heat. Cook pancake on one side until lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Turn and brown the other sides.

5. Sprinkle with coarse salt and serve warm.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Favorite Cookbooks

I love cookbooks! I have two cabinets in my kitchen filled with them, and I recently gave away some that I don't use. I always have a bunch on my Amazon wish list, and when I get one, I read it like a novel.

Some cookbooks are aspirational: fun to look at and imagine cooking from, but not practical for every day. Some cookbooks I trust: I take them down again and again, knowing I'll love whatever I make. The cookbooks here are missing dust jackets and their spines are broken - a testament to their well-loved status in my kitchen!

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman is very popular now: he writes the Bitten blog on the NYT, and he is influential in the local food/pure ingredients movement. I've had this book for a long time, and I remember a reviewer saying it should be called How to Cook Everything We Cook Right Now. It's our generation's Betty Crocker or Better Homes and Gardens. My copy is the older yellow edition pictured above, but Bittman came out with a popular anniversary edition (red) pictured below.

There are no pictures, but the writing is clear and opinionated. If I want to know how long to cook a certain vegetable or a cut of meat, this is where I go. There are multiple variations for each main recipe, like sauteed pork chops eight ways. I also love the lists throughout the book: 10 dishes to serve with soft polenta or what to make for a birthday party for a 40 year old.

Notable recipes: Shrimp My Way; Broccoli Raab with Sausage and Grapes; Sauteed Fish with Curry and Lime

I also have The Best Recipes in the World. Other books by Mark Bittman :

The Perfect Recipe by Pam Anderson

Pam Anderson is my favorite cookbook writer. She has a Cooks Illustrated approach to her recipes: try a couple dozen variations and find out what works the best. Her food is excellent and crowd-pleasing. And she seems like a lovely person: a pastor's wife with two children who is highly successful at something she loves to do.

I use all of her cookbooks so often that it's hard to know which one to highlight. In the book pictured above, I love her recipes for blueberry muffins, stir-fry, roast chicken, chicken pot pie, and brownies. In the company version pictured below, I love her baked beans, pork barbecue, mixed grill, make ahead pizza, breakfast casserole, and molten chocolate cakes. This book is especially good for entertaining because she gives advice on what can be made in advance, the key to hosting a low-stress gathering.

The Losing Weight book is fascinating: she lost 50 pounds after coming up with a plan that let her eat without deprivation. She went from looking like Ina Garten to looking like Rachael Ray. And How to Cook Without a Book is great for someone who wants to know how to cook without poring over recipes. She teaches techniques, like sauteeing and searing, and gives endless variations so you'll always know what to make for dinner.

Barefoot Contessa by Ina Garten

Saying I like Ina Garten's books is kind of like saying I like chocolate - not many people would disagree. The biggest complaint with her cooking is her "first, soften two sticks of butter" approach to recipes. However, they are not all ultra-fattening, and when you need a recipe to impress a group, go to the Barefoot Contessa. Here mantra is that it doesn't matter how simple the recipe is, as long as you use great ingredients.

I only have two of her books: Parties and At Home. I've heard great things about her Paris, family-style, and back to basics books, though. And you can also find many of her recipes on the Food Network website for free!

Notable recipes: Carrot Cake Cupcakes, Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, Strawberry Country Cake, California Pizzas, Roasted Shrimp and Orzo, Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing, Peach and Blueberry Crumble, Apple Crisp.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars

Here's a great recipe for a bar cookie that is super easy to make and totally crowd-pleasing. I always have the ingredients on hand, so they are perfect for when I want to make something last minute, like treats for the police officers who came to Ben's school this week. By the way, if you have a Costco membership, there's a coupon for $2.00 off their huge chocoloate chip bags right now - great to have on hand for all kinds of recipes.

I found this recipe on Recipezaar, my favorite place to find recipes that will appeal to the greatest number of people. When I want to find gourmet recipes, I use Epicurious. In both cases I search for the recipe I want, sort by "most popular" and read the reviews. It's not perfect, but I have found lots of great recipes this way.

These bars are from one of the most prolific posters on Recipezaar named Kittencal. As she says, don't overbake these - the middle will not be completely set when you take them out of the oven.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, well packed
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups peanut butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups oatmeal (quick cooking or old-fashioned)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1.Set oven to 350 degrees.
2.Set oven rack to second lowest position.
3.Grease a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
4.In a large bowl using an electric mixer at medium speed cream the butter with both sugars and vanilla until no sugar granules remain (about 4 minutes).
5.Add in the peanut butter and beat until combined.
6.Add in eggs and beat until combined.
7.In a bowl combine the flour with baking soda and oats; add to the creamed mixture and mix on low speed until combined.
8.Mix in chocolate chips.
9.Transfer and spread into prepared baking dish.
10.Bake for 22-25 minutes or until JUST set (do not overbake).
11.Cool then cut into squares.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pumpkin Cake

I made this cake for my sweet niece Kelsey's seventh birthday. When she said she wanted a pumpkin cake for her October birthday, I thought of Martha Stewart's Great Pumpkin Cake. She makes it with two bundt cakes, one inverted on the other - isn't that clever?
I made yellow cake for the bottom layer; frosted in between with dark chocolate frosting; and made Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake for the top layer. The orange frosting is all-butter buttercream frosting with orange food coloring, and I made the jack-o-lantern face with a small round cake decorating tip and the same dark chocolate frosting from between the layers. The stem is an ice cream cone covered with chocolate frosting. I made the grooves in the pumpkin with an off-set spatula. At the party, we put some candy corn around the bottom to finish it off.
I've posted these recipes before, but I'll include them here because I think this is a great cake for this month. If you made a completely chocolate cake, you could make an orange-flavored buttercream (with orange zest and orange extract) for a sophisticated taste. My chocolate cake came out very soft and crumby, so I used a crumb coat - I mixed 1/2 cup of buttercream with 1 tablespoon of milk and lightly frosted it. I then left it in the refrigerator for about an hour so the crumb coat could crust over. I was able to frost the cake without catching crumbs in the frosting. If you need to transport this cake, you can also let it crust over in the refrigerator. I put a piece of aluminum foil over it loosely, and it survived an hour car ride on my lap with no problems.
Since you are making 2 cakes, this cake should serve 20-30 people.
Buttercream Frosting (this made enough with about a cup or so leftover)
4 sticks butter, softened
8 cups confectioner's sugar
2 t. vanilla
4 T. milk
orange food coloring (Wilton's gel/paste)
Beat butter with mixer until light. Mix in vanilla. Add sugar one cup at a time. Add milk and orange food coloring and beat until fluffy, at least 5 minutes.
Hershey's Dark Chocolate Frosting

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Special Dark Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Hershey's Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Special Dark Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling coffee

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a bundt pan.
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling coffee (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

Yellow Cake

Preheat oven to 350.

2 1/4 c. flour
3 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 3.4 oz. pkg. vanilla pudding
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 stick butter, softened
2 c. milk
1 t. vanilla
4 egg whites

Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, and pudding mix in a medium bowl.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla.

Alternate adding flour mixture and milk to the batter, ending with flour.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into batter. Gently spoon into pan(s).

Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes until golden and no crumbs cling to cake tester inserted in the middle.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Spaghetti Sauce

I love spaghetti. I love the thin, flavorful kind restaurants serve that I can't recreate at home. I love the thick, rich sauce my mom makes and the fine ground beef and basil kind my sister-in-law makes. Marinara, bolognese, red sauce - I won't turn it down.
And here is my current favorite way to make spaghetti. It comes from a prolific poster on Recipezaar whimsically named "Jo Mama." Here's her original recipe. I haven't really changed it, but it is easy to make substitutions based on what you have in the house. This recipe make a ton - you'll have enough for probably 3 lbs. of spaghetti, but it freezes very well.
The whole family - even Ben! - loves this sauce. I hope you will, too!
Spaghetti Sauce

2 lbs Italian sausage, casings removed (mild or hot or combination)
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes*
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (15 ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 cups water (for a long period of simmering for flavors to meld. If you don't want to simmer it as long, add 1 cup)
3 teaspoons dried basil (if you are using fresh, add 1/4 cup chopped before serving)
2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon fresh coarse ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine
1 lb thin spaghetti
1 T. butter
parmesan cheese

1.In large, heavy stockpot, brown Italian sausage, breaking up as you stir.
2.Add onions and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until onions are softened.
3.Add garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and water.
4.Add basil, parsley, brown sugar, salt, crushed red pepper, and black pepper.
5.Stir well and barely bring to a boil.
6.Stir in red wine.
7.Simmer on low, stirring frequently for at least an hour. A longer simmer makes for a better sauce, just be careful not to let it burn! If the sauce is thick and you would like to continue simmering it, add another 1/2 cup of water.
8.Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Toss with butter.
9.Add sauce to drained spaghetti noodles and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

*Note: you do not need to be too careful about which tomato products you use, as long as you are using tomatoes packed in sauce, not juice. For example, the last time I made this sauce I only had crushed tomatoes, so I used 70 oz. (the equivalent of all three tomato items in the recipe).

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Cheesy Shrimp and Grits

When we went to Destin with my parents in August, I got some great shrimp from a local seafood market called, well, Shrimper's. It's actually in Santa Rosa Beach and has awesome key lime pie in addition to fresh seafood. Even though two people present are kind of lukewarm on shrimp and grits separately, this Southern Living dish was a great hit with everyone except Ben (unsurprisingly).

I doubled the recipe, and it made way too much. The recipe as written will serve 6 adults nicely.

I substituted a red bell pepper for the original green - with the green onion, this would be great for a Christmas brunch. I also added the shrimp to the casserole raw; I think cooking them before baking would make them rubbery. The recipe below contains my changes.

Cheesy Shrimp and Grits

4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup regular or quick cooking grits (not instant)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided (4 ounces)
1 cup shredded monterey jack pepper cheese (4 ounces)
2 tablespoons butter
6 green onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb fresh small shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1.Bring 4 cups chicken broth and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large saucepan; stir in grits.
2.Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes (follow package instructions - quick grits will take less time).
3.Stir together grits, 3/4 cup Cheddar cheese, and Monterey Jack cheese.
4.Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add green onions, bell pepper, and garlic, and sauté 5 minutes or until tender.
5.Stir together green onion mixture, grits mixture, raw shrimp, and next 3 ingredients.
6.Pour into a lightly greased 2-quart baking dish.
7.Sprinkle top with remaining 1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese.
8.Bake at 350° for 30 to 45 minutes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Super Easy October Snack

One day a few years ago I ate a piece of candy corn with a salted, roasted peanut. Mirabile dictu! A new snack mix/party nibble/candy bowl treat was born. Even if you don't like candy corn, you will probably like this combination: it takes just like a Payday bar. And it looks so cute for this time of year!
You can also add candy corn to Chex mix after it is cooked and cooled. I've always heard that red is the most eye-catching color, but for me, orange always draws my attention.
There is no recipe; combine a bag of candy corn with about half a jar of roasted peanuts and put in a clear or festive bowl.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Apple Crisp

We went to the apple orchard last week with Jack's class - we've gone probably every year since he was three. I bought Mutsu, Gala, and Honeycrisps.

Have you tried Honeycrisps? They are by far my favorite apples, though they are not available year-round in the grocery store and are wicked expensive when they are. At the apple orchard they are a great deal, and I bought a 1/2 bushel for $13. They are sweet, juicy, and crisp.

My in-laws were coming over tonight, and I decided to make an apple crisp using a mixture of all the apples. (By the way, many recipes recommend Granny Smiths for baking, but I think they are too tart.) I figured Ina Garten would have a great crisp recipe, and she sure did. The orange and apple zest adds a brightness to the flavor. I doubt I'll ever make another version after trying hers!
Apple Crisp

•5 pounds apples
•Grated zest of 1 orange
•Grated zest of 1 lemon
•2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
•2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
•1/2 cup granulated sugar
•2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
•1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the topping:
•1 1/2 cups flour
•3/4 cup granulated sugar
•3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
•1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
•1 cup oatmeal
•2 sticks cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish.

Peel, core, and cut the apples into large wedges. Combine the apples with the zests, juices, sugar, and spices. Pour into the dish.

To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over the apples.

Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour until the top is brown and the apples are bubbly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mom's Birthday Dinner

prosciutto and melon

fusilli with bolognese

spinach sauteed with garlic oil, pan-roasted potatoes, pork braised in milk

I used recipes from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. The bolognese sauce was especially wonderful - it simmers for at least three hours and marries with the pasta perfectly. The spinach was great, except the recipe calls for way too much salt. And I think we could have eaten full plates of the potatoes! The pork was a bit dry, but the pan sauce was luscious.

We ended with my mom's favorite cake - Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Cake. Not Italian, but so good! I actually made two so she can share some with her fellow teachers at school today.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sweet Corn Pudding

Yum! This is a great summery side dish. I was thinking it would be like sweet corn cake, but with only 2 tablespoons of flour, it was definitely more corn than cake. I did use the cream called for in the recipe, but you could substitute regular evaporated milk, half and half, or whole milk. You could also use egg substitute. But if you make it for a crowd, everyone will only get a few tablespoons, so you might as well make the original recipe. This is great with pork barbecue or burgers. The orginal source is Epicurious.

If you have a food processor, this is really easy. If you don't, use a mini chopper or blender to chop the corn, then mix ingredients with a hand or stand mixer. Fresh corn cut off the cob would be delicous in this recipe. You can make it ahead of time, because it tastes great heated up the next day.

Sweet Corn Pudding

4 cups frozen corn kernels (about 19 ounces), thawed
4 large eggs
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish. Blend all ingredients in processor until almost smooth. Pour batter into prepared dish. Bake pudding until brown and center is just set, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; serve.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Steve Raichlen's Barbecued Brisket

This is a picture of our grill, though it also has a smoke box on the end. It takes up more than half our deck, but it has a burner, a gas grill, a charcoal grill, and a smoker. We love it. We've only had gas grills in the past, but now we really only use gas when we are grilling for lots of people and need the space in addition to the charcoal side. The smoker is awesome: we've made smoked turkey, brisket, and pulled pork. Pictured above is Steve Raichlen's smoked beef brisket. His book, How to Grill, is a fantastic resource for all kinds of grilling - everything we've made from this cookbook has been 5 stars.

We barbecued Texas-style brisket a couple of weekends ago. It's a great thing to do when the weather is nice and you don't mind being outside all day. Actually, you really are in and out once an hour; it's not that difficult, but for brisket to turn out well you need to cook it low and slow. Brisket is a cheap cut of meat and will turn out tough and flavorless if you rush it. Try to choose a brisket with a layer of fat on the bottom to keep it from drying out. Serve with rolls or toast and barbecue sauce.

Barbecued Brisket

Main Ingredients:

1 trimmed beef brisket (5 to 6 pounds), with a layer of fat at least 1/4-inch thick
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mop Sauce:
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup apple cider/juice/broth/beverage of your choice
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon black pepper

6 cups wood chips, preferably hickory or oak
1 aluminum foil pan (disposable)


1.Rinse brisket under cold water, blot dry. Combine ingredients for rub. Rub onto both sides of brisket. Cover and let stand in refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight; if you don't have time, it's okay to start right away.

2.Soak wood chips in cold water to cover for at least 30 minutes before grilling. Combine mop sauce ingredients in a glass bowl; stir well. Set aside.

3.Set up the grill, gas or charcoal, for indirect grilling. Pre-heat gas grill to high, place wood chips in a smoker box or small aluminum pan. Set in lower left of grill under the rack. When you see smoke reduce heat to low. For a charcoal grill, arrange medium-low coals around a drip pan that is placed in the center of the grill. Place 1/4 of the wood chips over the coals. During cooking you will need to add fresh coals and 1/2 cup woodchips every hour or so. Keep the temperature around 250 degrees.

4.Place the brisket, fat-side up, in an aluminum foil pan and place in the center of the hot cooking grate, over the drip pan. Add 1-cup water to pan to start. Cover grill. Open vents slightly on charcoal grill. Baste the brisket with the mop sauce every hour. Plan for 1 hour cooking time for each pound of brisket, but use a meat thermometer for best results. (Cooking time will depend on size of brisket and heat of the grill.)

5.When brisket reaches an internal temperature of 160F on an instant-read meat thermometer (after 3-4 hours), remove it from the grill; double wrap in foil, leaving an opening at top so you can continue basting. Return to grill. It is finished when it is tender and reaches an internal temperature of 180F to 190F. Transfer brisket to a cutting board, let stand for 10 minutes.

6.Thinly slice across the grain with an electric knife or sharp caring knife. Put slices on a platter and pour pan juices on top. For extra flavor, add a little ketchup to the pan juices. Serves 10 to 12.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Peanut Butter Cup Cake

I needed to make desserts for two different events today, so I decided to come up with something crowd-pleasing and technically easy. I didn't take a picture (!), so I thought I'd show you the end result of the potluck - the cake was pretty much gone. If you want something homemade that most people will love, this is your cake.

The cake is based on the one on the back of the Hershey's box, which I've been making for years. I used Hershey's "Special Dark" cocoa, which is why it so dark; it's a partially dutch-processed cocoa. You can certainly use regular cocoa, though, and the recipe on each box is the same.

The change I make from the original recipe is using boiling coffee (I heat up coffee in the microwave to boiling) instead of hot water. *Some people* accuse me of leaving out details in my recipes so they can't be replicated, so I wanted to highlight this change. :-)

The frosting is based on Ina Garten's peanut butter frosting, and it is To.Die. Try not to eat it all with a spoon!

Peanut Butter Cup Cake

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling coffee
1 1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1 c. smooth peanut butter
1 t. vanilla
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. milk or cream
20 mini Reese's peanut butter cups, chopped

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9X13 pan.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling coffee (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

4. Make frosting: with a mixer, beat together butter, peanut butter, salt, and confectioner's sugar until smooth. Add vanilla and milk and beat until fluffy. If the frosting is too thin, add confectioner's sugar a tablespoon at a time; if it is too thick, add milk a teaspoon at a time to get to the desired consistency.

5. Frost cake and top with peanut butter cups. Feel free to use more candy if you like!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Gourmet Club Returns!

It was Catherine's birthday today, and we haven't had a Gourmet Club dinner in a long time - so it was the perfect time to make a full course meal from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. We had a wonderful night! I was impressed that the four children made it through six courses. Jack, our little gourmand, ate everything - he wants the leftovers in his lunch tomorrow.

Catherine is French, so she's grown up with the long, multicourse meals. I served small portions, so we didn't leave the table overfull.

I meant to take pictures of each course, but it didn't happen. Almost everything we had is on the platter above.

Course #1 - Appetizer - Tomato stuffed with shrimp. I made mayonnaise for the first time; it was very good but thinner than I expected. This looked impressive, and unfortunately, it's the only thing not pictured.

Course #2 - Pasta - Penne with bell peppers and Italian sausage. This was a huge hit! I think each child had three servings.

Course #3 - Entree - Veal Scallopine with asparagus and Fontina. This caused the only problem of the night - when I was making the pan sauce reduction, the smoke detector went off because I had the pan too hot. Other than a slightly hazy room, everything was fine.

Course #4 - Salad - Green beans with lemon and olive oil. Delicious! Catherine's daughter had seconds - of green beans. These were very simple to make and benefitted from being cooked in salty water.

Course #5 - Fruit - Black and White marinated grapes. I liked this refreshing segue. Black and green grapes have a glaze of fresh orange juice, sugar, and lemon zest.

Course #6 - Dessert - Fourteen Layer Cake. The cake is not from the Italian cookbook; supposedly it's a Southern cake, but I've lived in Georgia for eight years and nobody's ever made me one! The greatest revelation about this cake is that there is such a thing as chocolate cream cheese frosting. And a tesseract.

Fourteen layers! The recipe is here on Bakerella's website. I baked my layers for 15 minutes in the disposable pans with a cookie sheet underneath to conduct the heat. I loosened the layers with an off-set spatula and didn't use parchment. The cake takes a while to make because I can only fit two pans at a time in the oven, but the techniques are not difficult. I loved making it - it's so pretty!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Grilled Moroccan Chicken and Greek Couscous

We had my wonderful in-laws over for dinner tonight, and I wanted a nice summery meal. It's been years since I've made Moroccan chicken, and though I've made other couscous salads, this one was new to us. We also had grilled corn on the cob and Paula Deen's peach cobbler for dessert. Yum!

Use a charcoal grill if at all possible. The couscous would make a great, healthy lunch. Both recipes are adapted from Recipezaar.
Moroccan Chicken

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped scallion (white part only)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1.Combine oil, scallions, parsley, cilantro, garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, turmeric and cayenne pepper in the container of a food processor.
2.Process until smooth.
3.Rub the mixture on both sides of the chicken breasts and let stand 30 minutes.
4.Preheat the grill to medium hot.
5.Grill chicken breasts 5-7 minutes on each side, or until done.

Greek Couscous

1 1/2 cups chicken broth or water
1 cup uncooked couscous (about 1 10 oz. box)
1/2-1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1-2 cup diced peeled cucumber
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, halved
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, well drained (garbonzo beans)

1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)
salt (to taste)

1.Bring the 1-1/2 cups chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; stir in the couscous and oregano, remove from heat; cover, and let stand 5 minutes.
2.Fluff with a fork.
3.Combine the couscous with tomatoes and the next 5 ingredients (tomatoes through chickpeas) in a bowl; set aside.
4.Combine 1/4 cup water with the remaining ingredients; stir well with a whisk.
5.Pour over the couscous mixture, tossing gently to coat.
6.Season with black pepper and salt.
7. Drizzle with a little more lemon juice and oil if salad dried out. Serve at room temperature or cold.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Beef Enchiladas

Periodically I decide to make some meals and sauces and prepare some meat to stock the freezer. It's usually when we've been busy and I decide we've had too much "ordered" pizza or Chinese. I made a double batch of enchiladas yesterday and a triple batch of sauce, so I wanted to share this recipe.

Enchiladas are time-consuming, but they freeze and reheat well, so they're worth it. Traditionally, they are made with soft corn tortillas which have been fried, but *other people* in this family prefer flour, so that's what I'm using in this recipe. Corn is a whole grain, but you fry them, so nutritionally it's probably a wash - just use whichever you prefer. If you do use the corn tortillas, you'll get close to twice as many enchiladas. Heat an inch or so of vegetable oil in a heavy bottom pot and fry tortillas one at a time on each side (30-60 seconds each); drain on paper towels.

Beef Enchiladas

Makes 6-8 large flour enchiladas.

3 T. butter
3 T. flour
2 T. chili powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. cumin
3 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
1 14 oz. can low sodium beef broth

1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 onion, diced

3 cups cheddar or Mexican cheese, shredded

Brown ground beef with onions until done; drain.

Melt butter in a deep skillet or sauce pan. Add flour slowly, stirring constantly until mixture is thickened and golden brown. Add spices and cook for 1 minutes, stirring constantly. Add tomato sauce and broth and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture is smooth and thickened. Add 1/4 c. water if it is too thick.

Ladle some sauce into the bottom of a 9X13 pan, just covering the bottom. Put the meat mixture in a bowl and add a little sauce, stirring it in. Put a flour tortilla on a plate and scatter about 1/2 c. of meat mixture and a sprinkling of cheese on one side; roll up tortilla. Place in pan seam side down.

When pan is full of enchiladas, pour the rest of the sauce on top and cover with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Serve with sour cream and hot sauce.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Marshmallow Fondant

Fondant is a sugar paste used in cake decorating. By itself, it makes an absolutely satin smooth finish. Mixed with gum paste, it can be molded like clay into edible 3D figures. Most people aren't crazy about the taste of fondant, so buttercream is usually spread underneath it (it also helps it adhere). Marshmallow fondant, though, is quite good - it tastes like marshmallow, unsurprisingly.
It's also fun to make! It starts as a messy glop of melted marshmallows and confectioner's sugar, and after some kneading it becomes impeccably smooth and blindingly white.
For Ben's 4th birthday, I made a puppy out of equal parts gum paste and marshmallow fondant. I told him he could eat the puppy at his party, and he ate almost the whole thing! You can see all the messy mistakes that reveal my amateur status - I'm no Cake Boss! But he absolutely loved the puppy that bears a passing resemblance to our dog Lucy, so I was happy.
Marshmallow Fondant

16 oz. white mini marshmallows
2 T. water
2 lbs. confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup Crisco (put in a separate bowl)

Melt marshmallows and 2 tablespoons of water in a microwave. Put the bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds, open microwave and stir, back in microwave for 30 seconds more, open microwave and stir again, and continue doing this until melted.
It usually takes about 2 ½ minutes total. Place 3/4 of the powdered sugar on the top of the melted marshmallow mix.
Now grease your hands with the Crisco - palms, backs and in between fingers, then heavily grease the counter you will be using and dump the bowl of marshmallow/sugar mixture in the middle.
Start kneading like you would bread dough.
Keep kneading, this stuff is sticky at this stage! Add the rest of the powdered sugar and knead some more.
Re-grease your hands and counter when the fondant is sticking. If the mix is tearing easily, it is to dry, so add water (about ½ tablespoon at a time then knead it in). It usually takes about 8 minutes to get a firm smooth elastic ball so that it will stretch without tearing when you apply it to the cake.
It's best if you can let it sit, double wrapped, overnight (but you can use it right away if there are no tiny bits of dry powdered sugar). If you do see them, you will need to knead and maybe add a few more drops of water.
Prepare the fondant for storing by coating it with a good layer of Crisco shortening, wrap in a plastic- type wrap product and then put it in a re-sealable or Ziploc bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible. Fondant will hold very well in the refrigerator for weeks.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Island Pork Tenderloin Salad

This recipe from Gourmet magazine is probably my favorite thing to make for company. It's delicious, unusual without being inaccessbile, and indulgent but not rich or heavy. It does have a lot of steps, but you can do many of them ahead of time. Serve it with this coconut bread. Just make the bread ahead of time so you can refrigerate it (makes it less crumbly).
Island Pork Tenderloin Salad

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 main-course servings
For pork
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 pork tenderloins (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds total)
2 tablespoons olive oil
For glaze
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon Tabasco
For vinaigrette
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

For salad
3 navel oranges
5 ounces baby spinach, trimmed (6 cups leaves)
4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage (from 1 medium head)
1 red bell pepper, cut lengthwise into thin strips
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 firm-ripe California avocados
Special equipment: an instant-read thermometer
Prepare pork:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Stir together salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon, then coat pork with spice rub.
Heat oil in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until just beginning to smoke, then brown pork, turning, about 4 minutes total. Leave pork in skillet.
Make glaze and roast pork:
Stir together brown sugar, garlic, and Tabasco and pat onto top of each tenderloin. Roast in middle of oven until thermometer inserted diagonally in center of each tenderloin registers 140°F, about 20 minutes. Let pork stand in skillet at room temperature 10 minutes. (Temperature will rise to about 155°F while standing.)
Make vinaigrette while pork roasts:
Whisk together juices, mustard, curry powder, salt, and pepper, then add oil in a stream, whisking until emulsified.
Prepare salad ingredients while pork stands:
Cut peel, including white pith, from oranges with a sharp knife, then cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Toss spinach, cabbage, bell pepper, and raisins in a large bowl with about 1/4 cup vinaigrette. Halve, pit, and peel avocados, then cut diagonally into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Assemble salad:
Cut pork at a 45-degree angle into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Line a large platter with dressed salad and arrange sliced pork, oranges, and avocados in rows on top. Drizzle some vinaigrette over avocados and oranges. Pour any juices from skillet over pork.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Peanut Sauce

Here's a great, classic Cooking Light recipe. It's actually from a recipe called Peanutty Noodles, but I make the sauce separately sometimes. You can use peanut sauce on lots of things, from spaghetti to Asian noodles to chicken satay. You can make a big batch and freeze it; just gently warm it and whisk thoroughly to combine.

Peanut Sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger or 3/4 t. powdered ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (such as Lee Kum Kee or Sriracha) add more if you like more heat
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger and minced garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and the next 5 ingredients (broth through salt); stir until well-blended. Reduce heat, and simmer 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and keep warm.

Peanutty Noodles Variation

Peanut sauce
8 oz. linguine or spaghetti, cooked
1 1/2 cups grilled or roasted chicken, cut into chunks
Vegetables of your choosing: sliced red bell pepper, snow peas (lightly steamed), carrots (peeled into strips), steamed broccoli, etc.
Minced cilantro

Toss pasta, peanut sauce, chicken, and vegetables in a large bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Peanut Chicken Skewers Variation

Peanut sauce, divided in half
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Slice chicken lengthwise into 1-in. strips; thread onto skewers (if using bamboo skewers, soak them in water first for at least 20 minutes). Grill, uncovered, over medium-hot heat for 2 minutes (or broil); turn and brush with peanut butter sauce. Continue turning and basting for 4-6 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with remaining sauce.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fish Tacos

Jack loves fish and seafood almost as much as I do - he cheered when I told him what we were having for dinner tonight. These fish tacos are a healthier version of the ones you get in a restaurant, since they are not deep fried. I ate them with traditional soft corn, and Jack liked hard shell corn tortillas. I tried his, and I think they made the tacos taste a bit more like restaurant ones because they are crunchy and fried.
The toppings for these tacos came from Sara's Secrets, a cookbook I really like.
1 lb. tilapia
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper
1 cup panko bread crumbs (Kikkoman is a common brand)
1-2 T. butter, melted
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 chipotle peppers, diced
1 T. adobo sauce (from the chipotle can)
2 T. lime juice
2 cups shredded cabbage
1/4 t. salt
2 T. unseasoned rice vinegar
1 avocado - diced
Tortillas - soft or crunchy corn recommended
Combine flour with 1/2 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper. Dip fish into flour, coating lightly. Dip into egg, and finish with panko breadcrumbs on both sides. Place on a baking dish and drizzle fish with melted butter. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Combine sauce ingredients (mayo through lime juice). Chill until time to serve.
Just before fish is finished cooking, toss cabbage with salt and rice vinegar.
When fish is cooked, cut into chunks. Serve at the table with tortillas, sauce, cabbage, and avocado.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Update: I made these for Treat the Troops and subbed a large 19-oz. package of M&Ms since chocolate chips melt in transit.

I can't say how many different versions of chocolate chip cookies I've made, but I'd guess it's probably 20 or so. I don't think I've ever had a truly bad CCC, but I have an ideal: crispy outside, chewy inside, balance of salt and sweet. This recipe is the best yet. When you bite into the cookie, it has a shatteringly crisp crust, but the cookie stays chewy and doesn't deflate or turn hard. The light sprinkle of sea salt on top balances the sweetness of the cookie.

I've been storing the dough in the refrigerator and making a sheet of cookies as needed, so I haven't seen one older than a day, but it was still soft and fresh tasting. Don't skip chilling, because the butter in the dough stays cold longer in the oven and your cookies won't spread and flatten. Four hours is probably the minimum chilling time.

I've adapted the recipe (mainly in size of cookies) from Jacques Torres in the NYT. Unfortunately, it's one of those fussy recipes that calls for two specialty flours: cake and bread. Cake has a low protein count and bread has a higher one, so I'm not sure why all-purpose wouldn't be a good halfway point. I'm almost afraid to try the substitution because they were so good as written. Don't miss the five minute butter/sugar creaming; that incorporates air into the dough.

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Jacques Torres)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 pound chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate bar cut into chunks (note: I've reduced the amount of chocolate from the earlier version for a chewier cookie.)
Sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 4 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or just use an ungreased sheet. Set aside.

4. Scoop 1 1/2 inch balls of dough and place on sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 10-12 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chipotle Chicken Salad

This recipe is actually for tacos, but I liked it even better with the filling used as a salad. You can wrap the filling in any kind of tortillas you like: flour, hard shell, or soft shell corn. I got the original recipe from Recipezaar, but I streamlined it to make it easy for weeknights.

Note: chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are sold with the Mexican products. You can take out the two you need for this recipe and freeze the rest for another time.

Chipotle Chicken Salad

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, finely chopped
1 package coleslaw* mix with carrots (can also used chopped napa cabbage and carrots)
1/2 - 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded (or three cups cooked chicken)
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/3 cup coarsely grated mexican queso anejo or queso fresco (like Romano or feta, respectively)
warm tortillas (if you want a wrap rather than a salad)
*Bagged coleslaw mix is next to bagged lettuce; it won't have dressing on it.
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and chipotles.
Season generously with 1/4 t. salt.
Add the coleslaw, onion, cilantro and chicken.
Toss everything together and let stand for 15 minutes.
Taste and season with additional salt if necessary.
Scoop the filling into a wide shallow serving bowl, dot with the cubed avocado and dust generously with the cheese.
Serve with warm tortillas, if desirted.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas Verde

This is not a picture of my enchiladas. If I posted my picture, you would not want to make this recipe - green enchilada sauce does not photograph well. If you want to see what I mean, look up green enchiladas in Google images, and you'll see - the pea soup over tortillas look is not very appetizing.

But these were so good! I made them a few days after the 4th of July with some leftover corn salad (made from corn scraped off the cob).

Green enchilada sauce is made from tomatillos and is a little more fresh and tart tasting than red. It's widely available with other Mexican food products.

This is a rare recipe that I developed myself. The amounts are approximate.

Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas Verde

1 T. olive oil

1 T. lime juice

1/c. red onion, diced

1.5 - 2 cups of corn

1 can black beans (or 2 cups), drained and rinsed

1 can Rotel tomatoes, any kind

8-12 flour tortillas

1 large can (28 oz. +) green enchilada sauce (I often make my own, but didn't have time)

1 12-oz. package Queso Fresco (Mexican crumbling cheese - texture of feta)

Mix together corn, black beans, Rotel tomatoes, and diced red onion. Drizzle with olive oil and lime juice and stir to combine. Pour in 1/4 - 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce and combine.

Place a tortilla on a dinner-sized plate, and put 1/4 cup of the filling on one edge of a tortilla. Wrap it up, trying not to spill the filling out. Put the tortillas, seam side down, in a baking dish. Pour rest of enchilada sauce on top of tortillas, trying to cover completely. Crumble and sprinkle cheese on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn on a broiler for a couple of minutes (watching carefully) until enchiladas are slightly browned and bubbly.

Serve with sour cream, cilantro, hot sauce, etc.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I've mentioned before that I love Mark Bittman, author of How To Cook Everything and the Bitten blog on the NYT website. I use his recipe for pesto because I don't like how much garlic some other recipes I've tried have. Now, I love garlic, but for pesto I want it in the background so the basil can shine!

Pesto is great served over pasta (thin with a bit of pasta cooking water), spread on chicken, or mixed into mayonnaise and served on a sandwich. You can also freeze it - just leave out the cheese until you serve it. If you don't cover it with a thin layer of olive oil before freezing, it won't be as vibrantly green, but it will still taste great.

Next time I make it, I'll add a picture to the post. Oh, by the way - I've tried the butter variation mentioned at the end: wicked.

Pesto (Mark Bittman)

Makes about 1 cup

Time: 5 – 15 minutes

2 loosely packed cups fresh basil leaves, big stems discarded, rinsed and dried
Salt to taste
½ to 1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, or more
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan or other hard cheese

(1) Combine the basil, salt, garlic, nuts and about half the oil in a food processor or blender (or mortar and pestle).

(2) Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container occasionally, and adding the rest of the oil gradually. Add additional oil if you prefer a thinner mixture. Store in the refrigerator for a week or two, or in the freezer for several months (omit next step/cheese if freezing – and drizzle top with oil to preserve). Stir in the parmesan by hand just before serving.

Pesto with butter: For really special pesto, stir in 2 tablespoons softened butter just before tossing with lean foods such as pasta.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reese's Sundae

The only time I waitressed was for one summer in college at Friendly's. Friendly's is a family restaurant/ice cream parlor in the eastern part of the US - though not in Georgia! I'm not sure why I worked there: the tips were pretty awful, since 15% of a $1.75 ice cream is . . . not very much. But I did learn that if the sundaes I made for my customers were generous, the tips were better. Here's my version of the best sundae we made - minus the marshmallow sauce, because I don't like it.

Reese's Sundae

Vanilla ice cream
Peanut butter
Hot fudge sauce
Whipped cream
Reese's Pieces or chopped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
Maraschino cherries

Heat the hot fudge according to instructions on the jar (you can use homemade, of course!). Put a few scoops of peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 30 seconds or until melted. Drizzle a little hot fudge and melted peanut butter in the bottom of the sundae dish and add a few Reese's Pieces. Scoop in ice cream, then pour more hot fudge and peanut butter sauce on top. Sprinkle more Reese's Pieces over the top of the sundae. Top with whipped cream and finish with a few more Reese's and a cherry on top.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Make an Independence Day Cake - and a Memory, Too

This cake is from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa). Not only is it delicious, it makes a great activity for the kids at a 4th of July barbecue. You bake and frost the cake, then let the kids decorate it with blueberries, raspberries, and more frosting. So what if it doesn't look as good as Ina's? It is sooo good - white cake with cream cheese frosting and berries, and it serves 24 people. If you try it, you might just start a new tradition!

Flag Cake


18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
3 cups sugar
7 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup sour cream at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

For the icing:

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

To assemble:

2 half-pints blueberries
3 half-pints raspberries


Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour an 18 by 13 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan. (You can use an 11x15 jelly roll/rimmed cookie sheet, but don't overfill with batter - put the extra in an 8-inch square pan).

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed, until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then add the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and stir until smooth.

Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a spatula. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.

For the icing, combine the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mixing just until smooth.

Spread three-fourths of the icing on the top of the cooled sheet cake. Outline the flag on the top of the cake with a toothpick. Fill the upper left corner with blueberries. Place 2 rows of raspberries across the top of the cake like a red stripe. Put the remaining icing in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe two rows of white stripes below the raspberries. Alternate rows of raspberries and icing until the flag is completed. Pipe stars on top of the blueberries.

Serve in pan.

Insalata Caprese

This simple salad is one of my favorite things in all the world. I grow extra basil just so we can eat it often - like once a week in the summer.

You can really use any kind of good, flavorful tomatoes. Those ugly heirloom ones from the farmer's market are especially delicious. Tonight I used small Campari tomatoes - I thought I might not have enough because Ben was eating them as fast as I could slice them! They were so sweet.

Insalata Caprese

1 8-oz ball fresh mozzarella, sliced roughly the same size as tomato slices

bunch of basil, leaves detached and washed

2-3 large slicing tomatoes, or 6-8 small ones, sliced

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

sea or kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

You can stack or layer the ingredients in any pattern you like: tomato, basil leaf, slice of cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, then a few splashes of balsamic (not required). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Regular salt is fine, but I like the crunch of sea or kosher.

Baked Potato Soup

The boys watched Ratatouille on the way home from Florida, so Ben started asking me to make potato soup and eclairs. The French version of potato soup is not like our baked potato version, but we like this better. I hadn't made it in a long time, but it was sooo good - and even Ben ate it!

I found the recipe on the Cooking Light board originally, but it's from a restaurant called California Dreaming.

Baked Potato Soup

1/4 cup onion -- minced
1/4 cup celery -- minced
1/3 cup flour
3 cups chicken stock or broth
2 medium potatoes -- peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon basil, fresh, or 1/3 t. dried
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 cup sour cream
8 strips bacon -- chopped
fresh chives or green onions -- chopped
cheddar cheese -- grated

Cook bacon slowly over medium-low heat until crisp, taking care not to brown the fat. Set bacon aside, leaving 1 - 2 tablespoons rendered fat in the pan.

Add onions and celery and saute until tender. Add flour and mix well. Add chicken stock and stir until all flour is dissolved. Continue to stir and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer. Add potatoes and let soup simmer until potatoes are tender (about 30 minutes). Add heavy cream, sour cream, basil, and white pepper. Let simmer for another 10 minutes until soup is hot again.

Garnish each portion of soup with the bacon, chives, and cheese.

Our Father's Day Cupcakes

Making the cupcakes with the boys was messy but fun! We couldn't find the black shoestring licorice, and twists didn't work as well. But no one complained - they tasted great!