Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Treats: Cranberry Upside-Down Cake with Cognac Whipped Cream

A few years ago we hosted Christmas for the first time, and I served this cake.

It. was. A.MAZ.ING!!! It's best warm, so if possible, make it the day of, between dinner and dessert. I know that sounds like a pain, but I combined all the dry ingredients in a ziplock bag ahead of time, so all I had to do was mix it up and bake it, and it actually was not at all stressful.

And SOOOOO worth it!!

This only makes an 8-inch square cake, so if you're having large crowd, you may want to double it and make 2, or you could try making one in a 9 x 13 pan, but you'd probably have to adjust the cooking time.

2 tablespoons butter, melted
Cooking spray
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup fat-free milk
2 large egg whites

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon cognac

Preheat oven to 350°.

Pour melted butter into an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake at 350° for 2 minutes. Remove from oven, and top with pecans and cranberries.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; stir with whisk.

Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

Add flour mixture and milk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix after each addition. Beat the egg whites with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form using clean, dry beaters; fold into batter. This part is important--if you don't beat the eggs enough the cake will be too dense.

Spread batter over cranberries. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Loosen edges of cake with a sharp knife. Place a plate upside down on top of cake pan; invert onto plate.

Combine whipping cream and cognac in medium bowl and beat until whipped cream reaches the desired consistency. Serve with warm cake. Do NOT skip this part!!

The original recipe had people just combine cognac and frozen whipped topping, but I do not believe in this stuff. Real whipped cream is absolutely worth it, and pretty easy if you have a mixer.

I can't wait until Christmas so I can have this again!!

Christmas Treats: Pumpkin Cake Roll

I began making this delicious treat right after I got married. Both my grandmother and my husband's grandmother bought me subscriptions to Taste of Home magazine, and this was in one of them. It freezes really well, so it's easy to make ahead and just remove from the freezer whenever needed. (It will keep in the freezer up to 3 months!)

3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Additional confectioners' sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 375.

Line a 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan with waxed paper; grease the paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat egg yolks on high speed until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and pumpkin, beating on high until sugar is almost dissolved.

In a small bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold into egg yolk mixture.

Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; gently fold into pumpkin mixture. Spread into prepared pan.

Bake at 375° for 12-15 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched.

Cool for 5 minutes.

Turn cake onto a clean kitchen towel dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Gently peel off waxed paper. Roll up cake in the towel jelly-roll style, starting with a short side (the towel will end up inside the cake--it's ok). Cool completely on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, confectioners' sugar and vanilla until smooth.

Unroll cake; spread filling evenly to within 1/2 in. of edges. Roll up again. Before serving, dust with powdered sugar (optional, but it looks pretty).

You can eat this right away, or chill it in the fridge to eat later that day. OR you can freeze it.

Freezing instructions: Cover and freeze until firm. Remove from the freezer 15 minutes before cutting.

Christmas Treats: Peppermint Snowball Cookies

I've been making these for several years, and they're always a big hit. I also like them because it's easy to have kids help with them. They can roll the cookies into balls and then help with the candy and peppermint once they've cooled. Rich and crumbly with a cool kick of peppermint, these cookies are delicious!

2 cups butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans
8 ounces white candy coating, coarsely chopped, or white chocolate chips
1/3 to 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy (I put mine in a little food processor) You could probably also just melt peppermint kisses and dip the cookies in those, but they wouldn't look as pretty.

In a large bowl, cream butter and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add flour and mix well. Stir in pecans. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours or until easy to handle.

Roll into 1-in. balls. Place 2 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

In a microwave, melt candy coating/white chocolate; stir.

Dip the top of each cookie into the candy coating; allow excess to drip off. Dip into peppermint candy. Place on waxed paper; let stand until set.

This should make about 5 dozen cookies.

Christmas Treats: Pretzel Turtle Bites

This is by far the easiest candy ever. It's also delicious. The salt on the pretzel plus caramel and chocolate is divine, and the pecan on top just rounds it out perfectly. Great for those with little helpers because there's so much they can do!

rolo candies
small pretzels (with salt!)
pecan halves

You need one of each of the above per piece of candy, so get however many you want to make.

Preheat the oven to 250 and line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Do not skip the aluminum foil!

Place pretzels on foil. Unwrap rolos and place one on top of each pretzel.

Heat in oven for 4 minutes. Rolos will retain their original shapes.

Place a pecan half on top of each rolo and squish it down into the pretzel.

Repeat for as many candies as you're making.

Cool until caramel and chocolate harden.


Kids can unwrap rolos, place them on the pretzels, and even do the squishing!

I hear that you can use a peanut m&m if you don't like pecans, although I've never tried it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chicken Cutlets Milanese with Butter Beans and Gnocchi

I think this came from a Rachel Ray magazine. I'm trying to make some of the recipes I have in my no-cookbook recipe stand, and this was on the list, so we had it tonight. I have to say, I thought it was tasty and easy (and fast), which makes for a good weeknight meal in my book. And it was pretty. I even had The Big Geek take a picture, which hardly ever happens around here.

Two 8-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I cooked 3 breasts, but they were from a package so I don't know their individual weights)
2/3 cup instant polenta or cornmeal
3/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese (I believe mine was just Parmesan, but I am not positive. I didn't have quite enough grated so I used shredded for the gnocchi.)
Flour, for dredging (about a handful)
1 large egg
2 Tbsp EVOO, plus more for drizzling (add a Tbsp for every additional breast you cook)
12 oz gnocchi pasta
3 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
One 15-oz can butter beans, drained and rinsed
2 springs rosemary, leaves chopped (or some dried rosemary--maybe 1 tsp?)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (I forgot to halve them, then thought, "this would be better if the tomatoes were halved")
2 cups arugula leaves
Juice of one lemon

First, fill a large pot with water and put it on the stove to boil.

While that's warming up, place the chicken breasts on a work survace and, slicking with a knife parallel to the chicken, cut in half to make 4 cutlets. Pound the cutlets between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.

On a plate (or in a shallow dish, like a pie plate), combine the polenta with half of the cheese. Fill another plate with flour. In a shallow bowl, beat the egg with a splash of water. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Set up your assembly line: chicken, flour, egg, polenta mixture, clean plate.

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp EVOO over medium-high heat.

Dredge each cutlet in the flour, then the egg, then the polenta mixture.

About this time your water is probably boiling. Add the gnocchi to the boiling water (salt the water).

Place 2 cutlets in the heated skillet and cook, turning once, until crisp and golden, 6 to 7 minutes.

Before these are done, your gnocchi will be floating. Drain them into a bowl and return the empty pasta pot to the stove. Place the butter in the pasta pot and melt over low heat.

While that's melting, remove the first cutlets, add another Tbsp of EVOO, and put 2 more cutlets into the skillet.

Stir the butter beans and rosemary into the melted butter. Add the gnocchi adn remaining cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Flip your 2nd batch of cutlets and, when cooked, remove them from the skillet. If you're cooking more, add another Tbsp EVOO and repeat.

In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with the arugula, lemon juice, and a drizzle of EVOO. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, place cutlet on plate. Top with the salad and serve butter beans and gnocchi on the side.


This would have been good with white wine. Damn, why am I only just thinking of that??

The little geek and baby geek liked the gnocchi and chicken. Actually, so did The Big Geek. He thought the butter beans were "chalky" and he doesn't like cherry tomatoes. I, however, thought the entire thing was delicious. I'm sure we'll have it again, and they can just pick around the butter beans.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Baked Ziti with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Smoked Gouda

In an attempt to make up of our night of consuming melted cheese and chocolate for dinner, I decided to go with a Cooking Light recipe tonight. This is quick and easy and could be prepped ahead of time and then popped in the oven about 20-30 minutes before dinner, plus it contains lots of good stuff. Quantities listed are what the recipe says; quantities in parenthesis are what I actually used.

8 oz uncooked ziti
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (1 small)
1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper (2 peppers)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 14.5 oz cans diced tomaotes with basil, garlic, and oregano OR 2 cans tomatoes plus Italian seasoning/basil/oregano to taste
4 cups baby spinach (1 bag or approx 12 cups--yes, I know, that seems like a lot, but it wilts and I'm sneaking spinach into my family's diet. It's noticeable, of course, but they don't realize how much of it they're eating)
1 1/4 cups (5 oz) shredded, smoked Gouda cheese, divided. If you don't like the smoke taste you can use regular Gouda, or you can use a different kind of smoked cheese like smoked cheddar, but the smoked Gouda is yummy.

Preheat oven to 375.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil.

Add onion and pepper. Saute 5 minutes. Add garlic to pan, saute 2 minutes or until onion is tender.

Stir in tomatoes (and seasoning if needed) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add spinach, one handful at a time. Cook until spinach wilts and repeat until all desired spinach has been added.

Remove from heat. Add pasta and 1 cup cheese to tomato mixture, tossing well to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown.

Even the Big Geek, who is a huge carnivore, likes this. And, as I said, he has no clue how much spinach he's eating.

Of course, I realized tonight that he also didn't know that ziti was pasta. He acted like he didn't know what I was making when I mentioned the plan for dinner, and then at the table I asked if he remembered having it before.

"Yeah, but you didn't mention the pasta before."

"Ziti IS pasta."


So he learned something, we all had a nice dinner, and everyone ate his or her spinach for the day. :)

German Cheddar and Beer Fondue

If you don't own a fondue pot, you should. In fact, it wouldn't hurt you to own a few. I have one with a pot made of enameled cast iron, but at a fondue party we hosted a guest brought one that had a metal outer pot for water and an inner pot made of ceramic (basically a double boiler). I'm going to find out what kind it is and get one of those, because it worked really nicely.

Anyhow, if you've never had fondue, you are missing out. Yes, I know, you're basically eating cheese for dinner, but man, is it delicious. Don't fix it every night if you're trying to eat a low-fat diet. At least it's low-carb (depending on what you dip). . .

At our party, we made two cheese fondues. One was a traditional swiss fondue, which was good but didn't quite set correctly. The second was this recipe, which was so good I might have made it for dinner again tonight if I'd had enough cheese. It will be making appearances at future "date nights" the Big Geek and I have at home after the kids go to bed.

You start out making these on the stove in a regular pan and then transfer them to the fondue pot. Or, if you don't have a fondue pot, I guess you could just stand around the stove and eat it, or put it in a little crock pot. From experience, I can tell you what you CAN'T do--you can't make this at home and then try to take it to a party. It won't work out. You can't cool fondue and reheat it--trust me.

This recipe is from Rachel Ray 30-minute Get Real Meals.

10 oz (2 1/2 cups) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (you can try the low-fat, but I'm not going to)
4-6 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded (1 to 1 1/2 cups)
1 rounded tablespoon flour
1 cup German lager
2 Tbsp spicy brown mustard (I used a whole grain, and it was awesome)
3 drops of Tabasco
3 drops of Worcestershire sauce

In a bowl, combine the cheeses with the flour. Add the beer to a small pot and bring it up to a bubble over medium heat. Reduce teh heat to simmer and add the cheese mixture in handfuls. Stir constantly in in a figure-eight pattern with a wooden spoon, melting the cheese in batches. When the cheese has been incorporated fully, stir in the mustard, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Transfer to a fondue pot and serve.

Incredibly easy, incredibly delicious.

Serve with:
Cubed or thick sliced sausages
Blanched cauliflower and broccoli (see, it's healthy!)
Green apple slices
Roasted potatoes or carrots
Cubes of bread
Anything else that appeals to you!

Rachel says this recipe serves four. I made two of her fondues, which should have served 8, and 12 people ate it with some of the swiss fondue left over, and I don't think anyone was hungry.

Fondue probably isn't little-geek friendly. Sharp, long forks and bubbling pots of cheese plus kids is not a good combo.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stovetop Sausage Mac and Cheese

This is a fast, easy, filling recipe that's great for a cold day. It was originally printed in Cooking Light, but I've made a few adjustments (and doubled it, because I like leftovers).

1 package Chicken sausage, chopped. (Package usually contains 4 links--get the flavor you like and adjust other additions to this dish accordingly. As written, any kind if Italian/artichoke/sundried tomato will work.)

2 1/2 cups fat-free milk
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (6 oz) shredded reduced-fat SHARP cheddar cheese
2/3 cup (about 2 2/3 oz) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup (4 oz, or 1/2 a package) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic salt
10 cups hot cooked elbow macaronie (about 16 oz uncooked, or 1 box)

Optional (but strongly suggested):
1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes (not in oil), julienned (if you're lucky, you can find them this way at the store.)

Cook macaroni according to package directions.

While that's cooking, heat a large nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sausage and saute 4 minutes or until browned.

Combine milk and flour (add 1 Tbsp at a time) in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk (or fork). Add milk mixture, spinach, and sundried tomatoes to pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

Reduce heat to medium. Stir in cheeses, onion powder, and garlic salt. Cook 3 minutes or until cheeses melt, stirring constantly.

Stir in pasta.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Easy Meatless Manicotti

This dish isn't one I'd serve at a dinner party, but it's a good weeknight meal that couldn't be easier.

2 cups (8 oz) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1 (16 oz) carton fat-free cottage cheese (or low-fat, if you can't find fat-free)
1 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
1/4 cup (1 oz) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 (8 oz) package manicotti (14 shells)
1 (26 oz) jar fat-free tomato-basil pasta sauce (or whatever sauce you like)
cooking spray
1 cup water

Pre-heat oven to 375. Spray 13 x 9 inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large zip-lock bag, combine 1 1/2 cups mozzarella (reserving 1/2 cup of the 2 cups), cottage cheese, spinach, Parmesan cheese, oregano, salt, and pepper. Seal the top and mush it around to combine the ingredients.

Pour half the sauce into the bottom of the pan.

Snip of one corner of the bag (not too big a hole), and use the bag like a pastry bag to fill the manicotti. Place them in a single layer over the sauce in the baking dish. You will have exactly enough filling for 14 manicotti, so don't worry about running out.

Top with remaining sauce. Pour 1 cup water into the dish (I like to pour mine into the sauce jar and shake it around first to get all of the sauce out). Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella.

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour (or until shells are tender). Let stand 10 minutes before serving (I suggest leaving it covered for 10 minutes, perhaps while your garlic bread toasts, and then uncovering it for another 5-10).

The shells can be a little "al dente" sometimes, but considering that this is the easiest version of Manicotti I've ever seen, who cares? Plus little geeks can help you squish the ingredients in the ziplock, and older little geeks might even like to try filling the shells.

I also like that you put it in the oven and walk away. I use this time to clean my kitchen, usually, but you could do something more fun if you're more creative than me.

Just remember that it takes an hour to bake (plus another 10-15 minutes of "resting") and plan accordingly!

from Cooking Light

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Quick & Easy: African Chicken-Peanut Soup

This soup is one of my favorites for many reasons, mostly that it's good, quick, and easy. If you have little geeks, prep the veggies while they nap, then throw together dinner about 20 minutes before you're ready to eat. From the ingredients, you might expect this to be spicy, but the peanut calms it down and makes it easy for all the geeks to enjoy. Baby geeks can have sweet potato chunks. ;)

It should be noted that I rarely (if ever) measure the veggies. I just put them in the pot. I put how many of each veggie I use in parenthesis.


1 1/2 cups cubed peeled sweet potato (I like a little more, so I usually do 3 sweet potatoes)
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 small)
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper (1 pepper)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast (1 large breast)
1 cup bottled salsa
1/2 tsp cumin
2 (16-oz) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (4 cups)
2 (15-oz) cans low-sodium chicken & rice soup (I use Healthy Choice)
1 (15-oz) can black beans, drained

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

Place large dutch oven coated with cookign spray over medium-high heat until hot. Add vegetables and saute 5 minutes. Stir in chicken and next 5 ingredients (through the beans). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add peanut butter, stirring with a whisk, and cook 2 minutes.


I know it sounds weird, but it's REALLY filling and good--perfect for a fall or winter night.

You can alter the vegetables as suits you (although you really should leave the sweet potato and red bell pepper). I've tossed in a can of corn, extra carrots (in addition to the carrots in the pre-made soup), extra celery--whatever you have that you need to use.

Vegetarian option: throw in some extra sweet potato, use veggie & rice soup and vegetable broth. You could also use tofu in place of the chicken if you like.

Yield: 11 1-cup servings

From Cooking Light

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Easy Fall Flavors: Maple Glazed Ham, Spicy Creamed Spinach, and Pumpkin Muffins

I tried this last night for the first time, and I have to say it's really darned easy. I plan to make some adjustments to make it a little healthier, but if you have access to a working stove, you can make this in about 20-30 minutes--faster if you have a 2nd cook.


1 Tbsp butter (original recipe calls for 2. I think 1 is enough--you really just want the flavor, you don't "need" the butter, so maybe 1/2 tbsp would be plenty, or maybe just butter flavored Pam--I have to experiment.)
24-oz ham steak (I had to buy a hunk of ham and slice it--ham steak would be easier if you can find it), cut into 4 pieces
2 Tbsp maple syrup (REAL syrup only!!!)

2 bags spinach (recipe calls for 1, but I think it needs 2 and then each serving would be fewer calories)
4 oz pepper jack cheese, grated (if you can find low-fat, yay for you--you could also use monterey jack but then it won't be spicy, which may be a bonus for those of you with little geeks)
4 oz Neufch√Ętel cheese (or regular cream cheese if you don't care about fat)
salt and pepper

First, get all your ingredients ready and place them near the stove. You will be happy you did this later because it will make things easier.

Fill a large skillet with about 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Add spinach and cook until the spinach wilts (2-3 minutes, possibly longer for 2 bags). You may need to add one bag at a time if you do 2 bags.

While that cooks, melt the butter in a skillet. Brown ham in the skillet (a couple minutes on each side).

Between ham-turning, drain the spinach in a colander, pressing out extra water. Return to skillet over medium heat and add both cheeses, stirring until melted whenever you aren't flipping pieces of ham. Once cheese is melted, add salt and pepper to taste, stir, cover, and keep warm.

When both sides of ham are browned, drizzle with maple syrup, turning pieces to coat. (You might have to cook the ham in batches and then return it to the skillet for this step, depending on the size of your skillet.)

Serve and enjoy!

If you're going to make this for dinner, I strongly suggest making pumpkin muffins earlier that day. If you use them to sop up the extra sauce in the ham skillet after everyone else is done eating and has left the kitchen, you will not be sorry, and no one will know.

Unless, of course, you post about it in a blog. . .

Anyhow, there are zillions of pumpkin muffin recipes, but this one is the easiest EVER. You probably already know about it, but here it is just in case.

You need:

1 box spice cake mix (if you can't find it, you can use yellow or white and just add some pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon/nutmeg/ground cloves in pinch).
1 can pumpkin (15 oz)

Mix pumpkin and cake mix until well combined. Spoon into prepared muffin tin (spray it with cooking spray or use cupcake liners). Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

Great for those with egg allergies!

The Big Geek and I enjoyed this. The little geek currently announces she doesn't like everything before she even tastes it, so I don't know if I trust her reaction. She does like the muffins, as does the baby geek.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Christina's Easy Cheesy Garlic & Rice

My friend Christina shared this recipe, and I've made it twice so far. This is my adapted version, which is a big hit with all the geeks and is so easy that I'll probably make it often, even though it's not exactly diet-friendly. I did what I could to move it that direction. :)

1 jar Ragu Roasted Garlic Parmesan sauce (I've also used a store brand, which was ok)
1 can petite diced tomatoes, NOT drained
1 can chicken broth
1 cup shredded or diced cooked chicken (original recipe calls for 1 can, but I like using leftovers)
1 cup uncooked brown rice (original recipe calls for long grain)
2 cups shredded 2% Italian-blend cheese (or full-fat)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all ingredients in a baking dish and cover with foil.
Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes covered. Remove from oven, uncover, stir, and cook for an additonal 10-15 minutes (brown rice takes longer--sample some when you take it out and decide how long it needs at that point). If you want to be "fancy" you can save about 1/4 cup of the cheese and sprinkle it on the top at that point, or just sprinkle some additional parmesan or something.

The original recipe said to cook "until the top is brown and bubbly," but mine never got to that point (perhaps b/c of the 2% cheese). The first time I made it it cooked for absurdly long before I finally just tasted it and decided it was actually done.

This has to be the easiest casserole ever, and it takes about 5 minutes to throw together and then you can just walk away from it for 45 minutes. AWESOME for those nights when you just.can't.do.anything.else. Add a salad and you're good, and the leftovers are yummy the next day. Plus you can use up some leftover chicken.

Horeseradish Beef Strudel

This was easier than I thought it would be, and you could prepare the filling in advance and toss it together at the last minute. It worked out well for me tonight because I could assemble them while The Big Geek did baths, then put the baby geek to bed while they cooked, and then come out for dinner with The Big and little geeks.

TAKE THE PUFF PASTRY OUT OF THE FREEZER TO THAW about 40 minutes before you start cooking. If you're like me and forget anyhow, you can try what I did and stick it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until it seems thawed enough to roll out.

I believe this came from a Rachel Rey magazine.

1 lb baking potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 2-3)
2 Tbsp butter (you could use evoo if you wanted)
1 small-medium onion, chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 cup sour cream (light is fine)
2-3 Tbsp prepared horseradish
salt and pepper
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg, beaten with a splash of water

Preheat the oven to 400. While it's heating, add the potatoes to a large saucepan and add enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil adn cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, then mash in a large bowl.

While the potatoes are cooking, melt butter (or heat oil) in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Transfer onions to mashed potatoes (or bowl for potatoes if they aren't done yet). Add the beef to the skillet and cook, breaking it up, over medium-high heat until barely pink, about 5 minutes. Stir the beef, sour cream, and horseradish into the mashed potatoes and onion, season with salt and pepper.

On a floured sheet of parchment paper, roll out 1 sheet puff pastry into an 11 x 15 rectangle. Spread half of the meat mixture in the center, covering 2/3 of the surface and leaving a 1-inch border along the long ends. Fold in the borders on the long ends and, beginning from a short end, roll up to enclose. Or you can do what I did and leave slightly more pastry on the edges, fold the sides up to enclose, and then roll up the ends.

Transfer, seam side down, onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Brush with the beaten egg. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

I thought this was pretty good, although it could have used more horseradish for my taste. Next time I may make one (for the small geeks) and then add more horseradish to taste to the rest of the filling to make one for The Big Geek and myself.

The Big Geek dipped his in A-1 (I give up). The little geek ate a few bites and then had salad and leftover mac 'n cheese from lunch. I'm betting the baby geek would have eaten it--we'll find out tomorrow as I've got an entire "strudel" left.

Probably not that healthy, but not awful and very quick/easy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Healthier Eggplant Parmesan

Remember that cookbook I told everyone to go buy? Well, here's something else from it, and as usual, it was GOOD. So good I can't believe they cut the calories from 760 in the original recipe to 330 in this one, and the fat from 59g to 9 g (13g saturated vs 4g saturated). I actually liked this BETTER than fried versions because it didn't taste greasy.

So seriously, people, go buy this book! I can give you the recipe here, but the book has the "story" of the recipe, including what they tried that failed and how they got to the final "best" light recipe. Sometimes the way to get there is rather labor intensive, but often it's not (or not in comparison with the original recipes). I'd say this is easier than traditional eggplant parmesan, because you don't have to fry anything. It's not, however, something I'd try to cook when I'm at home with the kids by myself--you do need some time without a "human leg warmer" to get this one together.

2 medium globe eggplants (1 lb each), ends trimmed, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick rounds
Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup), plus extra for serving
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
ground black pepper
3 large egg whites
1 Tbsp water
vegetable oil spray
8 oz reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
2 Tbsp minced fresh basil leaves

Tomato Sauce* (they give a recipe, but I used a jar of tomato basil sauce from Safeway)

1. Salt the eggplant: Toss half the eggplant with 1 tsp kosher salt, then place in a large colander set over a bowl. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and 1 more tsp kosher salt, and transfer to the colander with the first batch. Let sit until the eggplant releases about 2 Tbsp liquid, 30-40 minutes. I recently read a blog that said it also helps to put some weight on top of the eggplant, traditionally a plate and stone, but a better suggestion was a ziplock bag filled with water. The recipe says that after the 30-40 minutes, you should spread the eggplant onto a triple thickness of paper towels, cover with another triple thickness of paper towels, and press firmly to remove as much liquid as possible, and then to brush the salt off. I, however, just picked up each piece and kind of shook off the salt, mainly because I had moved on to a different part of the recipe and apparently didn't go back and notice that part. I thought mine tasted fine, but maybe it wasn't very "soggy" eggplant to begin with?

2. During the time you're waiting for the eggplant to release liquid, combine the breadcrumbs and oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring often, until golden (about 10 minutes). Spread the breadcrumbs into a shallow dish and let cool slightly.

At this point, adjust the oven racks to the lower-middle and upper-middle positions and preheat the oven to 475.

Then add the 1/2 cup Parmesan to the cooled breadcrumbs and stir to combine. Combine the flour, garlic powder, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a second shallow dish. In a 3rd shallow dish (or a bowl), whisk the egg whites and water together. Make a little assembly line of flour, egg whites, panko, foil-covered baking sheet (with edges--I needed 2).

Season the eggplant with pepper. Then dip ONE SIDE ONLY of each eggplant slice in the flour, shake to remove excess, then in the egg, then in the panko, pressing firmly to make sure the breadcrumbs "stick." Place, crumb side up, onto the foil-lined baking sheet. Repeat with each slice of eggplant. Spray the top of the eggplant slices with vegetable oil spray. Bake at 475 until the top of the slices are crisp and golden, about 30 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through baking.

3. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with vegetable spray. Spread 1 cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan. Layer in half the eggplant slices, breaded side up, overlapping the slices to fit if necessary. Distribute 1/2 cup of the sauce over the eggplant, sprinkle with half the mozzarella (about 1 cup). Layer on the remaining eggplant, breaded side up, and dot with 1 cup of the sauce (just put a spoonful on top of each piece), leaving the majority of the eggplant exposed so it will reamain crisp). Sprinkle with the reamining mozzarella and bake until bubbling and the cheese is browned, about 10 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes, then sprking with the basil and serve, passing any remaining sauce and extra Parmesan seperately (although I didn't add any--mine was good as it was).

I also didn't use shredded mozzarella, because I had a ball of fresh mozzarella I needed to use, so I just sliced it and put it on top of the eggplant. I'm sure this made my final product higher in fat and calories, but I don't think it's what made the recipe so good. It was the crisp texture and deliciousness of the breading combined with the sauce that I really loved, and I actually may have used less cheese with the fresh mozz. than if I'd used shredded. I didn't have fresh basil, either, so I left that out.

I LOVED this. The Big Geek ate it and didn't complain, which is good considering his preference for meat. The little geek said, "is this pizza?" so I told her it sort-of was, and she ate 1 1/2 servings before saying, "I don't like this pizza."

Really, because you sure ate a lot of it before reaching that conclusion. . .

This book also has a chicken parmesan recipe, which I'll try in the near future. I hear it's FABulous.

*Sauce: 2 28-oz cans diced tomatoes, 4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 tsp), 1 Tbsp tomato paste, 1 tsp EVOO, 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 cup minced fresh basil leaves, salt and ground black pepper. Process the tomatoes with their juices in a food processor until mostly smooth (15-20 1-second pulses), set aside. Cook the garlic, tomato paste, oil, and pepper flakes in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the tomato paste begins to brown, about 2 min. Stir in the pureed tomatoes and cok until the sauce is thickened, about 25 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside until needed. This can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge. I think this will make more sauce than you need, so you can serve it on pasta the next day.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Jamaican Rice and "Peas"

There are no peas in this recipe. Apparently, in Jamaica, all kinds of beans are also called peas. And when you win "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" with that little piece of trivia, I hope you'll remember where you learned it.

Anyhow, this has to be one of the easiest recipes in the history of the world. The flavor is mild, and you hardly taste the coconut, but the little geek and baby geek liked it, so I'm sure I'll make it again.

You need:
1 can of dark red kidney beans (or whatever kind you want to use)
1 can of coconut milk (I used light)
water to make 4 cups of liquid
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp oil
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper (whole, do NOT chop up)

Pour liquid from beans into a measuring cup. Add coconut milk and water to make 4 cups of liquid total. Pour into large pot.

Add the onion, garlic, thyme, and oil, and bring to a boil. Add the rice, stir, and lower heat to medium-low. Add Scotch Bonnet pepper to the top of the mixture, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

And that is all. :)

Now that I think of it, you could make the filling for the beef patties, toss it in with the rice, and this would be a complete meal.

I think I may have enjoyed that filling a little TOO much. . .
2 cups rice

Jamaican Beef Patties

We took a little trip to the Island yesterday in honor of the holiday weekend. The Big Geek grilled jerk chicken and island chicken, bought a ton of Red Stripe, and plenty of RUM! I also made these little Jamaican Beef Patties. They're meant to be larger, but I made small ones as appetizers. You can do them either way, but if you make small ones you'll probably end up with extra filling (I doubled the filling recipe but had to triple the dough).

If I make these again (and I probably will), I think I'll use the patee brisee recipe instead of this one. It was much more moist and flaky than this recipe, even though the biggest difference was that this one called for half shortening, half butter and the patee brisee used all butter. I'd also leave out the curry powder from the dough because I thought it competed too much with the filling, but you can add it if you like. If you have a pastry dough recipe that you know and trust, go with it.

But here's the "original" recipe that I used yesterday:

2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 cup solid shortening
1/4 cup butter (called for margarine, but ew)
1/3 cup COLD water

I combined mine in the food processor like the patee brisee recipe, but the original says to sift together the dry ingredients, cut in the shortening and margarine until crumbly, and add cold water to make a stiff dough. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick and cut out as many circles as possible (you want to roll it out as few times as necessary). I used a drinking glass to make 3-inch-ish circles, but you can use a saucer or a cookie/biscuit cutter or whatever to get the size you want. The "real" Jamaican patties are the size of a small calzone, probably 8-inch circles.


Now this is the good stuff. I may play with this to make "Jamaican" meatloaf in the future, or hamburgers, oooh, or meatballs!

I did make this a day in advance, and I think the result was that the filling was too dry, so if you do that add some extra water or beef broth to get it a bit moist. I think in the better crust it might not have mattered as much.

2 Tbsp oil or butter
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1/4 tsp Scotch Bonnet pepper (habanero, seeded)
1/2 lb lean ground beef
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 cup Breadcrumbs
1/4 cup beef stock
dark brown sugar to taste (optional)

For Assembly:
small bowl of water
1 egg, beaten

In a heavy skillet, melt the butter or heat the oil and saute the onion and Scotch Bonnet pepper over medium heat until they become limp. Add the ground beef. Brown the meat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain fat, then add salt, pepper, curry powder, thyme, and allspice and mix well. Turn the heat down to medium low.

Add the breadcrumbs and stock and combine all ingredients well. Cover the skillet and simmer, stirring occasionally, until all liquids have been absorbed. It should be moist but not watery.

Taste the filling and, if desired, add dark brown sugar until you are happy. This will cut down the spice a bit and just make things even more delicious.

Remove from heat and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place filling in each dough circle (original recipe is for 8-inch circles and says 2-3 tbsp, but you'll need to adjust for your size of circle). Moisten the edges of the dough with water (just dip your finger into a bowl of water and trace the outside of the circle). Fold the dough circle over the meat filling. Pinch edges closed with a fork.

Brush each pastry with the beaten egg (or a mixture of 1 egg plus 1/4 cup water) and place onto a lightly greased baking sheet (or aluminum-foil-covered sheet).

Bake for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.

Original recipe makes 10 patties.

I'm sure I'll play around with this recipe some more, because the filling was really really good. :)

If you're making this for kids, omit the Scotch Bonnet pepper. It won't taste the same, but there's a better chance that they'll eat it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Risotto with Fresh Mozzarella, Grape Tomatoes, and Basil

The other night we had a prepackaged (gasp) side of seasoned rice with dinner, and the baby geek gobbled it up. As a result of that (and the fact that I bought a 3-pack of fresh Mozzarella from Costco), I made this for dinner last night.

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp EVOO
2 cups chopped leek (2-3 medium leeks)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or other medium-grain rice (I didn't have enough so added some regular long-grain rice and it was fine, but Arborio is best)
1/3 cup dry white wine (in the future, I might double this and cut down the chicken stock to compensate)
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black papper
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/4 cup chpped fresh basil
5 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, diced

1. Place vinegar in small, heavy saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until slightly syrupy and reduced to 1 Tbsp (about 4 min). Set aside.

2. The original recipe has you bring the broth to a simmer in a pan and then keep it warm so that it's warm when you add it to the rice. Or you could do this in a microwave, which is what I intended to do, except that I forgot and just added it cold. Nothing bad happened as a result. If your broth was cold (not room temperature), you probably want to warm it up a bit before using it.

3. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add leek; saute 3 minutes or until tender.
Add rice, cook 2 min, stirring constantly.
Stir in wine and cook 1 minute or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.
Stir in 1 cup broth; cook 5 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.
Reduce heat to mdium. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 25 minutes total).
Stir in half-and-half, salt, and pepper; cook 2 minutes.
Remove from heat; stir in tomatoes, basil, and cheese.

Place in individual serving bowls and drizzle with 1/2 tsp balsamic syrup. (Little geeks don't always like the syrup, but big geeks do!)

This is a perfect rainy day lunch or dinner! It was not rainy when we ate it, but it was still good, and the baby geek LOVED it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pate Brisee

Yesterday I made some tomato pies. I intended to use a store-bought crust, since that is what I usually do, despite the fact that I think the store-bought crust has a weird bitter taste. However, I forgot, so I took a friend's advice and tried Martha Stewart's recipe for Pate Brisee (fancy French term for pie crust). You make it in the food processor, and making the dough was surprisingly easy.

Rolling it out was a bit tricky (hence me usually buying dough), but I managed. I still need some practice with fluting and accounting for "shrinkage," although someone has suggested that if I put a big more water in the dough I'll get less shrinkage. I'll happily keep practicing if it means I can eat more tomato pies.

Pate Brisee:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water (I just put mine in the freezer while I got out the food processor and ingredients)

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8-10 seconds.

With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky. Be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 Tbsp at a time.

I would say I added closer to 1/4 cup than 1/2 cup.

Divide dough into 2 equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the fridge and chill at least one hour. Dough may be stored frozen up to 1 month. Makes 1 double crust or 2 single crust 10-inch pies.

You can use this crust for both sweet and savory pies and pastries.

Tomato Pie in Pate Brisee

Stop what you are doing and make this right now. Seriously. I made two. Some friends and I ate one last night, and the other is reserved for different friends on Thursday.


If it makes it that long.

I don't know how much I actually like those friends.

Not really. They're great. But that pie is in my fridge calling my name. I can hear it crying out to me through the aluminum foil.

Feel free to buy your crust pre-made. You'll still need to bake it first, but it will work just fine. If you're feeling adventurous, try this recipe for pate brisee.

Tomato Pie:

1/2 yellow or red onion, chopped OR 1 onion, chopped and caramelized*. I used a red onion and caramelized it, and I suggest you do the same, because it was GOOD.
3-4 tomatoes, cut in half horizontally, squeezed to remove excess juice, roughly chopped, to yield approx 3 cups chopped tomatoes. I used a variety of colors of heirloom tomatoes, but you can use whatever kind you like.
1/4 cup sliced basil (or about 1 tsp Italian seasoning). Tip: stack basil leaves, roll up (like a cigar), and cut into thin slices OR just use kitchen shears to cut thin slices.
2 cups grated cheese (I used 2% cheddar and 2% "mexican blend." The original recipe suggests sharp cheddar and monterey jack or gruyere or mozarella. I'd suggest using 2% because it tasted good, held together well, but didn't get too greasy, but the original recipe didn't call for that.
3/4 cup mayonnaise (I did not mess around with the light or low fat kind, but it might work.)
1 tsp hot sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350. Place pie shell in oven and cook for about 10 minutes or longer until lightly golden. If I were doing this again, I would get some pie weights to prevent the center from poofing up and pulling the sides of the crust down. If pie browns too quickly, use a pie shield or place foil over the crust. It will not look "done" after this process, only lightly golden.

2. Squeeze as much moisture from the tomatoes as you can. The orginal recipe suggests using a potato ricer. Since I don't own one of those (although I'd like to, hint hint to The Big Geek), I just picked up handfulls and squeezed over the sink, then put the "squozen" tomatoes in a bowl until I'd squeezed them all. If you are using Italian seasoning instead of fresh basil, sprinkle it into the bowl and gently stir.

3. Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-baked pie shell with onion. Spread the tomatoes on top of the onions. If using sliced basil, sprinkle it over the tomatoes.

4. In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheese, mayo, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. The mixture will be the consistency of a gooey snowball. Spread cheese mixture over the tomatoes. I found it easier to spread with my fingers than with a spoon.

5. Place in the oven and bake until browned and bubbly, 25-45 minutes.

Cool for a bit and then enjoy warm. Try to save some for your family or friends.

*To caramelize an onion, melt some butter in a wide saute pan (you can also use olive oil, or a combination of olive oil and butter--about 1 Tbsp per onion). Add sliced or chopped onions and stir to coat. Cook for 30-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want to stir them enough that they don't burn, but not too much or they won't brown. Some cooks like to add a tsp of salt and a sprinkling of sugar after about 10 minutes. I, however, am lazy and just brown the onion in butter. I figure that if I use salted butter I don't need to add more salt. . .

Monday, August 24, 2009

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

from Simply Recipes

I was looking for recipes for zucchini bread and stumbled upon this. Since it involves chocolate, it sounded infinitely better than zucchini bread. As it turns out, I had enough zucchini for both this cake and muffins. The muffins were ok, but this cake--I still have half of it on my counter, but probably not for long. If you're in the area, come by for a slice!

2 1/2 cups regular all-purpose flour, unsifted (I used unbleached)
1/2 cup cocoa
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup soft butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp grated orange peel
2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
1/2 cup milk
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional--I didn't put them in, but they'd be good)

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside.

With a mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until they are smoothly blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With a spoon, stir in the vanilla, orange peel, and zucchini.

Alternately stir in the dry ingredients and the milk into the zucchini mixture, including the nuts with the last addition (if used).

Pour the batter into a greasead and flour-dusted 10-inch tube pan or bundt pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a wooden pick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

2 cups powdered sugar
3 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth.

Drizzle glaze over completely cooled cake. I do this when the cake is still on the wire rack, with a plate underneath to catch the drips.


Everyone who has tried this has asked if it is healthy. I don't know that's the term I'd use--it's not low fat or low calorie--but I suppose it has more nutrients than a regular chocolate cake. If it helps you to call it healthy, then I go ahead and do so. :)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Grilled Flank Steak with Avacado Relish

The Big Geek called this steak "phenomenal," although to be fair, he doesn't get that much red meat. At any rate, I like cooking flank steak because it's fairly lean and it usually tastes good. This dish is easy to make and requires no heat in your kitchen on a hot summer day. The meat and avacado relish would also make a good starter for burritos or tacos. If you like yours a bit more spicy, don't seed the jalapeno.

For the rub:
1 tsp grated lime rind
2 tsp avocado oil or EVOO (I used evoo)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (1-lb) flank steak, trimmed

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Score a diamond pattern on both sides of the flank steak. Rub both sides of the steak with oil mixture. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours.

For the avocado relish:
1 tsp grated lime rind
2 tsp avocado oil or EVOO
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup diced peeled avacado (about 1 medium)
1/2 cup chopped plum tomato (about 1)
2 Tbsp chopped red onion
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp finely chopped seeded jalepeno pepper (about 1 small)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until use (you can use it immediately if needed).

When you're ready to grill:
Over medium-high heat, grill 6 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut steak diagonally across grain into thin slices.

From Cooking Light

Honey Mustard Pork Chops

I'm going out for dinner tonight with friends, but I threw this together for The Big Geek and the little geek anyhow. He just gave me a bite and it was GOOD.

Mustard is one of The Big Geeks other favorite flavors (lemon being another, and then beer of all kind), so this recipe was perfect for him. It was also really easy, especially considering that all I do is put together the marinade and let the pork chops sit in the fridge and TBG has to grill them.

1 cup beer or ginger ale (I used Sam Adams Summer Ale)
1/2 cup prepared mustard (just the regular yellow kind)
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 tsp dried parsley flakes
1/4 tsp pepper
6 pork chops (recipe calls for boneless 1/2 inch thick, but I used bone-in pork chops because that's what I had).

In bowl, combine all ingredients except pork chops. Place pork chops in ziplock bag. Pour 1 cup marinade over the pork chops, seal bag (squish air out) and turn to coat. Place in fridge for at least 1 hour, turning when you think of it.

Reserve 1/2 cup of marinade for basting. Use remaining marinade as a sauce for cooked pork chops.

Cook pork chops (discard marinade from the ziplock bag) over medium heat for 15 minutes or until juices run clear, turning and basting occasionally with 1/2 cup marinade. Serve with reserved marinade.

It's tangy and sweet and really good!

I think this is from Taste of Home

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bill's Lemon Chicken

Every now and again we get a magazine, courtesy of our realtor, Bill. It's mostly ads and some articles about home stuff, but it also includes recipes. That's where this came from, so although Bill didn't write it, I'm calling it Bill's Lemon Chicken anyhow.

The Big Geek LOVES lemon chicken. That's pretty much the only thing he ever orders from Chinese restaurants. I figured that if I could learn how to make it, he'd worship me.

I didn't read the recipe carefully, because if I had I'd have noticed the part where you fry the chicken in oil. I don't generally fry stuff. It's messy, and it's not all that healthy, and I always assume it will be greasy. Well, this was not that messy, and it didn't taste greasy at all. In fact, I liked it better than most of the Chinese take-out I've had. And it was really quick and easy to make.

You need:

For the chicken:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast (you could easily use more chicken--there was PLENTY of the flour mixture--but then you might need to add oil before you got all of it cooked)
About 1/3 cup vegetable oil (for frying--enough that you have maybe 1/4 inch in the pan)

For the sauce:
2 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon corn starch
1 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger (or the kind in the tube if you're lazy like me)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Combine flour, salt, and pepper in large ziplock bag or bowl. Cut chicken breasts into strips. Coat with flour (I put mine in the bag and shake). Set aside.

2. Pour oil in large pan/skillet and heat over medium heat while you make the sauce. Up it to medium-high when you're about finished.

3. Combine water and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine chicken stock, sugar, ginger, soy sauce, and salt. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, and stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Stir in the lemon juice, and as soon as the sauce is boiling again add the cornstarch (stir it again just before adding it). (note: this is a good time to up the heat on the oil.) Cook, stirring often, about 1 minute until sauce thickens and shines. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm while you cook the chicken.

4. Test the oil by placing a pinch of flour in it. It should "blossom." Shake excess flour from chicken and place pieces into oil (it should sizzle instantly), with enough space to turn pieces. Cook 1-2 minutes per side, until golden brown and cooked through (yes, it really only took a couple of minutes per side and mine was cooked through). Remove to plate/serving platter and continue to cook chicken. I had plenty of oil for my chicken (I used 3 breasts). I don't know if I'd have had to add more if I'd cooked more chicken, but I probably would have.

5. Pour lemon sauce over chicken. Serve with rice/grain.

Amazingly easy and VERY good. The Big Geek did NOT worship me, but I had to remind myself that "good dinner, dear" is the most excitement he ever demonstrates over food. Plus, this is the man whose only response, if we ever win the lottery, will probably be a slight smile and one word: "sweet."

Since it's fried, we won't have it that often, but I bet this sauce would be good on a grilled or broiled chicken breast, too.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Peach Caprese Salad

One of my geeky friends shared an entire "bundle" of food blogs with me on Google Reader. I've been overwhelmed with everything from recipes to restaurant reviews, and as a result have only read about 25% of what people have posted.

However, somehow I stumbled upon this idea, and I tried it tonight.

I am so glad I did!

The basic idea is a caprese salad--tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, evoo, and balsamic vinegar. However, in this version, you replace the tomatoes with fresh slices of peach.

Yes, it sounds a bit odd. But trust me. It is GOOD. If you live in a place where peaches are in season right now (this week they were $.69/lb at my Safeway), buy some and make this.

Simple, easy, and quick, it was a hit with the little geek and the baby geek (sans basil and oil/vinegar). Apparently the big geek had never eaten a traditional caprese salad and was unfamiliar with the texture of fresh mozzarella, which he didn't love. Oh, well, more for me--next time he can just have peaches and basil, because I WILL do this again.

Fresh ripe peaches
Fresh mozzarella
Fresh basil
Balsamic vinegar

Slice peaches and mozzarella. Arrange slices, alternating fruit and cheese, overlapping on a plate. Stack several basil leaves together. Use kitchen shears to slice little "ribbons" of basil over the top of the fruit and cheese. Drizzle with EVOO and Balsamic vinegar.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Pastrami & Swiss with Carmelized Onions

I looked through a Sunset Magazine at the hair salon last weekend. It's a pretty awesome little magazine! They had lots of recipes, but I was drawn to the article on "fancy" grilled cheese. It featured a pastrami & swiss on rye with carmelized onion marmelade, and I practically drooled on it right there in the waiting room. Unfortunately, I couldn't get access to the recipe online, so I improvised.

You need:

A sweet onion (yellow is good)
Butter or Margarine
Bread (rye preferred, but wheat works)
Swiss Cheese (2% works just fine)
Pastrami (regular or turkey)
Mustard (yellow or whatever you like)

First, slice an onion and cooked it in some (I can't believe it's not) butter until it is soft and carmelized (turning brown). I let mine get kind of crispy in places, but I like it that way. Remove from skillet.

Then spread butter on one side of a piece of bread (I used wheat b/c that's all I had, but rye would be great), put it in the skillet you used for the onions. Top with mustard (I like just the plain regular yellow mustard, but use what you like), swiss cheese (2% is fine), pastrami (real or turkey is fine), 1/2 of onions, one more slice of cheese. Butter one side of another slice of bread, put mustard on the other side, and put the bread, mustard-side down, on top of the sandwich. Flip it to the other side and allow it to cook until golden brown and cheese is melted.

You will not be sorry you made this sandwich! I'm sure it's not that good for you, but man, is it ever YUMMY! Also, if you're like me and making yourself lunch while spooning baby food into the baby geek, you can walk away from the onions and just go back between bites to stir the onion/flip the sandwich.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Easy Meals with Trader Joe's--Biryani Rice & Chicken

From time to time, I'm going to post a meal idea that uses convenience items from Trader Joes. I hope you are lucky enough to live near one, because they have stuff you can't get elsewhere, and the quality is generally good.

My goal is stuff you can get on the table in 15 minutes while also directing children. This certainly fits that bill.

1 package Biryani Curried Rice Dish from TJ's.
2 cooked chicken breasts (if you have leftovers) OR 2 cups cooked ground turkey (or chopped deli meat, in a pinch).

Heat rice according to package directions. Add cooked meat. Stir. Eat.

That's it.

This is flavorful, but is not too spicy. The little geek isn't here this week, but I bed she'd like it. There are raisins and apples, so some sweet to go with the spice. The Big Geek is also gone. I think he'd like it, but I'd also have to serve some bread or beans or feed him a 2nd dinner.

The rice has no fat or msg and is vegetarian (if you don't add meat).

Buffalo Chicken Dip

If you like Buffalo wings, here's a twist--Buffalo Chicken Dip (sure to confuse Jessica Simpson).

2 bricks cream cheese (low fat is fine)
1 small jar chunky blue cheese dressing (low fat is fine)
2 cups (or so--add more or less to your taste) of shredded cooked chicken
1/2 to 1 cup of hot sauce (depending on how hot you want this--I use 3/4 cup). I use Frank's RedHot.
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400.

Combine cream cheese, dressing, and hot sauce in mixing bowl. Mix with mixer until ingredients are well combined. Stir in shredded chicken. Pour into greased square casserole dish (or other small casserole--not 9x13, that will be too big unless you doubled the recipe).

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until bubbling.

Serve with celery sticks, carrot sticks, fritos, pita chips, tortilla chips, or anything else you like. My favorite is celery sticks.

I have decided this dip might also be good on pasta. I'm going to try to put together a Buffalo Chicken Pasta recipe at some point.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lemon Risotto

As I've mentioned before, one of the Big Geek's favorite flavors is lemon. Because of that, I try to find recipes that use lemon to test out on him. I figure that at least he'll like SOMETHING about it.

This recipe came from Real Simple, and for the most part, it is. However, I should have read the entire thing before beginning, because I thought I'd be able to pour in the broth and walk away, which was NOT the case.

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup (4 oz) grated Parmesan (I used Asiago because that's what I had, and it worked, too.)
Zest of 1 lemon, grated (I used zest of 1/2 lemon) as garnish
Chopped flat-leave parsley as garnish

Melt 2 Tbsp of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat (at this point, life interfered with cooking, and my butter got browned, but it still worked). Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 min.

Reduce heat (just realized I missed that part of the instructions), add wine, and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is absorbed.

Add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring occasionally and waiting until it's absorbed before adding more. This should take about 30 minutes total (entire recipe should take 45 minutes total). The rice should be tender but slightly firm.

Remove from heat. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper, Parmesan, and the remaining butter and stir until butter melts.

Spoon into individual bowls and sprinkle with lemon zest and parsley. Or be lazy like me and stir the zest and parsley into the pot and serve.

I thought this was good, and the Big Geek ate it. The Little Geek, who I thought would love it, just played with it, but the Baby Geek (who now gets some table food) really enjoyed it.

I will make this again when I know I have 45 minutes to devote to it.

Balsamic Portabello Mushrooms with Asiago

I got this basic recipe (if you can call it that) from a friend, and then combined a few different ideas I found online to make them.

Generally, I am not a fan of mushrooms. I find them spongy when raw and slimy when cooked. However, everyone kept telling me that portabello mushrooms were different--with a "meaty" texture. So I thought I'd give them a try.

4 Portabello mushroom caps, with stems removed
olive oil
minced garlic (optional)
Italian seasoning
Balsamic vinegar
sliced Asiago cheese

Preheat oven to 425. Rub both sides of mushroom caps with olive oil and place on a broiler pan. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning, and minced garlic (I didn't do the garlic this time). Place in preheated oven for 35 minutes.

Remove pan from oven. Pour Balsamic vinegar over each mushroom (into the cap). Top with Asiago cheese slices. Broil for 10 minutes.

I thought they turned out pretty well. Except for a few bites in the middle, I didn't mind the texture. TheBig Geek, however, ate only a few bites before declaring he didn't like the texture, but would enjoy the balsamic/asiago combination on something else like chicken. The Little Geek claimed she tried a bite and didn't like it, but I'm not so sure.

Obviously, I won't be making these for our family again unless both the Little and Big Geeks are out of town. However, I'd happily eat another Portabello mushroom at someone else's house or at a restaurant in the future.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lemon Bundt Cake

The Big Geek's favorite flavor is lemon, so this year for Father's Day the little geek and I made this lemon bundt cake from The Best Light Recipe cookbook (the one I keep saying you should buy--did you get it yet??)

I had a hard time with this (possibly because of all my "help"). Things didn't quite get mixed as well as I'd have liked, and I accidentally added an extra 1/2 cup of sugar. I also couldn't get my egg whites to form stiff peaks. After two attempts, I just gave up, used what I had, and hoped for the best.

The result was a really dense cake with a somewhat inconsistent texture (which I expected because of the egg whites). The taste is good, though, if you like lemons, and the glaze is AWESOME. I will try this again sometime when I don't have so much "help."

Nonstick baking spray wiht flour
2 cups (12 oz) cake flour
2 cups (14 oz) sugar
1/4 cup finely grated zest from 4 lemons
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
pinch cream of tartar
2 Tbsp juice from 1 lemon
Lemon Glaze (recipe follows)

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray the inside of a standard 12-cup bundt pan with the nonstick baking spray.

Whisk the flour, 1 1/2 cups (NOT ALL) of the sugar, lemon zest, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the room temperature milk, eg yolks, oil, melted and cooled butter, and vanilla together.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on low speed until just broken up and foamy. Ad the cream of tartar and increse the speed to medium-high. Continue to beat, adding the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, until all the sugar is added and the whites are shiny and form stiff peaks.

Slowly whisk the milk mixture and lemon juice into the flour mixture until smooth. Fold 1/3 (NOT ALL) of the beaten egg whites into teh batter until combined, smearing any stubborn pockets of egg white against the side of the bowl. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and smooth the top. Wipe any drops of batter off the sides of the pan. Bake until deep golden brown and a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 40-45 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking (oops--just realized I didn't do that). Do not overbake.

Transfer cake to a wire rack and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack and cool completely, 1-2 hours. When cool, dust with confectioner's sugar (if using), or drizzle with glaze and let glaze set about 15 minutes before serving.

Lemon Glaze:

1 cup (4 oz) confectioners' sugar
5 tsp juice from 1 lemon
1 Tbsp grated zest from 1 lemon
pinch salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a mediu bowl. Drizzle the cake with the glaze and let set for 15 min. before serving.

I glazed my cake on the cooling rack, but put a plate underneat it to catch the glaze drips. Then I just kept "recycling" the glaze until it was mostly gone.

After that, if you want, you could just lick the extra glaze off that plate. Or just wash the plate. You know, whatever.

I'm sure I'll make this again, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I CAN get it right. But really, the cake tastes good, I just need to get the texture right. And the glaze is AWESOME.

Jerk Chicken

For pretty much every special occasion, the Big Geek wants red meat, and this Father's Day was no exception. Except that he also wanted to make jerk chicken from a recipe he found online, but realized on Saturday afternoon that the chicken was supposed to marinate overnight. So we had steak Saturday and jerk chicken for Father's Day instead.

I have to say that it was worth the wait.

1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup muscovado or dark brown sugar (we used dark brown)
3 to 9 Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, seeded and chopped (we used 5 habanero)
4 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 bunches scallions, finely chopped (green and white parts)
1/2 cup oil
Zest and juice of 4 limes
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup dark rum
1 (4- to 6-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces (We used some thighs I already had in the freezer, but you can use any chicken you like. I suggest bone-in but skinless. We left the skin on and it was kind of soggy, not crispy, so I'd have preferred the chicken without it.)

Combine all ingredients except chicken in a large bowl. Dip each piece of chicken into the mixture before placing it in a large ziplock (depending on how much chicken you are making, you may need more than one bag). Pour marinade into the bag with the chicken, squeeze out air, and seal bag. Marinate overnight (at least).

Remove chicken from marinade and cook on the grill like you would any other chicken (I never do this part, so I really can't be more specific, but if you know how to grill chicken you should be fine).


Jamie's Strawberry Bread

A friend from college posted this on facebook, and I finally got around to making it.

Dear LORD it is good! I also made it into muffins (just decrease the baking time to around 25 minutes--I suggest using cupcake paper liner things).

2 pints strawberries (4 cups)
3 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar (plus a little to sprinkle on strawberries)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (pumpkin pie spice will work in a pinch)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cup vegetable oil (I think this could be reduced to 1 cup)
4 eggs, beaten (I may leave out 2 yolks next time, just to make it a little healthier)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour (or spray) two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans.

Slice strawberries* and place in medium-sized bowl. Sprinkle lightly with sugar, and set aside while preparing bread mixture.

Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in large bowl, mix well.

Blend oil and eggs into strawberries.

Add strawberry mixture to flour mixture, blending until dry ingredients are just moistened.

Divide batter into pans.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until tester inserted comes out clean. Let cool in pans or on wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn loaves out and cool completely.

*Because Jamie suggested it, I pureed about 1/4 of the strawberries. My muffins were EXTREMELY moist--almost too moist, which is why I think I can cut down on the oil in future batches. I'll probably reduce it by 1/4 cup until I get the right balance.

This does not rise a ton, so you can fill the muffin cups or bread pan up at least 3/4 of the way. My recipe made 24 muffins (some a bit flat), with enough for a "short" loaf (fairly flat--maybe 2 inches?) left over.

These are incredibly delicious. As soon as I tasted one, I thought, "WHY have I never baked with strawberries before????"

I'm working on making them healthier. I may play around with whole wheat flour, too. I'll update as I experiment. :)

Update: I made this recipe again last night (but as loaves, not muffins) with a few tweaks. It's not quite there, but I was happy with the results. Here's what I changed:

1. Cut the regular flour to 2 1/8 cup and add 1 cup of whole wheat flour. I don't think I'll try for more whole wheat flour--this was just the right amount.

2. Cut the oil to 1/2 cup and added 3/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce. The apple sauce was unintentional--I'd planned to just cut down to 1 cup of oil. However, as it turned out, I only had 1/2 cup oil left, and the batter needed more moisture, so 3/4 cup applesauce was my improvisation. I am pleased with the results.

3. Used 2 eggs and 2 egg whites instead of 4 whole eggs. I think this worked well. You could also use eggbeaters, I bet.

4. Reduced sugar to 1 3/4 cups. I would leave the entire 2 cups of sugar, depending upon the sweetness of your berries.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

This is another fast and easy weeknight meal that uses leftovers and hardly any effort on the part of the cook. I adapted it from a recipe in Cooking Light, although I'm pretty sure it's not THAT light this way. But it's not too bad if you use the 2% cheese.

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 to 2 cups shredded cooked chicken (tonight I used leftover roasted chicken, which was good, but any leftover chicken will do)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1 28 oz jar of enchilada sauce (I like verde, but use whatever you have/like)
about 12 small corn tortillas
2 cups reduced-fat shredded mexican cheese blend, or sharp cheddar if that's what you can find.

Spray a 13 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray. Preheat over to 350.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until tender (about 4 min), then add garlic and saute another minute. Add chicken, salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin and heat through; remove from heat. Note: You can play with the spices you add, or leave them out altogether, especially if you have a flavorful enchilada sauce. This would also be a good place to toss some leftover veggies. If you chop them up, it's possible no one will notice them.

In baking dish, spread about 2/3 cup enchilada sauce on bottom of pan. Cover with tortillas (I use two whole, then two broken in half, and then I break one of the halves into "fourths" and cover the holes). Place about half the chicken mixture on top of the tortillas. Top with a layer of cheese (about 1/3 of it). Add another layer of enchilada sauce, then tortillas, then chicken mixture, then cheese, then enchilada sauce, then tortillas. Top with remaining enchilada sauce and cheese.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Super easy, super good, and you can assemble it in advance if needed.

The Big Geek and I like this. Well, actually, I LOVE it. The little geek is not a huge fan. She had broccoli for dinner.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Roasted Broccoli

I've been roasting lots of veggies lately--mainly squash--but got this suggestion from my BFF. Let me just say that The Big Geek hates broccoli. He thinks it smells bad, and it's highly unlikely that he's going to eat any of this. However, I have sampled it and think it tastes awesome and will go wonderfully with the chicken that's finishing roasting right now.

Here's what you do:

preheat the oven to 500 with a baking sheet inside

chop two heads of broccoli and place in bowl

drizzle with Extra-virgin Olive Oil

Sprinkle with salt (kosher or sea salt is good) and pepper

Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp sugar (I know, I know, but trust me)

Toss to coat.

When the oven heats up, take out the cookie sheet, spread the broccoli on it, and roast for 9-11 minutes.


Edit: The Big Geek at exactly one (very small) floret, at my prodding. He said it was less bad than broccoli usually tastes. I'm going to keep making it, and he can eat one floret while the little geek and I gobble it up.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Brandied Peach Sauce and Peach Cobbler

This recipe orignated as a Peach Cobbler recipe (I'll share that version as well). But I love the filling part so much that I decided I should make some just to have. Because peaches are good, and now they're in season and tempting me at the farmer's market, and I thought it would be YUMMY on top of some vanilla ice cream. Who needs the cobbler part? (Well, it is good, too, but I mainly love the peaches).

1 3/4 lbs (3-4) peaches, pitted, peeled, and sliced
1/4 cup sugar (up to 1/2 cup if they are tart)
1 Tbsp of brandy (I sometimes add more, because liquor in food is good)
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 Tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground cloves

For the sauce: mix all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer 35-40 minutes until fruit softens and liquid begins to thicken. Pour over ice cream, or cool and reheat for later use, or just eat it out of the pan and then act like you don't know what people are talking about when they ask why the kitchen smells so good.

For the cobbler: Mix all ingredients in a greased pie plate. Or, if you're like me, mix them in a greased square baking dish, but double the fruit part so you have a higher fruit to biscuit ratio. Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch spills) and bake until the fruit releases its liuid and is hot and bubbling around the edges, 20-30 minutes.

For the biscuit topping:

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp yellow cornmeal
1/4 plus 2 tsp sugar
1 tsp bakign powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

Whisk flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl; set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, butter, and vanilla together; set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2 tsp sugar with the cinnamon; set aside.

When the filling is ready, stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined and no pockets of flour remain. Remove the cobbler filling from the over and stir. Pinch off 8 equal pieces of the biscuit dough and arrange them on top of the hot filling, spaced 1/2 inch apart. Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar.

Continue to bake the cobbler until the biscuits are golden brown on top and cooked through and the filling is again hot and bubbling, 15-20 minutes. Cool the cobbler on a wire rack 15 minutes before serving.

Trust me, this is good, and better for you than a pie.

This recipe comes from The Best Light Recipe cookbook, which contains variations for blueberry, sour cherry, strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, plum, raspberry, blackberry, and apricot cobblers. So far, I've only done peach, but the sour cherry is on my list to try.

Did I mention that you should buy that cookbook? Because you SHOULD.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dark Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

I used this recently to frost some cupcakes I took to a barbecue (well, technically a cook out) at a friend's house. It was a nice change from the usual chocolate buttercream I make. I found the recipe on Bakerella's blog.

1/2 cup butter, softened to room temp.
8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temp (I used 1/3 less fat, and it worked fine)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 lb confectioners sugar (I just add it until it tastes right)
1 tsp vanilla
1-3 Tbsp milk

Cream butter and cream cheese iwth a mixer.
Add cocoa and vanilla and mix.
Add confectioner's sugar in small batches and blend on low until combined. Scrape down sides with each addition.
Add 1 Tbsp of milk at a time until you get the consistency you desire.

(I generally put in some sugar, mix, put in some milk, mix, and repeat until it tastes the way I want and is the consistency I want.)

This was GOOOOOD. I put it on top of Devil's Food cupcakes (from a box).

Other than these 4 recipes, I have no clue what we've eaten recently. Lots of hot dogs, it feels like. The Big Geek went out of town for a time, so the little geek and I probably just ate sandwiches or pasta or something. Oh, and we ordered a pizza one night.

Turkey Burgers

I realize that you all know how to make Turkey Burgers. But these are the moistest Turkey Burgers I've ever made, so I thought I'd share. The recipe comes from The Best Light Recipe cookbook from the editors of Cook's Illustrated, which I reviewed at some point in the recent past. You should buy this cookbook, really.

This recipe makes 4 burgers.

1 1/4 lb 93% lean ground turkey
1/2 cup fat-free ricotta cheese
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 Tbsp vegetable oil (if preparing in a skillet)

Combine all ingredients (except oil) in a large bowl until uniformly combined. Divide the mixture into 4 portions. Lightly toss one portion from hand to hand to form a ball, then lightly flatten the ball with your fingertips into a 1-inch-thick patty. Repeat the process with the remaining portions.

They suggest you cook the patties in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Heat the oil until smoking, then lay burgers in the skillet and cook until light brown and crusted, about 3-4 minutes. Flip and cook until the second side is light brown, 3-4 minutes. The reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and cook until burgers are 160 degrees (about 8-10 more minutes).

In reality, I gave them to The Big Geek and he cooked them. He managed to keep them from falling apart (which was my fear), but I think he had to be a bit more careful with them than with other burgers I've made.

These burgers had a good flavor, but weren't full of flavor if you're used to adding other things (like soup mix) to your burgers. Next time I'll probably dice some shallots to throw in, and double the Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard.

What I will say is they were hands down the moistest Turkey Burgers I have EVER had, and I thoroughly enjoyed mine. You don't taste the ricotta at all.

Cooked as directed these have 250 calories and 12 g. of fat (compared to about 34 grams in a regular burger).

Chicken Sausage with Quick Sauerkraut

1 12 oz package chicken sausage (chicken apple is a good choice)
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil (I probably use more than that)
1 small onion, sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
1 10-oz package shredded cabbage, preferably finely shredded
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup apple cider
1 tsp caraway seeds.

Cook sausages in large skillet over medium-high heat until brown on all sides, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a plate (I cut mine in half, but you could leave them whole or slice them however you like).

Heat oil in the pan over med-high heat. Add onion and apple and cook, stirring constantly, until beginning to brown (1-2 min). Add cabbage, vinegar, and salt and cook, stirring often, until just wilted (about 2 min.). Add cider and caraway seeds. Bring to a boil.

Return sausages to a pan, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the sausages are heated through and cabbage is tender, about 10 min.

I was halfway through making this when I realized that I did not own any apple cider. So instead, I put in 1 cup water and a generous sprinkle of white sugar. Then, when there was about 4 min. to go, I realized I had some hard cider in the fridge. So I opened one of those and poured about half of it in the skillet (leaving the cover off so the extra moisture could escape) and about half down my throat. It actually turned out ok, although I think if I'd had the cider and not the water it would have been better.

To my amazement, even the little geek ate this. I wasn't surprised she ate the sausages, but I was surprised I got her to eat the cabbage by telling her it was "cabbage pasta." I will make this again, but probably not until this fall when it's not so hot out. The Big Geek seemed to be a fan, but did say it needed more sausage and less cabbage.

I got this recipe from EatingWell.com, so it really is pretty good for you--it has about 45 % of your daily vitamin C and only 194 calories per serving. Of course, that assumes you eat the equivalent of one sausage.

Island Chicken with Grilled Pineapple

I've been busy. I could not tell you what I've been busy doing, but it hasn't involved updating this blog. The way this usually works is that I post nothing for a while, and then I come and post a bunch of stuff. This is going to be one of those days.

1/4 cup dark rum
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp packed brown sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper sauce
8 chicken drumsticks (or whatever you have)
Fresh pineapple (optional, but I suggest you opt for it)

Mix rum, chili powder, lime juice, brown sugar, garlic, and pepper sauce. Pour over chicken (or put all of it in a ziplock, add your chicken, seal, and shake/massage the bag to coat). Cover and refrigerate at least one hour (the longer the better). Remove chicken. Grill chicken 5-6 inches from heat 15-20 minutes. Turn chicken. This is when you could turn/brush on the extra marinade that I suggest you make as often as you like. Keep cooking until chicken is done (about 30 min).

Grilled Pineapple: Cut top off pineapple. Core and cut in 1/2 inch slices (leave the rind on). Cut slices in half (so you kind of make little "watermelon" pieces). Grill pineapple 5-6 inches from heat for 15-20 minute. Make sure you have lots of napkins when you eat this.

I tried this after the bourbon chicken, once I'd gotten the Big Geek to bring home some rum. I thought it was tasty, but there wasn't enough flavor. Next time, I will double the marinade, reserve half, and use it to baste the chicken while it's cooking.

The little geek ate 3 pieces of chicken (!!!) and at least 3 pieces of grilled pineapple.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cajun Bourbon Chicken

from Cooks.com

1 cup bourbon
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp paprika
pinch red hot pepper flakes
1 Tbsp molasses
3 cloves garlic smashed (or minced)
2 tbsp freshly grated ginger (or the jarred/tube kind)
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
12 pcs bone-in chicken (skin optional)

Combine all ingredients except chicken for marinade in ziplock bag. Pour out and set aside 1/2 cup of marinade to use later for basting. Add chicken to ziplock and marinate for 6-12 hours in refrigerator, turning occasionally.

Remove chicken from marinade, discard marinade. Grill over medium high heat with the grill open for 5 min., then close grill and reduce heat. Continue cooking over low heat for 15-20 min. or until chicken is done. Baste with reserved marinade every few minutes, turning chicken to cook both sides evenly.

We had this tonight, and it was good. The original recipe had 1 cup of soy sauce, but The Big Geek and I felt that the soy sauce over powered the other flavors, so I've reduced it to 1/2 cup. I don't think you'd need to make up for that 1/2 cup liquid, but if so, you could add 1/2 cup water, chicken broth, or vegetable oil.

Asian Pork Tenderloin

This is another easy way to get dinner on the table. If you prepare the marinade after your little geeks are in bed the night before, then all you have to do is remember to put it in the oven about 30 minutes before dinner.

1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, crushed (or minced)
1 Tbsp dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 to 2 lb pork tenderloin.

Mix together first 8 ingredients in a ziplock bag. Add pork, seal, and let marinate 8 hours or overnight.

Remove pork from marinade, discarding marinade. Place in a foil-lined roasting pan.

Bake at 450 for 25 min. or until a meat thermometer registers 160. Let pork stand 5 min. before serving.

A meat thermometer you can put in the oven, that beeps at the appropriate temperature, is a wonderful thing.

Slice and serve!

Buttermilk Chicken

It's been a while. My semester was ending, and I had assignments to complete, and somehow, posting recipes here didn't seem like a good use of my limited time.

However, we have been eating. My sister came to visit, and I managed to pull off some pretty tasty meals in between the pasta and tacos The Big Geek prepared while I was busy studying. This chicken recipe, for example.

I don't make it that often, because it requires such advanced planning and the purchase of buttermilk (you really do need actual buttermilk), which I don't usually keep on hand. However, every time I make it I wonder why we don't have it more often. Seriously, it is the best chicken EVER. You should make it tonight. Or tomorrow. Or even better, in two days, so it has a good long time to sit in the brine.

Grilled Buttermilk Chicken
from Sunset

1 quart Buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped shallots
2 Tbsp chopped garlic (or minced, whatever)
2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp pepper
6 chicken thighs
6 chicken drumsticks
(or whatever bone-in chicken you like. You can leave the skin on or take it off--it's good either way.)

1. In a large bowl, mix buttermilk, shallots, garlic, salt, sugar, cumin, and pepper.

2. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Submerge chicken pieces in buttermilk brine. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours, up to 1 day (I did 2 days because things changed, and it was REALLY good).

3. Lift chicken from brine, discard brine.

4. Lay chicken pieces on a barbecue grill over medium coals or medium heat on a gass grill (you can hold you rhand at grill level only 4-5 seconds); Close lid on gas grill. Cook, turnin frequently, until browned on both sides and no longer pink at the bone (cut to test, 20-30 minutes).

Serve hot or cold.

This is probably my favorite grilled chicken recipe. Make it!

I served it with salad and grilled veggies (cut up some squash, red bell pepper, onion, whatever you have, place it on a metal baking pan sprayed with cooking spray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and whatever spices you want, cook at 400 for about 15 minutes). YUM!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Tangy Slaw

Have I mentioned how much I <3 the crock pot? Because I really do. I have a few standard easy meals that use the crock pot, and this is one of them.

Here's what you do:

1. Spray the crock pot with cooking spray. You really should do this every time you use the slow cooker. Trust me.

2. Slice an onion and put it in the crock pot (optional).

3. Place meat in crock pot. I usually use pork tenderloin. I was too cheap to buy it this week, so I got pork shoulder roast instead. If you do the shoulder roast, you should trim off as much fat as possible before you put it in the crock pot.

4. Cover with your favorite BBQ sauce. We like Sweet Baby Ray's. You could make your own, but I am lazy.

5. Cook for 4-10 hours, depending on the meat, or until it is "shreddable."

Shred meat with 2 forks, place on bun, top with tangy slaw. YUM!

Tangy Slaw:

The Big Geek doesn't eat mayonnaise, so this was my solution. He still won't eat this. Damn, he is picky. However, it is good, so I still make it this way. Except when I'm extra lazy and buy the cole slaw kits. Which I've been known to do.

1 pckg shredded coleslaw mix, or shred a head of cabbage and some carrots, and maybe a red onion if you have it in the food processor.

1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp celery seed (or omit salt and use 2 tsp celery salt)
1 tsp dry mustard
1 cup vinegar (I use cider vinegar)
2/3 cup vegetable oil (Canola works well)

Combine dressing ingredients and bring to a boil (or if you are lazy and/or don't read the entire recipe and are like, "oh, crap, but I wanted to just throw this together," toss the bowl in the microwave for 2-3 minutes--assuming it's not a metal bowl). Pour over cabbage and toss. Cool, then refrigerate (if you were one of the "oh, crap" people you CAN put it on your sandwich at this point--it's just better if it sits for a while).

Pulled pork is from me. Coleslaw is from about.com.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cornish Game Hens with Mustard and Herbs, plus Blue Cheese Muffins

I'd never made Cornish Game Hens before, but they were on sale at my supermarket and I am getting more and more frugal, so I figured they couldn't be that difficult and went ahead and bought two. Then I came home, and with the help of my friends at Google, I found several possible recipes. Of course I chose the easiest one (from about.com). Here it is:

1. Pre-heat oven to 375.
2. Remove giblits from game hens, rinse and pat dry.
3. Rub about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard over each game hen.
4. Sprinkle with tarragon, oregano, and basil (dried).

5. Bake for about an hour or until they reach 170.

If you like, you can deglaze the pan with about 3/4 cup of dry white wine (2 buck chuck, I love thee), and use that as a sauce for the hens. I thought this was a good addition. The Big Geek thought it was better without the sauce. If I'd had rice, it would have been good on top of the rice.

I must confess, I apparently did not put the thermometer thing all the way in to the base, so it didn't go off, and when I noticed and put it all the way in, the hens were all the way at 197. Oops. I figured we'd be eating super-dry hens, but they were moist and juicy. One hen was good for The Big Geek, and the little geek and I shared one. She's 3, so she didn't eat much of it.

If these are on sale again, I'd buy them again. The article on about.com had about 10 different glazes/rubs to try, and they all look pretty good. You could probably do this to a regular chicken as well. Of course, you don't really NEED to since you can just use salt and pepper and get the yummiest roast chicken EVER, but that was a different post.

I also made these YUMMY blue cheese muffins from a weight watchers recipe.

cooking spray
2 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
1 tsp paprika
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup fat-free milk
5 oz blue cheese, crumbled (extra-sharp cheddar, shredded, would work as well)

Preheat oven to 375 (convenient if you're doing the game hens as well).
Coat a 12-hole muffin tin wiht cooking spray (or line with muffin liners).
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and paprika.
Create a well in the flour mixture with a spoon and place butter, egg, and milk into well. Mix until just blended (just use a spoon, no need for a mixer). Do NOT beat until smooth.

Fill each muffin cup with a Tbsp of batter (you'll have about 1/2 the batter left after this). Divide cheese evenly over center of each muffin, saving just enough cheese for a sparse topping. Divide remaining batter among muffin so each is 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. Sprinkle muffins with remaining cheese.

Bake at 375 for 25 minutes. They are best served warm, but even if they cool off they are YUMMY!

We also had steamed green beans, and after dinner the little geek and I used leftover marshmallows from the bunny cake to make rice krispy squares. I was so productive today. . .