Sunday, December 14, 2008

Butter Spritz Cookies



The MUST-HAVE Christmas cookie in our family is butter cookies. My sisters and I grew up with them and they've become a tradition in the family. Thanks, Grandmom, for starting this great tradition!



I used to have the worst trouble with cookie presses. I've thrown at least 2 of them away, and one year got blisters on my hand from trying to make one work. So the last 2 years I've tried the drop and press method, and the roll and cut method. No matter how you do it, these cookies are amazing, and always no-fail. There's something about the almond extract that's just warming to the soul. These cookies melt in your mouth without tasting greasy or too buttery. They're just perfect. So if you're looking for the perfect recipe to use in your cookie press, give this one a try! You won't be disappointed :)

And if you're looking for a nice reliable, easy to use cookie press, go get the
Wilton Pro Ultra II. Thanks to Nestie veniceforever for the recommendation!



BUTTER SPRITZ COOKIES
Source: my grandmom

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
2 1/3 cups flour
Assorted decorations for cookies



1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream butter.
3. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in egg and almond extract.
5. Gradually blend in flour.
6. Fill cookie press and press cookies directly onto ungreased cookie sheet.
7. Decorate cookies with your desired topping - my personal favorite is the colored sugar.
8. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are lightly golden.
9. Remove to wire rack to cool completely.
*This recipe yields 7 dozen cookies and is easily doubled for 14 dozen. It sounds like a lot - but I'm making 1 double batch and 1 regular batch this year.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies


One of my husband's favorite cookies to eat at Christmastime is chocolate peanut butter chip cookies. I had a problem with recipes I've tried in the past - they just weren't what I like in a cookie. I really only enjoy chewy cookies. So I went on the hunt for a recipe to try and came across this one on allrecipes.com. When I search for recipes there, I always look for recipes with 4-5 stars and a lot of reviews. So far, this method hasn't done me wrong.



I read the reviews for this 5 star cookie and adapted it based on what I read. Basically my only adaptions were using half white and half light brown sugar. I've learned that the brown sugar imparts a certain chewiness to a cookie. I also didn't add the called-for amount of chips, just because I dont love a lot of chips in them, but for appearances sake, after I dropped each ball of dough on the cookie sheet, I pressed in a few peanut butter chips just to make them look prettier. Also, I added a few regular chocolate chips in.

The hubs ended up loving this recipe, and I did, too - crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. It's definitely going to be added to the yearly Christmas cookie list :)



CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CHIP COOKIES
Source: adapted from allrecipes.com

1 cup salted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used dutch-processed)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup peanut butter chips
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a medium bowl, add dry ingredients and whisk together.

3. In stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars.

4. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed sugar mixture in 3 increments and stir until blended in.

6. Stir in peanut butter and chocolate chips.

7. Drop heaping teaspoons onto parchment lined baking sheet.

8. Bake 9-11 minutes or until set.

9. Remove from oven, let sit 1-2 minutes and remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Notes: I found that this recipe baked up nicely right after mixed, and right out of the fridge.

Hope you love it!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Roasted Bacon Chicken


People, if you're gonna roast a chicken, this is the chicken to roast. I saw it first on Elizabeth's Edible Experience. It happened to be a Top Recommended blog on the sidebar in my google reader. A stroll through her blog during one of the most boring days at work (who am I kidding, they're all boring) landed my eyes upon this chicken and I was in awe. I immediately emailed my friend, Dana, and told her, and I quote, "I HAVE TO HAVE THIS!!!!!"

I have to admit, that after making it, my favorite part of this meal was not in fact the chicken (which was, don't get me wrong, the best friggin roasted chicken I've ever made in my life), but it was the gravy! LIQUID GOLD! You can bet your ass that I saved that leftover bacon grease to whip up a similar dinner quicker with boneless breasts on a weeknight. Because although I made this on a Monday, I prefer to make more time consuming dinners on Sundays.

Seriously though, if you love bacon, if you love chicken, if you love gravy, you've gotta make this!



ROASTED BACON CHICKEN
Source: adapted from Williams-Sonoma

2 bone-in chicken breasts
olive oil, as needed
freshly ground pepper
4 slices bacon, cut in half
2 Tbsp finely diced shallot
1 1/2 cup chicken broth, separated
2 tsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp cold unsalted butter

-----

1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Set a wire rack in a roasting pan.

2. Rinse and dry chicken. Drizzle with olive oil and rub in. Season with fresh ground pepper. Lay strips of bacon over each breast. Transfer breasts to roasting pan.

3. Roast chicken, uncovered, in oven 45-60 minutes or until no longer pink (my breasts took 50 minutes and came out super juicy and completely cooked). If bacon begins to get too dark, cover loosely with foil until chicken is done.

4. Remove chicken to a cutting board and tent loosely with foil.

5. Remove wire rack and drain all but 2 tsp. of bacon grease.

6. Set roasting pan with the reserved bacon grease over medium-high heat. Add diced shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 1-2 minutes).

7. Add about 1/2 cup of chicken broth and whisk in the flour. Add remaining 1 cup of chicken broth and simmer about 3-4 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter.

8. Serve over chicken and any other amazing carb that can absorb this liquid gold. Don't let any go to waste!!

Notes: the original recipe calls for 2 whole roasting chickens. Knowing this, I still made the same amount of gravy. I got a total yield of 3/4 cup of gravy after letting it thicken.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pasta e Fagioli, revisited



I've already made this soup and blogged about it, but back then my picture taking skills weren't all that great, and also the recipe was by weight and I wanted to nail down the ingredients better. So for the first chilly weekend of Fall here I knew I wanted to make it again in my new dutch oven. It was definitely not as much of a chore to make since I wasn't so focused on getting exact weights of the ingredients. This recipe is scaled down to make 4.5 quarts, but I definitely needed my 7 quart pot to cook it in.

PASTA e FAGIOLI (copy cat Olive Garden)
Source: adapted from cdkitchen

a drizzle of olive oil
1 lb. ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1/2 of a small 1 lb. bag of baby carrots, chopped
5 stalks of celery, diced
2 (14.5 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (32 oz.) carton + 1 (14.5 oz.) can of beef broth
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 1/4 tsp pepper
2 1/2 tsp fresh parsley, chopped (I used dry)
3/4 tsp tabasco sauce
1 jar (1 lb. 10 oz.) spaghetti sauce (I use Ragu)
1 cup dry small pasta (such as ditalini or elbow macaroni)
salt to taste

-----

1. Brown ground beef in oil. Drain if necessary.

2. Add onion, carrot, celery and diced tomatoes. Simmer 10 minutes.

3. Add beans, beef broth, oregano, pepper, parsley, tabasco sauce and spaghetti sauce.

4. Simmer soup on low for about 30-45 minutes until carrots are almost tender.

5. Add pasta to pot and simmer on low for about 15-30 minutes until pasta is just shy of al dente. As the soup cools, the pasta will absorb the broth. You can cook the pasta separate and add it to the soup after the soup has cooled.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sprinkles Cupcakes



For my birthday (back in April) my WC Sis, Lindsey, sent me the cutest birthday package: a Sprinkles cupcake mix kit, rainbow sanding sugars, the cutest little cupcake cake tester, a beautiful dish towel with all of my favorite colors, and some personalized note cards. I'm so lucky to have been paired up with such an awesome Sis who quickly became my friend. What's even greater is that she's only located 1 big city and a train ride away. We've been fortunate enough to be able to meet up in person twice already, and we always have such a great time together, and for these things I am so thankful. It's so easy to form friendships and bonds with people over the internet. There's a certain anonymity that makes it easy to be yourself. But when you're able to carry those friendships over into real life so easily, it's special.



Anywho, back to my amazing and thoughtful birthday gift that I got like 6 months ago. The Sprinkles cupcake kit has been sitting on a shelf since then, just waiting for me to find the right opportunity to whip them up. I attribute the hold-off on not having butter in the house, or not wanting baked goods around. But last night at 11:00 pm I was home, bored and lonely while the hubs was working. I called him up and whined about how bored I was. One thing I tend to do when I'm bored is bake, so he helped me decide to bake up these cupcakes.



They were really simple to make, the baking time was spot on, and they came out of the oven looking like gorgeous golden mounds of awesomeness. I can't tell you when was the last time I made a successful batch of cupcakes. After finally buying an oven thermometer though, I attribute my many many failed attempts to improper oven temperature. I can certainly tell you how disappointing it is to pull out a tray of deflated cupcakes - I could go on for hours on the topic. But I was so happy that I didn't fail these cupcakes.



I decided to use store-bought icing - it's so much cheaper than making your own. And in these tough economic times, that's what I'm aiming for! (Oy vey, I can feel the agida creeping up - moving on!) Also, I just happened to buy some piping supplies for a breast cancer benefit I'm involved in for a friend and decided to test out my skills with these cupcakes since I'd never piped a piping of icing in my life! I have to admit, it was crazy-fun! I'm going to be piping whenever I get the chance! If I could manage having crazy amounts of cake and buttercream around the house, I might actually go take the Wilton cake decorating class - but really, that's the last thing I need.



The verdict: Now, I've never had an actual Sprinkles cupcake so I can't compare to the real life version, but I thought the texture and density of these cupcakes was perfect. I enjoy a fluffy, dense but not chewy cupcake. Seriously, if I could make cupcakes from scratch and achieve this texture I would be baking cupcakes a whole lot more frequently. I found it to be similar to America's Test Kitchen fluffy yellow cake, but not as dry. Like I said - PERFECT. But the taste seemed a little off. It could be because they sat on a shelf in my house for so long, but I did feel that the flavor in these were lacking. Was it so bad that I've decided not to shovel a few more cupcakes down the hatch? Certainly not. The hubs and I will be enjoying the few that are left after a little mishap in my kitchen whilst photographing these gorgeous kaleidoscopical gems. I thought I loved sanding sugars as much as any one person could - but after receiving the rainbow kind, oh my goodness, my love has grown.




Thanks again, SO MUCH for my birthday present Linds!! I'll light a candle in honor of our half-birthdays!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tortilla and Black Bean Pie



I've had this recipe saved for a few months. I originally saw it on Liz's blog, and again on Melissa's blog with a few modifications. Finally I fit it into our weekly menu. Boy am I glad!! This was so good and really simple to make. The most trouble I had was opening the cans of beans with my manual can opener! Don't worry, a new can opener is on my list of must-gets in the near future :) This was really yummy in it's original version, but I can already get a sense of how it would taste with Melissa's modifications - I imagine something akin to Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza, which I love. Also, I think I might try this some time by adding in some hard taco shells to add some crunch to it. I think this is a great recipe that can be modified here and there to give you a great result, however you might change it.

So if you love Mexican (like me and the hubs do), you MUST try this one!

TORTILLA AND BLACK BEAN PIE

4 (10-inch) flour tortillas (I happened to buy 8 inch tortillas which fit perfectly into my springform pan)
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, diced
1 jalapeno, diced (I used about 1 Tbsp jarred, diced jalepeno)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
coarse salt and ground pepper
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
12 oz. beer (or 1 1/2 cups water) (USE THE BEER!)
1 package (10 oz.) frozen corn
4 scallions, plus more for garnish (I didn't add mine into the pie because I prefer them fresh, crisp and cold)
2 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used a block of colby-jack)

-----

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Using a paring knife, trim tortillas to fit a 9-inch springform pan, using the bottom as a guide. Set aside.

2. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion, jalapeno, garlic and cumin and saute until softened, 5-7 minutes.

3. Add beans and beer to skillet; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until liquid has almost evaporated, 8-10 minutes. Stir in corn and scallions, and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Fit a trimmed tortilla in bottom of springform pan. Layer with 1/4 of the beans (I did 1/3) and 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat 3 times, ending with 1 cup of cheese on top.

5. Bake until hot and cheese is melted, about 20-25 minutes (mine was slightly browned at 20 minutes). Unmold pie, sprinkle with scallions. To serve, cut into wedges (serves 5-6).

Apple Pie


Fall is officially upon us! Not just by the calendar, but by the weather as well :) I love fall. I love the crispness in the air, wearing clothes without worrying about if I'm going to be sweating my arse off or not. I just love it.
Seeing as my blog has not been updated as much as I'd like it to be recently, I've been on the hunt for new recipes to try out. I knew that this fall I wanted to try to bake something with apples, and the hubs loves apple pie, so I mentioned it to Ashlee who happened to be updating her blog, literally at that moment, with an apple pie she just made. I always like to use recipes that friends have had success with, so I decided to try hers out!

This was really, really simple. I was scared of making my own pie dough, I've never done it before, but really, it was simple and I look forward to doing it in the future making other pies. The only thing about this pie is that I used granny smith apples, which are known to be more tart than sweet, and you could definitely taste the tartness in the pie. I tried to compensate for their tartness by adding extra sugar, but wasn't able to achieve what I was aiming for. Next time I'll use a naturally sweeter apple.

For the recipe, please visit Ashlee's Blog!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Crispy Yogurt Chicken


I'm a follower of The Pioneer Woman's blog. This is the second recipe of hers that I actually tried. I've heard a lot of rave reviews about this chicken so I knew I would have to give it a shot. I'll regularly make regular fried chicken cutlets, varying it sometimes by adding parmesan cheese or crushed red pepper to the breading. Sometimes we just like it plain with a touch of salt. But I need new recipes for the blog! So this was it. The hubs thought it was a weird concept to dip the chicken into yogurt first, but he actually liked it. And as a healthy alternative it was really enjoyable. I served it with a side salad and this lemon spaghetti and now we're nice and full :)

CRISPY YOGURT CHICKEN
Source:
adapted from The Pioneer Woman

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cups non-fat plain yogurt
juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tsp dried parsley
1 1/2 cups plain breadcrumbs
1 1/2 cups plain panko breadcrumbs
salt
olive oil spray

-----

1. Line a baking sheet with foil and top with a cooling rack. Preheat ovent o 350 degrees.

2. Trim chicken of all fat and grossness, rinse and pat dry. Cut into pieces to whatever size you like (I cut each breast into about 4 pieces). Season with salt.

3. In a bowl, mix together the yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and parsley.

4. In another bowl, mix together both types of breadcrumbs and season with salt.

5. Dip chicken pieces in yogurt, then in breading until thoroughly coated. Transfer to baking sheet.

6. Spray each piece with the olive oil spray.

7. Transfer baking sheet to oven; bake for 20 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.

8. If your chicken is not browned enough, switch on the broiler and broil until golden brown. You can also flip the chicken, spray the other side and broil until golden brown.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Creamed Spinach Gratin


The hubs is home today, his day off - he's been on night work for 2 weeks. I asked him what he wanted for dinner and he wanted chicken cutlets. So I decided to try out a new creamed spinach recipe. This one got 5 stars on myrecipes.com. It's a Cooking Light recipe so that's a bonus. It was really really easy to throw together, and so flavorful! And at only 72 calories per serving, it's definitely being added to the stack of usable recipes for some nice homecooked meals like this one. I also served with some (instant) mashed potatoes and gravy (mixed from a packet, just like Mom used to make). See? I like to keep things simple :)

And if you're not near Jersey - I feel sorry for you. There really is something special about a fresh Jersey tomato - I'm not even a fan of tomatoes, but as soon as you slice one of these babies open, it's like discovering a treasure.

CREAMED SPINACH GRATIN

10 oz. of fresh spinach
cooking spray
2/3 cup chopped onion (I just used a little sprinkle of dehydrated minced onion because I'm pretty sure 2/3 cup of onion would be a bit overwhelming)
1/4 tub-style light cream cheese
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup (1/4 inch thick) sliced tomato
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese (I went a little overboard with the sprinkle)

-----

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Remove large stems from spinach. Tear spinach into 1-inch pieces; place in colander and rinse under cold water. Set aside. (Umm, I totally skipped step 2 entirely, and I didn't notice anything unusual in the final dish)
3. Place a large dutch oven (I used a deep skillet) over medium heat. Coat with cooking spray and add onion. Saute 3 minutes or until softened. (Again, I skipped the onion step because I used dehydrated onion)
4. Add spinach and saute until wilted, about 2 minutes.
5. Add cream cheese, oregano, salt and pepper and cook an additional 1 minute or until the cream cheese is melted.
6. Spray a 1-quart gratin dish with cooking spray and spoon the spinach mixture into it.
7. Lay the tomato slices on top, followed by the breadcrumbs, then the cheese.
8. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown.

For the chicken, I just dipped in egg and breaded it with plain panko, seasoned with italian seasoning and cayenne pepper.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Broccoli, Cheese & Rice Casserole


Sigh. I'm trying to eat more vegetables. I've never found vegetables to be exciting. I scoured myrecipes.com to find some appealing recipes and came across this one. It had decent reviews. In the end, I didn't love it, but it was good. I made it tonight as a meal but think it would be more acceptable as a side dish, possibly for a fall dinner party or something. But I don't have dinner parties so I dont think I'll be breaking this recipe out again in the near future. Also, at first, the onion seemed to be a little overwhelming, but I quickly forgot about that. The creaminess lended by the cream of mushroom soup and the cheese was comforting. I think this would be a great recipe to get kids to eat more veggies. But I don't have kids, so I'm just going to keep this recipe in the bottom of my recipe drawer.

BROCCOLI, CHEESE & RICE CASSEROLE
(come to think of it - I bet this recipe would've been a real winner in 1999)

1 cup uncooked instant white rice
1/2 cup chopped onion (I'd consider reducing this to 1/4 cup and chopping smaller than I did)
1/4 cup fat-free milk (I used 1/3 cup of milk based on reviews, and also used 1% milk)
4 ounces light processed cheese, cubed (I used 1/2 regular velveeta and 1/2 low-fat sharp cheddar)
2 (10 oz.) packages of chopped broccoli
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can of reduced sodium condensed cream of mushroom soup
-----
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spray a 2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray.
3. Mix all ingredients and spoon into casserole dish.
4. Bake for 45 minutes.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Adventures with shrimp... continued


Some of my previous attempts with shrimp didn't turn out so well. Finally, I think I found an easy, no fail, amazing dish! This was seriously SO good. And it being a Cooking Light recipe, it's a win-win! The sauce was simple and perfect. As far as homemade sauce goes, this is now my go-to recipe, whether or not I make shrimp with it. I love spicy food, so an arrabbiata is only fitting. And I've had shrimp arrabbiata from different restaurants and I must say that this tops them all.

I'm going to post the recipe as stated, but if making this dish for 4 servings, I would definitely double the sauce - no ifs, ands or buts about it. I made the sauce as follows and used only a 1/2 pound of shrimp. Also, the beauty of this dish is that you can lessen the amount of oil easily, thus omitting more fat. I served this with Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta.

SHRIMP ARRABBIATA
Source: Cooking Light, March 2006, David Bonom

6 ounces fresh linguine
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup prechopped onion
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

-----

1. Cook pasta according to the package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and keep warm.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

3. Sprinkle shrimp with salt; add shrimp to pan. Cook 2 minutes on each side or until shrimp are done. Transfer shrimp to a bowl.

4. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan. Add onion, minced garlic, basil, and crushed red pepper to pan; sauté 1 minute.

5. Add tomato paste and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes or just until sauce begins to thicken.

6. Return shrimp to pan; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated.

7. Add parsley to the pan, stirring well to combine. Serve over pasta.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tilapia with Lemon Spaghetti



Like it or not, I'm a fan of Rachael Ray. I don't like everything she cooks, but I love her 30-minute meal concept. So occasionally after work I can catch her show on the food network. One day I happened to catch the Sea Note episode and when I saw her making this lemon spaghetti, I knew I had to try it. Along with the lemon spaghetti, she made flounder francese with toasted almonds, lemon and capers. My husband doesn't like flounder, and I don't think either of us are fond of capers - so I decided to try it with tilapia, seasoned with salt and pepper with a simple dip in egg then lightly fried in EVOO. The result - a seriously satisfying and somewhat healthy dish. I use light cream and high fiber pasta (Smart Taste). It's a way to get healthy fish into my somewhat picky husband.

LEMON SPAGHETTI
Source: Rachael Ray

Salt
1 pound spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (easily reduced)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream (I use light cream with excellent results)
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (omitted)
1/2 cup (10 or 12 leaves) fresh basil, very thinly sliced (omitted)
-----

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and drop the spaghetti into the pot.

2. Heat a large deep skillet over low heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil and garlic and crushed red pepper flakes.

3. When the pasta has been cooking about 5 minutes, add lemon juice, a ladle of the cooking water from the pasta and the cream to the garlic and oil. Raise heat a bit to bring sauce to a bubble.

4. Drain pasta when it still has a good bite to it, al dente. Add lemon zest and half of the cheese to the cream sauce. Season the sauce with salt, to taste. Add pasta to pan and turn off heat. Toss the pasta with sauce a minute or 2, allowing it time to soak up the sauce.

5. Top the plates of pasta or platter with remaining cheese, parsley and basil.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Spicy Green Beans and Omaha Steaks Ribs



A while ago I received a gift card to Omaha Steaks. With that gift card, the hubs and I decided to buy some steaks and some baby back ribs. Tonight was baby back rib night. I knew the hubs wanted the perfect risotto with it, but I felt like I needed a vegetable (I'm a bad girl and don't eat veggies with all of my meals). And if you read my blog regularly, you know I like spicy food. Something you may not know about me is that one of my favorite vegetables is green beans. But canned green beans don't cut it - there was a time when they did - but those days are long gone. I learned about fresh frozen green beans and have been using them. But today I wanted REAL fresh green beans. So I stopped at the grocery store and grabbed some from the produce section. After sauteing these beans with a little bit of EVOO, chili oil, garlic, salt and pepper, the end result was fantastic! And get this - fresh, raw green beans are so much easier to cook than those frozen ones. Ok, ok, you might've known that already, but I didn't and am glad that I do now.

A note on the Omaha Steaks Baby Back Ribs: For the price ($42.99 for 2 lbs), it wasn't really worth it. They come fully cooked, and tasted good, but not as great as what I can get at an Outback or Longhorn Steakhouse restaurant for half the price - with no mess in the kitchen.

SPICY GREEN BEANS
Source: me

1/2 pound fresh green beans, ends trimmed, and rinsed
1/2 tsp EVOO
1/8 tsp minced garlic (I uses jarred)
crushed red pepper to taste
salt/pepper to taste
a few Tbsp of chicken broth

-----

1. Heat EVOO and chili oil in medium sized pan over medium heat.

2. Reduce heat to low and saute garlic until fragant (about 20-30 seconds).

3. Add green beans to pan. Season with crushed red pepper, a pinch of kosher salt and a few cracks of pepper and toss to coat.

4. Saute about 1 minute then add about 1 Tbsp of chicken broth. If this dries up pretty quickly, add another 1 Tbsp of chicken broth.

5. Continue sauteing, stirring frequently, until tender crisp or to your desired doneness.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Arroz Con Pollo


One of our FAVORITE meals is arroz con pollo. It's a dish I've been making since before I had my own kitchen. And I don't know why, but it's been a long time since I last made it. It's an indulgent dish, that's for sure. I mean, it's not exactly healthy to eat a big whoopass bowl of white rice for dinner, is it? Yeah, I didn't think so. Anyway, I guess it's a good thing I haven't made it in a while. But when I do make it, I have to make a big freaking pot of it, and sometimes there's not even enough for me to bring for lunch the next today. Like tonight - my mom stopped by and she took some home with her. Hubs had 2 bowls, I had one. All that's really left is the crispy rice from the bottom of the pot. Oh well. Trying to watch my weight I guess it's for the best.

Anyway, to make this dish, it's mostly done by tasting. My friend Marisol who I used to work with but has since moved to Florida (sniff) taught me how to make it, but when she taught me, it didn't include the chicken, and was really just Spanish Rice. Well, hubs and I decided we needed some more substance in the dish and one day I decided to add chicken to it, hence the name, arroz con pollo. And Lord knows there are probably a million and one different varieties of arroz con pollo, but this is the way we like it.

ARROZ CON POLLO
Source: me with Marisol's help

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced
oil
2 packets Goya Sazon
3 1/2 cups water
about 1/2 cup Goya Sofrito, or more to taste (1/4 - 1/2 of the jar)
1 Tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder (or more to taste)
3 cups long grain rice
diced jalepeno to taste - for spicy, I add about 2 heaping spoonfuls (we used Cento jarred diced green jalepenos)

-----

1. Heat oil in large nonstick pot. Add diced chicken and cook over medium heat until cooked through.

2. Open 1 packet of Sazon and sprinkle half of the packet over the chicken. Stir to coat.

3. Add water, the rest of the 2 packets of sazon, the sofrito, salt, pepper and garlic powder and stir. This is when you start tasting. You're aming for a salty, garlicky seasoned taste. I added 1 Tbsp of kosher flake salt and felt it needed some more. If you undersalt, you can always add salt to your individual serving when it's done. This works for us because hubs doesn't like too much salt on his food.

4. Once you have a nicely seasoned pot of water, add in your rice and jalepenos and stir. I like to also add in an extra few teaspoons of oil to keep the rice from sticking together. Keep stirring over medium-low heat until about 1/2 of the water is absorbed.

5. Cover and set the heat to low.

6. Stir every 5 minutes and re-cover - but here's the tricky part - after all of the water is absorbed, the rice in the bottom of the pot will begin to get crispy. You want to avoid stirring the crispy rice into the rest of the rice. Unless, of course, you like crispy rice. So when you stir, do so gently when reaching to the bottom of the pot.

7. After about 20-30 minutes, your rice should be steamed perfectly - once you get to 20 minutes, just start tasting it to check for doneness.

Hopefully someone will be interested and daring enough after reading all of my crazy directions to give this a try and end up loving the dish like we do :)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Blueberry Muffins



Once upon a Thursday I felt like baking something, so I delved into my file of recipes I've been wanting to try and came upon the blueberry muffin recipe from Cooks Illustrated. In an effort to make them healthier and after talking with Ashlee, I decided to sub 1/2 of the flour for a mixture of whole wheat flour and ground oatmeal.

This recipe is super simple to throw together, and the muffins came out super moist. And even better, they taste like a healthier muffin, but not in an "eww this is freaking nasty" kind of way.

BLUEBERRY MUFFINS, a little bit healthier
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 ground oatmeal
1/2 tsp table salt
1 egg
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/4 cups fat-free sour cream (10 oz.)
1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries

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1. Adjust oven rack to middle position in oven and heat to 350 degrees.
2. Spray a standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
3. Whisk flour, whole wheat flour, ground oatmeal, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl.
4. In a second medium bowl, whish egg until well combined and light in color (about 20 seconds).
5. Add sugar to egg and whisk vigorously until thick and homogenous (about 30 seconds).
6. Add melted butter to wet mixture in 2 or 3 steps, whisking to combine after each addition.
7. Add sour cream to wet ingredients, whisking just to combine.
8. Add frozen berries to dry ingredients and toss gently to combine.
9. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and fold gently until batter comes together and berries are distributed evenly (about 20-30 seconds - small spots of flour may remain and batter will be thick).
10. Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to drop batter into greased muffin tin.
11. Bake 25-30 minutes until light golden brown and toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean.
12. Invert muffins onto wire rack, stand muffins upright, and cool at least 5 minutes.
Yield: 12 standard muffins

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Spicy Shrimp and Fettuccini


One day I was scouring myrecipes.com for some healthy dishes. I came across this recipe featured in Cooking Light magazine. I love spicy, I love pasta, and I love shrimp, so I had to give this one a shot.

I made a few changes based on the ingredients I had on hand, and in the end it was great, a definite make-again dish, except I solemnly vow here and now to NEVER BUY FROZEN COOKED SHRIMP AGAIN! Ugh, NAAAAASTY! Anyway, I'll probably just stick to frozen raw shrimp from now on.

I also halved the recipe, but made the sauce as stated because I like a lot of sauce with my pasta.

SPICY SHRIMP and FETTUCCINI

8 oz. fettuccini (I used 4 oz of whole grain fettuccini for 2 servings)
1 Tbsp EVOO
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined (I used 1/2 lb. of some nasty cooked frozen shrimp, yuck)
2 cups chopped plum tomatoes (I used a 14.5 oz. can of diced roma tomatoes)
2 Tbsp reduced-fat sour cream (I omitted as I had none on hand)
1 Tbsp tomato paste (I reduced to 1 tsp)
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
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1. Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
2. Heat oil in pan. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and saute 1 minute.
3. Add shrimp; saute 1 minute.
4. Add tomatoes, sour cream, tomato paste, basil and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.
5. Stir in pasta and cook 1 minute or until heated through.
6. Plate and top with parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tag!

Wow, this is my first tag! I'm pretty excited about it. I've been tagged by Melissa over at Made by Melissa!

Here are the rules: Each player answers the questions about themselves. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

What was I doing ten years ago?
I was 16 years old, so it was the summer between my sophomore and junior years. I was probably just lazily wasting away my summer days, watching bad day-time tv and hanging out with friends on corners.


What are five (non-work) things on my to-do list for today?
1. Go grocery shopping.
2. Laundry.
3. Start a new book on my lunch break - Second Chance by Jane Green.
4. Decide on going out for dinner, or cooking.
5. Play with Daisy, my dog - love her!


Five snacks I enjoy:
1. Cheez-its/Cheez-its Party Mix

2. Green olives.
3. Hummus.
4. Pizza flavored Gold Fish.
5. Cookies/brownies.


Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
1. Buy a house on the shoreline in New England.
2. Buy my mom, both of my sisters a nice house outside of the city and a reliable car.

3. Buy my husband a fast car.
4. Set up college funds for my nieces and nephews.
5. Travel, lots!

6. Quit my day job! I think I'll keep my night job, hehe - I kid, I kid :)

Places I’ve lived:
1. Pennsauken, NJ.
2. Cinnaminson, NJ.

3. Philadelphia, PA

Jobs I’ve had:
1. Worked the counter at Dunkin Donuts - until I caught scarlet fever a month after I started!
2. Worked at my mom's office for a paratransit company.
3. Administrative accountant assistant for a non-profit scientific research facility.
4. Different divisions of corporate retail.

5. The requisite babysitter.

I am tagging…
Ashlee of
Ashlee's Cooking - A Year in the Kitchen
Lindsey of Noodle Nights and Muffin Mornings
Liv of Mangia!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Homemade Pita



So of course, to go along with my hummus, I needed pita! A few weeks ago Ashlee blogged about making pita and I was intrigued! Never in my life would I have thought to make my own pita. Usually I just buy wheat pitas in the grocery store. I'm one of those people who is scared of yeast. After finding such detailed instructions here, I knew I had to try it, especially since Ashlee supplied my tahini to make hummus.

But then, Ashlee blogged a sort of different recipe using more whole wheat flour and brown sugar. I always need to use the best recipe I know of, so I decided to use Ashlee's recipe with the assistance of The Fresh Loaf's instructions.

In the end, it was sort of simple, but my pita didn't puff up. Still, they taste great and are an awesome compliment to my homemade hummus! I think in the future I'll save making homemade pita for special occassions - my kitchen's a mess!

HOMEMADE PITA

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling)
1 packet Rapid Rise yeast
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp EVOO
1 cup warm water

-----

1. In your stand mixer bowl, mix the dry ingredients, including your rapid rise yeast.

2. In your stand mixer bowl, add EVOO and warm water to your dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until a ball forms. If all of the flour won't stick, add just a bit more water.

3. Fit your stand mixer with the dough hook. Kneed on low-speed for 10 minutes.

4. Prepare a large bowl by lightly greasing with oil (this is where your handy Misto sprayer comes in).

5. After the dough is done kneeding, transfer your dough ball to the oiled bowl. Roll the dough ball all around until it's lightly greased on all sides. Cover bowl with saran wrap and let rise for 90 minutes.

6. After the dough has risen and doubled in size, punch it down to release the gases.

7. Separate dough into 8 equally sized balls and cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel and let rest for 20 minutes.

8. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees, with your baking stone or inverted baking sheet inside. If using a baking sheet, place a piece of parchment paper on top.

9. After your dough balls have rested, roll out your dough balls onto a floured surface.

10. Bake as many pitas as will fit on your baking surface for 3 minutes. Remove, let cool and enjoy!

Hummus



Hummus is something that I've been wanting to make on my own for a long time. Problem was, I couldn't find tahini in my local grocery stores. Finally, my blogger friend Ashlee offered to buy a jar for me and send it to me. I was so excited when I got it a couple weeks ago! So what perfect opportunity to make the hummus than a girls' weekend with some of my best friends?!

We're heading down the shore tonight, but I took the day off to prepare - laundry, making the hummus, right now I have my pita dough rising (hopefully they turn out great!), etc. At first I was nervous about how the hummus would turn out. But I kept tasting it and adjusting it here and there and it turned out SO FREAKING GOOD. I'm hooked, addicted, oh boy - is there hummus eaters anonymous? I can't wait to be making this on a regular basis, which I guess starts today :)

HUMMUS
Source: Melissa

1 can of garbanzo beans, drained
juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp Tahini
1 clove of garlic
salt & pepper to taste
EVOO
paprika
-----
1. Put first 5 ingredients in food processor and pulse until finely choppped.
2. Turn on and stream in EVOO and process until smooth (about 2 tbsp, but I just eyeballed it until it was the consistency I liked.
3. Remove and garnish with paprika.
(Note: I also sprinkled some paprika and processed it in to add some more color)


Friday, July 4, 2008

Heaven... I mean Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars



As far as chocolate chip cookies go, I love them, but I'm really picky. Well I found a few great recipes I really liked, but when I saw these chocolate chip cookie bars a/k/a Lunch Lady Bars, I thought to myself "I love the concept, and I love how easy they seem." So when I went to the store to grab some ingredients for dinner, I grabbed some chocolate chips. I had everything else on hand.

I didn't even have to break out my Kitchen Aid mixer for these (sadly I don't have enough counter space to keep mine out). But I love when I find great recipes that don't require the use of my Kitchen Aid. And seriously, when I took my first bite of these bars, I was in love. And considering how quick and easy they were to make, I'll definitely be reaching for this recipe whenever the craving for a chocolate chip cookie hits me!



CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BARS
Source: Allrecipes as adapted by Sherri

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup oil
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

-----

1. In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the sugars with the oil.

3. Add vanilla and eggs one at a time, mixing well.

4. Gradually add dry ingredients.

5. Stir in 3/4 cup of the chocolate chips.

6. Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil (if you use foil, spray with non-stick spray).

7. Spread the dough into the pan, then sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips on top.

8. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 15-25 minutes until light golden brown. [Note, mine took 30 minutes]

Thursday, July 3, 2008

No, really, it was perfect!



I'm an avid reader of The Pioneer Woman Cooks! Not only does she never cease to crack me up with her commentary, but her food always looks mouth watering. One day I came across her Perfect Risotto recipe. I thought nothing of it then because I thought risotto would be one of those things I would never even attempt to make. That is, until Lindsey made her lemon risotto with shrimp and peas a few weeks ago and I gave it a try. When I didnt have such great success with that recipe because I didn't like the pecorino romano cheese, I thought back to Pioneer Woman's Perfect Risotto. I rushed to her website/blog and feverishly copied down the ingredients and directions and set out to make up a half batch to have with some steaks my husband and I recently got from Omaha Steaks.

I set out to make this risotto with only parmesan cheese. When I was prepping everything, I decided to grate some of that pecorino romano I still have leftover from my last risotto attempt. In the end, this risotto turned out amazing, and was, in fact, perfect. :)

PIONEER WOMAN'S PERFECT RISOTTO

Here are the measurements scaled down for about 3 servings:

1/2 Tbsp EVOO
1/2 Tbsp butter (I only had unsalted in the fridge)
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 lb Arborio rice
32 oz. carton of reduced sodium chicken broth
1/4-1/2 cup light cream
1 cup grated cheese (your choice of parmesan, romano and/or asiago)
salt & pepper to taste
chopped chives

-----

1. Heat oil and butter in skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent.

2. Add arborio rice to pan and stir. Add about 1/2 cup chicken broth and stir. Reduce heat to low. When broth is absorbed, add another 1/2 cup (I just used a ladle) and stir until absorbed, repeating process until rice is to desired tenderness.

3. Remove pan from heat and stir in the cheese.

4. Add a few splashes of cream and stir.

5. Stir in chopped chives, season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

6. Proceed to make the chocolate chip cookie bars blogged above!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Crustless Ham, Cheese and Spinach Quiche



I subscribe to Cooking Light magazine. Usually I have trouble finding something that interests me because I have such simple tastes. But this month page 160 just jumped out at me, so before I recycled my magazine, I tore this page out and set it aside. This golden nugget is for a Crustless Smoked Turkey and Spinach Quiche - of course, I had to adapt this recipe because I've never before seen smoked turkey ham as the recipe calls for, and the swiss cheese I had in my house seemed to have gone past its expiration date.

But after coming up with a mix of cheeses that I did have in the fridge - 4 cheese mexican blend, american cheese, and keeping with the reduced fat cheddar - this turned out FANTASTIC. I was so happy with the results as it was my first quiche ever. So if I'm ever craving a quiche again, this will definitely be my go-to recipe!

Crustless Ham, Cheese and Spinach Quiche

3/4 cup cubed ham
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup shredded mexican cheese blend, separated in 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup
1/4 cup reduced fat cheddar cheese
1 slice of american cheese chopped up
3/4 cup fat-free cottage cheese
1/2 cup evaporated fat-free milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup baby spinach leaves

-----

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add ham, onion and pepper to pan and saute 4 minutes until ham is lightly browned.
3. Spray a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray. Sprinkle 1/4 cup mexican blend cheese in pie plate. Top with ham mixture.
4. In a large mixing bowl, gently whisk together the eggs, remaining cheeses, cottage cheese, and evaporated milk.
5. In a small bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder. Add flour to egg mixture and gently stir in.
6. Add spinach to egg mixture and gently mix in.
7. Pour the egg mixture over ham mixture in pie plate.
8. Bake for about 45 minutes until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.