Sunday, December 11, 2011


So, I heard about these things eons ago, and even tried to make them myself for our picnic in the park with G &C (which I'm realizing now I forgot to blog about - DUH!!). But I got some bad intel from the folks at Market of Choice when I called. The product they directed me to was NOT masarepa flour, which is required to make arepas (kind of a Venezuelan sandwich), but regular masa - the kind you’d make tortillas or tamales with. I’ll use it, so it’s not a great loss, but ever since I have been OBSESSED with finding this flour. Most of my searches yielded nothing (the local Hispanic foods shops had no idea what I was talking about, and the websites I searched were prohibitively expensive).

Well, a few weeks ago, I found the stuff online, it was fairly inexpensive, and so I bought, like 4 lbs of the stuff and waited for it to arrive - which it did last week.

I wasted no time picking up a pork shoulder so I could make carnitas, which was what a good portion of yesterday was spent doing. Well, waiting for it to cook, anyway. The actual prep was very quick.

I am tickled with the results and will be using this carnitas recipe again for the tamale day that C and I have planned - sometime in the not too distant future, I hope. There was not a lot of spice here, but a whole lot of flavor, and I can only tell you how wonderful the house smelled all day.

And just as promised, the arepa flour worked beautifully.

It’s great when a plan comes together.


1 4 - 5 lb pork shoulder, cut into 4” slices
1 Tbs salt
2 Tbs canola or vegetable oil
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 cinnamon stick
Peel from one orange
2 bay leaves
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1 tsp chipotle chile powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp ground oregano
1 Tbs whole peppercorns
1 bottle Mexican beer (I used Negrona)
1 Anaheim chile, coarsely chopped

Heat oven to 350º. In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke. Rub salt into pork pieces and add to hot pan. Sear until brown on each side, about 5 minutes. Add vegetables and spices to the pork (with the exception of the Anaheim), dividing each ingredient evenly over the contents in the pot. Slowly pour in beer. Add enough water to come up to just below the top of the meat (about 2/3 of the way up the pot). Cover and place in oven. Bake for 3 ½ hours.

Remove pot from oven, and using a pair of tongs, ‘shred’ the meat, discarding any large chunks of fat and whatever whole peppercorns you run across. Also skim off any excess grease. There should be relatively little liquid left.

Sprinkle cut Anaheim over the top of the meat. Return to oven and allow to crisp up (uncovered) for about 15 to 20 minutes more.


2 cups masarepa flour
1 tsp salt
3 cups warm water

Combine arepa flour and salt in a large bowl. Slowly pour in water. Allow to soak in for a couple of minutes, and then mix thoroughly to make sure all of the flour is incorporated.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add a pat of butter and allow to melt and start to sizzle.

Create patties of the arepa mixture about 4 - 5” across and about 1/2” thick. Place patties in heated skillet. Cook until golden brown on one side (about 10 minutes), and then flip the arepas over and continue to cook until golden on the other side.

Remove to a plate and allow to cool slightly. Slice open with a knife and scoop out part of the ‘doughy’ inside. Fill as desired.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Little Spice is Nice

It’s turned kind of gloomy and cold here. The weather in a word is, boring. Not cold with gusting winds, or cold and miserable because it’s pouring down rain. Just kind of overcast and chilly.

Just… blah.

Anyway, the need to make something homey and warm brought me to these. Oh, and a new tea flavor called ‘Sweet Thai Coconut’. I’m not one for endorsements, but check it out in the Celestial Seasonings area. And follow the package directions by adding a little bit of honey and cream to it.


Anyway, these scones also fit the bill. I used just plain ol’ Chai tea that I had, but next time I’ll infuse the milk with my newfound coconut blend and then maybe add a little toasted coconut to the top of them. The scones are very tender and last several days (rather than drying out). Sure beats the heck out of Pop Tarts for breakfast.

Chai Scones

1 cup milk
2 Chai flavored tea bags
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1-½ sticks cold butter
2 tsp real vanilla

2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1 tsp vanilla
Enough milk to make a glaze-like consistency

Preheat oven 350º. Add milk to a saucepan to warm over low heat. Remove from heat and add tea bags. Allow to steep for about 15 minutes.

Combine flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut cold butter into the flour until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Remove tea bags from milk and add the vanilla. Stir milk mixture into the flour and butter until combined.

Turn mixture out onto a clean surface. Bring everything together with your hands, handling as little as possible so the dough won’t become tough. Press into a circle or log, about ¾” thick. Cut the dough into individual portions.

Transfer scones to a baking pan and bake for 15-20 minutes, just until the edges turn brown. Allow to cool slightly.

In the meantime, combine all of the remaining ingredients, adding the milk a tablespoon at a time until you get the right consistency. Drizzle over scones.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What is it about Fall?

For whatever reason, the change in the weather from Summer to Fall puts me in the mood to bake bread. Lots of bread. So my house has been filled with that wonderfully homey scent of baking bread more often than not these days. I’ve been trying out new recipes and revisiting old favorites.

Bread making for me used to fall into the category of ‘too much to do and don’t have time to make it’, but really I think it’s more of a patience thing. Doesn’t require a lot of time to put a loaf of bread together, but the idea of waiting for several hours for dough to rise and for the bread to bake can just be… excruciating.

As I said, I have a short attention span.

And for that reason, I am thankful to have found a recipe that is versatile, relatively quick to make and SOO good. I made this once to go with dinner, then doctored it up another way (one of the beauties of making focaccia) and made a wonderful muffaletta sandwich out of it. The possibilities are endless here. The first time I made it, I drizzled it with garlic inflused olive oil and then topped it with roasted garlic and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. This time I went for a sun-dried tomato pesto made with walnuts.


1 package rapid-rise dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 Tbs sugar
3 cups bread flour
½ - 1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Semolina flour, for dusting pan
Additional olive oil

Assorted toppings (you choose):

Roasted garlic
Caramelized onions
Course salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh herbs

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, water and sugar. Stir to combine a bit and then allow to rest for 3 minutes. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and turn mixer on low. Slowly add bread flour and ½ cup of all-purpose flour.

Combine salt and 2 Tbs warm water. Stir until dissolved. Add to dough along with olive oil and continue to mix until dough is smooth an elastic, about 5 minutes.

Turn dough onto floured work surface and knead a few times. Form the dough into a ball. Add about a teaspoon of olive oil to the mixing bowl, and add the dough ball, turning several times to coat with the oil. Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm area until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Lightly sprinkle a baking sheet with the semolina (or you can substitute cornmeal). Turn dough onto pan and press into a rectangular shape, about 12” long, 8” wide and about an inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400º. After dough has rested, dimple the top of the dough using fingers. Drizzle with olive oil and add any toppings you’re using.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until bread is golden.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Er… Hello…

I know. It’s been a while. The last month has been just… busy. Mostly adjusting to having this little guy in the house…

Now, as long as I prefer pumps to orthopedics, I flatly refuse to be referred to as ‘Grandma’. Mostly because that term will always be reserved (in my mind) for my own dear grandmother, who I am so sad that I lost so early in life.

But because I really don’t feel like a ‘grandma’, I have coined the name ‘Amma’, a combination of my maternal great-grandmother, who was called ‘Avo’ and ‘Gramma’. My mother insists that I have no control over what I will be called, even though I pointed out that although her first grandbaby (O1) substituted ‘Bubba’ because she couldn’t say ‘Grandma’, the remaining three grandchildren have all followed suit and called her ‘Bubba’. Therefore, it’s just what the child hears.

And besides, he can call me Fred for all I care.

Anyway, most of the food I’ve been making has been revisiting old (and quick) recipes. That, and I seem to have developed some kind of mental block about taking food photos - probably because the camera is usually in his face and not in the kitchen.

But I did make these recently. Kind of an Asian take on meatballs. Didn’t really want to go the sweet/sour route with pineapple. Instead, these are infused with coconut milk, and they’re very tender. I served them with a ginger-scented rice and sautéed asparagus and bell pepper. They were both light and hearty.

Try ‘em.

Lion’s Head Meatballs

1 lb ground beef
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 Tbs soy sauce
1/2 tsp curry powder
1 shallot, finely minced
1 Tbs flour
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 Tbs sesame oil
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Salt and pepper to taste

Remainder of the can of coconut milk (about 1 1/2 cups?)
2 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs cornstarch

In a large mixing bowl, combine the first 11 items.  Working quickly, mix the ingredients just until well combined.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add about 2 Tbs of cooking oil.  Roll the meat mixture into golf-sized balls and place in the hot oil.  Cook, turning to brown all sides until cooked through.

Combine the remaining coconut milk, soy sauce and cornstarch together and slowly add to the meatballs, cooking and stirring just until the mixture thickens.  Serve over rice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Seeing a Trend

Well, first of all, it seems my one year ‘blogiversary’ has come and gone. So, happy belated birthday to MSandS. Remind me to bake a cake… or something…

So last night, O2 decided that what she just HAD TO HAVE was frozen cookie dough dipped in chocolate.


And sure enough, a short time later I found her in the kitchen whipping up a batch of these. You might notice a marked resemblance to this middle of the night candy-making binge. I sense a trend here.

I never got to sample any of these last night, and it will be interesting to see if they made it through the day.

I’ll keep you posted.

Chocolate Covered Cookie Dough Pops

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs water
2 cups flour
¾ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup chocolate for melting (whatever you prefer)
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs half & half

Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Stir in the vanilla, water, flour, and chocolate chips until well blended. Roll dough into bite-sized balls. Place on a lined baking sheet and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

Combine chocolate, butter and half & half in a small bowl. Place in microwave and cook on high for 1 minute. Allow to sit in microwave with door closed for 30 seconds to one minute. Remove and stir until mixture is smooth (add a bit more of the cream if necessary). Remove dough balls from freezer and skewer with toothpicks to hold. Dip in chocolate mixture and return to pan. Return to freezer until chocolate sets, about 15 minutes. Store in resealable plastic bags.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Burger Bliss

At some point, I totally gave up on my little garden. Blame it on our funky summer, or the tree that fell into my yard and never allowed much sun to get through even when there WAS sun, or blame it on my seeming inability to grow things. Whatever it was, the proceeds from my little garden plot were almost nil. I mean, I failed at zucchini. How does ANYONE fail at zucchini???

I am most bummed about my tomato plants, two of which have finally started to bear fruit, even though it’s now too cool for them to get very far. But I was so looking forward to mountains of tomatoes - so much of a bounty that I’d have plenty to use green.

We are HUGE fried green tomato fans in my house.

I did have a very nice co-worker bring me a bag of green tomatoes, which I used several times before they started to ripen too much to use in that capacity. I had them hanging in a bag on my kitchen door, and I had kind of forgotten about them. Last weekend I was going to throw the bag out and then noticed that not only were the tomatoes still fine, they had ripened. So here I was with a bag of about 6 tomatoes that were going to spoil if I didn’t do something with them in fairly short order.

So I decided to make some jam.

I had also received a few poblanos from another co-worker, and I had also picked up some really nice pepper bacon, so the makings of a plan began to form. I went to work on my little concoction, and the next night decided to test drive it on something really basic - a burger.

So, armed with some good quality ground beef, ciabatta rolls and my tomato jam, I whipped up a batch of my standard dry rub, cooked the burgers to a satisfying medium doneness and slathered them with the tomato jam.

Happiness ensued.

Spicy Tomato Bacon Jam

5 strips good quality, thick-cut bacon, cut into a fine dice
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
4 large beefsteak tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup apple juice
1 tsp dried thyme
1 medium sized poblano chile, seeded and minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground cloves

In a large saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until cooked through and beginning to crisp. Add onions and garlic. Cook and stir for about 3 minutes until onions have cooked through. Add tomatoes and chiles. Cook for a few more minutes until tomatoes begin to break down. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and allow to cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool in pan and then transfer to jars or covered plastic containers (will make about 2 or 3 cups of jam. Keep in fridge or freezer.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Frugal Fridays - Bringing on Fall Weather

With Fall officially upon us (although, to be honest, it really doesn’t feel much different than June), I wanted something quick and hearty that would make use of what was left of a rotisserie chicken I had picked up for another meal (someday I’ll actually post about roasted chicken, which is easy and SOO much better than store-bought - but that actually requires a time span of several hours to prep and cook - something I’ve been in very short supply of lately).

Anyway, I taught my first couponing class last night, and it put me in the mood to tie in a recipe with something I brought up in class, mainly, cooking with what you have on hand.

I do usually have a can or two of enchilada sauce on hand, and chicken stock, whether homemade or store bought, is another staple of mine. The rest of this dish was basically put together with leftovers.

Now, I realize that most people probably don’t keep masa in their pantries. Don’t feel like you need to run out and buy a full bag of the stuff, either, unless you plan on tackling homemade tortillas (which I do at some point) or tamales (Carley and I already have a tentative plan in the works for this). You can actually find this in the bulk section of a lot of stores. Throw a small scoop in a bag, and not only will you have it on hand for this recipe, but it also is a great way to tighten up chili, and it gives a nice undertone of flavor as well. If you don’t have masa, and don’t want to pick any up, I imagine you could do pretty well boiling a potato (russet) until soft and then mashing it really well and adding it to the soup.

Top this with a little sour cream, and in the spirit of using up leftovers, try baking some leftover tortillas until crisp, or tossing in the remainders of that bag of chips you have sitting on the shelf.

You know who you are.

Enchilada Soup

2 - 3 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cans chicken stock (or about 1 qt homemade)
1 cup masa harina
3 cups water, divided
1 cup enchilada sauce
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (or a mixture of Cheddar and Monterey Jack is great, too)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp ground cumin

In a large pot over medium heat, sauté onion and garlic until onions are translucent. Pour in chicken broth. Add chicken and broth to the pot.

In a bowl, whisk together masa harina and 2 cups of water until well blended. Pour into pot with remaining 1 cup water, enchilada sauce, Cheddar, salt, chili powder and cumin. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, or until thickened.


Sour cream
Tortilla chips/strips

Cost Breakdown:

This one’s a little tough for me to pin down because I already had everything on hand. Even the enchilada sauce was left over from making enchiladas and then freezing what I didn’t use. So in other words, I didn’t spend anything running out and buying stuff. But if I had to sit down and figure out the total, I’m guessing it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 - $10 total. And this makes a lot of soup - about 8 serving’s worth.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Showers and Showers

I knew September was going to be insane, but it truly seemed to go by in a blink of an eye. So cliché, but so true. Many doctor visits, multiple catering jobs, endless car juggling and two baby showers, not to mention trying to get a nursery in order and launching our annual fundraiser at work to buy coats for local school kids.

Needless to say, most of the cooking I did last month was not for me and mine. We ate what I was feeding everyone else.

But it was all good, everyone survived, and here it is October. And insta-Fall here in Oregon. Not two weeks ago we were all complaining marveling at our late September temperatures in the mid to upper 80s. This week it’s raining, and I think we’ll be lucky to hit 60. But I’m not complaining. This is, after all, my favorite time of the year.

I did manage to snap a few frantic pictures and will be sharing those in upcoming posts. For now, I thought I’d share the culmination of our busy month with some photos of O2’s second baby shower. She had one thrown by friends at the theater, and we had it outside in the park. Weather was beautiful. A week later we had another thrown by her best friend, and hosted by a dear friend of mine, as a ‘school friends and family’ kind of a thing (and luckily indoors as it was much chillier, and a little gloomy looking outside).

I wanted to keep the buffet fairly small and simple. Probably a good thing as we had about a third of the people we were expecting. One of my biggest peeves is people who say they’re going to attend something and then never bother to show. They seem to have zero understanding of the time and expense that is put forth on their behalf.

Anyway, I’ll save that rant for another time.

So, the buffet…

These little guys just HAD to make an appearance again, only this time they were sporting binkies and bottles…

We had some really simple umbrellas (as a nod to our ‘showers’), made from Babybel cheese and bendy straws…

I put together another fruit tureen since it was so popular at the first shower, and also a little baby buggy filled with fresh fruit…

And since I needed all of 2 pretzel rods to make the trees for the first shower cake, I opted to use the rest of them here, dip them in white chocolate and roll them in sprinkles…

Rounding out the buffet were cucumber rounds topped with a smoked salmon spread that O2 put together, as well as little canapés topped with the chicken salad recipe I stole borrowed from C after our last ‘dinner extravaganza’ (which I realize I have yet to share). We also had jalapeno popper dip and chips at the mom-to-be’s request. And E made a blue punch that we could float a little duck family in.

And since the cake itself was so popular at the first shower, I thought I’d just make the spice cake portion of it again for this shower, but this time turn it into cupcakes topped with little animal faces, which I have to say were just a blast to make. Fondant is like adult play-doh, I swear.

Spiced Cake
adapted from

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk

Sift all dry ingredients (except for sugar) onto a piece of waxed paper, or into a bowl. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350º. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and sugar. Cream together at high speed about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Alternate adding dry ingredients and the sour cream and milk until everything is incorporated.

Line 2 cupcake pans with liners (24 regular sized). Spoon batter into liners about ¾ of the way full. Bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting (I used a cream cheese frosting).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lots of Bang for the Buck

No, I haven’t fallen off the planet, so the 3 of you that read this can stop worrying!  :-)  I had back-to-back catering jobs (very challenging in my little kitchen) and a baby shower cake to put together.

Here ‘tis…

Can’t say I was terribly thrilled with the cake itself. Very moist and tasty, but not so sturdy given the drive I had to make in a hot car. But it survived. I did have fun making all of the little animals, though.

In addition to the cake, I brought along this fruit tureen, which I totally hijacked from Martha’s site. It was so popular the first time around that I actually added it as a fruit option for one of my catered breakfasts. Very healthy, and it goes together quickly, which is always an added plus!

It holds up to heat a lot better than cream cheese frosting, let me tell you.

Mixed Berry Tureen

2 cups clear juice (I used white cranberry)
½ cup sugar
2 packets plain gelatin
About 3 cups of fruit*

In a small saucepan, combine ¼ cup of the juice and the sugar. Bring to a boil and continue to cook and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat. In a small bowl, combine another ¼ cup of the juice with the gelatin. Stir until mixture is thoroughly combined.

Add the gelatin mixture to the juice in the pan. Stir until gelatin dissolves. Stir in the remaining 1 ½ cups juice.

In a loaf pan, layer the different fruits, leaving the cut sides of the strawberries (if using) facing up. Slowly pour the juice mixture over the fruit. Press fruit down slightly.

Chill for at least 3 hours. To unmold, run a knife around the edges of the loaf pan and then dip the outside of the pan in hot water for about 5 seconds. Invert onto a plate.

*My first time making this, I used about a cup of blackberries, a little less than half a cup of raspberries, and then made up the difference in strawberries slice in half. The second round I substituted chopped nectarine for the raspberries.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Frugal Fridays - That Chocolate Thing I Do

Years ago I ran across a recipe in a cookbook dedicated solely to chocolate, and it kind of became my ‘signature’ dessert. It made frequent appearances at work, as well as the theater, and soon became my go to recipe for birthday cakes. Since I’m not a big fan of frosting - most especially the sickeningly sweet stuff you see piled on store-bought cakes, I usually bake this in a bundt pan and then drizzle it with some ganache. It’s incredibly moist without being really super dense or overly rich.

At one point I brought it to a dinner party being thrown to entertain work colleagues from England. Later during their trip out, we decided to get together again, and one of them asked if I would please bring ‘that chocolate thing you do’ (naturally with a very charming British accent). From that point forward, “That Chocolate Thing You Do” became its official title.

Now I’ll impart the secret that few people know. This starts with a boxed cake mix.


I know. It’s like the skeleton in the closet. No, I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t beat my children.

But on occasion, I do use cake mixes.

I suppose I could develop something similar completely from scratch, but really, why? This is a good cake. Start with a good brand of cake mix, and you’ll be fine. You can throw it together in less than 10 minutes, and it bakes for 50. Let it cool a bit and drizzle it with chocolate. It’s very low maintenance, low cost, and a huge crowd pleaser. Even better, you can customize it. The original recipe called for Kahlua, but I’ve used Chambord to impart a raspberry flavor, Frangelico (along with a few crushed hazelnuts), and this time, Amaretto.

Now go do that chocolate thing YOU do.

That Chocolate Thing I Do

1 box chocolate cake mix (I like to use chocolate fudge, but - whatever)
1 small box chocolate pudding mix
½ cup water
¼ cup liqueur (you pick)
½ cup canola oil
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
½ package chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350º and coat a bundt cake pan with butter and flour, or cooking spray.

Empty packages of cake and pudding mixes into bowl of a stand mixer. Measure liquid ingredients and add them to the mixes. Add eggs (lightly beat them if it will make you feel better, but I rarely do) and sour cream. Turn mixer on low to combine ingredients.

Scrape sides of bowl and then turn the mixer on medium. Beat mixture for 4 minutes. Scrape sides with spatula again and then add chocolate chips.

Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake about 50 minutes, or until skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto serving platter. Cool completely before drizzling with glaze.

Chocolate Ganache

** These are just estimates of measurements. I tend to measure by eye and adjust as needed.

½ package semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp liqueur (whatever you used in the cake)
1 Tbs butter

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and place in microwave. Cook on high for 1 minute, allow to sit for about 30 seconds, then remove from microwave and stir until all ingredients are combined. If it looks like the chocolate is starting to ‘seize’, add a few tablespoons of milk and continue to stir. Drizzle about half of the mixture over cake while still warm, allow to set up a bit, and then go over with the remaining ganache.

Cost -

1 cake mix $ .89
1 pudding mix $1.09
1 package of chocolate chips $ .99
Eggs $ .55
Sour cream $ .99
Oil $ .16
Liqueur (this was a gift and didn’t cost me anything - adjust accordingly)
Milk, vanilla and butter - we’ll call it $ .33 to even everything out

Total spent - $ 5.00 (fed 12 people - 42 cents per person)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Frugal Fridays - Saving Time

As I may have mentioned, things have been crazy in Measuring Spoons Land as of late. O2 (for those of you just tuning in, that’s ‘Offspring 2’) and I sat down with the calendar to work out The Schedule for September.


Things have gotten so busy that I’m actually adding the most mundane things to my ‘to do’ lists, lest I forget things like ‘pay the orthodontist’, ‘pick up Sunday paper’, or ‘breathe’.

Luckily I have some amazing friends that have been stepping in to help.

Somewhere along the way, I had to let go of a project I was really looking forward to. With the close of Steel Magnolias coming up, I had been asked if I’d make the Bleedin’ Armadillo Cake that’s mentioned (basically, the groom’s cake for a wedding made of red velvet cake and covered in gray frosting). I was so looking forward to having fun with it, but as the day drew nearer, I realized there was just no way to make it happen.

But I didn’t want to leave them without SOMETHING, so I decided on a quicker version and made these cupcakes (same red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, but with armadillo tails). O2 and I actually had a great time with our little fondant assembly line - me rolling out tails and ‘backsides’, and her adding texture, so I could add a little more color before final assembly. It turned what would have been an 8 or 9 hour project into something completely manageable. And I hear they were well received by the cast.

And mind you, these were not all about looks. The cupcakes, while dense, were very moist, and the frosting was rich but not overly sweet.

Whether the armadillo, uh, backsides were eaten or not, I didn’t ask…

Red Velvet Cupcakes
adapted from Magnolia Bakery recipe

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 ¼ cups sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup cocoa
2 tsp red gel food coloring dissolved in ¼ cup hot water
1 ½ tsp vanilla
3 cups sifted flour
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp apple cider vinegar
1 ½ tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350º. Place 24 cupcake wrappers in cupcake tins.

In bowl of stand mixer, cream butter on medium-high until lightened in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Slowly incorporate sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, scrape down sides of bowl, and beat an additional 3 minutes.

Mix cocoa, dissolved food coloring and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Add to butter mixture.

Stir salt into buttermilk. With mixer running at low speed, add buttermilk to butter mixture 1/3 at a time, alternating with the flour.

Stir vinegar and baking soda together. Immediately add to batter. Mix thoroughly and then fill cupcake wrappers about 2/3 of the way full.

Bake for 16 - 18 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from pan and place on a rack to cool before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick (8 Tbs) unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs milk
4 cups (approximately) sifted confectioner’s sugar

Beat cream cheese and butter together at a high speed using a stand or hand-held mixer. Add salt, vanilla and milk and incorporate into the mixture. Add sugar, about ½ a cup at time, mixing well after each addition to prevent lumps, until of the desired consistency. Frost cupcakes as desired.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I have been very neglectful of the ol’ blog as of late. Let’s just say that life has been… interesting.

‘Nuf said.

Anyway, here it is September already. School has started, which seems very odd as I now have no kids to send off to school. I mean, I still have the KIDS. Just not school-age. Didn’t want you to think I banished them somewhere. But until O2 starts college in the Spring, I get a break from incessant whining about homework.

Not a bad deal.

Of course, I have to whine a bit on my own because summer seems to have finally located us here. Supposed to be up near 100 degrees today and tomorrow. So NOT ok. I know we got rid of the ‘don’t wear white after Labor Day’ rule, but I’m still holding fast to the ‘no days above 80 degrees after Labor Day’ rule, and that just got shot all to hell this week.

That means the oven does not get turned on. And so I turn to one of my favorite summer soups - gazpacho. I like the more traditional tomato one as well, but this version is particularly light. It goes together quickly, and the only thing you need to pair with it is some bread and something cold to drink.

Grape and Almond Gazpacho

2 lbs seedless green grapes
1 medium cucumber, peeled & chopped
¼ cup roasted unsalted almonds
2 coarsely chopped scallions
¼ cup rice vinegar
½ cup plain yogurt
3 oz cream cheese
¼ cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large dill sprigs, minced
Pinch of cayenne
Salt & pepper to taste

Minced chives for garnish

In a blender, combine first 9 ingredients. Blend until almost smooth. Stir in dill and cayenne, season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.

Serve in well-chilled bowls garnished with chives.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Frugal Fridays - Multitasking

I think I may have mentioned my aversion to hot weather. Hot, sticky weather is even worse. Cooking of any kind ranks pretty low on my list of things I get excited about when the temperature gets about 85º. But when I landed another catering job at work this week, I found myself standing over a hot oven with the temperature outside a whopping 91º and the humidity level… well, I don’t even want to know what it was.

And so to minimize, even slightly, the amount of time spent sweating through food prep, I decided to buy enough extra to eat off of one of the salads I was preparing. At least dinner would be taken care of.

This salad is light but filling, and paired with a little baguette smeared with butter and sprinkled with a bit of sea salt, made for a very satisfactory dinner.

Greek Orzo Shrimp Salad
Adapted from Wives with Knives

1 red bell pepper
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
¾ lb orzo pasta
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and chopped
½ cup Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2 scallions, finely sliced
½ lb peeled shrimp
2 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs white wine
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp dill
3 Tbs course ground Dijon
1 cup crumbled Feta

Line a small baking sheet with foil and add the bell pepper and tomatoes. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the tomatoes and cover loosely with one end of the aluminum foil, leaving the bell pepper exposed. Place under broiler and scorch the pepper on each side, turning once each side is blackened. Remove from oven and place the pepper and tomatoes in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to steam for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil to keep from sticking. Place in serving bowl and allow to cool.

In a skillet over medium, heat 2 Tbs of olive oil. Add pepper flakes and garlic, cooking and stirring for a minute, or just until garlic begins to soften. Add shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Allow to cook until shrimp begins to brown on one side. Flip over and cook for about another 30 seconds. Add 2 Tbs white wine and cook just until wine evaporates. Add shrimp to the pasta.

Peel the skin from the bell pepper, remove seeds and cut into strips (I only used about half of the pepper and saved the remainder for another time). Add to pasta and shrimp, along with the tomatoes, cucumber, olives and scallions. Stir to combine.

In a jar, or another small container with a lid, combine the ½ cup olive oil, white wine vinegar, dill and Dijon. Season with salt and pepper. Place lid on container and shake vigorously until the mixture has emulsified.

Sprinkle Feta cheese over pasta and pour vinaigrette over the top. Stir just until combined.

Cost Breakdown:

Bell pepper - $ .99
Tomatoes - $1.50
Orzo - free (see what a good coupon shopper I am??)
Cucumber - $ .75
Olives - $2.00
Scallions - $ .11
Shrimp - $2.50 (another sale item)
Seasonings, etc - $ .60 (guesstimate)
Feta - $1.00 (on sale)
Baguette - $2.49

Total for enough to feed 4 people - $11.94, or $2.99 per serving

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No Grill? No Problem!

I may get run out of Blogland on a rail for saying this but my personal opinion is that if you’re not grilling over an actual fire, then it doesn’t really matter how your BBQ is being prepared. Gas just doesn’t cut it in my book. I mean, it’s a fine method of cooking, especially in hot weather when you don’t want to heat up your entire house, but taste-wise? I guess what I’m saying is that I really don’t see a difference between something cooked on a gas barbecue grill and the same thing cooked, say, in the oven.

Case in point…

I picked up a rack of baby backs but just basically wanted to throw them together and then forget all about them so I could do other things. This method is perfect for that and the results are fall-off-the-bone good.

I was able to toss these in the oven right after lunch and didn’t touch them again until dinner. To make things even simpler, I also threw some potatoes in the oven to roast at the same time. Once they were cooked through, I just pulled them out, covered them up, and when it was time to actually get dinner thrown together, I put them back in at a higher temperature to brown. Nothing could be simpler.

Oven Barbecued Ribs

1 rack baby back ribs (about 3 lbs)
1 ½ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp celery salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ancho chile powder
2 Tbs brown sugar
¼ cup hard cider (or a light ale)

Barbecue Sauce (I used this)

Heat oven to 250º. In a small bowl, combine all seasonings and the sugar. Mix well. Lay out a strip of aluminum foil about 6” longer than your rack of ribs. Lay ribs on top of foil and sprinkle with half of the seasoning. Rub the seasoning into the meat until well coated. Flip ribs over and repeat with the remaining seasoning. Pour cider over the ribs and top with another piece of foil. Seal tightly all around. Place in oven.

Allow to cook 4 hours. Remove from oven.

Turn oven up to 425º. Remove the top layer of foil from the ribs. Coat with barbecue sauce and return to oven when it has heated. Allow to cook about 15 minutes, or just until barbecue sauce begins to caramelize.

* * *

I wanted a couple of really simple sides to go with the ribs. As I mentioned, I roasted some potatoes with the ribs and browned them at the higher oven temperature after adding the barbecue sauce to the meat.

While that was cooking, I put together a quick sautéed cabbage using some of the hard cider left from cooking the ribs (and I have a bit of a confession… since the barbecue sauce calls for apple juice… well, you wouldn’t want me to let the stuff go to waste, now, would you?).

Sautéed Cabbage

3 slices bacon
1 Tbs olive oil
½ head green cabbage, sliced into thin strips
½ sweet onion (you can substitute a yellow onion, of course), thinly sliced
½ tsp celery salt
½ tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp black pepper
½ cup hard cider

Cook bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove from skillet, leaving the bacon drippings. Add olive oil and onions. Cook over medium heat until onions are translucent and begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add cabbage and seasonings.

Cook, stirring frequently, until cabbage has begun to soften, about 5 minutes. Add cider and continue to cook another 5 minutes until the cider has evaporated and cabbage is cooked through.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shakespeare Says...

Go check out some of these local offerings in our theater community!

Albany Civic Theater - Steel Magnolias

Directed by Christi Sears

August 19, 20, 26, 27, 28(m), September 1, 2, 3, 2011

Majestic Theatre - A Grand Night for Singing
Directed by Brad Townsend

August 19, 20, 21(m), 25, 26, 27, 28(m), 2011

Pentacle Theatre - Brigadoon
Directed by Jeffery Witt

August 26, 27, 28(m), 31, September 1, 2, 3, 4(m), 7, 8, 9, 10, 11(m), 13, 14, 15,16, 17

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Is it Breakfast? Or Dessert?

I was going to lead this off by saying that we don’t really eat a lot of peanut butter at my house. But, of course, as I’m typing this, O2 has a plate of graham crackers smeared in marshmallow fluff and, you guessed it… peanut butter.


Anyway, both kids have been doing a lot of camping this summer, so I seem to have a constant supply of s’mores fixings on hand. With that in the back of my head, it only seemed natural that when I ran across this on another blog (sorry, don’t remember which one), I thought, “I could do that”.

So, how does this all tie in to peanut butter? Well, I for one, don’t like the stuff. And as a matter of fact, one of my biggest pet peeves (and oh, there are many of them) is finding a spoon or knife that has been used in the peanut butter jar and then just tossed in the sink.

Because the smell of wet peanut butter initiates an instant gag reflex in me. Truly, nasty, nasty stuff.

But I digress…

My substitute for peanut butter happens to be Nutella. Or a chocolate/hazelnut/vanilla concoction that I buy from time to time. And that’s what I used here.

Basically, this is a ‘stuffed’ French toast. I used a decent quality sourdough, spread one half with the hazelnut spread and the other half with marshmallow fluff. Then I dipped the sandwich in my standard French toast mix, dipped it in crushed graham crackers and fried in butter.

It was really, really good.

And lest you think I’m a terrible mother feeding her children butter and sugar for dinner, I did offer up a very nice little frittata to go along with this. But that’s just how I roll.

So, I guess the question is whether this is more of a dessert or a breakfast?

I suppose the answer to that is ‘Who cares??!!’

S’mores French Toast

6 slices firm bread
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 - 1 ½ cups crushed graham crackers
Marshmallow fluff (crème, whatever term you use)
Nutella (or vanilla/hazelnut spread)
2 Tbs butter

In a shallow bowl or pie plate, beat the eggs. Add milk, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Pour the graham cracker crumbs in another bowl.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add butter. Allow it to melt and then begin to bubble.

Spread one slice of bread with marshmallow fluff and another slice with Nutella. Put the two pieces together and dip in egg mixture. When bread is saturated on each side, dip in graham cracker crumbs.

Place sandwich in skillet and cook until it is browned on one side, 3 - 4 minutes. Flip over and cook other side just until golden.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Upscale White Trash - Pt 1

First off, if you feel the need to send me an email chastising me for my choice of wording… don’t. We weren’t making fun of your Aunt Sally’s beloved casserole that she brings to every family gathering. In fact, that was kind of the point of the entire exercise - recreating standards. There was also no snobbery involved in the making of this dinner. But there were a lot of tongue-in-cheek chuckles.

So… for this month’s culinary adventure, Carley and I decided on ‘Upscale White Trash’ - basically elevating those ubiquitous dishes that we see pop up at every potluck table. You know what they are, and don’t pretend that you haven’t brought one at some point. I, for one, have made my share of Velveeta Cheese Dip (as my sister pointed out to me). And really, given how much they charge for that particular cheese ‘product’, if we were simply making fun of ‘cheap’ food, I don’t think that would even qualify. What we were doing was having a little fun with some ‘standards’.

Carley even found this, which is hilarious reading…

On the menu:

Wine Coolers (Strawberry Watermelon Spritzers)
French Onion Dip (Caramelized Onion Dip with Parmesan Thyme Crackers)
Mac & Cheese (Souffléd Pasta & Cheese)
Tater Tots (Sweet Potato ‘Tots’)
Cole Slaw
Chili Cheese Fries (Polenta Fries with Chorizo Chili, Queso Fresco and Lime Crema)
Beans and Wieners (Cassoulet)
Green Bean Casserole
Fried Pies (Mixed Berry Hand Pies)
Twinkies (Brandy Almond Pound Cakes with Pastry Cream)

Having grown up in a ‘dry’ county, making a run to the store for a bottle of wine, or something with a bit more bite (not really beer drinkers in my clan), involved a LITTLE more than running down to the corner market. And I wouldn’t exactly say that our selection would necessarily make it into the Top 100 of Wine Spectator. Personally, I remember a lot of Boone’s Farm and wine coolers around our house.

And thus, our cocktail for the evening:

Strawberry Watermelon Spritzers

3 cups watermelon, seeds removed and cut into chunks
2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved
2 Tbs sugar
Pinch of salt
Vodka (I only had vanilla vodka on hand, but it did the trick just fine)
Prosecco (you can also substitute champagne, of course), well chilled

Combine watermelon, strawberries, sugar and salt in a blender. Use the pulse setting to break the chunks down a bit and then puree until smooth.

To assemble: Pour about 2 - 3 Tbs of the puree into the bottom of a glass. Add ½ a jigger of vodka and fill with prosecco.

Straw is optional.

* * *

I did want to bring a dip to the party, but rather than recreating a Rotel dip, I decided to tackle that good ol’ party staple, French onion dip. You know, the kind where you dump a packet of dehydrated onions and seasonings into a tub of sour cream, stir and serve? Well, this involves a bit more work, but trust me, it’s well worth it.

I also thought it would be fun to make some crackers to go with it. I’ll have to say that I’m going to be using this recipe time and time again and just changing the toppings. You can roll this stuff paper thin (and you’ll want to in order to get nice, crunchy crackers), and it’s still easy to handle.

Caramelized Onion Dip
Adapted from recipe by Ina Garten

1 Walla Walla or Vidalia sweet onion, halved and cut into paper thin strips
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayo with olive oil

Heat butter and oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and thyme. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until onions turn golden, about another 10 - 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, sour cream and mayo, stirring until well combined and no lumps remain. Add the onion mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes or so. Serve with chips or crackers.

Parmesan Thyme Crackers

1 1/2 cups semolina flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp dried thyme, crushed
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flours and salt. Turn mixer on low and slowly pour in the water and then the olive oil. Mix just until combined, then increase the speed to medium and mix for another 5 minutes. Remove dough to lightly floured surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. Pour a little olive oil on your hands and roll each piece into a ball and place on a plate. Cover and let rest for about 45 minutes at room temperature.

Heat oven to 450º. Sprinkle baking sheets with additional semolina. Roll each piece out into very thin pieces (about the thickness of a crepe - VERY thin!). Sprinkle with thyme and roll again to embed the thyme into the crackers. Place each piece on prepared sheets (you can place them almost touching). Sprinkle with a thin layer of Parmesan and place in oven. Bake for about 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove to a cooling rack, cool completely, and then break them into individual crackers.

* * *

Carley put together a macaroni and cheese soufflé, and we had truffle oil as an optional topping. She also put together a cole slaw, but it included fresh green beans, raisins, and walnuts. It was so good!

I have to say, though, that our hands-down favorite for the night were these sweet potato ‘tater tots’ she put together. It was just impossible to keep away from them! They were wonderfully crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. These are definitely going to have to show up again!

Sweet Potato ‘Tots’

1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup flour, plus additional for coating
2 large eggs
¾ lbs sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
½ lb yams, peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp hazelnut oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Canola oil for frying

Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup flour; stir over medium-high heat until mixture pulls away from edges of pan, about 1 minute. Transfer to a medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat dough 3 minutes (or use a stand mixer). Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well between additions. Measure 1 1/2 cups dough and reserve (discard any remaining dough).

Place potatoes in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Boil until tender, about 15 - 20 minutes. Drain. Press potatoes through ricer or food mill into a large bowl (or run through food processor on ‘pulse’ setting. Add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved dough, hazelnut oil, salt, and white pepper. Beat dough on low speed to blend.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer dough to pastry bag fitted with 3/4-inch-diameter plain tip. Pipe dough in logs onto prepared sheet. Freeze until firm but not frozen, about 1 hour. Cut logs into 1 1/4-inch-long pieces. Toss in flour, return to sheet, cover, and freeze completely (can be made 1 week ahead. Store in airtight container; keep frozen).

Pour enough oil into large saucepan to measure depth of 2 inches. Heat oil to 350°F. Working in batches, cook frozen potato pieces until cooked through and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

Carley's Mixed Berry Pies

Upscale White Trash - Pt 2

Next up for our Upscale White Trash dinner was my remake of something that holds a special place in my heart - Chili Cheese Fries. In the little town where I grew up, we had this little diner just outside of town where they served thin French fries cooked crispy and topped with chili (no beans, thank you very much) and loads of cheese. It’s amazing any of us saw our 20th birthdays.

Anyway, I was kind of torn between that and a remake of a Frito pie (same basic principle), so I kind of combined the two and made polenta fries but topped them with a south-of-the-border style chili, some crumbled queso fresco and a little bit of lime crema.

Polenta Fries

3 ¼ cups water
1 cup polenta
1 tsp salt
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus additional)
2 Tbs butter

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan cheese.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and slowly stir in the polenta. Allow to cook, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and butter.

Pour evenly onto prepared baking pan. Using a spatula, spread into an even rectangle, about ¼ to ½” deep. Allow to cool for at least an hour, then cut into ‘fries’ about ½” wide by 5” long. Place fries onto another baking sheet, giving a little space in between each.

Preheat oven to 400º. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

Chorizo Chili

2 Tbs canola oil
1 serrano chile pepper, stemmed and seeded
1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cocoa/chile blend (optional)
Salt & pepper to taste
1 lb top sirloin steak, chopped into small cubes
½ lb chorizo, casings removed
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 cup beef stock
1 bottle Mexican beer, divided
¼ cup masa

In a soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the Serrano, garlic, bay leaf, cumin, oregano and chile blend. Cook and stir another minute or so and then remove to a small bowl.

In the same pot, add a little more oil and allow to become hot. Season steak with salt & pepper and add it to the pot. Stir until meat browns, then add chorizo. Cook and stir until chorizo is cooked through. Add onion mixture back into pot. Deglaze pan with about half of the bottle of beer, loosening up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste and beef stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for about an hour, adding more beef stock if necessary.

To thicken, stir a bit of beer into the masa to form a thin paste. Slowly stir into chili until it is the desired thickness.

To assemble: Pour chili over polenta fries and sprinkle with queso fresco. To make the crema, combine about 1 cup of sour cream with the zest and juice of half of a lime.

* * *

So, I may have mentioned that I don’t eat beans, with the exception of green beans. FRESH green beans. Won’t eat them out of a can, thank you very much. Growing up in Arkansas on a farm, I can’t tell you how many times I got on the phone begging one friend or another to let me come over to their house because my mom was whipping up a pot of beans and hamhocks.

I can’t even stomach the smell of the stuff. And yet Offspring 2 managed to develop a love of pretty much any kind of bean.


Anyway, given my healthy loathing of the things, it only seemed natural that I should take them on for this meal. And that little bit of French I have buried in my family tree demanded that I do a cassoulet.

O2 thought it was wonderful.

I’ll just take her word for it.

Sausage Cassoulet

2 slices bacon
2 smoked sausages (I used English bangers), cut into 1” chunks
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ large apple, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, removed from stem and chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
¼ cup white wine
2 15 oz. cans Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth

1 baguette, cut into 1” slices
Olive oil
1 large garlic clove

In a large skillet, cook bacon until beginning to crisp. Remove from pan, leaving drippings, and chop. Add sausage to pan and cook until browned. Set aside with bacon. Add onions, carrots, celery and apples to pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions have softened. Add rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Continue to cook and stir until carrots have almost cooked through. Deglaze pan with white wine.

Add beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and chicken broth to pan. Add the bacon and sausage and stir until everything is combined.

Heat oven to 350º. Pour cassoulet mixture into a casserole dish, cover with aluminum foil. Bake cassoulet for 30 minutes.

Serve with baguette slices that have been drizzled with olive oil and baked in oven until brown and then rubbed with fresh garlic.

* * *

So, how many of us are guilty of dumping a can of cream of mushroom soup over a couple of cans of green beans, topping it with fried onions out of a can and tossing it in the oven.

Nope, can’t say I’m guilty of this one (see the bean thing). Not that I’m casting stones, but there has never been anything about this dish that I’ve found in the slightest bit appealing.

But I do love a challenge.

And since my paltry little sun-starved garden has actually been producing some green beans, I thought I’d try my hand at this, and let me tell you. It was good. Really good.

I actually used some of the onions from my dip for this, so I saved a step.

Green Bean Casserole

½ sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbs butter
½ Tbs olive oil
¼ - ½ lb mushrooms (I used oyster, but you can substitute whatever you want), sliced
1 lb green beans, washed and trimmed
2 Tbs flour
¼ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup crème fraîche*

1 Tbs butter, melted
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Heat butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until onion begins to caramelize, about 10 - 15 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the green beans (you may want to drizzle with another ½ Tbs of olive oil) and allow to cook with the other ingredients for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Heat oven to 375º.

Sprinkle flour over the beans, stir to combine, and then add the wine. Cook until the wine simmers and begins to thicken, then stir in chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in crème fraîche, and stir until it is evenly distributed throughout. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Pour mixture into a casserole dish and top with bread crumbs that have been mixed with 1 Tbs of melted butter. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, or until beans are cooked through and bread crumbs are golden and crispy (if the topping is cooking too fast, just add a layer of aluminum foil loosely over the dish).

*Save yourself a lot of money by making your own crème fraîche. Combine a half pint container of whipping cream with 2 Tbs buttermilk, stir to combine, cover and leave at room temperature for 8 - 12 hours, or until thickened.

* * *

My dessert was definitely VERY tongue-in-cheek. And you can certainly doll it up any way you’d like. Some kind of crushed praline sounds really terrific to me, since I’m not a huge berry fan (although I will have to say that the hand pies that Carley made were VERY good - maybe I should amend that to I’m not much of an uncooked berry person).

Anyway, this was much easier than you might think. I simply baked the cakes in a mini-loaf pan, then rounded the sides and ends to give them more of a ‘Twinkie’ look.

As for getting the filling INTO the Twinkies, it involves a very special tool.

One bendy straw.

I basically poked the straw through the cake from end to end several times, opening up a little cavity, and then I made 3 holes through the bottom of each cake to make sure that the pastry cream got all the way through to the middle.

I didn’t want to dress these up much, so I just sprinkled them with a little powdered sugar/cocoa blend.

They were incredibly fun.

Brandy and Almond Pound Cakes

4 eggs, separated
1¼ cup sugar, divided
16 Tbs (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tbs brandy
½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups cake flour

Heat oven to 350º. Butter and flour a loaf pan (or 4 mini pans).

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a medium-sized mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until they form soft peaks. With the mixer on medium-high speed, gradually add ½ cup of sugar. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until mixture is glossy and holds stiff peaks. Remove beaten whites to another bowl.

Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and add the butter. Add remaining ¾ cup sugar and beat on medium speed until the butter is soft and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the egg yolks, one at a time and continue beating another 2 - 3 minutes. Add salt, then the brandy and the extracts, beating just until combined.

Reduce speed to low and slowly pour in flour, stirring just until incorporated into the mixture. Add half of the beaten egg whites and fold in until evenly dispersed. Repeat with the rest of the egg whites. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 45-60 minutes (depending on the size of your pan). Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then loosen the cake from the edges of the pan. Invert the pan onto the wire rack, then turn it right-side up and cool to room temperature.

Pastry Cream

¼ cup milk
¾ cup plus 2 Tbs half and half
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tbs cornstarch
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise

In medium bowl, whisk together milk, egg yolks, 3 Tbs sugar, and cornstarch.

Add half and half to a medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add pod. Sprinkle remaining 2 Tbs sugar over, letting sugar sink undisturbed to bottom. Set pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.

Whisk hot mixture, then gradually whisk into egg yolk mixture. Return to saucepan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until pastry cream simmers and thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, discard vanilla pod, and whisk cream until smooth. Transfer to bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto surface. Chill until cold, about 2 hours.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Frugal Fridays - Summer Salad!

It seems that summer has come at last to Oregon. Given what some of my friends east of here have been going through, I’m not going to toss up too many complaints about our belated warm weather. Still, it is nice to break 80 now and again.

There does seem to be a temperature threshold for me when I become unwilling to cook, especially when it involves turning on any heat element of the stove. It usually happens when the temperature inside the house reaches 80 or so. Luckily, I haven’t quite reached that just yet.

But I did decide that rather than spending tons of time inside preparing a meal, I would spend the time OUTSIDE eating one, and so I opted to grab a rotisserie chicken (yes, the old standby) and turn it into a quick salad. I also had some pencil-sized asparagus that needed to be used up, and I thought I’d ramp up the flavor a bit by adding a compound butter - in this case one with garlic and saffron in it. The floral notes in the saffron blended well with the sun-dried tomato and herbs in the chicken.

I even discovered that while I wasn’t looking, my little bean plant was beginning to produce beans, even though it hasn’t been getting very big. But if I hadn’t been sitting there enjoying some quiet, I probably wouldn’t have even thought to check it.

Now if only the tomatoes would grow.

Cost breakdown:

½ Chicken (I was just feeding two of us) - $3.99
½ head of lettuce - .50
Olives, herbs and sun-dried tomatoes - $2.00
½ bundle of asparagus - $1.25
Parmesan cheese - $ .75
Butter - $ .32
Garlic and herbs - $ .15

Total: $8.96 ($4.48 per person)

As you can see, although it was still an economical meal, the ‘frugality’ here was more in time savings than anything else.

Putting it all together:

Pan-fried Asparagus with Garlic Saffron Butter

½ lb asparagus spears (I used the pencil-thin variety, which cooked quickly), washed and patted dry
½ Tbs olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup white wine

½ stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
1 clove garlic
A small pinch of saffron (this goes a long way - 3 or 4 strands will do you)

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, and when it is heated, add asparagus in a shallow layer. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus begins to brown in spots. Add the white wine, cover with a lid, and allow to cook 3 or 4 minutes, or just until crisp-tender (don’t overcook). Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, roughly chop garlic on a cutting board. Sprinkle with saffron and salt, and make a paste by dragging the side of a knife across the garlic and seasonings.

Toss with warm asparagus.

Italian Chicken Salad

½ rotisserie chicken, meat removed (about 2 cups)
½ cup mayo with olive oil
2 Tbs sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
2 Tbs fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade
1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
½ cup Kalamata olives
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese**

Heat oven to 400º. Cover a small baking pan with foil. Place olives on the baking pan, season with salt and pepper and roast in oven for about 10 minutes. Remove olives from pan and set aside to cool. In the same pan, divide Parmesan in two equal portion, spreading out into a thin layer and leaving about an inch of space between the two portions. Return pan to the oven and allow the cheese to cook just until it turns golden, about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool (the rounds will crisp up as they cool).

In a mixing bowl, combine chicken, mayo, tomatoes and herbs. Stir to combine. Chop the cooled Kalamata olives and add to the chicken mixture (the salt from the olives and chicken should be sufficient, but taste for seasoning).

Serve over lettuce drizzled with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, if desired, and garnish with Parmesan crisp.

** As you can see from the picture, I didn’t have a pretty Parmesan crisp. I grabbed the wrong container of Parmesan, and the grated version had to be scraped off the foil. So I used it to sprinkle over the top instead. Same flavor, just not as pretty.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It's a Wrap!

Had another catering gig at work and was given very little in the way of direction for food. Basically what I got was “Oh, they’re healthy eaters. Just make… whatever”.

Uh… ok.

Since this is the same group I had catered for twice before, I figured they’d be getting tired of the ol’ Build Your Own Sandwich spread plus salads, so I figured I’d give them something with a bit more grab n’ go appeal. And although wraps seems so cliché, that was really the best option I could come up with given the VERY limited space I was dealing with.

Now I had every intention of getting some photos of the finished salads I put together once I had done the last minute ‘dolling up’ of them, but alas, when the time came, it was just a crunch to get everything together and delivered with minimal interruption to a meeting in progress.

But I made a super simple caprese quinoa salad using the basic premise for caprese salad (some heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and basil) tossed in with your basic cooked quinoa and then topped with a balsamic reduction. Seemed to be quite popular. I also made a Chinese chicken salad (your typical ramen noodle/cabbage/chicken thing, only sugar-free). As an accompaniment to the salads, I made some very pretty little whole wheat rolls, which of course you’re just going to have to take my word on since I was a dope and didn’t snap photos.

I made a large platter of wraps, and naturally, the ones that went together the quickest were the ones that actually flew off the tray. But I can’t say there was anything complicated about any of them.

They had:

Veggie Wraps with Herbed Cheese

6 spinach tortillas/wraps
1 container Boursin cheese
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 orange bell pepper, cut into strips
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into strips
3 cups (roughly) rinsed and dried baby spinach leaves
1 ½ cups (roughly) shredded carrots
Salt & pepper to taste

Divide the cheese into 6 equal parts and spread on each tortilla to within about 1/2” of the edges. Top the cheese with a layer of spinach and then a layer of carrots. Arrange bell pepper strips and cucumber facing the same direction (parallel to the edge you plan to start rolling up), and season with salt and pepper. Bring in the two sides of the tortilla about ¾” and then roll up the tortilla, beginning with the end closest to you. Press down slightly to ‘set’ it. Cut in half.

Southwest Chicken Rolls

1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded
1 cup sour cream
3 Tbs fresh lime juice
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp paprika
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
½ can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 ear corn
Olive oil
1 avocado, thinly sliced
3 -4 slices lavash bread

Brush olive oil on corn and place in a pre-heated grill pan (or on a charcoal grill, or even in a cast-iron skillet - you get the picture). Cook at medium-high heat on each side until kernels are slightly charred. Add ½ cup of water and cover, cooking until kernels are tender, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely and then cut kernels from cob.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken meat, sour cream, lime, seasonings, beans and vegetables. Stir to combine.

Divide mixture and spread evenly across each slice of bread, spreading all the way out to 3 of the sides and leaving about ½” of space on the side furthest from you. Top with avocado.

Beginning with side nearest you, make a tight roll, ‘tucking in’ any filling that spills out the side. Press together gently to seal. Cut into 2” slices.

* * *

I also had Cuban Sandwich Wraps, which don’t really warrant a recipe. Basically, I spread course mustard on wheat tortillas, topped with provolone and uncured ham (couldn’t find pork deli meat where I went), laid dill pickle spears down the center, and rolled them up. Pretty basic stuff.

In addition to the above, I had a couple of different chips options (kettle and veggie) as well as a couple of cookie trays. I went with the much-requested Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, as well as these Peanut Butter Cookies. And while I couldn’t tell you how they tasted (bad chef - but I’m really not a fan of peanut butter), I can tell you that they were inhaled. Always a good sign.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling
½ cup light brown sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 large egg, room temperature
1½ cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add peanut butter and cream until fully combined, about 1 minute. Add egg and mix until fully incorporated.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; add to wet ingredients and mix just until dough comes together. Roll dough into 1 1/2" balls, roll in sugar and place on cookie sheet, about 2" apart. Using a fork, press the tops of the cookies, creating a criss-cross pattern.

Bake cookies for 13 - 14 minutes, until golden. Allow cookies to cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.