Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Somehow, word got out that John and I like to cook. It looks like there will be much to blog about in 2010. Keep an eye out for John's adventures with his new pasta maker. I will be keeping myself busy with the newest additions to my cookbook library (America's Test Kitchen! Ina Garten!! Julia Child!!!).

All this, and we haven't even opened the gifts from my family yet. I hope next year Santa gets us a bigger kitchen...

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cranberry Orange Mini-Loaves

Still looking for some last-minute holiday gifts? Make your friends and family some of this cranberry bread. Everyone knows that carbs make the best gifts. Unless your friends are on the Atkins diet, in which case, they shouldn't be your friends anyways.

In a Sandra Lee-esque moment, I bought a bunch of Christmas-themed mini loaf pans for $1 each (no, I did not create a matching tablescape). If you live near a Christmas Tree Shop, you might be able to find some yourself. I had made a regular sized loaf of cranberry bread a few weeks ago just to test drive the recipe. I made it extra festive and tasty this time around by adding more cranberries and sprinkling the tops of the loaves with turbinado sugar before baking. This recipe makes one regular sized loaf, or four mini loaves.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Slow-Cooker Indian Butter Chicken

I was supposed to go to my company's holiday party on Saturday night but it was canceled due to a huge snow storm. When I found out the party was off, I was actually pretty excited because all I really wanted to do this weekend was stay in, cook lots of delicious things, and re-watch Season 5 of Lost. Check out all the snow we got here at the Italian restaurant:

In the past, I haven't had much luck with Indian food or with cooking anything in the slow-cooker. However, my luck changed for the better with this curry. This was easy to do, and so warm and comforting on a blustery, snowy weekend. I know that curry is not really the most photogenic food, but I promise if you like Indian food, you'll love this recipe. John, while scarfing this down, said, "I think Indian food has now replaced Mexican food as my second-favorite type of cusine" (Italian is first, if you hadn't figured that out). Despite all of the spices in this dish, it wasn't hot at all, but you could turn up the heat by using a hot curry paste (I used mild) or adding the optional cayenne pepper.

The ingredient list might seem a little intimidating if you've never cooked Indian food before. However, I was able to find everything at Wegman's (they have a well-stocked International Foods section). One thing to note is that cardamom is really expensive (Wikipedia says it's the third most expensive spice in the world, after saffron and vanilla). I found a giant bag of cardamom pods at a local Indian grocery store for a much better price than what Wegman's was selling it for. Um, if anyone knows what to do with a surplus of cardamom pods, please let me know.

We served this over white basmati rice, with some naan bread and samosas on the side (both found frozen at the Indian grocery... bonus!).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Best Chicken Parmesan in the World

Yep, I'll say it, it's the best. I challenge anyone to make a better chicken parm.  I've been perfecting this recipe for several years now and I think I've got it down pretty good.  The key to the recipe, besides my homemade tomato sauce, is the breading to chicken ratio.  I believe Bec has mentioned that before on the blog, well this is the recipe that started it all. Isn't all cooking about ratios anyway?  A lot of Italian restaurants pound the crap out of the chicken breast so it's so thin that it's impossible to NOT over cook.  I'd rather have a nice tender piece of meat that tastes delicious, than a burnt piece of crusty chicken.  If you're like me, then this recipe is for you.

So once again, I'm including two recipes in one, the chicken parm of course, and my tomato sauce recipe.  Now, let me start by saying I rarely measure anything in the kitchen, unless on the off chance I'm baking or following some new recipe.  Like I said, its all about the ratios.  Also, use good ingredients, I can't stress this enough.  Use the good fresh mozzarella, not that pre shedded in a bag crap.  Also, you should use imported DOP certified San Marzano tomatoes.  The difference between these and anything else is night and day. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Vegetarian Bolognese with Whole Wheat Penne

Lately I've been having a difficult time zipping up pants that fit just fine last winter. I have no idea what might have caused this unfortunate predicament, but it seemed like a good time to order a subscription to Cooking Light. I found this recipe in my first issue, under the heading "Savoring Umami." After cooking this dish, I still don't really know or care what umami is. The important thing is that I had delicious (and healthy!) leftovers for lunch this week.

I liked this recipe, and more importantly, John liked this recipe. While John might never voluntarily cook anything without meat in it (except maybe apple pie), he's been quite receptive to most of the vegetarian recipes I've thrown his way. This has lots of finely chopped mushrooms in it, which give the sauce a meaty texture. The sauce gains plenty of flavor from all of the vegetables and a splash of red wine. I didn't make too many adjustments to the recipe, but I did add some garlic... it just seemed like an obvious addition to the list of ingredients. I used a dried wild mushroom blend in place of the porcinis, and ground them up in a mini food processor since I don't own the spice grinder that they suggest using.

If you like this recipe, stay tuned... come January 1, I'll be blogging a whole week's worth of Cooking Light recipes in honor of America's favorite New Year's resolution.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

As mentioned in my previous post, I have a fridge full of cranberries right now. Being from Cape Cod,  I have a special love for the cranberry. When I was little, my parents sometimes took my sister and I to "Cranberry World." It was basically just a museum with dioramas of cranberry bogs and free juice samples. I know it sounds kind of lame, but it was clearly successful in its attempt to turn small children into ravenous consumers of the cranberry (it was owned by Ocean Spray, after all).

Anyways, I felt like making some muffins with my excess cranberries. I'd seen recipes for pumpkin cranberry muffins, but none were quite what I wanted, so I adapted this one to suit the muffin-vision dancing in my head. I swapped vanilla yogurt for half of the oil, and used my lovely fresh cranberries instead of the dried ones. I didn't have any of the ground ginger that it called for, so I left it out. I didn't feel like putting the pecans in either, but I might use them next time. And finally, for a sweet crunch, I sprinkled the tops of the muffins with some turbinado sugar before baking. These came out exactly like I wanted them to: soft and moist with tons of tangy cranberries.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sauteed Pork Loin Chops with Cranberry Orange Sauce

I got really excited when I saw fresh cranberries at Trader Joe's, so I bought three bags (you can freeze cranberries if you don't want to use them right away). I love making baked goods with cranberries, but thought I should try some savory dishes as well. This dish turned out really nicely... I loved the sweet-tart sauce with the mild pork.  I'm glad I bought so many cranberries... we'll make this one again! We served this with our delicious potato latkes and some roasted asparagus.

John brined the pork chops first. This is an optional step, but it's easy to do and will ensure juicy pork. To brine, dissolve 3 tablespoons of table salt and 3 tablespoons of sugar in 2 quarts of water. Submerge the meat completely in the brine, then cover and refrigerate for a half hour. Remove the meat from the brine, pat it dry with paper towels, and proceed with the recipe.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Potato Latkes

Happy Chanukkah! Or however you spell it... I don't really know since I'm only half Jewish. And it's my dad that's Jewish, so it doesn't really even count (the Jewish religion tends to be passed down by the mother). My family did celebrate Chanukkah, so the rituals aren't completely foreign to me. The food, however, was never a part of my childhood since I didn't have a living Jewish grandma to cook these sorts of things. But it's never too late to learn to be a good half-Jew, so when I spotted these latkes over at Smitten Kitchen, I thought I'd cook some up for dinner tonight (check out the Smitten Kitchen post; the photos are lovely).

If you have a food processor, these are a snap to throw together. If you don't, now you know what to ask for for Christmas. Or Chanukkah. You just grate your onion and potato, mix that with some egg and flour, and then fry 'em up. We thought they benefited from a sprinkling of salt just after frying. John, being Italian and all, thought he'd sprinkle a few with grated Parmesan cheese (delicious, by the way). We just ate ours plain, but you can serve them with sour cream or applesauce.

Cookie Dough Truffles

Who even needs to bake cookies when you can just take chocolate chip cookie dough and dip it in chocolate?  And there are no eggs in the dough, so you can eat as much as you want without worry (I say this as if the presence of raw eggs has ever stopped me from stuffing my face with gobs of cookie dough). I made these for my friends' holiday cookie swap later today, so I think they'll be a nice variation from the peanut butter blossoms that I usually make.

These are easy to do, if a little time-consuming. I refrigerated my dough overnight, which made it much easier to work with the next day (it was too sticky right after making it). I used my fondue pot to melt the chocolate, which worked out nicely since I don't own the double-boiler that the recipe calls for. Trader Joe's was out of their mega-bars of milk chocolate, so I coated these in dark chocolate. I also toasted my pecans to give them a little bit of extra flavor.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Smoky Turkey Shepherd's Pie

Yes, I'm still on a comfort food kick. Don't expect it to stop anytime soon, especially since we got our first snow on Saturday!

When I was visiting my parents last weekend, we went to an Irish pub for dinner one night. I had a shepherd's pie, and wondered why I had never made one before (I mean, it has a mashed potato crust!). I remembered seeing a recipe for a turkey shepherd's pie in my Rachel Ray 365: No Repeats cookbook and decided I'd give it a try this weekend. I should say, I am not a huge fan of Rachel's (the cookbook was a gift!). It's not just because I find her personality kind of annoying, but also because the "30 minute meals" thing is a big fat lie. Her recipes have a ton of ingredients (that need to be chopped), and I usually end up using a lot of pots, pans, bowls, and utensils to get one of her meals together so it takes forever to clean up. Her recipes are not as simple and fast as something that claims to be a "30 minute meal" should be. That said, I've enjoyed the end result of each one of her recipes that I've tried. We do have a "30 minutes or less" tag on this blog, and I really don't think I can put that tag on this particular entry since it took me almost an hour to make this dish.

This is not a traditional shepherd's pie by any means. It has a lot more veggies than any other shepherd's pie I've eaten, and it gets its smokiness from bacon, paprika, and cumin. I mostly followed the recipe, except I ignored the part that told me to cook the bacon in 2 Tbs. of olive oil. I don't know what Rachel is smoking over there in the Food Network kitchens, but I'm pretty sure bacon does not require additional cooking fat, so I left it out.  If I make this again, I would use a little less chicken broth or else let the sauce thicken a little more on the stove top because it was more liquid-y than I would have liked. On the whole, we really enjoyed it, and it tasted great the next day too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Turkey Meatloaf

It's December (sigh). Even if it's not officially winter yet, the cold mornings make me crave comfort food, so I decided to whip up this meatloaf for dinner. I have a lot of bad memories of meatloaf from my childhood (thanks, Dad!), but have grown to really love it as an adult. In college, my friends and I used to get together for "loaf night" (complete with biscuits and mashed potatoes) when we wanted some home-cooked food. This recipe isn't too different from what we used to make. The key is pouring tomato soup over the meatloaf before baking it, which keeps it really moist and flavorful. It might look a little weird, but just go with it.

Meatloaf is one of those things that you generally throw together with a pinch of this and a handful of that. I've never measured out my meatloaf ingredients before (until today, of course), so feel free to play with the recipe. I've made this with beef many times with similarly good results. One technique I do recommend following is grating, rather than chopping, your onions. This way you get the onion-y flavor without ever biting into a big chunk.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Cookie Madness

You can't even fathom the amount of cookies my mom and I baked yesterday. I was visiting my parents for the weekend, and mom enlisted my help in making cookies to give away as Christmas gifts. I think my mom just wanted to practice being an amazing cookie-baking grandma for my niece, Laura, who was born the morning after our baking fiesta. :)

Just how many cookies did we make? Well, mom has a double oven, which really increased our cookie-producing power. After about 7 hours and 15 sticks of butter (top that, Paula Deen!), we'd created eight different kinds of cookies.

For your Christmas cookie-making enjoyment, six of those recipes are included in this post:

    * Peanut Butter Blossoms
    * Cream Cheese Cookies
    * Chocolate Mint Cookies
    * Bethal Bars
    * Holiday Thumbprint Cookies
    * Caramel-Filled Chocolate Cookies

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chocolate Chip Stuffed French Toast

I had some leftover Italian bread and some leftover cream cheese (from making pumpkin whoopie pies last weekend), so my logical solution for using up these ingredients was making stuffed french toast. We are coming up on that time of year where we stuff things, after all. But we're usually stuffing birds, so I stuffed some bread this morning. And I stuffed it with a gooey, sweet cream cheese and chocolate filling. John liked the filling so much that he spread the extra on top of his toast (I prefer maple syrup on my french toast, but whatever). I had never made stuffed french toast before, but it was much easier than I thought and I will definitely be making it again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pumpkin Whoopee Pies

About a year ago, John and I took a little road trip to Lancaster County, PA (aka "Amish Country"). One of my fondest memories of the trip is the giant box of whoopee pies that we bought (the Amish people sure have a gift for making baked goods... how they do it without the Food Network or the interwebs is a mystery to me). We bought all different flavors... your classic chocolate, chocolate peanut butter (my personal favorite), red velvet, and pumpkin. Check out our whoopee pie bounty:

So when I came across this recipe on the Cooks Illustrated web site, I knew I had to try it. Since it's the time of year for all things pumpkin, I thought this would be an appropriate dessert. Plus, we were planning to take them over to Joe and Brooke's (John's brother and sister-in-law) for dinner, and Brooke is a pumpkin connoisseur (and she gave these two thumbs up!).

Although I might make a few changes next time, I thought these came out pretty well for my first whoopee pie attempt (you can pretty much bet on the second attempt being chocolate peanut butter). For starters, I'll make extra frosting next time... this recipe left me with a few cookies unfrosted (tragic, no?). I firmly believe that you can never have too much frosting. The recipe tells you to flatten each cookie (prior to baking) so that it's a half inch thick. I wasn't overly careful about doing that since I didn't anticipate how much the cookies would puff up when baked. I certainly wouldn't do anything to change the flavors, though.

Tomato Basil with Orzo Soup

I usually find a soup recipe that sounds good, I make it once, and don't like it enough to make it again. This tomato basil soup, however, is my one exception. I found this recipe a few years ago, and always find myself wanting to make it when the weather starts to get a little cooler. In fact, I made a big pot of it today just so I could have it for lunch all week long. It's a thick, hearty soup that's great for a meal on its own (but also makes a nice accompaniment to a grilled cheese). Even though there's a little bit of cream in it (which gives it a velvety texture), it's a pretty healthy soup since it's chock full of veggies.

The recipe came from the Wegmans web site (and you can actually just buy the soup already made in the store if you're lucky enough to live near a Wegmans). If I may go off on a small tangent: I love Wegmans. A lot. I didn't grow up near one, but my grandparents used to live in upstate New York (prime Wegmans territory). I have a lot of fond memories of my grandmother taking me there and letting me pick out a cookie or cupcake to eat while she shopped. So, when I moved to Princeton a few years ago and found out that there is a Wegmans here, it was a big nostalgic thrill for me. And if you're an eagle-eyed viewer of "The Office," you may have noticed some Wegmans brand products on the show (check out the cereals on top of the fridge or the soda cans).

See, Michael Scott likes Wegmans milk and cereal!  Anyways, back to the soup. If you do live near a Wegmans, check out the original recipe on their website, as it calls for some Wegmans-specific products. I've adapted the recipe so that you can make it with ingredients purchased just about anywhere. But seriously, get thee to a Wegmans if you've never been. Ok, ok, to the soup...

Vegetable Stromboli & Pizza Dough Recipe

So it's been a week since our last post, its not like we haven't been cooking, its just that we haven't had anything blog-worthy to post.  This week was a lot of quick meals thanks to Trader Joe's and their wonderful frozen foods selection.  We did make Sloppy Joe's this week that I enjoyed, but Bec wasn't wowed by them so alas they will not be appearing here.  Well yesterday morning after breakfast I felt like making some pizza dough. I wasn't sure what I was going to make, but the recipe I use makes enough for 4 pizza's or stromboli's, or whatever else I feel like covering with tomato sauce and cheese.  I knew we were going to be making some other things this weekend (blog posts to follow), so I thought an easy meal for Saturday night would be a pizza or stromboli.

We voted on a stromboli.  Now my mom used to make these all the time when we were kids, and her traditional way of making them was with pepperoni and mozzarella.  It is still my favorite version, but I also enjoy this version that we created several months ago for Bec's birthday party.  Since we have a lot of vegetarian friends, and I should probably eat more vegetables than pepperoni, we came up with this delicious recipe.

There's 2 recipes here, one for the pizza dough, which I borrowed from this blogger, and one for the stromboli.  I found this pizza dough recipe earlier this year when I was trying to make a thin crust pizza that I could be proud of.  This is it what I was looking for and I love it!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Dinner: Chicken Cacciatore with Portobellos and Sage

John's parents came over for dinner this evening, so we wanted to cook up something nice (but not too difficult... it is the "day of rest" after all).We were mulling over menu ideas this morning, and chicken cacciatore randomly popped into my head, so John pulled this recipe off of the Cooks Illustrated web site. The chicken simmers in a rich red wine sauce along with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and herbs. We served this up with some egg noodles, a salad, and some crusty bread.  I'm not entirely sure how "authentic" this dish is (I really haven't had much chicken cacciatore in my life), but we all really enjoyed it. We had John's amazing apple pie for dessert, so I'd say this was a great Sunday meal all around.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mmmm...Apple Pie.

I had another day off work today, and what better way to spend a day off than to spend it making an apple pie?  I don't think I've ever made a pie from scratch, so knowing I had nothing else to do today, I took up the challenge.  It really wasn't that hard, but let me tell you that I officially hate to peel, core, and slice apples.  There must be some tool out there that makes this job a lot easier.  Oooh, another kitchen gadget to buy!  Anyway, lets get down to it.  For my first attempt at baking a traditional apple pie, I went to the bible of cooking, Cooks Illustrated's The New Best Recipe Book. This 1,000 page tome has recipes for pretty much everything, and they have tested and retested and updated these recipes dozens of times, so you know you're going to get something good.  There are illustrations and explanations of techniques of every kind, including making pie doughs.

So this morning after breakfast I made the dough.  It has to be shaped into discs and left in the refrigerator for a few hours before making the pie, so that left me some time to go get the apples.  They recommend a mixture of Granny Smith and McIntosh apples, but this time of year when different varieties are abundant, they recommend several others.  I went with 4 each of Macoun and Cortland.  The other varieties in lieu of the Granny Smith / McIntosh combo are, Royal Gala, Empire, Winesap, and Rhode Island Greening.

They say this pie is best eaten at room temperature or even the next day.  Currently it is sitting on the counter cooling as I drool on the keyboard typing this.  I guess I'll have to wait until tomorrow to update on the taste and texture, and of course pictures!

Here's the recipe...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Best Quesadillas in Modern World History

I know that's a pretty bold claim, but I can back it up.  These are awesome. This was one of the first meals we cooked in our new apartment once we'd grown tired of eating pizza and pasta from the restaurant downstairs. It has since become one of our favorite dishes.

Not only are these quesadillas delicious, but they're very quick and easy to make.  We adapted this recipe from an America's Test Kitchen recipe (those people are geniuses, I swear). The original recipe called for steak, but we have always used chicken instead. Vegetarian friends, just leave out the chicken and throw in some extra veggies, caramelized onions would be tasty.You could make endless combinations of deliciousness in your quesadillas as long as you always include one secret, magical ingredient. What is this wondrous ingredient? It's something you never, ever would have thought to put in a quesadilla:

Creamy Penne with Walnuts

I was off from work today, because people really shouldn't have to work AND vote on the same day, and felt like cooking something new.  I had all day to think about it, but all I could come up with was the meatballs.  I asked Bec, and her only input was mac and cheese.  Yes, our mac and cheese recipe from Cooks Illustrated is amazing, but I wanted to experiment a little.  So I flipped through some cookbooks and stumbled upon this recipe from a Williams Sonoma Pasta cookbook, a gift from my sister in law and fellow food blogger, Brooke.  Hi Brooke!
I like this recipe because it takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish, and the Gorgonzola Parmesan cheese sauce sounded really interesting.  Its not exactly fat free, but it is damn tasty.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Balls of Meat

About every couple weeks I get a craving for some delicious meatballs, and today was one of those days. Let me start by saying that my grandmother has made the best meatballs known to mankind, but it's been at least 10 years since they've made their way out of her oven. And my Mom makes damn good meatballs too, but I've tried her recipe and they never come out the way they do when she makes them. I think that's because she doesn't measure the ingredients, and just wings it from memory. That brings me to my brother, Joe. The guy can barely boil water, but somehow he has managed to almost replicate my grandmother's meatballs. And since he won't give me his recipe, although I know it pretty much only contains meatloaf mix and a block of Locatelli, I am left to search for my own.

I've tried lots of different recipes from various sources, and I just couldn't find one that knocks me out. Until recently. Now anyone who knows me will tell you that I kinda have a man-crush on Alton Brown, but I never thought that this crazy guy from Georgia could make a meatball. Well I was wrong. A few months ago I decided to give his recipe a whirl and was knocked out. Bec and I loved them. Granted they are not my grandmother's, but I was on to something here and hopefully with a little tweaking, I could have a recipe to call my own.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Apple Squares

I prefer low-maintenance baking. This could change one day when I get my dream appliance: A Kitchen Aid mixer.  But for now, I like things that require little more than mixing a few ingredients together, popping them in the oven, and then sitting back and enjoying the delicious smells coming from the kitchen. My mom's apple square recipe totally fit the bill on this cool fall afternoon. These are so simple to make, and use only one mixing bowl so clean-up is minimal.

So what exactly is an apple square, you ask? I guess it's kind of an apple cake... all you really need to know is that it's delicious. Mom's been making these as long as I can remember and they never lasted long. When I was a kid, I liked them without the nuts, but today I threw in some pecans since I had some in the pantry.Walnuts would work here too.

I usually eat these straight up, but I think they would be pretty amazing if you served them with some caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. And maybe some toasted pecans sprinkled on top.  Mmm.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Butternut Squash Risotto

Yesterday I was in the mood for a good fall meal. I also wanted to convince John that butternut squash is indeed delicious. The solution: Ina Garten's butternut squash risotto.

My favorite part about this recipe is that it calls for saffron, which really classes up the dish. Saffron tends to be expensive, but I found it at a reasonable price at (where else?) Trader Joe's.  John's favorite part of the recipe is that it contains a pork product (pancetta).  Don't be afraid to make risotto... it does require constant attention, but it's not difficult to make. The end result is a creamy, delicious and filling meal which successfully convinced John that butternut squash is tasty. Really, what's not tasty when combined with this much butter and cheese?

For a vegetarian version of this dish, you could easily leave out the pancetta and use veggie stock instead of the chicken stock.


A few months ago, I moved in with my boyfriend, John.  I found our apartment on Craigslist... it seemed perfect not only because it is a mere mile from where I work, but also because it's right above a little pizza place. We're both food enthusiasts, and we knew right away that it was the perfect place for us. After combining all of our gadgets, we knew we were kind of unstoppable in the kitchen.

As far as my cooking style... I usually take inspiration from whatever I saw on Food Network that morning, something I enjoyed in a restaurant, or what looks good at the local farmer's market.  I'm hoping that keeping a blog will encourage me to branch out of my culinary comfort zone and try some new and creative dishes to share.

John, as you can see, has the Italian dishes covered:

Here's John making meatballs. Also featured is the amount of pasta he bought at the store that day (along with lots of pudding and cheese... you know, things you can make a full meal out of). While I'm not going to post his last name on here, it's pretty much the most Italian last name I've ever heard. One of my friends, when she couldn't remember it, started referring to him as "John DiFrappuccino." Trust me, it fits. John makes some mean Italian cuisine. I think I fell for him when he was explaining to me the secret for his delicious chicken parm: "a perfect bread-to-chicken ratio." Doesn't he make an adorable stereotype? 

Our cat, Bear, isn't really interested in eating what we cook so much as getting into and knocking over whatever we're drinking.  He does seem curious about the cooking process, though.

I hope you'll enjoy following us through our various cooking projects, and maybe even cooking some of our food. Buon appetito!