Adventures of an unfussy foodie.

Pretty Kitten's Kitchen is now at http://www.pbandjeats.com

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November 29, 2009

With a Capital "T"

I will be honest with you: I am having a hard time. I try not to show it, but I know it's clear to those who know me well, particularly my parents and husband. I hardly know what to do with myself. Troubles with work persist, and I am home all day every day.

And for all that I whined while I was working that I never had time to keep my house clean, I have certainly squandered my time at home of late. This makes me doubly ashamed because now I know that it isn't my schedule that keeps me from being a good housekeeper. I'm just a slob.

Adding to my worries about my job, I have problems with my teeth. It hardly motivates one to cook when one cannot chew. I've limited myself to soft foods, mostly pasta and potato dishes, cutting out anything that requires the use of ones molars. Every night when dinner comes around I virtually cringe at the thought of yet another meal without fully functioning teeth.

One consolation in all this is that it is now my favorite time of the rolling year - when we lift our thoughts to more important things: faith, love, family. I have loved decorating this year, as it has taken my mind off of all the things that are weighing heavily on my thoughts.

Every year, my mother-in-law's family does a "Pie Night". Each family brings a pie (or other treat) to share, and we gather to eat and enjoy one another's company. That's where we're headed tonight.

Since I haven't had my usual zeal for cooking, I thought I would limit this years contribution to some cookies. I made these for the first time last year, and they are wonderful! I love their spiciness, mingled with that sparkle of sugar on the outside. They stay soft for a few days, if they last that long...

Big Soft Ginger Cookies
AllRecipes.com


Ingredients:
2 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ginger
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. margarine (Yes, margarine. This will probably be the only time I recommend that you not use butter)
1 c. white sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp. orange juice (or water)
1/4 c. molasses
extra white sugar for rolling

Directions:
In a medium bowl, mix or sift together dry ingredients and set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream together margarine and sugar. Beat in egg, then orange juice (or water) and molasses. Gradually stir in dry ingredients.
Let mixture refrigerate for at least a couple of hours. (I usually refrigerate overnight.)
When chilled, form into walnut-sized balls (1 - 1 1/2" balls) and roll in extra white sugar to coat. (I use a cookie scoop and drop dough directly into sugar - the dough is very sticky.) Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 350 for 8 - 10 minutes.
Let cool on pan for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

November 20, 2009

Copycat: Noodles & Co. Mac and Cheese


I love Noodles & Co. I think I've had most everything on the menu, and of everything I've tried there's only been one thing I didn't particularly like.

One of my favorite things they make is their macaroni and cheese. It's comforting, but not too heavy like some versions out there.

Here's my stab at a copycat recipe. I think it comes pretty darn close. Plus, it's super easy and quick. Bonus!

Noodles & Co - esque Mac and Cheese
PRINTABLE RECIPE

Ingredients:
1 lb. elbow noodles
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 c.  milk (we use 2% because that's what we always have around)
1 1/2 to 2 c. shredded cheddar jack cheese blend
1/4 c. cream
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour making a roux. Stir in a pinch of salt and some pepper. Let the roux cook for a minute, then add the milk, whisking until just barely thickened -- it should thinly coat the back of a spoon. You want it thinner because it will thicken as it cools, and it will thicken when you add your cheese, and if you're going for authenticity, the original is pretty loose. You could even use less cheese than listed and/or be prepared to add more milk if it tightens up too much. Remove from heat. Add cheese and cream, stirring until cheese melts. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

To serve it up, ladle some sauce into your dish, followed by pasta and top with extra cheese. I love mixing it up myself! Enjoy!

What do you think? Does it stack up to the real deal?
Leave a comment!



November 18, 2009

Local Flavor: Park Cafe








I don't like to blog about my troubles too much because I like to keep this a happy space. But when my troubles lead me to a local restaurant that has me dreaming about coming back, I have to share.

My coworkers and I are sharing the misfortune of not being allowed to go into work. This has been the case on and off (but mostly on...) since the first of October. It's been a real trial to me.

My job supports our little family so my husband can focus on finishing school without the added pressure of providing at the same time. While the financial situation has been a challenge, one of the hardest things about being away from work has been missing the association with my coworkers. I don't think anyone has ever had such great friends at work as I have. They make it fun to come into work every day. (Every day we're allowed to come to work that is...)

Because we missed each other, and frankly have nothing else to do but wallow in our troubles, we decided to get together for breakfast to commiserate. We chose the Park Cafe.



It is positioned happily across 1300 South from Liberty Park, and has a lovely patio that can be enjoyed in the warmer months. I have a friend who lives right across the street from this place, and every time I've looked there have been crowds there. It's a local favorite, and it's not difficult to see why once you've been there.

The owners used to run Over the Counter in Milcreek -- in high school this was the hot spot for seminary-ditchers to grab a delicious breakfast -- and they've brought the secrets that kept people coming back for more along with them. The dining room is bright and clean and there's fun art on the wall. It's unpretentious without being a hole in the wall.

I ordered the French Toast Foolishness (there's something about that name that compells you to order it, you know?), which rang in at $6.50 or so and came with enough food to feed two people with generous portions: two HUGE pieces of french toast, accompanied by two eggs, two slices of bacon (slices three times the size of your standard slice) crisped to perfection, and "park potatoes".

On top of the massive portions, the service is fantastic! Attentive and friendly servers made sure that our cups were full at all times, and our party of 7 -- who didn't call ahead, by the way -- was seated and fed swiftly to our complete satisfaction.

If I can make one recommendation it would be to GO HERE! Sure, the parking lot holds all of three vehicles, and the Liberty Park area is pretty busy. Park on the street and walk over. You won't be disappointed!

November 17, 2009

Thanks for the Memories

Oh I have neglected this little online outpost of mine! I have no excuse, so I offer none, but I do offer profoundest apologies if you missed me.




I'm sure the [two] people who read this blog with any frequency are probably expecting some sort of Thanksgiving offering from me. All I can say is, tough. I got nothin'. This is due largely to the fact that I will not be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a number of years yet. If we're with Preston's family, my mother in law will cook, if we're with my family, my mother or grandmother will cook.

I confess myself a little saddened by this thought. I love to cook, and the Thanksgiving feast is a cook's pride and joy! Looking down the road I see that when Grandma no longer hosts Thanksgiving (perish the thought!), my mom will take over, and only after that will I really get to test my Thanksgiving mettle. But while I get to take the backseat, I'm delighted to be surrounded by such wonderful cooks! Grandma's gravy is legendary, and my Mom is always shaking things up in fun and unexpected ways.

This is my first Thanksgiving away from my own family, as we will be with my husband's family this year. I had been dreading it -- tradition is so entrenched in my little soul, and giving up the holiday with my parents and brother feels heavily like a betrayal -- but times, they are a-changing. My brother is heading to Baltimore to be with his girlfriend, and as a grown-up girl, I know that spending every holiday with my family would hurt my husband terribly. And I want to have good memories with Preston's family. We made great strides last weekend, when I undertook the adventure of riding all together to a wedding in Denver with Preston's parents, two siblings plus spouses, two unruly young boys and two babies in a fifteen passenger van. Now I feel so much more at home with my "new" family. (Doesn't sound like much fun, but I had a blast!)


I may be asked to bring a side or some-such to the upcoming festivities, and I will do my best to deliver something super-amazing. (If not a side, then perhaps a dessert -- check out this recipe for the perfect pumpkin pie.) Maybe this Potato-Fennel Gratin that I'm DYING to try.

I don't love fennel seed as a spice, but the bulb has a lovely light flavor and texture that would lend a freshness to your standard potato gratin. Sounds amazing, no?

Potato-Fennel Gratin
from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Ingredients:
2 small fennel bulbs
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 pounds russet potatoes (4 large potatoes)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese (1/2 pound)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Diretions:
Preheat the oven to 350.
Grease a 10x15" baking dish.
Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Saute the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.
Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them (by hand or with a mandoline). Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of Gruyère, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed fennel and onion and mix well.
Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and 1/2 cup of Gruyère and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.

November 02, 2009

Not Exactly Health Food

In a fit of ambition, I made the unilateral decision that we would be eating butternut squash ravioli, and nothing could dissuade me. I dutifully tracked down a recipe that looked reliable and did my homework to the best of my ability.

Throwing caution (and my resolve to eat more carefully) to the wind for the evening, I dove into the fray -- and I'm so glad I did! 

I could not believe I had made these! They are, I grant you, a LOT of work, but I feel so accomplished now. It's not the healthiest dish, but it's so rich you don't need a plateful to feel satisfied.
I'm not sure how I pieced together the restraint to keep myself from eating the filling straight out of the pan with a spoon, but I did somehow. {The filling was so fantastic, in fact, I feel it's a little wasted only on ravioli. A fuzzy concept forms in my little head of some sort of butternut squash lasagna. More to come if I decide to make this a reality.}

The brown butter and sage sauce wasn't anything special, but it didn't overpower the filling, and the sage was so delightfully crispy!

Give this recipe a try if you're feeling daring. It was fabulous! (And in case you're wondering, yes, I did take this particular picture myself. Don't let that deter you. It will be delicious, and it will be pretty. Promise!)














Butternut Squash Mezzaluna Ravioli
in Sage Brown Butter
recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse (find the original here)

Ingredients:
9 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. minced shallots
1 c. roasted butternut squash puree
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp heavy cream
3 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
pinch nutmeg
wonton wrappers (3” rounds) {you can also use fresh pasta of your own (or even someone else's) making, but I'm a lazy bum, and pretty intimidated by making fresh pasta. Someday...}
1 egg, beaten
6 - 12 fresh sage leaves
1 amaretto cookie, finely crushed
(optional)

Directions:
Melt 1 Tbsp butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and sautee one or two minutes until tender. Stir in squash puree and cook 2 - 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper, then stir in cream. Cook 2 minutes more, then remove from heat. Stir in parmesan and nutmeg.

Now start assembling the ravioli: Dip your fingers in the beaten egg and run it around the edge of the wonton wrapper a little more than halfway. Place about a teaspoon of the squash filling in the center and fold the wrapper gently in half to seal. Start with the outer edges and work your way up, being careful to squeeze out any excess air, but not squeeze out the filling. (It might take you a few tries, but you can do it. Find a method that works for you.) Set aside and repeat until all the filling is used -- I had about 30 ravioli.

Cook the ravioli in simmering water about 2 minutes, or until they float to the top and are light in color. Drain and set aside.

In a large pan, melt the remaining 8 Tbsp. of butter over medium heat.  Drop in sage leaves and let cook until butter begins to brown. Remove from heat and serve over the ravioli. Sprinkle lightly with crushed amaretto cookie.

To make your own butternut squash puree, follow these simple steps:
1. Heat oven to 350
2. Split squash in half lengthwise and scoop out pulp and seeds.
3. Lightly sprinkle with salt and thyme
4. Place on greased baking sheet and cover with foil (you can also line the pan with foil if you want, but I think that's a waste).
5. Put in oven and let roast for 40 minutes or so, until squash is fork-tender
6. Let cool.
7. Gently scoop the flesh of the squash out of the skin and place in blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

**Note: my blender didn't do so well with this, so I'm thinking a food processor would work best. You can also use a mixer to mash the lumps out of the squash.

October 09, 2009

Authentic Italian Lasagna

I have had the pleasure this week of having a real, live Italian staying in my house.

My husband served his mission in Italy and made some great friends, one of whom has been our houseguest for the past week. It has been a pleasure to brush up on my rusty Italian language skills and learn this fabulous recipe.

Marco went to culinary school, but this is a family recipe, and Marco makes lasagna just like his father does. It's a simple recipe, consisting of two sauces, pasta, and parmesan cheese. I hope you find it as lovely as we did!


Marco's Lasagna

Ingredients:

1 1/2 9 oz. pkgs lasagna noodles (the kind that are rolled flat)
parmesan cheese

-Ragu- (red sauce)
olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1/2 large onion, finely diced
1 lb. ground beef
3 large cans pureed Italian (San Marzano) tomatoes - you can find these at specialty stores like Granatos
salt and pepper to taste

-Béchamel- (white sauce)
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. flour
1 quart/4 c. milk
a dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
salt and pepper

Directions:

In a large saucepan or pot, sauteé onions together with carrot and celery. Add ground beef and cook until browned through. Add in tomato puree and let simmer until veggies are cooked through and sauce is thickened -- this will splatter, so beware and wear an apron! Season to your taste.
(This also makes a LOT of ragu, so use what you need for tonight's lasagna, and freeze the rest for use when you make it again.)

In a separate saucepan, combine melt butter over low/med-low heat. Add in flour and stir. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, lightly golden and mixture no longer smells like raw flour. Add in milk all at once and stir or whisk to combine and remove lumps. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let sauce simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened (it should be thick enough that it coats the back of your wooden spoon).

Once sauces are ready, begin assembling lasagna:
Put down a layer of ragu in a 9x13" pan.
Layer uncooked noodles on top. Break pasta where necessary to help it fit into the pan.
Then layer ragu, then bechamel, then a generous amount of parmesan cheese.
Repeat until pan is full (or you run out of pasta).
On top of the last layer of pasta, spread bechamel and top very generously with parmesan.

Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, or until pasta is tender. Enjoy!

September 26, 2009

Sugar Cookie Bars

It has been a hectic couple of weeks, leading up to an even more hectic couple of weeks coming up here. And, reader dear, I have come to the conclusion that I dislike being busy. Some people thrive on it, but to me it's like death. I would almost rather be bored stiff than have so little time to myself. Sometimes when I'm so busy I barely feel human.

And what counters crazy-busy-ness?

Dessert. (naturally)


These bars are definitely a go-to treat for me. I always have the ingredients on hand, and they take only 10 - 15 minutes to cook.


Sugar Cookie Bars

Ingredients:
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla (or 1 tsp vanilla and 1 tsp. almond extract)
5 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Directions:
Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each one. Add vanilla (& almond extract) and mix well.
In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking soda. Add to wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
Spread dough/batter onto a greased baking sheet. (This should have a lip to it. Don't use a flat cookie sheet, you need what is sometimes referred to as a jelly roll pan.)
Bake at 375 for 10 to 15 minutes until lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center.
Let cool completely before frosting.

Now, don't you feel better? I know I do!

September 20, 2009

Refire: Shredded BBQ Beef Sandwiches

Still have pot roast left over?

While I marvel at how this is possible, I do have another way to transform Amanda's amazing pot roast. It's simple, and therefore perfect for a busy weeknight meal.

Ingredients:
1 lb. leftover pot roast, shredded
1 c. or so good quality barbeque sauce (we like Famous Dave's, which we can find right in the grocery store, but whatever kind you like is awesome)
good quality buns

Directions:
Place beef in medium pan with sauce and warm over medium-high heat until heated through. Serve on buns that have been toasted under the broiler.

If you like, you can do all the prep work (and there's really nothing to do, so you can hardly call it prep work...) for this in the morning and let it simmer in the crock pot all day. Then toast some buns and enjoy!

August 31, 2009

Pot Roast

My favorite way to plan meals is to use a common element to make different dishes. My friend Amanda makes the most stellar pot roast, which can be cooked for Sunday dinner and remixed in meals throughout the week. I'll start you off with the basic recipe, then I'll show you how to "refire" it into a couple of different meals.

Amanda's Pot Roast

Ingredients:
boneless chuck roast (I usually do 6 pounds or so at a time)
3 or 4 medium onions, very thickly sliced
4 or 5 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
2 cubes beef bouillon
1 cube chicken bouillon
salt and pepper
water

Directions:
Rinse roast and pat dry. Use a knife to make slits in the meat and slip in slices of garlic. Place all onion on the bottom of a large roasting pan in an even layer and set meat on top. Season as you like with salt (if your bouillon is salty, you might not need any extra salt at all) and pepper, and add enough water to cover onions. Add bouillon cubes.

Seal the lid of the roasting pan with foil, and place in 400 oven. Let bake for one hour, then reduce heat to 250 and cook for 7 to 9 hours more.

The meat will simply fall apart. Once it has cooled a bit, I like to remove any excess fat from the meat and shred what we won't be using right away.

Don't discard the liquid in the pan. I usually get rid of the onions and save the broth for gravy or use it as beef stock in other recipes. Yum!

July 21, 2009

Bubble-Up Pizza Casserole



When I was younger, my mom made this fun recipe from a Pampered Chef cookbook. I enjoyed it so much, and I recently remembered it, so I just had to make it.

I would describe it as really easy and quick deep-dish pizza, but then it has this excellent pull-apart quality that is completely irresistible.






We always seemed to put in some zucchini from the garden, and I think that's part of why I like it so much. But put in whatever you like and/or have on hand. This recipe is so easy and fun! (Very kid-friendly, too.)


Bubble-Up Pizza Casserole
PRINTABLE RECIPE

Ingredients:
2 cans pre-made buttermilk biscuits
3/4 - 1 c. pizza or pasta sauce
mozzarella cheese
pizza toppings of your choice

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 9x13" casserole pan.
Tear or cut the biscuits into fourths and place in a mixing bowl. (I like to use the "flaky biscuits.) Toss with about 3/4 of the pizza or pasta sauce - we just used the pasta sauce we keep on hand. Mix in a handful of cheese along with toppings of your choice. We used green pepper, zucchini (sliced thinly), and pepperoni. Season with salt and pepper. Press very lightly into the prepared pan and cover with remaining sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella.
Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, until the biscuits in the middle are cooked through. (I just take a fork and twirl it in the center and pull out a bit of biscuit to test. When it's fluffy, the casserole is ready.)




July 11, 2009

Asian Chicken Salad




Iceberg lettuce, man. It is such a classic, yet so sadly out of fashion. What say we bring it back? I love it for this salad, and summer salads in general. I adore its freshness, its crisp yet watery bite. For a good time, you could also serve this as a wedge salad -- why didn't I think of that before I took the pictures?!

Oh well. Any way you serve it, I love this salad. I had this at a mission farewell party/lunch (whatever...) a few weeks ago, and was reminded how much I like it. It is so nice for summer. Very refreshing, and a nice change from a plain green salad for a light Saturday night meal. (At least it's the kind of thing I like on a Saturday night in summer.)

Asian Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
1 head Iceburg lettuce, rinsed and torn/cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 c. sliced almonds, toasted
1-2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted
3 green onions, sliced on a bias
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1 c. sugar snap peas
1 red bell pepper, sliced into bite-sized pieces
fried wonton strips or chow mien noodles (or both)

for the dressing
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar

Directions:

Mix together the dressing at least half an hour before you plan to serve the salad. (It needs time to mix and mingle.) If you want, you can add a little of the dressing to the cooked chicken and let it chill while you prepare the greens.

Mix all the veggies, chicken, almonds, and sesame seeds together and combine with as much dressing as you like. (Or serve the dressing on the side and let people add as much as they want.) Top with chow mien noodles and/or fried wonton strips and enjoy.



June 24, 2009

Gnocchi


After reading this post on delicious:days, I felt inspired.

Gnocchi (pronounced: nyo-key) are Italian dumplings. Traditionally they are made with potato; a complicated, time consuming process. These Ricotta Gnocchi are quick and satisfying. Served with a speedy tomato-basil sauce, you can't go wrong.

Ricotta Gnocchi

Ingredients:
16 oz. ricotta cheese
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 leaves fresh basil, finely chopped
1 generous pinch salt
1 generous pinch pepper
1 c. grated parmesan
2 c. flour (or as needed)

Directions:
Discard any excess liquid that the Ricotta's packaging may contain, then add Ricotta cheese, eggs and yolks, salt, basil and freshly grated Parmigiano into a large bowl. Mix well with a spoon.
Add the flour and stir in briefly, just until combined - the dough will still be quite sticky. (You can add more flour, but remember that the more flour you use, the denser the gnocchi will be. And you want them to be as light & fluffy as possible, with a velvet-like texture.)
Forming these gnocchi is the slightly tricky step. You can refrigerate overnight and then shape these, but if you can work with the dough the same day, that would be best. This is the technique that works best for me: Generously flour a board, take a big tablespoon of the dough and scoop it onto the board. It gets dusted with flour (dust your hands generously, too!), before rolling it into a finger-thick roll.
Cut it into little pillows (stick the knife's blade into the flour to prevent it from sticking to the dough). Then place each gnoccho (that's how you say just one, gnocchi is plural) on a floured board or parchment paper lined baking tray. Continue quickly with the next step, otherwise they will get soggy and stick to the paper/board anyway.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and reduce heat until the water bubbles lightly. Add the gnocchi and stir once, so they don't stick to the bottom - then let cook until they start floating on top. Depending on their size this may take 2 to 4 minutes.
Take out with a skimmer and serve immediately.

Tomato Basil Sauce
Ingredients:
1, 24 oz. can crushed San Marzano tomatoes (I could find these in my regular grocery store, but you can also go to an Italian specialty store)
2 Tbsp. prepared basil pesto
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Heat tomatoes over medium heat until they have thickened a bit. (How thick you make it just depends on your preference. I don't let mine thicken too much.) Break up any larger chunks of tomato with the back of your wooden spoon. Stir in pesto, season as you like with salt and pepper, (add more pesto, if you'r so inclinied) and let heat through. Serve. Leftovers keep about one week in the fridge or three months in the freezer.

June 20, 2009

Pantry Meals: Chicken Enchiladas


I know in this day and age it's sacrilege to use anything less than the freshest ingredients, but I honestly think if you can't transform canned goods into something fantastic, you might have some sort of severe culinary handicap. Educate yourself on how to put together a few pantry meals, and you might never need to eat out again if you keep the ingredients on hand.

This is a great way to use food storage, and it can also help you stay on your budget (especially if you shop the case-lot sales).

I know Chicken Enchiladas have many incarnations. The kind my mother favored growing up was to smother them with cream of chicken soup and sour cream, a soggy concoction I've never really stood behind. I prefer something a little more aesthetic. (And probably more waist-line friendly.)

This recipe is adapted from Robin Miller's recipe, but uses pantry staples in place of some fresh ingredients. It's definitely a go-to meal for me. It comes together really fast with practically no prep.

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2, 24 oz. cans chicken breast, drained (We use the ones from Costco. So handy!)
1, 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1, 4 oz. can diced green chiles
1/3 c. prepared salsa
flour tortillas
cheddar cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400˚. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute 2 minutes or so. Add chicken, beans, chiles and salsa. Let simmer 5 minutes, until liquid reduces and thickens.

Fill tortillas with chicken mixture, roll and place in greased casserole dish. Cover generously with cheese and bake 15 minutes, or until cheese is golden brown and bubbly. Serve with desired condiments. (sour cream, extra salsa, guacamole, etc.)

I've also made these with one can of chicken and some leftover rice. P said he liked them even more than the all-chicken variety. Play around with it and find what works for you.

June 10, 2009

Rice: the epic tale


I was planning a different post, which I promise I'll get around to, when PERFECT RICE happened.

Maybe you make perfect rice every time you attempt, reader dear, but I do not. Perfect rice is a rarity in these parts.

My rice saga has been long and sad. It begins with a bewildered bride. She wants to make rice. Mom made it look pretty darn easy (even if it did take a long time and result in the microwave overheating). She thinks, "No prob!", and opts for the stovetop over microwave. The result: bony rice that is burned on the bottom. This happens more times than I care to recount.

Dying a little inside (the weight of her failures heavy in her little foodie heart), this savvy bride purchases a rice cooker from a co-worker. He got it as a wedding present and only asked her to give him $5 for it. Score! Excitedly, she plugs it in and follows the directions, already imagining the fluffiness of the rice that will result. Ten minutes later, she comes back to check the progress of her new toy. It is lukewarm, and will not start up again. The rice inside lays stonily at the bottom of the pool of starchy water in the pot. It was not to be. The rice cooker had died, never to rice cook again. (Or ever, really, since it didn't even make it through round one.)

Fast forward a little. The bride and her hubby are in a new place, but having the same old problem. Stovetop rice that's bony and burned on the bottom (albeit slightly less than before) . They give the microwave method a try. The result: mushy rice, and starchy water all over the microwave.

When will the madness end?!

One magical day, she happens upon this post on The Wednesday Chef. It promises perfect rice for utter rice failures like herself!

It seemed too good to be true, but it is true, friends. It is.

If you, like me, have trouble with rice, I have the solution for you:

Life-Changing Baked Rice
Ingredients
1 (generous) Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. rice
2 3/4 - 3 c. water
1/2 tsp. salt

Directions
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Pour the olive oil or place the butter in a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and set the pan over medium-high heat.
Throw in the rice and stir it until the oil or butter coats all the grain.
Cook, stirring, for a few minutes. The rice will look glassy and smell toasty.
Pour in the water, add the salt, and bring to a boil.
Stir the rice once, then cover the pot and place in the oven.
Set the timer for 13 minutes.
After 13 minutes, remove the pot from the oven. Do not remove the lid from the pot and let the rice rest for five minutes.
After resting, fork through the rice to fluff it and serve.
(Serves at least 4)

June 01, 2009

Bork Bork Bork!

This is how making pizza dough used to make me feel:



But no more. Pizza and I are friends at last!

I may not be the world's biggest fan of Tyler Florence, but his pizza dough recipe works miracles. You think I'm kidding, dear reader, but I am not. This recipe is so divine, I could make pizza everyday and, possibly, not get sick of it.

Pizza Dough (courtesy Tyler Florence, Foodnetwork.com)
Ingredients:
1 c. warm water
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. yeast
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 c. flour

Directions:
Dissolve sugar in warm water and proof yeast for 5 or 10 minutes.
Stir in oil, then salt.
Add in flour 1 c. at a time until all flour is incorporated. (As with all yeast doughs, I stir in the flour by hand until I've decided it's too stiff, then use my kitchenaid's dough hook.)
Turn dough out on lightly floured counter and knead until smooth and elastic. (Most of the time I don't use flour on my counter. Just knead away. If it's sticking, though, use the flour.)
Place in an oiled bowl, turning once to coat dough.
Let rise until double in bulk. (about 1 hr.) Punch down.
Turn on your oven to 500 and place your pizza stone in to get hot.
Roll and stretch dough into a cylinder and cut in half.
Let sit for 10 minutes to let dough relax. (This is the crucial step. I don't care how much of a hurry you are in, this must be done, or your dough will be very uncooperative.)
Shape into rounds using your rolling pin on a lightly floured counter, or using your hands and tossing in the air.
Transfer your dough to the pizza stone and top as you like.
Bake for 7 - 10 minutes.

A few of our favorite ways to top our dough:

Parmesan Garlic Hearth Bread
In a small saucepan, melt 2 Tbsp. of butter with one clove of garlic. (It can be whole if you have whole cloves around. I usually have a jar of minced garlic in the fridge, so that's what I use.)
When your dough is shaped and transferred to the pizza stone, "paint" on the garlic butter with a pastry brush. Top generously with grated parmesan cheese and slip into the oven.
This should cook more quickly than a pizza would. Check it after 4 or 5 minutes.

Pesto Chicken
Once your dough is on your stone, spread out a thin layer of prepared pesto (I use my fingers to spread it because it only takes a very thin layer) and top with mozzarella cheese.
Top this with cooked, cubed chicken breast. This would also be excellent with a crumble of bacon and some artichoke hearts.
Sprinkle a little parmesan over the top of everything.

Mexican Pizza
Mix about 1/3 c, refried beans with a couple tablespoons of prepared salsa and spread on dough. Top with cheese. Mozzarella is good. We used a Mexican bend from the store.
Sprinkle on what you like. We used taco-seasoned ground beef, black olives and tomatoes. Next time I might add green pepper. And if you like cilantro and green onions, both would go well on here.

Classic Margherita
Spread dough with a thin layer of tomato sauce (like this one, also by Tyler Florence)
Top with either rounds of mozzarella cut from a fresh ball, or shredded mozarella.
Dot with leaves of fresh basil. (Leaving them whole is very authentic, but you can also slice them in a little choffonade, if you're not crazy about eating the whole leaves.)

If you have a favorite way to top your pizza, let me know. I'm always on the lookout for fun new ways to make pizza even better!

May 19, 2009

From Russia with Love















I'm not a giant fan of Russian food. Most of what we ate while I lived there was only a "meh" on the Yum scale, and the stuff they served us at the school was enough to make me gag half the time. I'm pretty sure I subsisted on Milka Bars and Passion Fruit Fanta. (Oh how I dream of thee!)

It did have its moments, however. Here a a couple of things I loved from my time in the motherland:

In Russia, the New Year and Christmas are celebrated twice as a result of the Orthodox Church's decision to abide by the "old" or Julian calendar, putting Christmas on January 6th/7th and New Year on January 13th/14th, and the Soviet shift to the "new" or Gregorian calendar. (The one we use.)

Salad Olivier is a special dish served on Russian New Year or Christmas. It's a twist on potato salad, you might say. I served it to my family at our annual Christmas party the year I went to Russia (I got home right before Christmas) and it got rave reviews.

Salad Olivier (Russian New Year Salad)
Ingredients:
2 lg. potatoes, boiled, peeled and diced
2 lg. carrots, boiled, peeled and diced
1 small bag frozen peas, cooked and drained (And I must add that we should be grateful for frozen peas. Canned peas are gross and that's all we could find there.)
1/2 small jar dill pickles, diced
1 c. diced ham
1/2 med. onion, minced
1 egg, hard-boiled and diced
mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Combine ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight.

***
Blini were a Friday ritual. Marissa always made them best. They were such a satisfying way to end a week of teaching. We would fill them with jam, honey, nutella-like spread, ham and cheese, and on one occasion they substituted for tortillas on fajita night. (Not a very satisfying substitute...)

I'm not really sure what the difference is between these Blini and crepes, but they're excellent!

Blini
Ingredients:
1 c. flour
3 c. milk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2-3 eggs
salt and sugar to taste (you won't need much of either)
vegetable oil, or cooking spray
desired toppings/fillings

Directions:
Mix eggs and milk. Add in flour, soda, salt and sugar. Mix until smooth.
Pour a little oil in pan (or use spray) and ladle in a thin layer of batter.
Tilt and turn pan to fully coat with batter. Cook only a minute or two on each side.
They should be golden, but tender and crispy only on the very edges.
Fill as desired and fold into quarters.

Suggestions for fillings:
1. deli-sliced ham with havarti cheese
2. nutella. need I say more?
3. cinnamon sugar and a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk
4. sour cream, smoked salmon and caviar -- not my idea of a good time, but this is the most traditional way to go. Russians like to serve it with good-quality vodka. (I'm pretty sure most of them like pretty much anything with vodka of any quality...)

Get creative! Sweet and savory fillings are both scrumptious.
(Blini can also be a "raised" pancake made with buckwheat flour. I have a recipe for that, too, but I haven't tried making it yet. If it's good I'll share it with you.)

May 02, 2009

Bread

I don't know about you, but the bread at the grocery store these days just isn't cutting it for us. (And at $5 - 6 a loaf, Great Harvest or anything else comparable to what I can make at home isn't really a viable alternative...) I love real, hearty bread, and I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty.

Below is our favorite recipe for bread. I use either my KitchenAid mixer or breadmaker.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread













Ingredients:
2 1/4 c. warm water
10 Tbsp. honey (I eyeball it... give that honey bear ten good squeezes)
1 Tbsp. yeast
3 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. salt
6 c. whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk
6 Tbsp. vital wheat gluten

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine flour, gluten and powdered milk. Set aside.

In your mixing bowl, dissolve honey in warm water and add yeast. Let proof for 10 minutes or so, or until the mixture looks frothy and/or creamy. Stir in oil, then salt.

Stir in flour mixture 1 c. at a time. (At first, I incorporate it with a sturdy spatula, but when that gets tiresome I bring out the dough hook.) If your machine can handle it, use the dough hook to knead the dough for a couple of minutes. I don't use my machine because the motor gets overworked. If you're like me, turn out the dough on a lightly-floured surface and knead by hand.

Coat a large bowl with oil. Place your dough inside, turning to coat, and cover with a damp cloth. Let sit in a warm place for about an hour, or until dough has doubled in bulk.

Punch down the dough and knead a bit more. Divide in two and shape into loaves. Place in mell-greased loaf pans, and let rise again until the loaves come above the lip of the pan an inch or so. (This will take about a half an hour, depending on the warmth of the room you're in.)

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. (Slip the loaves out of the pan and tap lightly on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it's done.) Remove from pans immediately and let cool on wire racks.

*If you're using a breadmaker, cut this recipe in half. Place all ingredients in your machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer and start. We use the whole wheat, 1.5 loaf size, light crust settings and it comes out perfect every time.

April 20, 2009

Ham Tetrazzini

My older brother and I were rather picky eaters. I won't lie. My mother wanted to be much more adventurous than we would allow her to be. (I particularly remember one fateful Christmas when my Mother cooked up Aebelskivers instead of the customary cinnamon rolls. We were not very appreciative of her efforts, much to my shame. Poor Mom...)

Ham Tetrazzini, or "Ham Tet" as we have come to call it, is one thing that would be sure to please. It's a little like pasta carbonara, with salty ham and creamy sauce, but it uses kid-friendly cheddar and condensed soup. Now that I'm the cook in my own home, it's a staple of the recipe box that definitely serves me well in a pinch. Plus, I always have the ingredients on hand -- frozen peas, dried pasta, canned soup, frozen diced ham -- making it that much easier to whip it up in a pinch!











Ham Tetrazzini

Ingredients:
1 lb. dried pasta, any shape (my favorites are farfalle (bowties), shells, and campanelle)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup diced ham
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 c. milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (two big handfulls or so)
salt and pepper
1/2 - 1 c. frozen peas (optional but recommended)

Directions
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
In large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent.
Add ham, and cook until slightly browned.
Stir in soup and milk.
Add cheese, salt and pepper. Let simmer until sauce is thickened. Add peas, if desired and let simmer until peas are heated through.
Toss with pasta and serve.



April 18, 2009

Chicken Stock Tutorial


Chicken stock is a basic in pretty much every kitchen, and homemade is always the best.
Follow these simple steps to make your own.

Ingredients:
bones of 1 or 2 chickens
8 - 16 c. water
1 medium onion
2 medium carrots
2 stalks celery
15 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Directions:

Clean bones of as much fat as you can. Place in bottom of large stock pot and cover with water. Heat on high until mixture doesn't quite come to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour and 15 min. Try not to let the mixture boil. Fat from the chicken will rise to the surface and you can skim it off as you go.

While you are waiting, prepare the veggies. Quarter the onion and cut the celery and carrot into large pieces. The vegetables will simmer with the broth for a long time, so don't make the pieces too small.

After the stock has simmered for an hour and 15 min., Add in veggies, peppercorns and bay leaf. Let the stock and veggies simmer for 45 minutes more. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer.

At this point your stock is ready to use, but you can also put it in the refrigerator and skim off any additional fat that rises to the top as it congeals.

A few tips:

* If you don't buy bone-in chicken very often (I don't really ever...), get a rotisserie chicken from the store. Strip the meat and you can use it for salads or soups. Save the bones for making stock.

*You can use the skin of the rotisserie chicken, too. And don't chuck the wings, just toss them in skin and all.

*Bones can be saved in the freezer until you are ready/have enough to make stock.

* Adding a few whole cloves to the stock lends a richer, more complex flavor. (It won't make your stock taste like spice cake, I promise.)

* To store stock for a long while, freeze it in ice cube trays. When you need some stock, or want to add some extra flavor to a dish, just pop one out! (Though I would recommend freezing them in the trays and then transferring to a ziplock bag to avoid freezer burn.)

April 14, 2009

Oven-Puff Pancake


Our little family will never be accused of not liking pancakes. I am always on the lookout for fun ways to make them.

Some, like me, call these "German Pancakes". Some, like P, call them "Swedish Pancakes". (Though I am loathe to inform him that Swedish Pancakes are flat and floppy, much like crepes or blini.) I have also heard them called "Dutch Babies". I've settled on the term "Oven-Puff" -- being descriptive of the pancake, not its origins-- in an attempt to avoid taking sides.

Whatever you call them, they're a staple at our house on nights when chopping and sauteing don't appeal.


Oven-Puff Pancake

Ingredients:
1/2 c. flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. butter


Directions:
Heat oven to 425. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except butter. Beat with a wire whisk until smooth.
Place butter in 9" pie plate or cake round and melt in oven until butter sizzles (2-4 min.)
Remove pan from oven and tilt to coat with butter.
Immediately pour batter into hot pan and return to oven.
Bake for 14-18 min.

There are many ways to top this pancake. Traditionalists favor a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. I like maple or fruit syrup (Mmm... boysenberry) or a shake of cinnamon sugar.

We make a double batch and do two pans at a time. A very quick weeknight supper. (I suppose you could have them for breakfast, too, but we don't.)



April 02, 2009

Balsamic Roasted Pork



Pork Roast was on sale at the store, and I was feeling spunky. I found this recipe on Allrecipes.com and gave it a try.

We saved enough to send some home with my Mom, who had just returned from a trip that had been something of a nightmare... It was, by her account, love at first bite.

She has since requested this dish at every opportunity, and I am happy to oblige, as I love it, too. It's lovely and moist. It has a little hint of heat from the steak seasoning, and a tang from the balsamic.

Balsamic Roasted Pork


Ingredients:
2 Tbsp. Montreal Steak seasoning (McCormack)
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar (high quality, please!)
1/2 c. olive oil
2 lb. boneless pork roast or pork loin

Directions:
Dissove steak seasoning in balsamic vinegar, then stir in olive oil. Place pork and marinade in ziplock bag and let marinate at least two hours (overnight is best).
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350. Place pork and marinade in glass baking dish. Bake 1 hour, basting occasionally, until pork reaches internal temp of 145.
Let roast rest 10 minutes or so before slicing.

Serve with roasted root veggies. I like to toss potato, onion and carrot chunks in a little bit of olive oil and sprinkle with the steak seasoning -- or coat them in a little of the marinade-- and stick them in the oven alongside the roast. Turn them a couple times and pull them out when they are tender.




March 25, 2009

Winter Warmers

So... apparently it's still winter.

To warm up last night I fixed up some chili-mac with cornbread. Delicious!

The chili is a recipe my good friend, Libby, and I made up in high school. I use it all the time and I haven't found another chili recipe I like as much. (Though I say it myself...) We also made up a Chili-Brulee song to go along with it, but I will spare you the torture of hearing it, partially because it would be hard to put it on the blog, and partially because it's just scary.

The cornbread recipe is from a family cookbook compiled some years ago for my Mom's side of the family. I can't vouch for its authenticity, but I can certainly vouch for its deliciousness. It is seriously heavenly stuff. Don't skip the buttermilk. It's important. (Okay, you can certainly substitute plain milk for the buttermilk, but trust me when I tell you that buttermilk takes it to a whole different level.)

Chili-Brulee

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 lb. ground beef
1, 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 tsp. chili powder (or more, to taste)
1/2 tsp. salt
a couple good turns of black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. basil
1 cube beef bullion
2, 16 oz. cans diced tomatoes
2, 15 oz. cans kidney beans, drained
1, 15 oz. can black beans, drained

Directions:
Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions and saute for a minute or two. Add ground beef and cook until browned through. (At this point you can drain the drippings from the ground beef. I don't because I'm lazy like that.) Add in tomato sauce and spices. Add diced tomatoes and let simmer for 5 or 10 minutes. (Longer is better, but who has that kind of time?) Add all beans, and let simmer another 10 or 15 minutes.

You can finish this any number of ways: you can eat it as-is with your favorite toppings; you can serve it with elbow macaroni or shell pasta and a generous handful of cheese to make chili-mac like we did last night; or you can make it truly "brulee" by dishing it into oven-safe stoneware bowls, topping with cheddar cheese and broiling until the cheese is brown and bubbly. (The way Libby and I originally intended.)

"Marie Callendar's" Corn Bread
(This recipe has never failed me!)

Ingredients:
2 1/4 c. flour
3/4 c. yellow cornmeal
1/4 c. + 2. Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. margarine, melted
3 lg. eggs, beaten

Directions:
Mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, combine milk, margarine and eggs. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in milk mixture. Mix until moist but lumpy (don't over-mix). Pour into a greased 9x9" pan. Bake at 425 for 25 minutes.
Don't forget the honey butter!

March 23, 2009

Black Bean Burritos with Avocado


I originally got this recipe from Cooking Light magazine, so it's pretty darn healthy, but it all depends on what you put on your burrito.

Ingredients:
1 tsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. water
2 tsp. cumin
2, 15 oz. cans black beans, drained of excess liquid
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. diced avocado
1 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice
flour tortillas
burrito fixings of your choice
(We like cheddar cheese, sour cream, salsa and lettuce)

Directions:
Combine avocado with citrus juice to coat. Set aside.
Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute about 1 min. Stir in water, cumin and beans. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 3 min. or until beans just begin to burst. (It will be paste-like - sort of like refried beans, but better for you!) Taste and add salt and/or pepper to your taste. Assemble burritos as desired.

Note: This is also fantastic with chicken, but makes a great vegetarian dish on its own.

March 21, 2009

Perfect Pancakes



Even people who aren't fond of pancakes have raved about this recipe!

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

Directions:
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs, then add in the milk and vanilla. Pour in the melted butter and add mixture to dry ingredients immediately. Whisk until batter is just formed (in other words, be careful not to over-mix so the pancakes will be as tender and fluffy as possible).

Heat a skillet over medium heat and pour on about 1/4 c. batter. Cook on first side until bubbles begin to break the surface and the undersides are golden-brown (about 2 minutes). Flip and cook about 1 minute more.

Variations:
If you like blueberry pancakes, this is a great recipe to use. Just add the blueberries right before you flip the pancakes (when bubbles break the surface of the pancake). Same goes for chocolate chips!





March 17, 2009

Chicken with Lemon Cream Sauce

Ingredients:
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cube butter
2 Tbsp. chicken broth
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. corn starch
1 c. heavy cream (or evaporated milk)
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Lightly salt and pepper chicken breasts. Saute in pan or grill until cooked through. Set aside in oven-safe dish.
Dissolve corn starch in cream. Set aside. Melt butter in skillet, add chicken broth, and lemon juice. Slowly add cornstarch and cream to pan, stirring constantly. Let sauce simmer until thickened, continuing to stir.
Pour over chicken and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Broil until cheese is golden and bubbly. Serve over rice.

March 09, 2009

Pretty Kitten

Welcome to my blog about food.

I used to think I was a baker and that cooking was too challenging. I felt confined to the recipe.

Now I know better. While I have yet to master some things, like scrambled eggs, chocolate chip cookies, and rice (teasingly difficult, if you can make these things you are smart!), other things have come easily, like angel food cake, chocolate souffle, balsamic roasted pork, and excellent beef pot roast.

I'm enjoying the journey!
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