24 December 2009

Wow, it's been over two months since I posted! I got pregnant in September and therefore didn't feel well through almost all of October and November. I wasn't as sick as I was with my first pregnancy, but was sick enough that I did not cook almost that entire time. My poor husband ate a lot of frozen pizza and Hotpockets! But things started turning around at the end of November, and I was actually able to cook Thanksgiving dinner for seven adults and my daughter. I have made some new dishes since then, but we are experiencing computer problems so blogging has been put on hold.

I made a new soup for a potluck at church last night. People seemed to really enjoy it and requested the recipe, so here it is. I don't have a picture because it went so fast (not a drop left at the end of the meal!), but I will certainly be making it again so I will take a picture of it then.

This is a recipe I saw on a recent episode of America's Test Kitchen. It's super easy and doesn't take long.

Thai Chicken Soup

1 tsp vegetable oil
3 stalks lemon grass, outer leaves removed, bottom 5” halved lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise
3 large shallots, chopped
8 sprigs fresh cilantro leaves, chopped coarsely
2 tbsp fish sauce
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 (14 oz.) cans coconut milk, well-shaken
1 tbsp sugar
½ lb. white mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed, cut into ¼” slices
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise and sliced on bias into ⅛” thick pieces
3 tbsp fresh lime juice from 2 to 3 limes
2 tsp red curry paste (Thai)
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 serrano chiles, sliced thinly
2 scallions, sliced thinly on bias
1 lime, cut into wedges

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until just shimmering. Add lemon grass, shallots, cilantro, and 1 tbsp fish sauce; cook, stirring frequently, until just softened, 2 to 5 minutes (vegetables should not brown). Stir in chicken broth and 1 can coconut milk; bring to simmer over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until flavors have blended, 10 minutes. Pour broth through fine-mesh strainer and discard solids. Rinse saucepan and return broth mixture to pan.

Return pan to medium-high heat. Stir remaining can coconut milk and sugar into broth mixture and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium, add mushrooms, and cook until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until no longer pink, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove soup from heat.

Combine lime juice, curry paste, and remaining fish sauce in small bowl; stir into soup. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro, chiles, and scallions, if desired. Serve immediately with lime wedges.

Makes 6-8 servings as an appetizer, 4 as a main course.

This is a really tasty soup! I didn't change much about the recipe. I didn't have shallots, so I used onion instead. I love shallots though, and I'm sure it will be even better with them. The other thing I changed was the amount of fish sauce called for. It called for a total of 3 tbsp, 1 at the beginning and 2 at the end. I had never used fish sauce before, and was not-so-pleasantly surprised by the smell. The onions, lemongrass, and cilantro were smelling so good, then I added the fish sauce. Oh my. That has to be the worst smelling ingredient I have ever used! When I got to the end, I was afraid to add the full 2 tbsp, fearing that it would make the soup smell really bad, so I only added 1 tbsp. I don't know if the extra would have made it taste that much different or not.

This is not a spicy soup. The lemongrass and curry paste give it a nice, complex flavor without adding heat. I think if I make it just for us next time, I will try adding one more tsp of curry paste to see what that tastes like. I like it the way it is, but I think it would also be good with a little more heat.

As soon as I get my computer fixed, I have a backlog of recipes to blog about, so watch out!

Merry Christmas everyone!

15 October 2009

This recipe came from the Food Network Kitchens.

Moroccan Grilled Salmon

½ cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for the grill
2 to 3 cloves garlic, smashed
1½ tsp ground coriander
1½ tsp ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 (6 oz.) salmon fillets

Stir together the yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, ¼ tsp salt, and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Pour half of the sauce into a large resealable plastic bag; cover and refrigerate the remaining sauce. Add the salmon to the bag and turn to coat with the marinade. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the bag over once.

Preheat a grill to medium-high. Remove the salmon from the marinade and blot off excess yogurt with paper towels. Lightly oil the grill and add the salmon; cook, turning once, until browned on the outside and opaque in the center, 4 to 6 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. Serve with the reserved yogurt sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

This was really easy and really good. Jim absolutely loved the sauce. I didn't add sauce to mine; the flavor on the salmon itself was enough for me.

The weird thing is, I don't think I will change a single ingredient the next time I make this. Wow! That has got to be a first! The only thing I might do differently is bake the salmon instead of grilling it. It stuck really badly to the grill and kind of fell apart as I tried to turn it. But then after re-reading the recipe in preparation for posting it, I realized that I forgot to add the 1 tbsp of olive oil to the marinade/sauce. Maybe that would make it stick less to the grill? I don't know.

Even though there isn't a long list of spices, the balance is just right and it definitely is true to Moroccan flavors. I've made several Moroccan dishes before and we have found it to be a flavor profile that we really love.

I wasn't feeling well (first trimester, yay), so I went the super easy route and baked potatoes in the microwave as a side for this. If I was feeling just a little bit more ambitious I probably would have made couscous and Moroccan Carrots.

12 October 2009

My lovely sister, Hilary, who also loves to cook, wrote on my Facebook wall a couple of weeks ago asking if I took recipe requests. She said she has been wanting a Chinese recipe that can be made in the slow cooker, but she wanted me to do the experimenting for her! I'm not a huge fan of Chinese food, but there are a few dishes I like, so I did some searching online for recipes.

I found this recipe on a blog called A Year of Slow Cooking. The blog author set out to make a meal in her slow cooker everyday in 2008. And she posted the recipes everyday. I didn't discover the blog until recently, but she has kept her archives for reference. I looked up her list of dishes and found one called Chinese Lemon Chicken. Here is my (very slightly) amended version of it.

Slow Cooker Chinese Lemon Chicken with Broccoli

5 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¾ cup flour
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 can (12 oz.) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
6 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
6 tbsp ketchup
Olive oil
1 large head broccoli, chopped into florets (or 1 lb. bag frozen florets)
White rice, cooked

Cut chicken into large chunks. Dredge in flour and shake off excess. Brown chicken in a skillet with a bit of olive oil. The chicken does not have to be cooked through; just browned on the outside.

Place into crockpot. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl and pour over the top of chicken pieces. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.

When chicken is done, steam broccoli on stovetop or microwave until tender, but still a bit crunchy. Add to slow cooker and stir to coat.

Serve chicken and broccoli over rice, drizzle with remaining sauce.

Makes 6 servings.

The blog author didn't say how many servings her recipe made, so I assumed it was four. I needed about six servings, as I was taking this to some friends who recently had a baby. I thought it would be easy to make a big batch and take some to them and save some for us. That's the beauty of having a large slow cooker! So I changed the amount of chicken. The chicken I get (at Sam's Club) is huge. Really quite large. So if yours are more normal sized or on the small side, you might want to use six.

The broccoli was my addition. The Chinese dishes that I do like are the ones with broccoli in them. I thought broccoli would go well with this, so I added that. I didn't cook the broccoli in the slow cooker because I had no idea how long it would take and I didn't want to overcook it. I didn't want to take mushy broccoli to our friends. I also didn't think it was necessary for it to cook in the sauce. So it worked out really well to steam it (I use the microwave) and add it just before serving.

Since I used more chicken and was adding broccoli, I doubled the sauce from the original recipe. We did have sauce left over, but I thought that was better than not having enough.

I am generally not a fan of slow cooker recipes that require browning or sauteeing on the stovetop before adding to the slow cooker. Sometimes it kind of defeats the purpose of slow cooking, I think. It was a bit of work in this recipe; I had to do it in batches because I couldn't fit all of the chicken in my pan at once. But I think it was worth it. You definitely want a nice browned surface on the chicken. Otherwise it won't soak up the lemon sauce as well. That could easily be done the night before, refrigerated, then put in the slow cooker in the morning.

It is important not to let this dish overcook in the slow cooker. The chicken dries out easily. Even though I had it on "warm" our chicken got a little dry while we were driving the rest of it over to our friends'. And commenters on the original blog said that the sauce gets brown and tastes bitter if left to cook too long.

We really enjoyed this dish. I am so glad Hilary asked me to look up a Chinese slow cooker recipe. Thanks Hil!

Browning the chicken on the stove before adding it to the slow cooker. Kind of a pain, but worth it in the end.

18 September 2009

Another recipe from my favorite cookbook, Perfect Vegetables.

Oven-Fried Sweet Potato Wedges

1 tsp plus 1 tbsp peanut oil
2 lbs. sweet potatoes, scrubbed (about 3 medium)

Preheat oven to 400°. Place ½ tsp of the oil on each of two rimmed foil-lined baking sheets. Use a paper towel to spread the oil evenly over the entire surface and place both sheets in the oven.

Cut each sweet potato lengthwise into eight thick wedges. Toss them with the remaining tbsp of oil to coat. Season generously with salt and toss again to blend. Remove one baking sheet from the oven and place half the sweet potatoes on it cut-side down. Spread them out so that they do not touch each other. Return the baking sheet to the oven and repeat the process using the second baking sheet and the remaining potatoes.

Bake until the cut side of the sweet potatoes touching the baking sheet is crusty and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove each baking sheet and carefully turn the sweet potatoes. Bake until the second cut side is crusty and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

So, they didn't turn out very crispy for me. I know that it is difficult to get sweet potato fries crispy on the outside. They contain much more moisture than white potatoes so their sugars don't carmelize as easily. According to Cook's Illustrated (the editors of the cookbook), preheating the baking sheet and the oil will greatly increase the chances of getting crispy fries. Mine didn't crisp at all and I think it may be because of a mistake I made. I accidentally used olive oil. I don't have peanut oil, but I was going to use vegetable oil instead of the olive oil. But, after drizzling them, I suddenly realized that the olive oil bottle was in my hand instead of the vegetable oil bottle! Whoops! The other thing that may have sabotaged the crispiness is that I didn't measure the oil and I think I used too much. Too much oil may cause sogginess instead of crispiness.

But even without the crispy exterior I was expecting, these were delicious! I love love love sweet potatoes and have been wanting to try an oven-baked fry recipe for a while. The insides will be really soft and mushy because of the nature of the sweet potato. The book mentioned that there is nothing you can do to make the insides fluffy like white potato fries. Even though they didn't get crispy on the outside, they had great color and carmelization on the outside. They definitely hit the spot for me.

I dipped them in Southwest Sauce, which is a chipotle mayonnaise. Yum!

I am looking forward to trying these again with the right oil and the right amount of it.

This is what they look like before baking.

My sister tells me that my adorable nephew, Noah, loves these sweet potato fries. Isn't he a cutie?

Chicken fingers you don't have to feel bad about eating. Using panko bread crumbs gives these chicken tenders a super crispy coating without deep frying and uses only 1 tbsp of oil per four servings.

Baked Chicken Fingers

1½ cups panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup flour
1½ tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
3 large egg whites
1 tbsp water
8 chicken breast tenders
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine the panko and oil in a medium skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring often, until golden, about 10 minutes. Spread the bread crumbs in a shallow dish. In a second shallow dish, combine the flour, garlic powder, salt, and pepper together. In a third shallow dish, whisk the egg whites and water together.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, place a wire rack on top, and spray the rack with vegetable oil spray. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.. Lightly dredge the cutlets in the flour, shaking off the excess, then dip into the egg whites, and finally coat with the bread crumbs. Press on the bread crumbs to make sure they adhere. Lay the chicken on the wire rack.

Bake until the meat is no longer pink in the center and feels firm when pressed with a finger, about 20 minutes.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Makes 4 servings, 2 tenders each.

This is a recipe I adapted to chicken tenders. The ingredients and method are used in the Chicken Parmesan recipe I use, that was featured on America's Test Kitchen. The recipe is no longer available online for free. I've been making that for a couple of years now (I'll post it the next time I make it). I thought it would be a great way of making oven-baked chicken fingers as well. And it is! Toasting the panko before breading ensures a crispy coating without overcooking the chicken. So the chicken stays moist and juicy and the coating delivers a nice crunch that will make you forget all about the deep-fried versions.

There are tons of dipping options with these chicken fingers.  The one pictured above is my Homemade Smoky Ranch Dressing, then there's Copycat Southwest Sauce (a chipotle mayonnaise), and my favorite bottled stuff, Ken's Honey Mustard Dressing.

Toasting the panko on the stovetop before breading the chicken. Watch them carefully; they burn quickly! (I had to throw out the first batch last night because I let it burn. Whoops!)

Ready to go into the oven.

I served these with Oven-Fried Sweet Potatoes for an all-out finger food meal. These are great for kids and adults alike.  

This is basically a chipotle mayonnaise. It is a copycat version of Subway's Southwest Sauce. It's not exactly the same, but pretty tasty regardless.

Southwest Sauce

1 cup mayo
½ tsp dijon mustard
1 squeeze lime juice
2 chipotles in adobo, chopped
1 small clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend well.

Makes about 1 cup.

This is a really yummy sauce. It is really good on turkey sandwiches. I recently made it to dip Oven-Fried Sweet Potatoes in. Mmm! It's also good on chicken fingers.

Two chipotles make it pretty hot, in my opinion. I'm kind of a wuss when it comes to hot, so if you like things really spicy, you can try doing three chipotles instead of two. But you might want to do two first, taste it, then add more if you would like.

Despite the fact that I strongly dislike jalepenos, I absolutely love chipotles. Chipotles are smoked jalepenos, but I don't think they taste anything like jalepenos. You buy them in the Mexican section of the grocery store. They come in little cans that say "Chipotles in Adobo." Adobo is the super-flavorful sauce they come packed in.

16 September 2009

Hey readers! I just wanted to give you a heads-up about a new feature I added to the blog today. Blogger now offers a search feature. There is a search box on the right side, just underneath the labels. You enter a search term, "spinach" for example, and it will list the last five or so posts that contained the word spinach (either in the title or the body of the post). Then if you click on "more results", it will take you to a Google search page that has links to all of my posts that mention spinach. And even neater, if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of that page, there is an option to sign up for email alerts whenever I blog about spinach. Wow! How cool is that? So if you signed up for that, Google would send you an email everytime I mentioned spinach in a new post. Huh! Technology is amazing, isn't it?

Not quite as interesting, I also added a list of cookbooks that I own. I don't have very many cookbooks, and the reason is that I am really bad about making recipes from cookbooks. I don't know why. I tend to use websites and cooking magazines as inspirations more often than books. Very few of the ones listed I bought myself. Most of them were gifts, or I bought them for next to nothing at a garage sale or Scholastic warehouse sale. One of them (Martha Stewart's Cooking School) I won in a recipe contest sponsored by Hunt's tomatoes. I was looking at them on the shelf the other day, and I thought, "I have got to start looking through those and making recipes from them!" So having a list of them on my blog will remind me to use them more often. I am going to try to set a goal for myself, something like: make a recipe from one of my cookbooks every other week, or something like that. There's no point in letting them sit on the shelf gathering dust!

So enjoy the new search feature and look forward to some recipes that came out of actual cookbooks!

14 September 2009

This is a copy-cat recipe. It is supposed to be like Olive Garden's Ravioli di Portobello, my favorite dish of theirs. I got it from one of those copycat recipe sites, Flora's Hideout. But you can find the same recipe on a large number of websites. It gives you the recipe for making your own mushroom ravioli, but I am not that ambitious. I bought refrigerated ravioli and just made the sauce. Here's the recipe for doing it that way.

Mushroom Ravioli with Smoked Gouda Sauce

¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk
8 oz. smoked gouda, shredded
3 sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
18 oz. fresh mushroom ravioli
2 green onions, chopped
1 tomato, chopped

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the ravioli. In a large saucepan, heat butter over medium-low heat until it melts. Whisk in flour and cook for about 3 minutes. Add milk slowly, whisking constantly. Cook another 2 minutes or until sauce is thickened.

Add gouda and sun-dried tomatoes to the sauce. Stir over medium-low heat until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, boil ravioli according to package directions. Drain.

Pour gouda sauce over warm ravioli. Top with chopped green onion and tomato.

Makes 4 servings.

I didn't call it Ravioli di Portobello, because it's not exactly the same as the Olive Garden dish. But it is pretty close. I didn't have jarred sun-dried tomatoes, so I used some dried ones that I had and rehydrated them. They worked okay, but I think it would be better with jarred ones. I'll use those next time. I also forgot about the green onion and tomato for toppers (because the copycat recipe didn't list them on the ingredient list). I did miss those and think it will taste more like the real thing to me if they are on there. The sauce was really thick; I ended up thinning it out a bit.

The refrigerated ravioli I got for this was AWESOME. As you probably know by now, I love filled pastas. I heard about a new Buitoni one a month or so ago. Wild Mushroom Agnolotti. I've been wanting to try it ever since. This was the perfect dish to try it in! I loved it. Even though the sauce wasn't quite the same as Olive Garden's, the ravioli was as good (if not a little better!). It would be delicious with any kind of sauce under the sun. I definitely have a new favorite kind of filled pasta.

I will certainly be making this dish again. I might tweak the sauce a little bit as I go.

I think my picture looks pretty close to the Olive Garden dish:

Like I said above, I didn't have the green onion and tomato, so I sprinkled on some dried chives I had in my spice cabinet.

13 September 2009

This is another recipe that didn't turn out so well the first time I made it. I made some changes to the recipe and think I can transform it into a yummy spinach side dish. Here's how I'm going to make it next time.

Creamy Parmesan Spinach

3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp onion, finely diced
1 small clove garlic, grated
¼ - ½ cup milk
¼ cup grated Parmesan
1 box frozen spinach, defrosted and drained

Place cream cheese, onions, and garlic in a medium saucepan over low heat. When the cream cheese melts, add ¼ cup milk and parmesan. Stir spinach into sauce, season with a pinch of salt, to taste, if necessary and let the spinach sit over lowest heat possible 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If necessary, add more milk to keep it creamy.

Makes 2 servings.

The original recipe, part of a steak and shrimp meal by Rachael Ray, gave me some problems. First of all, even though it said it served four, it called for 3 boxes of spinach. Three boxes of spinach for 4 people? I like spinach, but three quarters of a box per person seems like a bit much. I was just cooking for myself and Jim, so I used one box of spinach. But that was akward, because then I had to cut the rest of the recipe in thirds. I've cut recipes in half tons of times, but I've never had to cut one into thirds!

So after I got the measurements figured out, I started cooking. It's a really simple recipe. The original called for melting the cream cheese, adding the onion and parmesan, and then stirring in the spinach. Super easy. The only problem was, once I did all that, I didn't end up with Creamy Parmesan Spinach. It was more like Clumpy Parmesan Spinach. I tasted it and the flavor was great, but it looked less than appetizing and the consistency was really off-putting. Long story short, I ended up adding a bunch of milk to thin it out. That kind of "watered" down the flavor a bit, so I added some more parmesan as well.

The clumpy mess I ended up with after following the directions. I added lots of milk and a bit more parmesan to get the spinach you see in the picture at the top of the post.

I apologize that the recipe above doesn't have exact measurements. I'm not sure exactly how much milk it will take to make it actually creamy. And some of it will depend on how creamy you prefer it. When I make it again I will keep track of how much I use and will update the post.

It's kind of coincedental that I made this dish, which didn't turn out so well, the same night I made another dish that was close to being considered a disaster, Sweet Orange Salmon. And both dishes are going to get an overhaul by me! Can't wait to try them again, hopefully with better results.

11 September 2009

This is the easiest slow cooker recipe I've ever made. It takes all of five minutes to throw into the slow cooker and you end up with a simple, but tasty and filling, dinner.

This is a Rachael Ray recipe that I adapted for the slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Poached Chicken and Vegetables

48 oz. chicken broth
½ cup tomato sauce
4 chicken breast cutlets, cut into large chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into chunks
4 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic
½ cup frozen pearl onions
1 tsp dried thyme (or ½ tsp fresh)
1 cup couscous, uncooked

Place chicken broth in slow cooker. Add tomato sauce and whisk to combine. Add chicken, carrots, mushrooms, and garlic. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours.

Add onions and thyme and cook an additional 3 hours. Put couscous into a small bowl. Add 1 cup of cooking liquid from slow cooker. Cover bowl tightly and let sit for 5 minutes. Remove cover and fluff with a fork.

To serve, place couscous in a bowl. Remove chicken and veggies with a slotted spoon and place on top of the couscous. Spoon some of the broth over it if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

This is the perfect meal for realizing in the morning that you have no plan for dinner that night. The greatest thing about it is that you can put the chicken in frozen. This morning I had no plan for dinner because our plans changed and the meal I had on my meal plan wouldn't work with our plans. So I was wondering what we were going to have. I had no meat thawed. I thought of this meal and got it into the slow cooker within ten minutes. I was able to cut the chicken cutlets while they were still frozen. If yours are too thick to cut frozen, just put them in whole and cut them up later after they have cooked for a while. The other reason this meal is so great for last-minute is that it requires ingredients that I almost always have on hand. The only thing I don't usually have is celery (that's why you won't see it in the picture I took today). The celery isn't necessary, but it's nice to have a bit of green going on with the brown, orange, and white.

The first time I made the original Rachael Ray recipe, I thought it would make a perfect slow cooker dish. And I have made it that way ever since. The mushrooms and pearl onions were my idea. I just really like fresh mushrooms in slow cooker dishes and the pearl onions are so much easier than cutting up an onion. And I keep them in the freezer for dishes just like this. They work really well in slow cooker dishes.

You can either eat this as chicken and veggies on a bed of couscous, or you can make it into a soup. It all depends on how much of the cooking liquid you add to your bowl. I like to add enough to make the couscous really moist, but not so much that it's turned into a soup.

The best french toast ever. Golden brown and crispy on the outside and soft and custard-y on the inside.

We had some leftover french bread from the soup dinner at church Wednesday night so I cut it into thick slices and set it out last night when we went to bed. Friday is Jim's day off from church, so he gets to sleep in. He usually likes to make some kind of nice breakfast on those mornings. French toast is one of his specialties. This morning as he was getting ready to make it, he remembered watching Alton Brown make it on Good Eats. I have an archive of Good Eats episodes saved on my DVR for situations like this! We found the episode and watched the segment on french toast. Jim whipped this up in no time and it turned out exactly like AB's. So good. I'll post the recipe here, but I didn't change anything from Alton Brown's.

AB’s French Toast

1 cup half and half
3 large eggs
2 tbsp honey, warmed in microwave for 20 seconds
¼ tsp salt
8 (½”) slices day old or stale country loaf, brioche or challah bread
4 tbsp butter

In medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the half and half, eggs, honey, and salt. You may do this the night before. When ready to cook, pour custard mixture into a pie pan and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375°. Dip bread into mixture, allow to soak for 30 seconds on each side, and then remove to a cooling rack that is sitting in a sheet pan, and allow to sit for 1 to 2 minutes.

Over medium-low heat, melt 1 tbsp of butter in a 10” non-stick saute pan. Place 2 slices of bread at a time into the pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and place on rack in oven for 5 minutes. Repeat with all 8 slices. Serve immediately with maple syrup, whipped cream or fruit.

Makes 4 servings.

Wow, this is good french toast! We didn't have half and half, so Jim used whole milk instead. That worked just fine. Jim had his with regular syrup, but I opted for a triple berry syrup I had picked up while grocery shopping a couple of weeks ago. Mmm! What a great way to start the day!

10 September 2009

So, as you can probably tell by now, I'm not much into baking or making desserts. Out of the 106 recipes I have posted so far, only 7 have been desserts. I just don't enjoy baking and have little desire to make desserts very often. But for some reason, whenever we have a potluck or other meal at church, I am always asked to bring dessert.

We had a meal at church on Wednesday night and instead of doing the old boxed cake mix thing, I decided to try this recipe that I saw in Kraft Food and Family magazine.

Buckeye Bars

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup crunchy peanut butter
22 Nilla Wafers, crushed
2 cups powdered sugar
4 oz. Cool Whip, unthawed (half of an 8 oz. tub)
3 squares semi-sweet chocolate

Line an 8” square pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides. Beat butter and peanut butter with mixer until blended. Mix in wafer crumbs. Gradually add sugar, mixing well after each addition. Press onto bottom of pan.

Microwave Cool Whip and chocolate in microwaveable bowl on High 1 min.; stir. Microwave 15 to 30 sec. or until chocolate is melted; stir until blended. Spread over peanut butter layer.

Refrigerate 2 hours. Use foil handles to lift dessert from pan before cutting to serve.

Makes 25 servings.

One of the (many) reasons I don't like baking is that I always manage to make a mistake. In cooking, it is often quite easy to fix mistakes, but not so with baking. I misread the ingredient list and used a whole tub of Cool Whip instead of half of it. I didn't realize it until I pulled it out of the microwave and stirred it. I thought I was going to have to run to the store and get another tub of Cool Whip and start over, but Jim suggested I just put in another three squares of chocolate. Good idea! So that's what I did. Of course, I ended up with twice as much as I needed, but I dipped some remaining Nilla wafers in it for an afternoon snack! (The rest I just threw out.)

A few pics of the process:

Peanut butter layer on the bottom.

Topped with the chocolate layer.

Not a great picture, but gives you an idea of what they look like close-up.

These are pretty good. Very rich. Twenty-five seems like a lot of servings for an 8" pan, but if you don't cut them small, no one will be able to finish a piece! I wasn't crazy about the chocolate/Cool Whip mixture. I think if I make these again I will leave out the Cool Whip and maybe use something else to keep the chocolate soft.

Another thing: make sure you keep these refrigerated until right before serving. They are very gooey. They would be impossible to remove from the pan if not for the foil slings.

07 September 2009

Lean pork loin chops baked in a sweet, tangy peach sauce infused with spicy ginger. My inspiration was Gingered Pork and Peaches from iVillage. But, of course, I have changed it quite a bit. Here's my version.

Ginger Peach Pork Chops

1 tbsp olive oil
4 boneless pork loin chops, trimmed of visible fat
Salt and pepper
3 cups peaches, peeled and chopped (4-5 peaches)
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Season pork chops with salt and pepper on both sides. Cook pork chops for about 5 minutes or until the chops are browned on both sides.

While the pork chops are cooking, place the remaining ingredients in a blender and mix until the ingredients are well incorporated but not pureed.

When pork chops are done, remove from skillet and place in an 8” glass baking dish. Pour peach sauce over them and cover the dish with foil. Bake for 45 minutes, uncover, and bake an additional 15 minutes. Remove chops and place on serving dish. Spoon some of the peach sauce over them. Serve remaining sauce at the table for dipping.

Makes 4 servings.

The original recipe didn't involve the oven. You were supposed to cook the chops through completely on the stovetop, then just pour the raw sauce on them before serving. There's nothing wrong with doing it that way, I just thought baking it would do two things. First, it would reduce the dryness of the pork. I have a horrible time with boneless pork loin chops. They are lean, and therefore, dry out easily. This summer Jim was forbidden from grilling pork chops because they always came out tasting like shoe leather. I have the same problem with them on the stovetop. The one pork recipe I make (Onion Soup Pork Chops) that produces really moist pork chops, has them baking in a sauce for about an hour. I know that part of it is because I use bone-in chops for that, but I think that the baking is good for moisture retention too. The finished result was more tender than any lean pork I've had for a while, so I guess it worked out pretty well. The second reason I wanted to bake them was I thought that baking them in the gingery peach sauce would impart more flavor into the chops themselves than just pouring the sauce on before serving. The reason I uncovered it for the last 15 minutes of cooking was to let the sauce reduce a bit. I didn't want it thin and watery. Baking it uncovered at the end really helped to thicken it up. It made it a nice consistency for spooning over the chops.

The original recipe called for some things to be added the sauce that I skipped as well. Red pepper, green onion, and lemon peel. We don't like peppers, I wasn't sure that onion would taste very good in a peach sauce, and I didn't think I needed the lemon peel since I had lemon juice in there already. (The recipe writer should have listed lemon peel above lemon juice in the ingredient list, because it is very difficult to zest a lemon after you have cut it in half and juiced it!) I also added more ginger than what the recipe called for. I really like fresh ginger and I often find that recipes go too light on the ginger. The ginger is supposed to be a prominent flavor in this dish, so I wasn't shy with it.

This makes a lot of the peach sauce. And I even cut back on the peaches. The original called for 4 cups of peaches. I had 5 peaches and that only made a little over 3 cups. Even so, I had much more sauce than I needed to cover the pork. I think next time I will make only half of the sauce.

The dish as it went into the oven. There was so much sauce you can't even tell there are four pork chops in there!

I think next time I make this dish, I will try doing it in the slow cooker.

Fresh chicken ravioli tossed with a sauce combining the creaminess of alfredo and the deep flavor and beautiful color of pumpkin. This is super easy to throw together and oh so yummy. I found it on Allrecipes, but it originally comes from Buitoni.

Pumpkin Alfredo Ravioli
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup shallots, minced
1½ cups mushrooms, sliced
10 oz. jarred alfredo sauce
¾ cup canned pumpkin
18 oz. refrigerated fresh ravioli, any variety you like

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and mushrooms and saute until tender. Stir in alfredo sauce and pumpkin and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through.

Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain, reserving 1 cup cooking water. Thin sauce with reserved water until you reach desired consistency. Toss with pasta.

Makes 4 servings.

The above recipe is a bit different from the original. The original said to cook the shallots and white wine until it reduced to about 1 tbsp before adding the pumpkin and alfredo. I did this, and didn't like it. In the finished dish, the shallots were really kind of tangy tasting and it didn't go well with the creamy mellowness of the rest of the sauce. The mushrooms were my addition. I had some to use up (I almost always have mushrooms to use up because I always buy more than I need for recipes) and I thought they would be a good addition. That turned out well. The original recipe also called for chopped fresh sage to be added to the sauce towards the end. I did that and really didn't like it. The sage didn't have time to get soft and we kept biting into chunks of sage in the sauce. Yuck. And I didn't think the sauce needed sage flavor at all. So, I will definitely be leaving that out next time. I also increased the amount of pumpkin. It called for 1/2 cup, but I thought it needed more, so I added another 1/4 cup. Yummy. I never would have thought to combine alfredo and canned pumpkin, but it is so good! Great idea.

Make sure you remember to thin the sauce with the pasta water. I completely forgot this step and wondered why it turned out so gloppy! I didn't realize it until today when I was amending the recipe to post this. Oops! I can't wait to try this again so I can take better pictures of it!

About the ravioli: I recently discovered that Sam's Club is selling fresh ravioli and tortellini. I don't know if this is new, or if I just missed it before. But in any case, I liked it. I got Chicken and Four Cheese ravioli and that's what I used in this dish. It's different from the chicken filling in the Buitoni pastas. Buitoni uses ground chicken but Sam's was like cooked white chicken breast that had been ground up. That makes for a completely different taste. I like both, but since the Sam's is cheaper, I will probably end up using that more often. It comes in two 16 oz. packages. So even though this recipe called for 18 oz., I only used 16 oz. because I didn't want to open the second package and only use part of it. I froze the other package for later use.

Edited 10.07.10:
The picture doesn't match the recipe because the pictures I took of the recipe were absolutely horrible and looked like poop on a plate. I made the sauce again recently, and instead of putting it on ravioli, I tossed it with linguine as a side dish. And I didn't have mushrooms on hand, so it's pretty much just the pumpkin and alfredo sauce. Really good that way too. And this picture looks MUCH better, so I'm going with that!

03 September 2009

Tender, juicy beef slow roasted all day in onions and Mexican spices. A great alternative to the usual ground beef popular on taco nights. I read several different recipes for this, but didn't find any specific one that I wanted to follow, so I made this up myself.

Slow Cooker Shredded Beef for Tacos

2 lb. boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed of as much fat as possible
½ large onion, diced
1 cup water

Rub taco seasoning into beef on all sides. Place onion in slow cooker. Pour in water. Place beef on top of onions. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Remove beef from slow cooker (carefully, it will be falling apart!), and shred with a fork. Remove contents of slow cooker and strain out the onions, reserving the liquid. Return beef to either the slow cooker or a saucepan and keep warm over low heat. Add onions and taste for seasoning. Add more taco seasoning if necessary. Add reserved liquid to keep beef from drying out.

Use as filling for tacos, burritos, enchiladas, taco salads, etc.

Makes about 4 servings.

Wow, this was so delicious and the best part is that it is even easier than browning ground beef. I find browning ground beef to be a big pain. Something gave me the idea of doing shredded beef for tacos instead of ground beef. I have had shredded beef in chimichangas in Mexican restaurants before and liked it better than the ground beef. So why not try it at home? Of course, I immediately thought of my lovely new slow cooker for the job.

Taco night is one of my favorite dinner nights. And it has always been an easy meal to prepare. But with the shredded beef, it's even easier. No browning ground beef. Just put the roast in the slow cooker in the morning, and eight hours later it will be ready to shred and eat. This is especially great for me because I often have taco night on the days I do my huge once-a-month grocery trip. I am usually pretty tired by the time I get home and I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to walk in the house and smell the wonderful aroma of cooked taco meat waiting for me. All I had to do was shred the meat, toast up the taco shells and tortillas, and put out the fixings. So great.

And it is so good! I liked it much better than the ground beef. Jim liked it as well, but he said he liked it "as much as" the ground beef. I would be perfectly happy making this for every taco night from now on. I did add some seasoning after I shredded it. I felt it needed a bit more heat, so I sprinkled in some of Penzey's Northwoods Fire seasoning. It's a chipotle blend.

Here are a few pics.

Rubbing the taco seasoning into the beef. How much seasoning you will need depends on the size and shape of the meat. I had 3 tbsp ready to use, but only used about 2 1/2 tbsp of it. And a bunch ended up on the board.

Beautifully cooked beef. The little piece on the right fell off while I was lifting it out of the slow cooker.

It shredded so easily. Usually you say "shred the meat with two forks", but this doesn't even require two forks. One will do the job. Actually, I think you could just look at this beef and it would fall apart!

Draining the liquid off the onions. A note about that: The recipe says to return the beef to either the slow cooker or to a pan on the stove. I used the stovetop. Here's the reason. I use disposable slow cooker liners in my slow cooker. It makes clean-up so much easier. I have a small sink and it is very difficult for me to clean my slow cooker crock. So the liners are a must for me. And it makes removing cooking liquid incredibly easy. I set up my colander over a bowl and lifted out the liner (it's like a plastic bag), and dumped it into the colander. I threw the liner away, and since I didn't want to dirty my crock, I put the beef into the pan on the stove. If you don't use a liner, and your crock is already dirty, then you might as well just put it back into the slow cooker to finish it up. Does that make sense? I'm really tired and am probably just babbbling now.

Please try this. It's so good and easy!

31 August 2009

Boneless pork chops baked in a savory mushroom and red wine sauce. I don't remember how I stumbled upon this recipe, but I tried it tonight and it is delicious. Of course, I changed a few things. Here's my version.

Burgundy Pork Chops

4 boneless pork chops
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup burgundy wine

Cook chops in olive oil in skillet just until browned on both sides. Remove from skillet and place in a baking dish. Saute shallots and mushrooms in skillet drippings. Sprinkle with flour, salt and pepper. Blend in wine; cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Pour over chops; cover with foil. Bake at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes or until tender.

Makes 4 servings.

The original called for onions instead of the shallots, but for some reason I think mushrooms and shallots go really well together. And I happened to have a shallot on hand that needed to be used up anyway, so I used that. But onion would be fine if that was all that was available. I also used olive oil instead of the original recipe's butter. I increased the mushrooms from 1 1/2 cups to 2 just because I love mushrooms and can't get enough. I had Baby Bellas on hand today--yummy!

I was a little short on time, so I didn't bake them for the full amount of time listed. I checked them after 30 minutes and the temperature indicated that they were fully cooked, so I took them out of the oven then. They were a bit on the dry side, as all boneless pork is prone to be. I think maybe next time I will allow more time and will bake them for longer. Maybe they get more tender as they bake. Also, I increased the amount of wine when I rewrote the recipe, because I think that if I bake it longer, I will need a bit more liquid in the pan. So I increased it from 3/4 cup to 1 cup.

I will definitely be making this again. It was a winner here tonight. Lena loved it.

Here are a few pics of the process.

Sauteeing the mushrooms and shallots. Mmmmmm! Always makes the house smell so good.

Thickening the wine sauce. The steam makes the sauce look pink, but it is actually deep red. Pretty.

In the pan just before going into the oven. So many mushrooms you can barely see the pork peeking out from under there!

30 August 2009

A creamy, flavorful rice dish I made for dinner tonight with fresh zucchini from our garden. I found the original recipe on Allrecipes. I made a few minor changes.

Zucchini Risotto
9 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
2 medium zucchini, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper

Bring stock to a boil in a medium stock pot, then reduce heat to a low simmer.
Heat oil in a large, stock pot over medium heat. Stir in onions and cook for 4 minutes, or until softened. Add the rice and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted.

Ladle in simmering stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring continuously. When liquid is almost completely absorbed by the rice, put in another ladeful and continue stirring. Risotto will become "creamy" and slightly sticky, yet still firm in the center, or al dente.

When almost finished, stir in the zucchini and thyme, adding stock as needed and stirring continuously. Season with pepper to taste.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition Information
Servings Per Recipe: 6
Calories: 375
Total Fat: 4g
Cholesterol: 9mg
Sodium: 720mg
Total Carbs: 70g
Dietary Fiber: 5g
Protein: 10g

This was so good. If you've never made risotto before, you should try it. It has a bad reputation of being a complicated dish to make, but it really isn't. It does take a bit more attention than traditional rice, but it's really not that bad and the end result is so worth it. Risotto is super creamy, but doesn't have any cream or milk in it. Instead of putting the rice and the water (or stock) together in a pan and letting it cook undisturbed for 15 minutes or so, you toast the rice in some oil and add warm stock a little bit at a time, stirring throughout. Stirring the rice makes the starch come out and that is what gives it the "creamy" texture without the cream. So delicious.

I made a few changes to the original recipe I found on Allrecipes. I increased the amount of zucchini called for quite a bit. The original called for only a half of a zucchini. I halved the recipe and used a whole one. Half of a zucchini for 6 servings is definitely not enough. Also, the original called for sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil. I thought it would be better without the tomatoes, and I didn't have fresh basil on hand. I had dried, but you can't add basil to a recipe while it's still cooking because it will turn black. If you add basil to it, add it after you remove it from the heat. It also called for 6 tbsp of parmesan to be mixed in at the end. I was going to do that, but forgot, and I loved it the way it was, so I omitted that from my amended recipe.

Here's a close-up picture of it. Check out the creamy goodness!

Tonight I served it with Herbed Cheese Stuffed Salmon, but it would go well with just about anything.