Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

An Unusual Hobby?

As I was driving my son to the airport today, we were discussing something around saving money. He said to me, "Mom I think one of your hobbies is saving money". I hadn't really stopped to think about it but you know he's right. I guess I got into the habit of trying to save money wherever I could years ago when I had no choice, I had to save wherever I could so we could afford things. Now, I don't have to save quite as much as I used to but you know now I want to save money. I love to go to Goodwill and hunt for great bargains. There's nothing better than finding a brand name clothing article for $5.87. Seriously, it doesn't get any better than that!!!

I've found several blogs that are based on saving money. I wanted to share one I found recently that I love, Fantabulously Frugal. One of today's sales is on clearance items at I'd been looking to purchase personalized notecards but didn't want to spend a lot for something that someone will read and toss in the trash. I was able to purchase 25 notecards for $5.46 and free shipping. This is one of the blogs I read every day. I can't wait to see what tomorrow's bargains may be.
Thanks, Lisa!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Breakfast

The blizzard of 2009 altered our travel plans for Christmas Day. Justin and I were planning to go to Kansas City and Tim was headed to Minnesota. We have 8+ inches, it's still snowing and the wind is blowing about 40 miles per hour. No traveling for us until tomorrow. I took advantage of the opportunity to make a delicious Christmas Breakfast.

Asparagus-Potato Frittata

Broiled Grapefruit
Poinesettia Cocktail

Asparagus-Potato Frittata
Adapted from Food and Wine

1/2 pound unpeeled fingerling cut into 1/3-inch chunks
1/2 pound asparagus, peeled and cut into 3/4 -inch lengths
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 c. grated white cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream

Steam the potatoes until barely tender, about 5 minutes; set aside. Steam the asparagus until bright green but still crisp, about 2 minutes.

In a 10- to 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil over high heat. Add the potatoes and sauté until browned and crisp, about 7 minutes. Add the asparagus and onion, season with the salt and pepper and cook until tender, about 3 minutes; transfer to a plate.

Wipe out the skillet, set it over moderate heat and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Beat the eggs with the heavy cream until smooth. Stir in the vegetables and pour the mixture into the skillet. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the edges just begin to set. Lift the sides of the frittata with a rubber spatula, tilting the pa n to allow the uncooked eggs to seep under. Continue cooking until the bottom is set and the top is barely runny, about 7 minutes. Set under the broiler for 3 - 4 minutes until golden brown.Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Broiled Grapefruit

2 large grapefruits, well chilled
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Garnish (optional)
20 grapes
3 Tablespoons sugar
Roll the grapes in the granulated sugar

Preheat a broiler.

Cut each grapefruit in half crosswise. Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each half, if necessary, so that it will stand upright.

Using a serrated grapefruit knife or a small, sharp knife, loosen the grapefruit segments in each half by first carefully cutting between the fruit and the peel and then by cutting along either side of each segment to free it from the membrane. Leave all the segments in their shells. Place the halves upright in a baking dish.

In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. Using your fingers, sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the grapefruit halves. Slip under the broiler about 4 inches from the heat source and broil until the sugar is uniformly bubbly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer each grapefruit half to an individual dish and garnish with the grapes. Serve immediately.

Poinsettia Champagne Cocktail

1/2-ounce triple sec, chilled
Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
3-ounces cranberry juice, chilled

Pour Triple Sec and cranberry juice into a chilled Champagne flute. Stir well. Top with Champagne or sparkling wine. Yield: 1 cocktail.

Christmas Eve Tapas

This year we decided to depart from all of the traditional Christmas Eve menus and have a tapas night. The menu was created by my son Justin.

White Sangria

Cooked Jumbo Shrimp with Tomato and Pepper Dip
Roasted Aspargus
Chicken Wings
Stuffed Baby Portabellas*
Beer Marinated Grilled Flank Steak

*This was a substitution for Broiled Figs. No fresh figs available in Omaha in December!

White Sangria

1 750 ml bottle of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup brandy
4 -5 slices of lemon
4 -5 slices of lime
1 peach sliced
12 - 18 seedless grapes
Club Soda

1.In a large pitcher or other container, combine the wine and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the remaining ingredients, excluding the club soda, and mix well.
2.Place the pitcher in the refrigerator and let the sangria sit for at least 1 hour (and up to 4 hours). The sangria will sweeten with time, so the longer it sits, the better.
3.Just before serving, stir in the club soda and ice cubes.

Cooked Jumbo Shrimp With Tomato and Pepper Dip

1 pound cooked jumbo shrimp, shelled
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp. chopped onions
1/2 can crushed tomatoes
3 Tbsp. chopped red bell pepper
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. tabasco sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor combine all the ingredients except the olive oil and shrimp. Blend until smooth. Add the olive oil in a thin stream and blend further until smooth. Put mixture in large bowl. Chill for at least one hour. Chill the shrimp on a platter.

Serve the dip and shrimp cold.

Beer Marinated Grilled Flank Steak

2 pounds flank steak
1 (12-ounce) bottle Guinness draught
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
3 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine Guinness, onion, garlic, and peppers in a zipper-locking plastic bag with beef. Marinate 6 to 8 hours in refrigerator.
Remove steak; discard marinade and season with salt and pepper. Grill over medium-high heat to desired doneness.
Let steak rest 4 to 5 minutes; slice across grain and serve.

Holiday Dinner

You gotta love winter...okay maybe not so much. This week the midwest was blanketed with another snowstorm, our second one in weeks. We'd planned to celebrate Christmas with Tim's kids on Wednesday night but because of the weather they headed to their grandparents in Minnesota early.

We were planning on tapas for Christmas Eve dinner so why not have this dinner on Wednesday night anyway?

Deep Fried Turkey

Paula Deen's Cornbread Stuffing
Brussel Sprouts
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie*

*This is a January Sweet Melissa Sunday's post, so check back for this one!

This incredibly delicious Brussels Sprouts recipe is from my son Justin's recipe file.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts, Dijon and Crisp Crumbs
Fine Cooking

1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. caraway seeds, toasted lightly and crushed
3/4 tsp. kosher salt; more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2 lb. Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, cut through the core into quarters
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, caraway seeds, 1/2 tsp. of the salt, and about 10 grinds of pepper. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss to thoroughly distribute the mustard mixture. Spread the sprouts in an even layer on the two baking sheets.

Roast until the cores of the sprouts are just barely tender and the leaves are browning and crisping a bit, 20 to 25 minutes (if your oven heat is uneven, rotate the pans midway through cooking).

While the sprouts are roasting, make the topping: Line a plate with two layers of paper towel. Heat the remaining 1 Tbs. oil with the butter in a medium (10-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has stopped foaming, add the breadcrumbs all at once; toss to coat with the fat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the walnuts and the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring constantly, until the crumbs are browned and slightly crisp and the nuts are golden, 4 to 6 minutes. (The crumbs will start to sound “scratchy” as they get crisp.) Dump the breadcrumb mixture onto the paper towels to drain the excess fat.

Transfer the sprouts to a serving bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary. Sprinkle the crumbs over the sprouts just before serving.

Make Ahead Tips
You can fry the crumb topping up to 2 hours before serving.

Peanut Butter Balls

What Christmas treat are you known for? You know that recipe you make every year and everyone asks you for this recipe. For me, it's these decadent Peanut Butter Balls. It doesn't get any better than peanut butter and chocolate.

I've been making these at Christmas since Justin was small. My recipe is scratched onto a piece of notebook paper, it has my son's scribbles and a phone message he took for me on the back. Too sentimental to rewrite onto a recipe card!

Peanut Butter Balls
1/2 cup butter
3 cups Rice Krispies
2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 pound powdered sugar
8 ounces Hershey's chocolate bar
6 ounces semi sweet chocolate bits
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cake paraffin

Melt butter, stir in peanut butter until smooth. In a large bowl, combine rice krispies and powdered sugar. Pour peanut butter mixture over rice krispie mixture. Stir until combined well. Chill for at least one hour. Roll rice krispie mixture into balls approximately the size of walnuts.

In a double boiler or a bowl over a pan of boiling water, combine chocolate bar, chocolate chips, paraffin and vanilla. Stir until melted and combined.

Dip balls into chocolate mixture, making sure to cover all sides. Place on waxed paper to dry.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Treats

I decided to make homemade treats for my staff this year. Instead of making one thing, I decided to make a variety of treats. My often requested Peanut Butter Balls, mini loaves of Mrs. Flint's Banana Bread and a third treat to be revealed in January. You see it's the January 3rd Sweet Melissa Sunday's recipe.

Hopefully they will all enjoy some sweet holiday treats. They're a great bunch and I am lucky to have them all on my team!

Vegetable Stock from Scraps

When I took the Culinary Boot Camp series a few weeks ago, we learned to make stocks. I learned a lot of tips from the chef who taught our classes but one of my favorites was the save your veggie scraps and make stock. I am sure for some of you that's a given but for me, I'd never made stock before these classes.

For the past six weeks or so, I've been putting the celery, onion, carrot, mushroom and various other veggie scraps in a gallon bag in the freezer. I was excited to make my first ever Vegetable Stock using these scraps. While the stock was cooking, the house had a wonderful soup like aroma. Although I forgot to take a picture, the stock had a beautiful golden color.

Vegetable Stock

4 cups vegetables*
2 garlic cloves, minced
Water to cover
6 peppercorns
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add vegetables and garlic. Sweat with the lid on for about 5 minutes, stirring at least once. Add enough water to cover vegetables, peppercorns, parsley, thyme and bay leaves. Simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Strain stock into a collander, lined with cheesecloth. If you don't have cheesecloth, use a strong paper towel.
You can freeze your stock in ice cube trays. This makes for a quick way to add stock to soups or sauces.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tomato Soup

I have fond childhood memories of a steaming hot bowl of Campbell's Tomato Soup, a Grilled Cheese Sandwich and lunch with my mom. As I grew older, I became less and less fond of tomato soup or should I say canned tomato soup. Homemade tomato soup on the other hand, I love. The flavor is so much milder and less acidic than the canned varieties. I am always anxious to try a new recipe for tomato soup. I so enjoy Michael Chiarello and when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it. The only change I made to this recipe was to substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock. This soup has a wonderful texture and a nice mild tomato flavor.

Tomato Soup
Adapted from Michael Chiarello

1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Strain the chopped canned tomatoes, reserving the juices, and spread onto a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, to taste, drizzle with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat remaining olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted chopped canned tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, chicken broth, bay leaf and butter. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add basil and cream, if using. Puree with a hand held immersion blender until smooth.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gingebread Cupcakes - MSC

Gingerbread Cupcakes...hmmm? Gingebread, Gingerbread Cookies, Gingerbread Houses but Gingerbread Cupcakes? I am not a big Gingerbread fan but it is one of those signature holiday dishes, so knew I was baking this one. I really wanted to like these cupcakes but the truth is, I didn't. Now that wasn't really because of the flavor, it was because they were DRY!!! I followed the recipe exactly! As I was scooping the batter into the cupcake pan, I thought it seemed really thick. I even baked them for less time than the recipe called for. With some of the earlier Martha Stewart Cupcake bakes, I felt like my cupcakes were overbaked. I bought an oven thermometer to make sure the temperature was right on. What happened? I am anxious to read the other Martha Stewart Cupcake baker's blogs to see if I am the only one who experienced dry cupcakes. Now I am trying to decide what to do with the cupcakes because while on the first day they were dry but edible, on the second day, they're too dry to eat. Maybe some sort of bread pudding?

Thanks to Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table for choosing this great holiday recipe for this month's bake. You can find the links to all of the other Martha Stewart cupcake baker's here!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Oatmeal & Cream Cheese Butterscotch Bars

It's been a busy Sunday, I've baked, wrapped and made bath scrub and fizzies. I still felt like there was something missing. What's missing today is Sweet Melissa Sunday's. SMS has become a big part of my weekend routine. We're taking a break until after the holiday's.

This recipe was Day 7 of Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies. I wish I had the time to do my own 12 Days of Cookies or even 12 Days of Holiday Baking. I so admire the bloggers who are doing 12 Days of Cookies or similar baking events.

These bars are delicious. Butterscotch isn't one of my favorite flavors however the lemon in this recipe compliments the butterscotch nicely. I'd like to try this recipe with chocolate and orange juice/zest.

Oatmeal & Cream Cheese Butterscotch Bars
Recipe by Ann Burrell

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pea-sized pieces, plus more for pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (11-ounce) bag butterscotch chips
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 x 13" pan.

In a food processor add the flour, oats and brown sugar and pulse to combine. Add the 2 sticks of butter, the cinnamon and the butterscotch chips. Pulse, pulse, pulse until the mixture forms clumps when pressed between your fingers. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan in an even layer, reserve the other half. Bake in the preheated oven just until slightly golden and set, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Beat together the cream cheese, condensed milk, lemon zest and juice and vanilla in an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle, or with an electric hand mixer until no lumps of cream cheese remain. Spread evenly over the baked and cooled oatmeal mixture. Sprinkle the remaining half of the oatmeal mixture over the cream cheese. Bake until the top is golden, about 40 minutes.

Cool and chill before cutting. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and using the foil handles, transfer the bars to a cutting board. Cut into 2-inch squares with a sharp knife and serve.

Recipe Notes: I didn't add the butterscotch chips until the dough was almost ready. I didn't want to chop the chips!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

White Chili

After having a mild winter and temperatures in the 50's Thanksgiving weekend, winter has arrived in Nebraska. The wind has picked up, the temperatures have dropped and the snow has started to fall. As much as I don't like winter, I do like some of the foods that I think of when I think of winter.

White Chili is one of my favorite recipes for a cold winter night. This recipe comes from one of my favorite longtime cookbooks, Beyond Parsley. Beyond Parsley is the first cookbook of the Junior League of Kanasas City.

Served with a salad and cornbread, White Chili makes a delicious supper!!

White Chili
Recipe Courtesy of Beyond Parsley
8 -10 servings

1 pound large white beans
6 cups chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped (divided)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 -4 ounce cans chopped green chilies
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups diced cooked chicken breasts
3 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese

Combine beans, chicken broth, garlic and half of the onions in large soup pot and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and summer until beans are very soft about 3 hours. Add more chicken broth, if necessary. In a skillet, saute remaining onions in oil until tender. Add chilies and seasonings and mix thoroughly. Add to bean mixure. Add chicken and continue to simmer 1 hour. Serve topped with grated cheese.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

December 7, 1941. My father and many other young soliders were at Pearl Harbor that day! My father turned 90 this year and I imagine he's one of only a few Pearl Harbor survivors still living!

Take time today to remember those who lost their lives that day and those who lived fighting for our country.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chocolate Cheesecake - Sweet Melissa Sunday's

I love cheesecake! Cheesecake is one of my signature desserts. My friends and family have always said they are good enough to sell. I always bake those cheesecake recipes that are my favorites. Trying a new one isn't something I do very often. So true to form, this week's Sweet Melissa Sunday's has helped me to think outside the box. (Does any one say that anymore or was that a 90's term?) It also occurred to me, I haven't blogged about cheesecake before so I blogging is challenging me to try recipes I wouldn't normally try.

I did make quite a few changes to this recipe. If possible, I try to use the ingredients I have on hand rather than buying them. I used almonds instead of hazelnuts in the crust. I didn't use any expresso powder, I thought I had some instant coffee but didn't seem to find it. Also, in reading how rich this is, I decided we didn't need a whole cheescake. I cut the recipe in half and used a 4" mini cheesecake pan. However filling made enough for two 4" cheesecake pans. Wouldn't that be an 8" pan? Interesting! Anyway, since there was only one crust, I poured the extra filling into some custard cups. I'm anxious to see how they turn out. I decided not to make the glaze and just dust with powdered sugar.

When I checked the cheesecake at the end of the baking time, it didn't seem to have the same "crust" all of my other cheesecakes have. I hope it is done.

Thanks to Shandy of Pastry Heaven by Shandy for choosing this week's recipe. You can find the links to all of the other Sweet Melissa Sunday's bakers here!

The Sweet Melissa Sunday's bakers are taking a break until January. Check back to see January's delicious creations. In the meantime, Happy Holidays to all of my fellow Sweet Melissa Sunday's bakers!!

A 30th Birthday Celebration at Osteria Mozza

My son Justin turned 30 last Monday. We were lucky enough to be in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving and his birthday. I can't believe my "baby" is 30, wasn't it yesterday we were celebrating his first birthday? For those of you with children, cherish every moment! They grow up way too fast!!

I was thrilled when Justin shared with me he'd made reservations at the popular LA restaurant, Osteria Mozza for his birthday dinner. Mozza is owned by Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich. The executive chef is Matt Molina.

Dark wood, light blue walls and candle lit tables make for a lovely, warm atmosphere. The bar is a beautiful dark wood adorned with bottles and glasses. If you aren't lucky enough to snag a reservation, you can dine at the mozarella bar. The mozarella bar is a beautiful marble bar, ornamented with all sorts of brass animals and objects. I wish we lived in LA, so we could go back and sit at the bar.

I chose one of their signature cocktails, The Sugar Plum. Pomegranate nectar, grapefruit and vodka. It was beautiful and delicious. In keeping with the service levels at Mozza, the rum and coke that Tim ordered was poured tableside. The cocktail glass was presented on a silver tray and the coke was poured from a small coke bottle.

From the mozarella bar, we decided to try the Bufala mozzarella with shell beans, basil pesto & sauteed bitter greens. The flavors were wonderful. I wasn't bold enough to try one of the signature pastas, Calves Brain Ravoli. Although I loved calves brains as child, I couldn't bring myself to order this dish. The butternut squash ravioli was divine. The pasta melted in your mouth. I can never bring myself to leave a restaurant without trying something from their dessert menu. Being the chocolate lover that I am, the Cioccolato (bittersweet chocolate cake) seemed like a perfect choice. The cake was presented with Perugian chocolates on the side. Possibly one of the most delicious and decadent cakes I've ever had the pleasure of tasting.

The service was outstanding. You know... one of those places where water glasses are refilled even though you may have only taken a sip or two of water. There were servers walking the room to make sure every detail was taken care of. If we lived in LA, Osteria Mozza would be at the top of my list.

Fabulous Holiday Giveaway

Everyone loves a giveaway but this is one of the BEST giveaways I've ever seen. It's not a food giveaway but a fashion and beauty giveaway. What more could a girl ask for!!!

The giveaway can be found here!!! Don't miss out, it's worth it to enter!!! When enter, please mention you read about this on my site and both of us get an extra entry. Also, you don't have to be a blogger to enter, so share the site with your friends!!!

Good luck!! It would be awesome if one of my readers would win!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Great Giveaway

No, not my great giveaway! Erin Cooks great giveaway. She's giving away a copy of the movie Julie and Julia. Every food bloggers favorite flick! You can find her blog here! You can enter once on her blog, then a second time by creating a post on your blog about the giveaway and posting a link to the blog.

How great is that? Good luck everyone!

Glazed Carrots with Sage

The sage in my AeroGarden is growing like crazy. What do you think of when you think of sage? Thanksgiving dressing!! I remember as a child helping my mom with dinner and putting the sage in the pumpkin pie instead of the pie spice. Not sure what we did but I always laugh when I think of sage.

I have a big bag of carrots in the frig. Big bags of veggies at Costco are almost the same price as the smaller bags at the regular grocery store. I always make glazed carrots with brown sugar and honey. I need some different carrot recipes. I found this one on line and made a few modifications.

Glazed Carrots with Sage
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 1 inch pieces
1/2 of a small onion, thinly sliced
10 to 12 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion, and sage and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown (about 8 minutes). Season with a touch of salt and pepper, add the wine and the chicken stock, and bring to a simmer. Cover the skillet and cook for about 12 minutes or until the carrots are tender (if necessary, add more stock or water as they cook to prevent scorching).

Uncover the skillet and simmer off enough remaining liquid so that the carrots are coated in a nice, moist glaze. Check for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed, and serve.

My notes on this recipe: These were so flavorful. The sage adds a nice woodsy flavor to the carrots. This recipe will be one I will make again and again!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

SCORE!! - Snow Flecked Brownies - Sweet and Simple Bakes

No I haven't taken up hockey or football. I finally feel like I've scored with a Sweet and Simple Bakes recipe. If you've been following my Sweet and Simple Bakes posts you know I have had less than baking perfection with my recipes. The main reason for my flops has been because I didn't own a scale. I knew I needed to be the proud owner of a scale in time for this month's Sweet and Simple Bakes because these flops were getting frustrating.

Since we've had a lot of sweets lately, I decided to cut this decadent recipe in half and use a 9" square pan. Measuring by weight is so much easier than measuring in cups. Also, everything I read indicates how much more accurate it is as well.

I always have trouble knowing when brownies are done. This recipe said when these were done the tops would take on a slightly paler speckle color. Mine didn't seem to do that, so I baked them the required time and just hoped they weren't overdone.

These brownies are so delicious! I used a combination of milk chocolate and semi sweet chocolate chips for the chopped chocolate. I will be making these brownies again. I want to try different types of chips next time I make these. Maybe even some toffee chips.

Thanks to Rosie and for hosting Sweet and Simple Bakes. There's lots of creative and talented bakers in Sweet and Simple Bakes, you'll be able to check out their brownies here on 12/2.

Snow-Flecked Brownies

375g best quality dark chocolate
375g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
6 eggs (large)
350g caster sugar (superfine)
1 teaspoon salt
225g plain flour
250g white chocolate buttons or chips, or white chocolate chopped into chunks (or your own choice of chocolate)
2 tsp icing sugar, for dusting

Tin measuring approx 33cm x 23cm x 5.5cm

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4/350F.

Line the sides and base of a 33 x 23 x 5.5com baking tin with foil or baking parchment.

Melt the butter and dark chocolate together in a large heavy based pan.

In a bowl or wide mouthed large measuring jug, beat the eggs together with the caster sugar and vanilla extract.

Allow the chocolate mixture to cool a little, then add the egg and sugar mixture and beat well. Fold in the flour and salt. Then stir in the white chocolate buttons or choped white chocolate. Beat to combine then scrape and pour the brownie mixture into the prepared tin.

Bake for 25 minutes, You can see when the brownies are ready because the top dries to a slightly paler brown speckle, while the middle remains dark, dense and gooey. Even with such a big batch you do need to keep checking on it: the difference between gungey brownies and dry ones is only a few minutes. Remember, too, that they will continue to cook as they cool.

To serve, cut into squares while still warm and pile up on a large plate, sprinkling with icing sugar pushed with a teaspoon through a small sieve.

Old World Rye Bread - Recipes To Rival (RTR)

Homemade bread...there isn't anything better than Homemade Bread!!! I've never baked much bread. One of my reasons for blogging was to be challenged to make recipes I normally wouldn't make. I was thrilled to see this month's Recipes to Rival was Rye Bread.

Since I am now the proud owner of a scale, I used the scale to measure my flour. So much easier than the standard cup measurement method. Also, for bread making so much more accurate! I did not make any changes to this recipe. Not being an experienced bread baker I wanted to follow it exactly. Of course, rye flour wasn't a staple in my kitchen. When I looked at my supermarket a couple of weeks ago, a 5 pound bag was a little pricey. Especially when you know you are buying it to make on specific recipe. I love the bulk section at Whole Foods, perfect when you only need a little of something.

Oh the smell of bread baking!!! This bread smelled especially wonderful, almost smelled more like a cake than bread.

I am so excited!! My bread turned out beautifully!!! The flavor and texture were wonderful! I am not a big fan of rye bread but this bread is a milder rye bread. I really enjoyed this bread. I will make this again. Thanks Recipes to Rival for helping me conquer my bread baking fears!

Old World Rye
A World of Breads by Dolores Casella, 1966

2 cups rye flour
1/4 cup cocoa
2 T yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp salt
2 T caraway seeds
2 T butter
2 1/2 cups white flour or whole wheat flour

Combine the rye flour and cocoa. do not sift.
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water.
Mix molasses, 1 cup warm water, salt, and caraway seed in large mixing bowl.
Add the rye/cocoa mix, the proofed yeast, the butter and 1 cup white flour or whole wheat flour.
Beat until the dough is smooth.
Spread the remaining flour on a breadboard and kneed it into the dough
Add more flour if necessary to make a firm dough that is smooth and elastic.
Place in buttered bowl and cover. Allow to rise until double (about 2 hours).
Punch dough down, shape into a round loaf and place on a buttered cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal.
Let rise about 50 minutes.
Bake at 375 for 35 to 40 minutes.

My notes for this recipe: I used my kitchen aid. For the intial mixing, I used the paddle attachment. Once the ingredients were mixed together, I switched to the door hook. I kneaded this about 10 minutes.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Flourless Chocolate Cookies

As I was making these cookies, I was thinking we've had two easy recipes back to back, when might this end? This recipe is so easy. One bowl and a few ingredients and you have cookie batter.

Unfortunately, mine didn't come together as easily as the recipe described. The recipe says after mixing for 3 minutes, the batter will thicken slightly. Mine didn't thicken. I kept wanting to add flour to make it thicker but flourless means no flour, right? My cookies were so thin I was worried about the batter running off the cookie sheet and into the oven. Fortunately, that did not happen but as you can see they did not turn out. Looks aren't everything though, right? So I thought the taste of these might make up for the appearance. Nope not so much, I didn't like the flavor either.

This month's recipe was chosen by Karen of Karen's Cookies, Cakes and More. You can also find the links to the other Chocolate With Francois bakers here. Hopefully their cookies were scrumptious and beautiful, as the recipe describes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

No Sweet Melissa Sunday's

No Sweet Melissa Sunday's for me today. The main reason, we're in LA with my son Justin. Also, I am not a Fruitcake person, not sure I would have baked if I had been home.

This weeks recipe was chosen by Karin of Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice. You can find the recipe at her site. Also, stop by the Sweet Melissa Sunday's site and check out the blogs of the bakers who did make this fruitcake.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! No Thanksgiving recipe posts from me this year. We're spending Thanksgiving with my son in Los Angeles.

Thanksgiving means so many different things. From your favorite Thanksgiving dishes, to time with family and of course the day after Thanksgiving shopping. Every Thanksgiving as I stop and reflect on all of the things I am thankful for, I always say I am going to try and reflect on the these things more often throughout the next year. Then what happens? Life happens and sometimes it just gets in the way.

I am thankful for so many things but this year I am especially thankful for my health. For the first six months of this year, I battled various health problems. Culminating in a diagnosis and two surgeries in July. Fortunately, the surgeries cured what was wrong with me and it wasn't anything more serious.

What are you most thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The New Green Bean??

Are brussels sprouts the new green bean? You can't read a food magazine, watch a food show or read a food blog these days without seeing a recipe for brussels sprouts.

I've always liked brussels sprouts, even growing up when they were boiled and didn't have the most appealing fragrance. It's amazing the wonderful toasted flavor, fragrance and color of roasted brussels sprouts. Even my husband, who is a green vegetable convert, likes these. Of course, that may have something to do with the bacon.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

2 (10-ounce) packages Brussels sprouts
2 ounce piece slab bacon cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Wash and then peel off any loose or damaged leaves from the sprouts. Trim the root end and cut each sprout in half.

Cook the bacon and walnuts in a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat until bacon just begins to crisp and walnuts are toasted, about 4 minutes. Transfer the bacon and walnuts with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside. Add the Brussels sprouts to the skillet and season with salt and pepper.

Put the pan in the oven and roast the Brussels sprouts for about 30 minutes, add the bacon and walnuts and continue to roast until the sprouts are cooked through and golden, about 10 to 15 minutes more.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fettuccini Alfredo

One of my favorite dishes from the Culinary Boot Camp cooking classes I took was Fettuccine Alfredo. I've had it on my list of recipes to make for the last several weeks and finally got around to making it. This is one of those dishes that is just sinfully delicious! I've never made it before and was so hoping it would be as delicious as it was in cooking class. Well guess what? It was every bit as delicious. This recipe will be a go to recipe for dinner or entertaining!

Fettuccine Alfredo
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesean-reggiano
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound of fettuccine pasta
Bring the butter and cream to a boil in a heavy bottomed sauce pot, simmer for 1 -2 minutes until slightly thickened. Add the parmesean and grated nutmeg, stir continuosly until cheese is well blended.

Add pasta and coat well.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Raised Waffles with Warm Brown Sugar Bananas

I love waffles! This recipe is perfect for Sunday morning breakfast. I've been wanting a new waffle iron. After making this recipe, I am for sure getting a new one. I didn't feel that these waffles came out crispy or golden enough in my waffle iron.

This recipe does require a little more time than most waffle recipes. You make the batter most of the way, the night before. The finishing touches the next morning are quick and easy. The topping for these is heavenly, my favorite part.

The topping for these is h e a v e n l y!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It reminds me of bananas foster, which I love! I cut the waffle recipe in half but made the full recipe of the topping. I am so glad I did, even making the full recipe, I really didn't feel like it was enough topping. I used honey instead of maple syrup. I guess my brown sugar and butter mixture wasn't hot enough? I didn't get the flame when you add the rum. Bummer! I was so looking forward to an intentional flame experience (and Tim was on stand by with the fire extinguisher).

Thanks to Lauren of Fried Pickles and Ice Cream for choosing this recipe. You can find the recipe on her site. Also, you'll find the links to all of the wonderful SMS bakers here!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lemon Lavender Martini

How relaxing is the scent of lavender? I have lavender candles, lavender sheet spray and lavender bubble bath. How about lavender flavored cocktails? This summer we experimented with herbs in cocktails. Although I didn't try it, there is a Lavender Martini is on the menu at The Girl and the Fig. A few weeks ago we made a visit to the Pezney's store. When I was checking out I saw a sign for culinary lavender and decided to purchase it to make lavender simple syrup.

Lavender Syrup

1 cup water
3 Tbsp fresh or dried lavender flowers
2 cups sugar
Bring water and lavender to a boil. Stir in sugar until fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Keep in the refrigerator for 3 days, then fine strain the lavender.

Lemon Lavender Martini

2 ounces vodka
1 ounce lavender simple syrup
1/2 ounce lemon juice

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake for 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist, or a lavender bloom.

I thought this cocktail had too much lavender flavor. I will try it again with more lemon or even cranberry. I think the lavender syrup has lots of possibilities.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Slow Cooker Flank Steak

If you follow my blog, you know my husband love his red meat but me, not so much. Normally we grill flank steak but now that the weather has cooled off, I need some indoor recipes. Since flank steak is a tougher cut of meat, I wondered if I cooked it in the slow cooker how tender it would be.

This steak was so tender and the flavor was melt in your mouth delicious. Yes, the not so much red meat eater loved this steak. And the mushroom gravy was to die for. This recipe is a keeper that I will make again, SOON.

Slowcooker Flank Steak

Adapted from Risa's Flank Steak Recipe

1 pound flank steak
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon beef base
1 cup water
1 tbsp Ketchup
1 tbsp whole grain mustard
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 lb fresh baby portabella mushrooms, sliced

Preheat a grill pan . When hot, place steak on and cook until you sear it well and you have nice grill marks. Remove and place in crockpot.

In a measuring cup, place beef base and water, add. Mix well. Add wine, soy sauce, garlic, ketchup, mustard and onion. Pour over steak. Cook on low heat for 8 hours or until meat is tender.

Turn to high. Place cornstarch and water in small bowl and whisk well to combine. Add cornstarch mixture to crockpot along with the mushrooms. Cook for 20-30 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.

To serve: slice meat in thin strips (against the grain) and serve with sauce over noodles or rice.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Indoor Gardening - Week Seven

Week seven and the herbs in the AeroGarden are growing like crazy...well at least some of them are anyway. The basil and parsley are beautiful. The sage looks pretty good, although the leaves seem to curl a little. The mint and chives are another story. The mint is puny and the chives are almost non existent. Maybe they will get a growth sprurt here in the next few weeks?

As the plants start to grow, their water absorbtion increases. You have to keep a close eye on the water levels and replenish twice a week.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Charlie's Afternoon Cake

Today we have a bonus creation for Chocolate With Francois. In order to try more of the wonderful recipes in Chocolate With Payard a little sooner, I will be choosing an occasional bonus creation.

Since we're approaching the holidays and because many of the creators also bake Sweet Melissa Sunday's or Martha Stewart's Cupcake Club, both of which have bakes today, this bonus bake needed to be simple. After reading through the book the simplest recipe seemed to be Charlie's Afternoon Cake. And it did not disappoint! What a simple and decadent cake this is!!!

I baked mine in a 8" round pan, instead of a 9" and it still appears to be much flatter than the cake in the cookbook. If you need a quick dessert, made with ingredients you are likely to have on hand, try this cake. Serve it with vanilla bean ice cream or creme fraiche.

Charlie's Afternoon Cake

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces 60% (bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the sides and bottom of a 9 inche round cake pan with vegetable cooking spray. Dust it with flour, shaking off the excess, and set aside.

Bring the butter to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Stir to prevent burning. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate to the pan. Stir the mixture until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until well combined. Add the flour and mix well. Add the chocolate to the batter and stir until the mixture is just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.

Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 300 degrees and bake for an additional 8 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cook completely in the pan. Unmold, and serve.

Next up for Chocolate With Francois is Flourless Chocolate Cookies!

Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes- Martha Stewart's Cupcake Club

These cupcakes remind me of the sweet potatoes we had for Thanksgiving dinner when I was a little girl. Lots of marshmallows. Today, I actually prefer my sweet potatoes without marshmallow goo!

I stood in the kitchen for a few minutes trying to decide whether make a half or quarter of this recipe and whether to make mini cupcakes or standard size cupcakes. I just wasn't sure we would like these, so I figured we'd go with one bite mini's. As I was assembling these, I kept thinking...sweet potato??

Boy was I wrong, these are delicious. The sweet potato flavor is mild and the cupcakes are light and airy. YUMMY!!

Trying to brown the marshmallows with my torch, I almost set the kitchen on fire. So as not have to call 911, I decided to try putting the marshmallows under the broiler. All the while I kept thinking how do they stick to the top if you're browning them on top? So ladies, how do they???As I was setting up little trio's of marshmallows, it occurred to me I had a jar of fluff in the cabinet. Flame free and easy.

This month's MSC recipe was chosen by Karen at Karen's Cookies, Cakes and More. Thanks Karen for picking a recipe I would not have tried otherwise!!! You can find the links to all of the other MSC baker's here.

Butter Toffee Crunch - Sweet Melissa Sundays

Considering my sweet tooth, when I read this recipe makes 3 pounds, I decided to cut it in half. Cutting recipes in half always reminds me of grade school...converting fractions. I decided to take advantage of the internet and find a recipe converter. I found a great site that allows you to enter the entire recipe, directions and all and even print it if you like.

Cavities or no cavities, I am so sorry I didn't make the full recipe! This toffee is absolutely delicious and so easy to make. The mixture reached the 290 degree temperature much quicker than I expected. Don't take your eyes off that thermometer or you will overcook it. When you purchase toffee, you see it in those nice little triangle shapes. So how do the candy makers do that? I used the wooden end of my meat mallet and some pieces are nice shapes but others are small crumbles? Maybe the candy makers have eat all the leftovers? Kind of like that one unforgettable I Love Lucy episode?

This recipe would be great for holiday gift giving. Thanks to Kaitlin of Kait's Place for choosing such a wonderful recipe. You can find the recipe on her blog and links to all of the other Sweet Melissa baker's here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pear Crumble Pie

To keep them cool, I've been storing the pears that a co worker gave me in the garage. Due to an unseasonably warm weekend my storage area is a little warm, so I need to use the rest of the ripe pears.

I love crumbles! This recipe is a pie with a crumble topping. This week's Sweet Melissa Sunday's recipe was Pear & Cranberry Muffins with a Gingersnap Crumble. The crumble was my favorite part of this recipe. Perfect! I can use some of the leftover gingersnaps for the crumble for this pie.

Pear Crumble Pie

6 medium pears, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 9-inch baked pastry shell

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter or margarine
12 gingersnap cookies, crushed
Combine flour and spices for crumb topping and cut in butter till crumbly.

Sprinkle pears iwth lemon juice. Mix sugars, flour, cinnamon and lemon peel; stir into sliced pears. Spoon into pastry shell. Sprinkle with Crumble Topping. Bake at 400♂F. for 45 min. or until pears are tender. Serve warm with whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

At Least One Green Thumb

When I lived in Kansas City, I didn't have anything growing in my house. I always said I didn't have a green thumb. Now when I stop to think about it, I just didn't take the time to have a green thumb. Tim had lots of houseplants and they're such a wonderful addition to a home. Three years ago we traveled to Mexico on a cruise. We fell in love with the beautiful bouganvilla plants we saw while traveling the countryside. That summer we purchased a bouganvilla. Summers in Nebraska can be pretty tropical! Our bouganvilla thrived. Once the temperatures began to cool, we brought it inside and wintered it inside. Much to my surprise, it survived. As the temperatures began to get warm enough, we moved it outside. The second year, we wintered it inside again. That winter it flourished inside. When summer came, we decided it had become a beautiful houseplant and kept it inside.

It goes through spells where it doesn't bloom and looses a few leaves but always comes back. The secret to growing a bouganvilla is the right amount of light, water and feeding. I did a lot of reading about what kind of food to feed it. I ran across an article on using Epsom Salt as plant fertilizer. I decided to give it a try. Once a month, I put two tablespoons of Epsom Salt in a gallon of water and feed all of our houseplants. The bouganvilla seems to really like this food.

I still won't say I am a gardener but I do think I may have one green thumb.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Apricot Chicken

My husband was telling me about an Apricot Chicken dish he remembered having a child. All he could really remember was it had apricot jelly. I decided it probably had apricot preserves. The internet is such a great thing, hard to remember life without it. I did some searching and the recipe that kept coming up was one with just three ingredients, apricot preserves, onion soup and russian dressing. How simple is that? I decided to make it even easier and use my slow cooker. I work full time and the slow cooker is my friend! There's nothing better than coming home and having dinner ready.

Apricot Chicken

1 1/2 cups russian dressing
1 envelope onion soup
1/2 cup apricot preserves
6 pieces of chicken

Combine and pour over chicken. Cook in the slow cooker 8 hours. Remove the chicken from the the slow cooker, strain the sauce and use a fat separator to drain the grease. Whisk together 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 3 tablespoons of water. In a saucepan, combine sauce and cornstarch mixture. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until thickened. Place chicken in serving dish, cover with sauce. Serve over rice.

My notes on this recipe: I thought this was good but a little bland. I want to experiment with the ratio of dressing to preserves. I think the addition of some herbs or spices would help as well.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Indoor Gardening - Week Six

Six weeks have passed since I "planted" the herbs in my AeroGarden. The garden is really starting to take shape.

I am seeing the same pattern with the chives and mint. The chives are very slow in growing and aren't as I would like. The mint leaves are really small. Hopefully they will grow larger as the garden continues to grow.

As with my last herb garden, the basil is the star! I am looking forward to using experimenting with the lemon basil. And of course, there's nothing better than fresh basil when it's cold outside.

Hopefully within the next couple of weeks, I can begin to harvest some of the herbs.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pear and Cranberry Muffins with Gingersnap Crumble - SMS

This recipe couldn't have come at a better time. A co-worker gave me several pears from their backyard tree. They remind me of our backyard apples, lots of spots but beautiful, juicy fruit on the inside.

The Pear and Cranberry Muffins are the same base recipe as the Peach Muffins we made in August. This recipe makes a lovely, moist muffin. I decided to make 6 large muffins instead of the 12 small ones. They took about five minutes longer to bake. I used lemon zest instead of orange zest and rehydrated craisins for the cranberries.

Not being a big gingersnap fan, I was a little concerned about the flavor of the topping. Boy was I wrong, the topping ended up being one of my favorite things about these muffins. I used store bought gingersnaps. Next time I make these, I will use more pears.

Thanks to Jennifer of Maple N' Cornbread for choosing this week's recipe. The recipe can be found on her blog. You can find the links to all of the other Sweet Melissa Sunday's bakers he For links to all of the Sweet Melissa Sunday's bakers here.

Next week's Sweet Melissa Sunday's is Butter Toffee Crunch, a perfect recipe for holiday giving.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Culinary Boot Camp Week 5

Tuesday night was my last Culinary Boot Camp class. It was hands down my favorite class of the series. The chef asked us last week what we wanted to do for tonight's class. We all wanted to make pasta and some type of bread.

We made pasta dough, focaccia bread, alfredo sauce and marinara sauce. We made ravioli's with the pasta dough. The fillings for the pasta were ricotta cheese with basil or chives or butternut squash. (Oh and I did remember the camera BUT the batteries were dead.)

The bread used a Poolish starter. This enababled us to make our focaccia bread during our two hour class time. The alfredo sauce was quick and easy but tasted like you worked on it for hours.
I was sad to see my classes come to an end. After the holidays, I plan to take a few more. The Classy Gourmet offers a wide variety of classes and I would also like to take a Wilton Cake Decorating Class.

In the meantime, you can bet I will be making these recipes. Look for them to be blog topics in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Smoked Gouda Mac n Cheese

One of our new favorite restaurants in town is Ryan's Bistro. It's a warm, intimate bistro not far from our house. Ryan's serves a Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese as a side dish. It is so good. I've been wanting to make homemade mac & cheese and decided to try making it Smoked Gouda.

I was a little nervous since the base for any homemade mac & cheese is a bechamel sauce and I am sometimes sauce challenged! I was pleased with how this mac & cheese turned out. It wasn't quite as flavorful as Ryan's but very good nonetheless.

Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese
Recipe from Emeril Lagasse

6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pound ditalini or small elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/4 pound smoked Gouda cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Put the water, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. In a small, heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the white pepper and continue whisking until the sauce is smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 8 minutes. Remove the white sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese. Continue stirring until the cheese melts. Lightly grease a 6 1/2 by 10-inch casserole dish with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon butter. Combine the cheese sauce and macaroni in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Pour into the prepared casserole and bake until lightly golden on top, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot. Garnish with parsley.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Indoor Gardening - Week Five

My AeroGarden is really beginning to grow. The herbs are taking shape and starting to be recognizable.

At week five, the garden still does not require much water or care. As the garden starts to grow more, it will require pruning and more frequent watering.

I am beginning to start accumulating recipes using my fresh herbs!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

White Chocolate & Orange Cookies - Sweet & Simple Bakes

I have been looking forward to making these cookies all month. I was going to make them last week but ended up with a busier week than I'd anticipated. I did print the recipe and using the internet convert grams to cups. Or so I thought...the site I looked at showed 200 grams as 7/8 cup. As the first cookie sheet was baking, I knew the conversion was oh so wrong!!! My cookies were running all over the cookie sheet. I looked on line again and found another site that said 200 grams is 1 3/4 cup. At the end of the baking time, I let them cook and scraped them off the sheet and into a baggie. I think they'll make a great topping for ice cream. I added more flour and baked the second sheet...better but still runny. On my third attempt, I think I was able to add enough flour but sadly only had enough dough for 6 cookies.

The theme of my last two Sweet & Simple Bakes has been the same, I need to get a scale. I've been looking at them and need to make the purchase, SOON!!! If anyone can recommend a good scale, please let me know!

The flavor of these cookies is amazing! The orange and chocolate are wonderful together! I didn't have any white chocolate and am not a white chocolate fan, so I substituted milk chocolate.

You can find all of the other Sweet & Simple bakers and the recipe here!

French Onion Soup - Recipes to Rival (RTR)

I am thrilled to be joining a savory blogging group, Recipes to Rival. Recipes to Rival is going to help motivate me to achieve one of my goals in blogging, to create recipes I wouldn't normally make or recipes that challenge my cooking abilitites. This month's Recipe to Rival was chosen by Sara at Thanks Sara for choosing such a great recipe!

I have never made French Onion Soup. I was excited to make this recipe, especially when I read the recipe is Thomas Keller's. French Onion Soup is one of those soups that just says comfort and warmth. The creamy cheese on the top adds that distinctive onion soup texture.

Because it's just the two of us, I decided to make a half recipe. I have always cooked on an electric stove. This recipe is a recipe made for a gas stove. I had trouble getting the temperature just right for browning the onions. In between medium low and low seemed to give it the right sizzling temperature. My onions browned beautifully, although they only took about 2 1/2 hours. They cooked down quite a bit. When they were done, I wondered if I would have enough onions. As it turned out, I had the perfect amount. I didn't make the homemade beef stock, I used store bought stock and water.

I don't own soup crocks, so I used the only dishes I could find that were suitable and oven safe. Although my picture doesn't look it, this soup was delicious. I made the soup on Sunday and finished it for a simple Thursday night supper. I used Conte cheese which was a wonderful compliment to the onion flavor of this soup. I didn't find this recipe particularly difficult, you just have to make sure you have the time and the patience to stir the onions. We both thought the soup was delicious. I will make this soup again (after I get some soup tureens).

Onion Soup - Soupe A L'Oignon
Thomas Keller - Bouchon
makes 6 servings

2 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns
6 large sprigs of thyme

8 pounds (about 8 large) yellow onions
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter
Kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons all purpose flour
3 1/2 quarts Beef Stock (recipe below)
Freshly ground black pepper
Sherry wine vinegar

1 baguette (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher salt

6 to 12 slices (1/8 inch thick) aged Comte or Emmentaler cheese (at least 4 inches square)
1 1/2 cups grated aged Comte or Emmentaler cheeses, or a combination

The more basic the soup, the more critical the details: Slice the onions uniformly and brown them very slowly and evenly; slice the bread a half inch thick and dry it completely in the oven; and serve the soup in appropriately sized bowls so that the melted cheese extends over the rim. When you hit it right, there's nothing more satisfying to cook or to eat than this soup.

It's worth reiterating the importance of cooking the onions slowly so that the natural sugars caramelize rather than brown through high heating sautéing. The onions cook for about five hours and need to be stirred often, but they can be made up to two days ahead. The soup is best if refrigerated for a day or two so that the flavors of the onion and beef broth can deepen.

Comte is traditionally the cheese of choice, but Emmentaler works as well. Gruyère is a bit strong. Use an aged cheese; a younger cheese would just melt and wouldn't form a crust.

FOR THE SACHET: Cut a piece of cheesecloth about 7 inches square. Place the bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme in the center, bring up the edges, and tie with kitchen twine to form a sachet.

FOR THE SOUP: Cut off the tops and bottoms of the onions, then cut the onions lengthwise in half. Remove the peels and tough outer layers. Cut a V wedge in each one to remove the core and pull out any solid, flat pieces of onion running up from the core.

Lay an onion half cut side down on a cutting board with the root end toward you. Note that there are lines on the outside of the onion. Cutting on the lines (with the grain) rather than against them will help the onions soften. Holding the knife on an angle, almost parallel to the board, cut the onion lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices. Once you've cut past the center of the onion, the knife angle will become awkward: Flip the onion onto its side, toward the knife, and finish slicing it, again along the grain. Separate the slices of onion, trimming away any root sections that are still attached and holding the slices together. Repeat with the remaining onions. (You should have about 7 quarts of onions)

Melt the butter in a large heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and 1 tablespoon salt, reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring every 15 minutes and regulating the heat to keep the mixture bubbling gently, for about 1 hour, or until the onions have wilted and released a lot of liquid. At this point, you can turn up the heat slightly to reduce the liquid, but it is important to continue to cook the onions slowly to develop maximum flavor and keep them from scorching. Continue to stir the onions every 15 minutes, being sure to scrape the bottom and get in the corners of the pot, for about 4 hours more, or until the onions are caramelized throughout and a rich deep brown. Keep a closer eye on the onions toward the end of the cooking when the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat. (You will need 1 1/2 cups of onions for the soup; reserve any extra for another use. The onions can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.)

Transfer the caramelized onions to a 5 quart pot (if they've been refrigerated, reheat until hot.) Sift in the flour and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beef stock and sachet, bring to a simmer, and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the liquid is reduced to 2 1/2 quarts. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a few drops of vinegar. Remove from the heat.

FOR THE CROUTONS: Preheat the broiler. Cut twelve 3/8 inch thick slices from the baguette (reserve the remainder for another use) and place on a baking sheet. Brush the bread lightly on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place under the broiler and toast the first side until golden brown, then turn and brown the second side. Set aside and leave the broiler on.

TO COMPLETE: Return the soup to a simmer. Place six flameproof soup tureens, with about 1 1/2 cups capacity on a baking sheet to catch any spills (the soup will bubble up and over the tureens). Add the hot soup to the tureens, filling them within 1/2 inch of the tops. Top each serving with 2 croutons: Lay them on the surface - do not push them into the soup. Lay the slices of cheese over the croutons so that the cheese overlaps the edges of the tureens by about 1/2 inch, Scatter the grated cheese over the sliced cheese, filling in any areas where the sliced cheese is thiner, or it may melt into the soup rather than forming a crust.

Place the tureens under the broiler for a few minutes, until the cheese bubbles, browns, and forms a thick crust. Eat carefully, the soup and tureens will be very hot.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

My Halloween recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, Above & Beyond Parsley. Above & Beyond Parsley is a Junior League of Kansas City cookbook. I've had this cookbook since it's first publishing in 1992 and have been making these muffins almost every year since.

These muffins are delicious! The butterscotch chips add a nice sweetness to the pumpkin. They travel well and were treats on Friday for my office.

Butterscotch Pumpkin Muffins

1 3/4 cup flour, sifted
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugars, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Create a well in the middle of the mixture.

In another bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin and butter. Stir in the butterscotch chips. Pour into the well of the dry ingredients. Fold together just until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix.

Spoon batter into greased muffin tins. (I use cupcake liners) Spoon batter evenly into muffin tins. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Place on a rack to cool.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Chocolate Creme Brulee - Chocolate With Francois (CWF)

What recipe to choose for my new baking group, Chocolate With Francois? There are so many great recipes in this book, it was hard to pick just one. Afterall, what doesn't sound good when made with chocolate???!!! Since Creme Brulee is one of my favorite desserts and I love, love, love chocolate, it seemed perfect to choose Chocolate Creme Brulee.

I am normally a Creme Brulee purist. I like the white Creme Brulee. For home baking, I have used the same recipe for years. It has the perfect creamy texture and the flavor doesn't taste too much like egg.

I was excited to try my first Chocolate Creme Brulee. Since it's only the two of us, I decided to make a half recipe. I ended up with three 6-ounce ramekins. I think I could have filled them a little less full and had enough for four. The recipe calls for extra bittersweet chocolate. Francois defines extra bittersweet as 72 percent chocolate. I couldn't find 72%, so I used Ghiradelli 70%.I think a good chocolate is one of the keys to this recipe.

I always use white sugar for the carmelized top of the Creme Brulee. Francois suggests using brown sugar. Brown sugar, however, contains too much moisture, so he recommends drying it. To dry it you spread the brown sugar on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 200 degree oven for an hour. When you take it out, if the sugar is lumpy, use the paddle attachment of your mixer to break up the lumps.

I am sad to say, I didn't love, love, love this recipe. I wasn't happy with the appearance of the carmelized top. I tried one with brown sugar and one with white sugar. I think the reason is the darkness of the chocolate causes the carmelized sugar to look very dark. One of my favorite things about white creme brulee is the beautiful golden brown carmelized top. The flavor didn't wow me. Although I am a dark chocolate fan, to me this wasn't sweet enough and the texture wasn't as creamy as I would have liked.

I am proud to be creating along side a very talented group of ladies. You can find the links to their blogs over at Chocolate With Francois.

Chocolate Creme Brulees
From Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard

6 ounces 72% chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup sugar
8 large egg yolks
3 cups plus 3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 cup sugar

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300.
Put the chocolate in a medium bowl. Combine the sugar and egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk until well combined.
Bring the cream to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Remove from the heat, and stir in the chocolate until it is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Slowly pour a fourth of the cholcate cream into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to keep the yolks from curdling. Pour all of the yolk mixture into the chocolate cream and whisk until everything is combined.
Strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a pitcher or a bowl. (The custard will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 days.) Pour the custard into eight 6-ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins in a rimmed baking sheet or a shallow baking dish and pour about 1/4 inch of water into the bottom of the pan. Bake for about 1 hour, until the custard is just set. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the ramekins until the custard is completely set and chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Finish the dessert: Place a rack as high as you can in the oven and preheat the oven to 500. With the ramekins on a baking sheet, spread the top of each custard with an even layer of about 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place them in the oven as close as possible to the heat source. Broil until the sugar melts completely and forms a crisp, caramel colored crust, about 2 minutes. Keep a close eye on the oven, as the sugar can burn very quickly. Serve immediately.

You can also use a small blowtorch to carmelize the sugar. It allows you to control the heat better as you run the blowtorch over the sugar. I always carmelize using this method. I have never had much success carmelizing in the oven.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Indoor Gardening Week Four

Week Four is the first time to feed the AeroGarden. The seed kits come with nutrients to feed the plants. The nutrients are added to the water and at the same time you make sure the water reservoir is full. The AeroGarden has a red light that flashes when it is time to feed and water the garden. How easy is that?

As you can see from the photo the herbs are starting to grow. The chives are still slow in getting started. The chives didn't grow well last time. I hope this isn't a sign they aren't going to do well this time.

A few more weeks and even though it's cold outside, we'll have beautiful fresh herbs.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Culinary Boot Camp Week 4

Tonight we learned poaching and braising. I braise meats, especially ribs, so I was pretty familiar with this technique.

Tim asked me what we did in class tonight. I said we learned how to poach chicken. Now remember this is the guy that last week thought we were learning how to trust our chicken. He said "Poach chicken, did someone shoot the chicken on someone else's property"?

I've never poached anything before and I am not sure it's a technique I will use. I like my chicken or fish to have some color to it. While the fish and chicken we poached in class had wonderful sauces, they were very pale and just not as appealing as a nicely browned piece of meat.

We also learned about "mother sauces". Mother sauces are the five "grand sauces" as defined by Auguste Escoffier. Escoffier was one of the most famous chefs in the early 1900's. The sauces are Bechamel, Espagnole (the base for demiglace), Tomato Sauce (creamy, not marinara),Hollandaise and Veloute. We made Veloute. It was a wonderful, creamy sauce we used on the poached chicken. Veloute also makes an excellent base for creamed soups. I think my first veloute at home will be the base for Cream of Mushroom soup.

Next week is the final class in the series.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Devils Food Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting - SMS

I can't remember the last time I made a layer cake. I was digging in the cabinet where I keep the baking pans and pulled out the round pans. Apparently I've never baked a 9" layer round pans are 7". I had enough for the two 7" rounds and 6 cupcakes.

We went to see our friends Karen and Larry in Kansas City this weekend. We had this cake for dessert last night. This recipe called for strong black coffee. I was a little concerned because Larry doesn't like coffee at all. I tried one of the cupcakes and couldn't even tell, so I knew we were good!! I made the frosting as Karen from Karen's Cookies, Cakes and More suggested. It was sooooooooo good! I can't imagine following the frosting recipe in the cookbook, seriously 6 sticks of butter???!!! I am all about rich, decadant desserts but that would have been too much, even for me!!! The cake was fabulous! This was my favorite SMS so far and you can bet I will be making this cake again...SOON!

This weeks recipe was chosen by Holly of Phe/MOM/enon. Holly you rock! This recipe was the best! Visit the SMS site to see what finishing touches all of the creative SMS bakers put on this delicious cake!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Culinary Boot Camp Week 3

Tonight was my favorite night so far! Of course, I forgot the camera! We roasted a chicken the chef had brined prior to class. We learned how to truss a chicken. I was telling my husband and he said "You learned how to trust the chicken?".

The techniques for tonight's class were dry heat methods, roasting and grilling. We grilled pork chops and served them with a delicious mustard sauce. These were the most tender pork chops I've ever eaten. They were marinated in a simple marinade of oil, worchestershire, garlic, and salt and pepper.

We made Spinach with Bacon and Pine Nuts. Bacon makes everything yummy! Our other side dish was glazed sweet potatoes. They were beautiful and delicious.

I am really enjoying these classes and it's only increasing my desire to go to cooking school. Next week poaching and braising. I've never poached anything, so I am looking forward to learning about this technique.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Roasted Delicata Squash

I've never tasted delicata squash. The nice thing about winter squash is they keep so well. I picked this one up several weeks ago at the farmer's market and it was perfectly fresh when I used it last night.

Squash is so easy to prepare. The biggest challenge is cutting it in half. The secret to making cutting it in half easier is to put in the microwave for 60 seconds prior to cutting. It softens it just enough to make it easier.
I cut the delicato squash in half and then cut the halves in half again. Drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper and a little brown sugar. Topped them with some fresh thyme. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 -40 minutes until the squash is soft when tested with a fork.
I found the delicata squash to be a milder flavor than butternut or acorn but still earthy and delicious.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pumpkin Cookie Cakes - SMS

What do you think of when you think of pumpkin? Everyone has their own special pumpkin memories. I love to remember October and pumpkins as a child, carving the jack o lantern, trick or treating. I also have a special memory of my mom's Pumpkin Bread. My mother passed away when I was 16 and her recipes are those special memories I still cherish today!

As a child, Pumpkin Bread and Pumpkin Pie are the two things I can remember eating. Blogging has allowed me to create new recipes made with pumpkin. I like pumpkin but I can't say I love pumpkin! This week's Sweet Melissa Sunday's recipe is Pumpkin Cookie Cakes. For me, you need to love things made with pumpkin to love this recipe. My favorite part...the cream cheese frosting. I was using leftover frosting, so I didn't have as much as I would have liked.

Thanks to Debbie of Everyday Blessings of the Five Dees for choosing this recipe. Visit the SMS site to see all of the links to the group of talented and creative SMS bakers!