Monday, March 31, 2008


Remember my post from the beginning of the month on cooking with alcohol? Now I can add tequila to my list. I made this slow-cooker recipe for my sister and for P when she was here visiting...put it in after lunch, went shopping, and voila, it was ready when we were hungry. It was GREAT paired with Spanish rice.

Tequila Chicken

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
3/4 c margarita mix **I used the Jose Cuervo pre-made kind
1/4 c tequila **I used the orange-flavored Jose Cuervo
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp ground cumin
4 boneless chicken breasts
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp water
lime wedges

Combine olive oil, honey, margarita mix, tequila, basil, cayenne and cumin in a small bowl and whisk until blended. Fork holes in the chicken and place in the slow cooker. Top with the olive oil mixture. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours. Remove chicken breasts and keep warm in a 200 degree oven. In a separate bowl, combine flour and water until well-blended. Stir mixture into the liquid in the slow cooker and cook uncovered for ten minutes, until the liquid thickens. Add more flour if thicker sauce is desired. Remove chicken from oven and place on platter; cover with sauce. Serve over rice with lime wedges on top.

What I liked about this recipe: Lots and lots of intense strong herb flavors.
What I disliked about this recipe: It called for dried basil instead of fresh, but I'm sure I could have substituted fresh (3 Tbsp worth) if my garden had been up and running at that time. It just so happens that V and I went to buy all my herbs while this was cooking!
Cool kitchen gadgets used: The slow cooker...I LOVE IT.
Tastiness factor: While V and P loved this, it was not my favorite. I just thought it had kind of a earthy taste (but not from the herbs...I can't explain it) and the tequila flavor added to it was not my cup of tea. However, it was highly complimented and it is possible that had I thickened the sauce, it would have been more to my taste. I guess I just wouldn't classify it as a Southwestern dish. But it was an interesting taste, that's for sure.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ways to use up buttermilk

I have several recipes that I make that call for buttermilk. Yes, I realize that you can make sour milk at home, but I really prefer to use buttermilk when I can and if I am going to the store anyway. And I'm finding that there are lots of recipes that I can make that call for it:

-buttermilk bread which is very soft and tender
-banana bread

and...probably the most obvious...buttermilk pancakes! I've had them in restaurants but never made them at home before. I think I'm in love.

Buttermilk Pancakes

1 c all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 beaten egg
1 c buttermilk
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Combine egg, milk and oil in a small bowl and whisk. Add milk mixture to dry mixture all at once and whisk until blended. Mixture will be slightly lumpy. Cook in 1/4 cupfuls on a heated griddle until edges are bubbly and flip. Serve warm.

What I liked about this recipe: The pancakes had a fantastic flavor and it made exactly the perfect amount for P and I for breakfast. We even made McK a baby pancakes that she played with and eventually gave to the dogs. We're working on grownup food.
What I disliked about this recipe: Hmm...that they didn't cook themselves? He he he.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I think I mentioned before that I recently purchased a double-burner griddle pan from Calphalon. I have been looking at them a lot over the last few weeks and finally found one on sale at a kitchen store for $49.99. Deal.
Tastiness factor: Very, very good. Loved them.

I also tried a new brunch recipe this weekend...

Three-Cheese Western Omelet

3/4 c mild salsa
1 c artichoke hearts, chopped
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
1 c shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 c shredded Cheddar cheese
6 eggs
1 c sour cream

Spread salsa in the bottom of a 10" glass pie plate. Sprinkle artichokes over salsa. Combine cheeses and mix with fork until combined. Top artichokes with cheeses. Blend eggs and sour cream together until smooth and pour over cheeses. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until set. Cut into wedges to serve. Serves six.

What I liked about this recipe: It has a great taste...the artichokes give it a very unique flavor. And it was easy to assemble which is good for lazy Sunday mornings. The thirty minutes that it took to bake, I spent making bacon, toasting bread, making coffee and setting the table.
What I disliked about this recipe: I used a 2.5 quart stoneware casserole dish instead of the pie plate since I didn't have one and it did not work very well. I baked the dish for 45 minutes and it eventually set in the middle, sort of, but was still very liquidy. I am hoping that it will reheat better. I also used salsa verde (tomatillo-based salsa) instead of regular tomato salsa, and it tasted a little funny. And...while I was making it, McKenna decided to DOUSE THE LIVING ROOM WITH CORNSTARCH, so I will always have that as a memory with this dish. By the time I settled down and finished cleaning up the blizzardly mess, the omelet was a tad cool.
Edited on 4/7/08 to add: This omelet heats up WONDERFULLY. I actually liked it better as leftovers than I did the first time! It has been great over the last week reheated on high for 45 seconds.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I used my food processor to shred Monterey Jack since you can't buy it preshredded for some odd reason and also to chop the artichokes. I am feeling the need for a new food processor big time.
Tastiness factor: Very good...but I think it would have come out much better had I used regular salsa and a glass pie plate.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The art of cooking Asian

I have always wanted to try Thai and Indian food. REALLY good Thai and Indian food. I've always been a fan of Chinese food and Japanese food, but I've never really tried anything other than Kung Pao chicken or Mongolian beef at PF Chang's and my extensive Japanese selections are limited to certain very cooked sushi rolls and hibachi food at Benihana's or Jinbeh.

One time, my friend S took me to an Indian buffet food place in Charlotte, but being squeamish about buffets and germs, I didn't really enjoy it that much and have always wanted to try it for a second time since then.

However, I never have, and I have come to the conclusion that I am afraid because I don't know what I am getting when I order a dish.

The BEST way for me to overcome food fears is to make it myself. That way, I know what's going in it and can control it a bit more. are the first attempts at cooking Thai, Japanese and Indian. In order to prepare for this new cooking adventure, I purchased a new wok, a bamboo chopstick set and a lot of really weird ingredients. Not to mention a ton of cookbooks on Amazon. There are some great books out there for this cooking persuasion, and I am SO fortunate to live in a 'burb of Dallas that is a melting pot for different makes it much easier to find the unusual ingredients. I have a Asian market, a michoacana and an Indian grocery store within a short radius of my house.

Thai Beef with Rice Noodles

3/4 lb sirloin, trimmed, rinsed and patted dry, and sliced into 2" long, 1/2" wide strips
1/2 lb dried rice noodles
1/4 c soy sauce
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
5 Tbsp vegetable oil (divided)
2 Tbsp minced garlic
bag of baby spinach leaves
2 eggs, beaten
crushed dried red pepper flakes and pepper mill
rice vinegar

Cover noodles with warm water for five minutes and drain. Combine soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar and fresh ground pepper to taste in small bowl and set aside. Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat and add 2 Tbsp of the oil. When oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic. Stir for five seconds and add the spinach, stir-frying for approximately two minutes and set aside. Add
2 more Tbsp of oil to the wok, add the beef and stirfry ntil browned on all sides, approximately two minutes. Set beef aside. Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in wok and add the noodles. Toss the noodles until warmed through and set aside. Place eggs in wok and cook without stirring until eggs are set, about 30 seconds. Break up eggs with a spoon and stir in noodles, beef, greens and red pepper flakes. Add the soy mixture to the woke and toss mixture to coat, heating through. Sprinkle dish with rice vinegar and serve.

What I liked about this recipe: It was fun to make in the wok and the ingredients were basic.
What I disliked about this recipe: The eggs cooked a little too fast and were kind of brown.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I really like the wok, but I ended up returning it because the finish started flaking off as the wok cooled. The replacement wok is a Calphalon wok that hasn't even been used yet.
Tastiness factor: Very, very good...nice flavor and not too salty.

Erica's Tips: Do not even think about attempting this dish unless you have prepped every single item down to the last detail. I would even make sure and put the rice vinegar out. It cooks THAT fast. And because the cooking times are so precise, this works better as a duet if you have a sous to stir fry and one to read the directions! The way we did it, P manned the wok and I was in charge of setting the timer for the cooking times, reading the book and throwing in the ingredients and getting the "set aside" bowls prepared. It worked well, and after we prepped, we were eating in like 15 minutes.

Steak in Roasted Sesame Seed Marinade

1 lb tenderloin, divided into four 4 oz steaks
2 Tbsp white Japanese sesame seeds
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 1/2" piece of raw ginger, peeled and grated
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sake
1 tsp caster sugar
1 Tbsp oil
3 scallions chopped for garnish


1 1/2" fresh ginger
1/2 tsp shichimi togarashi
1/2 c soy sauce
2 tsp dashi granules
2 Tbsp water

Roast the sesame sseds in a dry skillet over low heat for two minutes, stirring constantly, until seeds are well-toasted and start to pop. Crush seeds in a mortar and pestle. Place in a bowl with the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sake and sugar and whisk until the sugar has dissolved completely. Place the steaks in a shallow dish and spoon marinade over the steaks. Let marinate on counter for 30 minutes. Lightly brush steaks with oil and grill them for 4-6 minutes on each side. Let steaks rest for five minutes before cutting them on the diagonal to serve. Serve with some dipping sauce drizzled over the top and the remainder on the side. Garnish with onions and serve with steamed rice.

To make dipping sauce, cut the ginger into very fine strips about 1 1/2" long. Combine ginger, shichimi togorashi, soy sauce, dashi and water and whisk lightly until combined.

What I liked about this recipe: Oh, it smells SO tasty while marinating! Look out, Benihana's!
What I disliked about this recipe: You can not get shichimi togarashi (a Japanese spice blend), dashi (fish soup granules), sake or the white sesame seeds at the local grocery store. Lucky for me, there is an Asian food market around the corner, so I am all set there. However, if you don't have one, these ingredients, especially the spice blend, could be hard to come by. I'm sure you could find a recipe online for making it yourself though, but the ones that I found still called for some hard to find spices, so I would suggest ordering this spice online if you can't find it locally.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I have one of those cast-iron grill pans....very handy for this. My microplane was also awesome for grating the ginger.
Tastiness factor: OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH, SO good. Very similar in taste to beef tataki at sushi bars, if you have ever had that, except the beef is cooked to your specifications. However, I think it was really good rare. It was just SO yummy!!! I would definitely make this again.

Erica's Tips: Caster sugar, in case you are wondering, is SUPER-fine sugar. This is a recipe published by an Australian publisher and they use British terms for certain ingredients, I have realized. I learned what caster sugar was when I bought a baby cookbook that was written by a British author. Anyway, you can find it in the baking aisle...usually comes in a small box. It dissolves very quickly, hence its appeal.

And the really complicated recipe...

Spiced Chicken in Green Curry or Murgh Hariyali

Remove stems from two serrano chilies and chop lightly. Place in a food processor or blender with 1/2 c chopped and peeled ginger root and 1/2 c peeled garlic cloves. Blend and add one tablespoon of water to make a thick paste. Remove 2 tsp from mixture and place the rest in one tablespoon portions in an ice cube tray and freeze for future uses.

3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, minced
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste (above)
2 serrano chilies, seeded and minced
4 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
4 Tbsp minced fresh mint
5 Tbsp minced fresh baby spinach leaves
1 1/2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized chunks
kosher salt to taste
1/4 tsp red chili powder
1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 c water

In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil on medium. Add the onions and saute until well-browned, about 7-8 minutes. Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for an additional minute. Add the chilies, fresh herbs and stir-fry for about four to five minutes. Add the chicken, salt and chili powder, and fry for five minutes. Add water, cover and cook the chicken until done, about 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep the chicken from sticking to the pan and add a little more water if needed. Add the cream and cook for one additional minute. Serve hot with rice.

What I liked about this recipe: I cooked it exactly as the recipe said, with the exact temperatures and exact times, and it was ready right on time. It also smelled incredible cooking with all the fresh herbs and the ginger-garlic paste and onions. And it wasn't too hard.
What I disliked about this recipe: The prep time was a little long. Again, if I wasn't afraid of cutting my fingers off, maybe it wouldn't have been an issue. Next time might not be so bad since I have the ginger-garlic paste ready ahead of time. Also...when I reheated my leftovers two days later, it had a very strange smell. I couldn't really figure out where that came from.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: The mezzaluna is my favorite thing for chopping fresh herbs. It is great. My food processor was also great for making the paste and for chopping the onions.
Tastiness factor: Delicious. Talk about a taste explosion! It was great.

Garlic Rice or Lasuni Palao

1 c basmati rice
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 serrano green chili, seeded and minced
1/4 c plain yogurt, whipped
kosher salt to taste
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 3/4 c water
1 Tbsp minced cilantro

Rinse the rice 3-4 times and drain. Heat the vegetable oil in a deep saucepan. Add the garlic and chili and saute for about 20-30 seconds or until garlic turns light brown. Add yogurt, salt, and garam masala and saute for one minute. Add the rice and mix well. Add the water and stir for one minute. Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat, loosely cover the rice with a lid and cook about 12-15 minutes or until most of the water has evaporated. Small craters will form on the surface of the rice. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for an additional 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve immediately.

What I liked about this recipe: The garam masala (or warm spice) smells incredible. I was actually going to make my own until I found it premade at Whole Foods. It's a combination of coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and peppers. Yummy yummy. And I was very unclear about what the yogurt would do to the recipe. Surprisingly, it just dissolved and disappeared in the oil. Who knew.
What I disliked about this recipe: It was a little vaguer than I would have liked. For example, it did not specify that you should use regular white basmati and I used brown basmati, which killed this recipe. BIG TIME. It also did not specify how FAR you should reduce the heat after bringing water to a boil. you see anywhere in the recipe where you should add the cilantro? I could not figure that one out. I ended up just adding the cilantro with the yogurt and salt and garam masala and it was fine. Just added a little crispness to the rice and a splash of color.
Cool kitchen gadgets: I used my large santoku knife to crush the garlic. I had no idea until I read this recipe that if you crush the garlic instead of chopping it, you will actually get a stronger garlic flavor. Cool, huh?
Tastiness factor: As stated above, I used the brown basmati instead of the white basmati and it did NOT work. I could never get the rice to soften up. It just cooked and cooked and cooked and never got anywhere. I thought I had messed up the recipe until I realized that it was probably the brown rice. So, I'm going to try it again using the white and see what happens. However, the few bites that I had of the rice before deciding to give up were very tasty. This rice is very aromatic and flavorful and GARLICKY! I can't wait to make it again. I ended up just making some Minute rice to go with the curry chicken above and it was ok although definitely not as good as the garlic chicken would have been or as good as jasmine rice would have been had I had time to make it.

Added on 3/30/08: I made this garlic rice again tonight, used white basmati and followed the directions to a T, and it was perfect. Not as garlicky as I would have liked but still delicious.

And something for McKenna...

Curried Chicken

2 Tbsp butter
1 lb ground chicken (I used turkey)
1/2 c diced onion
2 diced carrots
1 diced zucchini
1/2 c cold water
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp mild curry powder
2 Tbsp honey
1 clove of garlic, crushed and minced

Melt butter over medium high heat and brown chicken, crumbling it with a spoon. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally for about ten minutes or until vegetables are tender. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, curry powder, and water until blended and stir into the skillet. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally for about five minutes or until the curry sauce thickens. Stir in the honey and serve over rice. This recipe can be pureed for younger toddlers.

What I liked about this recipe: That McKenna likes it.
What I disliked about this recipe: That McKenna won't eat it reheated now. When she was younger, I used to make this and freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays and she was fine with it, but now, forget it.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I love the whisk.
Tastiness factor: It is good. It's a little too mild for adults for the spiciness factor in my opinion, but it is not bad and you can add a little hot sauce to spice it up if you like your Indian food spicy.

Erica's Tips: Make sure that you don't give this recipe to babies under a year old due to the honey. Also, if you are buying curry for this recipe, make SURE you get yellow curry powder and not red curry powder or you will have a very upset kid on your hands. The red is just too spicy for toddlers, even though the color is beautiful. (This didn't happen to me, but I have heard that red curry is very spicy period, and if adults find it too hot, well....I would hate to give it to a little one.)

More Asian recipes to come...these are very fun and challenging dishes for sure.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More brunch food

Hashbrown Bake

2 lb package of shredded frozen hashbrowns
1/2 c chopped onion
1 c sour cream
10 3/4 oz can cream of chicken soup
3 c shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 c butter

Place hashbrowns in a greased 13x9 baking pan and add salt and pepper to taste. In a mixing bowl, combine onions, sour cream and soup and pour over potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until top is golden.

What I liked about this recipe: It was very easy and fast to make. I made it first to go with a brunch and it was just baking away while the eggs and bacon were getting going.
What I disliked about this recipe: Way too rich. I cut the butter to 1/4 c and the cheese to 2 c and it was still very, very cheesy. It also doesn't reheat well.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: whisk was handy for combining the sour cream and soup and onions.
Tastiness factor: Good. I'm not sure I would make it again because of the richness, the fact that it doesn't reheat well, and it was a little too oniony for me, but if I had to make something to take to a potluck brunch, this would be a good choice. It says it serves six to eight, but I think that's off...I'd say 10-12 is more accurate or maybe even more depending on the size of the servings. It's one of those dishes where a little goes a long way.

A cheesecake for the Easter bunny

Easter Cheesecake


2 c butter shortbread cookie crumbs
1/2 c ground macadamia nuts or pecans
1/4 c melted unsalted butter


6 8 oz packages of softened cream cheese
2 c sugar
5 eggs + 1 yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz white chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 c toasted sweetened flaked coconut**

*To toast coconut, bake on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees until golden brown and toasted, stirring every three minutes.


1/2 c heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 c toasted sweetened flaked coconut

Crust: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Press into the bottom of a 10" springform pan or a 9" springform with 3" high sides. Place in freezer.

Filling: Beat cream cheese and sugar until combined and then on medium-high speed for five minutes. Add eggs and yolk one at a time and beat after each addition. Mix in vanilla and cooled chocolate. Fold in coconut. Pour batter over frozen crust and bake at 350 degrees for 60-75 minutes or until the top is light brown and center jiggles slightly. Cool on rack for two hours and then place in refrigerator covered with plastic wrap for at least eight hours before serving or decorating.

Topping: Beat cream in a chilled mixing bowl on medium high until soft peaks form and then add sugar slowly. Beat cream on high until firm peaks form. Either pipe onto cake or spread with a frosting knife. Sprinkle toasted coconut on top.

What I liked about this recipe: It was fairly simple and didn't really require a lot of work after all the items were prepped and ready to go. The white chocolate melted really well...I've never cooked with white chocolate before.
What I disliked about this recipe: It rises a lot higher than I thought it would considering that there is no flour in it. If I had taken a chance and used my 9" springform, I would have really had a mess on my hands, so if you are considering making this cake, spend the $10 and go get the three-pan Oneida set at Bed Bath and Beyond that I went and got last night.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: My double boiler is amazing for melting chocolate. (Thanks, E in Maryland!)
Tastiness factor: This was a cake that P and I made together for him to take to a potluck at work and I threatened him with death if he didn't bring a piece home for me to try. Being that I adore coconut, was a gimmie. It was SOOOOOOO good.

Erica's Tips: Place springform pan on a cookie or pizza pan in the oven as the butter in the crust will ooze out. Also, make sure that you check the ounces on the white chocolate when you buy it. I only bought one bar thinking that surely it was 8 oz and realized when I got home that it was 4. Second trip out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My solution to my traveling woes

Now that I am traveling so much, I have discovered that I don't want to stand in the kitchen for an hour when I first get home after either driving or flying all over Texas. However, I don't want fast food either, and sometimes leftovers just won't cut it. new solution is to make a casserole the night before and have it ready and waiting to go in the oven as soon as I get home. I did this tonight and it just worked like a charm...there are just so many recipes out there that you can make ahead of time and refrigerate until it is ready to be baked.

This casserole is one that I have now made three times. I made it once for one of my employees who was having knee surgery and needed something to feed his mom and sister coming to visit. I made it a second time when my sister was here...she loves chicken and broccoli. I made it a third time this week since I had to drive to Austin. It has been a hit every time and as long as you do the prepwork ahead of time, there is just no way you can mess it up.

Broccoli Chicken Lasagna

4 lasagna noodles, cooked
1 c cubed chicken, cooked
2 c broccoli florets, cooked
1/4 c salted butter
1/4 c all-purpose flour
fresh ground pepper
1 tbsp chicken bouillion granules
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 c milk
2 c shredded Italian-blend cheese

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, bouillion granules, pepper and Italian seasoning and whisk together. Add milk and cook and whisk until thickened. Add cheese and stir until melted and sauce is smooth. Add in chicken and broccoli and stir together until combined. Spread about a cup of the chicken mixture in the bottom of a 8x8 greased baking dish. Top with half of the lasagna noodles, cutting noodles to size. Cover with half of the remaining sauce and then layer remaining lasagna noodles over the top. Spread remaining sauce on top of noodles. Dish can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated up until this point. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. If dish is just coming out of the refrigerator, bake 45-50 minutes. If you like the top a little crispy like a crust, go for 60 minutes.

What I liked about this recipe: That it can be made ahead of time! AND one package of lasagna noodles goes a long way. I'm still on my first package of noodles. And this is also a great dish to use with leftover chicken...I constantly am freezing one leftover breast because a package comes with five and I only need four or something.
What I disliked about this recipe: Italian blend cheese is not my favorite.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I love my whisk. I have three regular sized and three tiny whisks.
Tastiness factor: SO delicious and homey! What a great dish to come home to!

Food to wake up with

Breakfast and brunches are fast becoming my favorite thing on the weekends. There are just so many cool things you can make for breakfast!

Banana Pancakes

1 c all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 c milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 ripe bananas, pureed or mashed

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix wet ingredients in a second bowl. Add dry mixture to wet mixture and stir until combined. Drop 1/4 cupfuls onto hot griddle and cook on both sides until done.

What I liked about this recipe: I had everything on hand and didn't need anything special.
What I disliked about this recipe: It was not as banana-y tasting as I hoped.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I just bought a Calphalon double-burner griddle pan and it worked great once I got the hang of it.
Tastiness factor: Very good although I will add a third banana next time, vanilla extract and probably some cinnamon to enhance the flavor even further.

Sugarplum Bacon

1/2 c packed light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
8 slices of bacon, cut in half crosswise

Combine sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. Dip bacon in mixture to coat and shake off excess. Twist bacon pieces and place on foil-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until bacon is crispy and sugar bubbly. Place on foil-lined plate to cool. Makes 16 pieces.

What I liked about this recipe: It was so easy to clean up! I thought it would be a messy recipe but it just wasn't at all as long as the foil was used.
What I disliked about this recipe: Very, very sticky fingers. Make sure there are plenty of napkins available.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: Nothing was a snap to make.
Tastiness factor: If you are craving a sweet-tasting bacon, this is for you. It is SO tasty and SO easy to make. I will probably make this next time I am making bacon for a crowd as it is a lot easier and simpler than frying bacon in the skillet or in the microwave AND it doesn't stink up the house. Very delicious.

My bundt cake adventures

I have a complete set of those silicone baking pans that I got one time at a sale at Kohl's. I have been dying to try the bundt pan for ages, and when I saw this recipe in my book, I decided to give it a try.

Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

3 c cake flour
2 c sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 c vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 c finely chopped apples **you will need about four apples
1 c finely chopped pecans or walnuts

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and blend with a fork. Beat eggs in a mixing bowl with electric mixer until pale yellow and foamy. Add oil and vanilla and beat well. Add flour mixture by spoonfuls and continue to beat on low until flour disappears. Add apples and nuts and stir until uniformly distributed throughout batter. Scrape batter into greased pan; use a 13 x 9 inch pan, two 8" or 9" round or square cake pans, or a bundt pan. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes and cool on a wire rack. Prepare glaze while cake is cooling. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until mixture boils gently. Cook for 3-5 more minutes or until glaze is like caramel. Spoon the glaze all over the hot cake as soon as it is ready and let glazed cake cool completely.


1 c lightly packed brown sugar
1/3 c unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp or 1/8 c evaporated milk, half and half or heavy cream

What I liked about this recipe: Very, VERY easy. GREAT with ice cream.
What I disliked about this recipe: The instructions are not super clear if you want to use a bundt pan.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I used my silicone bundt pan for attempt #1 on this dessert. Keep reading.
Tastiness factor: Excellent, excellent, excellent. If you like apple pie and want that taste in a cake, TRY THIS. Both P and my sister V thought it was incredible and the first attempt was gone in about a day and a half.

Okay, so what happened with this cake, you wonder?

I made it the first time, albeit, after I had had a few glasses of wine, and decided to use my silicone bundt pan since I had never used it before. Probably not the best idea, since I didn't really stop and think about the recipe while I was making it and ended up flipping the cake out onto a pan while it was still hot so I could glaze it. BAD idea. The cake collapsed and I had a ooey gooey mess of a cake with glaze on it. The SECOND time I made it, I used the 13x9 pan and glazed the cake while hot but did not remove the cake from the pan. It came out much better. P says he still prefers the first way better because once it cooled, it was just a big sloppy apple mess in a dish and was delicious, but the OCD in me likes the 13x9 better because it is neater. And McKenna loves the cake too. Win win all the way around.

So the moral of the story is...if you must have a bundt, leave it in the pan and don't remove it while hot. The cake will not set.

But man, this is an AWESOME cake. I made it the first time with walnuts and the second time with pecans, and I personally prefer it with pecans, but that's just a matter of taste.

What do you do when blueberries are 10 pints for $10?

You make blueberry jam and freeze the rest! Talk about AWESOME. I'm not sure what I am going to do with the rest but I had enough for this jam plus a little over a pound to go in the freezer.

Blueberry Lime Jam

4 1/2 cups of blueberries
5 c sugar
1 Tbsp lime zest (about one large lime)
1/3 c lime juice (about two large limes)
packet of fruit pectin

Crush blueberries one layer at a time and combine with pectin in pot. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Stir in zest and lime juice and bring mixture to a rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Adjust caps and process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner. Yields six half-pints.

What I liked about this jam: It was SUPER fast. It was ready in lightning time and jelled with no problem. It also made exactly what it said it would...I sterilized six jars and lids and that's exactly what I filled up. I actually had about a 1/2 c leftover that I put in the fridge.
What I disliked about this jam: Nothing. It was so easy. I grated the lime zest and squeezed the juice before I started cooking and it was ready in about fifteen minutes flat.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: Instead of crushing the blueberries, I processed the blueberries in my food processor. I can't help it...I love the thickness of jam but I like my fruit very smooth, so crushing fruit for jam is just not enough. Jelly is too watery and preserves-type jam is too thick. This way, it's perfect. I also love my microplaner for zesting...definitely in my top ten favorite gadgets.
Tastiness factor: OMG. SO good. The lime really adds something to this jam. It's incredible.

Blueberry Muffin Bread

3/4 c milk
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 c bread flour
3 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp active dry yeast
1/3 c dried blueberries

Add all ingredients except blueberries to machine and select 1.5 lb. loaf size, standard cycle, and light crust. Add blueberries to machine at mix-in signal. Remove from pan after cycle and let cool for one hour before slicing.

What I liked about this recipe: It went with my jam and I needed a bread to give as a gift with my jam.
What I disliked about this recipe: I couldn't use fresh and that was frustrating given the tremendous sale! But I think that fresh would have turned the bread purple and made it so wet that it wouldn't have risen, so I understand the need for dried.
Cool kitchen gadgets: I love my bread machine. Enough said.
Tastiness factor: No idea because it was a gift but it sure smelled good.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Waste not, want not

This is my new favorite thing to use with overripe bananas to keep them from going bad, although with the second loaf I made of this bread this week, I actually defrosted banana puree that I had made in late December and it worked out great. I freeze pretty much any leftover ingredients I have now (even herbs now that I know that you can) and don't waste a thing.

Banana Walnut Loaf

1/2 c buttermilk at room temperature
10 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature and cut into small pieces
2 large eggs at room temperature, beaten
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 c mashed bananas
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 c sugar
2 2/3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 c chopped walnuts

Place ingredients in order listed in bread pan. Select 2 lb. loaf, Quick Bread/Cake cycle (or sweet bread) and light crust. Use scraper to scrape the sides of the pan after batter has mixed for about four minutes to blend in all remaining ingredients. Let cool for one hour on wire rack before slicing.

What I like about this bread: It is so good for breakfast. Very tasty, very sweet, and fits in my cake server.
What I dislike about this bread: Because of the fact that it does not rise, it is pretty much just batter when I go in to remove the kneading paddle at the right time and it is disgusting reaching in there and getting the batter all over my hands.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: My food processor is very handy for this recipe both to puree the bananas and chop the walnuts. Fortunately I had both ready ahead of time for the second time I made this but the first time I made this recipe, it took a while.
Tastiness factor: It is heavenly. VERY sweet, very nutty, very banana-y and just perfect.

And since I still had some buttermilk left over after making the banana loaf twice, I made this for sandwiches and toast. Waste not, want not although I know you can freeze buttermilk.

Old-Fashioned Buttermilk White

1/3 c water
1 c buttermilk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
4 c bread flour
1 Tbsp active dry yeast

Place all ingredients in bread pan, select 2 lb. loaf, standard cycle and light crust. Remove from machine at end of the cycle and cool on rack for one hour before slicing.

What I liked about this bread: The top is silky smooth and it smells fantastic while baking and after removing from machine.
What I disliked about this bread: Have you ever smelled buttermilk? Talk about gag when I have to pour it in.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: This isn't a kitchen gadget, but I am delighted to find how many uses I am finding for my dark brown sugar. I usually only keep light brown sugar in the house but bought some dark brown sugar a few weeks ago at Kroger on sale. I'm amazed at how many recipes I am making that call for it! Now I need a brown sugar keeper to go in my dark brown sugar bin...I have one of those terra cotta disks in my light brown sugar bin that if you soak it in water and place it in the sugar, it will keep your sugar from drying out. Note to self: must get another one.
This isn't what I have, but it's like what I have.
Tastiness factor: Very, VERY good. Nice and soft and tasty.

Breakfast Strata

This is a recipe I got from my sister V last weekend when she was here visiting. Talk about an interesting recipe you can make for company when you just have a variety of stuff leftover! Lots of taste combinations you could make with this. We actually decided to make this over dinner when I was talking about how to use up my tomato-basil bread that was in the freezer.

Breakfast Strata

1 lb cooked sausage or cooked bacon
12 slices bread, cubed
1 1/2 c shredded cheese
8 eggs, beaten
2 c half and half or cream
1 tsp dry mustard
3/4 tsp salt
mushrooms, onions, parsley, oregano and/or peppers

Line a 13x9 dish with bread cubes. Combine eggs, mustard, cream and salt in small mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over bread. Sprinkle meat, vegetables and fresh (or dried) herbs on top to taste. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

What I liked about this recipe: SO versatile! The combinations are endless. Since we were looking to use up stuff, we used my tomato-basil bread, Monterey Jack cheese, red pepper, fresh parsley only, and bacon. And since I only had a cup of half and half, we used a cup of whole milk.
What I disliked about this recipe: A little too much of a strong vegetable taste for my liking that early in the morning. I like blander things and sweet things for breakfast.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: My whisk is great for this and my bread knife cubed the bread perfectly.
Tastiness factor: It was very good the first day but not so good for leftovers. Just too strong of a veggie taste in my opinion. My sister said that using cream really makes this puff up like a souffle, so maybe part of it was because we used whole milk. But I could see this being a great addition to a brunch table or for a potluck, so I plan on adding it to my recipe book.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Dallas' one and only snow day

I am SO glad I did not plant anything yet. Wouldn't you know it? We got this wicked cold front in from the west and it has been snowing here all day. So. Glad. I. Did. Not. Plant.

However, I did make this wonderfully sinful steak dinner...P and I are trying to reconcile and it was a great dinner for us to make together on a snowy night, paired with a great bottle of Auslese and a bottle of Rioja.

Chateaubriand with Bernaise Sauce

2 1" beef tenderloin steaks, about 8 oz. each
vegetable oil

For steaks, let warm to room temperature for 45 minutes and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rub on both sides with vegetable oil. Sear tenderloin on each side for three minutes apiece in a cast-iron skillet, sprinkling kosher salt on each side, and then place skillet in oven. Roast steaks to designated temperature and remove from oven. Let rest for five minutes before slicing. (Roasting times: six to eight minutes for rare, ten minutes for medium, twelve to fourteen for well-done.)


2 Tbsp dry white wine
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon, divided
1 Tbsp minced shallots
white pepper
2 egg yolks
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 c unsalted butter, melted and hot
Tabasco sauce

Combine wine, vinegar, half of tarragon, shallots and a pinch of white pepper in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for two to three minutes or until liquid reduces to two teaspoons. Set wine reduction aside. Place yolks, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pinch of white pepper and three dashes of pepper sauce in a blender. Blend on low and stream hot butter into blender jar while blending. Blend on low until sauce thickens and add rest of the the tarragon and the wine reduction sauce. Place blender jar in a pot of warm water to keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve dish, pour Bernaise sauce over sliced beef.

What I liked about this dish: It was very easy. I had never made a wine reduction before and it was much easier than I thought. However, I prepared well and prepped everything (and I do mean everything, even down to measuring out the tarragon into pinch pots) before I started the sauce so I wouldn't ruin it or burn it. And it made a LOT of sauce. I put the rest of it in the freezer for another time.
What I disliked about this dish: It called for fresh tarragon. Do you know how hard it is to find fresh tarragon? I went to two places here and couldn't find it so I substituted a teaspoon of dried tarragon. I have vowed that when my herb garden gets going, this dish is the first I am making with my fresh tarragon.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I am in love with my Krups 1000 watt blender.
Tastiness factor: Very, VERY good. I loved it. P thought it was fantastic as well. I am very curious as to whether or not this sauce would have come out better with fresh tarragon. It was a little bland to my taste...being a salt freak and all...and I think using salted butter probably would have made it more to my taste, but it had a very good flavor and was delicious with a little salt and pepper. Very light and herby and tasty!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Cooking with alcohol and wines

I am always interested and intrigued when I come across a recipe that calls for wine or alcohol or beer. Yes, I realize that the alcohol cooks out, but it's just interesting to see how the additional ingredient gives the dish a whole new flavor. I have cooked with brandy, merlot wine, white wine, sherry, cabernet, citrus vodka, regular vodka and beer. I do keep cooking white and red and sherry around, but if I have an open bottle of wine, I usually try to use that up first.

Vodka Cream Fettucini

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
20 leaves of basil, cut into halves
2/3 c vodka
1 lb. fettucini pasta, cooked
1/4 c heavy cream or half and half

Start pasta cooking. Heat garlic in oil in large skillet until garlic sizzles. Add tomatoes and heat. Stir in basil. When basil wilts, add vodka and bring sauce to a boil. Stir and cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer until pasta is ready. Stir in cream. Toss in large bowl with hot pasta and serve.

What I liked about this dish: With the exception of the vodka, the ingredients for this dish cost less than $8. And I still have a TON of leftovers. AND it was fast and easy to make.
What I disliked about this dish: Pasta with no meat is okay, but it's not my favorite.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: My mezzaluna minced the garlic perfectly.
Tastiness factor: Pretty good considering how cheap it was. It will be even cheaper this summer when I have my own basil in the garden and don't have to buy any. Definitely beats pasta and jar sauce. And my daughter liked it too. Definitely a recipe I will make again and you can pretty much keep the ingredients on hand to make this.