Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 of 2010

You probably have seen them on some of the other food blogs...."The Best of 2010" or "Favorite Recipes of 2010."  Being the creative person that I am, I thought I would jump on this bandwagon.  You know, the "everyone else is doing it so I will too" kinda thing.  Like I told you, creative.  :)

This blog has sort of evolved since its inception on March 29, 2010.  What started out as an adventure and challenge to cook my way through a classic Italian cookbook didn't take too long for Italian food to become a bit boring and a bit expensive.  After all, I love me a good enchilada! 

So, The Culinary Enthusiast evolved.  And evolution is good.  Because life is too short to limit my tastebuds to tomatoes, basil, and pasta (even though I am passionately in love with all 3!) 

This blog post is all about my Top 10 favorite recipes of this year (or 9 months, I guess!).  I didn't put my list in any particular order.  What is your favorite recipe from this blog?

I loved learning how to make fresh homemade pasta this year.  It doesn't get much better than that.  I loved how making pasta involved my whole family and loved sitting down together and enjoying a delicious meal.  I also loved that pasta-making sparked a sweet new friendship with Laura.

Margherita pizza is classic.  Simple.  Delicious. 

Of course, pasta makes this list.  And really, how does a pasta-lover with a pasta loving family choose just one?  I loved Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Garlic, and Parsley, and Linguine Carbonara, and Orzo with Sausage, Peppers, and Tomatoes.  All delicious.  All easy and simple. 

I mentioned earlier that I love enchiladas.  This year, I made several different versions, but this one is by far my favorite.  Coincedentally, it is also the easiest!  And the one I made for others the most as well!  Three cheers to America's Test Kitchen for Easy Chicken Enchiladas!  (I will make them again soon and post a new picture!)

Snickerdoodle cupcakes must make this list.  And really, they need to make your list!  Heaven meets Heaven.  You know?

This year I perfected (or at least, conquered!) yeast.  And I am so glad that I did.  My culinary world opened up exponentially with cinnamon rolls, yeast rolls, and fresh, homemade pita bread.  I haven't bought pita bread since!  If you haven't tried making pita bread, you should consider putting it on your 2011 Resolution list. 

2010 was the year of homemade ice cream for us.  With the addition of a new Kitchenaide ice cream maker, we cranked out several flavors in very short order.  Our favorite?  Coffee ice cream.  Knowing me, big surprise, right?!

Oh, I can't forget about spanakopita.  Buttery, flaky, to Italian food, ice cream, yeasted breads, coffee, it is the perfect food.  My kids loved it.

These lemon bars are to die for.  Sweet and tart at the same time.  I will be making these again and again.

Last but not least, my family fell in love with buffalo chicken chili mac.  I made it twice in about 2 weeks' time with the request to work it into the menu rotation regularly.  It made a lot, which was perfect for leftovers for a couple more meals. 

Now, as a disclaimer, it was hard to choose and limit myself to 10 favorite recipes.  Because this year, I learned to make cheese, learned to use the grill, cooked lentils for the first time, made oatmeal in the crockpot, made apple dumplings, and ventured a bit into the world of candymaking.  A lot of culinary feats were achieved in 2010!  (For the sake of ease on my part, I didn't include links to the above recipes.  You can use the search bar on the side for the recipes that are of interest to you).

I am looking forward to what 2011 brings out of my kitchen.  Truthfully, I'm not even sure how to speculate what I would like to cook.  But I know I'll be cooking, and I know I'll be sharing with you. 

But I wonder what you would like to see?  What interests you?  What are your thoughts about this blog design?  What works for you and what doesn't work?  I would love for you to leave a comment letting me know your thoughts about The Culinary Enthusiast.

Three cheers to 2010!  Three cheers to 2011!  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Peppermint Mocha Cupcakes

I always think I need some rich, decadent dessert for Christmas, but I have found over the years that no one has room at the end of the huge meal for a heavy filling dessert.  This year, I decided I would change it up a bit and offer cupcakes--light, fluffy, individual servings, no plate or fork necessary!  These cupcakes are amazing!  I love the vanilla undernotes in the frosting; it keeps the peppermint from being overwhelming.  And even though I am not a chocolate fan, I enjoyed the chocolate cupcake itself.

Don't limit yourself to making these just at Christmas time; anytime you get the peppermint mocha urge, these are your cupcakes!

Tips & Tricks:  I have yet to add espresso powder to my spice cabinet, so I improvised and used my coffee grinder to make instant coffee very fine.  For the frosting, make sure that your egg white mixture forms stiff peaks before adding the butter--I didn't and ended up with a soupy buttercream that even 20 minutes of whipping couldn't stiffen.  *I added more butter, as that is the main structure of buttercream, and within a couple of minutes I had a good frosting.   Too much whipping and you will end up with curdled buttercream that doesn't look very pretty.  Just watch it closely.

Peppermint Mocha Cupcakes
Adapted from:  Annie's Eats
Yields 3 dozen cupcakes

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cranberry Eggnog Muffins

I don't know about you, but I think that I like the idea of eggnog much better than I like the actual drink.  I usually tell myself once a year that I need to have a glass of this thick creamy drink because....well, I'm not actually sure why.  Christmas cheer, perhaps?  Childhood memories?

This year, I like the idea of eggnog as an ingredient rather than a beverage!  Now, if you're not a huge eggnog fan, don't stress.  These muffins have just a hint of eggnog flavor; in fact, if muffins could be creamy, that's how I would describe these.  Light and fluffy, truly just a step down from a cupcake.  A perfect way to use up some of that holiday cheer for Christmas morning! 

Cranberry Eggnog Muffins
Source:  Recipe Girl

2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbl. baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
¾ cup eggnog
1/3 cup melted butter
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries  (I used fresh.  If fresh are unavailable, frozen cranberries is preferred over dried)
2 tbl. granulated sugar

For the streusel topping
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup butter, slightly softened


Preheat oven to 400°F.  Line 14-16 muffin cups with baking liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder; set aside.

In a large bowl, mix eggs, sugar, eggnog, butter and almond extract. Mix in dry ingredients just until combined. Toss cranberries with 2 T. sugar and then stir into batter.

 Prepare streusel topping: Combine topping ingredients using a pastry cutter (or two knives) until crumbly.

 Fill prepared muffin cups two-thirds full. Top with streusel topping. Bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until muffins test done with a toothpick inserted in the center coming out clean.

Shells with Mini Chicken Meatballs

This is one of the funnest (is that even a word??!) pasta dishes I have ever made!  And sooooo yummy....

Let's start with the fun.

You know me:  I like making things.  So, I made mozzarella cheese.  For the experience, yes.  But also specifically for this dish.

And meatballs?  So fun.  If you have a food processor, you can make your own ground chicken.  Just trim excess fat and dice, and toss it in the bowl of your processor.  Whir away!  If you don't have a food processor--no worries!  You can buy ground chicken.

And as for the yummy part?  This was absolutely delish!  Simple ingredients, simple flavors that maintained their integrity.  Not hardly a spice was used to mask the flavors of the chicken, the cheese, the pasta.


Shells with Mini Chicken Meatballs
Source:  Giada's Kitchen

1 pound small shells pasta (or any other small pasta shape)
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (much more flavorful than curly parsley)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbl. milk
1 tbl. ketchup (or tomato sauce)
3/4 cup grated Roman cheese
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground chicken
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces bocconcini (small fresh mozzarella cheese balls)
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves  (my favorite!)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, Romano cheese, salt and pepper, and ketchup.  Add the ground chicken and combine well.  Using a melon baller (or a teaspoon measure) to scoop out the mixture, roll the seasoned chicken into 3/4-in. mini meatballs.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Working in batches, add the meatballs and cook without moving until brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes.  Turn the meatballs and brown the tops, continuing the rotate the meatballs until cooked through.  Add the chicken broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of pan.

Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.  Toss to coat the pasta, adding some of the reserved liquid to help make the sauce.  Add the meatball mixture, mozzarella cheese, and 1/2 cup of the fresh basil.  Combine.  Garnish with remaining Parmesan and basil.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fish Sticks

I have never understood why, in all 7 1/2 years of parenting, fish sticks are such a huge hit with kids.  I mean, typically, fish is the least-liked food among most kids (and dare I say, even some adults?).  So, maybe it is the extra crunchy batter that surrounds a less-than-authentic piece of fish?   Maybe it is the colorful packaging on the box that comes out of the freezer?  I don't claim to have the answers.  I just know that I've not been the kind of mom that buys boxes of pre-made food out of the grocer's freezer.  Now, I'm not judging you if you do.  I just prefer to make my own.  And I would like to suggest that homemade is better, especially in the case of fish sticks.  Use real fish.  Make your own breading.  Leave out the processed, partially hydrogenated stuff.  Bake or broil instead of fry.  You know?

My kids gobbled these fish sticks down--flaky, tender white fish.  Breading that was crispy and just the right amount.  A yummy lemon-mayonnaise dipping sauce.  These were even pretty tasty warmed up the next day for lunch!

So, indulge.  But let's keep it real!

Homemade Fish Sticks
Adapted from Giada's Kitchen

1 package of frozen white fish fillets, thawed (I used tilapia)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 egg whites
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup plain bread crumbs
olive oil, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Rinse the fish fillet and pat dry with paper towels.  Cut each piece of fish in half; if you want smaller "sticks," slice each piece into 1/2-inch strips (I kept mine in halves).

Place the flour in a medium bowl and season with the salt and pepper.  Place the egg whites in another bowl and beat until frothy, about 30 seconds.  Combine the Parmesan and bread crumbs in a third bowl.  Line the bowls up and tell yourself your breading station looks nice.

Coat the fish fillets in the seasoned flour and pat to remove any excess.  Dip the floured fish into the egg whites and then into the bread crumb mixture, gently pressing the mixture into the fish.  Place the breaded fish on parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Repeat with remaining fish pieces.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.  Serve with your favorite sauce or condiment.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Homemade Caramels

Warning:  You will not be able to stop eating these once you start.

Ok.  You've been warned.

Now, the only logical thing left to do is grab your candy thermometer (or run next door to your mother-in-law's house and borrow hers) and set to work making these.

You will not be disappointed.  You will love them.  I guarantee it.

A tin of these would be the perfect gift for your mailman.  Or your mother in law.  Or put them in your own stocking.  Whatever!

Homemade Caramels
Adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride

1 cup heavy cream
5 tbl. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tsp. vanilla (the best quality that you can afford)
1 1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water

Line bottom and sides of an 8-in. square pan with parchment paper, then lightly spray the parchment.

Bring cream, butter, vanilla, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden color (It took me at least 10 minutes).

Carefully stir in cream mixture into the caramel (mixture will bubble up, so be careful) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248 degrees on candy thermometer.  Off heat and pour into baking pan and cool for 30 minutes.  Sprinkle a bit of sea salt on top of caramel.  Let sit until completely cooled.

Cut into 1-inch squares and then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square piece of wax paper, twisting the ends to close.  If caramel gets too soft and sticky to lift off the parchment, place freezer for a few minutes to re-harden.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vanilla-Spice Nuts

When I saw this recipe in my newest cooking magazine, I immediately earmarked the page to make as soon as possible.  This is likely one of the safest treats in my house.  You see, my husband hates nuts.  So, I am secure in the fact that I won't have to share these, which is great because they are so delicious that I am glad I don't have to share!  They are the perfect munchie, both at the holidays and the rest of the year.  Of course, I do plan on sharing these at a couple of holiday get-togethers.  I'm nice like that.

Vanilla-Spice Nuts
adapted from Cooking Light, December 2010 issue

1 tbl. vanilla extract
1 large egg white
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cardamom

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine vanilla extract and egg white in a large bowl, whisking until foamy.  Stir in the nuts.  In another bowl, combine sugar, salt, and spices and sprinkle over nuts.  Toss to coat well.

Place nut mixture on a baking sheet line with parchment paper.  Smooth into an even layer.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and off heat.  Toss nuts, breaking apart large pieces.  Return pan to oven, with heat off, and leave in for 10 minutes.  Remove and cool to room temperature.  Prepare up to one week ahead and store in an airtight container.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Red Chile Chicken with Rice and Black Beans

I am so excited to share this recipe with you!  It is one of my family's favorites and it is so quick and versatile.  I usually make it without the chicken as a perfect side dish to our favorite chicken enchiladas, but it is great with the chicken added in, making it a quick weeknight one-pot-dish.  The possibilities are quite endless with the leftovers--burritos, super-nachos, your imagination is the limit!

Red Chile Chicken with Rice and Black Beans

adapted from Pink Parsley

2 Tbsp. canola oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1.25-1.5 lbs. total)
2.5 tbsp. chili powder, divided
1 medium onion, large dice
1 cup rice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth or water for gluten-free
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chopped green onions,
salsa, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, and sour cream, for serving (optional)

Trim excess fat off of chicken breasts, and cut into large chunks.  Season chicken with salt,  and 1 tablespoon of chili powder. Preheat a large skillet with oil until shimmering. Brown chicken on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from skillet and place on a plate, leaving behind as much oil as possible.

Sautee onion and rice until the rice  is no longer translucent and turns opaque. Add the remaining chili powder, the garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Cook 1 minute, then stir in the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover. Simmer 10 minutes.

Add the chicken and the black beans to the pot, stir, re-cover, and cook an additional 10-12 minutes.

Taste a grain of rice. If it is slightly chalky in the center, add a bit more liquid and continue cooking over medium heat until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender to the bit. Off heat, stir in the green onion and cilantro, and let sit, covered, 5 additional minutes.

Fluff rice with a fork, and serve with salsa, sour cream, and lime wedges.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip

What a fun and easy dip to make!  This is, in my opinion, a perfect addition to a holiday appetizer buffet.  It will keep the little kids happy and the adults coming back for just one more taste.  I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to take this to a dear friend's house for a simple Christmas get-together.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip
adapted from Macaroni & Cheesecake

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 (12 ounces total) pkgs. cream cheese
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
3/4 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips

In a small saucepan, place butter & brown sugar over medium heat. Stir continuously until butter melts and brown sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese and confectioner's sugar for 1 minute. Once creamy, slowly mix in the cooled butter mixture and beat for 1 minute or so, until fully incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour into serving dish and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to serving. Take dish out of refrigerator a little bit before serving so it can soften up.  Serve with vanilla wafers or cookie of your choice.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Orzo with Sausage, Peppers, and Tomatoes

This is likely the easiest pasta dish I have ever made!  I loved how it was so delicious and there was such a little amount of prep and ingredients involved!  Yay!  Seriously, you could whip this up in about 15 minutes!  My son starts basketball practice this week, making one more night a week where I have zero time to cook dinner.  Pretty sure that this dish is going to make frequent appearances on my menu for the next couple months.

Orzo with Sausage, Peppers, and Tomatoes
Source:  Giada's Kitchen

3 chicken boullion cubes, dissolved in 3 cups water
2-3 cups water
1 pound orzo pasta
2 tbl. olive oil
1 package Italian sausage, casings removed
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 jarred roasted red bell peppers, cut in strips
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tbl. fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, bring the chicken broth and water to a boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, in a large skillet, heat the oil and add sausage and cook over medium-high heat.  Break sausage into large chunks while you are cooking it.  When sausage is cooked through and no longer pink, add the garlic and cook for about 60 seconds.  Add the bell peppers, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the liquid and transfer pasta to the skillet.  Add half of the chopped parsley, salt and pepper.  Toss well to combine, adding the reserved cooking liquid if needed to loosen the pasta.  Transfer pasta to a nice serving dish.  Top with Parmesan cheese and remaining parsley.  Serve hot.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Homemade Peppermint Patties

I know, I know.  There are some of you out there that will look at this post and say to yourself, "Why doesn't she just buy peppermint patties?"  Well, I could.  But where is the fun in that??!  And let me tell you, these were fun to make!  So easy and simple.  Homemade is just better!  If you are looking for something to spark your creativity and want to attempt something that truly is hard to mess up, this candy is a great place to start!  No worries if you don't have a stand mixer; use a handheld one.  No worries if you don't have a double boiler; use a heat-proof glass bowl inside a saucepan (that's what I did!).  Just make sure that your bowl is a bit larger than the saucepan.  Have fun!  You will be proud of your attempt, effort, and success when you see fingers snatching peppermint pattie after peppermint pattie off of your holiday treat tray!

Homemade Peppermint Patties
Source:  Worth the Whisk

2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp. flavorless oil (corn, vegetable)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. half-and-half
2 to 4 drops peppermint extract
*1 drop red food coloring  (I used green)
1 cup semi-sweet baking chips

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together sugar and butter. In a small bowl, stir together the vegetable oil, vanilla, half-and-half and peppermint extract. With the mixer running on low, drizzle in the liquid and blend until batter is colored pink and is firm. Remove batter from bowl and make a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, flatten to a disk and refrigerate one hour.

Once chilled, remove from the refrigerator and, using your hands, quickly roll chunks of the dough into approximately 1-inch balls, place on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Dip your clean fingers into powdered sugar and flatten the balls to approx. 1/4 inch thick. Place in freezer for one hour.

To make a double boiler, put water in the bottom of a saucepan, enough to cover the bottom of the ban.  Place a heatproof glass bowl on top of the pan, making sure it is secure and not floating in the water.  Heat water to boiling.  In the top of a double boiler, pour the cup of chocolate chips and melt chocolate. Drop dough disks one at a time into the chocolate, turn with a fork to cover with chocolate, lift with the fork, scrape the bottom on the side of the pan and place back on the waxed paper. If your peppermint pattie starts to feel too soft in the chocolate, return to the freezer for 5 minutes or so to harden.  Continue dipping all candy pieces until all are coated.  Add more chocolate chips to the glass bowl and melt if necessary. 

Refrigerate until chocolate is firm, at least an hour. Keep refrigerated. Makes 15 to 20 candies.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ladybug Pizzas

This post and recipe is brought to you today by the letter B.

B as in Bennett.

Bennett is my 7 1/2 year old, my oldest.  He is in 2nd grade.  This past summer we spent together in the kitchen, cooking.  He loved it.  We made all sorts of yummy food.  Some he helped me with.  Some he did on his own.  So, it is with pride that I share Bennett's Ladybug Pizzas with you today.  He made them  I sat in the living room reading a magazine.  Seriously.  I could totally get used to someone else cooking dinner.  And, I didn't notice it until I was taking the picture later that Bennett actually made these pizzas look like ladybugs.  I would have just tossed the olives and tomatoes together.  But he made them look cute.

What a cute kid!

Will you forgive me if I just tell you how to make these?  You don't really need measurements, do you?  Good.  I knew that you would be ok!

Ladybug Pizzas
Original Source:  Rachael Ray

English muffins, split in half
prepared pesto  (we have used both tomato pesto and basil pesto)
plum tomatoes, sliced
sliced black olives
mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350.  Place split English muffins on a baking sheet.  Spread each half with pesto.  Top with a bit of mozzarella cheese.  Place 3 tomato slices and a couple slices of black olives on each muffin.  Top again with some mozzarella cheese.  Bake for 10 minutes, until cheese is melted and slightly browned.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Creamy Spiced Chai Mix

I am a coffee lover.  Through and through.  Morning, afternoon, and evening.  Sometimes in between.  My dear friend Carmen over at Old House Kitchen is a chai lover.  For her, coffee, not so much.  There is seldom a day that goes by when she isn't running to her kitchen to make up a cup of creamy chai as an afternoon pick-her-up.  Sometimes, she even goes overboard and has a cup in the morning and the afternoon!  So, I decided that I would try it her way.  Switch up the all-time-favorite vanilla latte for a cup of chai.  But only every once in awhile.  I'll be hard-pressed to ever fall out of love with my delighful vanilla latte or my steamy cup of morning coffee. 

I'll be honest with you....I really like this chai. It is kind of addicting.  But I did kind of run around like a crazy person gathering all the ingredients for it.  Here and there for dry creamer, cardamom, and powdered milk.   But it was ok.  It was simple.  However, if you are more inclined to indulge without the hassle of making it, you can buy it from Old House Mercantile--Carmen would love to send you some!

Creamy Spiced Chai Mix
Source:  Old House Kitchen

1 cup dry powered milk
1 cup powdered creamer, plain
1 cup powdered creamer, vanilla
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup instant tea granules
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. EACH ground cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice
1/8 tsp. white pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it becomes a fine powder.

Add 4 tsp. to 1 1/2 cups warm/hot milk.

Grab a book or magazine, prop your feet up, and enjoy!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Broccoli Garlic Quiche

Have you made quiche?  Are you intimidated by it?  Let me tell is easy.  And versatile.  As long as you have your custard ingredients of milk (or cream) and eggs, you can pretty much make quiche any flavor you want!  My standard quiche recipe uses mushrooms as the main ingredient, but I knew that I would love this one.  I think that fresh broccoli is the best and of course, I have a serious weakness for garlic.  Put the two together, and voila!  Deliciousness!  This is perfect for a brunch, lunch, or a simple dinner.

Broccoli Garlic Quiche
Source:  Gourmet, September 2009

1 recipe of all-butter pastry dough
10 oz. broccoli florets, coarsely chopped (you can leave a couple inches of the stem if you want)
2 large garlic cloves
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and half (or whole milk)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, either ground or freshly grated
1/4 tsp. cayenne
5 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees with oven rack in the middle.

Roll out dough on lightly floured surface into a 13-inch round.  Fit dough into pie plate, letting excess hang over the edge.  Fold overhang inward and press against side of pie plate to reinforce edge.  Prick bottom all over with a fork.  Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Line pastry shell with foil and fill with pie weights (easily found at Bed, Bath, & Beyond in the cooking section), or you can use dried beans.  Bake until pastry is set and edge is pale golden, about 20-25 minutes.

Carefully remove foil edge and weights, and bake shell until deep golden all over, about 15-20 minutes more.  Put pie plate in a 4-sided sheet pan.  Leave oven on.

While the shell bakes, cook broccoli in a medium pot of boiling salted water for about 4 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cold water (this stops the cooking), then pat dry.

Mince and mash the garlic cloves to a paste with a generous pinch of salt.  Whisk together the garlic paste, eggs, half-and-half, nutmeg, cayenne, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large bowl until smooth.

Pour filling into shell and add broccoli, then sprinkle with cheeses.

Bake until the custard is set, 45-50 minutes.  Center may tremble slightly; the filling will continue to set as it cools.  Cool at least 20 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Homemade Cinnamon Gingerbread Christmas Ornaments

Ok.  I know that this isn't food.  You can't (or at least shouldn't!) eat these.  But, I figured since 2 of the 3 ingredients are edible, these lovelies deserved some blog space.  As you know, I am into "homemade."  My Christmas decorations are no exception.  These ornaments go back to my college days, as a friend from my elementary education math methods class shared this "recipe" with me.  The fact that I still have the original recipe on her cute notepad paper some (a-hem) 15 years later is truly a Christmas miracle (I am so absent-minded!).  For our second Christmas as a married couple, I redesigned my Christmas decor theme and made these ornaments.  Ten years later, I am still using and loving them!  They look perfect next to my homemade dried fruit ornaments and the rustic metal and wooden snowmen, angels, and stars.

Homemade Cinnamon Gingerbread Christmas Ornaments

3/4 cup cinnamon
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tbl. tacky glue

Combine all three ingredients in a bowl, mixing together with a spoon.  Mix until the dough forms a ball.  If dough is too wet, add more cinnamon.  If too dry, add a bit more applesauce.  (I have always had perfect results with the above amounts as is).

Sprinkle a dry flat surface with a bit more cinnamon and roll dough out with a rolling pin to desired thickness.  Use any shape of cookie cutter and cut out shapes.  Place cut outs on wax paper; repeat with remaining dough.  Using a toothpick or cake tester, make a hole in the top of each ornament while dough is soft (this is for your ribbon!).  Allow to dry for 3-4 days, or until completely dry and hard.  Thread pretty ribbon through the hole.

Enjoy the cinnamon smell!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes

I really should make these more often.  They are just simply that good.  It might be a bit sad when this is the only sloppy joe recipe I possess in my collection--it is a bit strange to have a twist on the original before you have the original, you know?  But, I have yet to search for a great regular sloppy joe recipe.  So, in the meantime, I share the twist with you.  This particular time I made them, I had some steaks gathering frostbite in the freezer.  I plopped them in the crockpot, and cooked 'em "low and slow" all day.  OMGoodness.  Talk about tender and flaky meat.  It was just perfect.  Of course, the recipe itself calls for ground beef, which is fine as well.  Use what you have.  Serve with light, fresh salad.

Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes
Adapted from Rachael Ray

1 tbl. olive oil
1 pound ground sirloin
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup steak sauce
1-2 tbl. worchestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
*I have also added sauteed mushrooms and onion wedges--this addition makes your sloppy joe even sloppier!

4 hamburger buns (I also think that it would be great with fresh pita bread)

 For the provolone cheese sauce:
1 tbl. butter
1 tbl. flour
1 cup milk
1 cup provolone cheese, shredded

Preheat broiler.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, turn the pan with olive oil and brown the meat, chopping it up as you cook.  Add the onion and cook another 3-4 minutes, until the onion gets tender.  Stir in the steak sauce and worchestershire, season with salt and pepper; bring to a bubble and cook 2 more minutes.

Split open the rolls/buns and toast under broiler for a minute or so---keep an eye on them so they don't burn!!

While the meat is cooking, melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan.  Stir in the flour and cook about 1 minute.  Whisk in the milk, stirring constantly to make it smooth, until thickened.  Turn off heat and stir in the cheese in a figure-8 motion until it is incorporated.

To assemble:  place a scoopful of the meat mixture onto the bottom of the roll/bun, then top with the cheese sauce.  Replace the top of the bun and serve.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Artichoke Cheese Dip

Seriously, who doesn't love a good, creamy, cheesy dip?  One of my dearest friends graciously shared this recipe with me after serving it to me twice.  I turned right around and served it to a group of scrapbooking ladies, and received as many oohs and aahs as I had given to my friend.  I shared this again at my family's Thanksgiving dinner, and I am pretty sure that this recipe is a winner!  My favorite version of this was the one where I used frozen artichoke hearts--a great artichoke flavor without the briny taste that comes with canned artichokes.  So, now I share it with you, dear blog readers.  You're gonna wanna make it!

Artichoke Cheese Dip
Source:  A Troop's Girl

1 jar/can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 package frozen artichoke hearts, cooked according to package directions, drained and chopped *(this is my preferred method)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3-1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 block of neufatchel cream cheese, softened
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.  Transfer to a medium-sized baking dish, and spread evenly.

Bake covered for approximately 20 minutes.  Uncover, and continue baking for another 10 minutes until browned and bubbly.

Serve with pita chips, tortilla chips, fresh veggies, or whatever sounds good to you!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese

It seems like the combination of pears and blue cheese is a pretty trendy flavor pairing right now--in the past month, I've had it three times.  It is a popular pairing because it is a good combination.  The sweetness of the pears with the sharpness of the blue cheese.  Yum.  Try it on bruschetta or salad.  In fact, I have some leftover pears from this salad, I might just bake a loaf of bread!  I made this salad for our Thanksgiving this year (my sister and I tend to lean toward the "gourmet" side of cooking, so it fit right it) and it received some mixed reviews.  If your palate is adventurous and you like extraordinary flavors, you will love this salad.  If you are looking to expand your culinary horizons, you will love this salad.  If you are looking for a fresh way to incorporate pears into your cooking, you will love this salad.  (Are you noticing a theme here?!)

Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese
Source: Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten

3 ripe but firm d' Anjou pears*  
freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pecan halves, chopped
1/2 cup apple cider
3 tbl. red wine
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup good olive oil
6 ounces baby arugula
kosher salt, optional
*To ripe pears to perfection, place them in a brown paper sack with a banana in the sack.  Fold sack over to close.  In a couple days, they will be ripe but firm, juicy but not mushy.  Perfect.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Squeeze lemon juice into a small bowl.

Peel the pear (a vegetable peeler works the best!) and slice them lengthwise into halves.  With a small sharp paring knife, remove the core and seeds from each pear, leaving a round well for the filling.  Trim a small slice away from the rounded sides of each pear half so they they will sit in the baking dish without wobbling.  Toss the pears with lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.  Arrange them, core side up, in a baking dish large enough to hold the pears snugly.

Gently toss the crumbled blue cheese, dried cranberries, and pecans together in a small bowl.  Divide the mixture among the pears, mounding it on top of the indentation.

In the same small bowl, combine the cider, red wine, and brown sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Pour the mixture over and around the pears.  Bake the pears, basting occasionally with the cider mixture, for 30 minutes, or until tender.  Set aside until warm or room temperature.

Just before serving, whisk together the olive oil, 1/4 cup of the lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of the cider basting liquid in a large bowl or shake in a jar.  Add the arugula and toss well.  Divide the arugula among 6 plates and top each with a pear half.  Drizzle each pear with some of the basting liquid, sprinkle with salt (if desired), and serve.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cranberry Orange White Chocolate Biscotti

So, if you've been a blog reader of mine for even a month, you will know that I love soup.  And coffee.  And snickerdoodles.  And biscotti.   Definitely biscotti.  I'm sorry that this is the first time I've mentioned this to you.  I feel like I've betrayed you by holding out on you this very key piece of information about me.  

I discovered biscotti a couple of years ago on one of my favorite food blogs (see source link below).  Never having been one to buy biscotti (somehow, hard cookie-things in a glass jar at the coffeeshop just never appealed to me), I was surprisingly stunned to discover how E.A.S.Y biscotti is to make and how absolutely delightful homemade biscotti is to eat.  

Now, for those of you who don't like to dunk cookies and ruin a good cup of coffee with soggy crumbs, I'm in that boat with you.  You're not going to need to dunk this biscotti.  But you will need a steaming cup of joe.  Make sure you leave a comment if you become addicted after the first bite.  We might need to band together and start a support group for our developing biscotti addiction.  There will be coffee at our therapy meetings.  And probably biscotti. 

Cranberry Orange White Chocolate Biscotti
Source:  Annie's Eats

3¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1½ cups sugar
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. orange zest
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl; stir together with a fork and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the sugar, melted butter, eggs, vanilla extract and orange zest until well combined.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.  Stir in the white chocolate chips and dried cranberries with a rubber spatula.

Divide the dough in half.  Working with one portion of dough, shape into a 12" x 3" log on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining dough so that the logs are laying parallel and spaced apart on the baking sheet.  Bake until the logs are golden brown, 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 25 minutes, maintaining the oven temperature in the meantime.

Carefully transfer the logs to a work surface and remove the parchment paper from the pan.  Using a serrated knife, cut the logs into ½-inch slices on the diagonal.  Lie the slices on one of their cut sides back on the baking sheet.  Return to the oven and bake for 12 minutes more.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I know that I have been flooding my blog lately with soup recipes. I will apologize to you who don't like soup. Sorry. Cold weather flips the soup switch in me and I am just excited to share my repertoire with you! I had intended to make a chicken tortilla soup recipe that has been in my recipe binder for a while now, but when I was reading through it, for some reason it no longer appealed to me. But my mind was set on soup, so I went hunting on the internet for another, more interesting soup recipe. Once I settled on one, I changed it all around!! Go figure. So, Cheers to brisk, wind-blowing, overcast autumn days and a pot of steaming soup!

Chicken Tortilla Soup
2 tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, ribbed, and diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
2 (15-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a dash of ground cayenne pepper, for heat (optional)
3-4 cooked, shredded chicken breasts
8-10 oz corn, fresh or frozen (thawed)
handful of chopped cilantro

For garnish:
tortilla chips, crushed

shredded Monterey Jack cheese
sour cream

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, 4-qt soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno pepper and saute about 5 minutes, until the vegetables become soft. Stir in the chili powder and cumin and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover, decrease the heat and simmer about 15 minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste and ground cayenne pepper (if using) along with the cooked chicken.   Add corn and black beans to the soup and gently heat until hot. Add cilantro just before serving.

Ladle the soup into bowls.  Top with shredded cheese and crushed tortilla chips. Top with a spoonful of sour cream if desired. Serve.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Soft Garlic Knots

I know I say it a lot, but YUM!  As I sit here staring at my computer screen, my mind is bit of a blank as far as creative writing goes.  So, I'm wondering if you trust me (and like me!) enough to take my word at how delicious these rolls are and go start a batch.  Right now.  So easy.  Fluffy and yeasty.  The garlic pushes these rolls over the top.  Yes, it takes a bit of extra time (but not that much!!), but rolls like these are why I no longer buy pre-made frozen garlic bread (and actually haven't bought frozen garlic bread consistently for quite some time now).  These rolls are the perfect pairing to soup, pasta, or if you're like my Brecken, they are a meal unto themselves!

Soft Garlic Knots
Source: Annie's Eats

For the dough:
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. instant yeast
1¼ tsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup milk
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. lukewarm water (110 degrees)

For the glaze:
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp. melted butter
½ tsp. Italian seasoning

To make the dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the dry ingredients.  Add the olive oil, milk and water.  Mix until ingredients have formed a dough.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turn once to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a 10-inch long rope and tie into a knot.  Take the end lying underneath the knot and bring it over the top, tucking it into the center.  Take the end lying over the knot and tuck it underneath and into the center.  Transfer shaped rolls to a baking stone, or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes, until puffy.

To make the glaze, finely mince the garlic or press it through a garlic press.  Mix with the melted butter and Italian seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Brush the glaze onto the shaped rolls.  Bake until set and lightly browned, about 15-18 minutes.  Let cool slightly before serving.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Homemade Fresh Mozzarella Cheese

After making homemade ricotta cheese a couple times this summer, I was intrigued by the other varieties of cheese I could make at home without having to go all crazy about buying special equipment.  While not quite as simple as ricotta, homemade mozzarella is a breeze to make and doesn't require specialized equipment or hard-to-find ingredients.  If you're like me and you love fresh mozzarella cheese, but hate paying $3+ for one ball, then this is a fun alternative and much less expensive.

There are a lot of options for this process if you google it; I will try to simplify it for you by telling you exactly what I did and where I found my ingredients.

The ingredients you will need are a gallon of milk (I used whole since I have a 1-year-old and that is just what I am buying these days), citric acid, rennet tablet, and some salt.
  • Let's talk about milk--your google search will tell you that you need local, organic, fresh-from-the-cow, milk.  Bah.  Just buy some milk, but make sure that it isn't "ultra-pasteurized" as that milk has been heated to a high temperature that kills the bacteria and cultures needed to make cheese.  I get my milk at Aldi for less than $2 a gallon.
  • Ok, next, citric acid.  I will admit to having a hard time finding this ingredient at my local Meijer, as I wasn't really sure where to look for it.  In my area of small-town "Amish-ville," there is a quaint little store that sells bulk foods repackaged in "normal" sized containers.  Voila.  Tripped across it there.  Those of you who know where I live in NE IN will know exactly what store I am talking about.  My best advice to you:  google citric acid and see where you can get it in your area.
  • Next, rennet.  Again, I found this at my little Amish-ville country store.  It is next to the ice cream making/custard making ingredients.  A brief google glimpse into what rennet actually is determined that I actually don't want to know what it is.  But, you're going to need it anyway.  It helps curdle the milk and make the cheese curds.  You should be able to find this fairly easily at your grocery store.
Ok, the equipment that you are going to need you likely already have in your kitchen--a large pot, a long thermometer (I borrowed my MIL's candy thermometer) that will read both 88 and 105 degrees, a mesh strainer or slotted spoon, a colander, and some cheesecloth.

Ok, now that you have all your ingredients and equipment, the only thing that you're going to need is about an hour to make this.  It is pretty simple!  Ready?  Here we go!

Homemade Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
1 gallon of milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
2 tsp. citric acid, sprinkled over the milk
1/2 of a dry rennet tablet, dissolved in 1/4 cup water at room temperature
salt, to taste

Pour milk into a large stock pot.  Sprinkle the citric acid over the milk and use a wooden spoon to stir.  Over medium-low heat, bring milk to 88 degrees.

Add dissolved rennet mixture to milk.  Stir until milk reaches 105 degrees and keep it there for about 5 minutes until curds begin to form and separate from the whey.  The whey (liquid) should be clear; if it is still milky looking, allow the mixture to heat a bit longer.  Off heat.

With a slotted spoon or fine mesh strainer, scoop out curds.  Place them in a cheesecloth-lined colander to drain whey.  When all the curds have been removed from the whey in the pot, place your hand in the colander to push/squeeze out remaining whey.

Form the curds into balls and place in a glass bowl.  Microwave them for thirty seconds.  On a dry, flat surface, knead the cheese balls just like you would bread dough, squeezing out whey as you go.  Re-form into balls, heat again for 30 seconds.  Knead again, and heat again.  After the second knead, add your desired amount of salt.  Continue to knead cheese balls, pushing together the curds and squeezing out whey until the cheese becomes glossy and firm in your hands.

The more you knead your cheese, the drier it will become.  The drier it is, the easier it is to shred.  I stopped kneading mine once it retained a ball shape in my hand--I didn't shred my cheese.

I yielded 2 tennis-ball-size balls of cheese.

See, simple, huh?  It takes bit of time to knead the cheese, but it is simple and not labor-intensive.  I was fascinated at how the curds transformed in my hands!  Welcome to the Homemade Cheese Club!

As for taste, you might ask?  Well, since mozzarella doesn't really have a strong flavor anyhow, it tasted just as you would expect fresh mozzarella cheese to taste.  I added it to a pasta dish and it was just what I had envisioned!

Ok, here are the pictures of the process:

 The ingredients that you will need--milk, salt, rennet, citric acid, and a candy thermometer.

 Dissolve 1/2 a rennet tablet in a 1/4 cup water.  You will add this mixture to your milk at 88 degrees.

 Though this thermometer is different than the one pictured above, you will need your thermometer to be able to read as low at 88 degrees.  The one above started at 100 degrees.

 Once your milk has reached 105 degrees, maintain that temperature for about 5 minutes to allow the milk to curdle.  Once large curds have formed and you can see them separating from the whey, use a slotted spoon or fine mesh strainer to remove the curds.  In the picture, mine were still a bit wet, so I let the milk sit for a bit longer before trying again.

 I found it best to line a large colander with cheesecloth and use my hand to push out the remaining whey.  You want your curds to be dry before beginning the kneading process.

 Once I pushed out the whey, I formed my curds into very rough balls.  At this point, there is still a lot of whey in the curds that I will have to knead out.

 Place the cheese in the microwave for 30 seconds.  On a flat surface (I used a wooden cutting board), begin kneading.  Repeat.
After the second knead, you are ready to add salt to your cheese.  How much you add depends on how salty you want your cheese to be.  I used kosher salt, and didn't measure.  Continue kneading the cheese until it becomes firm and stretchy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Blushing Apples

Generally speaking, the complementing side dishes that accompany my main entree are always the most challenging for me.  While I don't purposfully choose the most labor-intensive main dish, I will admit that for any given meal, my time and prep is wrapped up in the star of the meal.  So, I either have to plan my sides or have an easy go-to that I can whip up in essentially minutes.  What I love about this apple side is that they can be simmering while you are eating your main dinner.  They can pass as a simple dessert or can be a wonderful, fresh side dish to have towards the end of the meal.  (Who am I kidding?  I usually have some sort of "real" dessert lying around here!)

Anyway, simple.  Easy.  Prep friendly.

Blushing Apples
Source:  A Kraft Food & Family magazine (who knows which one!)

2 pkgs. strawberry flavored gelatin
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 cups water
4 medium apples, such as Granny Smith or Gala
whipped cream, optional

Combine dry gelatin mix and cinnamon in a large saucepan.  Add water.  Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, stirring frequently until gelatin is completely dissolved.

Core and peel apples.  Add to gelatin mixture in saucepan; partially cover saucepan with lid.  Return to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10-15 minutes until fork-tender.  Remove apples from liquid.

Serve warm and garnish with fresh whipped cream.  (Or cool and store in fridge at least 1 hour or overnight).

Monday, November 15, 2010

White Chicken Chili

One of the things I look forward to most about the weather turning cooler is a nice big pot of soup or chili simmering the day away on the stove.  I love the simplicity of chili and I love that it really only needs some yummy yeasty bread or sweet cornbread to complete the meal.  To add a bit of variety, I incorporate white chicken chili into the chili roundup....I love the creaminess and the garlic of this one!  Topped with slices of avocado, this lends itself to a fresh, comforting meal for those chilly days when coziness is a must.

White Chicken Chili
Source: Main Dishes from The Pampered Chef

3 cups cooked chicken (you can make this ahead the day before in the crockpot, or oven roast a whole chicken and used the meat from that--whichever is easier for you!)
6 cloves of garlic, roasted in the oven (see link for procedure for roasting garlic)
1 cup onion, chopped
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
3 cans (15 oz. each) great northern beans, drained, rinsed, and divided
2 tsp. light olive oil
3 cups chicken broth (if using canned, about 3 cans)
2 tbl. taco seasoning
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tbl. cornstarch
1 tbl. cold water
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, snipped

Chop onions and jalapeno.  Drain 1 can of beans and transfer to a small colander.  Gently squeeze roasted garlic cloves from papery skins into beans; mash.  Drain remaining two cans of beans and set aside.

In large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and jalapeno, cook 4-5 minutes until tender.  Add cooked chicken, mashed bean-garlic mixture, whole beans, broth, taco seasoning, and lime juice.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes.

In small bowl, combine cornstarch and cold water, stirring until smooth.  Add cornstarch mixture to chili and continue cooking 5 minutes, stirring constantly to thicken.  Stir snipped cilantro into chili just before serving.

To serve, top with shredded jack cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and a few slices of avocado.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Roasted Zucchini Parmesan

So, you may remember my lament over the lack of zucchini from my dad's garden this summer.  I had all this inspiration of the many things I was going to make with zucchini this summer, and when he told me early on that the plants were done, I think I must have gone into conserve mode and mentally stashed those ideas and recipes away.  Well, a friend gave me a zucchini from her garden.  My dad gave me a couple more.  My sister gave me her last three.  But, while this should have resurrected my inspiration, it was long gone.  So, instead of being overjoyed and exuberant over my good fortune and plethora of zucchini, I found myself at a loss for what to do with all this zucchini.  I resorted to shredding one and making a zucchini pound cake which is just not in my nature to make willingly.  Anyway, summer is way over and I still have 3--count them, 3!--zucchini in my pantry, threatening to rot before I turn them into something marvelous.

And then it hit me.  I needed to make zucchini Parmesan.  You know, like eggplant Parmesan?  Only with zucchini.  Score.  Done deal.  I can always go for garlic- and basil-infused meals.

A sidenote:  I think that this would have just pushed me over the top if my zucchini would have been the freshest of fresh.  Alas, however, it was still delightful.

Roasted Zucchini Parmesan
A Karla-Original, inspired by Annie's Eats

1 large zucchini, or several small ones
1 cup flour
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs
3 eggs
1/3 cup milk
Parmesan cheese (can you have too much of this?)
at least 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese (again, the cheesier the merrier!)
olive oil, for greasing the baking sheets

For tomato sauce:
1 onion, diced
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped fine
1/2 tsp. oregano
3-4 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped
2 cans diced tomatoes, undrained
salt and pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
1 tbl. sugar
3 tbl. unsalted butter
1 large handful of fresh basil, snipped
2 tsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium shallow bowl, combine the flour and the bread crumbs.  Set aside.  In another small bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.  Set aside.

Slice zucchini into 1/4-in. slices.  Dip each slice into the egg mixture then coat both sides in the flour/bread crumb mixture.  Place each coated zucchini slice onto a rimmed baking sheet that has been coated in olive oil.  When all zucchini slices are prepared, bake in preheated oven until zucchini is well-browned and crisp, about 30 minutes, rotating baking sheets after 10 minutes and flipping the slices after 10 more minutes.  Do not turn off oven when zucchini is done roasting.

While zucchini is roasting, prepare the tomato sauce.  In a medium saucepan, drizzle the bottom with some olive oil; heat.  Add the onion, carrot, and oregano and saute until tender.  Add garlic and saute 30 seconds more.  Add the tomatoes with their liquid and salt and pepper to taste.  Add bay leaf and sugar and simmer gently to let flavors blend, about 15-20 minutes.  Add butter and let melt; stir to incorporate.  Off heat.  Add snipped basil leaves and Parmesan cheese and stir to combine.

To assemble, pour some of the sauce on bottom of a 9x13 baking dish to cover the bottom.  Place one layer of zucchini slices on top of sauce.  Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese.  Add more sauce.  Repeat zucchini layer, followed by cheese, sauce, and finish with a final layer of cheese.

Bake uncovered, until sauce is bubbly and cheese is browned, about 13-15 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes, scatter any remaining basil you might have over the top and cut into squares to serve.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Granola

I am trying so desperately to make a granola that I love.  This is close.  I love the "fall" flavor that the pumpkin puree imparts; the challenge remains for me to make a crisp granola that isn't also chunky.  You know, like big chucks that threaten to break a tooth?  Yeah, that's what I am talking about.  I wonder if I need to use a different type of oats??  (I was told by my friend "Low & Slow."  I haven't tried it, but you might consider lowering the temperature of the oven and cooking a bit longer).

Anyway, I'm sure once I toss a handful into some yogurt or splash some cold milk on it, it will be perfect!

Pumpkin Spice Granola
Adapted from Annie's Eats

3 ½ cups rolled oats
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice  (I made up my own, using 1 tsp. each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, as well as 1/4 tsp. ground cloves)
¾ tsp. salt
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup pumpkin puree (I used homemade)
¼ cup applesauce
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
up to 1 ½ cups chopped nuts  (I used pecans, my favorite)
up to 1 cup dried fruit (I used a combination of raisins and craisins)

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place oats in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin pie spice, salt, sugar, pumpkin puree, applesauce, maple syrup and vanilla extract.  Whisk until very smooth.  Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until the oat mixture is evenly coated.  Spread on the prepared baking sheet in an even layer.

Bake for 30 minutes.  Then turn over the granola using a large, wide spatula.  Sprinkle the nuts onto the granola and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until crisp and golden.  Depending on the size of your baking sheet, the center may not be fully dried if your granola layer is thick, so if necessary remove the edges of the cooked granola and let the rest cook until done, 10-15 more minutes.  Cool on pan or on a fine wire rack. Be careful not to burn the granola!

Break up granola as desired and toss with dried fruit.  Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Zuppa Toscana

Hmmmm.....what to write?  Except, "YUM!"  I have such a weak spot for soup....  This is a popular soup at a popular Italian restaurant and it could not be simpler to make at home!  I personally think that using pancetta imparts a better flavor and texture, but bacon is a fine, less expensive alternative.  Pair this soup with some warm breadsticks and you have yourself a wonderful cold-weather meal!  Kale is a great way to add some major fiber and folic acid and other great nutrients to your diet--it is one of the most nutritious leafy greens.

Zuppa Toscana
Adapted from Allrecipes (submitted by MARBALET)

1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
a drizzle of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 pkg. pancetta or several pieces of bacon (reserve remaining bacon for another recipe!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup kale, rinsed, stems removed, and chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream or half-n-half

In a large skillet, brown sausage, crumbling it as it cooks.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

In a large soup pot (like a dutch oven), drizzle olive oil and saute onions and pancetta/bacon until tender and cooked.  Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds more.  Add the chicken broth, water, and potatoes, and bring to a simmer for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender.  Add the sausage, kale and cream and simmer for 5 more minutes.  Serve hot.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Homemade Breadsticks

My husband loves bread....he is definitely a carb king.  Now, I love a good yeasty bread as well, but especially when we go out to dinner, I will not often indulge in a lot of bread before the main dish arrives to our table.  Not my husband.  In his love affair with bread, he will fill himself half up with bread before his dinner arrives.  The exception to the "don't eat a lot of bread before dinner comes" is when I order soup and salad and the bread then just enhances the other two dishes.  Like these breadsticks.  Pretty basic.  Pretty yummy.  Pretty filling.  Pretty perfect next to a bowl of Italian soup.  

Homemade Breadsticks
Source:  Here

1 cup warm water (105-110 degrees)
1 packet yeast (2 tsp. if using a jar)
1 teaspoon sugar
3-1/2 cups flour
3 Tablespoons butter , room temperature
1 Tablespoon salt
Melted butter to brush over tops
Your choice of toppings

Mix warm water, sugar and yeast and let proof for 10 minutes (or until mixtures puffs up a little). Mix with flour, water, salt, and butter. If you have a mixer with a dough hook, knead with this for about 5 minutes. Otherwise, lay dough on hard, flat surface and knead by hand until dough is soft and elastic.

Tear off dough balls and shape into desired sticks, rings, or twists. Place on baking sheets or pizza stone and let rise for 20 to 30 minutes, until doubled-looking and puffy. I always  place dough in a 170-degree oven for rising.  Just make sure you turn the oven off when you put the dough in!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with toppings. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until tops are just turning golden. Remove from oven, but eat as many warm ones as you can.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Egg & Sausage Casserole

We are very simple around our house when it comes to breakfast....a bowl of cold cereal and a glass of juice.  Bennett can help his sister and brother get started on breakfast, which is very nice.  Cereal is cheap, and my kids don't mind the generic brands.  Win-win.  However, sometimes I get a craving for a nice hot breakfast meal, but in the spirit of "sleeping in" (you know, with 3 kids! ;/), I will usually serve breakfast for dinner.  For my family, this usually guarantees that all three kids will chow down.  I love this casserole for the reason that it is not a bread-based one (although I love those too!).  The hard boiled eggs change it up quite nicely.

Egg & Sausage Casserole
Source: Favorite Brand-Name Best Loved Casseroles

1 pound pork sausage
3 tbl. butter, divided
2 tbl. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 1/4 cups milk
2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
4 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
1/2 cup cornflake crumbs
1/4 cup sliced green onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 2-quart oval baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Crumble sausage into large skillet; brown over medium-high heat until no longer pink, stirring to separate meat.  Drain sausage on paper towel-lined plate.

In same skillet, melt 2 tbl. butter.  Stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth.  Gradually whisk in milk; cook and stir until thickened.  Add sausage, potatoes, and eggs; stir to combine.  Pour into prepared baking dish.

Melt remaining tablespoon of butter.  Combine cornflake crumbs and melted butter; sprinkle evenly over casserole.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Sprinkle with green onions and serve.