Monday, February 28, 2011

White Chocolate Pecan Cookies

One night, as I was putting the kids to bed, a cookie craving hit.  And I mean, hit in a big time way.  I quickly got the kiddos tucked in, and set to whipping up a batch of cookie dough.  I needed a cookie fast, so I searched for a few minutes and came up with this one.  OMGoodness....delish!  They were done just in time to settle in with a hot mug of creamy chai and Grey's Anatomy.  Mmmmm....

White Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies
Adapted from Annie's Eats

1 cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Stir in the egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir into the creamed mixture. Finally, stir in the white chocolate chips and pecans.

Drop cookies by heaping teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, about 2” apart.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. When cool, store in an airtight container (if they last that long!).

Today is the last day of Project Love Day!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chicken Ragu Sauce over Creamy Polenta

In an effort to beat the winter doldrums around here (and to avoid having to brave the cold with a trip to the store!), I had in mind one afternoon to make a hearty, tummy-warming, soul-soothing meal that would be as comforting to make as it would be to eat.  In a flash of brilliant inspiration, I thought of hearty ragu sauce, only with chicken since I didn't have any ground beef.  Voila!  This meal was everything that I had hoped it would be....thick, aromatic, comforting, and simple really.  In an effort to make this version a bit more weeknight-friendly, I have included some crockpot action in the prep.  This is truly my favorite way to cook chicken that will end up being shredded.  Cook "low and slow" for a long period of time and it will shred easily with two forks.  That being said, make sure you give the sauce enough time over heat (an hour) in order for the flavors to meld and the sufficient liquid to evaporate, leaving you with a thick, hearty sauce.  (The polenta will be done in about 10-15 minutes).

Chicken Ragu Sauce over Creamy Polenta
adapted from The Italian Dish

1/4 cup olive oil
3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1/3 cup finely diced carrot
1/3 cup finely diced celery
1/3 cup finely diced onion
large pinch of kosher or sea salt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup red wine
2 cups chicken broth
2 (14 oz.) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (or to taste)
ground fresh black pepper
1 recipe of creamy polenta OR 12 ounces dried small pasta  (any kind you like, penne would be a good choice)
grated parmesan cheese

Place 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the crock pot.  Cover the chicken halfway with water. Cook on low 5-6 hours, until chicken is fork-tender.  Remove from the crock pot and using two forks, shred.  Remove any fat and discard.  Set aside.

In a heavy bottom pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat the carrot, celery and onion and the large pinch of salt.  Stir together and let cook for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are soft and tender.  Do not brown, lower heat a little if you have to.  Add the garlic and saute for one minute.  Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, letting the paste caramelize a bit.  Add the wine, stir to combine, and cook for another two minutes.  Add the chicken broth and tomatoes.  Add the bay leaves, thyme and oregano and stir.

Add the shredded cooked chicken to the pot, cover, and let simmer on low for about an hour.

Taste the seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.  Continue to cook, uncovered, until you like the thickness of the sauce.  Spoon over polenta and top with grated Parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.

Only 3 MORE DAYS  for Project Love Day!  Click away!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snickerdoodle Biscotti

Here's the thing:  I am absolutely convinced that snickerdoodles are the perfect cookie.  

Then I made snickerdoodle cupcakes.  I'm pretty sure "kill me now" were my exact words.  Perfection upon perfection.  

Then....are you kidding me?!...snickerdoodle biscotti?!  Pure bliss....the perfection has reached an unparalled pinnacle.  

I am pretty sure if they ever make snickerdoodle lipgloss I will be all over that too....

Snickerdoodle Biscotti
Adapted from Joy the Baker

1 cup granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 egg yolk (keep remaining egg white!)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

For Topping:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg white--use remaining (for brushing biscotti before baking)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and arrange baking racks in the upper portion of the oven.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fit with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Scrape down the down and beat in the egg followed by the egg yolk.  Beat in the vanilla extract.

Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter all at once.  With the mixer or just with a spatula, bring all of the ingredients together until a somewhat stiff dough is formed.

Whisk together the cinnamon and sugar for the topping and set aside.  (Make this easy on yourself--double or even triple this amount and store in a zip bag for future use!)

Divide the dough in two on the baking sheet.  Shape each half of dough into a 9-inch long and 1 1/2-inch wide log.  Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle very generously with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Rotate the cookie sheet for even baking and bake for 20-25 more minutes until golden and firm to the touch.

Remove from the oven but keep the oven on.  Let biscotti cool until able to handle, about 10 minutes.  Using a serrated knife, cut logs into 1/2-inch wide diagonal slices.  Place biscotti cut side down on baking sheet and sprinkle with more cinnamon sugar.  Bake again until pale golden, about 10-15 minutes.

Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Beef and Cheese Manicotti

I'm not sure that there is a food that exists that is more comforting that pasta.  Filled pasta takes that comfort to the next level.  This is Italian-American food at its best.

This meal is a bit time consuming, but if you break it up into parts--sauce one night, filling and assembling the next, even baking it and serving it a day later, it is doable, and the end result is totally worth the effort.  I made this on a Thursday night, and my kids helped while my baby whined, and 2 hours later, we were eating dinner!  Of course, I used homemade ricotta cheese, because that stuff just can't be beat!  (Homemade ricotta will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks--so go ahead and make some!)


Monday, February 21, 2011

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

Sometimes I just get into a cookie kind of mood.  I never classify them as dessert, because they are just too easy to eat throughout the day and not limited to the typical after-dinner sweet treat.  These cookies gave me the chance to use my new type of cinnamon--Saigon cinnamon--which totally tastes different than the generic cinnamon that I usually use (which, ironically, isn't even cinnamon.  It's cassia, similar to cinnamon, but not the real thing.  All these years....I never knew that.)  So, of course, it isn't surprising that the real thing tastes better than in less-than-authentic popular counterpart.  Anyway, I digress....

These cookies are moist and tender, and I figured one step down from breakfast food, health food even.  After all, they have apples and oatmeal in them.  And you thought I was crazy for not considering them dessert...pshaw!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Creamy Polenta

I am excited to have added another option to my repertoire of dinner ingredients--polenta!  Now, I've made it before, and it was a complete disaster.  I had read that the type of cornmeal that you use to make polenta makes the difference.  America's Test Kitchen recommends coarse ground cornmeal.  I have a friend who uses regular Quaker brand cornmeal with great results.  I opted to buy the more expensive kind, the Bob's Red Mill coarse ground cornmeal grits, otherwise known as polenta.  I could tell as I was stirring it in the pot that it was going to be perfect!  And it was!  (Now, what I did with it afterwards wasn't so perfect, but I think we will skip that story for now!).

There are so many ways that you can eat polenta--the choice is up to you whether you want it sweet or savory!  I personally, so far, like it savory.  My kids don't like it at all.  Too bad.  It's yummy.  And, just to be clear on who's in charge of the menu around kids will learn to like it.  :)  It is perfect underneath a simple marinara sauce or a heartier meat sauce (stay tuned for a delicious sauce coming up soon!).  And I don't think you are limited to Italian cuisine at all!  Make it Mexican!  Sprinkle cinnamon and brown sugar on it and call it breakfast!  Definitely call it gluten-free!

(I found my polenta at my little bulk food store in the quaint little Amish town next to me.  You can find it in the grocery in the baking aisle.  Typically, all the Bob's Red Mill branded products are together.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Marinara Sauce

I love learning the techniques behind the recipes I use, and I love how knowing how I am cooking makes me feel all warm and domesticated inside!  Here is an Italian cooking lesson from my cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.

Flavor in Italian cooking builds from the bottom up, building a good base of flavor.  There are 3 levels of this building.  The first layer of flavor is called a battuto.  The typical components of this layer are fat (olive oil or butter or lard) and onion. Garlic, if used, is added after the onion (not at the same time as the onion, as garlic cooks much faster than onion and will burn, imparting a bitter taste in the battuto and subsequent sauce). This is the base of virtually every Italian pasta sauce or risotto or soup.

When the battuto is sauteed in a pot or skillet until the onion becomes transluscent and the garlic, if used, becomes a pale gold, it is then called a soffritto.  How well or poorly this step is executed will affect the flavor of the succeeding steps of your sauce.  Make sure you get your onions tender and don't burn your garlic.

The step that follows a soffritto is called insaporire, which means "bestowing taste."  This step usually applies to the vegetables that are added to the soffritto.  The vegetables that are added to a sauce, such as carrots, celery, fennel, are sauteed over high heat until they have become completely coated with the flavors of the battuto, particularly the onion. The taste of the finished dish can be traced back to this layer, so it is important to give it sufficient time over heat and not skip it.

Now that you know the Italian basics of building and making a good sauce, can I just tell you how wonderful it is to have a supply of homemade sauce, all ready to go at a moment's notice?  Well, let me tell you--it is wonderful!  I know that good sauce can be purchased rather inexpensively, but a quick glance at the ingredient list will reveal corn syrup and sugars in the sauce.  Really?  I am finding that I really like to be in control of the ingredients in my food, so it is a pleasure to make a batch of sauce that is brimming with nothing but good stuff!  This makes a lot of sauce, but it is easily frozen and thawed later for future dishes.

Bring on the homemade!!  :)


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mocha Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Frosting

There is quite a story behind this cupcake recipe.  Basically, it starts and ends with me making these cupcakes for a group of people that were not my family or immediate friends.  Basically, it was my first cupcake "order."  A friend of mine pretty much volunteered me to make something chocolate for a chocolate buffet fundraiser she was coordinating at the Christian school I used to teach at (in my pre-motherhood days!).  I had been eyeing this particular cupcake recipe on the internet and her suggestion was the perfect opportunity to make them.  I left immediately on the hunt for the elusive espresso powder, or instant espresso as it is sometimes called.  I found it at Fresh Market, only to have a Facebook friend tell me it is in the ethnic aisle at my local Meijer.  Good to know!

Not only are these delicious, but I made them mini, which increased their adorable-ness ten times.  :) (CONTINUE READING AFTER THE JUMP)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Some Quick Dinner Ideas

We are in the middle of February.  We are in the thick of the monotony of the cold weather and snow.  Winter is boring.  The kids are getting restless.  My daughter especially is talking constantly about going to the park, the zoo, and the pool.  This is the time of year when being a faithful person is important (faithful to your committments, to your obligations, to your family and household) but it is also a time when you may need something fresh to do just to break up the winter and give you the next oompf you need to make it to spring.

So, what are your stress releases?  What are your creative outlets?  I love to scrapbook.  And by scrapbooking, I mean spending the entire day holed up in my basement studio, supplies scattered everywhere, cranking my creative wheels and turning out adorable layouts for my kids' albums.  No "thirty minutes here and there" approach for me! 

Of course, in order to spend the day so indulgently, I often feel like I must have all my ducks in a row before I head down to hibernate in Scrappy Land.  Laundry done.  Toys picked up.  Shower.  A plan for dinner.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  It is a true delight to have something simple, quick, and easy to prepare for dinner after a day of creative outletting (whatever that may be for you! And yes, I made up that word.  Don't judge.).  Of course, if you work during the day and long for something simple, delicious, and homecooked, this is for you too!  :)

So, without further ado, I share some 30 Minute Meals with you from the archives of The Culinary Enthusiast.

Can I ask a favor of you?  In the generous spirit of sharing, will you come back and post a comment after you make a recipe?  I would love to know what you thought and how it turned out for you?  I love reading your comments!! 

Also, don't forget that Project Love Day is still going on?  Need a refresher of what this project is all about?  Go HERE.  Let's finish this project s-t-r-o-n-g!!!  Clicking your way around this site is generating money that will be donated to World Vision to help rescue and restore a child, a girl, a teenager caught in the dark and violent underworld of human trafficking and sexual slavery of children. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Homemade Granola

I have forever been on the hunt for a homemade granola that I love.  Adore, actually.  I've made several versions, but none have created the "head over heels" love feeling that I was striving for.

Until now.  Who knew that using a certain kind of oats makes all the difference in the texture of granola!  I know why I wasn't loving my other versions!  This is crunchy, without being clumpy.

This granola is the kind you can totally feel good about eating, too.  No syrup.  No corn syrup.  No sugar.  Just natural honey and spices.  I love how easily adaptable this is--I used raisins and golden raisins, but absolutely use whatever variety of dried fruit you love the best!

Homemade Granola
Generously adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from America's Test Kitchen

1/3 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup pecans, chopped coarse
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats*
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup each raisins and golden raisins (or dried cranberries, cherries, whatever!)

*Note - Do not substitute quick-cooking or instant rolled oats in this recipe, or the granola will taste sandy rather than crunchy.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Toast the almonds and walnuts in a 12‑inch skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and beginning to darken, about 3 minutes. Stir in the oats and oil and continue to toast until the oats begin to turn golden, about 2 minutes.

Off the heat, stir in the honey, flaxseeds, and salt until well coated. Spread the granola evenly over a large rimmed baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake, stirring every few minutes, until the granola is light golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Stir in the raisins. With a spatula, push the granola onto one half of the baking sheet and press gently into a 1/2‑inch-thick slab. Let the granola cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Loosen the dried granola with a spatula, break into small clusters, and serve.  The granola can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Happy Valentine's Day!  Click HERE to see how you can give the gift of love to a little girl who desperately needs it.

Macaroni and Cheese

I grew up on homemade mac-n-cheese.  My mom's version of it always received rave reviews from family and friends.  I remember really liking the "fake" stuff, the really yellow boxed version that I would have on occasion at friends' houses.  As an adult, I have made my mom's version plenty of times, but I decided recently that it isn't creamy enough.  I figured I needed to try a creamier, homemade version.  This was it.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Sometimes, I just get in a dippy kind of mood.  The kind of mood where this recipe was nowhere near my cooking/menu radar when the sudden urge hit.  Bam!  Within moments of this mood hitting me, I had a piece of chicken out of the freezer and into the microwave to do an immediate thaw.  Within 10 or 15 minutes, it was done and I was munching on freshly sliced celery sticks full of dip.

Yeah.  I may be a nerd.  But you're gonna want to join me....  Of course, my family joined in the yummy goodness, but by the time our heads hit the pillows that night, this dip was history.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Salmon Tacos with Tomatillo-Avocado Slaw

Do you love trying something new in the kitchen?  A new recipe?  A new technique?  Using a new tool?  Experimenting with a new ingredient or flavor combination?  Certainly, I am not the only one who thinks of such things as a fun adventure!  Leave a comment below sharing what you love to do in the kitchen!

We have loved fish tacos for several years now.  When I saw the idea of using salmon instead of white fish one day while I was browsing recipes on the internet, I knew that I had to include this on my next menu!  The consensus?  We loved the salmon tacos more than our regular fish tacos!  Who would've thought?!

The new ingredient that I used for the first time was tomatillos.  Tomatillos are related to tomatoes, and they are a staple in Mexican cuisine.  They are surrounded by a paper-like husk.  I really liked how they added a nice dimension of flavor to the slaw mixture.

The new technique I discovered was related to the corn tortillas.  I use corn tortillas exclusively for my favorite chicken enchiladas, but they fall apart every time.  The messy appearance doesn't have any adverse effect on the flavor, but it bothered me nonetheless.  I was delighted to discover the "trick" to keeping corn tortillas from crumbling!  The secret is described below in the directions!

If you haven't tried fish tacos yet, I dare you to put aside the name and make these.  Think instead of it being a nice piece of delicious fish or salmon tucked inside a flour or corn tortilla topped with a delightful combination of fresh flavors.  This combination starts and ends with "yummy" every time!


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting

There is really only one word for these cupcakes--ah-mazing!!  Seriously.  I know that I may use emotional language a lot on this blog, but I always do it honestly and with much enthusiasm.  These are some of the best cupcakes I've ever made and eaten.  You have no idea how much I would love to sit across the table with you, cupcake in one hand, cup of coffee in another, just to share these delectable treats with you!  Vanilla beans and caramel are definitely one of the best flavor combinations out there!  And the sprinkles...oh, my the sprinkles.  Quite possibly my favorite.  Sometime I will have to tell you a funny story about me and the sprinkles.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Mushroom Quiche

I think that I have said it before, but I love the simplicity of quiche.  It is pie, only it is not dessert.  It is simple to make a elegant to serve.  It makes a perfect, quick weeknight meal or a nice Saturday morning brunch.  Plus, quiche is so versatile.  Essentially, you can make it any "flavor" that you want.  I personally love this one because it is easy on the grocery budget, as it is a meatless meal.  Serve with a slice of fresh bread and a bowl of fruit.


Friday, February 4, 2011

White Cheddar Queso Dip

We, as a family, are not huge sports fans.  However, we do love the Indianapolis Colts, and my husband said to me the other week:

"Hey, babe, if the Colts go to the Super Bowl, let's have a Super Bowl party."

To which I responded, "Ok.  Who do you want to invite?"

Blank stare. "Uh...."

Seriously.  Our social life is a bit lacking in the midst of working second shift and raising kids. 

Sadly, the Colts didn't make it to the Super Bowl, so no party-hosting for us.

However, this is a great dip to add to your repertoire of appetizers!  After all, who doesn't love hot, cheesy dip while chatting with friends or watching a football game?  For me, the Super Bowl has always been about the food!


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Project Love Day and a Disturbing Update

I am interrupting my regularly scheduled recipe post for today to bring to your awareness something monumentally disturbing that will happen this weekend.

As you know, this Sunday is the Super Bowl.  Many of you are excited about the match-off between the teams and equally excited about the yummy treats that will accompany the commercials.

But for the 10,000 teenage prostitutes that are expected to be brought to Dallas, excitement is not on their list of emotions for this weekend.  Their pimps will bring them in from all over the United States "hoping to do business with men arriving for the big game who have money to burn."  Many of these girls have been trapped into the life they now live; fear, abuse, shame, and psychological manipulation make it next to impossible for them to escape. 

During the previous two Super Bowls, law enforcement agencies have been able to rescue 50 girls, and each single rescue is measured in terms of success.  This year, airlines and child welfare advocates are collaborating to spot the signs of trafficking.  However, 50 out of 10,000, while great and encouraging, still leaves a lot of girls trapped and in danger.

I am going to share with you several links.  I encourage you to read them and make yourself aware of this.  The Super Bowl is the United States' largest sporting event and it is one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States.  This hits us real close to home.

So close, you may be tempted to turn away in disgust.  Please don't.  Instead, do something.  Pray.  Do your part to raise awareness.  Become outraged at the disgusting injustice of sex trafficking.  Let your heart break for someone else's daughter as you look into the sweet face of your own.  Take a stand and let your voice be heard.  Most girls who are trapped in the commerical sex trade are only 13 when their nightmare begins, and most only have a projected life span of 7 years after that.

Project Love Day over here at The Culinary Enthusiast is the way I am trying to make my voice heard.  But you each have a voice too, and a God-given passion.  Use it.  Somewhere, in your state, in the state over, or in another country in our world, a little girl, a child, a teenager, has lost her voice in fear, terror, danger, and threat of death.  Speak up for her.

These links are just some.  Each one has other links. 

The knowledge that young girls will be forced to prostitute themselves for another's profit during the game this weekend has forever changed the Super Bowl for me.  Behind the bright lights of the stadium and the noise of the Half Time show lurks an evil and darkness and pain that my mind can barely comprehend.

I would LOVE to know your thoughts and what actions you might be contemplating or taking in regard to human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.  Please leave a comment. 

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.   
~Edmund Burke

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.  ~Edmund Burke

I challenge each of you reading this post to share it on your Facebook page, email it to your address book, or blog about it on your own blog.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spicy Citrus Black Beans

I love making enchiladas, but for so long, I was at a complete loss for the perfect side dish to accompany them.  Enchiliadas are pretty much perfect on their own--meat, cheese, tortilla, a sprinkling of veggies.  But, when these black beans land side-by-side on your plate with the enchiladas, whoa!  Be prepared for complete perfection!  While I enjoy the occasional side of refried beans, these are the absolute best!


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pizza Pot Pies

What do you get when you mix classic comfort food with classic convenience food?

Pizza pot pie, of course!

This is such a fun twist on a classic, and making them in individual ramekins takes the fun up a notch.  I love how adaptable this recipe is--you can add more or less veggies, add extra spice, add Italian sausage for more "pizza" flavor.  I will share this recipe with you the way I adapted it.

For even more convenience, use store-bought pizza crust.  I used homemade pizza dough.  Personally, next time I make this, I think that I will stick with regular pastry dough, since my pizza dough overbaked a bit and got kind of tough.