Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Who Cut the Cheese


I read an article in the food section of my local newspaper a month or so ago about how Cheese Ball has a bad wrap. In my family Cheese ball is a coveted snack that Mom only makes on special occasions. Christmas, New Years an occasional party throughout the year. Now granted this Cheese ball isn't the classic neon orange cheese covered in nuts. This is a recipe that was passed down to me from my Mom. I have no idea where she got it but once you make it will become your "go to" cheese ball recipe. If you take it to a party it will become what you are always requested to bring.

My Mother-in-law (I 've been divorced for 10 yrs but I always joke that I got my in-laws in the divorce) does not even form it into a ball. A couple of months ago my sister-in- law was telling me how she made " that cheese dip" and how she took it to a football party and shaped and decorated it to resemble a football and that at other parties she has shaped it to fit the theme. I was asking her about the recipe and she said "You know, the cheese dip that my mom always makes with the meat and onions and cream cheese!"

"You mean Cheese Ball? Your Mom got that from my Mom when I was dating your brother!" Then I busted out laughing. See, I don't think recipes are meant to be guarded. I think they are meant to be shared. ,I find nothing more flattering than someone making something that I have made for them that they liked. Plus, this frees me up to make something new for them!

But I digress, in my family we don't think orange cheese with nuts when someone says cheese ball. This is one of the first thing my kids ask me if I am going to make for the holidays.

It's very easy, though requires a bit of chopping. This step is faster if you have one of these food chopper thingys.


You probably could also pulse it a few times in a food processor and get a pretty good result but for years I tediously diced the meat into perfect little squares (I am over that now). Over the years I have tried different types of meats in it. All of them taste good ,but I find Pastrami to be my favorite. Sometimes they don't have that so I usee I use Corned beef as my second choice. When my Mom started making it she used 2 packets of the "Budding" beef. ( you know the inexpensive hanging envelope type packets of very thin sliced meat) but I find that one package (8oz) of the "deli selects" is the perfect. You should make this at least an hour before you serve it to give the flavors time to marry but it can be made 2 days in advance (good luck keeping everyone out of it).

Mom's Cheese Ball

8 oz thin sliced Pastrami or Corned beef

2 Pkgs cream cheese, softened

2 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce

2 bunches Green Onions

Finely chop onions (all of white and about bottom third of green). Place in bowl with Cheese and worcestershire. Finely chop all of meat and add 1/2 to bowl (reserving half) Mix together well and using a spatula bring mixture together to begin to form a ball (does not have to be perfect at this point) Spread remaining meat out on large cutting board. Turn cheese out onto meat and begin rolling around to cover in meat. Once most of meat is covered shape into a nice ball and place on a plate you can the use your fingers to place small bits of meat to cover gaps and make it look pretty. (Remember the bottom will not be seen). Chill for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. Serve with crackers. Wheat thins are my favorite but Club and Triscuts are very good with it also.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Magical Beans

OK, I finally got off my lazy rear end and dug out my homemade lightbox. I am tired of my pictures looking ...well, tired. Plus, this project for homemade vanilla extract deserves it!

I found this a little over a month ago on Travelers Lunchbox and thought "HOW COOL IS THAT?" Who would of thought that making your own vanilla extract would be so easy.

So, I jumped on Ebay and one week and $15 bucks later I had a 1/4 pound of Tahitain Vanilla beans. I had most of a bottle of vodka left over from a party and I was in business.

I split about a half a dozen beans and plopped them into the vodka. My next step was finding some cute little bottles (which actually was the hardest part). I finally found them at Michaels. Several weeks later I have pleanty of vanilla extract for my holiday baking and hmmmm... wouldn't these make cute gifts?

The pictured bottles still need a little more time before they are quite ready to use but I was too excited to wait any longer to share this. You want the extract to be a nice rich brown color.

There is not an exact science to this. More beans = faster and richer extract. Melissa at Travelers Lunchbox also suggests jumpstarting your homemade extract with a bottle of good quality storebought extract. If you use vanilla beans on a regular basis you can use the left over beans. Again, this will result in a slower production.

Here is the coolest part of this. Once you start a bottle of vanilla extract you simply keep topping it off with additional vodka and you will have an unending bottle of vanilla! You can add additional vanilla beans as you use them. As long as a bean still has the vanilla scent it still has life. If you have used a whole bean in your recipe(such as boiling it in milk) just give it a rinse before adding to the bottle. If you don't ever used vanilla beans in cooking you can add a couple of new ones split down the middle every once in awhile.

Everlasting Vanilla Extract

1 L Vodka (any brand)
6-8 Vanilla beans

Split beans down the middle with a sharp knife. Drop Beans into Vodka. Store in a cool dark place. Once a week give bottle a bit of a shake. In 6-8 weeks you will have a rich bottle of extract.

Once extract is established pour a few ounces into a smaller bottle for every day use and top off larger bottle with additional vodka. Continue to do this as you use your vanilla.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's a Beautiful Life

One of the disadvantages to my job is 911 does not close. This means that SOMEONE has to work on the holidays. This year that someone is me (along with a few other people). Because our schedule is on a 4 week track and Thanksgiving and Christmas are exactly 4 weeks apart, my shift gets the distinction of working BOTH holidays this year. But, someone has to do it and next year it will be someone else.
Don’t feel TOO bad for me though. One thing it didn’t do was prevent me from eating! It started early in our shift when my partner and I popped into the resturant my daughter (yes, she had to work too) works at for breakfast and crossed our fingers that we would not get a call before getting our food. Not only did we manage to get our food and swallow it whole actually eat it; but, we were seated next to a very nice couple who not only didn’t complain about the loudness of our radios, but thanked us for doing our job (which is not expected but always greatly appreciated). When we went to pay our bill were told that they had already paid for it. Wow! I have to say that made our day!

But no, the eating did NOT stop there. The ER staff all brought food to share so each time we dropped off a Patient we popped into the lounge to partake in the feast that was there. Downtown at EMS base we also had a potluck dinner and between the cooperation of the citizens of Cumberland county (by not calling 911 too often), the dispatchers, the coordination of the supervisors and us covering one anothers zones, each crew managed to rotate in to grab a quick plate with all the traditional fixins. Though we had gotten our fill, we had invites from the fire stations and even a few homes where we went to pick up patients. So, trust me we were NOT going to starve!

On top of all this, I prepared this Buffalo chicken Dip that I found on the Big Red Kitchen. This is the same place I found the recipe for the Jalapeno Popper Dip. Seems like Robin Sue has a knack for great “man food” ( Though I have not heard any women complain either). I strategically placed this in the EMS room (where we go to write our reports after we drop off our patients) for the crews to snack on between calls. Like the Jalepeno dip, this is like Buffalo wings deconstructed. I LOVE IT! I swear, both of these dips taste like the real thing.

I made a few changes to this mostly because I made a much bigger quantity of it and for convience (you know me I used a pre-cooked deli chicken). I had enough for a large bowl for the ER and two smaller ones for the EMS room and our dispatchers (never hurts to try to make them happy) The one thing I did not do was heat it. I pulled out a small amount after I mixed it together and zapped it in the microwave for a few seconds and honestly I did not like it that way. But at room temperature it was awesome. I think this is just a personal preference so try it and decide for yourself.

My shift ended at 8 pm and I met up with my kids along with their respective signifigant others and a few other friends thrown in. We spent a few hours playing games and I went home and fell into bed exhausted. But before I went to sleep I thought about my blessings. My children, my family and friends and a job that I love. Though my Thanksgiving may not have been traditional (much like my entire life) that does not mean it was not happy.

I hope every one had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Buffalo Chicken Dip

3 cups cooked chicken,shredded
2- 8oz pkgs softened cream cheese
1-12oz bottle Buffalo Wing sauce (I used Franks Red Hot)
1-16oz bottle Chunky Bleu Cheese Dressing
2 cups shredded Cheese (I used 3 cheese mexican blend)

Mix all ingredients together. Serve at room temperature (or warmed if desired) with Tortilla chips and celery.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Try It, You'll Like It

Let’s take a poll. Who likes cranberry sauce? Ok for all of you out there who said no or EWWW,tell me this… Have you EVER had anything but that icky jellied stuff out of a can?

Trust me that is NOT cranberry sauce. If you tried homemade cranberry sauce I would bet that at least half of you would not turn your nose up at it again. If you said you DO like cranberry sauce, you will be in heaven when you see how quick and easy it is to make. When you taste it, you will swoon!You will be perplexed as to why anyone would EVER buy that canned stuff.

If you are the person who always brings the soda or rolls to holiday dinner because your family does not trust you to cook or you want to impress your Mother-in-law, offer to bring this. You will feel smug when people start asking you for the recipe!

Kickin Cranberry Sauce

12 ounces fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

Finely grated zest from 1 orange

2 tablespoons of finely chopped crystalized ginger (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients except crystalized ginger in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the berries pop open, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Skim foam off the surface with a metal spoon and discard. Cool to room temperature. Stir in crystalized ginger. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 months.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pardon Me Waiter, There Is A Foot In My Soup

After seeing this picture, I want to see a show of hands ...How many people want to come for dinner???? I know it looks gross, but believe me you do.

Actually I used these chicken feet to make chicken stock. I had read about using them last year but I never thought I would actually be able to find them. But, I went to "Compare and Save" (which is a Hispanic grocery store in the Bonnie Doone area), there they were!

I went in there to check out their produce and see if I could find anything new and interesting. There were lots of things I want to try there but once I saw the chicken feet I was distracted. I had several chicken carcasses in my freezer that I had been meaning to make into stock so this was a good reason to get on that.

Adding chicken feet to your stock makes it richer and thicker. Chicken feet contain a lot of gelitan which gives your stock a velvety mouthfeel. Similar to when you add butter to pan sauce. It's hard to explain but you definately know that it is something good.

I just boiled the chicken feet for 5 mins then cut off the claws and tips of the toes and added them to the rest of my carcasses and proceeded with my ususal method of making stock that I posted last year but according to Elise at Simply Recipes you can make it with just the feet.

It is so nice to have home made stock in my freezer. Flavorful stock is the secret to making a soup that taste like it cooked all day but can actually be thrown together in just a few minutes. I even went as far as making a couple of containers of "soup base". I froze some shredded chicken in stock so that I can pull it out and make a quick Chicken and rice or Chicken Tortilla or my favorite, Avgolemono.

Avgolemono is a Greek lemon soup. I posted my own version of this last year but it is worth repeating. Don't let not having homemade stock keep you from making this. It is still great with store bought stock. This is so good for a cold day or a great comfort food for when you are feeling under the weather.


6 cups Chicken Stock
1 cup shredded Chicken(optional)
3 egg yolks
2-3 lemons
1/2 cup Orzo
1/3 cup finely diced carrots
Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring Chicken stock to boil. Add in Orzo and carrots. Continue to boil 8-10 min until Orzo is Al dente.Add in Shredded chicken. Lower heat to simmer. Place the egg yolks into a small bowl. Zest 1 of the lemons into eggs then squeeze in the juice of the remaining. Beat lightly. Temper the eggs by slowly stiring in about 1/2 cup of the broth a little at a time. Slowly stir the egg/broth mixture back into the remaining broth. Simmer for 5 min. Do NOT let mixture come to a boil as it will cause the eggs to separate and though it still tastes good its not very pretty when it does this. If you have left overs (and I doubt you will) be sure to heat very slowly for the same reason.

NOTE: Orzo is a rice shaped pasta. You can replace this with rice (and I have in a pinch, but I really prefer the Orzo) but you will have to increase the cooking time to about 25 mins.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taking It Apart and Putting It Back Together


I happen to really like Jalapeño Poppers but I have an aversion to deep frying. One, because I hate the smell of grease in my house and two, because besides being a messy cook I am also a cook that burns herself a LOT. Working with large amounts of hot oil is a recipe for disaster. I do, occasionally get the frozen kind that you bake and they are pretty good, but mostly I just get them when I go out.

But when I found this recipe for Jalapeño Popper Dip on a blog called Big Red Kitchen. I knew I had to try it. It is all of the flavor of Jalapeño Poppers without the frying! Sort of Jalapeño poppers deconstructed.

I took this to my friend Evie's bachlorette party and had a good response from the girls. But when I took it to work ,the guys really scarfed it down and everyone wanted the recipe!

This is a perfect "Sunday, watching the game" dip. You can serve it with Crackers (Ritz work well),bread or the guys really dug the "scoops" variety of tortilla chips. Get it? Dug? Scoops......never mind. You can make this mild or turn up the heat as you like.

I made just a few minor changes to this recipes and I used the "Lite" versions of cream cheese and mayo. I replaced the canned jalapeños with 4 fresh but the recipe does not reflect that because honestly, I think you will get a stronger Jalapeño flavor with them. Next time I plan to add both(but I really like a kick).

Don't forget when working with fresh Jalapeños that the heat lives in the seeds and membranes of the peppers. For less heat you should remove them for more heat leave them in. (I usually leave some but not all) I also recommend wearing gloves while working with them. The oils in the peppers can be difficult to wash off and you might get a not so friendly reminder of that later in the day when you touch your eyes or nose.

Happy Snacking!

Jalapeño Popper Dip
2- 8 ounce packages cream cheese, room temp
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1- 4 ounce can chopped green chilies-undrained
1- 4 ounce can sliced jalapeños-undrained

1-3 fresh jalapenos - cleaned and chopped

1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 stick butter, melted

In a food processor add the first 6 ingredients and process until smooth. Spread the dip into a greased 2 quart casserole. In a bowl mix bread crumbs and the other 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Pour melted butter over top crumb mixture and mix well. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over the dip and bake in a 375° oven for about 20 minutes until the topping is lightly brown and dip is slightly bubbly. Do not overheat or the oils in the mayo and cream cheese will separate .

Notes: The panko bread crumbs can be replace with crushed saltines or crushed Ritz crackers (I would reccomend Ritz).

Baking this in a "flat" casserole dish rather than a deep one is preferred to achieve more topping to cheese ratio when eaten.

Please NO powdered parmesan cheese product...ick!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Taking On The Establishment


I love coffee, I am not really a coffee-aholic but I do have to have at least one (large) cup a day and I usually have 2, occasionally 3. OK, maybe you could say I AM a bit of a coffee-aholic. But I can stop anytime I want. OK, I can't stop but I can live with just one cup a day.

I would like to say I am a coffee connoisseur. I do love good coffee and I recognize it when I have it. But, I rarely meet a cup of coffee I absolutely won't drink. I guess I would have to say I am more of a coffee slut than a connoisseur.

This comes from years of working EMS. Drinking bad hospital coffee or Convenience Store coffee to stay awake on night shift.I will go as far as reheating coffee I have made earlier in the day (sometimes even the day before). I know, it's gross but sometimes you need a cup of coffee before you are capable of MAKING coffee.

In the morning I prefer my coffee hot but at other times of the day I like it cold. This has me stopping at Starbucks and dishing out 4 bucks on a Iced Mocha WAY more often that my budget likes. But you know us addicts ...we will sell our souls for a fix.

I have tried making Iced coffee at home. You know, with that left over pot from last week this morning. I can't say that it was very tasty but yes I drank it anyway.

When I came across this method for cold brewing coffee I was intrigued. I did not know that was even possible. So, I decided to give it a try. I was amazed by how good it was. When you cold brew the coffee you don't extract as much of the oils and acid in the coffee which is part of what makes it bitter the longer it sits. You do however get a wonderful smooth flavor.

This is an excellent method for making iced coffee. The only downside it that you have to plan ahead. The good news is it will keep in the fridge for several days so you can keep it on hand. I also found that it makes a excellent quick cup of hot coffee when heated (Much better than the reheated stuff from yesterday). There is some debate about the caffeine content of cold brewed. When I researched it I found some sources say it is pretty much equal to hot brewed and others that say it has a bit less. I guess with the amount I drink, it would do me good to have a little less caffeine anyway.

The original directions I found for this directs that this be done in a jar or other glass container with a lid. But I found my French Press (which I think by far makes the best hot coffee) to be really convenient for this because it has a strainer built right in. If you don't have a French Press you should run right out an buy one you can use a jar and a fine mesh strainer or even a paper coffee filter (though this takes a little time).

The instructions advise using a nice blend of coffee coarsely ground coffee. I plan on doing that at some point but I think just your average french roast coffee bought at the grocery store results in a pretty good finished product.

Cold Brew Coffee

2/3 cup ground coffee

3 cups water

Place Coffee and water in French press or glass jar with a lid. Let stand for 12 hours. Strain twice (I found the second strain unnecessary with the french press).This "base" can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. Serve over Ice

I prefer one part milk/cream to 2 parts coffee and I often add flavored creamer or sometimes a little chocolate syrup. You can also experiment with your favorite flavored syrups.

Believe it or not sometimes I do drink something beside coffee though. I made the mistake of trying The Carmel Apple Spice the other day. Mistake, because now I would like to drink it everyday! (Again we are back to my wallet protesting) It is like a spiced apple cider with carmel it is SO good!

So, last week I watched them make it and guess what? It is SO easy to make and they sell the syrup there at the store. For the cost of 2 drinks in the store you can make enough for a party and I promise you it will be a hit. My friend Savanna made it for her husbands change of command ceremony (which was outside in the morning and COLD) and put it in a crockpot to keep it warm. Every time the lid was lifted the aroma was heavenly!

Carmel Spiced Cider

6 oz Apple juice or cider

1 oz Cinamon Dulce Syrup

1 tsp Carmel Ice cream topping

Whipped cream and cinnamon for garnish

Heat juice/cider on stove in in microwave to desired temp. Add Cinamon dulce syrup and carmel topping. Stir, Top with whipped cream with a little carmel drizzled over top and sprinkled with a dash of cinamon.

So, while I am here trying to put Starbucks out of Business I will bring back a recipe that I posted last year for "Better than Starbucks, Cranberry Bliss Bars"Just a warning though, don't make them if you are not having a party or taking them somewhere. You don't want a whole pan of these in your house because they are TOTALLY addicting!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If You Can't Post Something Nice, Don't Post Anything at All


Like I said last week;I have been struggling the photography of my dishes lately. I blame this mostly on the dishes themselves. They just don't lend themselves to being aesthetically pleasing which has nothing to do with the taste of them. But when I made "Rack of Lamb" (for the first time) last week and my pictures came out at best "boring and lacking interest" I had to admit that I have gotten lazy complacent about photographing my food.

In my defense, the food I blog about is the actual meals I am cooking for my family. It's hard enough to find the time to get a meal on the table, let alone set up a photography studio everytime I cook. I know it will shock you but, dinner at our house does not always mean a nicely set table. Not to mention good lighting.

I also do not own (much to my dismay) a fancy camera. I use a point and shoot type which is great for natural light but pictures that require flash have harsh lighting and a yellowish cast. If you look closely at my pictures (the good ones) you will often notice my backyard and/or deck in them.

It's getting to be the time of year when natural light at dinner time would mean eating at 4pm. Last year I constructed a "light box" and bought a mini tripod to try to combat this and they work pretty well. But, this means dragging it out everytime (again, that time thing) and often results cold food by the time I am done. Not to mention the rolling eyes of my family while they sit at the table waiting for me to finish.

I know, "Excuses, Excuses!" So I was determined today to post something with a nice picture. I have a bunch of good recipes I want you to try but this one is the only one for awhile that I have decent shots of .

This is a recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup. I saw a recipe for it on Mygourmetconnection.com that had lime ....mmm, lime! I made a couple of changes to it and came up with a killer soup that my co-workers gobbled up last week. I love the zing that the lime adds to this and my replacement of the jalapenos with Chipolte Peppers in Adobo gave it just the right amount of heat. I hope you enjoy this as much as my co-workers did!

Chicken Tortilla Soup with Lime


1 1/2 cups diced onion
2 Tbs minced garlic
2-4 chipolte peppers in Adobo sauce
1 Tbs olive oil
1 cup crushed Tortilla chips
1 quart chicken broth
1 Tbs cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
1 14 oz can "fire roasted" tomatoes
1-14oz can crushed tomatoes
2 cups frozen corn
1 can black beans

4Tbs lime juice

zest of one lime

1/4 cup chopped cilantro


Heat olive oil in a heavy stock pot or dutch oven (I love my cast iron) over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until softened. Add garlic and saute 1 minute more. Add the crushed tortilla chips, toss and toast lightly. Chop up Chipoltes(they will be very soft and sort of like mush)and add, along with a couple TBS of the sauce

Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, spices,corn,beans(with juices)and shredded chicken and simmer for about 5 minutes. .

Reduce the heat and stir in the shredded cheese and Half and Half. Add lime juice, lime zest and cilantro. Stir gently until cheese is melted and well distributed.

Ladle soup into serving bowls add a couple of crushed tortilla chips sprinkle with with additional cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

Notes: Tortilla chips with "a hint of lime" go great with this. Chipolte peppers in Adobo can be found canned in the hispanic foods isle.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Finding Time for Family

Swiss steak in Crockpot

Over the past several years family dinners have been harder and harder to come by. Trying to find a time when no one is working,going to school, playing sports or any other of the many activities one or more of us participate is darn near impossible. This became even harder as of August when my oldest moved out and also started attending college (whohoo).

I attempt to have at least one dinner a week with everyone but often we fall short and sometimes its 1 1/2 to 2 weeks. I usually manage to have dinner with my daughter a couple of times a week though that does not mean I actually cook both of those dinners. There are other times when I do cook but we don't get to eat together. I feel a lot of pressure right now to spend more time together knowing that next year she will be off at college and I will be limited to a few times a month (hopefully that often).

The pressure does not end at finding the time to have dinner but also includes finding something that EVERYONE likes.( I still am not convinced my children were not switched at birth! What? You say they look JUST like me?) For Ryan, nothing "green" this includes herbs and spices in any identifiable amount along with vegetables. Kristen, well she is not as picky as Ryan but nothing the least bit spicy (and her definition of spicy is MUCH less spicy than mine). I am not sure about Laura (Ryan's girlfriend) yet. So far she has been too polite to tell me she does not like something. Her answer when I ask her what she likes is always, "Potatoes are always good!"

Ryan is usually pretty good with any meat. Kristen (along with Laura) loves mashed potatoes. Of course I like most anything and some tomatoey gravy over potatoes is sounding really yummy. I think some good ole Swiss steak is in order.

I have been in the "comfort food" mode which for the most part is pretty safe in the "Will they eat it?" category. The only thing is ...most of it does not photograph well. It's not meant to look pretty it is meant to be satisfying, tasty meal. I have several recipes that I have made lately that I have been dragging my feet about posting for that reason. This recipe is one of them. It may not be pretty but your stomach is not going to care!

I found this recipe on Recipezaar. I made some minor modifications to it to include using cube steak. You can use round steak and pound it out if you like. This can be made either on the stove, in the oven or in the crockpot. I went with the crockpot method.

Swiss Steak


1 1/2 lbs cube steak

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 teaspoons garlic powder

1tablespoon vegetable oil

1 28oz crushed tomatoes

1 small onion thinly sliced

1/2 cup diced celery

2 cups baby carrots

2 Tablespoons worchestshire sauce

1/2 cup red wind

1/4 cup water

Combine flour, salt, mustard, pepper, and garlic powder. Dredge meat in flour mixture

Heat oil in large skillet and brown meat on both sides.Remove meat from skillet and place in crockpot. Whisk remaining flour into pan drippings.Stir in remaining ingredients and cook on med heat until it begins to thicken. Pour over meat in crock pot. Cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Serve over mashed potatoes (rice or noodles if you prefer).


See, I told you it wasn't pretty.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Equal Opportunity Cooking

Pear and Honey Cake

I am not going to pretend to know much about the Jewish religion. I have a very superficial knowledge of Jewish holidays and customs. I have had one Jewish friend in my life and few Jewish aqaintances. There is no specific reason why I just have not encountered many Jewish people. According to Sperlings Best The Jewish population of Fayetteville makes up just 0.10% of the total population. I have lived here for about 14 yrs so that might have a little something to do with it.

Honey Cake is a Traditional Rosh Hoshana/Jewish New Year dessert. I saw this Honey Cake on Smitten Kitchen and it looked so moist and was such a beautiful dark brown that I knew I had to make it.

I am pretty sure you don't have to be Jewish to eat or enjoy Honey Cake but I thought it might be nice to understand a little bit about it.

Rosh Hoshana (Jewish New Year) begins at sundown Sept 29th (this year).

Like Southerns eat black eyed peas for good luck on New Years (according to the traditional calendar) and Northerners eat cabbage;Jewish people eat Honey. Honey is supposed to encourage a "sweet" new year. Apples are also supposed to be good luck as they represent the "sweetness of life." Apparently the two combined are especially good luck.

The apple thing ...well I read that AFTER I had my heart set on adding pears to this. I mean honey and pears? Tell me that does not sound good! I am sure apples would also be a great addition. Heck, Go CRAZY, add BOTH! I also did not add the almonds to this but the recipe calls for them sprinkled over the top.

The only other change I made to this was the original recipe called for whiskey I did not have any whiskey so I substituted spiced Rum. I thought the spicy flavor would compliment it nicely.

Was I right? Well let me tell you I can't find anything wrong with it! I was very diligent in measuring ingredients and my "non-baking self" is pretty proud of this. I was not disappointed in how moist it is and it is equally dark and beautiful just like the pictures I saw on Smitten Kitchen

Pear and Honey Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup room temperature coffee
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup-spiced Rum
2 pears peeled and diced
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds (optional)

Fits in three loaf pans, two 9-inch square or round cake pans, one 9 or 10 inch tube or bundt cake pan, or one 9 by 13 inch sheet cake.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Generously grease pan(s) with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Make a well in the center, and add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee , orange juice and rum . (If you measure your oil before the honey, it will be easier to get all of the honey out.)

Using a sturdy wire whisk mix until dry ingredients are well incorporated. Fold in diced Pears.

Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds, if using. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets, stacked together (this will ensure the cakes bake properly with the bottom baking faster than the cake interior and top).* This part is Smitten Kitchens specific instructions I am not sure why but since she is a master baker and I am not, I listened.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Hunger For Reading

Thia Coconut Curry Shrimp

Though cooking is my number one passion, reading comes a very close second. Of course, the two are often combined. Because of this I have learned that though I love bookstores they are quite a dangerous place for me to visit. Dangerous to my wallet that is! Between my love of reading (anything and everything) and cookbooks I could spend a small fortune in a very short period of time.

I am always reading a book (often 2). I keep one under my pillow to read myself to sleep (occasionally that bites me in the butt when I get to the climax of a book and can't put it down) and one in my bag at work for rare moments when we get some down time. I sometimes keep magazines, especially cooking magazines (or gossip rags...shhh don't tell anyone) in the car for times when I have appointments or have to wait for anything (I am very impatient and if I have something to read I don't get as irritated).

I have come to the conclusion that spending $8-20 (often more for cookbooks) on a book that I often finish in a week (or less) when I can get used books for a fraction at Edward McKays is kind of extravagant. I am just as happy reading a book someone else has read as I am reading a brand new one.

As far as cookbooks are concerned, unless I find one that is just chock full of recipes that I like or has a theme that I use a lot ( My Perfect Party Cook Book is my bible) buying new ones is not very frugal. I can find a recipe for most anything somewhere on the Internet.

Magazines? Well I have a friend who subscribes to Food and Wine and she passes them on to me when she is finished and the bookstore does not seem to mind me paging through theirs while I enjoy a cup of coffee. I just have to leave my credit card at home.

There is one other alternative. The Library. The only problem I have with that is ummmm... Returning the books. I recently went to the library after a long hiatus. Why would a person who loves reading so much shun the library? Perhaps it was the $30 of overdue fines I had.(blushing) BUT, I am happy to report that I have cleared that all up and I am once again welcome at the library.

What does any of this have to do with cooking? Well, a few weeks ago when we had a rare slow day in EMS we decided to make the library our base station (it is right behind the Fire Dept). I was flipping through a copy of Cooking Light and came across an interesting recipe for Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp. But as fate would have it we got a call and I had to hurry out to "save a life".

As often happens, we never got another break that day So I never made it back to the library to copy the recipe When I got home I looked up the website and was very pleased to find the recipe with no problem. I was even more pleased when I tried it. It was really quick and really good.

I have made it twice now and I am adding it to my regular repertoire. The first time I made it exactly more or less just as it was written. The second time I was serving the shrimp over pasta and wanted a bit more "sauce" so I doubled everything (and used a lot more curry) except the oil and shrimp and onions. it was not quite as "light" but it was delish seved over a bed of angel hair pasta. This is the recipe as originally printed in Cooking Light.

Thia Coconut Curry Shrimp

1 teaspoon canola oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon red curry paste (such as Thai Kitchen)

1 teaspoon sugar

12 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/3 cup light coconut milk

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and curry paste to pan, and sauté 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in sugar; sauté 15 seconds. Add shrimp; sauté 3 minutes or until shrimp are done, stirring frequently. Stir in coconut milk and fish sauce; cook 30 seconds or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat; stir in green onions and basil.

Makes 2 servings, 1 cup each.

Nutritional Information as provided by Cooking Light

Calories: 255 (26% from fat)
Fat:7.4g (sat 2.6g,mono 1.8g,poly 1.9g)
Iron: 6mg

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fear of Phyllo


I vowed years ago, after a completely botched attempt that I would never EVER again try to cook with phyllo dough. When I say botched .....I mean botched! I can't remember what I was trying to make but I do remember that after much frustration and colorful expletives, the whole lot ended up in the trash can. But, never say never!

My friend Savanna (and my personal resource for Greek food) has assured me over and over that it's not that hard and she will show me how to handle it. But there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Her advice? Butter, lots and lots and LOTS of butter and keep the phyllo moist by placing a damp towel over it. Sounds messy and like a lot of work.

My friend Sandy finally convinced me to give it a try for her when I visited this summer. Actually, she sort of tricked me. She began telling me about this "spinach pie" her Hungarian neighbor made and that I should try it. So we went to her to get the recipe and that is when I realized it was Spanakopita...you know ...stuff made with PHYLLO! She assured me that "its not hard at all" I skeptically looked over the recipe. The first thing I noticed is that instead of using butter, she used butter flavored pan spray. The second was that this was made as a casserole which means no cutting or folding of the phyllo (traditionally Spanakopita is made into individual triangles). Hmmm... OK, I will take the challenge!

So, I have made this twice now. The first time I followed her recipe exactly and had a nice finished dish; though, a little bland for my taste. In her defense. English is not her first language and she never uses a "recipe" so it is quite possible that though she painstakingly wrote out a recipe for me, that something was missed or lost in the translation. She also talked a lot about finding "good feta"and I used the brand I found in the grocery store which may be a lot less flavorful than what she uses.

My second attempt I was more confident and I researched some different recipes and of course added my own twist to it. So, I don't claim that this is authentic Greek or Hungarian. But it is pretty tasty. I do think at some point I will try it with the butter thing because when I asked my friend Savanna what she thought about it and if it tasted like it should. She said her only advice would be to "use more butter".

The things you want to remember before starting this recipe is to keep the phyllo moist. Though it seems painfully tedious you must keep it covered with a damp towel. I recommend taking what you will use for each layer out from under the towel at a time (about 6 sheets). The other is plan to use nearly a whole can of butter spray for this dish. The alternative is using melted butter (not sure how much but I am guessing at least a whole stick possibly more) and brushing it on the layers with a pastry brush. .

2-10 oz Pkgs Frozen chopped spinach
1 pkg phyllo dough(comes 2 pkgs to a box)
1 TBS Olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced onion
2 cloves garlic,minced
1 lb crumbled feta cheese
1/2 Parmesan cheese (no powdered stuff)
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh is best)
4 eggs,beaten

1 can butter flavored pan spray

Thaw phyllo (in sealed pkg) for about 30 min. on counter. Thaw spinach (or defrost in microwave). Squeeze spinach dry as possible in a clean kitchen towel.

In a large skillet heat oil. Add onions and saute for 1 minute. Add garlic and saute an additional minute. Turn off heat. Stir in spinach, feta, parmesan and sundried tomatoes. Add beaten eggs, lemon, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x13 glass casserole dish with pan spray.

Open phyllo dough and unfold onto counter. Cover with damp kitchen towel. Remove 6 sheets of phyllo and place on top of towel.

Place 1 layer of phyllo dough in dish. Spray phyllo evenly and completely with pan spray(don't forget edges). Repeat with 5 remaining sheets. Spread half of spinach mixture on top of phyllo.

Repeat 6 sheet phyllo layer, repeat spinach layer and finish with additional 6 sheet phyllo layer.

Bake for 40-45 min until top is golden brown. Let cool for about 15 min before cutting into squares. May be served slightly warm or at room temperature. This is best served immediately for a nice crispy texture. It may be refrigerated and reheated in microwave for a few seconds. It will still be tasty but will lose the crunch.



Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Well, Butter My Ears!


As I am sure you guessed, I did not reveal the full menu of my BBQ to you on the last post. Thought I would stretch it out a little. I didn't want overwhelm you with too much goodness in one post. OK, yeah I was being lazy! Busted!

Have you tried grilling corn on the cob? If you haven't you DEFINATELY should! Grilling really brings out the sweetness in the corn and a little char on it? ...yum! If you already grill your corn hold on. I have a recipe (if you use the term really loosely) for you that will Knock your socks off! Chilli Lime Butter! It takes about 30 seconds to make and takes corn on the cob to a new level. Of course you can put it on corn that you cook by any method but really, try grilling it.

I have seen this several times in different places. I always thought it sounded good but had just not got around to making. I didn't think my daughter would like it but her reaction was something like this "mmph butter ..mmmphf Good Mmph! Translation:Oh man! That butter is really good Mom! (said with her mouth full of corn)

Grilled Corn with Chilli Lime Butter

Corn still in husks ( 1 , no better make 2 for each person)
1/2 stick Butter room temperature (Enough for 8-10 pieces of corn)
Tsp Chilli powder
1 lime
1 tsp lime zest

Soak corn in water for 30 mins.

In a small bowl mix chilli powder with butter. Zest lime with fine grater (microplane works best) Cut lime in half and squeeze juice of one half of lime into butter. Mix well. Set aside. (can be made ahead and refrigerated but bring to room temperature before serving)

Place corn on hot grill for 15-20 mins turning 3-4 times. Husks will be blackened but corn (at most) will only have spots of browning and THAT is a VERY good thing!

Remove Corn from Grill and allow to cool for about 5 mins. Shuck corn and brush with butter. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's Lurking Everywhere

I have come across a new cooking challenge. My friend Evie, has recently been diagnosed with Celiac disease. For those of you not familar, people with Celiac cannot eat gluten. Gluten is found in... OHH, just about EVERYTHING! I am exaggerating of course but when you add on allergies to Eggs, Dairy and Soy to that (which many of those to include my friend, with Celiac are also allergic to) it really becomes quite exasperating.

I found this diagnosis appalling. I considered how devastated I would be if I received such a diagnosis. What it would mean to me, as a person whose very being revolves around food and cooking. Though this reaction definitely conveyed my deep felt empathy to my friend it was not one that was constructive or supportive and I was ashamed of myself. So, I set out to educate myself and to learn to feed my friend.

The information that I have taken in over the past couple of weeks has been immense and overwhelming. I have many times gotten excited about a recipe only to be shot down by a realization that a single over looked ingredient had an offending agent in it. Oh and don't forget "cross contamination"
This weekend we were celebrating her "White Coat" Ceremony from PA school. This is the point of PA school where you have finished the class room education, begin your real world education and actually begin treating Patients (under supervision). A pretty big deal and I was EXTREMELY happy for her. Of course celebration to me ... means food!
I spent the week planning a menu that was about 90% gluten, egg, soy, dairy free. I wish I could say it ALL was a great success.

The good news, People with Celiac can eat all Meat, fruit. veggies and rice. So that was not a problem.
I marinated both Chicken breasts and Skirt steak (separately of course) in a marinade that I have posted here in the past. It's a tasty marinade and though I didn't manage to get a picture of it. I will post the recipe for you again.

Margarita Chicken Marinade
("Perfect Party Food" cookbook)

1/4 cup 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 hr. 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.

My peach-mango Hemp milk "Ice cream" on the other hand ...ummm NOT such a success. It would not get thick even after spending a couple hours in the freezer. At best, it was sort of Peach smothie. Today when I took it out of the freezer it had finally froze ... SOLID! LIKE A BRICK! The flavor on the other hand wasn't all bad. My friend said it tasted sort of like peach cobbler. This one is going to take a little more experimentation.

As far as the remaining 10 percent of the menu ... well that went a little better. I have decided that pretty much ANYTHING wrapped in bacon will be loved. Honestly, I think that I could wrap cardboard in bacon and everyone (especially men) would gobble it down and beg me for the recipe. Evie's fiance John and my friend Ross were terribly disappointed when I told them we would NOT be having Sweet Chili Chicken Bites. but that disappointment was short lived when I served This....

I saw a version of this originally on Food Network. I think Bobby Flay did it but I could not find that recipe so I searched Recipezarr and found this one. I made some very minor adjustments in the preparation but not the ingredients. Prepping the peppers (try saying that 5 times fast) is a little tricky and time consuming but TOTALLY worth it. I would advise using gloves and for heavens sake DON'T touch your eyes or nose while prepping them.

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Jalapenos
16 ounces cream cheese, room temp.
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomato
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt (to taste)
1 LB bacon
20 large jalapeno peppers (as large as possible)
About 40 toothpicks, soaked for about 15 minutes in water

Mix cream cheese, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro and salt together and place in a large ziplock bag with one corner snipped off (or in a pastry bag).
Make a T shaped incision in pepper severing the core at the top but not cutting off the stem. DO NOT cut pepper all the way through. With a small sharp knife (I actually used a grapefruit spoon which worked pretty well) scrape out seeds and membranes. The cleaner you make the inside of the peppers the more mild it will be. If you like a little heat then leave a bit of the membrane and seeds. If you like them FIREY the you could just loosen the membrane to allow room for the. filling (Removing/leaving some of the membranes and seeds gave them a nice little kick).

Pipe cream cheese mixture into each pepper. As tempting as it is DO NOT over fill You want the pepper to close up nicely without the cheese oozing out.

Starting at the top of the pepper wrap the bacon around it securing with a couple of tooth picks. Cover as much of the pepper as possible and sort of stretch the bacon to make it snug (room temperature bacon is easier to work with).

Place peppers on a hot grill for 10-15 min turning frequently until bacon begins to crisp and pepper is a bit charred.

Remove from grill and let cool for 5-10 min. These can also be served room temperature and the original recipe says they are good cold (no way that they would last that long with my friends)

Note: less expensive bacon works better than premium or center cut. Think thin and pliable.
These also could be placed in the oven at 450 degrees for about 10 min but I think the smokiness of the grill definitely adds to the flavor.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sand or Sugar, Do I Have to Pick?

Oh my goodness where has the summer gone? Less than 2 weeks before school starts(the unofficial end of summer) again. I have to admit, I have not been cooking much this summer (at least not much "new" stuff) I have on the other hand I have taken some time for myself and made several trips to the beach, hung out with friends,spent some time with my daughter, just generally relaxed and enjoyed the summer.

I hope that you have also been enjoying the summer and have not noticed my lack of posting too much.But in case you are missing me here is a recipe for a wonderfully light and airy dessert that is great finish for a nice summer dinner. Just a little sweet, just a litte tart and not too heavy. The only downside is it requires the use of your oven. But one look at the pillowy soft "cake layer" over the custard layer and I dare you to say it is not worth it. I found this recipe on a blog called Patent and the Pantry

Now for anyone who is not familar cooking in a "water bath" let me give you a little instruction so that you can avoid the pitfall( that I had the first time I tried it) of sloshing water into your dish.
Place a kitchen towel in the bottom of the baking dish, place ramikins on towel, place entire dish IN the oven and THEN carefully pour boiling water into the baking pan. When the Cakes are done. Carefully pull out racks a few inches and remove Ramikins from baking dish before removing dish from the oven.
Lemon Custard Cakes

Unsalted butter, at room temperature, for custard cups
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 TBS. all-purpose flour
2 to 3 TBS. grated lemon zest (from one lemon)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt
Powdered Sugar
Preheat the oven to 350. Bring water to a boil. Butter six 6-ounce custard cups, and place them in a roasting pan or baking dish lined with a kitchen towel.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and granulated sugar until the mixture is light; whisk in the flour. Gradually whisk in the lemon zest and juice, then whisk in the milk.

With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Add to the lemon mixture; gently fold in with a whisk (the batter will be thin).

Divide the batter among the prepared cups. Place the pan in the oven, and fill baking dish with water to reach halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake until the puddings are puffed and lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusting with powdered sugar.

I am definitely contemplating trying Lime next time and I think orange might also be tasty variation.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Play Time Over


So I am back from Vacation. I had a great visit with my friend in Virginia but was ready to come home. I am sure that it did not have ANYTHING to do with the fact that she has 4 children between the ages of 1 and 8. Not that I don't adore them, but at one point I looked at her smiled and said. "You know, this time next year I will be sending my youngest off to college." I can't repeat her reply here, but use your imagination. I am sure you will be close.



My computer, after spending a week in the hospital with a bill to reflect that (I know Franco, you can build me a new one) is finally up and running again. Sigh of relief. Though I have a love/hate relationship with it...I missed my "stuff" I not only was not able to get to my files and pictures to properly write this blog. I found that I am very dependent on the computer in my day to day cooking. I swear, I cooked before I had one but for the life of me I cannot figure out how. Cookbooks you say? How Archaic!

But I promised you something tasty when the world was right again. (OK, well perhaps just back to my twisted norm) and I am here to deliver.

This is a take on a Rachel Ray recipe that I have made several times. You may have noticed pictures of it on the edges of other dishes I have made for you but I have never actually posted this particular recipe and I am not sure why because it is really VERY good and pretty healthy as long as you use the cheese judiciously. Her original recipe was a meatless dish. I have done that as a side dish and it was very good: but, for a main dish, I like to add cooked shredded chicken.

Don't be afraid of the Pablano Peppers once the seeds are removed they are not hot at all. If you are still timid you could just as easily use Bell Peppers instead. Feel free to spice this up with more (or less if you like) Jalapeno.

Charred Chili Relleno
4 large poblano peppers
3 cups frozen corn kernels
2tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained well
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano,
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lime zested and juiced
1 cup shredded Cheese (I used a cheddar-jack blend)
1 cup cooked shredded chicken (optional)
Place poblanos under broiler or on hot grill and char (turning over half way through) about 15 minutes.

Defrost frozen corn and dry by spreading out on clean kitchen towel. Heat 2 tablespoons light oil in a skillet over high heat. When the oil smokes or ripples add corn, onion, jalapenos and toss until the vegetables char at edges and onions are tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-high and add in garlic, fire roasted tomatoes and season with cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Add shredded chicken (if using) Cook another minute or 2 then turn pan off.

Sprinkle the lime juice and zest over the corn mixture.

Split the charred peppers open but not in half with small sharp knife then scoop out the seeds with a small spoon. Place peppers in a shallow baking dish and stuff each split pepper until cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Trifles and Tribulations


About a year ago I made a lovely Trifle to take to a dinner party. Unfortunately, there was a horrible food tragedy enroute to the party and the Trifle ended up on the floor board of my car. I decided then and there that I would never again make a Trifle unless I would be serving it at the same location that it was made.
Just a few facts about Trifles- They are Top heavy. They are Bulky and I don't know anyone who has space for them in their refrigerator. The make a HUGE mess when spilled in your car!

However, a few months ago I got a package from my Mother that changed my life forever! Ok, maybe I am exageratting just a little but I was VERY excited when I found inside the most AWSOME Trifle bowl ever! The pedestal and bowl actually separate and if that isn't enough to make me jump up and down and clap it has lid too! I know, I know, I get WAY too excited about this kind of stuff but let me tell you when you put the time (and money) into making a beautiful dish and instead of getting to present your lovely concoction to the hostess and bask in the praise of OHH's and AHH's and MMM's you have to show up to a dinner party empty handed and spend the next week cleaning custard and whipped cream out of your car (and on every hot day for the rest of the summer you realize you can"t REALLY get whipped cream and custard of carpet), well ....

Now let me start by saying that no one needs a recipe for a trifle. You have cake layers custard or pudding layers whipped cream layers and you can have fruit and/or jelly layers. You can moisten/flavor your cake layers with juice or liquers if you please. So, go crazy, use your imagination! It will be yummy and beautiful!

I have made two trifles in the last couple of weeks. The first was a Peach Melba trifle (similar to the one that haunted me every hot day until I traded my car in last week) and a Blueberry Delight Trifle which only became a trifle when I put it in a trifle bowl. I usually make this in two layers in a 9x13 pan. So if you don't have a trifle bowl you can make it like that and trust me it will tastes EXACTLY the same!


Peach Melba Trifle

4 peaches peeled and cut into slices
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
1 pint of fresh raspberries
4TBS Water
1 1/2 cups seedless raspberry jam
1-16oz pound cake cut into 1/2 in slices
1 large pkg instant french vanilla pudding prepared as directed except replace 1/4 cup of milk with 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier .
1-16 oz container of whipped topping (thawed)

Place layer of pound cake in bottom of trifle bowl. Mix 2 tbs water with Grand Marnier and brush onto pound cake with pastry brush.
Spread 1/2 of jam mixture onto cake, Spoon 1/2 of pudding mixture on top and a layer of peaches and raspberries Repeatlayers arranging fruit in a pretty pattern (I tossed in a few blueberries) Chill for 1 hour
NOTES: You can replace the Grand Marnier with apple juice or orange juice to moisten the cake and make the pudding as directed on package.


Blueberry Delight

1 pkg Cream Cheese,room temp
16oz container whipped topping thawed
1 cup powdered sugar
2 (Bar type) Angelfood Cakes
2 10z can Blueberry Pie filling

For ease of cutting place the angel food cake in the freezer for a couple of hours (not required but you will thank me). With electric mixer mix Cream Cheese and powdered Sugar. Fold in Whipped topping and mix just until incorporated (don't over beat). Slice cake into 1inch slices and place 1/3 into trifle bowl. Spread 1/3 of the mixture over cake, Spread 1/3 pie filling on top Repeat for 3 layers. Chill for 1 hour.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Thai Thai Again

Today's post was inspired by my abundance of Basil which is definitely a good thing because I LOVE basil!

I was looking for a recipe that called for a healthy amount of basil because the more you harvest your basil the better it grows and in case you didn't catch it before, I LOVE basil! Like I mentioned in a previous post, if you don't regularly snip it off it will begin to flower and then will go to seed and it's down hill from there. It will also get tall and lanky which you don't want either.

I found this recipe on Recipezaar and it is SUPER simple and very very tasty. I am excited to share this recipe with you because with the exception of just a few basic ingredients you can change just about anything in this recipe to suit your taste or ingredients you have on hand and honestly I don't think you could make it taste anything but wonderful. This goes together in minutes and I am not exaggerating one bit. It has taken me this long to post this for you because I made it 4 times before I managed to get pictures of it (which by the way do not even begin to do the flavor justice). It gets gobbled up THAT fast!

I am going to Post the recipe for you as it was written and then I will tell you all of the variations that you can make though I strongly encourage you try anything that sounds good to you.

Thai Chicken Fried Rice with Basil - Kao Pad Krapao


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Thai red chili peppers
8 ounces boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces*
2 cups cold cooked rice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1/3 cup Thai holy basil (regular basil ok)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

In a wok or large skillet, stir-fry garlic in oil until golden; then add chilies and chicken and stir-fry until chicken is cooked.
Add rice, sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce, and stir-fry, mixing gently.
When well mixed, add shallots, basil leaves and cilantro; cook another minute or so, and serve.
If you desire, serve with lime wedges, chile sauce, fish sauce, or soy sauce at the table.

The variations are nearly endless. First of all, I used quite a bit more basil than this recipe called for probably more like 1 cup. I also cut my chicken into a very small dice (1/4 inch). If you do this when the chicken breasts are still partially frozen it is quick and easy. I prefer Tamari (over regular soy sauce)which is a strong dark soy sauce, but becareful because it has a bit more of a salty flavor you may want to adjust the amout.

I have replaced the chicken with ground beef. I have replaced the thai chilli peppers with 1 TBS of red chilli flakes. I have made it without any peppers at all (for my wimpy daughter) and I have made it without the cilantro (it was fine but I would recomend using it because it adds another layer of flavor). Using ground chicken or ground turkey would make this dish come together even faster.

For the pictures I put it into Endive leaves and that makes for a nice presentation and would make a great Hors d'oeuvre. My friend Savanna suggested using it in a lettuce wrap either with or without the rice (which I am going to try soon). I think it would also be great in a fresh spring roll (maybe even bulked up with a bit of shredded nappa cabbage).

My point is, make this however you like.Just make it. I promise, you won't be sorry!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I WANT To Be a Rebel


I know that a lot of people don't care for Rachel Ray and personally I could live without quite SO MUCH of her around. I have to admit though, she was the one who really turned me on to The Food Network. This was before cooking and celebrity chefs and what not became so trendy. I don't consider myself a nonconformist but I hate to feel like I am following the masses. I want to believe that I am doing (or can do) something that not EVERYONE else is doing. So I find it frustrating when I find something I like or I am good at and then suddenly everyone else is doing it too. I want to feel special ...sigh!

ANYWAY! Once again I have gotten off track. Regardless if Rachel Ray is annoying or over exposed I have really learned tons of things from her. If you ever watch her she often reminds you that lots of what she does is just a basic method for making something and it is easy to make it your own. Hopefully without being quite so annoying, my cooking style is pretty similar to hers. No measuring, little baking, a few convenience foods mixed in with really fresh stuff where it counts and though I think her stuff takes a bit more than 30 minutes for the average cook, I prefer meals that do not take an extraordinary amount of time to make.

This dish is the first thing from Rachel Ray that I ever made. I follow her original recipe pretty closely because really it is super easy. The only substitution that I make is sometimes I replace the Pancetta with bacon. It is a dish that easily can be made in 30 min and it's really filling and quite tasty! I was surprised at the texture of the escarole after cooking it keeps just enough crunch to give it a great texture!

The only part I find difficult is the garlic chips which are extremely easy to overcook and then become bitter. But I would definitely NOT leave them out they give this dish that little extra something that makes it special. Just cook them on very low heat, watch them VERY closely and remove as SOON as they get a hint of color.

Spaghetti with Pancetta, Escarole and Garlic Chips Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray

1/2 pound dried spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound thickly sliced pancetta, chopped
6 to 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 large heads escarole, washed and drained, roughly chopped
3/4 cup chicken stock or broth, eyeball it
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a couple of handfuls, plus some to pass at table

Fill a large pot with water, bring to a boil and salt the water. Add the pasta and cook to al dente, with a bite to it.
While the pasta is working, heat a large skillet over medium heat with the extra-virgin olive oil, 3 turns of the pan. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the skillet with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Ser aside. Turn the heat on the pan back to low then add the sliced garlic and cook until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the garlic chips from the pan to drain alongside the crispy pancetta, reserve. Turn the heat up to medium again, add the crushed red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Add the roughly chopped escarole, tossing to wilt it in the flavored oil and wilting it into the pan in stages. Once all the escarole has fit into the pan, add the chicken stock, lemon juice, salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes.
Drain the hot pasta well and add it to the escarole pan. Add lemon zest and toss to distribute. Turn the heat off and add the butter and cheese, toss to melt. Toss in the crispy pancetta and garlic chips. Serve the spaghetti with more cheese to pass at the table.

Notes: I also skipped the butter (though inadvertently) I can see where it would add great flavor but I did not really miss it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Want S'more Pie?

S'mores Pie

No, this is not a blog about redneck translations I promise! It is also not for the faint of heart or...sweet tooth. This recipe is RICH and VERY sweet! Diabetics, consider yourself warned!

I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen. Her recipes are always amazing and her pictures are Beautiful! She is also a "real" baker, unlike me. She made every part of this pie from scratch from the actual graham crackers for the crust to the marshmallow topping. Now I have made home made marshmallows before but I draw the line at graham crackers. But for this I decided that the store bought versions would still produce a yummy finish although I am certain that Deb's version is far superior. Forgive me Deb but the filling is the only part I actually made from scratch and it is so ridiculously simple I could hardly believe it. If you are feeling especially creative and want to try your hand at the Real deal S'Mores Pie check out Smitten Kitchen. But if you are lazy like me this is pretty tasty too!

I opted to make single serving pies hoping it would help me to moderate my portion control a little bit. I also opted to use half and half instead of heavy cream which made me a little nervous thinking it might not set up right but it worked fine.
This is pretty simple. I did decided to pipe on the Marshmallow cream in order to give it some texture when the marshmallow was toasted. This was incredibly messy but I am pleased with the results. Spreading the marshmallow cream on evenly would also work just fine (and likely you could use quite a bit less cutting down a bit on the incredible sweetness). If you don't have a creme brulee' torch you could place them under the broiler for a few minutes but keep a VERY close eye on them.

S'mores Pie

12 mini Graham Cracker Pie crusts
16 oz Marshmallow Creme
7 oz of Bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli 60% Cacao chips)
1 cup Half and Half
1 egg at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in center of oven.

Place mini pie crusts on a cookie sheet. Place chocolate into a bowl. Slightly beat egg in a separate small bowl. In a heavy sauce pan bring Half and half just to a boil. Pour over Chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Whisk together chocolate and Half and Half then whisk in egg.
Ladle chocolate evenly into pie crusts. Bake for 15 min. Let cool for at least 30 min. Top with marshmallow cream. Brown topping to desired color with Butane torch or under broiler.

Notes: One deep dish Graham cracker crust could be substituted for mini crusts. Increase baking time to 20-25 min. (It will be still a little jiggly in the center but will firm up as it cools)
Spraying inside of piping bag and tip with cooking spray will make handling marshmallow cream easier to handle.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Christmas in June

Exotic Melons

Do you like Melon? Specifically, do you like Cantaloupe? Well, if you do, Get thee immediately, if not sooner to Harris Teeter and pick up a Santa Claus melon! WAIT! Make that 2 or 3 (I will explain that later).

GO! NOW! I will wait for you ...............................................tick tock,tick tock........ Lalala la, la la la, Lalalala LA LA LA . That was the Jeopardy theme in case you didn't recognize it. Wait, you are not here anyway.

Are you back? Did you get your melon? If you didn't, I am telling you, you are missing out!

The other day I went into Harris Teeter and was checking out the "exotic fruits" section. They have a pretty good one and I love to try new stuff. When I noticed the produce clerk putting out some unusual looking melons. One looked sort of like a watermelon but was much smaller and sort of egg shaped. I asked her about it and she told me it was a Santa Claus melon. I asked her what it tasted like and she was unable to give me a description (obviously she is not a Foodie). She did say that they only get them once a year and that they were going on sale the next day. (Now I bet you are sorry you didn't go get one.)

So the next day I came back and bought a Santa Claus melon. I decided that I would do a taste test on few things and post them here for you because I am just that kind of girl (flashing a cheesy grin). I picked out a Casaba Melon which is yellow and shaped sort of like an acorn. A Pepino Melon (one of the exotic fruits) which is light beige in color with thin brown stripes and is very small (palm size). I also decided to try a Feijoa which is not a melon but a type of Guava, also in the exotic fruits section.

I will start with the ones I didn't care so much for. I was unimpressed with the Pepino melon it had a very mild almost watery flavor it likely won't be something I buy again.

The Casaba melon had a stronger flavor but to me had a very "green taste" sort of grassy. I definitely won't try that one again.

On the other hand I loved the Feijoa again this one is not a melon but just sounded good to me. This is a small egg shaped fruit that is green in color. The flesh is very sweet and is a combination of a pineapple, strawberry and of course guava flavor. This one was a hit! This is eaten by cutting in half and scooping out the flesh. When I was doing research for this also read that the skin can be eaten and is slightly bitter complimenting the sweet fruit. I might try that next time. The Feijoa when ripe gives slightly when you press on it similar to a ripe avocado.

Santa Claus Melon

Last but not least was the Santa Claus melon. The inside flesh is light green and resembles a honey dew. The flavor is sweet and has the essence of cantaloupe mixed with watermelon. But WAY better than either by itself. This is by far my favorite melon. I am very sad to find out they are only sold once a year! BUT, here is a cool thing I found when doing some research. They can be stored uncut for several MONTHS! That's right I said months. Now excuse me I need to run out and buy a couple more before they are gone!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Herb- A-Licious


I have a warning for you! I am going to tell you right now that I planted an herb garden a few weeks ago and it is doing FABULOUS! Do you know what this means? It means that you are going to be inundated with recipes that feature fresh herbs!

Now I love plants but I do not have a particularly "green thumb." I have absolutely NO houseplants because I kill them. Even my "lucky bamboo" died which is supposed to be one of the easiest plants to keep. But I do much better with plants outdoors. The problem is that I HATE(!!!) to weed and occasionally I forget to water. The first issue is solved by planting a "potted" garden. Which is what I have done on my back deck. The second...well we will just keep our fingers crossed. The fact is that I use some kind of herb (when I have them readily available) nearly everyday. So, if I use them I generally check to see if they need water at the same time.

I highly recommend planting your own. I get bedding plants from one of the local nurseries and I have not had any issues with any of them. Even Walmart sells them though the ones that I have gotten there do not seem quite as hearty. Think about the herbs you love most and plant one or two. For the price you pay for 1 package of grocery store herbs you will always have the freshest on hand and you will likely (much like me) begin putting them in EVERYTHING you cook. It is SO cool to go out your back door and cut the fresh herbs you need for a meal!
These are the herbs that I currently have growing and all are hearty and easy to grow.
Basil (my most favorite), Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, and Oregano. I still would like to get some Parsley (which I have never tried to grow before) and Sage.

The only thing that I have not had luck with was Cilantro. That makes me sad because I use a lot of cilantro and would love to be able to snip it whenever I need it. It does fine for a while but as soon as it gets really hot it goes straight to seed and then dries up and dies. I am thinking about maybe trying it on my front porch this year where it does not get so much direct sunlight. My friend Karen, who grows a good sized organic Vegetable garden in her backyard, says that she has also had problems with Cilantro and she has found that fall is a better time to grow it.

The key things to growing potted herbs:

Plenty of water: Sometimes in the summer when it is very hot and dry they need to be watered twice a day.

Pinch back plants regularly to encourage full bushy growth instead of tall and lanky. Basil in particular will quickly flower and then go to seed and then the plant will not produce many leaves. For this reason along with the fact that I plant a lot of basil you will probably get your fill of basil recipes this summer (I already have 2 ready to go).

If you feed your plants (which I do about once a week) be sure that you are using a fertilizer that is intended for fruits and veggies. I have had great luck with Miracle Grow. Remember to mix it at a strength for houseplants if you are feeding potted herbs as not to burn the roots.

So here is the first dish I have for you that features ingredients from my herb garden. I have made this 3 times now and though it is very tasty I have not yet gotten the timing down for how long to cook it. I found this recipe on a Blog called Columbus Foodie I made a few minor changes to it because I did not want to eat 3 eggs and I did not have any parsley so I substituted Chives. Other than that I am still working on the Broiling time. The recipe says 6 min under the broiler but this produces a very hard cooked egg and I like mine over medium. I tried 4 mins and this was still too long. Today I tried 3 mins and the yolks were the way I like them but the whites were not quite done enough. I definately think 3 1/2 mins should do the the trick. Enjoy this decadent but really simple breakfast!


Herbed-Baked Eggs
recipe adapted from Ina Garten

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon minced Chives

1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
4 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted French bread or brioche, for serving

Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes and place the oven rack 6 inches below the heat.

Combine the garlic, thyme, rosemary, chives, and Parmesan and set aside. Carefully crack 2 eggs into each of 2 small bowls (you won’t be baking them in these) without breaking the yolks. (It’s very important to have all the eggs ready to go before you start cooking.)

Place 2 individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Place 1 tablespoon of cream and 1/2 tablespoon of butter in each dish and place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Quickly, but carefully, pour 3 eggs into each gratin dish and sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place back under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked. (Rotate the baking sheet once if they aren’t cooking evenly.) The eggs will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven. Allow to set for 60 seconds and serve hot with toasted bread.

Notes It is important to have all of your ingredients ready before you start cooking and to keep a close watch on them under the broiler.The butter can go from brown to burned in seconds. This seems like it would be a big pain but its only 5 mins (tops) and it's well worth it!