Saturday, September 30, 2006

PB&J in a new way!

I wanted to get some snacks made that we could freeze and have while the kitchen is going to be out of order. One thing I did today was make some bread with a fun surprise inside!

These Peanut Butter and Jam Rolls begin by making a bread dough that is flavored with peanut butter. Besides the peanut butter, baker's dry milk and potato flakes are mixed with the flour to make this dough very smooth and results in a light ultra-soft roll. Once the dough has risen, it is divided into 16 pieces and rolled into balls. These are then flattened and ready to be filled.

Strawberry jam is the first filling - I mixed this with arrowroot to help it thicken and stay inside the rolls - you can omit this, but the filling is likely to spill out while baking. Creamy peanut butter, mixed with a touch of honey, sits beside the jam and then one edge of the dough is folded over to the other side to create a half circle. Using a fork, these are then crimped to seal the edges and left to rise again until puffy. If any of the jelly is squished out when you crimp, just be prepared for a little of the filling to leak out - it won't run everywhere because of the arrowroot, but it is sticky.After being baked until golden, a rich shiny glaze made from butter melted with a little more honey is brushed over the rolls. Be sure to let these cool before digging in, the inside filling stays quite hot for at least 20 minutes after they come out. This was such a fun and different way to enjoy a PB and J sandwich! While you could certainly use grape jelly, I encourage you to branch out and try other jams/jellies to add a different twist! I didn't notice it at first, but Jeff did make a passing comment that they kind of look a lot like clams!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Uh oh... they arrived early!

Earlier this week we got a surprising phone call... our cabinets from KraftMaid were ready and would be delivered on Friday (today!)

They came pretty early this morning and now the garage is full of boxes, teasing us, just waiting to be opened! That's 2 1/2 weeks earlier than we were expecting... we quickly called and talked with the installer, who in turn called us back after checking things out and told us he had no problems starting early! So, the demo starts this coming Monday and we will officially be without a kitchen. Scary... and it I'm not sure what, if any, new recipes will be happening as I have been cookin' up extra dinners to freeze since we won't be able to cook much. Things will most likely slow way down here, but we'll try to keep things interesting - so I apologize ahead of time for lack of new stuff in the upcoming week(s).

In other news, it was Jeff's Mom's birthday this week - along with the gift we sent along a bunch of cookies! Vanilla Salted-Peanut Cookies are medium-sized with a great texture for shipping. They have a pretty crisp outside with a hearty chew as you nibble into the center. Rich in flavor from brown sugar, these cookies are packed with rolled oats, chunky roasted peanuts, golden raisins and sweet coconut. The salty peanuts help to off-set the amount of sweetness the brown sugar adds with the rolled oats helping to keep them chewy. You can play around with the baking time depending on how crisp/chewy you like your cookies. Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, I got around 46 cookies - just enough to send a bunch and have a few leftover for us!
Dinner tonight, Turkey Tamale Potpie, was fairly quick to prepare and fun to watch as it baked up. Inside this pie is a robust filling of onions, garlic, red bell pepper, fresh ground turkey, fire-roasted tomatoes and kidney beans. This mixture is seasoned with a spicy and smoky combination of chili powder, hot chili powder and oregano. I used a combination of 12 ounces breast meat to 4 ounces of dark meat when I ground the turkey to help keep it flavorful and moist. Once the filling is pipping hot, it is poured into a baking dish and topped with buttermilk cornbread batter. It goes into the oven just long enough for the cornbread to bake up into a beautiful golden brown crust. This was very filling and a total comfort dish even though Jeff proclaims he does not like beans or cornbread... that certainly didn't stop him for going back for a few more bites before I packed the leftovers up to go in the freezer.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What do you call them?

We are big fans of baked potatoes, but every once in awhile we like to change things up and use sweet potatoes instead. Tonight's side dish brings a plain sweet potato into a whole new world with a savory nutty sauce.

As the potatoes slip into the oven for their hour long bake, the recipe for Baked Sweet Potatoes with West African-Style Peanut Sauce continues by making the thick spicy sauce. Onions, fresh ginger and garlic omits a sweet aromatic smell as they cook in a touch of oil. Smoky cumin, coriander and crushed red pepper are added in and sit for a minute to get a gentle toast. Water, tomato sauce and natural peanut butter along with a couple seasonings are stirred in and the thin mixture cooks for just a couple minutes to turn quite thick. When the potatoes are done, they are slit lengthwise and easily open up to be filled with a generous portion of the sauce. The sweetness in the potato gives in to the savory taste, but the natural flavor still shines through. Perhaps along side of the chopped cilantro, a scattering of chopped roasted peanuts would be a satisfying crunchy garnish.

So what do you prefer to call yours? Sweet Potatoes or Yams?

Tonight's main dish of Pork Tenderloin with Shallot-Cider Sauce could have been better served with something to soak up its abundant (yet not so visually appealing) sauce, but a chunk of rustic bread certainly worked well enough for us! With no marinade time and simply seasoned with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, the pork portion was a snap to get in the oven. After the shallots for the sauce soften, we added some fresh apple cider we got from the apple orchard along with beef broth, applesauce, salt, five-spice powder and pepper. This mixture boils away until it reduces in half and fills the kitchen with a classic fall aroma from the five-spice powder. Applesauce helps give the sauce a rich body with fresh lemon juice added at the end to heighten the flavors. I took the pork out of the oven at around 145 degrees and left it to continue cooking under a tent of foil for a few minutes to achieve a light pink hue in the center. The pork was very juicy, but would probably still be okay if you felt the need to take it all the way to 160 degrees.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Who knew lemon, cheese and pasta went so well together?

We did make a new recipe for dinner last night, but after getting the recipes and post together for the Wednesday Treat Day stuff, I was too tired to talk about it! So we'll be a day behind on dinners until I can get myself caught up in posts!

I loved how easy and fast last night's dinner was as it was a pretty hectic day - you'll find out more in the next few days on what's going on. Besides being quick to throw together, this dish of Shells with Ricotta, Basil and Lemon had such a clean fresh taste to it. As the shells cook, ricotta is taken to a new level being tossed with tangy lemon juice, lemon zest and a chiffonade of fresh basil leaves. The hot pasta is added and the heat softens the ricotta just enough to make it very easy to toss together. Instead of topping this with some sort of grated cheese, olive oil and fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs (I like the crusts on whole wheat bread, so I left them on when I zipped the slices through the food processor) are heated in a large skillet to get toasty. This creates nutty and crunchy nuggets that make a striking contrast to the creamy ricotta that sneaks into the shells. Jeff was a little unsure about the whole lemon/ricotta/pasta combination, but quickly changed his mind once he snuck a taste while I was not looking - I heard the "MMmmm..." sound and knew this was going to be a hit.

Since I was able to easily dinner together so quick, I also made the Asiago-Black Pepper Drop Biscuits that what have posted a few times before - these biscuits are made quite often around here as we love the sharp bite to them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Celebrating the arrival of fall...

When Jeff came in the door this afternoon from work, the first thing he said was "If you think I'm taking in whatever smells so good for treat day tomorrow, you are sorely mistaken!" I began to wonder if the treats were going to live up to that!

Jeff and I went to a local orchard this weekend and picked some fresh apples - what a perfect way to welcome in the first day of fall! I won't mention that the person who was on duty to remember the camera kind of forgot... *looks at Jeff*, so I guess we will just have to go back to take pictures and of course pick more apples - you won't hear me complain! I think you can probably guess now what are in the goods for the weekly Wednesday Treat Day for his office.

For maximum apple use, I decided to play around with two recipes to compare how they would turn out as they are somewhat different in how they come together. The first recipe, Dutch Apple Bread, is more like a mildly sweet quickbread with a fairly light texture and has a subtle nutty taste from the use of whole wheat pastry flour. A sweet crunchy mixture is made from flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and toasted walnuts. This is then mixed with apple cider and canola oil to create a crumbly topping that dimples the top of these loaves. The moist bread is studded with chopped apples and has a tender crumb as buttermilk is the liquid used to moisten the batter.

For a different twist to give the bread lift and lightness, we whipped egg whites to stiff peaks and gently folded them in after we added the tart apples. This step did make for some extra effort, but the texture achieved made me want to try this with other recipes.

The next treat, Buttery Apple Loaf Cake, holds true to its name with a fair amount of butter in two separate parts of the recipe. The texture of this one is a little tough to describe - the best I can come up with is a cross between a cake that is a little dense in texture and a quickbread. Another crumbly topping is made, this time with flour, brown sugar, melted butter and cinnamon. Instead of combining the apples with the batter, this time they are used in two dramatic layers - one inside and one on top. Once the golden batter is ready, half is placed in the bottom of a large loaf pan and then a layer of diced tart apples is scattered on top. One half of the rich crumb topping is sprinkled on with the remaining batter being spread on top of that. More crumb topping, the rest of the apples and then a final layer of additional buttery crumbs create a soft finishing layer. This takes quite awhile to bake (a little over an hour) and needs to be completely cooled before cutting it. I was worried that the topping would be a disaster to try and cut through, but we were pleasantly surprised to see nary a crumb to fall off!

Hmm... these are going to be hard to part with in the morning! While some of the ingredients are similar, the taste and textures between these two are notably different - I'm not sure I could picked a favorite between the two as they were both so good!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Raw not so good... but cooked? Fantastic!

After waking up this morning, we looked outside and happened to notice a big rainbow! I don't think it rained, but it looked pretty cool - almost as if it ends right in our garage! Too bad we didn't find a pot of gold (or really good chocolate...)

We used a new fruit in tonight's breakfast-for-dinner of Orange-Yogurt Pancakes with Quince Topping. Quinces are a member of the pomes family and are related to pears and apples - they need to be cooked before eating as they are quite hard and very sour when raw.

A sweet syrup is made first, which will top the light pancakes. Sugar, circles of fresh ginger, lemon juice and wedges of the quinces boil away until the fruit is tender. The ginger is removed and the mixture is left to steep for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. While this sits, the pancakes can be quickly whipped up - to add a different zing to them, the wet ingredients incorporate yogurt with bright orange zest and juice to freshen the flavor. With a rich golden color on the outside, the inside boasts a light and airy texture. The pancakes are served with the tender sliced quinces on top and a drizzle of the zesty syrup - I only wish the syrup would have gotten a touch thicker as mine was pretty thin. There was a fair amount of syrup left after a drizzle, so feel free to give them a good soak if choose. We both agree these were excellent and the delicious leftovers will be had first thing in the morning for breakfast.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

No eggs, but still a scramble!

12 new recipes were made this week - the favorites had to be the Ice Cream Birthday Cake, Spicy Red Lentil Soup and the Golden Cinnamon Crunch Cookies. I did update both recipe sections to the left so they are current once again - you may need to hit refresh to see the new additions. There are a lot of recipes in there now, so one of these days I need to re-organize them and add some new categories!

Tonight's dinner, Mexican Polenta Scramble, called for already prepared polenta - normally found in a tube. While I don't have anything against the chubs, I just like the flavor better when you make the polenta yourself. I use a ratio of 4 cups boiling water to 1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal and it usually takes around 30-35 minutes to be done to our liking - it should easily pull away from the sides when you stir. I placed it in a loaf pan to firm up in the refrigerator as it needed to be cut into cubes. It does take some pre-planning, but it is much cheaper and you can make as much or little as needed. I just weighed out 16 ounces from the loaf as the recipe called for - 1 cup dry cornmeal made about 21 ounces of prepared polenta for me.

I roasted the poblanos before I used them to add a depth of flavor to the dish - we didn't find 4 peppers to be overpowering as they are really pretty mild to us - if you can't locate them, use a couple bell peppers and throw in a jalapeno for good measure. The peppers, cherry tomatoes and smoky cumin are sauteed in some oil until the tomatoes soften. I cut the polenta into small cubes instead of crumbling them and once added, I let the dish cook until they were thoroughly heated through. Sharp cheddar, green onions, fresh cilantro and lime juice get stirred in right before serving to create a cheesy scramble packed with bright flavors. Crunchy toasted pepitas scatter the top for added texture. Toss some diced avocado on top if you have some, but I forgot to add it to list before we left for the market this morning.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Cereal can be more than just a boring bowl in the morning...

I was surprised to see this in the front yard yesterday morning as I almost mowed right over it!

Attack of the giant fungus! No idea what kind it was, but it was almost the size of a soccerball!

This morning I made some cookies that could be pretty normal, except they have an unusual ingredient - flaked cereal! Golden Cinnamon Crunch Cookies have a crisp, rich and buttery flavor with bursts of cinnamon coming from the addition of cinnamon chips. The crunch in these cookies comes from the cereal - you could use good ol' cornflakes, but I liked using Total as the flakes were a bit thicker and held up better while mixing. They have a salty note to them that helps cut the sweetness from the cinnamon chips. The recipe calls for you to flatten them with a fork, but I found it pretty difficult with all the chunky flakes and chips inside so I didn't end up with a good pattern at all. If it starts to get messy, you can dip the fork in some flour to keep the dough from sticking. You could also just flatten them with your hands, but that would be too easy, no?

We really liked these plain, but since we love the salty/sweet combo, I just had to stuff a few with some chocolate and vanilla ice cream for a tasty snack!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Just wanted a little cheesecake....

Cream cheese was on a sale a couple weeks ago, so I bought a few blocks even though I had no idea what I wanted to do with them. Do you ever do that with groceries - buy something just because it is on sale, even though you have no plans to use it right away? Anways... I figured I better start using them, so I started off with some individual cheesecakes.

Since I was just playing around, I went way easy on the crust for these Individual Mocha-Toffee Crunch Cheesecakes. I took a small round biscuit cutter just slightly smaller than the bottom of my cheesecake pan and pressed it though some chocolate graham crackers. This made for a quick crust rather than making crumbs and mixing with butter. Flavoring the base of these sweet little cakes is instant espresso powder mixed with hot water and Kahlua. Crunchy bits of toffee cover the top of the light mocha colored batter just before they hit the oven.
As they bake, some of the toffee melts together while the larger bits do remain intact. I liked that even though they puff up in the oven, they slowly cool into a dense, yet creamy, individual smooth cake without a big dip in the center. Next time I will do a proper crust as they are worthy of the extra time!

Let me start off by saying that even though tonight's dinner has a long list of ingredients and there a few steps, it really is pretty simple if you take a little time to prepare most of the ingredients at the same time. In several parts of the recipe it calls for the same item, but you can save some time by chopping it all up at once and then taking what you need when it calls for it. As long as you don't rush the cooking, this version of Spaghetti and Meatballs is filled with a fresh flavor and we both thought it was worth the extra effort.

Once the sauce starts to bubble away, you start on the meatballs by mixing hot Italian turkey sausage with ground sirloin, breadcrumbs, fresh basil, fresh parsley, onions, garlic and an egg. As you form these, keep a small bowl of water handy and wet your hands as you go - this will keep it from sticking to your fingers as you roll them. While the original recipe calls for broiling these to cook them, I opted to create a golden crust on each side in a skillet and then moved them to the sauce to simmer until I was ready to finish dinner. Once the sauce was fairly thick, fresh parsley and basil are mixed in for a final punch of flavor. Just cooked whole-wheat spaghetti is tossed in and a shaving of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano brings an exquisite sharp finish to this total comfort food dish.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Warming up inside with dinner...

When I was in the grocery store before Jeff's birthday, one of the managers was setting up a new display of "limited edition" candy and I asked what they were going to be putting up. He showed me a new (to us anyway) Kit Kat flavor called Chocolate Mocha!

I remember trying one labeled Coffee not too long ago, but I asked if I could get a couple of these even though they were not suppose to go on sale until the next day. I wanted to give to Jeff some as he loves Kit Kats. The first thing I noticed when we opened them was the aroma was much stronger than the coffee ones. We thought the coffee ones were a bit more bitter (too much to enjoy really) and that with these, the mocha flavor was more enjoyable and pronounced. I don't know if its the same Kit Kat, just reformulated or something, but we liked them.

It was 38 outside when we woke up this morning! Not at frost level, but too close for me! I thought we could use a warm up for dinner with two spicy dishes. The first, Spicy Asian Slaw, is a recipe that can be quickly thrown together at the last minute. Broccoli slaw, carrots and green onions are tossed in a creamy and hot combination of seasoned rice vinegar, creamy peanut butter, soy sauce, fresh lime juice, canola oil and sambal oelek. Sambal oelek is a chile-type paste with garlic and can be pretty spicy, so adjust to your taste. Definitely a crunchy dish with just enough bite for us - if you use natural peanut butter, you may want to add a dash of sugar to tame the vinegar some.

What better way to finish off dinner on a cold night with a belly warming soup. I have only cooked with lentils once or twice with mediocre results, but this Spicy Red Lentil Soup was a winner with us. This is not a quick recipe, but the results are worth the wait. Once the lentils were fairly soft, they are pureed as they will eventually help thicken the soup. Fire-roasted tomatoes, fresh ginger, garlic, coconut milk, tamarind paste and spices are simmered together to let the flavors mingle and dance around. The pureed lentils are added and the soup continues to simmer until it begins to thicken a little. The coconut milk brought a smooth silky body to the soup with the tamarind brightening up the flavors with a sweet and sour combination. Fresh ginger and a jalapeno brought the heat, but the tomatoes kept it in check - I don't think I would really call this one spicy as it was only mildly hot. Jeff did note he thought it was a touch grainy, but I think this was my inexperience with cooking lentils - I could have cooked them a few more minutes before pureeing them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Treats to perk up the Co-workers

Sorry about the delay in posting the Wednesday Treat Day item - we will start with that first tonight.

These Cappuccino Caramel Oat Bars are kind of like an oat-y blondie. The bars have a sticky chew to them with crunchy pecans scattered throughout. They are sweet, but not sickenly so - the deep flavor from the brown sugar is tamed a bit by the butter. Once the sticky base is pressed in the pan, a thin layer of homemade caramel sauce is slathered on top. I used the recipe from the Caramel Apple Bars (which we will have to make again this apple season) we made last year, but for ease, you can always use the sundae-type syrup from the store. You save some of the dough from the base layer to place small dollops all over the syrup. These pieces bake into each other which makes peaks and valleys for something special at the end. Be careful to not over-bake these - the center should be just barely firm when they are done, you don't want these to be too hard.

After they have cooled, a sweet espresso glaze made from milk, espresso powder and confectioners' sugar is drizzled on top. The rough top from the dollops of dough help catch this glaze and add just the right finishing touch. The bars are not intensely coffee flavored, but you can definitely taste it. I cut these into 20 rectangles and then cut each in half to make modest-sized triangles.

I was going to buy one of the funky colored cauliflowers for tonight's side, but opted to go with the regular snow white as it was on sale. Roasted Cauliflower in Lemon-Tahini Sauce brings an easy twist to typical roasted cauliflower, which I already happen to love. After a toss in olive oil, the florets are baked until lightly golden and fork-tender. A thin mixture made from garlic, sesame seed paste (tahini), water and lemon juice compliments the cauliflower with a tangy-rich sauce. Tahini to me kind of tastes like peanut butter, but with a more grown-up taste - for lack of a better phrase. Jeff started off a little slow eating this one, but we both ended up really liking the change of flavors to a basic roasted vegetable.

When we walked into Common Market on Sunday, we were so happy when we scored a couple Honeycrisp apples. I love the crisp fresh flavor these apples have - we have not had any since we lived in MN a few years ago! Since Jeff asked to have dinner pretty light as he went a little cake-heavy last night, I knew the perfect apple to use in tonight's main dish of an incredibly easy Apple-Walnut Salad with Maple Vinaigrette. I used one Honeycrisp and used another favorite variety of apples called Gingergold. These are both bred to resist turning brown after you cut them, which is another reason to use them in salads. Baby greens and thin slices of the apples are mixed in a sweet vinaigrette made from cider vinegar, pure maple syrup, walnut oil and grainy Dijon. Toasted walnuts are scattered on top to compliment the nutty oil in the dressing and to add another dimension of crunchy texture to the salad.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Happy Birthday Jeff!

Tonight we should be posting the treats that Jeff would bring for Wednesday Treat Day tomorrow and while I did actually make some, that post will have to wait until tomorrow. Today is Jeff's birthday, so we have a few things to talk about instead!

You may have noticed that last Friday we didn't post anything. I took Jeff to Baltimore for an early birthday gift and we did a couple fun things around town. We went to the Inner Harbor first so we could do this...

We rode the ducks! This is like a half boat/half truck that tours you around some historic sites in the city and then goes for a swim through the harbor. Unfortunately, we didn't get any more pictures as it started to rain just as we got on!

After running around, I took him down to Arundel Mills for a surprise adventure. We spent some time walking through shops for awhile and then I finally took him to where we were going for dinner - Medieval Times.

This is a live action horse show with dinner service - they kept it very dark though, so none of the food pictures came out. You don't really come here for the food, it is more about the experience. With the menu being a hot vegetable soup, garlic bread, roasted half of chicken, spare ribs and potatoes, I started to wonder what I really got us into when they announced that you are to only eat with your hands and that there will be no utensils! It was such a memorable experience though and they served Jeff a special slice of birthday cake which was nice.

If you were with us last year for his birthday, you will remember I made a Mickey Cake. This year we went a bit different! I don't claim to be a good decorator, so bear with me on the looks! I made a Devil's Food Cake filled with a ring of homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream and frosted with a peppermint spiked Swiss Meringue. Sorry that the background is dark - it is actually pretty light in color, but something funky happened and I didn't get a chance to look at the pictures before I moved on for the other ones!

Because of the cake and filling, I didn't really want to do a heavy buttercream frosting - so I went with a much lighter meringue. I didn't know if it would end up being too weird - but we both really liked the different combination. I didn't do a crumb coat as I was afraid I would run out of the meringue, so there were a couple dark spots peaking out of the stripes. It did end up making plenty though, so I could have done one.

I do think that I over-beat the meringue a little as I couldn't get the sharp points to the peaks I was hoping for on top. Since I don't have one of those nifty little torches (hint hint...) I had to set this under the broiler for just a minute, ala baked Alaska, to get some color on top.

Since the cake is pretty solid as an ice cream cake, I couldn't get a good read on how the texture would be at room temperature. As my slice defrosted though, I could tell the cake was quite moist and it had a rich chocolate taste. We both love chocolate paired with mint, so the inside filling was a perfect match for us. I used the awesome cake pans that I made that peppermint cake with to get the ring of ice cream inside. I won't tell you how many servings Jeff ate today, but suffice to say I think he really enjoyed it.

I left dinner up to whatever Jeff wanted tonight- he requested anything with shrimp. Since I know he likes things spicy, I chose a recipe for Chipotle-Spiced Shrimp. This is a super-fast recipe to throw together - after heating some garlic and butter in a skillet, some large shrimp, a hot chipotle chili powder and salt are mixed in. When they start to turn that luscious pink color, dry vermouth, fresh lime juice and a touch of sugar are added and the shrimp quickly finish cooking. Right before serving, the zesty sauce is perked up with another pat of butter and some fresh cilantro. I served the tender shrimp with the rich buttery juices over some brown jasmine rice I had started earlier. Besides the rice, the dish took no more than about 10 minutes - perfect meal to throw together if you are running behind!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Filling lasagna with a southwestern kick...

We're getting ready for a big cool down this week - they even say there could be an early frost in a few days! Woo! I wanted to make a comfort food type dish for dinner tonight and lasagna is one that we have recently become quite fond of since we started our journey into trying different foods. Though I confess that I never ate it growing up. While we have done several before, the filling for this one is quite different.

Inside the layers of this Black-Bean Lasagna is a combination of jalapenos, onions, crisp red bell peppers, garlic, fresh tomatoes, sour cream, cilantro and of course black beans. We first roasted the jalapenos under the broiler and removed the blackened skin to add a depth of smoky-hot flavor. Seasonings in the form of cumin and ground coriander bring a southwestern spunk to the filling. This lasagna is not as saucy as some because a chipotle salsa is used in lieu of a tomato/marinara sauce. The salsa I used was pretty chunky and thus it was hard to get a semi-even layer while trying to spread it out, so I might puree it just a little next time. With 4 jalapenos and chiptole salsa, I was expecting this to be almost too hot - but it was actually not too bad! While it was still quite spicy, it was a very enjoyable heat. I got 8 hearty servings from this, so I can't wait to have this for lunch tomorrow! A very time involved recipe, but worth the effort!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Finally using some beef...

Nine new recipes this week, not too shabby - but not as much as we have been doing! The slow down was a nice change of pace. Looking back on the recipes, the standouts for us were the Banana Oat Breakfast Cookies, Spinach and Cheese Bites, and Roasted Asparagus with Orange Vinaigrette. There is a special day coming up this week, check back and see what happens!

I've been waiting to use up some top round we bought a few weeks ago when it went on sale. Since we were already busy most of the morning with grocery shopping, I didn't want to spend too much time in the kitchen tonight - so we went with a recipe for Orange Beef Stir-Fry. I waited until this morning to take the beef out of the freezer so it would still be pretty firm when I got to it - this makes it easy to get thin slices. If you didn't freeze the meat already, stash it in the freezer for around 15-30 minutes and that will accomplish the same thing. I took the time to make brown jasmine rice, but you could use white to get this dinner on the table faster. I prefer to steam broccoli, instead of boiling as the recipe called for, but do it how you prefer - just take it to crisp-tender. The beef is coated with cornstarch, seasoned and goes for a quick fry in a hot skillet. The cornstarch on the beef will help thicken a killer sauce made from fresh orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and brown sugar. For how quick and easy this is, Jeff and I were surprised at how much we liked it - the tangy sauce paired with beef was not too sweet and almost had us licking the plate clean!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Spiced snack cake....

We picked up a big bag of carrots at Costco and I had to get some of them used up before they started to turn bad (they come in 10 pound bags... too much for us!) I thought about a carrot cake or quick bread, but came up with something in between... a snack cake!

Carrot-Ginger Snack Cake turned into a light and moist cake with gentle sweet bite from crystallized ginger. If you can't find whole wheat pastry flour, you could use plain whole wheat flour- but the cake will be a little more dense. Sometimes baked goods with applesauce will turn out rubbery, but we were quite happy with the texture even though I used no oil or butter. Very fall-ish flavors with the use of ground cinnamon and nutmeg and a deep rich sweetness from brown sugar. Plump golden raisins scattered throughout added a nice chewy texture to the squares. I thought about maybe doing a light frosting like we did with the Harvest Pumpkin Bars we made last year, but we both thought it was just fine as is. If you felt like dressing it up, maybe a light sifting of confectioners' sugar on top?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Just wait until the end to tell them what's in it!

I love when I'm able to include an ingredient that Jeff says he can't stand, but actually quite enjoys eating when he does not know it is there. With tonight's dinner, Spinach and Cheese Bites, said ingredient would be cottage cheese! I've used it before in other dishes and he would tell me how much he liked dinner that night - and then I drop the bomb "hey... did you know there was a whole tub of cottage cheese in there? Hee hee!" Then I get the look of "ugh, I don't like cottage cheese!" Is there an ingredient that you often use for your loved ones that they say they don't like, but really love the dish as long as you don't tell them you used it?

The cottage cheese is whisked together with eggs, egg whites, green onions and sharp cheddar. After a bit of flour to bind, melted butter for richness and seasonings to spice things up are mixed in, a large amount of spinach is folded in and then poured in a square baking dish. Adorning the top is a shower of fresh grated Parmesan cheese and then it bakes away until bubbly and golden. I let them cool to almost room temperature which allowed for very clean cuts. We both liked the creamy texture which helped to bring the sharp cheese flavors to the front. I did take a little piece out to try while they were still very warm, but I thought it tasted best at room temperature. Next time, I might warm up some fresh minced garlic in the butter instead of using granulated for a bit stronger flavor. Since these could easily be done ahead of time, I bet these would be fun cut into small cubes to be passed around at a party.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Couldn't wait for it to cool down!

When we were at the market, asparagus was on sale and looked half-way decent, so we picked up a large bunch as they were pencil thin. I thought I was going to use the same recipe for roasted asparagus that we were so happy with last time, but I came across one for Roasted Asparagus with Orange Vinaigrette and had to try it. Fresh orange zest, orange juice, some chopped shallots and a dash of sugar infuses the crisp tender asparagus with bright sweetness. This was so good and is on par with the other recipe as far as flavor goes. I might add another half tablespoon of orange zest next time though, just to punch it up a little. If your asparagus are as thin as the ones we used (my favorite!) you may want to adjust the time and cook them a bit less so they stay more crisp than mushy.

I was running behind on getting dinner started tonight, so I couldn't wait for the recipe, Garlic-Cheese Grits, to cool down enough before serving it. The texture was super creamy right out of the oven, but if you let it cool down more, it will firm up and you would be able to cut it out instead of spooning it out as I did. As the quick-cooking (not instant) grits bubble away, garlic is heated up with olive oil just until aromatic, but no color is taken on to remove some of the bite. Once the grits are thick, the garlic oil mixture, sharp cheddar and nutty Parmesan are stirred in. A splash of cayenne pepper sauce is also included in the mix to bring some heat. This is poured into a baking dish and cooked until the top turns golden and crusty. If you can find it, be sure to use an extra-sharp cheese to enhance the plain flavor from the grits. I like both textures, creamy or firm, but if you prefer the creamy - you can always skip the baking and enjoy it right out of the pot!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Trying to please with more than one shortbread...

When Jeff walked into the kitchen this morning and spotted this sitting on the counter, his first words were "Boy... with 5 sticks of butter, Paula Deen would sure be proud of you!" You guessed it, another busy round of baking for Wednesday Treat Day for Jeff's co-workers. I usually buy butter at Trader Joe's, but since it is not convenient anymore, we just started buying it at Costco... today's treats certainly made a dent in the new butter supply!

I wanted to give options this time, so this time I made a few different flavored shortbreads.

The first one, Tweed Cakes, started out as a basic shortbread - but with the addition of chocolate covered toffee bits, the texture changes and the plain butter flavor takes on a caramelized twist. Instead of being more crisp, these golden cookies turn more chewy as the toffee melts into the rich dough. With the dark bits of chocolate showing through, these cut very clean - the trick is do use a sharp knife while they are still warm. If they cool much, they will start to crumble as you slice.

I made two more, but basically used the same recipe with one having more spice. The recipe, Chocolate Shortbread, has a slightly different baking method as you chill the dough for at least 2 hours, while the one above can be baked right away. These ended up being thicker than the Tweed Cakes and had that classic texture of being tender, yet still very crisp. Dutch-process cocoa adds a deep chocolate tone and compliments the delicate butter flavor. While one is straight-forward in taste, the other has a more complex profile as I spiced up the flavor with cinnamon, ancho chili powder and black pepper. While you can't tell them apart - if you smell the dark colored pieces side-by-side, the aroma is definitely different. You don't taste much heat at first bite, but it slowly creeps up on you and is very addictive. To help the dough to be even and smooth, I used the flat bottom of a large measuring cup to press it into the pan. For both recipes, I used a fork to prick the dough in several places to keep it from puffing up - I was going to try and make a design, but glad I didn't bother as most of them just closed up as the dough baked.

As the nights begin to get colder, Spicy Mulligatawny certainly warmed us up this evening with the use of hot madras curry powder and crushed red peppers. Mulligatawny translates to "Peppery Water" and is an Anglo-Indian dish. If you don't handle heat well, I would definitely halve the spices here. After a quick cook of chopped chicken breast, sweet Braeburn apples, onions, carrots, celery and red bell peppers are added and cooked until they begin to soften. Flour and spices are stirred in and briefly toasted before chicken broth, mango chutney and thick tomato paste are mixed in. Once it comes to a boil, the heat is reduced and the soup simmers for only 10 minutes, but this is enough time to allow the flour and tomato paste to give some body to the broth. Another dimension of heat comes from the bite given off from the ground ginger. The sweet mango chutney and chopped apples help balance the heat, but don't let that fool you - it is still quite spicy.