Monday, August 20, 2007

New Home

MMM MMM good has a new home. I am currently writing a blog for the Fayetteville Observer. I am not sure if I am going to continue to post my blogs here also or not, but please visit me there

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fire and Ice

Picky eaters drive me crazy (ie:my son)! I don't even mind so much if someone does not like something if they will just try it and then make that decision. I like to cook with what some people (not me) might consider somewhat unusual ingredients. This usually means some spices that they are not familiar with or combinations of foods that your basic Southern/Americana cook would not typically use. Because of this, when I make a new dish I am often faced with the dilemma..."do I tell them what is in it?" With my children the answer is usually a no. My policy is make them taste first and then disclose. Friends and acquaintances on the other hand are a little trickier.
I will have to say that most of my friends have a pretty open mind about trying new things and now after a few times of trying my new creations they have come to know that for the most part my cooking ROCKS (hey when you got it Flaunt it)! It also does not hurt that I have a disproportionately large number of male friends most of whom are Firefighters that subscribe to the ... If it does not eat me first philosophy. I also think it helps that due to the military, a lot of them are not Southern born and raised.

Now, no offense to my friends (or anyone else) who are not Damn Yankees (like myself). I am not knocking Southern cooking. Lord knows that I love to eat it. But I am not that great at cooking it. ( I can't make good fried chicken to save my life). What I am getting at is there is a simplicity to the ingredients of Southern Cooking and some people who have eaten it all their lives are resistant to try things they are not familiar with.

On of my favorite things is to mix sweet and savory. Even I had trouble with that concept at first but once I tried it I was hooked. Now I look twice at those recipes with combinations that even I have some doubt about. I try to think about the ingredients separately and then use some blind faith.

Today's recipe was one that gave me pause. I love salsa! I have seen recipes for Watermelon salsa several times over the past few weeks. Now I make a fruit salsa all the time but it is definitely a sweet salsa and I make cinnamon tortilla chips with it. But this is a Savory Salsa with garlic and jalapenos. At first I was like, ehhhhh that really does not sound too good. But then after seeing it a couple of more times I was intrigued. I found several recipes on Recipezaar along with several other sites that I googled. There are many variations and I took what I liked best from them to come up with this one. I kept the name from the one I followed most closely because I thought it described it perfectly "FIRE AND ICE SALSA" The cool watermelon with the hot jalapenos is a surprising combination. I debated telling my friends what it was before they tasted it because quite honestly when you look at it you can't tell it is not tomatoes. But in the end I did and they tried it anyway. As is typical with something unusual, it got a slow start with people tentative about it but by the end of the evening the huge bowl was nearly gone. How could they have doubted me?

Fire and Ice Salsa

3 cups diced watermelon
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup diced red pepper
1-2 jalapeno peppers finely diced (adjust to taste)
1-2 cloves garlic finely minced
1 TBS Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup finely minced cilantro
2Tbs finely chopped mint leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Cover refrigerate for at least 1 HR. Serve with tortilla chips. Also would be great over broiled fish. 24-48 hr. is about the extent of it's shelf life in the fridge but so far mine has not lasted that long anyway.

Note: Be careful with the jalapeno. The contrast of it with the watermelon makes it seem hotter. Error on the side of not enough to start with then you can add more according to your taste.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sandwich Artistry

I saw this on an episode of Everyday Italian months ago and thought it looked amazing! I had been looking for an opportunity ever since to make it. I finally did on the 4th of July. It was a HUGE hit and I have made it twice since then. One time was for friends who came over to discuss a menu for their Wedding reception. (Yes, I will be make that for their wedding). I also made it last week and took it along to Fayetteville after 5 for my friends and I to munch on while listening to the beach music. Again it was a hit. You can absolutely use whatever cold cuts and cheeses in it you desire. I used spinach in it because I thought it would hold up better than other lettuces. You could also try arugala if you don't like spinach but I just didn't mention it to anyone (my kids) who does not like spinach and they did not even notice.Though I am not crazy about olives the flavor of them in this is irreplaceable. My personal twist on this was the pesto which I think adds a great flavor to it. I think next time I might even layer some basil in with the spinach ...mmmmmm basil! The bread is also something that can be whatever you like. Round and crusty are pretty much the requirements for that. The secret to this recipe is that it MUST be made 8-24 hrs ahead, wrapped tightly and refrigerated. This lets all those yummy flavors soak into the bread.


1lb round loaf of Sourdough bread
1/4 cup of Olive tampenade
1/4 cup pesto
Spinach leaves
4oz sliced swiss chese
4oz sliced provolone cheese
4oz pastrami
4oz ham
4oz tukey breast
Thinly sliced Red onions
Thinly slice roasted red peppers

Carefully cut off about 1/2 in off top of Bread. This will become the "lid". With you fingers hollow out the bread leaving about a 1/4 inch wall on bottom and sides. Mix together Tampenade and Pesto. Spread 3/4 of mixture over bottom , sides and "lid" of bread. Place a single layer meat, cheese, tampenade/pesto, peppers, onions and spinach. Continue to layer ingredients alternating types of cheese. Continuely press down on ingredients packing them very tightly into bread. Replace Top of bread onto loaf. Wrap sandwhich as tight as possible with plastic wrap (press and seal is great for this). Refigerate sandwhich for at least 8hrs. Cut sandwhich into 8 wedges immediately before serving.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

In Spite of my Mother...

I have come to the conclusion that I LIKE tomatoes. Now this might not seem like any great epiphany to you but my MOTHER would certainly be shocked to read this. My WHOLE life I have said I hate tomatoes. When I was growing up mother (who would sprinkle salt on a whole tomato and eat it like an apple) always put tomatoes in our dinner salad and MADE me eat them. So, I would pick out the tomatoes and choke them down by themselves. Don't tell my Mom but, I actually would swallow them whole which I also did with peas (which by the way I love now) and lima beans. This would INFURIATE her. "If you hate them so much why would you eat them by themselves???" my reply, "I love salad. "
My answer was simple and I think, quite insightful for a small child. I wanted to enjoy my salad. Savor my salad. If I ate the salad with the tomatoes it would have ruined it. It is also further proof that I was a foodie even back then. I can also vividly remember the sausage pizza we had every Fri night (and cold pizza left overs for breakfast Saturday morning) from Jacks Pizza. It was just recently that I realized that the reason that I loved that pizza so much is that the sausage was perfectly spiced with loads of fennel seeds. SEE ... what 5 yr. old has such a distinguished palette?
I also have vivid memories of going to my Grandparents and my Grandpa giving me a glass of Buttermilk. Sprinkled with a dash of salt and pepper. I loved tang of the buttermilk and the feel of it coating my mouth. I would drink it like a wine connoisseur ... rolling it around my mouth and over my tongue before swallowing it. OK, maybe I was a strange child ..but then again, look at me now. Are you REALLY surprised?
Once again, I have gotten off topic (but it was a nice stroll down memory lane) back to tomatoes. So though I hated tomatoes I loved catsup and tomato soup (with grilled cheese of course) and of course spaghetti. But as I have gotten older I have continued to add more and more tomatoes to my diet. But I have always been resistant to any raw tomato. Several years ago I decided that a small amount of tomato on Mexican food was really good. I love salsa but I stuck to the more thinner kind with less chunks in it. Then I tried Sams club "Fresh Salsa" sold in the refrigerator section and I was like ..HEY that's pretty good stuff. Then I decided to try to make my own Pico de Gallo. That was it, I was hooked!!! I was beginning to realize that I could no longer claim to hate tomatoes when I started eating the Pico De Gallo by its self. With a spoon! But, when I was cutting up tomatoes for it the other day and the juice ran down my wrist and I licked it a thought MMMM...I knew I was busted! Now you will still not catch me putting a slice of tomato on a burger and you will NEVER catch me putting them in my salad (thanks to MOM for traumatizing me I love tomatoes in lots of other things!

I am sure you are saying ..."geeze is she EVER going to get to the point? know ... like an actual recipe?????" Hey it's my blog! You're not the boss of me! Anyway, I made some Pico the other day and I was planning on adding shrimp and taking it to work for lunch. But through the course of the day I would walk by the fridge and take a spoonful (or 4) of it. By the time I got ready to pack my lunch for the next day. There was a pitiful amount of Pico left. Even with a lot of shrimp it was not going to make a very substantial lunch. So I came up with this tasty (and WAY simple) little dish and was very satisfied with my lunch. I have reworked it to make more than a single serving here. You can use a store bought Pico de gallo but really, its quite simple to make and SO worth it. It also allows you to make it as hot or as mild as you like. I would recommend making the Pico a few hours before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients to let the flavors develop and for it to get "juicy." It's fresh and light and very summery!

Pico De Shrimp and Pasta Salad

3 cups fresh Pico De Gallo (click on link for recipe)
8 oz steamed Shrimp cooled
4 oz of Orzo cooked according to Pkg. and cooled
Salt to taste

Fold together first 3 ingredients. Salt to taste. Refrigerate for at least 30 min.

Approximately 4 servings for a main dish (light lunch) or 6-8 as a side dish.

* I used the frozen precooked shrimp thawed and drained before adding to Pico.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Roof The Roof is On FIRE!

So I really had hoped to have a beautiful loaf of bread to Post here today. What was I thinking have I not said OVER AND OVER that I am not a baker????? Well I inherited a bread machine from my friend Robin who is moving UP IN THE WORLD therefore downsizing. I thought ...great this is easy ..dump in ingredients, hit start button and about 4 hrs later BREAD! This is surely NOT considered baking. I CAN do this! Well............... NOT SO MUCH!

2 hrs into this smoke was BILLOWING out of the vents of the Machine!!! Apparently the bread rose TOO much and spilled over the sides of the container dripping down onto the heating element causing a LOVELY stench and like I said before COPIOUS amounts of smoke!!! I SWEAR I MEASURED EVERYTHING!!!!!!

In my defense, One of the recipe reviews I read actually said that this rose too much did NOT however say it would likely catch on FIRE!! No, mine did not catch on fire because I unplugged the machine. Let's just say this was QUITE a mess to clean up! There were parts of the big GLOB that were cooked and I did taste it and it was quite good. But there was just no way to salvage it.

I would like to try this again ...perhaps I will try to halve the recipe??? Or perhaps try a different one. But I am a little gunshy. I DO know that I will NOT put the bread in and leave the house. Which is what I had hoped to do know go to work in the morning and come home to freshly baked bread? Perhaps that would NOT be a good idea. know I do have insurance ...It would be nice to have ALL NEW Stuff!!! Ok, Maybe not.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Good Friends and FOOD

I had been thinking about throwing a dinner party for a few days. My friend Larry being the catalyst for that (when are you going to cook again) So faced with a day of no real plans I decided that I was just going to be spontaneous and do it. I rang up my friend Evie and asked her what her and John were up to. They had already talked about going downtown to the Blues and Brews Festival by the River. We decided we would do an early dinner and head down there after that. Unfortunately Larry could not make it(I promise to bring you some left overs) and Marlana was out of town. So it was Evie, John , Me and Tanya.

Considering it was already after 12 when we came up with this brilliant plan I was suddenly in a time crunch.

Margaritaville Chicken Fajitas
Shrimp and Orzo Salad
Roasted Green beans

Have I ever told you I HATE Wally World?? Well on a Sat at 1230pm in Hope Mills not only do I HATE it but I LOATHE it. I would have much rather just gone to Harris Teeter where I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, to shop. Where every thing is clean and neat and beautiful. Unfortunately the prices there are not always so beautiful (although for produce it is totally worth it).

By the time I got home it was nearly 230 and I still had to make the marinade for the chicken. YIKES ! I got that going right away and popped the chicken breasts in so they could do their thing. I also did a separate bag of the veggies with a little marinade also.

Next on the agenda was the Shrimp and Orzo Salad. I had seen this recipe on Barefoot Contessa yesterday and could not wait to try it! That was painless but geeze look at the time it is almost 4 and I still have cleaning to do and oh Gee I forgot the Whipped topping ...and to put out the eggs to come to room temp and ....oh man NO WAY am I going to get everything done

Margaritaville Chicken Fajitias
Shrimp and Orzo Salad
Roasted Green Beans
Grilled Pineapple and Berries
Strawberry and Mango Sorbet

I have really been wanting to dazzle my friends with the Pavlova but there was just not enough time....sigh!

So at this point it is beginning to drizzle and I am not really thinking I want to wrestle with the veggies on the grill anyway. SO I get this BRILLIANT idea to use my cast iron griddle on the cook top. I do the pineapple first which goes realatively well. Then I move on to the peppers and onions for the Fajitas. About 5 mins into this the smoke detector goes off...not a big deal and CERTAINATELY not unusual. Someone thought it was a good idea to put a smoke detector in my Kitchen. Just using the broiler sets the damn thing off EVERY time. I was not any where near being done with the veggies though and fanning with a towel and turning on the ceiling fan and opening the door was not working. But OMG >>> LOOK at the time. I can't stop. I call my Son in and scream over the piercing beeps ...TAKE OUT THE BATTERIES!!!!! Well, we never did figure out how to even get it open. By the time I was finished cooking the veggies the smoke detectors in the BEDROOMS were going off. Ummm maybe next time I will do those veggies on the Grill after all and the chicken? Oh yeah, I stood in the rain and grilled them.

I can always count on my friends to be late which is good ..because dinner was NOT ready at the scheduled 5:30. But by 6 Evie and John came rolling in (Tanya was on time so I sent her back out to get ice ) and dinner was just about ready to be put on the table!

Everything was yummy and I was especially happy with the Shrimp and Orzo Salad Although I just realized I forgot the parsley. I am Definately making that again. Next time I plan on adding Sundried tomaotes and maybe some red and green peppers just to give it a little more crunch and some color. The only deviations I made from the orginal recipe is I used the Sun-dried and Tomato and basil feta(would you expect anything different from me?) and dried dill ( about 2TBS) because I did not have fresh.

Shrimp and Orzo Salad
Kosher salt
Good olive oil
3/4 pound orzo pasta
1/2 cup lemon juice (3 lemons)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds (16 to 18 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup minced scallions, white and green parts
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, diced
1/2 cup small-diced red onion
3/4 pound good feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Fill a large pot with water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and a splash of oil, and bring the water to a boil. Add the orzo and simmer for 9 to 11 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it's cooked al dente. Drain and pour into a large bowl. Whisk together the lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Pour over the hot pasta and stir well.
Meanwhile, place the shrimp on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and spread out in a single layer. Roast for 5 to 6 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. Don't overcook!
Add the shrimp to the orzo and then add the scallions, dill, parsley, cucumber, onion, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Toss well. Add the feta and stir carefully. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend, or refrigerate overnight. If refrigerated, taste again for seasonings and bring back to room temperature before serving.
Margarita Chicken Marinade
("Perfect Party Food" cookbook)
1/4cup olive oil
1/2 cup OJ
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup gold tequila
1/2tsp ground cumin
1canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Place chicken and marinade in ziplock bag and let marinate in Fridge for at least 4 hrs or overnight. Makes enough marinade for about 12 chicken breasts. Broil or grill chicken until juices run clear Garnish with fresh cilantro and slices of lemon, lime and orange.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Caterer is Born

After almost a year of anticpation I finally had my first real Catering Gig! I have been working with "the Chef" for a few months but this is my first big event on my own.(100-125 guests) I have done smaller stuff like my daughters party and I helped with a Church members reception last year but this was all me start to finish. I was not really sure if I could pull it off but I DID!!!
About 40 hours of work, 4 burns ,1 cut and only a couple of serious moments of panic went into the day.I had been doing it in my head and on paper for about the past month.

Sweet chili chicken bites
Moo Shu Pork cups
Stuffed Mushrooms
Cheese ball /crackers
Stuffed Cucumbers
Veggie Tray
Fruit topiary and Tray
Cheese tray
Meatballs (provided by Kristie)
Chicken Salad/ Crossiants
On Wed morning when I got off work I did my first shopping trip at Sam's Club for the major part of the food. I purchased the meat and most of the Veggies leaving the fruits for the day before the wedding so that they would look their best.

Wed. evening I went to Walmart to pick up the things they did not have at Sam's. All in all I made 5 trips to grocery stores. A couple more than I had wanted to but it could have been worse.

Thu was roasting and pulling the chicken for Chicken Salad, cutting and wrapping chicken in bacon for the Sweet Chilli Chicken bites and cutting the pork for the Moo Shu Pork. I also made the dip and cheese balls.

Fri was the big cooking day! I premade all of the dishes so that on Sat it was just assembly and final cooking/heating. I also made the final shopping trip(s) for the fruit and other last minute items. Fri night I went to the Venue and sat up and decorated the buffet table. Fri was a VERY long day!!! This was good because I was so exhausted that I actually slept pretty good Fri night which I had worried that I would not be able to.

Sat morning I loaded everything up and got to the Venue around 830am. My friend Robin AKA Did you wash your hands came around 915 to help me with final prep and serving. When she showed up I was in kind of an overwhelmed don't know where to start state. But she jumped right in and before I knew it we had a rhythm going and were knocking it all out. There was a brief moment of panic around 12 when I did not think that we would get it all done but we kicked it into high gear and had everything on the buffet by 1:00. It turned out that the guests did not even start coming until almost 2 so we were on easy street!
Robin working her Magic!
We did a lot of hustling during the reception. I don't have all of the equipment (like replacement pans for chafing dishes ... not to mention the chafing dishes were borrowed too) so restock had to be done on the buffet line. I had placed the 4 chafing dishes on the ends of the table which was a good move (though not intentional) so we were able to get to them without too much trouble.

Problems we had were surprisingly few. We did run out of Mushrooms and chicken salad but there was plenty of other food to make up for that. The bride did provide meatballs which is probably a good thing. I think we might have run out of more things had she not. All of those things were lessons learned that I will take to my next event and none were even close to being catastrophic.

There are several people I need to thank for helping to contribute to the success of this event. First Robert and Kristie for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to do it. To Cheryl, Lisa and Keith for loaning me equipment that I could not have afforded to buy (and kept me from having to rent it) I also want to thank Keith for allowing me to work with him and teaching me so much. Without my time with him this would not have been anything close to what it was. (Sorry, Yes I did steal your Moo shu idea ..but not your recipe) To all my friends and family who had to listen to my constant obsession about it. Most of all I want to thank Robin. Her help and skills and talent were priceless to the final product!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Something Different

Today's post has nothing GREEN ...oh wait there is a little Parsley in it. I found this Recipe back in December and have been looking for Ajvar( pronounced eye-var) since then and finally found it at the Mediterranean Mart on Cliffdale Rd (for those of you in Fayetteville). By the way the owners of that store are VERY nice and they will search for and order hard to find items like this for you. They happened to have this product because someone else came in looking for it and they did that for them.

I now know Ajvar is a Bulgarian sort of relish made with eggplant and red pepper. It's a little spicy, comes in mild and hot versions. I was only able to find the Hot but I don't find it too terribly hot(though I like spicy things) Mixed with a couple of TBS of sour cream it is tasty on raw veggies, pretzels, chips, crackers or Pita bread. It has only 15 calories per Tbs (minus the sour cream ...darn it) and no fat.

I found this recipe at Food and I did not really mess with it much (for a change) I did use anchovy paste rather than real anchovies. Don't be scared off by the Anchovy, you (or anyone else) will never know it's in there but it give it a wonderful salty flavor, not at all fishy. Have you ever had Ceasar salad at a REALLY nice resturant? If you have, it most likely had anchovy. Trust me's good. I cut up my califlower in pretty small chunks and I think that was a mistake. Leaving them in bigger chunks would make a much prettier presentation and I noticed that some of the very small pieces were over cooked (almost burnt) The large pieces were soft and nutty....very yummy!

This is a unique and very tasty way to cook califlower. I am always looking for new ways to present Veggies and I think this recipe Fills the Bill very nicely!

Cauliflower with Ajvar Dressing
1 head of cauliflower (2 3/4 pounds), core trimmed, head quartered and sliced lengthwise 1/3 inch thick
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 anchovy fillet, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons mild or hot ajvar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Preheat the oven to 425°. Heat a large rimmed baking sheet in the oven. In a bowl, toss the cauliflower with 3 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the cauliflower on the hot baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes, tossing half­way through, until tender and browned.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 5 tablespoons of oil in a skillet. When the oil is hot, add the anchovy; cook over moderate heat until it begins to dissolve. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the skillet from the heat; let the oil cool for 5 minutes.
In a mini food processor, blend the oil with the ajvar, lemon juice and vinegar. Add the parsley and pulse to combine. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.
Transfer the cauliflower to a platter. Drizzle with the dressing and sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts. Serve warm.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Counting my Blessings

Though I had to work on Mother's Day it turned out to be one of the best that I can remember. Both of my children put some real thought into the day and that was what made it so great.
My son gave me some hazelnut oil and a carmel-truffle chocolate bar. What made this special to me was that he never asked me what I wanted and took the time and effort to find something unique. What made it even better was when he told me that he had purchased it some time ago and had a hard time not giving it to me early. Did you catch that? He did not wait till the DAY of or even the day before to think about my Mother's Day gift. HOLY COW! Maybe I HAVE done something right raising him.
My daughter cleaned the house and COOKED!!!! I sometimes wonder if she was switched at birth because she has practically NO interest in cooking. I have tried to draw her in with little success. We had a pleasant time cooking together for Thanksgiving and I thought maybe that would spark her to want to do more but it seemed like it was going to be a one time thing. But yesterday I came home from work to a sparkly clean house with all the candles burning. The table was set (properly) with candles and flowers and Dinner was on the table. We had Chicken fettuccine Alfredo, corn, bread and for Dessert she baked (and decorated) a cake. Sure, she got some help from Betty Crocker but that did not make it any less special to me. Especially when she mentioned that she WALKED to the store to get the stuff ...twice because she forgot the rolls the first time. Do I have some great kids or WHAT?

The best part of all was that we all 3 sat down together and had dinner. That doesn't happen all that often these days. It was pleasant with fun banter and no fighting! I sat there happy as a clam enjoying my family and counting my blessings.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Dare to Drool!

When I cook I am always about " a big bang for your buck!" If I put a lot of time and effort into a dish it has to be not just "good" , but AMAZING! If something is fairly easy but looks and or tastes like it was really hard all the better! This dessert definately falls into the "BIG BANG FOR YOUR BUCK" category!
Now I would not call it "easy" in fact this is the second time I made it and though it was much better this time than it was last time, I still have some tweaking to do. But it's not exactly hard either. The thing about it is, even in it's less than perfect state...its still pretty amazing! I am making this my official "go to" dessert for times when I am cooking to impress.

I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen which referenced another version on Simply Recipes and of course I did a little more research other places before I made it. One look at the beautiful picture on Smitten Kitchen's blog and I KNEW I had to make it.I mean what is not to like? They look just like clouds ...gotta be like Heaven! It is called Pavlova however I call it Pavlov know as in Pavlov's dog? I mean tell me you can look at this without your mouth watering!

Both times I have made it I have followed pretty closely Smitten Kitchen's recipe but they turned out VERY differently both times. I am not exactly sure why. The last time the Meringues got too much color , they were very chewy and never really got crunchy on the outside even after cooking them much longer than the recipe called for. This time the color turned out perfect,the inside was still soft but the outside was a little too crunchy and they tended to shatter when you tried to assemble them.I even baked them a little less time than the recipe called for. As I understand it they should be crunchy on the outside (but not shatter) and marshmellowy on the inside. I have a feeling that humidity plays a big part in these. I think I also am going to try just a tad lower temperature the next time (which will likely be soon).

So there are 3 layers to Pavlova.

Layer 1 the Meringue. I will let you look at the recipe here since it does officially belong to her. Besides she has a great blog and you should check it out anyway. She does WAY more baking than I do. I wish I dared to try her breads they look amazing

Layer 2 whipped cream. I am gonna be honest the first time I just used cool whip and it tasted just fine. The second time I actually made real whipped cream (1 cup cold heavy cream, 3 TBS sugar and 1 tsp. Vanilla extract) except I replaced the Vanilla extract with Grand Marnier and it was quite tasty. It's up to you if you want to beat the cream. You won't lose anything by taking a short cut here.

Layer 3 sauce I made a Tripple berry Sauce

Tripple Berry sauce

1 bag frozen raspberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)
1 pint fresh strawberries sliced

Thaw raspberries then puree in Food processor. Add 1/3 cup sugar. Bring raspberries and sugar to a boil simmer for about 2 minutes. Strain raspberries puree through a fine sieve. Mix in blueberries and strawberries. Chill until ready to serve.

The idividual componets can be made ahead of time but the Pavlova should be assembled immediately before serving. Place Meringue on plate. Place about a 1/3 cup whipped cream on top of Meringue and spoon berry sauce over top.

You can top this with anything you like. My son does not eat berries so I drizzled chocolate syrup over the top. Next time I make it I think I am going for a peach melba type flavor....mmmm doesn't that sound yummy! The best thing about this dessert is it very light and refreshing. Definitely good after a meal when you don't want a heavy dessert!
Note: Several recipes I read suggested Piping the Meringue from a pastry bag. I did this the first time (maybe that was the difference) and found it to be an incredible Pain and Mess! I was much more pleased with the more free form "clouds" I got from just spooning them on to the parchment paper.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Green is my Favorite color

I thought my basil obsession from last year had passed. Little did I know that planting 3 little plants could spark it again and low and behold all I can think about is BASIL. Unfortunately I am probably at least a month away from harvesting any. Let alone enough to make pesto, which is what I am craving. I have a little jar of store bought in my fridge but I wanted some pasta with pesto. But to buy enough basil to make pesto would cost a small fortune.
So, I decided to make spinach/basil pesto instead. Frozen spinach is much more economical especially since I wanted to make a big batch. Of course I researched the internet for traditional pesto and spinach pesto recipes. The ingredients for pesto are pretty standard so I decided to kind of wing it and here is what I came up with.

Creamy Spinach/Basil Pesto
16 oz package of Frozen spinach defrosted and sqeezed dry
1/4 cup losely packed fresh Basil leaves
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 TBS pine nuts
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 lemons (juice and zest)
4 cloves of garlic
2TBS olive oil
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chicken stock

Place basil in food processor and process till finely chopped. Add pine nuts and garlic and continue processing and add spinach , pepper, salt, lemon, juice and zest one at a time Stream in olive oil cream and chicken stock.

I continued to thin down the pesto with milk until I got it to a little creamier consistancy. Placed about a quarter cup over a bed of fetticuinni and toped with some left over chicken breast that cubed.
The garlic was quite strong so if you are not into strong garlic flavor or have a hot date you may want to cut back a bit on the garlic.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Are you greedy?

Ok, I have not posted in a while though I have a post and recipe all ready (check back tomorrow) I don't have the time to put the finishing touches on it. So in Leiu of that, Someone sent me this. It's one of those things you are supposed to "REPOST if you love Jesus" things. I do love Jesus but those things bug me. I make it a point NOT to repost or foward them. I am not afraid to share my faith but I don't like to feel "bullied" into it. I did think the message in this was particularly poignant and it is one I have not seen before. I have writtenin the past about the feeling I get from "feeding" people. This reaffirms my feelings.
A holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said,"Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like."The Lord led the holy man to two doors. He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table.In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew which smelled delicious and made the holy man's mouth water.The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. The Lord said, "You have seen Hell." They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man's mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The holy man said, "I don't understand."It is simple" said the Lord, "it requires but ONE SKILL. You see,THEY HAVE LEARNED TO FEED EACH OTHER, WHILE THE GREEDY THINK ONLY OF THEMSELVES.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Super Sweet 16!

Ok, I finally have something I am really proud of to post again! Fri night was my daughter's Sweet 16 party! It was a grand affair that came off without a hitch! It was definately all I had hoped it to be and I am PRETTY sure that it was everything SHE hoped it to be too. Yes, I was living a little vicariously through her but there is no harm in a little of that once in awhile. She is a great kid who deserved this and I loved doing it for her! To read more about her party check out my myspace blog here.
Of course much of my fun in throwing the party was that I "catered " all the food.
I have worked just one time so far with "The Chef" but I learned a great deal about presenting the food and I put it ALL into action for this event.Besides just wanting to make this a special day for my daughter, I am doing the food for a friends wedding in May so this was a great opportunity to give some things a dry run.
I look back at the pictures of the wedding reception that I helped with last year and I see how plain and uninteresting that it all looked in fact I even feel a little embarassed by them. BUT NO MORE!

I helped organize the food for a Valentines dance at church last month and it was a huge improvement from the wedding but unfortunately I was horribly sick with the flu that day and fell short of the vision that I had for that event.

At this party however, I was estatic with the way the table turned out! Not that there is not room for improvement, but now I know what I need/ want to make it even more beautiful for my friends wedding. So here are my pictures. I did not make any new dishes for this event so no recipes but concentrating on the presentation REALLY paid off. Comments and suggestions will be very much appreciated!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Hanging my head, AGAIN!

I have often said that my son is the bane of my culinary existence. He has issues with textures, most vegetables, pepper and most herbs (anything green). Although, lately he has been surprisingly adventurous in trying some new things. I even see him being a teensy bit interested in cooking some simple things. Mind you, they are some unusual things (a hamburger topped with an egg?) but at least he is trying to expand his diet of Mcdonalds, Ramen and chicken patties.
Believe it or not though, one of the things we do share is a love for Sushi (Sushi? The kid who will not eat ANYTHING eats Sushi????). That is my "go to" thing to suggest when I want to spend some quality time with him. It almost always guarantees a yes and his sister gladly bows out of the invitations (not a sushi fan). We do have some different tastes in Sushi though. I go for the simple raw fish and rice type sushi or Unagi and he prefers the rolls that often are fried and spicy. He will eat a few of the things I like and the rolls that he has gotten me to try have been tasty. I just wouldn't have ordered them without him there because I feel like Sushi is one thing I can indulge in, that I really love and is also good for me, if I get the fried stuff
that is kind blowing that.
He challenged me a few weeks ago to try to make a Lithuanian dish called Cepelinai. Where he found this I have no idea. I scoured the Internet looking for recipes for this and believe it or not I could only find 2(?!?) and they were woefully vague. From what I gathered, this is basically a meatball encased in a potato dough that is then boiled. Hmm OK, I am not going to refuse him when he wants to try something new so I decided to give it a try.
I would LOVE to be able to post some pictures of the lovely Cepelinai resting in a bowl. However what I ended up with was potato sludge in the bottom of a pot with boiled meatballs floating on top. The meat was edible however a little bland. A host of problems came up while making these not the least of which was that I was trying to make them before I went to work that night. I think that another problem was something to do with potato starch. So, I was definitely taken down a notch (or 5 ) in the vanity of my cooking ability. HMMMM Maybe that was what he had in mind all along?!?!?!?

Monday, January 29, 2007

A Foodie's shame

You really can't classify my post today as "cooking." I was stressed for a super fast and easy dessert to make to take to a church function. I have a well know reputation for my cooking at my church so I had to tread very carefully with this one. Besides being fast my other requirement was that it had to be something that already had all of the ingredients for. What I came up with was something that the kids loved and was not meant to rival the lovely cakes and pies that some of my usual competition brought. My only defense is that at least it was not store bought.
This is a twist on Rice Crispy Treats. Every time I make Rice Crispy treats I think of the commercial they had for them several years ago. The mom is in the Kitchen behind closed doors and the family is on the other side imploring "Are they done yet?" Cut back to mom who is reading a Romance Novel,"NOT YET! These things take time!" Eventually Mom picks up the plate of rice crispy treats, toussles her hair and flicks some flour on her face. Sighs, puts on a fatigued expression and delivers them to the cheers and accolades of her loving family. I LOVE that commercial!

This is where I reveal on of my guilty pleasures. I LOVE FRUITY PEBBLES! Growing up we did not keep sugared ceareals in our house, it was Cherrios (only the plain kind back then) or Rasin bran.When I got married (at not yet 18) I ALWAYS bought "the good stuff" ! Yes ,I know I talk about eggs bendedict and Feta cheese omlettes. I spend hours pouring over cookbooks and websites and debate the virtures of fresh herbs over dried. I have matured now. ....I don't eat sugared cereal for breakfast, now it is a late night snack!!!!!

ANYWAY, I have prattled on for long enough. I hope that no one finds this recipe TOO hard!

Fruity Pebbles Treats

3Tbs Butter
5 cups Fruit Flavored Rice cereal
1- 7oz jar Marshmellow cream

In a large bowl melt butter add Marshmellow cream and microwave just long enough to make stirring easy. Add Cereal and mix well making sure all cereal is well coated. Place in 9x13 pan press down very firmly with rubber spatula. Cool for 10-15 mins till bars are firm. Cut into squares. Enjoy your kids praises!!

Note: Coco Crispys are also pretty yummy!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

New Toys

They say that the only difference in Men and boys is the price and size of their toys. I am not a man but I like toys too! OK, get your mind out of the gutter I am not talking about that kind of toys! Mine don't generally come with wheels, but there are some on my wish list that are pretty pricey. Like a new kitchen, island stove with grill top and convection oven. One of those hidden refrigerators that have different "zones" Granite counters and lots of other things I see on "Kitchen Trends" and " I Want that" Unfortunately unless I hit the lottery those are pretty much just pipe dreams.
But I did get some new toys for Christmas. One was a food processor and another was a Creme brulee set with a torch. I decided to play with my new toys today and used them to make dinner.

Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Plum sauce
Garlic-Truffle Smashed Potatoes
Steamed Veggies
Orange-Ginger Creme Brulee

Would you like to join me for Dinner?

Roasted Pork with Bourbon Plum Sauce

15 dried plums
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 pork tenderloin roast
1/2 cup Dijon Mustard
2/3 cup brown sugar
1TBS brown sugar
1/3 cup bourbon
1 tsp dried sage
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a small saucepan bring broth to a simmer and drop in plums let stand for aprox 30 mins. Trim roast if necessary, Rinse and Pat dry. Spread mustard all over roast then roll in brown sugar till well coated. Heat Oil in Dutch Oven. Brown Pork on all sides over medium heat. Strain off 1/2 cup of liquid from prunes and add to pan. Bring to a boil. Cover pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 mins.
Remove from Oven and turn Roast over. Sprinkle sage and thyme over roast, Salt and Pepper to taste. Place Plums around roast. Return to oven and bake uncovered aprox 20 mins or until meat thermometer reaches 155 degrees.
Remove from oven. Place roast on platter and tent with foil. Allow to rest for 15-20 mins. Place prunes and liquid in food processor and Puree. Slice Roast on diagonal and spoon puree over top of roast.

I found a recipe for Low fat Creme brulee and tweaked the flavors to give it a little added interest. Let me tell you the aroma of the ginger, orange and vanilla bean heating in the milk makes you want to stop and drink it right there!

Low- Fat Orange-Ginger Creme Brulee

1/2 cup skim milk
1 Tbs cornstarch
12 oz can fat free evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup fat free half and half
4 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean
Zest of one orange
1tsp freshly grated ginger
2 tsp Grand Manier (or other orange liqueur)
3 Tbs sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place six 1 cup ramekins or custard cups in a large pan (I used my the bottom of my broiler pan).
In a medium heavy saucepan, combine fat-free milk and cornstarch. Mix until smooth. Add sugar and evaporated fat-free milk and stir until combined. Add grated ginger. Split vanilla bean down middle and add to mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat.Take out vanilla bean
In a small bowl, combine fat-free half & half with the egg yolks. Beat lightly. Add a small amount of the hot milk into the egg mixture while stirring. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan. Add Grand Manier. Stir to mix.
Divide mixture into the 6 ramekins. Place pan with ramekins on shelf in oven. Pour hot water into the large pan to make a water bath for the custard. Filling until water is approx 1/2 way up ramekin. . Bake for 30 minutes or until custard is set. Remove ramekins from water bath. Refrigerate several hours or until completely cold.

When ready to serve, sprinkle 1 - 2 teaspoons of sugar on top of each ramekin. Using a small butane-fuel torch, heat sugar until it caramelizes and turns light brown. If you do not have torch place ramekins under broiler for a few mins watching carefully that sugar does not burn

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

I have a confession to make. I don't make my own spaghetti sauce. That's right, I buy Jar sauce (Prego is my favorite) and then I add onions and peppers and spices to Doctor it up. Personally I think it is pretty good. My kids never complain in fact my son would just as soon I did not add the onions and peppers to it.
I have TRIED to make it several times before and the results were certainly acceptable. But the truth is, I just did not feel it was SO much better than the Jar sauce to make it worth my time.

So today while I was making my usual rounds on the food blogs I keep up with, One site had spaghetti sauce. It gave the recipe and a link to another blog site with a Sauce recipe. Certain things about each of them sounded yummy. I started thinking. "HMMM, maybe I should give it one more try.
NO, each time I start out with high expectations and am always disappointed!"
But I kept looking at more recipes and persuaded myself to take the leap of faith one more time.
Now most sauces have the same basic ingredients but everyone seems to have there own little twist. I probably looked at about a half dozen recipes and took the things from each that I thought sounded good. From my research it seems that one thing that I have not done in the past is cook it long enough. I am very impatient! Today however I am going to try my best!

1 1/2 hrs into sauce making. NOW I remember another reason that I don't make my own sauce. Have I mentioned that I am a messy cook????? What is it about tomato sauce that makes it cover the WHOLE stove top and half the kitchen? But the sauce looks good. It's thick and has lots of texture however. I burned my tongue when I tried to take a taste of it so honestly ...I can't say how good it is at this point.

2 hrs into sauce making. Ok ..hmmm it should cook at least one more hour ...but I COULD cook up a little spaghetti and "test" it while it continues to cook! Yea...cause then I can see if it needs more spices and salt ...YEA ... I NEED to I HAVE to test it!!!

2 1/4 hrs into sauce making. So far so good! I usually don't like my spaghetti sauce without meat but this has enough texture to be good without it. I do know however that in the end I will probably puree it because my son has a thing about textures and ummm VEGETABLES. I think it needs a bit more garlic and Italian seasonings. Perhaps a TOUCH more wine too. I am glad I tested it. By the way, the wine is excellent!

3 hrs Sauce is DONE. Now for the verdict. The sauce is Great! I am really proud of it. It is the best sauce I have ever made! It is sweet and thick and hearty!Has none of the thin flavor of my past attempts.
I am going to be honest though, it's likely that I am going to still use Jar sauce most of the time. Though this IS better. I would say that it is not 3 1/2 hours better than Jar sauce. I WILL make it again though, probably for special occasions. I think that sauce is best made in big batches that you can or freeze. Likely this is only enough sauce for maybe 2 meals in my house. Perhaps THAT is the secret I missed!

Sindy's Special Sauce
2TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup finely chopped Carrots
1 small to med, sweet yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 rib diced celery(with leaves)
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1/4 cup chopped shitake mushrooms (more to taste ..again, picky son)
1/2 cup Red wine (I used a shriaz/merlot blend)
2 Bay leaves
1Tbs dried oregano
28 oz can Diced tomatoes (with juice)
28 oz can pureed Tomatoes
2 Tbs Tomato paste
1TBS Truffle oil (optional)

Heat oil in large heavy skillet. Add carrots, onions and celery. Cook med/high for about 10 mins until tender and beginning to brown. Add garlic and green pepper. Remove and place in large heavy bottomed pot.(a dutch oven works well) Add a little more olive oil to skillet if dry and sautee mushrooms until they give off their water and begin to brown. Add wine to skillet and scrape bottom of pan. Add wine and mushrooms to vegetables. Add remaining ingredients except truffle oil. Bring up to a boil stirring constantly. Reduce heat to simmer. Simmer for about 3 hours stirring every 10-15 mins. If sauce becomes too thick( starts sounding and looking like a volcano instead of smaller bubbling) add a small amount of water (up to 1/4 cup). When the sauce is done it will be a deeper brownish red. At the end of cooking stir in Truffle oil. This gives the sauce and great earthy flavor !

NOTE:Tune in later for the disaster that follows!!!!!