Wednesday, April 30, 2008

a small litter of calico kitties

I joked with my husband that I am going to make a 100 of these and line them up like a small army of kitties. I just think that 100 of these kitties all lined up in very tidy rows would look super cool. I am a big dork.

Truth is, I made the one in the center for my mom for Mother's Day. I hope she likes it since I put it in the mail to her yesterday.

I bought an old wood bookcase to put in my dining room. It has a little damage along the bottom right hand edge and needs to be refinished badly. I am usually not one for painting solid wood furniture, but the thought of refinishing this piece is making my head really hurt so I am thinking I will paint it a deep barn red with a crackle finish. I found this paint company online called The Real Milk Paint Co. that has cool colors and the crackle finish. It is all organic and non-toxic so it is all together appealing. A bit pricey I guess (I have no idea what paint costs) but not causing brain damage to myself and beloved husband and beagles is worth it.

This is the red -I just wonder if anyone out there on the interwebz has used this paint from this company and can possibly offer any feedback? The website has user submitted pictures and comments but you never know. It just sounds weird - milk paint? That you mix yourself?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Culinary Camp dates!

Culinary Camp is back for a second year! Read all about it at

my chocolate cake philosophy

My husband was at a camp for most of the weekend. I had a bologna sandwhich for dinner on Friday night and Saturday lunch. At least it was on homemade bread, right? I actually love bologna and mayonaise on white bread. Anyway, I wanted to make something very special for Mr. Anderson and he has a worse sweet tooth than I do. Hard to believe since I have a terrible sweet tooth. He really liked this chocolate cake. A chocolate layer cake just for him since he considers bundt cakes to be "not a real cake" and like I said I wanted it to be special.

If you look closely, you will see that there are small lumps of unincorporated butter throughout my chocolate buttercream. No matter how much I mixed, it was not perfect. This was for me one of those moments where I had to stop and think about perfection and throwing food away or just eating it as is. Obviously, I chose eating as is. What's more, I am putting a picture of it here on my blog. I am learning to think about food like I think about sewing - it is the imperfections that make homemade items so wonderful.

It really is very important to bring the refridgerated items to room temperature before mixing. I promise it will yield a fluffier cake.

For the cake part -

1 ½ cups of AP flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon of baking powder
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 ¼ cups of boiling water (for accuracy, bring a full kettle to the boil and then measure into a 2 cup measure)
4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chopped
½ cup of Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of instant espresso
10 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups of packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup of sour cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 8-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray, then dust with cocoa powder and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the boiling water, chocolate, cocoa powder, and instant espresso together until smooth.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla until incorporated.

Reduce the speed to low and beat in one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the chocolate mixture. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture, and the remaining chocolate mixture. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just incorporated.

Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the tops, and gently tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. I like to spin my cake pans gently to keep them from getting a dome on top. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating and switching the pans halfway through baking.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the cakes, then flip them out onto wire racks. Peel off the parchment paper, flip the cakes right side up, and let cool completely before frosting, at least 2 hours.

For the buttercream frosting

4 large eggs
1 cup of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Pinch of table salt
1 pound unsalted butter cut into chunks
6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water. Whisking gently but constantly, heat mixture until thin and foamy and registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer.

Beat egg mixture on medium-high speed with whisk attachment until light, airy, and cooled to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add butter, one piece at a time. (After adding half the butter, buttercream may look curdled; it will smooth with additional butter.) Once all butter is added, increase speed to high and beat 1 minute until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined. Stir in melted chocolate. (Can be covered and refrigerated up to 5 days.)

This recipe makes more buttercream than I want on my cake, so I can use the extra for sweet cupin' cakes!

Monday, April 28, 2008

you big jerk!

When we lived in the Detroit Metro area, my husband and I frequented a Caribbean style restaurant. One of our favorite menu items was the jerked chicken wings. I never really had a lot of experience with Caribbean food when I was a chef, so it took me some time to get this recipe down just so. I use a homemade dry jerk rub versus a wet jerk sauce for the wings. I also use fresh chicken wings instead of the IQF ones that are really good for hot wings and not much else. Maybe for homemade chicken stock.

Jerked Chicken Wings

2 lbs. of fresh chicken wings
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
1 tablespoon of Splenda - you can use sugar but I found that Splenda really works better. Not sure why but I think it is the bulking agent in the Splenda from the big bag that gives it better texture than sugar.
1 teaspoon of each of the following ground spices -
all spice
1/2 teaspoon of each cayenne pepper and cracked black pepper

Mix all the dried spices and herbs together well. Wash and dry the chicken wings. Dry them really well. Rub the chicken wings liberally with the spice mix and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment or foil. Place in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cook wings for 35-45 minutes. They should be very tender, golden brown, and the skin should be nice and crisp. I serve them with collard greens and a very basic saffron rice so as not to compete with the flavor of the jerk seasoning.

tablecloths and tamales

My husband had a strange craving recently for tamales. Not that tamales are strange but it is rather strange for the man who lives with me to want to eat tamales. This casserole is not tamales, but has the same flavor of tamales and it has cheese. I love cheese. Here's the recipe which is adapted from another recipe from someone else that I cannot remember ... that one had lots of cilantro (which tastes like metal to me) and a rotisserie chicken in it instead of the ground beef. That would not taste like tamales at all.

Tortilla chip casserole

1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 chipotle chile’ from a can
1 pound of ground sirloin
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 cups of shredded Colby Jack cheese
1 cup of sour cream
8 cups of small corn chips - the bite sized ones or break up some big ones

Heat oven to 375. Grease 2-quart casserole dish. Puree tomatoes, onion, garlic, and the chile in the blender until smooth, about 1 minute.

Brown ground beef over medium heat and season with cumin, salt, pepper and thyme, remove and set aside. Add pureed tomato sauce to pan and bring to simmer, and cook until slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add beef back in and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place one third of the chips in prepared dish; top with a third of sauce and meat mixture and a third of the cheese. Repeat with second and third layers ending with cheese. Using your fingers, expose several chips on the top layer so they can crisp in the oven. Bake until bubbly and the cheese begins to brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve with sour cream and guacamole. Makes great leftovers, which I always want on Sundays.

Awhile back, I posted that I was changing a square tablecloth into an oval tablecloth. I live in the middle of nowhere and it has taken me more time than I thought to get to the nearest fabric store (45 minutes away) for the correct color bias tape. The original square tablecloth wasn't really large enough to hem the tablecloth and have a substantial enough drop, so binding tape was a necessity. I am pleased with the results. It is a less than perfect oval and has a shorter than normal drop but considering it was a $60 tablecloth from Williams Sonoma that was probably never going to be used again, I can deal with it being less than perfect. I am very happy to use it again.

I once was square...

but now I'm round! (ish) There is Mr. Huck my precious boy beagle laying on his dog bed in the background. I was going to crop him out but he is too cute to be cropped out!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Uughh... rotten potatoes!

Actually, that's potatoes Au gratin but shortly after we were married, my husband told me that he always said, "ugh, rotten potatoes" about them when he was growing up. Boys!

Also shortly after my husband and I were married, I started to experiment with making potatoes Au gratin. I must confess that some of my tries did qualify as uggh, rotten potatoes. Many times the potatoes weren't cooked through or the cheese sauce didn't really come together in the pan, prompting me to make a cheese sauce to cook the potatoes in which resulted in something more like cheese soup with potatoes... Some of my experiments were better but never really perfect, you know? Until this recipe.

My husband hardly ever offers unsolicited comments about food when I serve it to him. I usually have to ask, "how's the soup?" or "what do you think of this rice?" etc... Not to say that my husband doesn't appreciate my cooking, I think he is honestly a little spoiled that we are going to have a home cooked dinner 98% of the time and that 98% of the time it will be good. So, I knew I had a total winner when after one bite of these potatoes, Mr. Anderson said, "these are good... I like them, they are really neat!" Neat was referring to the bread topping and how crispy it makes the potatoes. I was so proud I may have wiped a tear.

On a complete side note, I think I want to learn how to filet crochet.

Here's the recipe for the potatoes. It and the photo are from Cooks Illustrated.

4 cloves of garlic, 1 clove cut in half, remaining cloves minced
1 tablespoon of butter at room temperature
1 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 ½ cups of heavy cream
1 ½ cups of good quality chicken broth
1 teaspoon of dried thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
½ teaspoon of cracked black pepper
4 to 5 medium russet potatoes, thinly sliced
4 slices of good, thick white bread torn into pieces

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Use cut side of halved garlic to rub sides and bottom of 2-quart shallow baking or gratin dish. Allow garlic in dish to dry briefly, about 2 minutes, then coat dish with softened butter. Combine cheeses in small bowl. Bring minced garlic, cream, broth, thyme, nutmeg, salt, and pepper to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until liquid is reduced to 2 1/2 cups, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and gently stir in potatoes. Spoon half of potato mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle with half of cheese, add remaining potato mixture, and press with spatula to compact. Press the bread pieces into the casserole. Bake 40 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and continue baking until golden and bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 20 minutes before serving.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

chicken in the car and the car won't go...

Soon it will be too hot to make dishes like this. In fact, come June, I really don't turn the big oven on. I use a small counter top convection oven that works very well without heating up the kitchen but it obviously doesn't hold as much. I suppose I could make individual chicken pot pies to put into the little oven. That's a thought, huh?

I used the second of the unroll and bake Pillsbury pie dough for this. I used it previously to make this quiche. Once again, I was impressed with the bought pie dough. Not exactly as flaky as my own, but really good and very convenient. It should be for the price. I know some cooks like to use a biscuit topping, puff pastry, or even phyllo dough but I am a pie dough girl.

Chicken pot pie
For the chicken and the broth:
4 chicken leg quarters or 4 each chicken legs and thigh
1 gallon water
2 carrots, cut in 2-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, cut in 2-inch pieces
1 onion, halved
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf

For the pot pie:
½ stick of butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 carrots, sliced in 1/2-inch circles
1 large onion, diced
2 cups frozen or fresh peas
chopped fresh parsley
1 egg mixed with 2 tablespoons of water
8 ounces of mushrooms, sliced

Put the chicken in a large stockpot and cover with 1 gallon of cool water. Add the vegetables and herbs and bring the pot up to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes, skimming frequently as the foamy matter rises to the surface. Remove the chicken to a plate to cool. Continue to cook down the chicken broth for another 15 minutes to condense the flavor; you should have about 8 cups when you're finished. Using a colander, strain the chicken broth into another pot. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the chicken. I like mine chunky, some like it shredded.

In an over proof shallow skillet melt the butter and add carrots, onions, peas, mushrooms, and parsley and cook until the onions are soft then stir in the flour to form a vegetable roux. The butter should absorb all the flour. Now, gradually pour in 4 cups of the chicken broth, stirring the entire time to prevent lumps. Stir and simmer for 10 minutes to cook out the starchy taste of the flour and thicken the broth. Season with salt and pepper. Fold in the chicken and turn off the heat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the pie dough to an 11 inch circle and fold in quarters. Lay the folded pie dough over the chicken mixture and then unfold to cover. Flute or crimp the edges. I like mine to look rustic, so I fold and press over using my index fingers. Lightly beat the egg with 2 tablespoons of water to make an egg wash and brush some on the pastry. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden.

I probably won't make this again until the fall, so this is a farewell to chicken pot pie until September.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

lemon and blueberry

There are some flavor combinations that are just so perfect. Peanut butter and chocolate, strawberries and cream, mint and chocolate, broccoli and cheddar, and lemon and blueberry. I am crazy about the combination of lemon and blueberry! I made these lemon blueberry cheesecake bars that Tyler Florence made on his show "Tyler's Ultimate". I did not make any changes to the recipe, which might be a first for me. I think the recipe was just perfect the way it was published.

I made these last night after work and since they need to be refrigerated for at least 3 hours, we could not eat them last night. My husband was not happy about that. Kind of the way he feels when I bake something to take to church or work. I have to make two of that thing, you know? One for church or work and one for the man who lives with me. While the lemon blueberry cheesecake bars were chilling out overnight, I had crazy dreams about people trying to steal my beagles. I got up this morning and cut the cheese cake bars and since the edges needed to be trimmed off to make perfect squares, well, we just had to eat the edges. Oh, the sacrifices one must make for square edges!

Lemon blueberry cheese cake bars (or rather the edges) are absolutely delicious and very easy (as long as you have a big food processor) to make. You should make some right now! I am looking forward to having one tonight after dinner. Is it wrong that thinking about eating one will make the day a little better?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

sweets for the sweet

Strawberry shortcake is so simple and so very yummy. Since I was raised in the south, I believed that strawberry shortcake had to be made with biscuits but this is not really true. I used a homemade lemon pound cake for this one. There are plenty of good quality store bought pound cakes out there but I did not have one of those. I did have all the ingredients to make a pound cake and honestly, I am such an introvert that it is easier and far more pleasurable for me to make a pound cake than to go to Food Lion to buy one. This is the pound cake recipe that I taught the culinary campers last summer. We made a mixed berry trifle from it that had the best lemon curd ever! Now I am thinking of lemon curd... back to the strawberry shortcake.

Strawberry shortcake
1 pound cake from a 6 cup loaf pan - here is a great recipe from Gale Gand. I miss Gale Gand so much since she is no longer on Food TV. I really did enjoy her show. I miss Ming Tsai, also. I never cooked any of his recipes, but I thought he was so likable, unassuming and handsome.
Back to the recipe.
2 pints of fresh, ripe strawberries, sliced
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons of 10x sugar
1 teaspoon of real vanilla extract

I like to take about 1/4 of the strawberries and just cover them with water in a small sauce pan with the granulated sugar. Bring this to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Once the strawberries are mushy, I mash them a little with a fork or put them in the blender. Pour this over the other sliced strawberries in a bowl.

Whip the cream to soft peaks and then add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and whip to stiff peaks.

The rest is just assembly - slice the pound cake and place in the bottom of a dessert bowl, top with strawberries and whipped cream, repeat this process again so there are two layers of each ending with the cream. Whipped cream might be one of the very best things on earth! I know that some like to build strawberry shortcake well ahead of time so it turns into a type of pudding to be dished out but I prefer mine in individual bowls and made right before eating.

My husband so enjoys desserts like this. He had the pound cake with mint chocolate chip ice cream and whipped cream once the strawberries were gone and for the last two mornings, he has had a slice of the pound cake with breakfast. Funny guy!

And yes, that is my living room in the back ground. It was a lovely, sunny day!

Monday, April 21, 2008

beef brisket with onion jus

I usually buy chuck roast when I am in the mood for a slow cooked bit of beef but brisket was actually on sale, so I bought a small 2 pound brisket for the man who lives with me for dinner. We really enjoyed it, although the 3 hour cooking time heated up the kitchen and the lovely, meaty aroma made us both a little crazy for meat. I served it with homemade potato au gratin and fresh green beans.

beef brisket with onion jus

1 - 2 pound beef brisket
2 cups of beef broth or stock
1 large (soft ball size) sweet onion
2 teaspoons of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon of AP flour
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter

Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat and add olive oil and butter. Season brisket with salt, pepper, and half the thyme - really rub it in. Then dredge the brisket in the flour - again, really rub it into the meat. Sear the meat in the hot oil and butter for 4 minutes per side. It should be really golden brown. While the meat is searing, peel the onion, remove just the root, cut in half and then cut into large wedges (maybe 4 per half). If you don't cut off too much of the root, the wedges will hold together a bit while cooking. If not, don't really worry about it. Add the stock or broth to the pot once the meat is seared on both sides and then add the onion wedges and the reaming dried thyme. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat so the liquid simmers and place a lid on. I cooked mine for 3 hours. It should really be tender and falling apart and the onions should have cooked down into something very mushy but still oniony. Remove the meat from the jus and let it rest for 5-ish minutes. Slice the meat across the grain and serve with the onion jus.

Friday, April 18, 2008

rag dolls and legumes

I made this rag doll from a pattern from Gail Wilson Designs. Considering I have never made a doll before, I think she turned out pretty cute. I love her little pinafore. I really had fun making this little doll, she was a good balance of machine and hand sewing. I named her Molly.

I am trying desperately to cut back on our grocery cost. I almost always go over on my grocery budget and that is money that I can spend on fun things like rag doll patterns and new shoes and such. Enter white bean soup. I really enjoy making and eating soup. Next to working as a pastry chef, being a saucier and making soup and sauce all day long was probably my favorite position. I never made country-ish soups like this one as a professional chef. We made much more refined soups but I really enjoy country soups made from items on hand. I have no less than 3 ham bones in my freezer at a given time and white beans cost .89 cents a bag! Here is a recipe for a very basic but delicious white bean soup -

1 pound navy beans, picked over, rinsed and drained
10 sprigs parsley with stems
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 large smoked ham bones
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
8 cups of chicken stock or cold water
2 medium carrot, thick slices
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Butter for garnish

Place the beans in a large saucepan and cover with cold water by about 3 inches and soak overnight. I have hard well water, so if I use the tap water, I add a teaspoon on baking soda to help soften the water. Drain and reserve. Tie the parsley, thyme, and bay leaf together with kitchen twine.

In a large soup pot combine the beans, herb bundle, ham bones, onions, carrots and garlic with the stock or water. Bring to a boil, cover, and adjust the heat so the soup cooks at a simmer. Cook until the beans and ham bones are completely tender, about 1-1/2 hours.

Turn off the heat and remove the hocks. Cool slightly. Remove the meat from the hocks, discarding the bones and fat. Cut the meat into small cubes. Remove the herbs and discard.

I use a potato masher to mash up some of the beans. You can put some of the beans and liquid into the blender but then you have to clean the blender. I have a hand held immersion blender as well but if the beans a cooked well and are soft, the potato masher works well. Adjust the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. To serve divide the soup among bowls and place a small pat of butter on top each soup and serve.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

the amazing russet potato

I think russet potatoes have gotten a bad deal in the last few years. People are really hyped about waxy potatoes like red and Yukon golds and the poor russet potato has gotten lost in the chaos. I believe that, if handled properly, the russet potato is the most versatile and delicious of potatoes. Consider that you can use them to make hash browns, french fries, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, garlic roasted potatoes, potato skins, and even that Midwest Christmas favorite, twice baked potatoes. No other potato can boast this long list of possibilities! Also, they are generally cheaper than their waxy counterparts. The following are just two recipes with russets. Cottage fries or as my husband calls them - breakfast potatoes. They are like french fries but smaller and have more exterior to interior ratio. This means they have more crispy happiness to offer. They are delicious.

The recipe -
2 large russet potatoes, washed but not peeled
2 cups of vegetable oil
You need a candy thermometer or just a really good sense of oil temperature
The secret to any good fried potato is to cook it twice!
Heat the oil to 325. While heating, cut the potatoes into strips and then into cubes about 1/2 inch square. Do not wash or rinse the potatoes. Place the potatoes carefully into the oil and cook for about 7 minutes or until they are pale and soft. Remove to a plate to drain and cool - spread them out in a single layer if you can to help cool them. Increase the burner temperature so as to heat the oil to 375 degrees. Carefully submerge the potatoes into the oil and cook for another 5-7 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Remove and drain. Season with salt while the fries are hot. Enjoy!

Yummy sour cream mashed potatoes

2 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup sour cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place potatoes in a bowl and wash under cold, running water until water runs clear. This step is so important so really rinse them until the water runs clear since this will remove a lot of the starch and make the finished potatoes light and fluffy instead of thick and gluey. Place in a medium saucepan with salt. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and put them back into the pot and back over low heat to dry completly. This should only take a couple of minutes but you will know for sure when you do not hear water sizzling in the pan any longer. While potatoes are still warm, mash using a masher, fork, whisk or potato ricer. Never, never put them in the food processor. Never. They turn to gummy stuff. Ok, maybe gently in the food processor... but really it's best to never try it.

In a medium saucepan, warm sour cream and butter. Fold warm sour cream mixture into potatoes, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I love chicken parmesan

One of my all time favorite dinners! I think I will teach my second year culinary campers to make this dish. Here is a recipe of sorts for it...

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cups of marinara sauce (mine is very similar to the one found here)
1 cup of Italian style bread crumbs
1 cup of AP flour
1 large egg, beaten
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
1/2 cup of very good olive oil
4 slices of provolone cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Trim the chicken breast of any nasties or fat. I like to lightly pound the chicken for any saute'. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Place the flour, bread crumbs and beaten egg into individual shallow bowls or pans (I use my cake pans, plus a pie pan). Season each with salt and pepper. Place in this order - chicken, flour, egg, bread crumbs, and then a landing place. Dredge the chicken in flour, then coat in the egg, then roll in bread crumbs. This is called "standard breading". The idea is that flour sticks to meat, egg sticks to flour and breadcrumbs stick to egg. Place the coated chicken in the refrigerator for at least 5 minutes.

While waiting, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add chicken once oil is hot. Chicken should really sizzle when it hits the oil but the oil should not be smoking, you know? Ok, so cook the chicken 2 pieces at a time about 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Transfer chicken to a shallow over proof dish and top each with about 1/2 cup of marinara sauce and one slice of provolone cheese each. Place in 350 degree oven until cheese is melted and starting to color golden brown and bubbly. I serve this usually with spaghetti and marinara sauce and some really good bread. The leftovers are awesome as a sandwhich.

Monday, April 14, 2008

perfect french toast

I asked my husband what he wanted for breakfast last Saturday morning and I was so happy when he replied french toast. I was really wanting french toast myself. I happened to have a loaf of day old sour dough bread. We also had a half a bottle of pure maple syrup. It was a great morning - coffee, french toast with maple syrup and sausage! My husband and I eat breakfast together every morning, but it is so nice to linger over breakfast on Saturday.

Here's the recipe. Try it! It's really good. Serves 4 people. We ate it all. We were really hungry!

4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of salt
6 slices of thick bread
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of canola oil
Whisk together eggs, cream, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl; set aside.

Place the bread in a shallow baking dish large enough to hold bread slices in a single layer (I had to use 2 different dishes... I love to wash dishes, obviously!). Pour egg mixture over the bread and let it soak 10 minutes. Turn the slices over and soak about 10 minutes more.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoons vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook half the bread slices until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes per side. It will get all foamy and look a little scary, but it is ok! Transfer to a wire rack; place in a 250 degree oven while cooking remaining toast. Clean out the skillet and do it all again with remaining butter, oil, and bread. Keep it in oven until ready to serve. Serve warm with pure maple syrup! It's really good with a glass of milk, too!

I once tried to make low cal/ low fat french toast by using skim milk, less whole eggs, and using non-stick spray instead of butter and oil. It was nasty.

quiche lorraine

Eggs, light cream, bacon, cheese, pie dough... what's not to love? Although I am a complete boxed cake mix snob and will never use the stuff, I must confess that I used the unroll and bake pie dough from Pillsbury. Sundays are a weird day for cooking in my house since we are at church from 7:30 a.m. until around noon and then back to church from 3:30 p.m. until around 6 p.m. We usually have leftovers for lunch and something easy for dinner. This was the something easy for dinner yesterday. I was actually impressed with the unroll and bake pie dough. Not exactly homemade, but really very good and much better than the frozen pie dough in the disposable pie pans, in my humble opinion. I blind baked the crust for 10 minutes to keep it from getting soggy.

Quiche Lorraine

10 strips of bacon cooked crisp and crumbled
1 cup or 4 ounces of cheese - Gruyere is traditional but sharp cheddar or Swiss will do
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups of half and half
1/2 teaspoon of salt
cracked black pepper
ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon chopped flat leaf parsley
pie dough for 1 9 inch pie pan

Heat oven to 350. Place the pie dough into an 11 inch tart pan (you know, the kind with a removable bottom) and press into curves around the edge. Place in the freezer for 5 minutes. Take a fork and dock the pie dough all over being careful not to cause any large holes or tears in the dough. Line the pie dough with foil and fill with beans or rice or pie weights or whatever. Place in preheated oven for 7 minutes and then lift off the foil with the beans or whatever and place back in the over for 3-5 more minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, half and half, salt and pepper together combining well. Once the pastry is blind baked, sprinkle the bacon over distributing it evenly and the same with the cheese. Pour over the egg mixture, being careful not to run over between the pastry and the pan. Sprinkle liberally with ground nutmeg and parsley. I cook it on the top oven rack for 30-40 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden brown and slightly puffy. Don't overcook it or it will taste terrible.

Here it is served with bread and a spinach, mushroom and tomato salad with buttermilk dressing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

buttermilk dressing and homemade croutons

Ok, so it doesn't look like much in this old (pickle?) jar on my kitchen counter but I really like this salad dressing. I love buttermilk for many reasons. This is a buttermilk herb vinaigrette, so I was bound to love it. I have the recipe written down but I was pretty sure it originally came from Martha Stewart Living. I looked around on the MS website but I could not find it. I like to give recipe credit where it is due. So, here is a recipe for buttermilk herb vinaigrette that may or may not be from MS Living.

Makes 1/2 cup

1/4 cup buttermilk
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of chopped fresh herbs (I used Italian parsley, thyme and some chives)
Kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste

Combine buttermilk, garlic, salt, pepper, and vinegar and let macerate for 10 minutes. Slowly whisk in olive oil to create an emulsion. Mix in herbs.

I served mine over baby red and green romaine, which I am really keen on right now. It's somewhat spendy but good. I made some croutons from stale white Italian bread, olive oil, chopped garlic, salt pepper, and chopped fresh parsley. I just put it in my little counter top convection over for about 10 minutes on 350. I so prefer them over the boxed kind.

Once again, I am feeling pressured to buy a new camera or to ask my sister the professional photographer for some free lessons. Only trouble - she lives in Florida.

One a side note, I received a gift card to this dreamy place. My boss clearly knows my weakness for kitchen goodies and housewares. I spent the gift card on the website last night. Perhaps my favorite purchase is this ruffled cake stand. I love the giant cupcake, also! And look at that manicure!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

a different beef and noodles

I am still looking for a new camera. This was not a pretty dish to begin with - tastes better than it looks. Actually, it looks like lasagna.

I love beef and noodles. I normally prepare something much like this except, I use stock instead of bouillon and I add mushrooms and peas. Just thinking about it makes me want to go home and make it right now! Anyway, I saw this recipe on another blog and in a cookbook called New Recipes from Quilt Country, which I bought years ago, and thought I would try it out since I like to try new recipes. I once read a statistic that the average American family eats the same 4 or 5 meals over and over and over. I think I might go nuts if that were the case.

Back to the recipe - I made some minor changes since the original recipe calls for the onion to be put raw into the dish and I just cannot take the risk of biting into an undercooked onion since it kind of freaks me out. So, I cooked the onions down with the ground beef. I also omitted the basil and used thyme. My husband and I liked this recipe well enough. If I make it again, I will use a cooked out tomato sauce in place of the tomato paste to get a more developed, richer taste.

2 cups sour cream (a 16-ounce container)
2 cups small-curd cottage cheese (a 16-ounce container) (I used the full fat stuff for the sour cream and the cottage cheese)
1/2 onion finely chopped
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 7- to 8-ounce package medium egg noodles
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 pounds lean ground round or well-trimmed chuck
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dried
1 Tbsp. minced fresh oregano, or 1 tsp. dried
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325-f degrees. In a small mixing bowl, combine the sour cream, cottage cheese, and parsley and 1 teaspoon of salt; set aside. In a large saucepan, cook the noodles in well salted water. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan, over medium heat, and add the onion and cook until soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add the ground beef, stirring now and then until the meat is no longer pink. Drain off all liquid and discard. Stir in the tomato paste, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes.

Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan and begin layering as follows: one-third of the meat sauce, one-half of the noodles, and one-half of the sour cream mixture. Repeat these layers, ending with the meat sauce. Bake uncovered for 1 hour or until the casserole is golden brown and bubbly. Allow to stand for 15 minutes, then serve.

flourless chocolate cake

I liked this cake pretty well. The recipe is from Everyday Food and can be found here. I know the Everyday Food concept on this cake was part of the 5 ingredients or less but I could not resist making fresh whipped cream to go with it. It was my birthday after all. The recipe on the web-site fails to mention that it is entirely normal for the cake to fall. As you can tell, mine fell on one side more than the other. Next time I make it, I will add a dash of salt and some vanilla extract to the chocolate mix.

fabulous birthday loot

I had a great birthday, really. I am always so amazed at how nice and generous people are to me on my birthday. I really do not deserve it all. My hubby bought me this antique iron and iron trivet (the trivet is so cool) for me to put on my cast iron stove. I love it!

He also bought my this precious "Jenny Rabbit" from Bayberry Cove. She is very lady like with her shawl and painted slippers on her feet. I cannot decide which is cuter - that she is wearing a shawl or that she is ever so demurely holding it closed? I had a long talk with Pebbles about the fact that Jenny Rabbit is NOT a dog toy. In one long beagle ear and out the other.

My super cool coworker gave me this hand made apron with chickens on it. The picture does it no justice. It is so crazy cute!

I made a new recipe for dinner and a chocolate cake for my birthday. Lenny sang to me and everything. It was a great birthday.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

lovely flowers

My boss sent me these lovely flowers for my birthday. Aren't they gorgeous? They are from a shop here in Chestertown called Rachel's Flower Power. A truly heavenly place!
My coworkers made me a nice breakfast spread of coffee cake, bagels (everything bagels, my favorite!), fruit sald, muffins, and juice. I am blessed to work with such thoughtful ladies. I should reward their thoughtfullness by getting back to work and not blogging pictures of flowers.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lovely shoes

Time to confess my covetousness - I really want to splurge and buy these for myself. They are by Golc and probably worth every penny.

Ridiculously good bread pudding

I was on another blog looking at recipes the other day and I stumbled on a recipe for Amish ground beef and noodle casserole. I was sure I had a recipe of my own for such a dish, so I looked in my Amish cookbooks and sure enough, I did indeed have one. While looking through the Amish cookbooks, I was inspired to make bread pudding since there were a few bread pudding recipes in those books. The following is a recipe for bread pudding with a new-to-me sauce. Well, new-to-me to put the sauce on bread pudding instead of ice cream or something else. I like this bread pudding recipe because although it has a custard base for the bread, it does not need to be cooked in a water bath. Delicious, simple, and economical! The perfect dessert.

For the bread pudding:
Preheat the over to 350.

1 loaf of Italian bread, cut into 1 inch pieces. Should yield about 6 cups of bread. If the crust is very tough, I cut it off but otherwise leave it on.
1/2 cup of golden raisins
1/4 cup black raisins
1 stick melted butter
4 eggs
1 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar - packed
1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 cups of 1/2 and 1/2
2 cups of whole milk

1. Place the bread in a 9x13 dish that has been liberally sprayed with non-stick spray. Sprinkle the raisins over the bread, then drizzle on the melted butter. Don't mix this!
2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs to break up, then blend in sugars, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla. Add the 1/2 and 1/2 and the milk and blend. Pour the milk mix over the bread and let it soak for about 20 minutes, gently patting the bread down into the milk. Sprinkle with more nutmeg and cinnamon as desired. Place in the 350 oven for 40 - 55 minutes being careful to not brown the top too much. If it starts to get too dark or the raisins burn, cover loosely with foil. The finished pudding should be puffy and golden brown.

For the sauce-
1 stick melted butter
1 cup light brown sugar - packed
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of evaporated milk

Melt butter and brown sugar together over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in salt, vanilla, and milk. Once the pudding is cooled, cut into squares and top with the warm sauce. This sauce recipe is from New Recipes from Quilt Country by Marcia Adams and the bread pudding is a variation on hers, also.

Saturday in the park

I was feeling not so bad on Saturday morning after Friday being really dreadful. We had to go to the grocery store anyway, so we picked up some over priced, but delicious sandwiches and took Pebbles and Huck into town with us for a little picnic in the park. Saturday was one of the most beautiful days I can recall in a long time! Chestertown is a real "dog town" anyway and on a really pretty day, there were people with dogs all over downtown! I am glad to report that my dogs are good looking enough to command quit a bit of attention even with so much competition.

I tried very hard to get a picture of them together but Huck is so camera shy, that I had to settle for individual shots. We had a lovely day just relaxing and the beagles were happy to get off the farm for a couple of hours since they love to see other dogs.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Chicken and pasta again?

If this food looks familiar it is because I took the leftover cooked pasta and chicken from Tuesday night and made a cold chicken primavera from it. Now, that is not to say that I used the completed dish for this, but when I cooked the pasta and chicken for Tuesday night, I cooked more than I needed, you know? So, I had chicken and pasta that was not mixed with the spinach and cheese. I don't know why I am dwelling on that so much? Ok, moving on... I really love pasta primavera. It is one of my favorite spring or summer dishes. There are so many ways to make it but here is mine.

Chicken Primavera
1/2 lb. cooked, cold tube pasta
2 grilled chicken breast, cooled and cute into bite sized pieces
1 head of broccoli - florets only, blanched and cooled
6 cherry tomatoes
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 cup of good quality store bought mayonnaise
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of creole seasoning (I like this one)
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, onions, salt, and creole seasoning in a large bowl. Mix to combine well. Add the remaining ingredients to combine well. I enjoy this served over baby red romaine lettuce. Sometimes I like to add thinly sliced carrots but I did not want them last night. I was all about soft and creamy.

Last night was repurpose night at my house. I ate leftovers and started to make an oblong tablecloth from a square tablecloth. I bought the square tablecloth a few years ago when I had a square table. I sold that table when we moved from Michigan. I now have an oval table so the square tablecloth has just been in storage. Anyway, it is nearly done. I need to pick up some binding tape to finish it. I made a pattern for it from newpaper and my girl beagle was very excited about that! She was running around the house and howling and just being a generally bad beagle. She is always like that when my husband isn't home. Huck, the boy beagle was just scared of it all. He really hates change.

I am actively looking for a new camera but sheesh, I hate to part with the cash.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rigatoni with grilled chicken, spinach, and cherry tomatoes

First off, I need a new camera. I promise that my pasta dish was much lovelier in person. Much less over exposed looking. I have been recommended to get the Canon Powershot. Maybe I am just lousy photographer. Only one way to tell for certain - buy a better camera. I bought my camera a few years ago when digital cameras were still very pricey.

Once again, this is a dish where the name is the recipe. I really love this dish as I am a big fan of pasta but don't always want a sauce. This does have a bit of a sauce from the cheese and some of the pasta cooking water. When I was making this last night, I was thinking of how I am forever hearing from people that one of the hardest things they find about cooking is to time everything correctly so it is all done together, you know? This dish is a very good challenge at that, actually. So, I shall attempt to put the recipe procedure in chronological order... here goes.

Rigatoni with grilled chicken, spinach, and cherry tomatoes
Serves 4

1/2 lb. box of rigatoni or some other tube shaped ridged pasta (be careful, some pastas are sold in 12 oz. boxes, not 1 lb.)
2 boneless skinless chicken breast
4 ounces of baby spinach
10 each cherry tomatoes
1 cup - about 3 1/2 ounces of grated Parmesan cheese
3 cloves of garlic
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

First, heat a grill pan over medium high heat and then put a large pot of water on to boil. Place the chicken breasts between 2 sheets of plastic wrap with the skin side down (I know it is skinless but the side that would have had the skin is smother and shinier - it will be easier to pound the chicken with the non-skin side facing up) and using a meat mallet pound out until about 1/4 inch thick. This is not an exercise in brutality on defenseless chicken breast! That is to say it does not take a lot of force but rather some patience and consistency. Pound from the thickest part of the breast to the edge. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Brush the hot grill pan with olive oil just to coat the surface and place chicken breast skin side down (the smooth, shinier side that would have had the skin).
The water should be boiling by now, yes? Liberally salt the water. Seriously, it should taste like ocean water. Not the Dead Sea, but the Atlantic Ocean. Don't try to taste the boiling water! Just use about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt for a large pot. Next, add the pasta to the boiling, well salted water. Give it a stir. Meanwhile, the chicken should be cooking away with no help from us. So, wash the spinach and tomatoes and shake off excess water. Pinch the stems from the spinach and cut the tomatoes in half. Reserve in a bowl. Put a large saute' pan on to heat over medium high heat. Everything will come together in this pan, so make sure it is big enough. Turn the chicken since about 5-6 minutes have gone by since you put it on. Stir the pasta. Peel and slice the garlic - reserve. Ok, here is the tricky timing part. The pasta should have been cooking for about 8 minutes and should be close to done now. Test a piece. If it is close to done for you, then add about a tablespoon of oil to the large saute' pan we put on to heat (remember that?) Add the spinach and tomatoes to the large saute pan. Toss to coat in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. After 30 seconds, use a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pasta from the boiling water, directly into the saute' pan with the spinach and tomatoes. Toss or stir to combine. Add 3/4 of the cheese and use a ladle to add 1/2 - 3/4 a cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss to combine and heat through about 1 minute. Transfer this to a serving bowl. Remember the chicken? It should be perfectly cooked now, so remove from the grill pan to a cutting board and cut into thin strips. Add the chicken strips to the pasta mix and combine. Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese and serve. This all told has taken less than 20 minutes, right? Obviously, I served mine with some good bread. Unfortunately, my camera is making my bread look moldy. I promise, I do not eat moldy bread. Like I said, I really need a new camera.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Stock in a box

My husband wasn't feeling well yesterday, so I wanted to make him some homemade chicken noodle soup. Trouble is, it was a Monday night and to buy all the stuff after work and then make chicken noodle stuff from scratch would have put dinner time at about 12 midnight. That's really no good. So, I made "Somewhat-Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup" for my poor, sick hubby! Normally, I feel something close to a migraine when people talk about "semi-homemade" or "meals in a flash" but I thought I could change my tune and jump on this bandwagon and use mixed metaphors! I just think that cooking should not be done by a stop watch. Anyhoo... I used a rotisserie chicken from the deli, stock in a box, dried soup noodles, and fresh vegetables and herbs. It really did turn out nice. I served the soup with a good crusty bread. Not exactly as good as homemade but entirely fitting for a rainy, Monday night. I will say that the old adage I learned in culinary school of "garbage in, garbage out" applies here perhaps more than ever. That is to say, only very good boxed chicken broth will do. The very cheap stuff that is little more than yellow salt water with some animal fat added in will not yield a very good soup in the end.