Thursday, January 24, 2008

My adventures in canning

I realized tonight that I could not use my canning kit that I bought because it is an enameled pot and anyone that has a glass cooktop knows that you can't use enamelware with glass cooktops.

I was very upset about this. I had been looking forward to canning or jarring some jam for DAYS.

Oh, well. I'm just going to start looking for a very large steel pot that will fit the rack that came with my kit. It might take a while.

I still made my jam though...I kind of had to since I bought my raspberries a week ago. As it was, I still ended up throwing a lot of them out that had started molding. I still had a good five cups that were intact, so I made this jam from the Ball book of canning that came with my kit...albeit, altered a bit since the original recipe called for 9 cups of berries and I only got five out of what was left.

Raspberry Jam

5 c pureed raspberries
4 c sugar

Combine fruit and jam in large stockpot and bring slowly to a boil, stirring frequently. Boil for about ten minutes or until jam reaches jelling point or 210 degrees. Process in water-bath canner or freeze.

What I liked about this jam: I liked that I didn't need to add pectin to it.
What I disliked about this jam: I disliked that it bubbled so violently and sprayed pink all over my stove.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I did use the pint-size Ball Mason jars that came with my kit...two to be exact...and then one of the Ball freezing containers. I didn't process the jars in the water bath canner for the above reason, but I checked the internet and they all say those Mason jars are freezer-safe, so...we'll see.
Tastiness factor: I only licked my finger just a bit, but tomorrow I plan to have a bagel with butter and raspberry jam, so we'll see. I'll update next time what I thought of it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Orzo pasta: is it pasta or rice?

I was out and about all day today and really had no plans to cook, but when I got home from work around 8, I thought, "why not?" I already had everything to make the below dish and I didn't really feel like leftovers, even though this is my proclaimed "leftover week".

Grilled Skirt Steak and Orzo with the Works

2 lbs skirt steak
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil, divided into two parts
coarse black pepper
kosher salt
1/2 pound orzo pasta
half of a red onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 fennel bulb, quartered, cored and thinly sliced **I omitted this because I couldn't find it
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 c chicken broth or stock
1 pint grape tomatoes
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 c fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese **I used grated Parmesan

Combine 2 tbsp of the oil with the vinegar and coat steak with it. Sprinkle pepper on steak and let meat marinate in a non-reactive dish for 5-10 minutes or until ready to cook. Cook orzo as directed or in salted boiling water for twelve minutes and drain. Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the remaining oil and add onions, garlic, fennel, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, or until vegetables are tender, about five minutes. Season steak with kosher salt and grill in a grill pan or on outdoor grill for three to four minutes on each side. Remove steak and let it rest for five minutes. Add chicken broth and tomatoes to the vegetables, bring to a bubble and cook for two minutes or until tomatoes begin to burst. Add cooked orzo, basil, parsley and cheese and stir to combine. Serve meat alongside the orzo.

What I liked about this dish: Considering that it is on the gourmet side, not too too hard to make.
What I disliked about this dish: I think that the tomatoes should have been chopped up and if I make this again, that is exactly what I will do.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I used my cast iron grill pan for the first time ever. I think the balsamic vinegar seasoned it nicely.
Tastiness factor: This was very, very good. I really liked the orzo pasta and will probably make it as a side dish again in the future. Almost like a rice with the seasonings! Very tasty. Not sure if the fennel would have added anything to it, but I enjoyed it as I cooked it very much.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Whew! Busy week!

This has been a crazy week! I went to San Antonio and Houston in the early part of the week and didn't get a chance to go shopping before I went, so as soon as I got home Wednesday, I went shopping and now have stuff to make, but the issue I'm having is time. It's very very very busy right now.

So, this week has been deemed leftover week. My freezer is full of all the creations that I have made over the last month and I'm going to skip grocery shopping this month so I can eat my food and make the rest of the dishes that I bought stuff for.

Fettucini Alfredo

12 oz fettucini **I used shell pasta because I had it!
4 T salted butter
3 T all-purpose flour
2 c milk
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1 1/2 c shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

Boil pasta until tender and drain. Heat butter on high one minute in the microwave in a two-quart glass bowl. Whisk in flour. Stir in milk, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper and whisk. Heat on high five minutes in the microwave until thickened, stirring twice during cooking. Stir in one cup Parmesan cheese until melted. Toss with pasta in large bowl and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

What I liked about this recipe: It was SO freaking easy. Fifteen minutes and it was done. Plus, it didn't use heavy cream or half and half and that's pretty rare with any good Alfredo recipe.
What I disliked about this recipe: Not much. It was a little less salty than I would have liked, but I took care of that. Glad I used salted butter.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I have a variety of Pyrex measuring cups which double as microwave bowls. I use them a lot for microwave cooking because they have handles on them that don't get scalding hot. I have two one-cup dishes, two two-cup dishes, a one-quart dish and a four-quart dish. I used the four-quart dish last night so I had plenty of room for the whisk.
Tastiness factor: This was seriously good. It was just as easy as making macaroni and cheese from the box and in my opinion, MUCH tastier. One of my friends and I were out and about and I invited her home, and raced home 15 minutes before her....and it was so quick and easy, I had it ready about ten minutes after she arrived.

Beef Pot Roast

4-5 lb beef chuck roast **I used a brisket because I couldn't find a chuck roast big enough
1 garlic clove, sliced in half
kosher salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 c chopped baby carrots
1 rib celery, chopped
half of a large onion, sliced
3/4 c sour cream
3 Tbsp flour
1/2 c dry white wine

Rub roast with garlic. Season roast with salt and pepper and place in slow cooker with garlic halves. Add carrots, celery and onion. Combine sour cream, flour and wine in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour into slow cooker over meat and vegetables. Cover and cook on low for six to seven hours.

What I liked about this dish: Very, very fast to make. It took about ten minutes to get this dish in the Crock Pot.
What I disliked about this dish: Next time I would probably cook it for six hours...the dish was just a tad dry.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: Love my whisk, love my tiny pink mixing bowl which is perfect for sauces like this and LOVE MY CROCK POT!
Tastiness factor: This was a good dish with mashed potatoes. Not my favorite roast recipe, but it's a basic recipe with no weird ingredients.

My canning kit has finally arrived, so if I can find time, I'm going to make raspberry jam this weekend! I am down to one container of strawberry jam since I gave one to my friend C.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pumpkin-Pecan Bread

Pumpkin-Pecan Bread

1 1/3 c canned pumpkin
2 extra-large eggs, beaten and at room temperature
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c brown sugar
1/3 c rolled oats
4 c bread flour
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 c raisins
2/3 c toasted pecans

Add all ingredients except raisins and pecans to your bread machine in the order given. Select the sweet bread cycle, 2 lb size and light crust. Add raisins and pecans to the dough at the mix-ins signal OR five minutes before the end of the last kneading program. When finished baking, remove from pan and cool on a wire rack at least one hour before slicing. Rub one tbsp of cold butter over the top and sides of the bread as it cools. **I forgot about that last step.

What I liked about this bread: It did not have a buttery fatty taste to it like most sweet breads do.
What I disliked about this bread: It had a very odd yellow color and not an orangey color like I expected.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I used my tea kettle to boil water to rehydrate the raisins. I've been doing that whenever I make raisin bread. I just soak the raisins in hot water for about fifteen minutes and they plump right up. Much nicer than just dried raisins.
Tastiness factor: I had a slice of this tonight for a snack with a little butter spread and homemade strawberry jam. VERY, very tasty. The pumpkin and pecans and spices combine to make a great bread that is not overly sweet, but just sweet enough to satisfy a sweet tooth. Good stuff indeed.

Sadly, I did not get the few last pieces of my homey white bread in the freezer in time. I opened my breadbox tonight to find a few spots of green. The only problem with homemade bread is that it spoils so much faster due to the lack of preservatives. Oh, well. I'll make another loaf of that one later this week when I get home from my trip. I'm off tomorrow night on a three-day whirlwind tour of San Antonio and Houston!

The divine casserole

I LOVE casseroles just about as much as I love slow cookers. I just think they are really cool for entertaining and dinner parties. Plus, they make a ton of leftovers.

There are a lot of really good recipes out there for casseroles, and there are also a lot of really BAD ones out there that use way too many soups and processed cheeses. Those tend to give me a tummy ache so I tend to try to stick to ones like this that are a little more natural.

I made this for a lunch friend J came over to visit.

The Divine Casserole

1 lb ground beef *I used extra-lean so I wouldn't have to drain it.
6 oz can of tomato paste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp Tabasco
1/8 tsp dried oregano
1 c chopped onion
1/4 c melted butter, 1/4 c melted butter, 2 Tbsp butter
8 oz small curd cottage cheese *I substituted Ricotta since it's what I had leftover from another recipe; I used what I had leftover in the fridge and then took some garlic ricotta out of the freezer that I had saved from a pizza I made several weeks ago to make up the difference.
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c softened cream cheese *I used light since, again, it was what I had!
8 oz of egg noodles

Cook egg noodles for eight minutes until tender and drain. Brown ground beef and drain. Add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and oregano, combine and stir until heated. In a third skillet, melt 2 Tbsp butter and saute onions until translucent. Mix cream cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream in a small bowl and add onions. Blend well. Place half of the noodles in the bottom of a 2 qt casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray and drizzle with 1/4 c of the melted butter. Spread with cheese mixture. Toss other half of noodles with the other 1/4 c melted butter and spread on top of cheese. Spread meat mixture on top of second layer of noodles. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until bubbly.

What I liked about this dish: Very straight-forward and easy to follow. Very good taste and I can tell it will reheat well for leftovers!
What I disliked about this dish: It was a little harder to make than it sounded yesterday when I chose it. It's okay if you are good with multitasking in the kitchen, but basically while you are making this, you have three pots going on the stove...the pasta, the meat and the onions. I was so consumed with getting the meat mixture ready that I forgot about the butter and it browned a little bit. Thank goodness I had the heat on medium or I might have had a fire! Also, the tomato paste wasn't quite wet enough in my opinion while cooking...and the meat mixture seemed a tad dry. That also could be a result of me using such lean ground beef. I would strongly recommend having everything out on the counter and prepped to go before you start cooking so you are not distracted by measuring and portioning.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: Have I mentioned the handiness of my Sauder kitchen scale? LOVE that thing. Not only was it good to measure out the dry noodles since egg noodles do not come in an 8 oz package, but it was very handy to divide the cooked noodles since my OCD self refuses to eyeball it. The other thing that I enjoyed using was my stoneware 2 qt casserole in beige by Corningware Creations. I kind of wish I had known before I bought my stoneware set that it came in black, but oh, well.
Tastiness factor: It was good. It's not my favorite casserole, but it was very good and very tasty. My lunch guest thought it was outstanding so it might have just been my personal taste. The first thing it reminded me of when I tasted it was a dip that I would eat at a party...probably because of the sour cream and cream cheese. It was also a little cold inside, so I'm sure that the leftovers will be better as I will reheat them to be a little hotter. It never reached that 'bubbly' point, so maybe 5-10 more minutes in the oven would have improved it a little. Overall, a great dish and lunch was a hit.
Tip from me: When I boil pasta, I always salt the water to flavor the pasta and add a tiny bit of oil (usually canola) to keep the pasta from sticking together when it drains in the colander.

Also, my first attempt at fudge!

Granny's Fudge

4 1/2 c sugar
5 oz can evaporated milk
18 oz milk chocolate chips
1 c melted butter
1 c chopped pecans
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine sugar and milk in saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue cooking and stirring for seven minutes. Add chocolate, butter and pecans, stir until chocolate is completely melted, and remove from heat. Add vanilla and continue stirring until mixture is smooth. Spread into the bottom of a greased 8x8 pan. Let cool completely before slicing. Makes one pound.

What I liked about this fudge: I didn't have to use my oven! It was also very, very quick to make and when it says it makes a pound, it means it. I will probably be freezing a lot of this.
What I disliked about this fudge: I don't think dislike and fudge fit into the same sentence. However, if I had to pick something, I guess I would say that it had a very long cooling time. I finished the fudge at about 12:30 am and by the time I went to bed at 3, it still wasn't hardened all the way. I covered it and this morning it was fine.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: My kitchen scale was very handy to measure the chocolate since chocolate does not come in 6 oz packages like the recipe said it did. (Every day that kitchen scale is making itself one of my most vital gadgets.) I also liked my heat-resistant scraper for stirring the milk and sugar and making sure I got all the stuff off the bottom so it didn't scald.
Tastiness factor: Licking the spoon was a joy. Eating it was even better. I loved it. My dinner guest said it was a little sweet for her taste but took some home for later. McKenna wouldn't eat it, but considering that she kept calling it "cake" and it didn't resemble cake in any way, that wasn't a surprise. If I make this again, I will probably let the sugar/milk mixture boil a little longer...the sugar was still a little grainy and not all the way dissolved. But it was very good fudge.
Tips from me: If I make this again, I will probably use a 9x9 pan instead of an 8x8. The fudge comes almost all the way up to the lip of the dish. If you have someone on hand who can hold the pot for you while you pour and scrape the fudge into the dish, all the better as that pan IS heavy. I have a heavy-bottomed Emerilware pot with aluminum/copper and I almost dropped the pot a few times. After you bring the pot to a boil, stand there and stir the mixture constantly unless you want a mess on your stove....that sugar and milk do kind of bubble on the violent side. The recipe I used just said "chocolate chips", so I would be very curious to see how this would come out with semi-sweet chips, dark chocolate chips, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, etc. I would venture to guess that you could make a lot of different combinations.

That's it for to clean up the kitchen. All my lunch dishes are still sitting here...I fell asleep on McKenna's bed reading her a book before her nap!

I love slow cookers

One of the least used appliances in the modern kitchen in my humble opinion is the slow cooker.

What could be better? You toss your ingredients in the morning before you leave for work, and when you come home, they are ready to eat. Plus, it makes your house smell fantastic.

I own a 6 quart stoneware slow cooker and a "little dipper" for keeping dips warm at parties. While I was cooking this dish, I went to Target for some other things and picked up a 4 quart oval red stoneware cooker that I've had my eye on, so I can make side dishes to go with my main dish and for other reasons that require smaller cookers (see below). There are some really fantastic recipes out there for slow cookers...ranging from gourmet to just toss and go. I just love slow cookers. I try to use mine at least once a week. They are the best. It took me a little while to get over the fear that it would burn my house down, but I think I'm there. I've never handled a fire that originated from a slow cooker left on when no one was at home. (And if there is anyone out there that has, zip it...I like to live in my ignorance.)

Today, I made teriyaki chicken with orange sauce for friend C came over for dinner.

Dad and Susan, this one's for you! Get that slow cooker out!

Teriyaki Chicken with Orange Sauce

1 pound skinned boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1" pieces
16 oz package of frozen vegetables (carrots, water chestnuts and broccoli)
2 Tbsp quick cooking tapioca (dry)
3/4 c chicken broth
3 Tbsp orange marmalade
2 Tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Spray slow cooker pot with vegetable spray for easy clean-up. Place frozen vegetables on the bottom of a 4-qt slow cooker. (Obviously I used a 6 qt since that's all I had at the time of cooking.) Sprinkle tapioca over vegetables and stir to combine. Place chicken on top of vegetables. In small bowl, combine remaining ingredients and whisk until combined. Pour over chicken. Cover and cook on either low for 4-5 hours or high for 2-2.5 hours. Serve over hot cooked white rice.

What I liked about this dinner: Very, VERY fast to prepare. My friend was coming over at 7 and I had to get it started by 3 and started prepping at 2:40. Very, very quick.
What I disliked about this dinner: I'm not sure if it was the length of the cooking time or the fact that I used a 6 qt cooker and the recipe called for a four, but the broccoli got very, very, very mushy and a little bland. For me, that's GOOD because I don't like broccoli, but if you like your broc a little crisp, you might want to cut the cooking time down and start checking it at about four hours on low.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I used all broccoli instead of the mixed vegetables since that's what I had left over and I don't really care for water chestnuts anyway. I had a Ziploc bag of it in the freezer that I keep adding to as I made dishes. Thanks to my new Sauder digital kitchen scale that I bought a few weeks ago, I was able to tell that I had exactly a pound of frozen broccoli that was left over from several dishes that I've made over the last month....namely a chicken broc lasagna for a coworker and a vegetable casserole that I made for Christmas Eve. Waste not, want not!
Tastiness factor: It smelled great when I was whisking the sauce and even better as it started to cook. At about four hours, all I could smell was the broccoli cooking. It was pretty good. Not the best Chinese dish I've ever had, but it was pretty good. I'll enjoy the leftovers. My dinner guest said it was okay, but too sweet for her taste. I think I would probably try this again as I do like sweet chicken dishes and probably try it in my 4 qt cooker with less time to see if that helped anything.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Special Request-Erica's Deviled Eggs

I had a little email tonight in my inbox from my friend E in Maryland asking for my most recent deviled eggs recipe. Wow...I've never had a request before!

I actually don't make deviled eggs from a recipe. I learned to make them from my mother and it's probably the only thing that I don't have to read a recipe for to make. And they are pretty darn good. I actually made them for my wedding rehearsal dinner as an appetizer...I made about sixty and every one of them was eaten.

If anyone would like to see a recipe for the version of whatever it is you are looking for, please post and let me know...I am ALWAYS up for a challenge and for ideas!

Erica's Deviled Eggs

Place a dozen large eggs in a stockpot and cover with water until the water level is one inch above the eggs. Turn the heat on high and bring to a boil. Boil eggs for twelve minutes. Immediately after removing from the heat, place pot in the sink and run cold water in it until eggs are cool enough to handle. Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water and let sit for at least fifteen to twenty minutes. (This process will avoid the green slime that the sulphur creates between the yolk and the white.) Peel eggs and cut each egg in half. Place egg halves on a tray or a deviled egg plate and put yolk pieces into a mixing bowl. Mash with a fork until yolks are evenly crumbed and soft. Start the seasoning with a two spoonsful of mayonnaise and a spoonful of yellow prepared mustard. (Any mustard will work fine, even Dijjonnaise.) Add a healthy shake of each of the following ingredients:

red paprika
garlic powder
garlic salt
onion powder
dried chives
dried parsley
dried dill
kosher salt
black pepper

Mix by hand or with an electric mixer until mixture is creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Usually I find that I have to add more mayonnaise, salt and Tabasco. Once mixture is just right, spoon teaspoonsful into each egg half. The final touch is to sprinkle more paprika all over the tops of the eggs and to garnish the plate or tray with fresh parsley.

What I like about this dish: They are SERIOUSLY good, everyone loves them and to me, they say holiday dinners as I rarely ever serve a holiday dinner without them.
What I don't like about this dish: They don't refrigerate very well, so I recommend that you make just enough for the guests that you are serving and make sure that they are all eaten.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I have two deviled egg plates since I serve this dish quite is a white porcelain dish in the shape of an egg and one is a cut crystal dish that doesn't accomodate more than a dozen. But I love both.
Tastiness factor: I find that the Tabasco sauce really adds a special kick. I actually started adding pepper sauce to my eggs several years ago after making a spinach and artichoke dip that called for a dash of Tabasco and discovering how wonderful Tabasco is when added in small quantities.

Tip from me: Store Tabasco in the refrigerator to preserve and prolong the sharp flavor and the beautiful red color. It is okay to store it in the cabinet, but the sauce may lose some of its flavor and the color may fade to orange.

E, enjoy the eggs...hope you like them! They are the same ones that I served the night before my wedding!

Who doesn't like La Madeleine?

I have liked this place ever since Dana took me there for the first time. Great, great stuff to eat with a French air. I like it. And it's yummy for lunch.

My favorite thing that they make though is their tomato basil soup. So, so good, even if it's not the healthiest thing on the menu. I was looking through my loose recipes over Christmas and found this recipe that was clipped from the Dallas Morning News, and I have always wanted to try it. So tonight I did with great results.

La Madeleine Tomato-Basil Soup

4 c Roma tomatoes, peeled/cored/chopped
4 c tomato juice
14 fresh basil leaves plus extra for garnish, chopped
1 c heavy whipping cream
1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
kosher salt to taste

Combine tomatoes and juice in large saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes over medium-low heat. Cool slightly, add basil and process in a food processor or blender. Return to saucepan. Add cream and butter and stir over low heat until butter and cream are incorporated. Stir in salt and pepper. Garnish with more fresh basil.

What I liked about this soup: Very, very tasty and very good. Tastes just like the soup at the restaurant!
What I disliked about this soup: It took a lot longer to make than I thought. Peeling and chopping the tomatoes was kind of a pain. I did the "fast peel" method where you slip the tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds and then the skins are supposed to just slip off. I must not have boiled them long enough because I had to work to get the skins off. And, because I wasn't paying attention and was chatting with my friend C who came over to try the soup, I cut my left index finger pretty good with my mezzaluna while chopping basil. Ow! Rachael Ray I am NOT! Plus it took a while to get the soup simmering. I finally ended up turning up the heat to medium high to get it to a gentle rolling boil and then turned it down to simmer after that.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I used my mortar and pestle to crack the whole black peppercorns for the soup. I feel like a real chef when I use my mortar and pestle. Now I want a
molcajete. And I didn't realize that the fresh basil I bought is actually a plant with roots, so I'm going to plant it tomorrow and see if I can't grow fresh basil in my windowsill!
Tastiness factor: I used Roma tomatoes, so the finished soup was a little sweeter than the soup you get at the restaurant, but I actually liked it was very smooth and not grainy like the soup is at the restaurant since I pureed it in my food processor for a good long minute.

You will also see probably quite a few banana recipes. I think I am on a quest to see how many different things I can make with overripe bananas. I made banana nut bread in my bread machine a few weeks ago. This time, it was this yummy creation which I have eyed several times but never tried.

Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

2 eggs, beaten
1 c mashed ripe bananas *I pureed them in the food processor and froze what was left over
1/3 c vegetable oil
1/4 c milk
2 c all-purpose flour
1 c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz package of German sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c chopped walnuts

Combine bananas, oil, milk and eggs and stir until well-blended. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a seperate bowl and gradually stir into wet mixture until just moistened. Fold in chocolate and nuts. Pour into a greased 9x5 loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-65 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes and then remove from pan to cool on wire rack.

What I liked about this bread: It was really really easy and a great solution for using overripe bananas, even though most people don't just have German chocolate lying around.
What I disliked about this bread: The instructions say to bake the bread at 55 minutes, but it took me 65 minutes to get it done. Might have been the silicone (see below).
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I have a complete set of Kitchen Aid silicone bakeware and tonight was my first night to use my silicone loaf pan. Came out fantastic! I also rather like my cake tester which is a piece of thin wire with a handle.
Tastiness Factor: Very, very delicious. The chocolate is not overbearing and it combines very well with the bananas and nuts for a nice, sweet dessert or breakfast bread. I will probably be eating it for breakfast for the next few days.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hibachi-style Japanese Ginger Dressing

I got back tonight from Odessa (I went to work a fire), and let me tell you, for a booming oil town, they have NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING to eat. I ate McDonald's twice and Subway once. I was dead tired when I walked in but I made myself make some dinner and boy, am I glad I did...I was so hungry and I feel so much better already! Amazing what comfort food will do for truly warms the soul and heart.

This is an old favorite of mine that I got YEARS ago from Erin. I have done so many things with it over the years...I have made single servings, doubled it (which is what is below...the original recipe is half of the quantities listed below), quadrupled it and even made a diet version with canola oil, low-sodium soy sauce and Splenda. It is TRULY delicious and if you like the ginger dressing at the Japanese restaurants, you'll LOVE this because it seriously tastes JUST like it.

I find it best if you make this right before serving, but if you make it ahead of time, it will blend back together if you shake it vigorously. I like to serve this with a spring green salad with chopped carrots and sliced cucumbers. Yummo. It is fantastic to take to work.

Japanese Ginger Dressing

1/2 c chopped onions
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 c seasoned rice vinegar
1/8 c water
1/8 c chopped peeled ginger root
1/8 c chopped celery
1/8 c soy sauce
3 tsp tomato paste
3 tsp sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Serve immediately or chill to store.

The other thing I made tonight was something that I wasn't sure I was going to like because it was so simple, but it turns out that it was incredible and I loved about simple comfort food. Just what I needed on this cold night.

Potluck Casserole

1 c chopped onion
1 green pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp butter
1 lb ground beef
14.5 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 c long-cooking white rice, uncooked
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pepper **original recipe called for 1/2 tsp but after the Ranch dressing, I was scared
1 tsp chili powder

Melt butter in skillet and add onion and green pepper. Cook until tender. Add ground beef and brown. Drain and remove from heat. (I used 4% fat ground beef and thus did not need to drain anything.) Pour tomatoes into a lightly greased 13 x 9 baking dish and sprinkle with rice, salt, pepper and chili powder. Add ground beef mixture and stir to combine. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

What I liked about this dinner: I was exhausted when I came home, but the casserole was made in a flash and in the oven in less than ten minutes. Totally worth it and totally better than stopping for fast food on the way home.
What I disliked about this dinner: It did take an hour in the oven, but I didn't gave me a chance to open some wine, make my dressing, prepare a salad, change from the trip, kiss the puppies, etcetera.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I just couldn't face chopping all those onions and peppers by hand, so I whizzed them in the food processor on pulse a few times and voila, they were ready.
Tastiness Factor: SO, so good. I don't know what it was that made this dish so tasty, but I gobbled it right up and now I feel better after eating fast food for two days in a row. And it was cheap...the only thing I didn't have just sitting around was the ground beef. Most of the stuff is stuff you already have if you cook on a regular basis. Plus, I had a leftover green pepper that I needed to use and now I have! I would definitely recommend this dish for sure!

Hey, by the way, if anyone tries any of the recipes posted here, please post back to me and let me know under the entry with the recipe...I'd love to hear how you changed it and how you enjoyed it!

Making homemade bread versus buying it

Is it really cheaper to make your own white bread as you need it rather than buying a loaf and throwing some of it away? That's what I'm faced with right now.

Well, I guess that remains to be seen, but I'm going to try to utilize my bread machine to make my bread for sandwiches and toast from now and see how it goes. I'm not sure how much cheaper it really is, but I can buy a huge bag of bread flour for less than $5 and the bread that I buy at the store is $2.99 per loaf, and mine that I make at home tastes a lot better. I just don't see the point of buying an entire loaf just for me and I don't eat that many sandwiches.

Any thoughts either way? I figure if I have any leftover after a week, I can always freeze it. However, considering that I just made all that jam and have only eaten it once, I don't think any of this is going to go to waste.

Homey White Bread

1/2 c water at room temperature
1 c milk at room temperature
2 Tbsp unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
4 c white bread flour
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

Add all ingredients to the bread machine in the order given, choose the 2 lb setting, the white bread cycle and the light crust, and wait one hour to slice after removing bread from the machine.

What I liked about this bread: I didn't have to buy ANYTHING special for it, it rose SO tall and it smelled great baking.
What I disliked about this bread: I waited a full hour to slice it, and it still was a little too soft and fell apart just a tad. I don't know if maybe I just needed to let it cool and set overnight, so I guess I'll try that next time.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: My Cuisinart bread machine
Tastiness factor: Soft, white and biting into a cloud. It was fantastic paired up with my strawberry jam and a little butter. Yum yum!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Onion Bread

I made this bread the other night just out of curiosity. I really love onion things and this bread was very fragrant and tasty...not at all overwhelming.

Onion Bread

3/4 c milk at room temperature
1 Tbsp unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
2 c white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 c dried onions
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp poppy seeds
2 tsp active dry yeast

Add all ingredients to the bread machine in the order listed. Use 1 lb setting and bake on the white bread cycle.

What I liked about my bread: The aroma is amazing! I had it in a small bag at work and it made my cubicle smell just amazing.
What I disliked about my bread: Nothing. It was super-tasty!
Cool kitchen gadgets used: Obviously my bread machine is cooler than anything, but my small pink mixing bowl from Williams Sonoma that is perfect for measuring out bread flour as it holds four cups was nice too.
Tastiness factor: Very, very good bread. The onion taste is there, but not at all offensive like you might think. It is a very flavorful mild bread and I am sure it would be great with sandwiches.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The price of lobster

I decided to make this lobster pasta this week and spring for a lobster tail.

I should have run screaming when I asked the guy at the seafood counter for a small tail and he said, "do you want the house payment size or the car payment size?"

It didn't occur to me that I would actually spend more on a lobster tail in a market than I would for a fully cooked lobster at a restaurant. I spent $31 on that piece of lobster tail at Central Market.

Oh, well. Live and learn.

Fettucini with Lobster Sauce

12 oz fettuccini pasta, cooked
10 oz can of shrimp bisque *I used this garlic shrimp and tomato bisque that I found at Central Market
1/2 c half and half
1/4 c dry sherry
1 cooked lobster tail, shelled and sliced

In medium saucepan, combine bisque, half and half and sherry and stire over medium heat. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer for five minutes. Add lobster to sauce and stir until heated through. Serve sauce over pasta.

Ranch Dressing

1/2 c mayonnaise
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c buttermilk
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp fresh minced dill
1 Tbsp dried chives
3 Tbsp fresh minced parsley
2 Tbsp fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 dash Tabasco
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp ground white pepper

Combine all ingredients and chill for 30 minutes before serving with mixed greens.

What I liked about this dish: The lobster was absolutely delicious and the pasta dish was fairly easy and not too complex to prepare and make.
What I disliked about this dish: The lobster was expensive (see above) and the shrimp bisque smelled a little weird.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I had bought fresh parsley for a dish three weeks ago, fresh dill for dilly potatoes the day before Christmas Eve, and fresh mint for sangria on Christmas Eve. I have an herb keeper that I bought at Sur La Table a few years ago that I was keeping my fresh herbs in and it really did keep them fresh...I used up the rest of the dill and the parsley for my dishes tonight. I also used my herb snippers to cut the dill and the parsley leves away from the stems (great little tool) and my mezzaluna (Spanish for "half-moon") is utterly priceless for mincing fresh herbs.

Tastiness factor: The lobster pasta was not too bad, but in retrospect given how much I had spent on the tail, I think I would have rather just ate it boiled with drawn butter and had the pasta on the side. If I were going to make it again, that's probably what I'd do. The Ranch dressing, on the other hand, was the spiciest pepperiest dressing I've EVER tasted. It smelled great coming out of the refrigerator, but after I put it on my salad, it just was WAY overpowering and way too hot. Not at all the creamy dilly Ranch that I envisioned today when I started mixing it together, that's for sure. If you like pepper, you'll probably love it, but I personally did not care for it.

All in all, the meal was not lost, and I ended it with my last piece of coconut cake from Christmas Eve. My Christmas sweets are now officially gone.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I have discovered the joy of jam-making

After I got a bread machine for Christmas and started making my own bread, I realized that not only are all the jellies in my fridge seriously out of date (a few had mold growing on them) but that they aren't even that great.

So I picked up a $1.99 special Kroger-brand squeezable strawberry jelly. Even worse.

I decided that I would try my hand at making my own jam, which led to a dubious research trip traipsing across the internet looking at sites that teach you how to "can" your own jam, salsa, pickles and spaghetti sauce.

I am intrigued. I didn't even realize that people still canned things or that you could do it with a minimum of equipment. But apparently you can.

If you are intrigued as well,
please visit this site and learn all you would like to know about canning, which is kind of an oxymoron since there is no can really should be called "jarring", but I guess canning sounds better.

And in case anyone is curious,
this is the kit that I absolutely have to have after the fun I had this evening making my first batch EVER of strawberry jam. And my stupid squeezable jelly is in the trash. I'm done with it.

However, the cool thing is that you don't have to have a canning kit to make this jam...apparently it freezes well too. Who knew!?!?!?

Strawberry Jam

4 c of mashed strawberries (2-3 lbs of strawberries, hulled and quartered before mashing)
4 c sugar
1/4 c freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put a small dish in the freezer. Combine all ingredients in a stockpot and stir on low heat until sugar dissolves. (Make sure to use a stockpot because the fixture foams up high when it boils.) Turn up heat to high and bring mixture to a full boil, stirring constantly. Cook on a full rolling boil for approximately ten minutes, stirring constantly, until a candy thermometer reads 220 degrees. Place a teaspoon of the jam on the plate in freezer and put back in the freezer for one minute. Remove plate and draw finger through jam. If jam seperates without running back together, it is done. Pour jam into sterile hot jars and process in a water bath to seal jars, or, if you don't have a kit like me, pour mixture into freezer-safe containers, leaving 1/4" at the top for headspace, and freeze what you will not eat.

What I liked about this jam: It was SO freaking easy to make, it makes me wonder why I haven't tried to make jam before. If you can boil water and read a thermometer, you can make this jam.
What I disliked about this jam: I feel like my entire kitchen is sticky now. I dropped jam on my floors, on my counters, my stove and me, and it'll probably take me a week to get it all clean and destickyed. But I digress.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: My new candy thermometer was a gem and I bought it just for this jam. I also bought Ball freezer-safe containers just for jam since I don't have my canning kit yet. But my FAVORITE gadget was my heavy-duty copper and aluminum bottomed Emerilware stockpot. From reading all the reviews on the site where I got this recipe, everyone had a really hard time bringing their jam to 220 degrees. Not me. In fact, it took NO time at all to get my jam to that temperature! I love my pot!
Tastiness factor: I licked the spoon and ate some hot jam on a piece of bread at 1 am. How's that for an answer?

And my New Year's meal since I hate black-eyed peas...

Saucy Potatoes and Ham

4 c peeled and thinly sliced potatoes
1 c chopped white onion
10 3/4 oz can of cream of celery soup
12 oz can evaporated milk
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 c cooked ham, cubed

Combine all ingredients but ham in a slow cooker and mix well. Cover and cook on high setting for one hour. Add ham and stir well. Cover and cook on low setting for six to eight hours or until potatoes are tender.

What I liked about my dinner: I used my leftover honey-baked ham from Christmas Eve and added a little cut up sliced ham from the fridge (sandwich meat) which in my opinion, is a great way to use up leftovers!
What I disliked about my dinner: I know that the recipe says 6-8 hours on low, but I think that's too long. I think it would have been ready after five hours. I ate it after it had been cooking for six hours, and it was a little too brown around the edges for me. If you make this, just make sure you are constantly checking the potatoes for tenderness. It is possible that this recipe was done at four hours and I just didn't realize it since I waited until six hours to start checking it. And clean-up was a nightmare; I strongly recommend spraying your Crock Pot dish with vegetable spray since potatoes are sticky. I know better...I don't know why I didn't do that. I had to scrub and scrub to get it clean.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I love my six-quart stoneware Crock Pot. Enough said! And my favorite knife, my santoku paring knife, is just the best knife for slicing potatoes. However, my large santoku knife is pretty darn good for chopping onions in a flash since you can "rock" it back and forth like a mezzaluna.
Tastiness factor: Pretty good. I enjoyed it and I will be taking it for lunches to eat leftovers.

Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome back. It's nice to know that there are some people out there who remember me! Hugs to all.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

Hello everyone and happy New Year! Best wishes to everyone for a great 2008.

Yes, after a LOOOOOOOONG hiatus, I am back. I'm sure a lot of you are probably in shock from actually seeing the little icon by my blog on your blog list that I've posted an update.

The major reason for me being gone for so long is quite simply this: P and I are divorcing. I don't really feel like going into the details over what has happened, so please don't ask. Just know that I am fine, I am surviving, and that I was the one that wanted out. Let's just leave it at that. There is no need to post any "I'm sorry" comments or "Let me know if you need anything" or "I'll keep you in my prayers". It is what it is and that's it. End of story.

However, the last year has sucked really bad. I haven't really felt like blogging or emailing or posting. I haven't stitched or scrapbooked in probably eight months. With the exception of the last six weeks, I have barely cooked this year, have not slept well, and have made myself extremely run down and sick. Depression is lousy, what can I say? Thank God for antidepressants, or I probably would have died from lack of sleep.

However, it's not all bad. There have been some good things in the last year. McKenna is doing great...she is two now and into everything. She's just a doll and talks nonstop. I bought a redfire 2007 Mustang in May which I adore. I am keeping the house all by myself and have redecorated it to my tastes...the kitchen is Cherry Cobbler red, the main areas are Toasted Wheat, and I have the furniture and decorations and furnishings that I like. I am really reconnecting with my kitchen and cooking for myself and McKenna on a regular basis now which is amazing and I feel so good doing it, not to mention it's FUN and it's keeping me busy.

We did take our vacation in Destin and Destin was a paradise. I can't wait to go back again. I am actually contemplating going for a weekend on my own maybe in March and doing nothing but sitting on the beach for a few days.

Work is going really well, although still really busy. My company finally recognized that fires are my forte (well, DUH) and decided finally to give me my dream job...I am now supervising ALL fire referrals for my company between $30,000-$100,000 for THE ENTIRE STATE OF TEXAS. No more roofs. No more water losses. No more regular adjusters. I now have a team of six fire adjusters, three in the DFW area, one in Austin, one in San Antonio and one in Houston. It is something that I have been working on to make happen for the last six months, and now that it is finally here and live, it is wonderful and I couldn't be happier. It was a hard road getting there though...there were several times over the last six months that I contemplated quitting and going somewhere else, but now I am so glad that I did not and hung in there.

So that's me in a nutshell. Glad to be back.

One of the things that I have contemplated doing for quite a while is revitalizing this blog into a food blog of sorts. I've read a lot of food blogs over the last few months and I love them and think they are so neat. I would love to share recipes, tips I have learned for cooking, cool kitchen gadgets, and just how I enjoyed/disliked making the recipe. How long I'll keep it up, I don't know, but I'm sure going to try! Maybe I'll even throw in some pictures if I can find my old digital camera at work.

Tonight, as a special tribute to the new year ahead, I made a special meal just for me. I even went to Central Market to get the ingredients. I made a crab and artichoke bridge casserole with lemon rice pilaf and opened a bottle of champagne just for me which I am proud to say I am finishing as I type this.

I would love to hear what you think of the food blog format. There's always a possibility that I may not do it very long as I tend to phase in and out of stuff as time goes on, but we'll see.

Crab and Artichoke Bridge Casserole

2 Tbsp unsalted butter + 4 Tbsp unsalted butter (seperated)
1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 c milk
1 c half and half
1 lb lump crab meat
8 oz diced mushrooms
8-12 canned or bottled artichoke hearts, diced in a food processor
1/4 c dry sherry wine
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 1 1/2 quart casserole with cooking spray. Melt 4 Tbsp butter in saucepan and add flour. Whisk and cook about three minutes. Remove from heat and add milk and half and half gradually along with a pinch of kosher salt, whisking until smooth. Whisk constantly over medium heat until thickened, about five minutes. Pour cream sauce into a mixing bowl and whisk in sherry, Worcestershire, kosher salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Melt 2 Tbsp butter in large skillet and add mushrooms. Cook about eight minutes until mushrooms are tender and liquid is reduced. Layer artichokes, mushrooms and crab meat (in that order) in casserole and pour cream sauce mixture over layers. Sprinkle top with Parmesan and paprika. Bake for twenty minutes or until top is golden.

Lemon Rice Pilaf

1/2 c long-grain white cooking rice, uncooked
1/2 c orzo pasta, uncooked
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 3/4 c chicken stock or broth
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat and add rice and pasta. Stir and cook until golden, taking care not to burn rice and pasta. Add chicken broth and bring mixture to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in lemon zest and parsley. Garnish with lemon slices if desired.

What I liked about my dinner: The lemon rice pilaf had a GREAT taste to it...very light, citrusy and flavorful...and I normally don't really care for lemon stuff unless it's loaded with sugar. It was very quick to make, but keep in mind that I do all my prepwork (measuring and chopping) before I start cooking. I like to pretend that I'm Rachel Ray and have all the stuff ready on the counter so I don't have to worry that I've forgotten something. Yup, I'm a dork.
What I disliked about my dinner: When I went to Central Market, all they had was stone crab claws which were expensive and a total pain to clean and shell. My hands are already very dry and cracked from the cold, and working with those things didn't really help.
What I learned: I will probably get a container of loose lump crabmeat rather than the claws as I think it will be MUCH easier and cheaper and I think I will dice my mushrooms in the food processor rather than chopping them by hand.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: microplaner for zesting the lemons, mushroom brush for cleaning the mushrooms and a meat tenderizer mallet for breaking the crab claws
Tastiness factor: The rice pilaf was excellent. It complimented the crab very well and it was really good kind of mixed in with the sauce of the casserole. The casserole was also very good, but it was a lot of work and definitely not something for every day especially given the cost of the ingredients...a pound of lump crab in the carton is about $15 and I spent $18 on a pound of crab claws. But still very good and it will make great leftovers this week.

That's it for now.