Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Corn Chowder with Cheddar Cheese

I am not a huge fan of corn, basically because there is very little nutritional value that is derived from it.  I often call it the vegetable that you "rent."  :)  However, my dad planted some sweet corn in his garden this year for the first time, and he shared some with me.  My girlfriend always orders corn chowder from Panera (I always go for broccoli-cheddar soup) and I was curious and intrigued to make a corn chowder to see what she loved about it.  I have to say, this was really yummy!  I especially liked the flavor and texture that came with using fresh corn.  This would still be good with frozen corn, but I imagine that it would be slightly different.  Five stars from the 5 of us!!

Corn Chowder with Cheddar Cheese
Source: adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
serves 5-6

4 oz. bacon, chopped
2 tbl. cup olive oil
3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large onions)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground mustard
6 cups chicken stock
3 cups medium-diced white boiling potatoes, unpeeled (2 lbs.)
5 cups corn kernels, fresh (5 ears) or frozen (1 1/2 lbs.)
1 cup milk
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon and olive oil until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and butter to the fat, and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the flour, salt, pepper and dry mustard and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and potatoes, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. If using fresh corn, cut the kernels off the cob and blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain. (If using frozen corn you can skip this step.) Add the corn to the soup, then add the milk and cheddar. Cook for 5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve hot with a garnish of bacon.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lemon Bars

There is something classic about a good lemon bar...they are light, yet satisfying.  They are a perfect blend of sweet and tart, creamy and slightly crunchy.  Growing up, they were one of may favorite desserts (along with apple pie, sugar cookies, snickerdoodles.  Yeah, I have a bit of a sugar problem....)  I have come to the conclusion about lemon bars that the more "homemade" they are, the better.  I do have a slight aversion to artificial ingredients and most pre-made store-bought food.  There is a simple delight when you make something completely from scratch.  So, push up your sleeves, gather your pantry items, and whip up a batch of these!  You will enjoy them!

Lemon Bars
Source:  Get-Togethers with Gooseberry Patch

2 cups flour, divided
1/2 cup powdered sugar (I used regular granulated sugar)
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
4 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice (4 lemons will yield that amount)
powdered sugar, for garnish

For crust, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a medium bowl   Cut in butter with a fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  (I used my food processor!)  Press into a greased 9x9 baking pan in an even layer.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes, until just golden at edges.

To make filling, whisk together eggs and sugar in a medium bowl until smooth.  Stir in lemon juice, then remaining 1/2 cup of flour.  Pour filling over baked crust.  Reduce heat to 325 degrees; bake 25-30 minutes, until filling is just set.  Let cool for 30 minutes.  Cut into 2-inch squares; sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Grilled Pizza

 I'm finding that if I can think it, I can grill it!  Grilled pizza is so un-typical, yet it is so yummy and really, so easy.  I made these meatless, but you can top them with any combination of your favorite toppings.  Be sure that your toppings are cooked before you make up your pizza!  I put my raw pizza dough right onto the grill slats; grill one side, flip, then top with your toppings while the other side grills.  So easy!  Did I mention "yummy" yet?  Yeah, that too.  (For the crust, I usually make a batch of my favorite pizza dough, use one part, and freeze the other 2 parts.  When I was ready to use the remaining parts, I thawed the dough in the fridge before rolling it out and gave it a quick rise before I grilled it).

Grilled Pizza
adapted from Pampered Chef's Casual Cooking

2 parts pizza dough (this will make 8 individual-sized pizzas or 2 14-in. ones)
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced into fine ribbons
1 can sliced pitted ripe olives, drained
2 tbl. olive oil
1 tbl. red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper

Prepare dough according to these directions.  For individual pizzas, divide 2 parts dough into four equal parts, to make 8 pizzas.  Or you can uses each part to make 2 larger pizzas.  Roll out to desired size and let rise to desired thickness.

Place mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and basil into a medium bowl and toss gently to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.  Brush the top side of dough with some of the olive oil mixture with a soft pastry brush.

Transfer dough to preheated grill.  Grill for about 5 minutes on the first side, uncovered, until the dough starts to look dry at the edges and grill marks appear.  Brush uncooked side of dough with olive oil mixture.  Carefully, flip the dough.  Add any remaining olive oil to the tomato mixture and mix well.  Spoon tomato mixture evenly over the top of the crust.  Cover and grill 8-10 minutes until cheese is melted and bottom of crust is a deep golden brown.

Remove pizza to a cutting board and slice.

*Feel free to ask any questions in the comment section.  I totally was "winging" this recipe as I was going along!  I hope that I've written it out clearly, but if not, don't hesitate to ask!  :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Shrimp Enchiladas

 I love shrimp.  I love enchiladas.  Until this moment, I did not love the idea of the two together.  But since I have gotten over the weirdness of "fish tacos," I figured my holding out may be cheating me of something wonderful.  I guessed correctly.   These enchiladas were delicious, and so, so easy to put together.  This is definitely a good weeknight meal, one which I plan on making again during the hectic school year that is ahead.

*I apologize for the poor picture quality--I've yet to figure out how to plate and stage enchiladas!  Tricky. 

Shrimp Enchiladas

Source:  Annie's Eats, slightly adapted

¼ cup red or yellow pepper, diced
½ cup onion, divided
¼ cup green pepper, diced
3 tbsp. butter, divided
¼ tsp. oregano
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. black pepper
¼ cup and 2 tbsp. heavy cream
1 ½ tsp. all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
¼ cup sour cream
¾ lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup tomatoes, diced
8 flour tortillas

Melt 2 tbsp. of butter in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add peppers and ¼ cup of onion to the skillet and sauté until crisp-tender.  Add oregano, salt, garlic powder, cayenne powder, black pepper, cream and flour; blend well.  Lower heat to medium and cook until slightly thickened.  Add ¾ cup shredded cheese and stir until melted.  Add sour cream and stir to blend.  Set aside.

In a skillet, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter.  Add shrimp and remaining ¼ cup onion to the skillet and sauté shrimp until pink.  Remove shrimp from pan with a slotted spoon and chop; return to the skillet.  Add tomatoes and all of the cheese sauce.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Grease a 9x13” baking dish.  Spoon some of the shrimp mixture onto a tortilla.  Sprinkle with some of the remaining shredded cheese.  Roll up tightly and place in the baking dish, seam side down.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Orange-Scented Cornbread Muffins

 Cornbread is often my quick go-to bread when I realize I have a hole in the meal that I am planning on making.  No time for a yeast bread, and I am really not a huge fan of quick sweet breads, like zucchini bread.  Cornbread is one of those foods that I like to make from scratch (does this even surprise you??!) and I don't keep any cornbread mixes in my pantry.  I had printed this particular recipe of the internet over a year ago, and it got lost in the abyss that is my recipe binder.  I was inspired to make it soon after coming across it when I was reorganizing said binder.  Though I didn't think that it tasted overly "orange," it did have a bit of a sweetness that is a bit different from basic cornbread.  I liked it and will definitely be making it again!

Orange-Scented Cornbread Muffins (but can also be made in a square pan!)
Inspired by Rachael Ray.  Recipe from Quaker Yellow Corn Meal box/cylinder.

1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup yellow corn meal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg, beaten
zest of one orange and a small squeeze of the juice from the orange


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line muffin pan with papers, or grease a 8 or 9-inch pan.  Combine dry ingredients.  Stir in milk, oil, and egg, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake 15 minutes for muffins, 20-25 minutes for square pan, or until light golden brown and pick inserted comes out clean.  Serve warm.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Frosted Sugar Cookies

 Oh, Frosted Sugar Cookies, how do I love you?  Let me count the ways....

I love you for your simplicity.
I love you for not needing any chill time in the fridge.
I love you for jump-starting my culinary adventures in the kitchen, way back in my teenage years.
I love you for being my trademark cookie.
I love you for your loyalty...no one else in my family tries to make you.
I love you for your softness and for your tenderness.
I love you for your perfection.
I love you for teaching me to knead dough, the old-fashioned way, with my hands.
I love you for your adapability to my beloved Kitchenaid.  You now turn out better than perfect.
I love you for the memories you have enabled to be created with my children.
I love you for being a delightful Christmas tradition.
I love you for sporting nonparelils better than anything else.  Sprinkles are your thing.
I love you better after you are in my tummy.

Frosted Sugar Cookies

2 1/4 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tbl. milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease baking sheet.

Add all the ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer (or you will need a large bowl, a wooden spoon, and your hands).  Combine until well-mixed and dough forms a ball.  Take a small amount of dough and roll out on a floured surface.  Cut with desired cookie cutter.  Lay cut cookies on prepared baking sheet with a bit of space between each cut-out.  Repeat with remaining dough.  *If you're not frosting the cookies, sprinkle tops with sugar.

Bake for 10 minutes, until cookies are puffed up.  Do not overbake.  Let sit on cookie sheets a couple minutes before removing them to a wire cooling rack.  Cool completely before frosting.

Sugar Cookie Frosting

2/3 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup milk
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla (I have substituted almond extract and I really love peppermint extract during the holidays)
a couple drops of food coloring, if desired

Mix well until smooth.  Spread over cooled cookies.  Add sprinkles if desired.  Let frosting dry and harden before storing them in an airtight container.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lemon Chicken with Cucumber Salsa (Plus a Bonus Meal Idea)

 Can I just say I am loving my grill on the deck!!!!  Who knew this girly-girl could grill?!  This marinade has crept up to #1 favorite chicken marinade status, pushing the one I used to favor to second place..  I love the fresh citrus taste of the lemon zest and juice and the fragrant taste of the oregano.  And really, since it has garlic in it, what's not to love??!!  Two thumbs up for easy and delicious!

Lemon Chicken with Cucumber Salsa
adapted from Pampered Chef's Casual Cooking cookbook

Chicken and Marinade:
2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of any excess fat
2 lemons
3 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tbl. olive oil
2 tsp. dried oregano leaves (use fresh if you have that available!!)
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Cucumber Salsa
1/2 medium unpeeled cucumber, seeded and coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tbl. red onion, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup pitted ripe olives, sliced
1/4 cup red pepper, diced
2 tbl. of marinade, reserved

In a small mixing bowl, zest lemons to measure 1 tbl.  Juice lemons to measure 1/2 cup juice and add to bowl.  Add pressed garlic, olive oil, oregano, paprika, salt, and pepper; whisk to combine.  Reserve 2 tbl. of marinade for salsa.  Place chicken breasts in a large zip bag and pour marinade over them.  Turn to coat; marinate in refrigerator 2-4 hours.

For salsa, coarsely chop cucumber and onion and add to a bowl.  Add sliced olives, diced bell pepper, and reserved marninade.  Mix gently, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Heat grill over medium heat.  Remove chicken from bag and discard marinade.  Grill both sides until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink, about 5 minutes on each side.  Top each chicken breast with salsa to serve.

**Another meal option using this chicken:  Make marinade and grill chicken as stated above; omit the salsa.  Grill slices of fresh pineapple until grill marks appear on each slice.  Serve with jasmine rice.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Easy Chicken Enchiladas

 I may have mentioned it before, but I am perpetually on the hunt for the "perfect" chicken enchilada.  My husband so *kindly* pointed out that I have a million chicken enchilada recipes as I was making this.  I agreed with him, and informed him that this was yet a different one from the ones I've made in the past.  These were by far the simplest that I have made, and this recipe doesn't have a long laundry list of ingredients.  They were quite tasty as well!  Two Thumbs Up, once again, for America's Test Kitchen!

I apologize for the picture--it is hard to photograph enchiladas in an attractive way!  Don't let that keep you from trying these yummies!

Easy Chicken Enchiladas
Source:  America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

3 cups shredded cooked chicken (1 1/2 pounds, which is about 2 chicken breasts)*
12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese (3 cups)
2 1/2 cups enchilada sauce**(recipe follows)
1 to 2 cans chopped green chilies (4 oz. can), drained
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
salt and pepper
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas

*I toss my frozen chicken breasts into the crock pot, add some water, and cook on low 4-6 hours.  When done, it will shred perfectly and easily with two forks.

**Fast Enchilada Sauce
1 tbl. canola or olive oil
1 onion, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbl. chili powder
3 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. sugar
2 (8-oz.) cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the onion and salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the chili powder, garlic, cumin, and sugar.  Cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.  Stir in the tomato sauce and water.  Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Directions for enchiladas:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Combine the shredded chicken, 2 cups of the cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce, the chilies, and cilantro.   Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stack the tortillas on a microwave-safe plate, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for 40 seconds until warm and pliable.  (Straight from the fridge, a corn tortilla is too stiff to roll.  This step helps soften them and make them pliable).

Spread the warm tortillas out over a clean counter.  Place 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture evenly down the center of each tortilla.  Tightly roll the tortilla around the filling, then lay seam-side down in a greased 9x13 baking dish.  (You will have to lay 4 of them on top of the others).

Lightly spray the enchiladas with canola cooking spray.  Pour 1 cup of the enchilada sauce over the enchiladas to coat them thoroughly.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese down the center of the enchiladas.  Cover with foil and bake until heated through, about 20-25 minutes.

South-of-the-Border Steaks

 Merry Christmas {early} to us!!!  My parents wheeled a new grill onto our deck since ours broke.  Since El Hub works 2nd shift, he is often unavailable to do grill duty.  Which means I have to pull up my bootstraps and step out into a new culinary adventure!  Can I do this?  I'm not sure, but I am excited about trying.  The motivator??  This grill doesn't have an ignitor button (they always break anyway, which means you have to manually light the grill.  Not for me!!) which means I can just turn it on and go.  Low maintenance.  Simple.  I can do this.  At least I think I can.

So, what do I choose for my maiden grilled meal?  None other than steak, which is truly next to impossible for me to make and make well.  (I may or may not have perfectionist tendencies).  I used a rather inexpensive cut of meat since my confidence (and skills, really) are low.  But, heavens-to-betsy, these steaks turned out wonderful!  With the aid of my trusty little thermometer, I got them grilled to perfection!  I'm on a roll!  I love the melted cheese on top and the combination of the spices.  If you would like to be a bit more simple than I was, you can use 1 tsp. of taco seasoning in place of blend of spices.

South-of-the-Border Steaks
adapted from Pampered Chef's Casual Cooking cookbook

3/4 cup tomato, chopped
1/4 cup snipped fresh cilantro
1 lime
1/2 cup Mexican cheese blend, shredded
1/2 tsp. cumin
pinch of garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder, and salt *mix with cumin.
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tsp. salt
2 boneless beef top loin steaks, cut 1-inch thick (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Prepare grill for grilling.

Juice lime to measure 1/4 cup juice.  Combine tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, 1/4 cup of cheese, and seasoning mixture.  Set aside.

Combine pressed garlic and salt and spread over steaks, evenly on both sides.  Place steaks on grid of grill.  Grill, uncovered, 15-18 minutes for medium rare (145 degrees) to medium doneness (160 degrees), turning occasionally.  About 2 minutes before steaks are done, remove them to a platter; top evenly with tomato mixture and sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Return to grill until steaks reach desired doneness and cheese is melted.

Serve with corn on the cob.  :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sweetened Ricotta-filled Crepes with Blackberry Sauce

 Making crepes for breakfast was the perfect way to use some of my homemade ricotta cheese in a dish that wasn't savory and use some of the fresh blackberries that my dad had given me from his garden.  Normally, I am not a sweet food in the morning person, but light, airy crepes, pure-tasting ricotta, and fresh berries was a trio I could not resist.  Crepes do take a bit of time, since you make only one at a time, but they are so very simple to make and cook.  Plate it pretty, because your family is going to think that you spent the wee hours of the morning preparing their breakfast while they were fast asleep!  (But you didn't!)

Sweetened Ricotta-filled Crepes with Blackberry Sauce
Source:  Me
For the Crepes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk (buttermilk can be substituted)
3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
4 Tbl.. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
For the Filling:
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla 
For Blackberry Sauce:
1 cup fresh blackberries (any other berry can be substituted)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. lemon juice

Place all crêpe ingredients in blender; blend until no lumps remain. (Scrape down sides to incorporate all ingredients.) Let batter rest 1 hour, or cover and refrigerate overnight.

While the crepe batter is resting, measure out ricotta cheese and place in a medium bowl.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla and stir gently to combine.  Set aside until ready to fill crepes.

In a small saucepan, add sugar and cornstarch and whisk to combine.  Add the blackberries and lemon juice.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until berries release their juices and break down, and mixture is thickened slightly.

To make crepes, coat large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; warm over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, whisk batter several times until consistency of heavy cream. If necessary, thin with up to 1/4 cup water.

Pour 1/4 cup batter into hot skillet. Lift skillet, and swirl batter around to coat bottom. Return to heat, and cook 3 to 4 minutes, until edges begin to brown and air bubbles form under center of crêpe.  Slide edge of spatula under and around sides of crêpe. Carefully flip over, and cook 2 to 3 minutes more, until browned. Repeat with remaining batter.  Stack finished crepes on a warm plate.

To assemble and serve, spoon line of filling down middle of each crêpe, and roll or fold closed. Place 2 or 3 filled crêpes on each plate.  Pour fruit sauce over the top and serve.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Baba Ganoush

 My dad, bless his heart, planted several eggplant plants for me this year in his garden.  He hates eggplant.  My mom--not a fan either.  Me, I am loving trying to love them.  I am bound and determined that they do not have to taste bitter or pithy.  So, as the eggplants start rolling in, I am having fun finding recipes to try.  I had seen "baba ganoush" on several different food blogs, and I figured that since I have free eggplants, this would be a great recipe to try.  My family all loves hummus, and baba ganoush is basically like hummus made with eggplant instead of garbanzo beans.  So, YUM.  YUM.  And I will be making this again this weekend, in the attempt to win over my parents over to Team Eggplant (yeah, guess who can't wait for the fourth Twilight movie to come out...next year.  Sorry.  That was shameless).  I grilled my eggplant on my grill for about 20 minutes, until it was charred all the way around.  Super easy.

Baba Ganoush
adapted from Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen

1 large eggplant (about 1 pound)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Prick eggplant with a fork and place on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Bake the eggplant until it is soft inside, about 20 minutes. {Alternatively, grill the eggplant over a gas or charcoal grill, rotating it around until the skin is completely charred, about 10-20 minutes.} Let the eggplant cool slightly. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, scoop the pulp into a colander and let drain for several minutes.  Transfer eggplant to a food processor. Add the garlic cloves, salt, parsley, tahini, and lemon juice.  Process the until smooth and transfer to a serving bowl.  Season with additional salt as needed, to taste. 

Serve with fresh pita bread or fresh veggies.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fresh Strawberry Pie

 I searched high and low on the internet and in various cookbooks that I had lying around from the library for a basic strawberry pie.  Just strawberries.  I came up with nothing.  Nothing.  Nada.  I really couldn't believe it.  So, I defaulted to my Betty Crocker cookbook that housed the recipe that I had used the previous time I made strawberry pie.  So, this is my offering to the foodie blogosphere....fresh, open-faced, strawberry pie.  To its credit, my brother deemed this pie better than my apple pie.  Amazing.  Though I am not sure that anything can top a classically perfect apple pie, this strawberry pie does deserve its own category of greatness.  The recipe calls for 1 1/2 quarts of fresh berries; I used 3 1-pound clamshells of berries.  (I kept the rest of the proportions the same).  More is better.  :)

*A Sidenote:  To avoid the laughter that comes from certain family members at my photographing my food, I took this picture right after assembling the pie.  So, if the filling looks "un-set," that is because it is.  I whisked it off to the fridge after its photo session was over.  I'm trusting that it still looks mouthwatering enough for you to make this in your kitchen!

Fresh Strawberry Pie
Adapted from "Betty Crocker's New Cookbook"

1 pie crust, baked
1/1/2 quarts fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled (I also quartered mine)
1 cup sugar
3 tbl. cornstarch
1/2 cup water
3 ounces cream cheese, softened.
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 475 degrees.  Roll out pie dough 2 inches larger than your pie plate.  Place rolled dough into pie plate, and trim overhanging dough 1 inch from the rim.  Fold and roll pastry under, even with the plate.  Flute the edges.  Prick bottom and sides of pastry thoroughly with a fork.  Bake 8-10 minutes or until light brown; cool on wire rack.  Off oven.

For the filling, mash enough strawberries to measure 1 cup.  I used my food processor for this.  Mix sugar and cornstarch in a 2-quart saucepan with a whisk.  Turn heat to medium-low.  Gradually stir in the water and mashed strawberries; increase heat to medium, and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.  Boil and stir 1 minute; cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add vanilla and mix well.  Spread on the bottom of the baked pie shell.  Fill shell with strawberries.  Pour the cooked strawberry mixture over the top.  refrigerate about 3 hours or until filling is set.  If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, refrigerate any remaining pieces.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chocolate Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce

Happy Birthday to my husband!!!  He turned 35 back in July (I am really behind on my blogging--sorry!!).  He is my chocolate lover, and I offered to make anything that he wanted for his birthday dessert (the world of chocolate was truly at his fingertips!)  He initially suggested a chocolate cake, which I kinda vetoed as "boring."  Then he suggested plain vanilla ice cream.  What??!   (I could just picture certain family members accusing me of not spoiling my husband with something delectably ooey-gooey).  I then wondered if the entire world of chocolate was a bit too overwhelming for him, since I never bake chocolate desserts in my kitchen.  So I gave him some options.  I offered up the idea of chocolate cheesecake.  Yes.  What about a mocha sauce or a caramel sauce for on top?  Yes.  Great.  We have a winner!!! 

*For the record, I think that the combination (and maybe even the amount of chocolate) could be tweaked a bit depending on your tastes.  This tasted pretty "fudgy."  **And also for the record, even if you don't care for chocolate cheesecake, the caramel sauce is to.die.for.

Chocolate Cheesecake
adapted from The Cook's Encyclopedia of Baking

6 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate
4 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
2 1/2 pounds (5 bricks) cream cheese, at room temperature (I used 1/3 Less Fat cream cheese)
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs (graham crackers, vanilla waters, chocolate wafer cookies--your preference!)
6 tbl. butter, melted
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

For the crust, pulse the cookies in a food processor until fine crumbs.  Add the cinnamon and pulse to mix.  Remove blade and add melted butter.  Stir with a spoon to combine.  Press evenly in the bottom of a springform pan.

Melt both chocolates in the top of a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl set over warm water.  Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth, then beat in the sugar and vanilla.  Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl with a spatula as necessary.  Add the sour cream.  Stir in the melted chocolate.  Mix only until all ingredients are combined evenly.

Pour cream cheese mixture into the crust.  Place springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet, and place both in the oven on the middle rack.  To make a water bath, carefully pour water in the rimmed baking sheet until the water comes halfway up the sides of the baking sheet.  Bake for 1 hour.  Let cool in the pan.  Refrigerate before serving, allowing cheesecake to chill thoroughly.  Before removing the rim, run the blade of a butter knife around the edge of the cheesecake to loosen it from the sides of the pan.  Remove the rim and slice into individual servings.  Replace the rim and refrigerate any leftovers.

Caramel Sauce
Source:  "The Perfect Scoop" by David Lebovitz

1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 tsp. coarse salt (I use kosher)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large, deep, heavy-duty saucepan or Dutch oven, spread the sugar in a even layer.  Cook the sugar over low to medium heat, watching it carefully.  When it begins to liquefy and darken at the edges, use a heatproof spatula to very gently stir it to encourage even cooking.

Tilt the pan and stir gently until all the sugar is melted and the caramel begins to smoke and turn a deep amber color.  Immediately remove from heat and whisk in half of the cream, which will steam and bubble up furiously.  Carefully stir until all the sugar is dissolved, then gradually whisk in the remaining cream and the salt and vanilla.  If there are bits of hardened sugar, whisk the sauce over low heat until smooth.  Serve warm.  Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cheesecake Ice Cream

 Now this is cheesecake ice cream!  I had wanted to start with this recipe a month ago when I was craving cheesecake ice cream, but at that time, I didn't have all the ingredients on hand and didn't want to tote all 3 kids into the grocery for just a couple of items.   If nothing else, I learned that David Lebovitz's recipes are the best.  (You can read the story and see the recipe of my other cheesecake ice cream here).  That was then and this is now.  This is the recipe that I will use from here on out.  Creamy, smooth, and actually tastes like cheesecake.  The only problem with this recipe is that you will have to make 2 batches to completely satisfy the craving!!!

Cheesecake Ice Cream
Source:  "The Perfect Scoop"

8 ounces cream cheese
1 lemon
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half-and-half
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt

Cut the cream cheese into small pieces.  Zest the lemon directly into a blender or food processor, then add the cream cheese, sour cream, half-and-half, sugar, and salt, and puree until smooth.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Biscuits & Gravy

I frequently make breakfast for dinner; it is fast, cheap, and easy.  Bennett often requests biscuits and gravy and I am more than happy to indulge him.  This breakfast meal takes me back to my college years when my two best girlfriends and I would meet at Bob Evans for breakfast.  Though I can't remember what Pam ordered, Rachel always ordered a blueberry pancake and I always ordered biscuits and gravy.  After years of being unable to replicate this meal due to my poor biscuit-making skills, I finally found a recipe that works.  Nice, fluffy biscuits.  Creamy, somewhat spicy gravy.  Melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  I'd give anything for just one more breakfast reunion with my best friends; for now, I will have to settle on the homemade version.

Buttermilk Biscuits
Source:  America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

1 cup flour, plus some extra for the counter
1 cup cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
8 tbl. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and chilled
3/4 cup cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In a food processor, pulse the flours together, along with the baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Scatter the chilled butter evenly over the top and pulse to combine, about 12 pulses.  Stream in the buttermilk and pulse until the mixture turns into a sticky ball.  Do not overprocess!  Remove dough from bowl and turn onto a floured counter.  Quickly form it into a rough ball.  Use a sharp knife and divide the dough into 12 pieces.  Quickly and gently form each piece into a rough ball and place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake until the biscuit tops are light brown, about 10-12 minutes.

Sausage Gravy
Source:  Me  :)

1 roll of pork sausage, spiced according to your preference.  I like the spicy kind.  :)
1 tbl. butter
1 tbl. flour
1 cup of milk, plus more for thinning
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, brown the sausage until cooked through and no longer pink, breaking up the pieces as it cooks.  Remove sausage to a paper-towel lined plate, but do not drain skillet.  To make the roux, add the butter to the remaining drippings in the skillet and melt.  Once butter is melted, add the flour and whisk to combine.  Once the flour mixture starts bubbling, gradually add the milk, whisking constantly.  Stir until it begins to thicken and bubble.  Add the sausage back in, as well as the red pepper flakes and stir to combine.  If you find that the gravy is too thick, add a small amount of milk until it reaches the desired consistency.  Serve over biscuits.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Raspberry Lemonade Squares

 To say that I love lemon bars would be an understatement.  I have a friend who can take care of a pan of brownies in one sitting; I am the same way with a pan of lemon bars.  However, there are varying levels of this dessert--and of course, the best are the "completely from scratch" kind!!  :)  This one kicks up the perfection of an already perfect dessert with the addition of the raspberries!  I did share these with family (I have a generous spirit!!), but we will suffice it to say that the remaining squares didn't make it past breakfast the next day.  :)

Raspberry Lemonade Squares
Source: How Sweet It Is

9 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick, plus one tablespoon)
1/4 cup superfine sugar (or regular granulated)
1 cup of unbleached all-purpose flour
pinch salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 egg whites
1 egg
2/3 cup  freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 3 lemons)
2 tablespoons lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
2/3 cup  unbleached, all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1-2 cups  of frozen raspberries, defrosted
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees . Line a 8×8 square baking pan with a strip of parchment paper (8×14″) that covers the bottom and overlaps on either side. (After it cools, you can pull out the entire pan of lemon bars and cut them neatly).

Cream butter, sugar, and salt with an electric mixer. Mix in flour until just incorporated. Flour hands and press dough into 8×8″ square baking pan, so that it comes up about a 1/2 inch around the sides.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. While it cools, prepare the filling.

Whisk sugar, egg whites, egg, lemon juice and zest, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Pour raspberries into a sieve and press through to extract all the pulp and juices. Whisk into lemon mixture and pour into crust. Bake for 30-35 minutes until filling is completely set. Let cool completely.  Using the overlapping edges of parchment paper, gently lift the dessert from the pan. Cut into 16 squares. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Zucchini & Ricotta Galette

What a delightful way to incorporate fresh, homemade ricotta cheese and garden fresh zucchini!!  Before making this, I had no idea what a "galette" was, but it was fun to say over and over as I told my family what I was making and serving.  Basically, it is an open-faced tart, it can be either savory or sweet, and it has sour cream in the pastry, which makes the taste and texture a bit different from other tart pastry dough.  This has very mild taste; the spices are subtle, and the flavors are pure.  Delightful.

Zucchini & Ricotta Galette
Source: Smitten Kitchen

For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, chilled in the freezer for 30 minutes
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chill again
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water
1 large or 2 small zucchinis, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup (about 1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded mozzarella
1 tablespoon slivered basil leaves
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water

For the Dough: Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle bits of butter over dough and using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with the biggest pieces of butter the size of tiny peas. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add this to the butter-flour mixture. With your fingertips or a wooden spoon, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

For the Filling: Spread the zucchini out over several layers of paper towels. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and let drain for 30 minutes; gently blot the tops of the zucchini dry with paper towels before using. In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil and the garlic together; set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella, and 1 teaspoon of the garlicky olive oil together and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet (though if you line it with parchment paper, it will be easier to transfer it to a plate later). Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the bottom of the galette dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Shingle the zucchini attractively on top of the ricotta in concentric circles, starting at the outside edge. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of the garlic and olive oil mixture evenly over the zucchini. Fold the border over the filling, pleating the edge to make it fit. The center will be open. Brush crust with egg yolk glaze.

Bake the galette until the cheese is puffed, the zucchini is slightly wilted and the galette is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with basil, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Salsa Chicken

 Talk about THE.easiest.dinner.EVER.  !!  I like to think that I came up with this one on my own during my schoolteaching years, but alas, it lacks any sort of creativity and exclusivity to be patented as my own.  However, don't think that keeps this chicken from being true genius!  Be creative with how you serve this: over rice with cheese melted on top, in burritos, in enchiladas, hard taco shells--really, the possibilities are endless!  This is a great start to a Mexican-themed feast!!!

Salsa Chicken

2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 jar of your favorite salsa
a small splash of water

Trim any excess fat off each chicken breast.  Place chicken (thawed or frozen, it doesn't matter!) in slow cooker.  Pour the jar of salsa over topAdd a small splash of water.  Cover; cook on low 6-8 hours or high 4-5, until cooked through and fork tender.

Serve however your heart desires!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bursting with Berries Bundt Cake

I love berries.  Love, love, love.  El Hub, however, doesn't.  Something about the texture of the seeds gets to him.  So I stash away berries in my freezer and mastermindfully serve them to him in such a spaced-out way that he tolerates them.  That's nice of me to share, right?  So, when my dad and mom gave me two containers of garden-grown blackberries, I knew I was on my own trying to find something delicious to do with them.  And truly, what could be more perfect than sugar, and a trinity of blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries?  The aroma alone wafting from your oven as this bakes will make your mouth water; the taste is delightful and unforgettable!  (And if El Hub doesn't care for it, great; more for me!!)  And actually, as wonderful as it was the day I baked it, I was even more scrumptious the next day as the flavors really melded together.
Bursting with Berries Bundt Cake
Adapted from "Get-Togethers with Gooseberry Patch"

5 eggs
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tbl. apple juice
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups flour, divided
3 cups total of berries, fresh or frozen (I used 1 cup each of blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries)
powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray and flour-coat a bundt pan.

Combine eggs and sugar in a large bowl; set aside.  Beat butter and apple juice until fluffy using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer.  Add egg mixture.  Add baking powder, salt and all flour (except 2 tbl.) to bowl.  Mix until well-blended and no lumps remain.  In another small/medium bowl, combine berries and remaining 2 tbl. flour; toss to coat berries.  Gently fold berries into batter, being careful to not mash them or break them down.  Pour batter into prepared bundt pan.

Bake for 1 hour, until toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool in the pan 20-25 minutes; turn onto a wire rack or serving platter and cool completely.  Sprinkle top of cake.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fettuccine Alfredo

 This recipe is far from authentic Italian food as Italians rarely put chicken in their pasta.  However, this is pure comfort food for me, and I usually indulge way beyond the point of being full!  The good news is, this is wonderful leftover!  I love using the slow cooker to cook the chicken which makes it very simple to shred.  I love the texture of the shredded chicken, the sauteed mushrooms and the fettuccine!  When making the sauce, be careful to not let the cream boil, as it breaks down and separates from the cream, leaving you with a somewhat oily mess.  :)

Fettuccine Alfredo

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. fettuccine
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced (optional)1 tbl. olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
6 tbl. butter
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus additional for garnish
2 tsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)

Place 2 chicken breasts in slow cooker; douse with some water and cook on low 8 hours or 4-5 hours on high, until fork tender.  Shred on a separate plate with two forks.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add fettuccine and cook until al dente, about 9-11 minutes.  Drain and return to pot.

In a large skillet, drizzle olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Add sliced mushrooms and clove of pressed garlic and saute until mushrooms have rendered their liquid and are tender.

In a medium-sized sauce pan, melt the butter and add the pressed garlic clove.  Saute until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the cream and season with salt and pepper.  Add the Parmesan cheese.  Stir to combine.  Simmer gently over medium-low heat; take care to not boil the cream, as that will cause it to separate from the butter.  Add the chopped parsley.

To serve: Plate individual bowls of noodles, top with shredded chicken, and add mushrooms.  Spoon alfredo sauce over fettuccine and sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Omelet Muffins

Me & eggs are not the best of friends.  Rather, I should clarify that eggs don't really like to be cooked by me.  In the early years of my marriage (almost 10 years ago!!!), I set out to recreate an omelet not unlike the ones that my dad cooked for me and my family during my childhood and growing up years.  He always made omelet making and flipping look so easy, so I was confident that I could do this also.  Well, wouldn't you know it?  I found out in a very short amount of time that I sucked at making omelets.  The stupid thing was stuck to the pan, and who even knew why.  My salivary glands were in high gear in anticipation of a Dad-like omelet, and when I realized that I just simply did not possess the adequate skills, I got mad.  Real mad.  So mad that I picked up that skillet, let out a scream, and slammed it down on the burner.  (I know, real mature, right?!)  Well, as you might have imagined, egg.went.everywhere.  Everywhere.  In a disgusted voice, I declared that I was done, threw my hands up, and stalked out of the kitchen.  My loving new husband graciously (and without uttering an audible word of condemnation) cleaned up the eggy mess.  I have never attempted an omelet again.  And, I don't do "dunky" eggs either.  He does.  :)  True story.

However, omelet muffins I can do.  And I will do. Often.  Because these are yummy.

Omelet Muffins
Source:  Get-Togethers with Gooseberry Patch

6 eggs
1 1/2 cup cooked ham or sausage, finely chopped
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. bread crumbs
3 tbl. butter, melted
1 tbl. fresh chives or green onions, chopped

Preheat oven to 375.

Beat eggs on high speed until foamy.  In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients; stir into eggs.  Pour into greased muffin pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden.  Serve warm.