Sunday, March 28, 2010

Caesar Salad

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Here is my simplified version of (cookbook author, not actress) Pam Anderson's delicious Caesar salad. It's very lemony and garlicky, though you can add less garlic if you don't like it too strong. Add rotisserie chicken or make-ahead chicken for a meal.

Caesar Salad

1 head Romaine lettuce or two Romaine hearts, washed and ripped into bite-sized pieces

olive oil, salt, and pepper

1/3 c. mayonnaise

1/4 c. fresh lemon juice

1 t. Worcestershire sauce

2-5 cloves of garlic, minced

baguette, sourdough bread, hoagie roll, etc. cut into bite-sized pieces

2 T. olive oil

1/4 t. cayenne

salt and pepper

Parmesan cheese, grated

Whisk mayo, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and 2-4 cloves of garlic in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat 2 T. olive oil in a pan and add cayenne, remaining one clove of garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir for about 30 seconds; don't let garlic brown. Add bread pieces to pan and toast until crunchy, turning occasionally - about 6 minutes.

Put lettuce into salad bowl and drizzle with olive oil, tossing to lightly coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Taste a leaf to see if the seasoning and olive oil is right. Pour mayo/lemon mixture over salad and toss to coat evenly.

Serve with croutons, Parmesan, and chicken, if desired.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Cupcakes

I made these cupcakes for Jack's school Easter party this week. I was inspired by this picture from Martha Stewart:

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However, it's hard to find flat lollipops, and I picked up some Dum-Dums-shaped Airhead ones. I also found bright, funky nonpareils from Betty Crocker (Selects Sugar Decors) at Publix. I made three frosting colors: pink, green, and blue. Pairing the pink and orange nonpareils with the pink frosting; the green and yellow with the yellow frosting; and the blue and purple with the blue frosting made them really pop with color.

The kids went a little nuts when I brought them into the classroom. It may have been the vibrant colors, or maybe it was the prospect of (as one boy said), "It's like, cake - but with candy ON TOP!".

I used Martha Stewart's chocolate cupcake recipe and doubled it. I'm so happy with this recipe - the cupcakes are more like pound cake and are sturdy for transporting and decorating. And they taste good, too. The frosting is basic buttercream.

Spring Cupcakes (note: I doubled this recipe to make 24)

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream

12 lollipops

Green Fruit-by-the-Foot, cut into small leaf shapes

Buttercream Frosting, dyed green, blue, and pink (recipe below)

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners.
2.Into a medium bowl, sift together cocoa, flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, then beat in vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with sour cream and beginning and ending with flour.
3.Pour batter into cups, filling each just under the rim of the paper liner. Bake until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.
4.Cool in pan 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then spread with frosting using a table knife or small offset spatula. To decorate with sprinkles, put sprinkles in a small bowl and invert frosted cupcakes into the bowl, covering the sides and then the middle.

5. Unwrap lollipops and push into the center. Attach green leaves with frosting.

Buttercream Frosting

3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream


In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Homemade Vanilla Yogurt

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Update: I still make this yogurt a lot, but now I use about 1/3 cup blue agave and a couple of tablespoons of sugar. I also often drain it in coffee filters to make it thicker - more like Greek yogurt. I keep some plain for use in recipes. I've made it with a full gallon of milk, and that works, too - I just have to let it culture longer once I add the Greek yogurt.

We eat a lot of yogurt at our house - we use it in smoothies and top baked oatmeal with it, in addition to eating it for breakfast and snacks. The boys especially love yogurt. Sometimes I think it's Ben's primary source of protein!

I thought I wanted a yogurt maker, but then I learned yogurt is super easy to make in a slow cooker. I made some last night, and this afternoon the boys ate big bowls of and loved it. Lots of people make plain yogurt, but I though vanilla would be a good base: we can add berries, grated pear or apple, or jam to flavor it.

I'm very excited about the possibilities (frozen yogurt in the summer!), and I'm also happy with the short ingredient list: milk, plain yogurt, sugar, and vanilla. And clearly it's much cheaper and creates less waste than those delicious little 6-ounce cups of Yoplait.

If you decide to make the yogurt, keep scrolling past the recipe for some notes and tips.

Vanilla Yogurt

1 half-gallon whole milk (pasteurized, not ultrapasteurized)

1 container (4 oz. - 6 oz.) plain Greek yogurt (label should show live and active cultures)

3/4 c. sugar (I may use less next time)

2 T. vanilla

Pour milk into slow cooker and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours. Turn off slow cooker and let sit for three hours.

Remove one cup of warm milk from the slow cooker and whisk it with the plain yogurt.

Add yogurt/milk mixture back to the milk. Recover the slow cooker and wrap the whole thing in a warm blanket or put it in your oven with the pilot light on. Leave it overnight or for 8-10 hours.

In the morning, remove one cup of yogurt. It should be very thick, like Greek yogurt or sour cream. Freeze this yogurt; it will be the starter for your next batch and will take the place of the Greek yogurt you used the first time.

Add sugar and vanilla to the yogurt, and chill.


It would be best to start the process around 5:00 p.m. That way you won't have to stay up late to wait for the milk to cool.

You can use artificial sweetener if you prefer, or leave the yogurt plain and add honey or jam to taste.

Be sure milk is not ultra-pasteurized and that yogurt has live and active cultures.

From what I've read, it's best to start with whole milk and then try lower-fat versions if you like. Whole milk sets up best. 2% or lower may require a packet of unflavored gelatin to set up; I'll update this post when I try it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Greek Feta Dip

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Here's a quick dip I came up with that's very versatile. It's great on vegetables (especially cucumbers!), pita chips, or even grilled chicken. Add a little buttermilk or even regular milk and it's creamy feta salad dressing. You can also add roasted red pepper when you puree it for a different but very good flavor.

Greek Feta Dip

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (Greek would work best)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 t. salt, or to taste (your feta may be very salty or not)

1/4 t. pepper

1/2 t. oregano

1/2 t. dried basil

1 garlic clove, minced

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Puree to combine. Tastes even better the next day!

Serve with vegetables, warm pita, or pita chips.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mint Oreo Truffles

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Here's another quick St. Patrick's Day dessert - if you have time to run to the store, you can make them today!

Oreo Truffles have become very popular since Kraft published the recipe a few years ago. I have not made them until now, but they have a lot of potential! I made these with the Cool Mint flavor Oreos that are out right now, and I'm thinking the peppermint oreos with crushed candy canes on top would be great at Christmas. Or . . . what about the white chocolate ones decorated as snowman heads? I could even use a mini Oreo for his top hat!

The original recipe calls for you to reserve some crushed Oreos to roll the dipped truffles in, but I skipped that step and just added some green sprinkles.

Mint Oreo Truffles

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened

1 package (1.1 lbs.) Cool Mint Oreos

1 package (16 oz.) white chocolate or chocolate almond bark or white CandiQuik, etc.

Green sprinkles (optional)

Remove seven Oreos. Save them for the kids or for a late-night snack. Finely crush the rest of the Oreos in the food processor or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Mix them into the cream cheese - I used my stand mixer, but you can use a hand mixer or even a spoon if the cream cheese is soft enough.

Roll the truffles into one-inch balls and place on a waxed paper-covered cookie sheet. Freeze for one hour (or overnight). The colder they are, the easier they are to dip.

Melt chocolate in the microwave according to package instructions. Dip truffles using a fork or a toothpick, and tap the excess of on the side of the bowl. Place the truffle on the waxed paper-covered sheet. Tip: if the chocolate puddles at the bottom of the truffle, score around it with a toothpick - you'll be able to remove the excess easily.

Quickly add sprinkles, if using. The truffles will set up very quickly and should be stored in the refrigerator.

Makes about 30 truffles.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


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Here's another great recipe from Pam Anderson! (The cookbook author, not the, um, actress. Scroll to the bottom of the post to find a link to her cookbook.) It's her overnight shredded pork which you can make into barbecue by adding sauce or carnitas (shredded pork tacos), which we did tonight. It's supereasy because you cook the pork overnight on low heat and shred it at your convenience. It's also cheap because pork shoulder is very reasonable and goes on sale regularly.

What makes these carnitas truly memorable are the extras you serve them with. Guacamole and orange cumin slaw, along with the usual cheese, salsa, and sour cream, are excellent counterpoints to the shredded pork. I liked Cotija cheese, but cheddar/monterey jack is good, too. Choose flour or corn tortillas according to your preference.


bone-in 8 - 9 lb. pork shoulder or picnic shoulder (trimmed of thick fat layer)

3 T. paprika

3 T. brown sugar, packed

1 1/2 t. salt

1 1/2 T. black pepper

1 1/2 T. garlic powder

1/2 c. dijon or spicy brown mustard

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degree F.

Mix brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper and garlic powder in small bowl. Pat roast dry and place in a roasting pan. Lightly sprinkle top and sides of roast with salt, brush with half the mustard and sprinkle with half the spice rub. Carefully turn roast over. Sprinkle with a little salt, brush with remaining mustard and sprinkle with remaining spice rub.

Roast until meat thermometer registers 170 degree F, 9 to 11 hours, depending on size (9 hours is usually just right.). Transfer pork to platter and cool enough to handle, about 1 hour. Cut roast chunks and shred meat into a large bowl. Add enough pan drippings to moisten pork and stir to combine.

Note: You can put the pork in the refrigerator until later. Shred the pork and put roasting pan over two burners. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, and stir to loosen cooked-on bits. Return pork to pan to reheat.

To serve: Set out 20 small flour tortillas or 24 corn tortillas, Orange-Cumin Slaw, guacamole, cheese, and sour cream. Warm the tortillas wrapped in a kitchen towel in the microwave or oven on low heat.

Orange Cumin Slaw

1/4 c. frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1/4 c. rice wine vinegar

1/4 c. olive oil

1 t. cumin

salt and pepper to taste

1 16 oz. bag cole slaw mix (cabbage and carrots)

Mix together orange juice, vinegar, and cumin. Add olive oil slowly, whisking to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over cole slaw mix and toss.


4 avocados (tip: buy them green and store in a bag in the pantry with an apple for 4 days or so - they will be perfectly ripe)

1/4 c. lime juice

salt and pepper to taste

Mash avocados. Add lime juice and plenty of salt and pepper.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake

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Stop eating those Girl Scout Thin Mints! Here's a great use for them and an excellent dessert for St. Patrick's Day. It's delicious and incredibly easy.

If you don't have Thin Mints, you can use Keebler Grasshopper cookies. And I should have used green mint chocolate chip ice cream to be festive, but Breyers was on sale this week.
Note: if you don't have a springform pan, you can use a pie pan. In that case you would need fewer cookies and less ice cream.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake
1 1/2 boxes Thin Mints
4 T. melted butter
2 1.75 qt containers of mint chocolate ice cream
6 oz. heavy cream
3/4 c. chocolate chips
Crush Thin Mints in a food processor or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Pour them into a bowl, and mix in the melted butter. Press the crumbs into the sides and bottom of a 9- or 1o-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Take out ice cream to soften.
When crust is cooled, add softened ice cream and spread to smooth the top. Return to freezer.
Take cake out about 30 minutes before serving. Remove sides from springform pan (and bottom if you wish). Combine heavy cream and chocolate chips over low heat and stir until smooth and glossy. You can pour it over the entire ice cream cake or drizzle it over each slice.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pork Chops in Mushroom Gravy

This one goes out to intrepid commenter Alison! Note that there are only five ingredients besides salt and pepper.

I wanted to make our favorite grilled pork chops tonight, but we are living through the third blizzard of the season down here in Georgia, so grilling was out. This recipe is adapted from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook. I added mushrooms and just a bit more butter and adjusted the cooking time.

Served with roasted mixed vegetables and parmesan polenta, this was a meal everyone loved!

Pork Chops in Mushroom Gravy

4 4-ounce boned loin pork chops, about one inch thick (mine were closer to 1 1/2 inches thick)
4 oz. sliced mushrooms (break up the bigger ones)
2 T. flour
1/2 t. salt (can use a bit less)
1/4 to 1/2 t. pepper
1 1/2 cups 2% milk, divided (I mixed a splash of heavy cream with skim milk)
1 T. butter

1. Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a large zip-top bag. Add pork; seal bag, and shake to coat pork with flour mixture. Remove pork from bag, reserving reminaing flour mixture. Place flour mixture in a small bowl. Gradually add 3/4 c. milk, stirring with a whisk until blended.

2. Melt butter in a large skillet (I used cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add sliced mushrooms and pork; cook chops 5 minutes on each side or until browned. Add milk mixture; cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Uncover pork and turn to the other side. Stir in 3/4 cup milk and cook uncovered 10-15 minutes or until gravy is thickened. Check to be sure chops are cooked through - I let them get to 160 degrees to be sure. Thinner ones will obviously cook faster and will tend to dry out if you're not careful. Spoon gravy over pork to serve. Yield: 4 servings

Calories: 264 Fat: 12 g. Protein: 28.4 g

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