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.