Friday, December 30, 2011

Basil and Goat Cheese Spread

Unless you are delusional and include Valentine's Day, the Holidays are nearing an end.  It is sad, but I had a wonderful time.  Christmas was cozy and relaxed with some truly excellent food.

2011 Christmas Menu
Basil and Goat Cheese Spread
Chipotle Maple Glazed Ham
Slow Cooked Green Beans
Cheesy Hash-brown Casserole
Fruit and Jello Salad*
White Chocolate Bread Pudding
Blackberry Crisp

*Waaaay more delicious than the name implies.
We are a family that loves cooking, so the responsibilities were shared between me, my mom, my sister-in-law, and mother-in-law.  I only had to make an appetizer and the ham.  Both were very, very easy.  This little spread is easy to whip up at any time and is perfect for any type of get together.  (Like that last minute New Year's Eve party....)  Serve it with bread, crackers, veggies, or (my favorite) apples.

Basil and Goat Cheese Spread
4 oz cream cheese
4 oz goat cheese
1 heaping Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 heaping Tbsp fresh chopped basil*
3 cloves roasted garlic**
pinch of salt

   Cream cheeses together.  Fold in the rest of the ingredients.
   Makes ~1 C, 8-12 servings.

*I used basil that I pureed in olive oil over the summer to preserve it.  If you are using fresh, fresh basil  up the amount to 2 Tbsp.  OR substitute the basil and garlic for 1.5 Tbsp store bought pesto.
**To roast garlic, take cloves still in paper, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and wrap in foil.  Bake at 350 fro 25 minutes.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rosemary and Garlic Beef Roast

Sorry it is taking so long for me to get these Dickensian recipes up.  This roast is a great weekend make-ahead for a comforting weeknight meal.  Seriously, I think the leftovers are better.  Which is why I served it leftover-style for the Christmas dinner I catered.  I cooked it on day one.  Let it cool, then thinly sliced it and reheated it in the juices.  So few ingredients, but so yummy!

Rosemary and Garlic Beef Roast
2.5-3 lb beef shoulder roast
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tsp dried rosemary
8-10 dried mushrooms (like porcini caps, ~0.5 oz)
1/2 C beef broth
salt and pepper

   Use a paring knife to poke holes in the meat.  Put slices of garlic in the holes.  Do this evenly over the whole roast.  Liberally salt and pepper.
   Heat about 1 Tbsp oil over med-high heat.  Sear roast on all sides to get a good caramelization.  (This step is optional, but adds a lot of flavor.)
   Place in roasting pan with broth, mushrooms, and liberally sprinkle with rosemary.  Cover with foil.
   Put in a 325 deg F oven for 2.5-3 hours. (Remove foil for the last 30 minutes.)
   Allow to rest for 10 minutes, slice and serve immediately.
   Allow to cool and slice as thinly as possible.  Place in juices and store.  When the day comes for eating, reheat in juices.  Add more broth if necessary.  Toss meat during reheating.  You can do this in a pan or in the oven.
   Serves 6-8.

Exclusive Recipe

Hey guys!

I recently made bacon cookies, and let me just say they are take-your-clothes-off-amazing!  But, it was for Save the Artist.  So this will be an STA exclusive recipe.  If you want it (and you know you do) go to the Save the Artist "subscribe" page (here) and enter your email in the right-hand box to receive our newsletter.  Don't worry!  We won't flood your inbox with spam or junk.  You'll receive the newsletter with exciting, exclusive content a few times a month, maybe once a week.

Not to make this an ad for STA, but it is really cool.  And we are always looking for new artists to become a part of our community.  So if you have a person you'd like to feature, a kickass unique recipe, a fabulous skirt you whipped up one afternoon, a crazy-intense drawing that you are really proud of, .....anything!, share it with us and we'll share it with the world!

Lauren <3

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fig, Port, and Bleu Cheese Cheese Ball

Last weekend my best friends and I had a girly pajama party Christmas party, complete with drinks, Dirty Santa, mustaches and tarot cards.  And, obviously, appetizers!  I made this heavenly little cheese ball.  It is really elegant and so, so simple.  Perfect for any winter or holiday get together.  Also, it has a slight pinky, purple hue from the port that is gorgeous.

Fig, Port, and Bleu Cheese Cheese Ball
6 oz neufch√Ętel cheese (or light cream cheese), room temp
4 oz bleu cheese, crumbled* (room temp)
4-5 dried golden figs
1/4 C port (or full-bodied red wine)
1/2 C walnuts, finely chopped and toasted
(cooking spray)

   Roughly chop figs, remove stems if present.  In a small sauce pan, heat figs and port wine over med heat.  When it comes to a bubble, reduce heat to med-low.  Allow port to reduce to ~1.5 Tbsp.  Cool.  Finely chop figs.
   Combine cheeses.  Mix in figs and reduced port.
   Lightly spray a piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray.  Pile cheese mixture in center and wrap.  Form into a ball.  Place in freezer for 15 minutes.
   Unwrap cheese.  Roll in toasted walnuts.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve.
   Makes 1 ~4 in cheese ball.

*A softer bleu cheese, like Gorgonzola or Stilton, works best.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sweet Potato and Smoked Sausage Hash

Every once in a while we do breakfast for dinner.  Honestly, I don't know why we don't do it more often. The food is easy and delicious and generally faster to make than regular, normal dinner food.  This hash is hearty and yummy, perfect for a big, comforting dinner or a great kickstart to the morning.  For breakfast, I suggest this one recipe serve 4 people.  Dinner is generally a bigger meal, so it is good for 2 people.  And did I mention it is pretty healthy?

Sweet Potato and Smoked Sausage Hash
1 small onion, chopped
1 lrg sweet potato (~1 lb), chopped
2 tsp garlic
1 7oz link smoked turkey sausage, chopped*
4 eggs
a scant 1/3 C water
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

   Heat about 2 tsp of oil over medium heat in a large skillet with a lid.  Saute onions until translucent, ~5 min.  Add potatoes, a little salt and some pepper, heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add water and immediately cover.  Allow potatoes to steam until tender and water evaporated.  It will take about 10-12 minutes.  Remove lid, let any excess water evaporate.  Add sausage and heat through.  When edges of sausage and potatoes are browned it is done.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   While potatoes and sausage are crisping, cook eggs.  Heat ~1 Tbsp oil over med heat.  Crack eggs directly into pan.  When whites have set up, flip and cook for ~1.5 minutes.  Eggs should be between over-easy and over-medium.  Salt and pepper eggs to taste.  Top hash with eggs.
   Serves 2-4

 *You can use beef or pork if you like, but it will not be as healthy.

Black Box Malbec

Today is my birthday, but I had yesterday off so I celebrated then.  Maybe "celebrate" isn't an accurate description of what I did.  I didn't leave my pajamas, I marathoned The Lord of the Rings (extended editions, of course), ate Blue Coast Burrito for lunch, and indulged in several glasses of Black Box Malbec.  It was exactly what I wanted/needed.

Boxed wine has come a long way from the check-red-or-white Franzia.  Several companies are completely devoting themselves to boxes, like Bota Box and Black Box.  The liquid bladder inside keeps air away from the wine and thus, the wine stays fresher, longer.  Also, cardboard is much cheaper/easier to deal with packaging-wise than glass.  So I say, bring on the boxed wine!
Malbec is not a new variety of wine, but it has recently gained a new popularity here in the States.  Black Box was the first malbec I had, and I fell in love.  It has a medium body and is on the drier side, but has a slightly sweet finish.  Also, the tannins are not over-powering.  Personally, I think this is a great introductory-red for those looking to branch out from whites.  Lastly, it isn't expensive.  You get a high quality wine, the equivalent of 4 regular bottles, for about $22.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mushroom Braised Chicken Thighs

My first really big catering job was this past weekend.  I, along with the help from my wonderful mom, spent all say Saturday and Sunday morning cooking for 105 people (though, only 75 actually showed up.)  It was exhausting and sometimes frustrating, but I had so much fun!

This is the chicken dish that I made, and it went over very well.  And let me tell you, it is easy... even on a large scale.  Also, cheap.  You can make it fancier and more expensive by using different mushrooms, but the plain old button mushrooms work just fine.  I lucked out on Saturday and the potabellas and baby bellas were on a really good sale.  You can even use a variety of dried mushrooms if you like.  This would be perfect for a holiday gathering or for a fuss-free Christmas dinner.
(Picture taken when testing recipe using dried mushrooms, not final recipe.)
Mushroom Braised Chicken Thighs
8 large chicken thighs
1 10oz can cream of mushroom soup
1 C water
~10-12 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper
chopped parsley for garnish

   Cut off excess skin from the bottom of thighs.  Salt and pepper chicken.  Place skin side up in a roasting pan.
   Combine soup, water and mushrooms.  Pour over chicken.
   Bake at 375 deg F for 50 min-1 hr on a middle rack.  (If skin starts to get very brown, cover with foil.)
   Serves 8.  Top with parsley.
   (Really fantastic over rice or couscous.)

I told you that was easy. =)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Quick Cheddar Dill Drop Biscuits

I love biscuits.  I went through a phase where I made them from scratch every weekend.  Cutting butter into flour is definitely not one of my favorite things to do.  Somewhere along the line, I began wondering why I wasn't using a mix.  There are good mixes out there.  Enter, my favorite short cut:  Bisquick Heart Smart.  (I prefer it to regular, I don't know why.)  Now my weekend mornings (when I don't have to work) are much more relaxed and just as delicious!  (Also... healthier.)

Cheddar Dill Drop Biscuits
2 C Bisquick Heart Smart
1 C shredded cheddar
1 tsp dill
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3/4 C + 2 Tbsp low fat buttermilk
cooking spray

   Combine Bisquick with spices and cheddar.  Add buttermilk.  Mix well.
   Drop onto a lightly sprayed baking sheet.
   Bake at 400 deg F for 10-12 minutes, until tops are golden brown.
   Makes 8 biscuits.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Red Wine-- Spanish Style

Wow, with my new crazy schedule (which isn't being helped by the holidays) I have very little time to do the things I want to.  I do think that no matter how insane things get, you need to take a few minutes of the day to just slow down and breathe.  This little concoction is an easy key to start that slow down process.
Red Wine Spanish Style
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
5 1/2 oz dry red wine

Combine and enjoy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Porcine Thanksgiving

Jesus, guys.  I am sorry.  I'm having a hard time adjusting work and everything else I have to do.  I swear I'll get better at it and we'll be back to a more regular schedule. 

I promised to tell you about Thanksgiving.  We had a pig.  I'll spare you the before picture of our little friend whole and uncooked.  My father-in-law concocted some semi-tropical, sort of Asian marinade, then roasted the entire thing overnight in a BBQ pit he made. It was uuuhhhh-mazing!  Walking around, it was about 60 lbs, so not too big.  The inter-tissue fat didn't have enough life span to get globby and greasy which meant the meat fell apart into tender shreds but was insanely lean.  If this became our new Thanksgiving tradition, I don't think anyone would complain.

Pork, mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole

The hubs and I contributed the main appetizer:  smoked salmon (variation of the recipe we made here.)  At the request of my mother.  My sister-in-law brought some fancy olives, which I could have polished off on my own.

Thanksgiving is nothing without chicken and cornbread dressing and that is why it takes up half of my plate.  My mom brought that and cranberry sauce with apples and cardamom which was fantastic!  Sarah (sister-in-law) made a really delicious butternut squash gratin.  Don't worry, I'll make a version soon and share it.

Sarah also made the stand-out dessert of the day:  Paula Deen's Mystery Pecan Pie.  It's like a pecan pie with a cheesecake hidden inside.  Seriously.  Make it.  I have nothing else to say about that.

I hope everyone is having a beautiful holiday season so far!  I am getting very very excited about this year because this will be the first Christmas the hubs and I have really, truly spent together.  Yeah, weve been together five years but with the Marine Corps, we haven't been able to simple enjoy the season with each other.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

...And Many Gobbles to You


I like to turn every holiday into a food driven holiday, but this one originated with sharing food.  The older I get, the more I love Thanksgiving.  As a young teen, I was not quite as ecstatic.  One year, I ate pickles off a veggie tray before leaving my aunt's house to go back down the street to my grandma's house and pick at whatever food was there.  That was an awesome year for me in general....

Tomorrow I will let you know just how effing fantastic today is.  Spoiler:  there is a pig.  Spoiler counterpart:  said pig will not be involved in any weird rituals.

And if you need a bit of reading or something to listen to if the family becomes too much and you need a mini-escape.  Read my post at STA about turkeys.  Or listen (and maybe even subscribe) to the newest edition of my podcast, Lip Smacking.  This week's episode is a little love and a little hate concerning food shows on TV.

BTW:  Did you know it is REALLY hard to make a hand turkey on you computer?
Plus side:  I found out that paint now has a crayon function.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mushy Peas

Wow, I seriously can't believe how much of my time is being eaten away with this job.  That's cool, because I am going get some awesome arms out of this with all the lifting.  Not that I have flabby gross arms right now, but they will be looking pretty awesome by the new year.
Have I mentioned that I am making the food for my father-in-law's church Christmas dinner?  Well, I am.  So I've had to test new recipes.  He requested it be English/Dickensian in nature.  That is a new realm for me.  I know mushy peas aren't really Dickensian, but I wanted something bright and vibrant for the table that wasn't just a salad.  I know this sounds like bad baby food, but seriously, so delicious.  I think the key is leaving some of the peas whole so you get little bursts of sweet goodness.

Mushy Peas
1/2 med onion, diced
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
12 oz frozen green peas, thawed*
1/4 C vegetable or chicken broth (low sodium)
1/4 tsp rubbed sage
salt and pepper

   Heat oil over med heat.  Saute onions until soft and translucent.  Add garlic and cook ~1 minute.  Remove from heat, add peas, broth, and sage.  Use a potato masher to mash peas about 2/3 of the way.  You still want some that are whole.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   Heat over medium before serving.
   Serves 3-4.

*If you find a package of peas that is 1 lb (16 oz), it will definitely serve 4 people.  You may need to up the broth to 1/3 C.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

That's Amorade

So sorry about not posting the last two days.  I was in training for my new ultra-prestigious job............. riiiight.

Ok, so, this drink quickly became our favorite drink after the first time we made it this past spring.  We altered the original recipe (simply called an Amorade) and our version is spectacular!  Seriously.  It sounds a little crazy when you read the ingredients, but it is great.

That's Amorade
1 1/2 oz Amaretto
1 1/2 oz Triple Sec
juice of 1 lemon
tonic water (~5 oz)
2-3 dashes lemon bitters

   Squeeze juice of lemon halves into a shaker, drop one half of lemon into shaker.  Add amaretto, triple sec, and ice.  Shake.  Pour into a glass with ice.  Top with tonic, add bitters.
   (This can be made in the glass and just gently stirred up, too.)
   Makes 1 drink.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday Redirect

It has been a couple weeks since I sent you over to Save the Artist.  There are so many exciting things happening over there that it is about time I directed you that way!

  1. We have relaunched the site and it has some awesome new features.
  2. Currently, I am writing a series of the top 10 American food icons, as I see it.  It's a rather unique take on the subject.
  3. Yesterday, our first podcast went up and it features yours truly awkwardly rambling about coffee.
  4. There is a coffee contest going on with the chance to win a $15 Starbucks gift card.
  5. We are looking for contributions of any kind from our readers!  Photos, paintings, poems... anything!
So please, take a look around and get involved with our growing community.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Steak House Shepard's Pie

I was watching Cooking for Real a while ago; Sunny Anderson was making some version of a shepard's pie.  Maybe it was traditional, I don't remember, because I had the idea for this.  I thought of combining all those wonderful elements of a steak house dinner into a single dish:  garlic mashed potatoes, steak, creamed spinach, and bleu cheese.

Steak House Shepard's Pie
1 1/2 lbs ground sirloin
1 onion, chopped
1 C green peas (thawed)
1 10oz pkg frozen spinach (thawed and most of water squeezed out)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 lb potatoes
2-3 cloves garlic
3/4-1 C milk
2-3 Tbsp butter
1 C crumbled bleu cheese (~4 oz)
1/4 C parmesan
salt and pepper

   Heat about 2 tsp oil over med heat.  Saute onions 5-7 minutes until soft and translucent.  Add meat, brown and break apart.  When meat is cooked, add peas, spinach, worcestershire, and rosemary.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   (If you like, peel the potatoes.  I left the skin on.)  Cube potatoes, place into a large pot with peeled garlic cloves and about 2 tsp salt, cover with cool water.  Bring to a boil.  Boil for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender.  Drain.  Mash with a potato masher, add butter and milk.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   Spoon meat mixture into an even layer in a 13x9 baking dish.  Sprinkle bleu cheese over meat.  Top with mashed potatoes.  Sprinkle with parmesan.
   At this point, cover and refrigerate or bake immediately.
   Bake uncovered at 350 deg F for 20-25 minutes.  (Add 10 minutes if refrigerated.)
   Serves 6-8.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pumpkin Pound Cake w/ Cream Cheese Buttermilk Glaze

Do you ever have that overwhelming urge to bake?  I do.  And pumpkin has been mysteriously absent from my fall menu so far.  There was a can of pumpkin lurking in my pantry, though.  Begging to be used.  I thought about just making a pumpkin pie but I didn't have any of the canned milks required.  Pound cake seemed to be the natural alternative.

I looked at a lot of pumpkin pound cake recipes.  Many of them were very similar to my regular pound cake with the simple addition of pumpkin instead of milk.  So I just substituted pumpkin for buttermilk.  I could tell the texture wasn't quite right; the batter was too dry.  So I added some milk and it was perfect!  While browsing recipes I saw a cream cheese glaze and a buttermilk glaze; both sounded fantastic so I combined the ideas in my own way.

Pumpkin Pound Cake
1/2 C unsalted butter, room temp (1 stick)
1 C lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 C white sugar
4 eggs
1 15oz can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1/2 C buttermilk*
1 tsp vanilla
3 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
cooking spray and white sugar
Cream Cheese Buttermilk Glaze:
2 oz cream cheese, room temp
2.5-3 Tbsp buttermilk*
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

   Cream together butter and sugar.  Incorporate eggs one at a time.  Add pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla.
   Combine flour, baking powder and soda, spices, and salt.  Add to pumpkin mixture in 3 batches.
   Pour into a 10 in bundt pan that has been liberally sprayed with cooking spray and then coated with sugar.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 55 min-1 hour.  When a toothpick is inserted into the center of the cake and comes out clean, the cake is ready. 
   Cool in pan for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto plate.  Cool completely.
For glaze:
   Combine cream cheese and sugar until smooth and lump-free.  Slowly whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until smooth.  Start with 2.5 Tbsp buttermilk; if it is stiff or thick, add a little bit more.
   Drizzle over cooled cake.
   Serves 16.

*If you don't have or don't like buttermilk, you can use whole or 2% milk.  But buttermilk does help the cake to be very tender and the glaze is soooo delicious, you should use it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pineapple Soy Chicken Skewers

Today I begin my adventure to become a butcher.  A real butcher.  Of animals for consumption.  Seriously.  Yeah, yeah, yeah... I have to, like, stock deli meat for a while.  But whatevs.  I'll do it.  Kroger may not be the ideal work, but it's a start, and maybe I'll get a discount on groceries?  That would be awesome.  My education, my degree, my once-high hopes of curing cancer (just kidding, I never wanted to do that)--I have officially abandoned all that science jazz.  So.... yay!

If you want to celebrate this hard and fast change of career choice on your own personal time, I suggest a mid-fall luau.  And I suggest you serve this chicken.  You could make this the main dish for a Hawaiian or Polynesian inspired meal or serve it as a party food. 

Pineapple Soy Chicken Skewers
2 lbs chicken cut into large pieces
1 20oz can pineapple chunks in juice (you can use fresh if it is season)
1/8 C soy sauce
1/8 C white vinegar
1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
2 tsp sesame oil
salt and pepper

   Combine pineapple juice from the can (~3/4 C) with soy, vinegar, and oils.
   Lightly salt and pepper chicken.  Toss in marinade.  Marinate for 1-8 hours.
   Skewer chicken with pineapple chunks. (If using bamboo skewers, soak in water for 30 minutes before skewering and cooking chicken.)
   Set broiler to high and place rack about 7 inches from top.  Place skewers on a broiler pan or baking sheet.  Cook for 3 minutes, turn skewers over, cook another 3 minutes.  (Or you can grill them.)
   Reduce marinade by 1/3 over med-high.  Pour over cooked chicken.
   Serves 4-6 main dish.  8-10 as an hors d'oeurves.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Edamame and Ramen Salad w/ Carrot Ginger Dressing

I don't know about you, but I love soy beans: bright green, nutty, and packed with good-for-you things.  I seriously wish movie theaters sold huge bags of the salty pods instead of popcorn.  They are not something I cook with often because they are not always available around here.  Sometimes the stores have them, sometimes they don't, and sometimes they have only one brand and they are unnecessarily expensive.  But last weekend, I went to the (nice) Kroger near me and they had 1 lb frozen bags of them on sale!  So I snatched up a few and I was a very happy girl.

Edamame and Ramen Salad
2 3oz blocks ramen noodles (flavor packet discarded)
1 lb shelled soy beans (the steam-in-bag is very nice)
1/2 an English cucumber chopped, 5-6 inches
4 scallions, sliced on a bias
Carrot Ginger Dressing:
1 C grated carrots
scant 1/4 C water
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped, fresh ginger
1 tsp hot pepper relish or your favorite hot sauce (optional)
1 tsp minced garlic

   Break up noodles while dry.  Cook in 4 C boiling water for 3 minutes.  Drain.  Allow to cool.
   Cook soy beans according to package directions.  Salt while still hot (if not already salted).  Allow to cool.
   In a blender, combine ingredients for dressing, except salt.  Puree until mostly smooth or the carrots are at least a very fine grate.  (The water may not incorporate fully, don't worry about it.)  Salt to taste.
   Toss noodles, vegetables, and dressing together.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Just before serving, squeeze some lime over the top.
   Serves 4

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fried Vegetable and Turkey Dumplings

I think I was 16 or 17 when my mom and I started making dumplings.  Our first venture took all afternoon.  Getting the folding technique down was... interesting.  We just had a picture to go off of and I am pretty sure it took two of us an hour and half to make 4 dozen.  Now I can knock out 4 dozen by myself in 30-40 minutes (depending on distractions.) 

You can fill these with a variety of things.  I have made many, many variations.  But I do think white meat turkey or chicken works best (if you use meat) because they are low in fat.  This means they cook quickly and there isn't a lot of oil to make the dumpling soggy from the inside.  Pork is really good, but using the store bought wonton wrappers, the amount of fat doesn't allow them to keep very well in a buffet/snacking type setting.  So, if you use pork, eat them right away.

Fried Vegetable and Turkey Dumplings
1 pkg square wonton wrappers
1 lb white meat turkey, chicken, or soft tofu
1 1/4 C finely shredded green cabbage
1/3 C grated carrot
1/3 C grated broccoli stalk (peel stalk before grating)
1/3 C minced red bell pepper
1 egg
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp lime zest
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
vegetable oil

   Combine turkey, vegetables, egg, cilantro, zest, salt and pepper.  Cook a small patty to test seasoning; adjust seasoning if necessary.
   Lay out a few wonton skins, keep the rest covered with a damp paper towel to prevent drying.

Filling and Folding Steps (reference picture below):
   1.  Place a rounded teaspoon (about 2 level tsp) of meat mixture in the center of the wrapper.
   2.  Dip a finger into water and run it around the edges of the wrapper to dampen.  Bring opposite corners together.  Pinch.
   3.  Bring a side corner up to the center and pinch sides together.  Do the same for the 4th corner.
   4.  Gently press down on dumpling to remove excess air pockets.  Pinch sides back together if any of them gap.

   Place finished dumplings on a baking sheet covered with a damp paper towel. Dumplings may be assembled and kept in refrigerator for 3-4 hours before cooking.
   In a large skillet with a lid (non stick is best), heat some oil (~1 Tbsp) over med/med-hi heat.  Place dumplings flat side down in oil.  Cook 1.5-2 minutes until bottoms are browned. 
   Add about 1/4 C water and immediately cover with lid.  Cook 2-3 minutes.  (This steams the dumplings to fully cook them.)  Repeat for batches.
   Serves with peanut sauce (this this sauce with some extra vinegar and water) or other dipping sauce.
   Makes 3.5-4 dozen.  They will feed 8-16 people.  (Err on the side of caution and make a lot, they tend to go fast and people usually want more.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chili Cornmeal Chicken Tenders

Every once in a while it is really fun to eat like a kid.  That is why I made chicken tenders last week.  But these were so good, that I don't think they should be classified as "kid food".  Sure, kids would loooove these, but they are sophisticated enough for grown-ups.  I like to think of myself as an inbetweener for that area... one of those child-adult hybrids that precariously balance responsibility with ridiculousness. 

Chili Cornmeal Chicken Tenders
4 chicken breasts, cut into 3 or 4 equal strips (or 12 tenders)
3/4 C flour
2 tsp chili powder (divided)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 eggs (beaten w/ 2 tsp water)
1/2 seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 C stone ground white corn meal
vegetable oil

   Combine flour, salt, garlic and onion powder, black pepper, and 1 tsp of chili powder on a plate.
   Combine bread crumbs, corn meal, and other 1 tsp chili powder on another plate.
   Coat chicken with flour.  Shake off excess.
   Roll chicken in eggs to coat.
   Coat chickens with bread crumb mixture.
   In a large deep sided skillet, pour oil so there is a depth of 1/4 in.  Heat over med/med-hi.
   Fry chicken 2-3 minutes per side, until golden brown.  Do this in batches.  Keep batches warm on a rack on top of a baking sheet in a 225 deg F oven.
   Serves 4.

I think these tenders are delicious with plain old yellow mustard.  But serve with whatever sauce you like.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tomato Braised Pork

I know I do a lot of braised pork recipes.  It is so delicious, comforting, and affordable.  This version is sort of region neutral.  It has eastern European overtones but also a strong Southwestern/Mexican influence.  Really, it could be applied to any cuisine.  You could make this into wraps, sandwiches, tacos, tamales, serve it over potatoes, grits, couscous, or even a salad.  (Seriously.)  This is recipe is for 2-3 servings, but it is easily multiplied for larger parties.
Tomato Braised Pork
3/4 lb boneless pork (roast, shoulder, country ribs, etc.)
sweet paprika
salt and pepper
1/2 lrg onion, roughly chopped
1 C crushed tomatoes
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp hot pepper relish (optional)*
1/2 tsp oregano
2 tsp bacon fat or oil

   Cut pork into chunks roughly 2 in x 2 in.  Season with salt and pepper.  Liberally rub with paprika.
   Heat fat or oil over med heat in an oven proof skillet or pot with a lid.  Sear pork.  Remove from pan.  Add onions, saute 4-5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients.  Add pork back to pan.
   Cover with lid and place in a 300 deg F oven for 40-50 minutes.  Uncover and cook another 20 minutes.
   Shred pork.  Reheat if necessary (This can be made a couple days in advance.)  Serve as you like.
   Serves 2-3.

* I used a homemade hot pepper relish that is basically just a variety of fresh chilies pureed with oil and a little water.  You could use half of a med sized chili, like a jalapeno, minced or a 1/4 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes, even a few dashes of hot sauce.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chinese BBQ Meatballs

These tasty little meatballs were my contribution to this year's Halloween party, but they would fit on any party table.  Sweet, sour, spicy, savory with an Asian spin, this hoisen barbecue sauce will compliment any meat you like.  You could even use nice plump shrimp or bites of seared salmon in place of meatballs.  (I used ground turkey because it was on sale.)

Chinese BBQ Meatballs
1 14-oz can tomato sauce (tomato puree)
1/4 C hoisen sauce
2 tsp lime juice
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp pasted garlic
1 tsp honey
1(+) tsp sriracha
turkey meatballs:
2 lbs ground turkey (~90/10)
1 lrg carrot, grated
1 egg
1 Tbsp ground coriander
salt and pepper

   Combine ingredients for sauce.
   Combine ingredients for meatballs, be sure to not over mix the meat.  Cook a small tester patty to make sure seasoning is correct.  Form into ping pong sized balls. 
   Heat oil over med-high heat.  Sear meatballs on all sides.  You want a good crust but don't cook them all the way though.  Do this in batches for best results.
   Gently toss meatballs in sauce in a 13x9 oven safe dish.  Cover.  (If making ahead of time:  At this point, store dish and bake just before service.)
   Bake covered at 375 deg F for 10-12 minutes.  (15-17 minutes if dish has been stored in refrigerator.)
   Makes 3 dozen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Creamy Root Vegetable Soup w/ White Beans

Hearty and healthy is always the best combination in my opinion.  Sure, fatty, greasy food is sometimes a necessity and I will not hesitate to indulge if the time is right.  But for everyday?  I would much rather have something incredibly satisfying and not feel guilty about it afterword.  This soup is rich and thick with a creamy texture and it is made (almost) entirely out of vegetables.  Cheap vegetables in fact.  Serve with some good bread and curl up on a cold night.

Creamy Root Vegetable Soup w/ White Beans
1 lrg onion, chopped
2 lrg carrots, peeled and chopped*
1 Tbsp oil
1 lrg sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 med-lrg white potatoes, peeled and chopped
5 C water
1 tsp vegetable base (veg bouillon)*
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
2 14-oz cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 C half and half or thick buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp hot or sweet paprika

   Heat oil over medium heat.  Saute onions and carrots until tender, 5-7 minutes. 
   Add water, potatoes, veg base, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper.  Cover simmer over med/med-low heat for ~30 minutes.  Until potatoes are soft and just start to fall apart on their own.  Pull out bay leaf.
   Use an immersion blender to puree soup.
   Add beans, dairy, and paprika.  Cook 10-15 minutes, until beans are hot.
   Serves 4.

*If your carrots taste a little bit tinny (just not as sweet as they should be), add 1 tsp honey before pureeing.
**Don't have vegetable base?  Use 3 C veg or chicken broth and 2 C water in place of the 5 C water.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rosemary and Sundried Tomato Honey Wheat Bread

Bread is something that I have always wanted to be able to make really well.  I have tried several kinds of breads, but they never work out quite right.  However, I am pretty damn good at one particular recipe.  I use it for pizza dough and focaccia.  And then I had the rather brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) for this bread. 

You don't need any fancy equipment or unusual ingredients.  This is just a lovely, simple, rustic bread.  The day I made it, we had it along side a hearty vegetable soup.  After a couple days, so it had firmed up more and was not quite as soft, it was perfect for steak sandwiches.

Rosemary and Sundried Tomato Honey Wheat Bread
2 C whole wheat flour
1/2-3/4 C AP flour (possibly a little more)
1 pkg fast rise yeast
3 1/2 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 C hot tap water (just as hot as your tap will get)
1/4 C finely chopped sundried tomatoes (not in oil)
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
extra virgin olive oil

   In a large bowl, add whole wheat flour, yeast, honey and hot water.  Stir to combine.  Allow to proof for about 5minutes.
   Add tomatoes, rosemary, and salt.  Slowly incorporate all-purpose flour until dough forms a ball and is only slightly sticky to the touch.  Turn dough onto a lightly flour surface.  Knead for 6-8 minutes.
   Place in an oiled bowl (about 2 Tbsp oil) and roll dough in oil so it is coated.  Cover with a warm damp towel, place in a warm dry place.  Let rise for 1 hour.
   Sprinkle corn meal on a baking sheet.  Punch dough down, and form into 2 balls.  They should settle down a little and be about 6-inches in diameter.  Let rise for another 20-30 minutes.
   Brush with egg. 
   Bake at 400 deg F for 20-22 minutes.  (When bread is browned and not squishy to the touch, it should be done)
   2 rounds (enough for 8 sandwiches or enough for about 12 as a bread side)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Scary (Good) Pizza

Time for a pizza that is a little bit scary.  (For children at least.)  With anchovies, spinach, and onions this delight may frighten off the faint of stomach. 
(Ok, that was my pathetic attempt at linking this to Halloween.  It really is a good pizza.  If you don't like anchovies leave them off and you still have a fantastic cheesy veggie creation.)

Anchovy Garden Pizza
Pizza Dough (and cornmeal)
1 1/2 C roughly chopped fresh spinach
1 C crushed tomatoes (w/ 1/2 tsp each of minced garlic, basil and oregano)
1/2 of a large onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp bacon fat or oil
1/3 C thinly sliced roasted red bell pepper (jarred is perfect)
6 oz sliced fresh mozzarella
6-8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped

   Form dough into a 12 inch circle or 13 x 9 rectangle on baking sheet (or pizza pan) sprinkled with corn meal.  Pre-bake at 450 deg F on bottom rack for 5-7 minutes until bottom is lightly golden.  Turn oven down to 400 deg F after crust has pre baked
   Caramelize onion in bacon fat (or oil) over med/med-low heat.  Stir frequently to prevent burning.
   Spread tomatoes onto crust.  Top with spinach, then cheese, and finally peppers, onions, and anchovies.
   Bake at 400 deg F for 10-12 minutes on middle rack until cheese is melty and starting to brown.
   Serves 4

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What are you eating at your Halloween party?

I am so excited about what is sure to be an epic night of pure epic epicness!  I almost couldn't go, but ...thankfully? GSP minorly injured his knee (not that I want him to be hurt....) so the GSP v. Condit fight it postponed.  Louis is going to be a UFC zombie and I am going as some generic she-demon throw-together costume.

Meatballs are always a crowd pleaser, so I am making Chinese BBQ'd Turkey Meatballs.

What are you making for your party?  Don't know yet?  Here are my Top 5 suggestions:

Not seeing any of my archived recipes that strike your fancy?  These recipes sound scary good:

Spicy Fried Chick Peas-

Bleeding Heart Brie-

Shriveled Potatoes w/ Romesco-

Oreo Mummy Pops-


Friday, October 28, 2011

Sausage and Pepper Bake

Sausage and peppers is such a classic combination.  Often, we'll do Italian sausage and peppers simply tossed with pasta.  It is fantastic, but this complete meal allows you to be a little more flexible with your cooking and serving times.  You can prep and assemble everything the day before or a few hours ahead of time and then pop it in the oven before dinner.  Not to mention, you get that baked pasta texture with the crispy bits on the top and around the edges.

I used smoked turkey sausage for this because it has a completely unique flavor which gives the dish a decidedly delicious American spin.  Because it is cheap and fully cooked with a good (refrigerator) shelf life, you can always have it on hand.

Sausage and Pepper Bake
1 lrg onion, thinly sliced
1 lrg green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 lrg red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 7-oz link smoked turkey sausage, thinly sliced
1 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp oregano
1/4 red pepper flake (to taste and optional)
3 Tbsp red wine (or water)
12 oz penne pasta
1 C shredded mozzarella
~1/4 parmesan
( oil and cooking spray)

   Cooked pasta 2 minutes shy of package directions in salted water.
   In a little bit of oil (~2 tsp in a non stick skillet) over med heat, saute onions and peppers until tender, 5-7 minutes.  Remove from pan.
   Sear slices of sausage.  Add tomatoes, herbs and spices, wine, and pepper.  Simmer together for 4-5 minutes.  (Add salt to taste if tomatoes are "no salt added".)  Toss with pasta.
   Pour into a sprayed 13x9 baking dish.  Top with cheeses.
   Bake at 375 deg F for 15-20 minutes.
   *If made in advanced and dish has cooled or was refrigerated:  Cover dish, bake at 375 for 10 minutes.  Uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes.
   Serves 4 hearty portions.  (6 if you do salad and maybe some bread with it.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Apple Walnut Crisp Crostata

It is apple pie season!  I don't make a lot of apple desserts because the hubs generally hates cooked apples.  I couldn't help myself though.  I had a pie crust and apples.  It was calling to me.  I gave half to my neighbors because I didn't want to eat the whole thing myself.  Little did I know, Louis would choose now to try cooked apples again and maybe start to like them.  I was a little too excited when he actually enjoyed the dessert! 

Use whatever apples you like, but they should have firm flesh.  I love the combination of gala and granny smith.  The tart and sweet is lovely and they are always affordable options.

Apple Walnut Crisp Crostata
1 9-inch refrigerated pie crust
2 granny smiths apples
2 gala apples
scant 1/3 C sugar
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp softened butter
1/4 C quick oats
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C chopped walnuts
1/4 tsp cinnamon

   Very thinly slice apples.  Combine filling ingredients.  Allow to sit and marinate for 10-15 minutes
   Combine topping ingredients.
   Unroll pie crust onto a baking sheet.  Pile filling in the center of crust leaving a 1 inch border.  (It will look like a lot!)  Distribute topping over apples.  Fold up edges of crust and pinch together so it holds together making a free-form pie.  Cover with foil.
   Bake at 375 deg F 30 minutes.
   Remove foil and bake another 20-25 minutes.
   Serves 8.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tomato Mustard BBQ Sauce

A couple weeks ago, my neighbors (aka best friends) came over to carve pumpkins.  We also made dinner and ended up played a very heated game of Settlers of Catan.  Smoking has become out go-to dinner guest option.  The day was so beautiful that it made sense to cook outdoors.  I suggested barbecued chicken thighs.  This turned out to be a point of contention because of varying preferences in sauce.  A couple of use like the mustardy, vinegary sauces and a couple like the sticky sweet ketchup based sauces.  I was left with the challenge for a compromise sauce: sweet and tangy and a little bit spicy.  It ended up pleasing everyone!

I used canned tomatoes as the bulk of the sauce because I didn't want all the sugars from ketchup and it lends a certain freshness to sauce.  However, ketchup is an essential flavor in certain BBQ sauces, so I did use some.  It also makes for a very nice texture of the finished product.
Tomato Mustard BBQ Sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 small chipotle, chopped
1 C (heaping cup) crushed canned tomatoes or diced tomatoes
1/3 C ketchup
1/3 C water
1/4 C brown mustard
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp black pepper
pinch of crushed red pepper flake (optional)

   Heat oil over med heat in a medium sauce pot with a lid.  Saute onions for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly so they don't burn.  They should be starting to turn light brown and be soft.  If bits start to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a little bit of water to scrap them up.
   Add the rest of the ingredients.  Bring to a bubble.  Cover and turn heat to low.  Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
   Turn heat off and let stand for a least 15 minutes.
   Remove bay leaf and puree.  (Salt and pepper according to taste, but the tomatoes probably have enough salt in them.)
   Makes ~2 1/2 cups.

For smoking or grilling meat, season meat with salt and pepper. Baste with sauce a couple times during cooking process.  Serve more on the side (that has been reheated).
  For baked chicken (picture above), season with salt and pepper.  Halfway through cooking, top with a little bit of sauce.  A few minutes before the meat is done, add more on top and put it back in the oven so sauce is hot.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Crabs by the Dozen

Last Monday was the last day of mini-Maryland vacation.  Our friends and hosts ordered a shit-ton of crabs from a little hole in the wall place near their home.  If you would like to know what a "shit-ton" of crabs is, it is 8 dozen.  Yes, 96 crabs.  There were only 5 of us eating them, but we ran through a solid half.
4 Dozen Heavenly Dead Things

While it is a labor intensive meal, it is so worth it! Cover the table with cardboard and trash bags, and start breaking down crabs.  The meat is insanely sweet and succulent.  The heavy Old Bay seasoning that the crustaceans are cooked with coats your hands so you get some with every bit of meat.  And I was introduced to dipping the crab into straight white vinegar.  It was one of those elusive "ah-ha!" moments.  The tangy vinegar is the perfect balancing compliment to the sweet shellfish.

1351 Odenton Rd.--Odenton, MD
(410) 672-1272 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

M & S Grill--Baltimore, MD

Around here, we don't have any venues of the McCormick & Schmicks apparent steak house empire.  Before heading to the Baltimore Aquarium, we had lunch in the harbor area of the city.  We arrived just as everyone (including the scientists at the convention center) were heading out.  It made things a little more difficult because we were in a new city.  Most of the places around seemed to be chains of that fast-food limbo variety, you know... it is technically fast food but the quality is infinitely high than McDonald's.

Not wanting to walk too far from the pier area, we settled on M&S Grill (Pratt St.).  The patio seating was packed because the day was gorgeous and more people seemed eager to be seated inside.  Lots of people is generally a good sign.  Now that I have done some research, I know the M&S has locations nationwide.  But I also know that the menus vary by region and even between locations in the same city (with a few consistent staples).  All under the parent umbrella, but distinctly different restaurants committed to high quality steaks and seafood at reasonable prices.  I admire that.

We started with the Maryland crab soup.  The soup itself was ok.  Absolutely nothing special.  It tasted like a good quality canned soup.  But it was loaded with fresh crab: sweet, tender, beautiful crab meat.  The amount of gorgeous crab kind of made up for the mediocre soup.
Louis had the rustic vegetable pasta with shrimp.  The squashes and tomatoes were incredibly fresh and the pasta was cooked properly (something which is often overlooked).  The sauce was a light, wine, tomato basil sauce, but thin, so it didn't stick well to the dish very well and they didn't provide bread to sop it up.  He would have asked for bread, but our waitress was mysteriously absent through the entire meal.  Apparently crappy service is not the norm because when we told our friends who live in the area, they were rather shocked.

I had the Prince Edward Island mussels.  It is an appetizer, but after the soup, it was the perfect size for one as a meal.  They were in a traditional wine and tomato broth with garlic--fresh, raw garlic grated over the top.  Obviously, I loved that.  Bread does come with this so I could soak up the delicious broth.

201 E. Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Maryland Renaissance Festival

If you have ventured into the depths of a Renaissance festival you have most like seen a scene similar to this:
Yes, that is ye olde food court:  overwhelming, expensive, hit or miss, and mouthwatering.  Food vendors who make their living (for at least a few months of the year) have the enticement down to a science.  To draw you in, they use a combination of bright signage, hawking, smell, and more often than not, an extreme amount of cleavage (or muscular bare chests).  I've been around faires for a good chunk of my life and usually have a pretty good idea of what will be good based on the smells.

Maryland is special type of Renaissance festival.  It has a huge attendance, is filled with beautiful, permanent structures (as opposed to tents), and offers a rather unusual selection of food.  There are the old stand-bys of fish and chips, scotch eggs, turkey legs, sweet roasted nuts, and shepard's pie.  I found out the hard way that the shepard's pie is terrible.  Odd, considering it smelled good and is really easy to make in such a setting.  The scotch eggs and roast nuts are wonderful.  And I assume the roast turkey legs are good:  they sell them by the thousands, the skin is brown and rendered, and the meat looks rich and juicy.  On the rarer side, you can buy fresh shucked oysters on the half shell, crab cakes, and various other fresh seafood offerings.  Additionally, there is a wide selection of seasonal and local ales, meades, and wines. 

Probably one of the most unique items available is the crab pretzel.  Yes, you read that correctly.  It is a soft pretzel (sans salt) topped with a slightly spicy crab mixture covered in melted cheddar and monterrey jack cheese.  I don't care about the old Italian taboo of no cheese with seafood, this is delicious.  Another great crab dish available is the Maryland crab soup in a bread bowl.  There isn't huge amount of crab meat, but the broth is laced with the rich, sweet, briney flavor of crab.  It is actually a surprisingly tasty soup and not just by faire food standards... by any standards.  The huge chunks of veggies are cooked to perfection in the spicy broth which is balanced by the fluffy, doughy white bread bowl.
Crab Pretzel
I am told the Steak on a Stake is always great, tender and perfectly seasoned.  Get to the stall early for first pick of doneness, but they do prepare them continuously through the day.  The line may be veeeeery long, though--pickings could be slim.  Also, the pork pockets are supposed to be good.  The tea and coffee booth makes peasant fry bread which smells like heaven.  Fried dough.... hard to go wrong.  And you can choose from sweet or savory toppings.

There is only one weekend left in this year's run; if you are in the Annapolis/Baltimore/DC area try to make it out.  Bonus for this weekend is that it is the jousting tournament which means lots and lots of lance passes.... LOTS of them.  So go see my father-in-law and the rest of my adopted, extended family in the list!

AND for your re-direct:  some pumpkinspiration at STA!!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mediterranean 7 Layer Dip

Oops!  Seems this recipe somehow slipped through the cracks last week.  It was part of the UFC 136 menu.  My first thought was Mexican 7 layer dip, because people generally like it.  But that didn't fit with pizza bread so I changed things around and made a Mediterranean version that, I think, is more delicious than the original.
Mediterranean 7 Layer Dip
4 oz light cream cheese
2 Tbsp pesto
1/2 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
2 large cloves of roasted garlic
1/2 can diced tomatoes, lightly drained
1 large onion, caramelized
1/2 C olive tapenade*
1 C shredded spinach
1/2 C shredded mozzarella**

   For onion, roughly chop.  Over med/med-low heat cook down in oil and/or butter for about 20 minutes, stirringly occasionally to prevent burning.  When onions are very soft, sweet, and a caramel brown color they are done.
   Combine cream cheese and pesto.  Spread in the bottom of a 5x5 or 6x6 dish.
   Mash beans and roasted garlic together.  Spread on top of cream cheese.
   Evenly distribute tomatoes (not too much liquid) over bean layer.
   Top tomatoes with onions.
   Spread a thin layer of olive tapenade.
   Top with spinach then mozzarella.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 25-20 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly (optional).  Serve immediately.
   Serves 8. (Less or more depending on the other items offered.)

*Store bought olive tapenade is great.  I used about 10 large olive each of black and green Spanish, 1/2 of a roasted red bell pepper, and 1 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley.  If you don't like olives, just chop up a whole red bell pepper and use that.

**This is great hot, room temp, or cold.  If you know that you intend on serving it room temp or cold, use a finely shredded mozzarella and don't bake it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tomato Baked Veggies over Cous Cous

I am loving vegetables baked in tomato sauce lately.  It takes no time to prep, cooks while you make the rest of the meal, and is infinitely more interesting than just steamed veg.  You can use any tomato sauce you like.  I used the spicy marinara left over from pizza bread dipping, but you can make it really easy on yourself and use your favorite jarred sauce.  Along the easy line, cous cous is the perfect vehicle for carrying this veggie saucy goodness.

Tomato Baked Veggies over Cous Cous
1 lrg zucchini, cut into 1/3 inch thick half moons
1 lrg yellow summer squash (cut same as zucchini)
1 C chopped cauliflower (fairly small pieces)
1 1/2- 1 3/4 C tomato sauce/pasta sauce
oil, salt and pepper
for cous cous:
1 C water
1/2 C chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 C cous cous
parsley and parmesan (optional)

   Toss veggies with a little oil (~1 Tbsp) salt and pepper.  Cover with sauce in a 9x5 or 8x8 baking dish.
   Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until veggies are tender.  Stir once or twice during cooking.
Cous Cous  
   Bring water and broth to a boil with bay leaf.  Add cous cous, cover, and turn off heat.  Let sit for 5 minutes.  Fluff with fork.
   Serve vegetables over cous cous.  Top with parm and parsley
   Serves 4

Friday, October 14, 2011

Coconut Twisted Margarita

There are people who have sworn off tequila, but will still indulge in a margarita.  Tequila and lime is such a versatile base that goes well with so many different flavors. 

My sister- and mother-in-law stumbled upon The Spice and Tea Exchange location in Annapolis, MD.  They picked up a little packet of salt for me that is a smoked coconut-lime sea salt.  Seriously.  How fucking awesome is that?!  This salt was screaming for a margarita.  (Speaking of Maryland, I am heading that way today to visit friends and go to the Maryland Ren Fest!)

Coconut Twisted Margarita
1 1/2 oz silver tequila
3/4 oz coconut rum
3/4 oz coconut water
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp simple syrup (or more to taste)
salt (optional)

   Rim glass with salt.  (Run squeezed lime half around edge of glass.  Dip into salt.)
   Combine tequila, rum, coconut water, lime juice (along w/ one half of the lime) and simple syrup with ice in a shaker.  Shake well.
   Pour into glass.  Add one ice cube to glass.
   Makes 1 drink.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Caramel Walnut Brownies and Wed-ReDirect

Last Saturday, I was cleaning and making bread so I really just didn't want to bother with brownie batter. Yes, it is really easy, but sometimes it is not necessary to bake from scratch.  A good quality brownie mix should be a staple in the pantry.  I don't keep it in my pantry because I would make them and then eat them.  All of them.  But it is the perfect go-to solution for an easy dessert for guests.  It takes no effort to jazz up the mix and make them delectable.
Caramel Walnut Brownies
1 pkg brownie mix (I used a fudgey-chewy mix)*
1 C chopped walnuts
12 soft vanilla caramels, chopped (I cut them into 9 pieces)
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt

   *Make brownies according to package directions replacing any water with milk.
   Mix in cinnamon and salt.  Fold in walnuts and caramels.
   Bake according to package directions in a sprayed 13x9 pan.
   Cut to desired size.  (I say it serves 16)

AND be sure to check out Sartorial Sideline's guest post about McQueen at Save the Artist!  And check there later today for my post on building your kitchen tool kit.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Spicy Marinara Dipping Sauce

You know I am a UFC fanatic!  This past weekend was 136 which hosted TWO title fights, Edgar v Maynard III (lightweight) and Aldo v. Florian (featherweight).  I was disappointed with the outcome of each fight, but whatever.  A few members of the MTSU wrestling team came over to watch.  I am incapable of not feeding people when they come over.  So we had a very simple little spread, nothing fancy.

UFC 136 Menu
Pizza Bread w/ Spicy Marinara
Mediterranean 7 Layer Dip
Caramel Walnut Brownies

This version of marinara is suuuper easy.  Five ingredients, about 20 minutes total.  The flavor is complex without being complicated; it is great hot, room temp, and even cold; and can be used for a variety of dishes, not just for dipping.

Spicy Marinara (Dipping Sauce)
1 small onion, diced
1 lrg clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 C crushed tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flake

   Saute onions in a little bit of oil over medium heat until soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Add garlic, cook ~1 minute.
   Add tomatoes, oregano, and red pepper.  Turn heat to med-low, simmer for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally.  (If your tomatoes are salt free, adjust salt to taste.)
   Puree (optional).
   Makes 2 1/2 C sauce.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Herby Olive Rice

I am always trying to figure out new ways to flavor rice.  This is simple, delicious, and easy to make in any month.  The herbs I used are available in quantity year-round and remain cheap in all seasons.  I do encourage you to buy some parboiled or converted rice (Uncle Ben's and Mahatma Gold are awesome.  Walmart even has it's own.)  The rice comes out really fluffy and the grains separate beautifully, never gummy or clumpy.  You won't go back to the regular stuff.

Herby Olive Rice
1 C parboiled (or converted) long grain white rice
1 3/4 C water
1/4 tsp salt
1 lrg garlic clove, pasted (optional)
1/4 C chopped black olives
3 chopped scallions
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp chopped parsley

   Bring water to a boil.  Stir in rice, salt, and garlic.  Return to boil.  Cover.  Reduce to low.  Cook for 16-18 minutes, until water is absorbed.  Fluff with a fork
   Fold in olives, scallions, and herbs.
   Serves 3-4.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Smoked Salmon on Bagels

I crave smoked salmon.  Maybe that is weird, but I do.  As a teenager, for quick throw together dinners my parents would just lay out smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, onion, and some French bread slices.  Cold smoked salmon is delicious, but I can't have a huge bite of it.  The raw-ish texture is something I have yet to conquer.  When I was introduced to hot smoked salmon (cooked texture) it changed my life!  And now that we have a smoker... yeah, constant cravings.  And with this roasted garlic sun dried tomato cream cheese.... oh, my knees are getting weak.
If you have a smoker or a basic charcoal grill (which can be used as a smoker) please smoke your own fish, it is fabulous.  And cheaper.  Store bought smoked salmon will work just as well though.  Also, use a good bagel.  This is not time for Kroger plain bagels.  Go to a bakery and get a nice everything or olive oil bagel.  Or if you are having a party, making minis using small bagels or just lightly toasted bread rounds (about 2 bite size.)

Smoked Salmon on Bagels
1/2 lb smoked salmon, flaked
2 bagels, halved and lightly toasted
1/4 of a med red onion, thinly sliced
2 oz light cream cheese, room temp
1 Tbsp chopped capers
1 Tbsp chopped sun dried tomatoes
2 tsp roasted garlic

   Combine cream cheese, capers, tomatoes, and garlic.
   Spread evenly over bagels.  Top with red onion and smoked salmon.
   Serves 2.  (Or 16 hors d'oeuvers, 8 servings.)