Monday, September 5, 2011

Pioneer Woman Potluck

My book club just read Pioneer Woman's memoir, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, and we decided to have a potluck and each bring one of her recipes. Everything was delicious! Here's what we had.

Homemade Ricotta and a Birthday Dinner

Catherine came over for her birthday dinner on Friday night, and I decided to go with a late-summer-bounty theme. Here was our menu:

Crostini with Homemade Ricotta, Caramelized Onions, Basil Oil, and Sea Salt
Grilled Red, Yellow, and Orange Peppers with Grilled Tomatoes and Onions
Summer Fruit Crostata with Vanilla Ice Cream

I was happy with everything, though the crostata cooked unevenly - burnt on the edges (I knocked them off) and a little underdone in the middle. I loved the combination of plums, peaches, and blueberries at their peak, though!

I've been wanting to try to make ricotta for a while, so I incorporated it into the appetizer. I put out a platter of toasted crostini (slice a very thin baguette into 1/2 inch rounds; bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes) and bowls of ricotta, basil oil (1/2 cup of oil; 1 cup of basil leaves, packed; and a pinch of salt whirred in a processor), caramelized onions, and sea salt. Guests could make whatever combination suited them.

Making ricotta was incredibly easy, and it tastes so much better than store-bought. It's creamy rather than gritty.

Homemade Ricotta

1/2 gallon whole milk
1 cup cream
1 t. salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Cook milk, cream, and salt on medium low to just under a boil. Add lemon juice and turn heat to low. Stir mixture until curds form - about 2 minutes.

Pour ricotta into a pasta strainer lined with a clean cloth napkin or cheesecake. If you want to save the whey, put a bowl under the strainer. Drain the ricotta for a few minutes, then transfer to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Ridiculousness

Here's a great Pioneer Woman recipe - unbelievably good jalapeno poppers. They are a much-loved appetizer for a crowd, and you can make them ahead of time. If you have any left over, chop them up and add them to scrambled eggs for your breakfast. I love that and I don't even like eggs.

Keep these tips in mind when making the poppers:

1. Seed the jalapenos while wearing plastic gloves or plastic bags on your hands.
2. If you are serving guests who can't handle spicy food, carefully remove all the seeds and membranes. The end result will not be very hot.
3. If you have guests who like to travel up the Scoville heat scale, leave a few seeds and/or membranes. Leaving all the seeds will be too much.
4. You can make them ahead of time and refrigerate overnight, uncooked. You can also cook them and freeze them until later - just reheat in a warm oven.

Bacon-Wrapped Jalape
  • ño

  • Poppers

  • 18 fresh jalapeños
  • One 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • ½ cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 18 slices thin bacon, cut into halves
  • Bottled barbecue sauce
  • Toothpicks
  • Rubber gloves (or plastic bags) for working with jalapeños

  • Preheat the oven to 275ºF.

    Begin by cutting jalapeños in half lengthwise. Try to keep the stems intact.

  • With a spoon, scrape out the seeds and light-colored membranes. Remember: The heat comes from the seeds and membranes, so if you can handle the sizzle, leave some of them intact.

  • Now, in a bowl, combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and chopped green onion. Mix the ingredients together gently.

  • Next, stuff each hollowed jalapeño half with the cheese mixture.

  • Wrap bacon slices around each half, covering as much of the surface as you can. Be careful not to stretch the bacon too tightly around the jalapeño, as the bacon will contract as it cooks.

  • Brush the surface of the bacon with your favorite barbecue sauce.

  • Secure the jalapeños with toothpicks and pop them in the oven for 1 hour, or until the bacon is sizzling.

  • Serve hot or at room temperature.

  • Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Italian Buffet for 40

    I had the opportunity to cook for the wonderful teachers of First Baptist Church Preschool again recently. I decided to do an Italian buffet. Here are the recipes. Most are links to recipes on my blog, but some are links to other websites.

    Caesar Salad

    Focaccia Bread
    I didn't make the onion/olive topping; instead, I drizzled the bread with olive oil and topped with rosemary, salt, pepper, and parmesan.

    I made my spaghetti sauce to make a very traditional lasagna. I put sauce in the bottom of the 9x13 pan, layered four cooked lasagna noodles, then a mixture of ricotta, cottage cheese, parmesan, egg, salt, and pepper. I topped this with more sauce and mozzarella cheese. I repeated the noodles/ricotta/sauce mozzarella layer. Finally, I ended with noodles, sauce, mozzarella, and more parmesan. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350.

    Gnocchi with Ricotta and Spinach

    Spaghettini with Pesto

    Chicken Caprese
    I didn't serve this over pasta. If you cook it closer to 30-40 minutes in the oven, the sauce will thicken up. I sliced the chicken breasts in half length-wise. Today's thick chicken breasts take forever to cook through, so I like to cut them thinner and cook them faster. Because I was catering, I brined the chicken breasts for about 1/2 an hour in salty water. This gives you a margin of cooking error - it's much harder to dry them out.

    Mud Pie
    This recipe was requested by the wonderful preschool director - it fit the retreat's theme of a coffee shop. I made it in springform pans, but you can easily make it in a 9x13 pan.

    1 package Oreos, ground into crumbs in a food processor
    1/4 cup butter, melted
    1 jar hot fudge
    1 half-gallon coffee ice cream
    1 8 oz. container Cool Whip, thawed
    chocolate bar shavings for garnish (optional)

    Mix together ground Oreos and melted butter and press into bottom of pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Cool.

    Slightly soften ice cream and spread in pan. Refreeze.

    Slightly warm hot fudge and spread over ice cream. Freeze.

    Spread Cool Whip on top and shave a chocolate bar over the Cool Whip, if using.

    Freeze until ready to serve.

    The. Bread.

    This is another Pioneer Woman technique. She says that anytime she goes to a family get-together, everyone asks, "Are you going to bring The Bread?". It's just bread and butter, but the technique of baking then broiling browns the butter and makes the bread unbelievably flavorful and irresistible. People usually think there is something else in the bread, like garlic, but it's just bread and butter.

    The. Bread.

    One loaf of French bread, split
    2 sticks of salted butter, softened (you won't need to use all of it unless your bread is huge)

    Spread about 3/4 of a stick of butter on each piece of bread. Place side by side on a baking sheet.

    Bake for 10 minutes on 350. Turn the oven off and the broiler on. Watch the bread as it browns and slightly blackens. Don't be afraid of the blackening; just a little bit won't make it taste burned. Steel your nerves and remove from oven when golden, brown, and spotty black.