Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

This year I had intended to make chai-spiced sugar cookies for my friends' annual holiday cookie swap. Then I changed my mind when I got to the grocery store and realized that the spices I needed were going to cost me $20. We've been trying to stick to a grocery budget since we bought our house, and somehow it didn't seem fair to purchase expensive spices when I won't let John buy his $4-per-can San Marzano tomatoes anymore (o, the sacrifices we've made). Luckily, I had just about everything I needed for these cookies already in my pantry.

Mexican hot chocolate has cinnamon in it, and often some chile pepper to add an extra kick. The chile powder is optional in this recipe, but if you do want to add some heat, make sure you're using chile (with an "e") and not chili (with an "i") powder. It's an important distinction. I omitted the chile powder, but I thought the cinnamon added nice warmth to these cookies without being overpowering. They're basically chocolate snickerdoodles.

Give these a try--they'll make a nice addition to your holiday cookie plate. If you're looking for other cookie recipes, check out last year's Christmas cookie posts:

Holiday Cookie Madness
Cookie Dough Truffles

English Cottage Pie

We're back! We're no longer above the little Italian restaurant, but I can't say that we miss it. It's been quite a busy month, but we're (mostly) unpacked and loving our new house. After about a week of eating take out, we graduated to familiar, low-effort dinners. Now I'm finally getting my groove back in the kitchen and trying out some new recipes.

This cottage pie recipe from Cooking Light seemed like the perfect dinner for a chilly night. I made a shepherd's pie last winter, but we much preferred this one-it was easier to make and the flavors were a little more traditional (I say that like I have some authority on traditional English cuisine. Just play along. Jolly good then.).

I only made minor changes to the original recipe. Cooking Light often instructs you to saute your veggies in cooking spray. I think this is stupid, so I ignore them and use vegetable oil instead. I also used 1 teaspoon of dried thyme in place of a tablespoon of fresh. For the low-fat cheese called for, I really like Cabot 50% reduced fat cheddar. If there's anything I like more than a mashed potato crust, it's a cheesy mashed potato crust. Yum.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Year of Blogging... and Some News!

We're moving!!
 It's hard to believe we've been blogging from our little apartment above an Italian restaurant for a whole year. I'm here to report that we won't be blogging from here for much longer... we'll be blogging from our new kitchen... in our new house! A few people have asked us if we're going to change the name of the blog now, but that seems like too much effort: the name stays!

We probably won't be doing too much blogging for awhile, so I'm going to list some of my favorite things we've posted over the past year (speaking of favorite things, did anyone see the Sound of Music cast reunite on Oprah this week?? Ah-mazing!). It was hard to choose, since I don't put anything on this blog if I don't genuinely enjoy it, but I've narrowed it down as best I could.

Bec's favorite things:

Pear, Walnut, and Feta Salad

Roasted Garlic Hummus

Italian Sausage Soup

Italian dish:
John's Homemade Ravioli

Indian dish:
Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken dish:
Chicken with Israeli Couscous, Spinach, and Feta

Pork dish:
Indoor BBQ Pulled Pork

Vegetarian dish:
Eggplant Rollatini

Caramel Filled Chocolate Cookies

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Thanks for reading our little blog! I hope you've enjoyed our first year. Once we've moved (and unpacked the kitchen), we'll be back with lots of great recipes.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cheddar Corn Muffins

 For approximately five years now, my friend Stacie and I have been saying that we should take one of the cooking classes offered at Whole Foods. Last month, we finally made this happen and took a muffin-making class. The woman teaching the class shared some excellent recipes, including this one for cheddar corn muffins. The main thing we learned was not to overmix the muffin batter. I'd heard this before, but it helped to have someone demonstrate when exactly to stop mixing. I always have to mix until I can't see any spots of flour, but apparently I was over-mixing. When everything is just barely incorporated... stop! And you'll end up with fluffy, tender, delicious muffins.

We had some special guests for dinner last night: John's aunt Linda and uncle Mike. Linda is a faithful reader and commenter here on our blog, so we wanted to make a nice dinner for her. We made these to go along with our fabulous barbeque pulled pork. The muffins have an awesome crispy crust on the top, due to a generous sprinkling of cheddar before they go in the oven. There is more cheddar in the batter, along with some oregano and cayenne. The end result is a really tasty, savory muffin... I'll definitely be making these next time we have chili!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pasta with Tomato and Almond Pesto (Pesto alla Trapanese)

Can I interest you in a fresh-tasting pasta sauce that requires no more effort than throwing a bunch of stuff in your food processor? I made a double batch of the pesto and froze half of it, which I would definitely recommend doing-it doesn't require any extra work, and you'll be glad you have it sitting in your freezer for the next time you need an easy dinner.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Shallots

Just when you've had it with summer and the f%#$*# air conditioning that barely works... bam, you suddenly find yourself having to wear a sweater when you go out at night. Ah, fall, how I've missed you. John's parents came over for dinner last weekend, and we wanted to cook something appropriate for the changing of the seasons. But before we get to that, allow me to introduce our newest (and tiniest) kitchen assistant, Penny:
Penny fits nicely in my apron pocket, and she looooves to eat. And now back to the cooking...

The finished dish looks pretty elegant, but it was relatively simple to prepare. You brown the pork tenderloin and then pop it in the oven while you prepare the pears and the sauce. The sauce contains pear nectar (find it in the International Foods aisle with the other Goya stuff), which adds just enough sweetness. We served this with some rice pilaf, roasted tomatoes and green beans, and my favorite fall dessert, apple squares.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Peach Sangria

My sangria is why I get invited to parties what people always ask me to bring to their parties. I brought this to my friends' Labor Day BBQ last weekend. I actually have special portable sangria pitchers for such occasions. I am serious about my wine cocktails, ok?

I also make a lovely red sangria, which we'll get to one of these days, but let's hang onto summer a little longer and talk about the peach sangria. This sangria is a bit sweeter than a red, and people who don't really even like wine that much (weirdos) love this. I was able to get a few end-of-season peaches at our farmer's market which I pulverized into peach puree using a stick blender. If you can't get good peaches, I've also used peach nectar (Goya makes this; it's usually in the International Foods aisle at the supermarket).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chef's Salad with Spinach, Chicken, and Gouda

Having a salad for dinner is one of those things that always seems like a good idea... in theory. It's easy, it's healthy, and it generally doesn't require heating up your kitchen in the middle of August (that last part is particularly crucial if you blow a fuse every time you try to run the air conditioner and the TV at the same time--the apartment above an Italian restaurant is becoming less quaint by the day, people). But when it comes down to it, salad for dinner is kind of boring, right? This salad... definitely not boring. We've made this quite a few times this summer and it is going to stay in the regular dinner rotation.

In addition to the Gouda cheese mentioned in the title, we've also got some bacon and avocado going on in this salad. We've used turkey bacon a few times to make it healthier, but I suggest using the real stuff here. And while store bought croutons will save you some time, I highly recommend making your own (unless you have the aforementioned air conditioning problem and don't want to turn on your oven). Not only is it a nice way to use up some leftover bread, but they have a much more appealing texture than the croutons from a box (I made mine with some rosemary focaccia). This recipe makes more croutons than you'll need, so save the extras in an air tight container.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

M&M Blondies

I wanted to bake some blondies to bring to a coworker's baby shower, so I set about looking for an easy recipe. My first stop was, of course, my Cook's Illustrated bible (aka, The New Best Recipe). The recipe was indeed pretty simple, but it called for walnuts and white chocolate chips. Those ingredients are all well and good in other applications, but I feel like when it comes to most baked goods, they are wasting valuable real estate that could be taken up by chocolatier things. So I did what any chocolate-candy lover would do and swapped them out for M&M's. And the results were kind of amazing.

Note that the second step of the recipe asks you to fit your baking pan with foil. This is a nice technique to get the blondies out of the pan easily, but if it seems like too much work for you then please butter and flour as per usual.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Guacamole Salad

Avocado is one of those foods I had almost no interest in until a few years ago. Now I feel like I'm making up for all those wasted, pre-avocado years... if an entree at a restaurant comes with a mere slice of avocado, I'll probably order it. I love to find ways to sneak it into my sandwiches and salads (Ever try a bacon, avocado, and tomato sandwich? Nom.). If you swoon over avocado too, you'll want to try this guacamole salad.

This is kind of a deconstructed guacamole (yes, I have been watching a lot of Top Chef): diced tomato, avocado, jalapeno, and onion are tossed in a lime dressing. And just to make it different, the recipe also calls for some black beans and yellow pepper. If you can get local tomatoes, try out the yellow ones... they are so sweet and tasty. This is one of those recipes where you can easily play with the quantities to suit your tastes (I used less jalapeno and onion than the original, and also added some fresh cilantro).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

It was 104 degrees earlier this week. What other option did I have?

This honestly wasn't the easiest ice cream I've ever made, but it was definitely best. There were lots of mixing bowls involved. It required making both a custard and caramel on the stove top. It took forever to chill the mixture before I could put it in the ice cream maker. But I'd do it all over again-this was crazy delicious.

Here's a tip for you other caramel-making novices: when you add the cream to the sugar, keep the heat at medium. It bubbles like crazy, so I made the mistake of turning the heat down a little bit, and the caramel siezed up. I almost cried got a little worried, but turning the heat back up fixed the problem. It took a little while to melt it all down, but no harm was done.

We just ate this by itself, but I think it would be amazing scooped on a brownie or alongside some apple pie.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Portobella Mushroom Burgers with Shoestring Fries

Tonight's blog post is a new favorite of ours, portobella burgers!  Since the farmers market opened over a month ago, I've made it a point to stop by the local mushroom guy's booth every week and buy some fungus.  Usually it's the oyster / shitake blend, sometimes its the giant portobella caps.  We made these a few weeks ago and sadly didn't take pictures (we do that a lot), and they were so good that we knew we'd be making them again.  The portobellas are nice and meaty and the combination of the dijon mustard, swiss cheese, and avocado is quite tasty!  I suggest anyone who's afraid of mushrooms, or isn't so sure they like them, to try this recipe, it's a guaranteed thumbs up.

We needed a side dish and what better side is there with a burger than french fries?  I've made these a couple times, and I'm a big fan.  They couldn't be easier to make, and are quite tasty with just salt and pepper.  You could go nuts and add all kinds of seasonings to them, but we'll stick to the tried and true recipe here.  The trick is to soak the fries in water before you bake them, it has something to do with the starches and helping them cook better, I don't know, but I know it works!  Hey, I read it in Cook's Illustrated, and I'll believe anything they tell me. ;)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

30 Minute Tortellini Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Arugula, and Pine Nuts

I don't know about you,  but I have no desire to eat a bowl of hot pasta when it's almost 100 degrees outside. I do, however, have no issue with scarfing down a bowl of cold pasta. This tortellini salad is a great meal for those summer nights when you can't bear to eat anything hot.  This is quick and easy to throw together, and it's got two of my favorite summer foods: tomatoes and basil. You could easily play around with this recipe to suit your tastes. Don't like arugula? Use baby spinach. Can't bear to have a meal without meat? Add some grilled chicken. And may I suggest some feta in place of the Parmesan?

It's supposed to be scorching hot all week, so give this one a try.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffins

Yes, these muffins are kinda healthy. They contain whole wheat flour, bananas, blueberries, and even wheat germ. I made them even healthier by swapping out half of the butter for yogurt (I needed the rest of the butter to slather on the finished product. Obviously.). And by some miracle, they do not taste like tree bark. In fact, they are delicious. It must be all of the sugar.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chicken Milanese with Spring Greens

Between birthdays, graduations, business trips, and concerts, June has proven to be a busy month for John and I, not giving us much time to cook together. We've been cooking mostly quick and simple dinners lately, and I thought this one was worth sharing. The chicken is pounded flat (if you don't own a meat mallet, go get one... beating the crap out of your dinner is so much fun!), coated in a mixture of bread crumbs and Parmesan, and then quickly pan fried. It's served with greens tossed in a light lemon vinaigrette... a perfect meal for the first day of summer! I used Panko breadcrumbs for this recipe to make the coating extra-cripsy, but regular breadcrumbs would work too.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bucatini with Mushrooms

If you've never tried Bucatini or Perciatelli pasta before, run out and buy some right now.  It's such a fun noodle to eat!  At first glance it looks like a thick spaghetti, but upon closer inspection, you'll notice a tiny hole running right through the center of the pasta.  I don't know what it is about that hole, but it makes the pasta have such a wonderful texture.  This is the first time I've eaten this pasta, and I can tell you for sure that this will always be stocked in the pantry! 

This recipe is from Cooking Light once again, and when Bec showed it to me, I was all about it.  I've been wanting to eat more mushrooms and learn a few staple mushroom recipes, and this is definitely going to be a staple. We got the mushrooms from the farmer's market, a crimini & oyster blend, which is where I got my new love / interest in mushrooms.  We got some portobellas last weekend and made delicious portobella burgers with avocado and swiss cheese.  Recipe to come, and oh yeah, they were delicious.

Anyway, this dish was great, wonderful mushroom flavor and the pecorino-romano cheese to top it off is a perfect accent on this meal.  The recipe calls for Bucatini, but we couldn't find any, so we got Perciatelli made by DeCecco.  It's the same pasta, as far as i know, just a different name.  The hole in these pastas must allow for more sauce and deliciousness to get into the pasta itself, because each strand was so flavorful, I couldn't get enough.  So without further ado, I give you the recipe for my new favorite pasta and mushroom dish...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

We usually eat all of our bananas before they can get to that overripe stage that's perfect for baking. However, last weekend we ended up with some lovely brown-spotted bananas in our fruit bowl, begging to be made into a tasty baked good. I had never made banana bread before, so I pulled up a recipe on the Cooking Light website. I made a few changes: using vanilla yogurt instead of the regular, and adding a handful of chocolate chips to the batter. This doesn't taste "light" at all (probably because there's half a stick of butter in it; ahem), and we've been enjoying it for breakfast all week long.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Strawberry Almond Cream Tart

I immediately flagged this recipe when I saw it in Cooking Light last month, knowing that I'd be able to get fresh strawberries soon. After picking up a bunch at our farmer's market, I decided to whip this up since we had the rest of the ingredients at home. The end result was a light, delicious dessert with all of the flavors of a strawberry cheesecake (just with more strawberry and less cheesecake).

I made a few changes: I used a mix of regular and cinnamon graham crackers for the crust, and added a splash of Amaretto instead of the almond extract. I also used more strawberry glaze than I was supposed to (a tasty mistake, mind you). For some reason the original recipe instructs you to make the glaze, and then tells you to use half of it on your tart and save the rest for another use. Since I can't read, I just dumped most of the glaze on the tart before I realized I wasn't supposed to. No one complained. So, use as much as you like. If you have any leftover, try it on pancakes or ice cream.

The only problem I had with this was that I wasn't able to cut a nice-looking (ie., triangular) slice. The middle of my crust was too soft, so I probably needed to bake it a little bit longer. It may also have helped if I used a tart pan rather than a pie plate, but we don't seem to own a tart pan.

John and I just polished off the last two slices in order to fill the void in our hearts from the end of our favorite tv series, Lost. I think I'm going to need to make more...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rosemary Focaccia

Fresh herbs seem to be another one of those things that I'm always struggling to find uses for so that they don't go to waste. We bought rosemary for a recipe and had quite a bit leftover, so I thought I'd make this focaccia to go along with John's homemade ravioli

As someone who is inexperienced with bread-making, I found this really easy. My dough rose beautifully and then baked to perfection. There is rosemary in the dough and more sprinkled on top before baking, so this has lots of flavor. It's not overly oily like a lot of focaccia I've had, and was the perfect thing for mopping up extra sauce.

We had our friends over to help us eat this carb-fest, and still had lots of bread leftover. My plan for these leftovers? Croutons!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Spring Vegetable Risotto

I'm happy to say that our local farmer's market opened up recently, providing fresh inspiration to cook some new dishes. There aren't a whole lot of local vegetables available in New Jersey this time of year, but we did find some asparagus that became the basis for this dish. John's parents came over last weekend for a belated mother's day dinner, and we put together this risotto, along with a rosemary and garlic pork loin (recipe to come).

Risotto is becoming one of my favorite things to cook. While it does require a lot of attention, I'm really coming to enjoy the process of adding a little stock, stirring, waiting for it to absorb, adding some more stock, sipping some wine (I had to open a bottle anyways...), stirring, etc. And this particular recipe calls for a gremolata topping, which apparently is a posh way of saying "smooshed up herbs and lemon zest". It was a nice touch, and you use the stems from the herbs to add extra flavor to your broth. I loved how this turned out, and it was a perfect excuse to cook up some spring veggies.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Buttermilk Bread

Ever buy buttermilk for a recipe and then wonder what the heck you're going to do with the rest of it? It seems to only come in unnecessarily large containers (which makes me wonder... do people actually drink buttermilk??). I mean, I love pancakes, but there are only so many I can eat. So, I looked for some alternate uses for buttermilk and came across this recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I have no expertise whatsoever when it comes to baking bread from scratch, but this was very easy to do... you just need a mixer with a dough hook to do all of the hard work for you. The buttermilk makes this a bit richer than a regular white bread, and honey adds a hint of sweetness. It was great for peanut butter sandwiches, french toast, and just smeared with butter (but what isn't good smeared with butter?).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Indoor Pulled Pork with Sweet and Tangy BBQ Sauce

At 8:30 AM on Saturday, while most normal people were sleeping or eating breakfast, John and I headed to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for our weekend food project of pulled pork. ("indoor" pulled pork, as we live in an apartment with no outdoor space). I sent John to the meat section while I groggily staggered up to the coffee bar for my caffeine fix. A few minutes later, John comes waltzing over, clearly pleased with the giant pork butt he picked out. We wandered around for about 10 more minutes looking for Liquid Smoke, finally found it by the barbecue sauce, then we checked out. And yes, we cracked inappropriate jokes about pork butt all the way home (Hahaha... "cracked"! See what I did there?). We're mature.

I call this a project because it took all day to make. Granted, most of the day,  the pork is spent either brining or cooking, so it does not require constant attention. And at the end of the day, every last minute was worth it. We could barely muster any coherent sentences as we took our first bites: "MMM. So... mmm... wow... mmm... ohmygosh... tastymmmyummm." There are so many layers of flavor: the brine infuses the meat with the liquid smoke flavor, the spice rub adds a little kick, and the homemade barbecue sauce was just ridiculously good (you mix in some of the pork cooking liquid, which I think is the key ingredient here).

This makes a lot, but a quick Google search told us that pulled pork freezes well, so you don't necessarily need to have a big crowd to help you eat it. Serve on rolls to make sandwiches, or just eat it straight up.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Maple-Ginger Glazed Chicken Breasts

I'm not entirely sure why, but lately I've become obsessed with things that are glazed. Savory things, too, not just cakes and donuts. I went through some cookbooks as well as my favorite recipe websites and just typed in "glazed", and came across a lot of interesting recipes. I settled on these glazed chicken breasts for dinner this week because they were easy and I had all of the ingredients on hand. The glaze had a lot of flavor for not having a lot of ingredients, and was a nice way to dress up an otherwise pretty boring piece of chicken. Maple syrup adds sweetness, soy sauce adds a savory component, and ginger and cayenne add a little kick.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese

The employees at my local Quizno's know my order. If I don't come in for awhile, they ask where I've been. I'm pretty sure the owner wants to set my friend up with her son. It's very sweet, but probably an indication that I was eating lunch out a tad too often.

In an effort to kick that habit, I try to make a big batch of something-or-other at the beginning of the week so that I have leftovers for a few days. Baked pasta dishes are always awesome when reheated, so I thought I'd give this recipe a try. I printed it out in January when I was on my Cooking Light rampage, but never got around to making it (probably because John had just gotten his pasta maker and was cranking out homemade ravioli... mmm!).

This was definitely a good choice... it was just as good for lunch as it was for dinner. The only change we made was using mild Italian turkey sausage, rather than the hot.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last month, John and I spent a relaxing weekend in Lancaster County, PA (also known as "Amish Country"). In addition to horse-drawn buggies, bonnets, and towns with oddly suggestive names (Intercourse and Blue Ball.... haha), Lancaster County is also home to the Wilbur Chocolate Factory. It was at this wonderful place that I picked up two beautiful bags of chocolate chips. One bag of chips ended up in my Samoa Bars, and the other sat in the pantry, waiting for their higher calling. That calling came on Saturday when I clicked over to the Cook's Illustrated website, where these Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies were a featured recipe.

The cool thing about this recipe is that you melt the butter, so you don't have to wait around for your butter to come to room temperature like with most cookie recipes. You actually have to melt it and cook it until it's just brown... then you whisk it with sugar to form a delightful caramel-y base for your cookies. 
 While calling them "perfect" might be overstating things a bit (I still have yet to find the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie), I would say that these cookies are pretty fantastic. Thick, chewy, and a little crispy around the edges... how can you go wrong?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Chipotle Bean Burritos

John and I have been enjoying a lot of recipes from my Cooking Light subscription lately (and our pants are fitting better for it, I'm happy to say). While perhaps not as exciting as, say, tiramisu, these burritos have a lot of other admirable qualities: they are tasty, healthy, and easy to make. Plus, it's hard to come by a cheaper protein source than beans (and John says he didn't miss the meat). We stuck to the recipe, but you could definitely add additional spices or toppings (I was a little disappointed that I didn't have an avocado on hand to roll up in these). We used regular tortillas, rather than the low-fat ones called for in the recipe, but I doubt it made too much of a difference in the calorie count (with the low-fat tortillas, you're looking at 360 calories per burrito). And the regular tortillas probably taste better... just sayin'.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Eggplant Rollatini

Sometime within the last year or two I realized that I actually really like eggplant.  That's as long as it's prepared and cooked properly.  I was afraid of it as a kid, as I'm sure most kids are, and never thought to try it again until recently.  I'm not sure where I saw or read how to prepare eggplant, but I thought I'd give it a try a couple weeks ago and decided on eggplant rollatini.  I didn't follow a recipe, just an idea I had of what I wanted it to be, and like most foods I love, it involves tomato sauce and ricotta cheese!  I used my tomato sauce recipe and the ravioli filling recipe for these, the rest is made up by yours truly.  Not exactly rocket science here, just a little common sense and a little suggestion from Bec to bake the eggplant instead of fry it.  Good idea my dear.  This is a great recipe to use up the leftover ravioli filling and extra tomato sauce from your last Italian feast!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Roasted Garlic Hummus

This hummus contains a triple punch of garlic: there's roasted garlic, garlic-infused olive oil, and a garlic chip topping. The recipe requires two (!) whole heads of garlic. And the longer you let it sit in the refrigerator, the more garlicky it becomes. Don't be scared... this is really, really good. We didn't find the garlic flavor to be overpowering at all.

If you've never made your own hummus, you should give this a try. I think it's a lot smoother, creamier, and more flavorful than the pre-packaged stuff. Plus, squeezing the roasted garlic out of its skin is delightfully therapeutic.

Serve this with pita wedges or fresh veggies. And, um, maybe some mints.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pear, Walnut, and Feta Salad

Salad is not normally something I get too excited about... I like it, sure, but I usually throw one together as an afterthought when I realize I should have something green with my meal. This, however, is one crave-able salad. My friend Martha made this for a dinner party a few weeks ago. The original recipe called for blue cheese, but Martha made a brilliant swap-out for feta. The dressing is really bright, and all of the textures and flavors are well balanced. This has become my go-to salad for company. People actually ask for seconds of this! Even people who aren't really "salad people". Give it a try, and don't skimp on the feta...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pasta with Asparagus, Pancetta, and Pine Nuts

As you may have noticed, we've been eating a lot of desserts around here lately. So, in the interest of balance, here's another recipe from the Cooking Light files.  This is from the current issue and it has all kinds of good things in it... pasta, pine nuts, and pork products. The one thing I found weird about the recipe was that it has you toast the pine nuts and cook the pancetta in the oven (these are things I'd normally think to do on the stove).  However, we followed the recipe and it came out great (but I still think you don't really need to turn on your oven for this). Final verdict? This is a satisfying dish that's easy to prepare, and it's only 385 calories per serving, so eat up!

Friday, February 26, 2010

French Onion Soup

John and I had been wanting to make French onion soup for awhile now, but we didn't own the appropriate broiler-safe bowls. I found some a few weeks ago at the Crate and Barrel Outlet, so we decided to break them in on Sunday night when John's dad came over for dinner (you actually can make this without  the broiler safe bowls-see the recipe for instructions).

I thought that French onion soup got its dark brown color from beef broth, but this recipe called for mostly chicken broth. It turns out the color comes from caramelizing the onions until they are a deep, rich brown. The caramelization takes a long time, but is mostly done in the oven. Warning: your home is going to stink of onions. And you probably will too. But it's worth it. I mean, check out all the cheesy goodness going on here:

Thursday, February 25, 2010


America's Test Kitchen has a standard approach to all of their recipes: they find common problems with traditional recipes and then they test a billion different versions until they arrive at the "perfect" one (and they do usually come up with awesome, fool-proof recipes). Sometimes I think the problems they make up for recipes are a little exaggerated, but I completely agreed with their assessment of the most common tiramisu fail: too soggy. And, as usual, their recipe solves the problem... you can see in the picture above that the ladyfingers are still cakey, and not overly saturated with coffee. It's all about quickly dipping them in coffee, rather than letting them soak. Since the rest of the tiramisu is basically just a creamy custard, you need the texture of the ladyfingers to hold up so that you're not eating a big pile of mush.

This was fun to make, and it doesn't require baking; however, you need to refrigerate it for at least 6 hours before serving (we let ours set overnight). Also, John and I could not find the espresso powder called for in the recipe, so we left it out. I'm sure it would have a stronger coffee flavor if we used it, but I don't think the dish suffered without it.

Lest you think we ate the whole pan of tiramisu ourselves, I should tell you that we made the tiramisu for John's mom's birthday dinner. We had a delicious Italian feast: John made his homemade ravioli and meatballs, and his sister-in-law, Brooke, made a tasty caprese salad... yet somehow everyone managed to save room for dessert. Well, everyone except for John's nephew, Charlie, who could not have been less interested in the tiramisu:

Oh well, I guess he's not old enough for rum-laden desserts yet...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies


Mmm... don't you just want to stuff one in your face RIGHT NOW?? That's what I'd be doing if I wasn't saving these for a Valentine's Day chocolate pot luck at work tomorrow (my job does have its perks). Of course I sampled a few, and can tell you that these are so rich and moist, with just enough raspberry flavor (there's a little bit of jam in the brownie batter, plus more swirled into the cream cheese layer). For those of you who were wondering, the texture is more on the "cakey" side than the "fudgey" side.

I don't think I have ever made brownies from scratch since I'm totally content with whipping up a batch of Duncan Hines (or Ghiradelli, if I'm feelin' fancy). However, I saw these brownies in the August/September issue of Cook's Country and immediately flagged them for the Valentine's pot luck (I struggle planning meals for a week, yet somehow can plan desserts months in advance). Despite the layering involved, these came together a lot quicker than I expected. This recipe is definitely worth trading in the box for.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

John's Super Delicious & Healthy Granola Bars

Alrighty then. So I've been slowly changing my diet since the new year and I have to admit that I am feeling better and actually losing a little weight.  The problem is I love to cook and obviously eat, and it's hard to find delicious yet healthy things to snack on.  Well, I'm discovering it's not really that hard, it just takes the self discipline to stop buying all the sugary snacks at the grocery store.  I love nuts (that's what she said) especially almonds and peanuts, and I wanted to work them into some sort of granola bar.  As a long time fan of the great and knowledgeable Alton Brown, I was inspired by his weight loss, albeit a little too much weight loss if ya ask me.  He finally did an episode a couple weeks ago about how he changed his diet and it got me thinking about what I should be eating everyday.  I wanted to read more on the topic, so the other night I bought Michal Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dilemma.  I've barely scratched the surface of it, but the basic gist of it is to eat more whole foods.  Super foods, if you will.  Some of my favorite things actually are super foods: avocado, dark chocolate, almonds, salmon, spinach, tomatoes, and green tea.  Now if I can incorporate those along with all the other healthy whole foods into my diet, I'd be on my way to some great health.  And with the help of my sweetheart, Bec, I'm gonna get there!

We went to Trader Joe's the other night and I wanted to raid their dried fruit and nut aisle.  I came home with almonds, sunflower seeds, oats, dried blueberries, and dried cherries.  All the nuts were raw, nothing added, and the fruit was dried, nothing added either.  They had some other "dried" fruit there that had some oil and sugar added, but I steered clear of those.  The whole goal here was to get the most pure ingredients I can, with absolutely no preservatives or weird chemicals.  I had some walnuts and wheat germ at home, as well as the rest of the ingredients, so I was set.  I followed the recipe completely, except I added a 1/3 cup of walnuts, and I used whole almonds lightly chopped instead of Alton's recipe calling for sliced almonds.  They came out great, lots of fruit, lots of nuts, not too sweet, and they actually held together pretty nicely.   I even went so far as to calculate the nutritional facts based on the ingredient packaging.  I cut these into 18 bars, and they seem to be the perfect size for a light lunch or mid-day snack.

makes 18 bars - Nutritional info per bar (approximate):

208 Calories / 11g Fat / 31g Carbs / 4g Fiber / 5g Protein

Not too bad, and there are no weird chemicals in there, and most of that fat is the "good" fat from the almonds.  Sure, you can tweak the recipe and put whatever fruits and nuts you want in there.  You could also get crazy and add a scoop or two of your favorite protein powder to boost the protein numbers.  I'm guessing they would still come out pretty good as long as you kept the fruit and nut ratios the same.  Actually, the recipe called for 6 1/2 oz of dried fruits, but didn't have a volume measurement listing, I just used the entire bag each of the the cherries and blueberries, and they came out to just over 2 cups.  Probably a lot more than the recipe calls for, but I'm happy with how they came out.  FYI, the nutritional info is based on what I actually put in them, so it should be very close to accurate.  Now without further ado, the recipe...

Samoa Bars

Still waiting for your Girl Scout Cookie order to come in? I'm all for supporting the Girl Scouts (I used to be one!), but sometimes I need more immediate cookie gratification. I spied this recipe on another cooking blog, and was pretty excited to try making my own version of Samoas (sometimes they're also called Caramel DeLites). Samoas are little round cookies topped with toasted coconut and caramel, then drizzled with chocolate.

While these aren't difficult to make, they do take a lot of time due to all of the steps involved (luckily there have been a lot of snowy days spent indoors lately). You have to make each layer of these bars separately, so most of the prep time is spent waiting for things to set, cool, etc. These bars replicate the flavors of the Samoas really well. The one change I would make next time is to use a little less of the cookie crust. I felt that these needed a higher caramel to cookie crust ratio in order to be perfect. I'm posting the original recipe, but play around with the amounts as you like. Also, the recipe calls for "good" caramels... the only ones I could find were made by Kraft. They melted nicely and tasted awesome, so I'm going to say that they easily qualify as "good". Don't knock yourself out looking for anything fancy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Peanut Butter and Nutella Muffins

Listen up, readers... today is a very, very special day. It's World Nutella Day. You heard that right... a whole day devoted to chocolatey, hazelnutty, spreadable goodness. I dare say it's better than Christmas.

Bloggers Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle from Bleeding Espresso declared February 5th "World Nutella Day 2010" - a day to celebrate, to get creative with, and most importantly, to EAT Nutella. If you caught the recent crepes post, you know that Nutella holds a special place in my heart. So I am warmly embracing World Nutella Day by sharing a recipe for Peanut Butter and Nutella muffins.

This is adapted from Cooking Light's recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly muffins. I ended up filling half of the muffins with Nutella and half with the jelly... they are delicious either way. The Nutella doesn't soak into the muffins as nicely as the jam does, so it might be fun to swirl it into the muffins next time. For now, the problem is solved by spreading some extra Nutella on top!


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken tikka masala, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, is chicken cooked in a lightly spiced tomato cream sauce. Apparently, it's not even an authentic Indian dish... it was invented in Scotland and is unofficially considered Britain's national dish. That said, you'll find it in pretty much every Indian restaurant, and it's always a safe bet. I think it's a good "starter" curry for people who are a little afraid of Indian food, as it's not too spicy and very, very tasty. 

I had never made chicken tikka masala before (and have very little experience cooking Indian food), but since it was an America's Test Kitchen recipe, I figured I couldn't go wrong. It was a bit of a project to make this dish (there are a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps), so it's more appropriate for a weekend meal, but totally worth it. While it wasn't exactly like what you'd find in a restaurant, it was pretty close... and amazingly delicious and satisfying. Make sure you serve this along with some basmati rice.

I tried a little too hard to up my Indian-cooking cred and also attempted to make naan (an addictive flat bread) to accompany this dish. However, our broiler wouldn't heat up again after we broiled the chicken, so that never happened. If you want to try making your own naan, check out this website... there's a very helpful instructional video along with the recipe. Otherwise, Trader Joe's sells really good frozen naan!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stir-Fried Cashew Pork

This recipe made me wonder why we don't make stir fry more often. It's so easy and versatile, and a good way to use up any leftover meat or veggies you have hanging around in the fridge. There's really no need for those icky bottled stir-fry sauces either... you can make your own with just a few ingredients. Expect to see more stir fries in upcoming posts!

This dish features pork tenderloin (tip... it's easier to slice into strips if it's a little bit frozen), cashews, and snow peas in a simple sauce, served over jasmine rice. What did John have to say about it? "Are you going to put this on the blog?? I want to make it again but I don't want to forget about it!". Men have such a special relationship with pork products, don't they?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I was discussing Belgian beers the other day with some friends, and it got me thinking about some good food pairings.  In the past I've always enjoyed Belgian beers with a nice steak, but I wanted something different.  For those that don't know, Belgian beers are amazing.  They are full bodied, complex beers, often fruity and very aromatic.  A true joy to drink.  Some people love to talk about wine, I love to talk about, and drink, Belgian beers.  In our discussions, we knocked around some ideas about salt crusted fish, spicy seafoods, and anything with lots of bacon.  The thoughts of bacon led me to think of Spaghetti Carbonara!  Oh yeah.  I would get to use my new pasta maker to make fresh spaghetti, and try a new recipe of something that was sure to be delicious.

I had this bottle of Delirium Nocturnum in the fridge just begging to be opened and enjoyed, and I knew it would go perfectly with the salty, bacony, goodness that is the Spaghetti Carbonara.  The Nocturnum is a great example of a fine Belgian strong brown ale.  So many flavors can be detected in it, from apples and berries, to raisins and bittersweet chocolate.  I love it.  I could start a blog on Belgian beers if I wanted to, but there's probably a million of those already.  As if there aren't enough food blogs! :)  Anyway, as usual I turned to the tried and true recipes of Cook's Illustrated's The Complete Book of Pasta & Noodles.  The book is 450+ pages of pretty much every kind of pasta dish and sauce you can imagine.  I use their basic recipe for all the pasta I've made so far (ravioli, spaghetti, and fettuccine), but this was the first time I used a real sauce recipe.

It turned out great, especially with the strong Belgian beer to wash it down.  If you're in the mood for a salty, bacony, pasta dish, this is it!