Friday, February 29, 2008

Country Challenge #2 - Argentina


Argentina was voted second highest in my poll for choosing February’s countries. I have really enjoyed researching Argentinean cuisine! Argentina was discovered by Spanish, though the Incas and other Native Americans were inhabiting the land when they arrived. Spain established Buenos Aires in 1580, and through the years, the cuisine was influenced by the French and Italian. Argentinean cuisine is truly a melting pot of many cultures, but it’s history is in the land, saturated in corn, wheat, the cattle, and their milk.

Asado (barbequed beef), empanadas, and dulce de leche are the most common and historical Argentinean dishes. They can be found in all of the regions of Argentina. I chose to make all of those because of the tradition, and I also chose many other recipes because they too are made with traditional ingredients, from Argentinean households. Barbeque pits are found throughout Argentina, with many types of meat, however beef is most common. The Argentinean per capita consumption of beef is highest in the world.

The two books I used were about all of South America, but each recipe had an excerpt about the history and the country it was from. I hope that you enjoy my selections. I found so many recipes to be appetizing, I could not visit Argentina in just one day!

Friday night pizza night, again!

Friday isn’t always pizza night, but it’s been working out that way lately, and will continue to be for a few more… One of JJ’s favorite dishes is Sausage and Peppers Rustica from Olive Garden. They don’t carry it on the menu anymore, but it was delicious. I decided to make it into a pizza because I love bell peppers, especially red. I buy them in packages of 6 at Sam’s club for about $5 (Which is a really good deal!). I also get my sausage from there – Asiago and Spinach Chicken Sausage. I add some sautéed red onion and it was delicious! I served this with a Caesar salad.

Sausage and Peppers Rustica Pizza

1 ball of pizza dough
2 tbsp. cornmeal
1 5 oz. can Italian style tomato paste
2 cups shredded 2% mozzarella cheese
1 large red onion, sliced
2-3 bell peppers, sliced
3 chicken sausage links, sliced
1 tsp. Penzeys pizza seasoning

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large pan, heat ½ inch water to a boil. Add in sausage and a drizzle of olive oil. Let sausage boil and the water will evaporate to poach it, then it will brown when the water is gone. When sausages are brown, let them rest on a plate before slicing.
Slice red onion and add to a sautee pan over medium heat. Cook for about 5 minutes until softened.
Sprinkle board with cornmeal and roll out pizza dough. Place the crust on a pan, cover in tomato paste, then onions, top with cheese, peppers and sliced sausage. Sprinkle with pizza seasoning. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


To all family, friends, and strangers...

Turkey breasts were on sale this week at Kroger, so I bought a 10 lb. turkey breast. Whoever comes to Hotel Wetherington first will be guaranteed a delicious Roast Turkey with all the fixings! Our weekends are open, first come, first serve!

End of PSA :)

Tuesdays With Dorie #1

I joined a Blog Baking Club last week. It is called Tuesdays with Dorie, and all recipes are chosen from the cookbook Baking: From My Home to Yours, By Dorrie Greenspan. Every week one member picks a recipe we all make, and it's posted on Tuesday.

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold sour cream
1/4 cold whole milk
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Get out a sharp 2-inch-diameter biscuit cutter and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a bow. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between-- and that's just right.
Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and gently toss and turn the ingredients together until you've got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gentle kneading-- 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. Toss in the pecans and knead 2 to 3 times to incorporate them.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour, pat the dough out with your hands or toll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don't worry if the dough isn't completely even-- a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.
Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of the first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working with them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits ca be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting-- just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)
Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Thailand -#3

One interesting thing I have found about Thai cuisine is they don’t have many desserts. There is an abundant amount of fruit that grows in Thailand, however, so I made a fruit salad as dessert. Many of the fruits I have not even heard of, and could not find in my market. I did my best to find as many as possible! This includes: Mango, Star Fruit, Pineapple, Kiwi, Bananas, and Plantains. Some other fruits in the market were Cantelope, Watermelon, and Pomegranate.
This website shows all of the different fruit, some common and some very unusual!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Taking on the Girl Scouts!

One of my co-workers brought in her niece's girl scout cookie order form, and of course I had to order a box. I couldn't believe one box was $3! I'm not even a big fan of girl scout cookies because I like a soft, chewy cookie. I don't like hard, store bought cookies at all. I told another co-worker that you can make girl scout cookies at home that taste much better, and you can make many more for the same price. She told me her favorite are Do-si-dos. I figured there would be a recipe online somewhere, and I found one here.
I think they came out tasting the exact same, just a bit more moist, which I liked. They are a bit bigger than girl scout cookies, but who doesn't like a bigger cookie?!
Enjoy these all year round!

Homemade Do-si-dos a.k.a. Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp baking soda
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
3/4 cup chunky peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats (not instant or regular)

1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.Start with the cookies. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.In a large bowl, cream together butter and peanut butter. Beat in the sugars until fluffy, then add in the eggs one at a time, waiting until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in vanilla extract.Working at a low speed, mix in the flour, followed by the oats (if you don’t have quick-cooking, pulse whole rolled oats in the food processor to chop them up a bit).On a parchment-lined baking sheet, drop teaspoonfuls of batter (roughly 3/4-in. sized balls), leaving about 2 inches between each to allow for spread.Bake for about 10 minutes, until cookies are a light golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, making small holes in 1/2 of the cookies (for the tops of the sandwiches) before they set up. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Once cookies have cooled, make the filling.In a large bowl, cream together smooth peanut butter, butter and confectioners’ sugar until very smooth. Spread 2-3 tsp onto half of the finished cookies and sandwich with the remaining halves. If you chose to make yours with GS-lookalike holes in some of the cookies, use these as the tops of the sandwiches.Store in an airtight container.
Makes about 48 sandwich cookies.
Recipe taken from Baking Bites

Saturday, February 23, 2008

It's going to be a long day...

JJ and I have been wanting to trade in his car for months, and we decided to finally go today. Neither of us have ever bought a car before, but I knew it was going to be a long, tiring process. I decided to make us a good, substantial breakfast. Rather than our normal oatmeal, I made Chocolate Oat Pancakes. I always add oats to my pancakes and waffles, and then I try to add something else to liven them up. I was in the mood for chocolate, as usual, and I thought about adding chocolate chips. Chocolate chips, however, are high in sugar, calories and fat. Cocoa powder is only 20 calories and no fat per tablespoon, and adds all of the wonderful chocolate flavor. It is bitter, however, so I added some splenda, but that can be ommited.

The pancakes worked, and so did our negotiating skills. We brought home a 2008 Mazda 3 and we couldn't be happier!

Chocolate Oat Pancakes

1 cup oats
1 cup baking mix (kroger low-fat)
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1 egg
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
3 tbsp. splenda for baking, or 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
Nonstick spray

Maple Syrup
Sliced Strawberries
Powdered sugar

Preheat skillet to medium heat. Mix all pancake ingredients in a bowl. Ladle 1/4 cup circles of batter, cook for 3-4 minutes on each side. Keep warm in a 250 degree oven. Serve with syrup, berries, and powdered sugar. Makes 8 pancakes.

Country Challenge #1 - Thailand


Thailand was voted as my first amazing race country! I have enjoyed researching Thai culture and food much more than I anticipated I would! One thing I learned is there are 4 main regions of Thailand, the North, Northeast, Central, and Southern. Each region uses traditional ingredients, as well as ingredients specific to the region. I have learned that most Thai dishes incorporate coconut milk and fish sauce, the basis of Thai cooking. Thai cooking is also traditionally very spicy, and Thai people often find that Americanized Thai food is not nearly as spicy as it should be. Luckily I love spicy food!

Seafood is very dominant in Thai cooking, however I don’t eat fish, so I chose to prepare chicken and tofu dishes. I was also surprised to find that Broccoli is not found in Thailand, however all of the Thai food I eat in America has broccoli. Another fact I was surprised by was noodles aren’t a traditional Thai ingredient. Pad Thai is an American version of Thai, and not at all authentic. Rice noodles are now found in Thai cooking in Thailand, they were most likely brought by the Chinese.

I hope you enjoy my selections and I very much appreciate everyone voting!

I have always used Thai Kitchen products. They taste great, they're authentic, and they always have coupons in the Sunday paper. Here are a few of the products I used:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Comforting Classic

Growing up, I remember spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom. She’s a great cook, and I learned many of my basic skills from her. One of her classics is good, Italian meat sauce. She also taught me how to make delicious meat balls. As I’ve grown, our tastes have branched off a bit. I don’t like chunks of cooked tomato in my sauce, so I only used crushed, she liked diced. Also, I like a sweeter, more concentrated sauce. For the meatballs, I’ve lightened them up a bit as well. She also doesn’t like fresh herbs, but I absolutely love fresh torn basil in my sauce. Zucchini sticks are so delicious, but they’re deep fried and not so healthy. I like to use whipped egg white and bread crumbs, then bake the sticks to get them really crispy. If you really want the crunch, try to find panko bread crumbs! Most markets carry them, they're mixed in with the asian foods, usually in a plastic bag with the noodles.
Usually my weeknight meals take no more than 30 minutes to make, but this one is closer to an hour, it just depends on how fast you can work through the ingredients. After eating this dinner tonight, JJ & I can honestly say these were the most moist, tender, and delicious meatballs we've ever had! I've made them a million times this way... but for some reason tonight they came out perfectly!
The image below is the meatballs simmering in the sauce, with the pasta being tossed in. It's very important to use a large skillet so everything can be tossed together. The pasta will really soak up the sauce when it's drained and immediately tossed in the sauce.

Spaghetti and Meatballs & Baked Zucchini Sticks with Marinara

½ lb. Barilla plus spaghetti

¾ yellow onion, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
1 5 oz. can Italian style tomato paste (minus 2 tbsp. for meatballs)
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
5 torn fresh basil leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese

12 oz. 96% lean ground beef
¼ yellow onion, grated
1 egg white
¼ cup breadcrumbs (or more)
2 tbsp. tomato paste
Salt and pepper
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Zucchini Sticks:
2 egg whites, whipped to a foam
1 cup panko bread crumbs
¼ cup Italian style bread crumbs
½ tsp. salt¼ tsp pepper
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 zucchini, julienned

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Preheat a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, onions and garlic. Soften for about 5 minutes. Add seasonings, tomato paste, and crushed tomatoes. Fill crushed tomatoes can half way with water, swirl the can to collect all of the tomato bits, and pour into the pan. Turn to low, cover and simmer.
Add all the meatball ingredients to a bowl, gently toss to combine. Shape into 12 balls and place on a baking sheet. Put into the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Combine zucchini breading ingredients in a shallow dish. Whip egg whites in a bowl until they foam. Toss zucchini in the egg whites, then toss in the bread crumbs. Transfer to a baking sheet.
Remove meatballs from the oven, put zucchini sticks in and turn the oven up to 450 degrees. Bake for about 20 minutes, until crispy and brown.
Drop the meatballs into the simmering sauce to finish cooking.
Drop pasta in the boiling water and cook 10 minutes, until al dente. Drain, and add to the sauce. Toss to combine all ingredients. Tear basil leaves into the skillet, add parmesan and toss to combine.
Plate pasta in a shallow bowl, add zucchini sticks around the sides.
Pour extra sauce over zucchini sticks if desired.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Throwdown loser :(

I was watching Throwdown with Bobby Flay last weekend, and it was battle chocolate chip. His competitor's cookies won the throwdown, but the recipe wasn't published, so I used his recipe. The cookies came out pretty well, I had the same problem as he did though, they pancaked. I used my air bake cookie sheets, and they pancaked, I tried using my cheap, nonstock, generic cookie sheets, and they came out much better... so good luck! I don't know that I'd use this recipe again, I've definitely had much better cookies from other recipes. Sorry, Bobby, I still LOVE your food!
The recipe can be found here, I used regular light and dark brown sugar instead of the muscavado, and chips instead of chopped bars, everything else was the same.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Easy Valentine's Dessert

JJ's favorite dessert is Bananas Foster, so I had to make it for him for Valentine's Day. I didn't really measure when I was making this, but it's the kind of thing you can just approximate.

2 tbsp. light butter

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

pinch of ground cinnamon

2 under ripe bananas, sliced

1/2 cup Captain Morgan's spiced dark rum

1 cup non-fat vanilla frozen yogurt

Melt butter in a nonstick saucepan over medium. Add in brown sugar and cinnamon, melt together about 3 minutes. Add in bananas, gently toss to coat. Add in rum, and light on fire. Wiggle the pan while the flame cooks off. Put back on the heat and simmer until the sauce is caramel like. Spoon over frozen yogurt, serve immediately.

My First Blog Event - Eat to the Beat!

As I've ventured into the world of food blogs, I learned about blog events. It's sort of like my country challange, but it's an event for many people to be a part of. I love Elly of Elly Says Opa!, her blog is great and her food is photographed so well, it's mouthwatering! I knew I wanted this to be my first event because 1. it's Elly's, and 2. it's about music and food!
The event is Eat to the Beat, and Elly's instructions were to create a dish in honor of a song. I knew right away what I had to make, because I've been wanting to make it for so long - Pineapple Upside Down Cake! My absolute favorite movie is 50 First Dates. The movie is wonderful, but the soundtrack is AMAZING! I love every song on it. The movie takes place in Hawaii, so all of the music has an islandy feel. There are a mixture of old songs, new songs, remakes of old songs, and a song from the movie. Listening to the music in the dead of winter keeps me hopeful that it will warm up someday!
Thanks, Elly for creating this wonderful event!
As I've become more comfortable baking in the kitchen, I've been healthy-editing existing recipes from foodnetwork. It's a tricky thing to do with baking, but I decided to make my own recpe for this cake! As I've been trying to with most things lately, I made a lighter cake. By no means will I say this is healthy because there is a bit of sugar, but there isn't much fat. The end result was pretty good. JJ said he missed the gooey, buttery topping in the pineapple, but overall it was a decent cake.
Lightened-Up Pineapple Upside Down Cake
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup skim milk
2 tbsp. spiced rum
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
7 slices fresh pineapple
21 marischino cherries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a 10 in. cake pan with nonstick spray. Lay pineapples in the pan, 3 cherries in each center, and sprinkle with the brown sugar.
In a stading mixer, combine sugar, applesauce, and eggs. Beat for 2 minutes. Add cinnamon, salt, baking powder, salt, and 1/2 cup flour. Mix for 20 seconds. Add 1/4 cup skim milk, mix for 10 seconds, add 1/2 cup flour, mix, add the rest of the milk, mix, add the wheat flour, mix, add the rum, and mix. Use a spatula to scrape down sides and combine anything stuck to the bottom. Be careful to not overmix. Spread on top of the pineapple mixture, and bake for 40 minutes.
Let cake sit 10 minutes, then invert onto a cake pedistal. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Note - The wheat flour leaves this cake a bit gummy, so all white flour can be used, the wheat flour is just to make it a bit healthier.

Valentine's Day Dinner

The table all set for dinner
Quality ingredients are what make this fondue delicious

The fondue and the dippers!
JJ and I decided to celebrate Valentine's Day a few days later because of our schedules. We love fondue, especially the Melting Pot. There isn't one here though, and dinner can run upwards of $100, so we decided to do fondue at home. I got this fondue pot a few months ago, and have only used it once for a gorgonzola dipping sauce at a party I hosted. I used a basic fondue recipe found in the recipe book included with the pot, and came up with dippers that we love.
Gruyere and Emmenthaler are somewhat expensive cheeses, but they are so worth it! I like to buy my fine cheeses at Sam's club. They're very inexpensive there, and they have a great selection. I usually cut the cheese into a few pieces and freeze them individually for use later on. The Gruyere was about $10 for 1.2 lbs., and the Emmenthaler was $6 for .5 lbs. This is the original recipe, which I halved since it was just the two of us.
The wine I chose was a gift from my mom to JJ and I. It is called Bear's Lair, which is significant to us because we're the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears, and there's a snack food/cafe' at our school called the Bear's Lair!
Classic Cheese Fondue from the Cuisinart Electric Fondue Pot Recipe Booklet
1 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated
3/4 lb. Emmenthaler Cheese, grated
6 tsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 1/4 cups white wine (not Chardonnay)
2 1/2 tsp. Kirchwasser
Place the grated cheeses in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add the cornstarch and mustard and toss to coat the grated cheeses completely.
Rub the bottom of the lower half and sides of the fondue pot with the garlic clove. Discard the garlic. Add the wine and turn the setting to 5. Bring the wine to a simmer, while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, stir in the cheese a handful at a time. Do not add more until the last handful is melted. When it is all added, reduce the temperature to 3 and add the kirchwasser.
I served this fondue with:
Chicken sausage, sliced and browned
Steamed broccoli
Granny smith applie wedges
9 grain bread
Celery sticks
Carrot sticks
Blanched asparagus spears

Clean out the fridge night!

As it is posted, I plan my menus a week at a time. I also do my food shopping a week at a time. Almost every week, we make it through without having to run to the grocery store for something. This week, I had planned breakfast for dinner on Friday night. Unfortunately, we had used up most of the milk, so I had to improvise. JJ was working a late game, and he told me he wasn't really in the mood for waffles and a fritatta, so I made waffles for myself with the little milk we had, and baked ziti for him, one of his favorites. The waffle recipe I completely made up as I went along, so I'm going to try to get my measurements right. The baked ziti is a no-brainer, but quite delicious, made with pantry staples.
Oatmeal Spiced Waffles
Baked Ziti
Oatmeal Spiced Waffles:
1 cup baking mix (I used kroger brand light baking mix)
1/2 cup oats
1 egg
1 cup water
1/4 cup skim milk
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 cup sugar free syrup
1 banana, sliced (or strawberries, blueberries, etc.)
Mix all ingredients (except syrup and berries) in a bowl, ladle onto a waffle iron.
Makes 4 standard round waffles.
Baked Ziti:
1/2 lb. ziti (or penne or any short cut pasta)
1 1/2 cups marinara
1 1/2 cups part skim ricotta
1/2 cup mozzarella
1/4 cup parmiggiano reggiano
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cook pasta until al dente, combine with ricotta, sauce, and half of cheeses in a baking dish. Top with the remaining cheese. Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Valentines!

I made these chocolate cupcakes to bring to work tomorrow for Valentine's Day. They're a basic chocolate cake recipe found at the Hershey's website, here, with a Strawberry Cream Cheese icing I made up. And by the way, I just tonight discovered the Hershey's recipe website, definitely look forward to many more recipes from there to show up on my blog!
Strawberry Icing:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup strawberry jam
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Beat together butter and cream cheese, mix in jam, then vanilla, and finally confectioner's sugar a bit at a time. Add more sugar if the icing is too runny.

30 Minutes to Germany

Both my mother’s and father’s families are German. I love German culture and especially German cuisine. It’s a shame there isn’t more German food served in restaurants the way italian, mexican, and other ethnic foods are! I rarely cook German food, but I’m trying to divulge into the traditional and delicious cuisine of my ancestors. I’m taking it little by little, and this is an easy, familiar German meal. A traditional German side is Applesauce, so I am just using a no sugar added applesauce on the side from the grocery store.
Brats with Sauerkraut, German Potato Salad and Applesauce
Beer Brats and Sauerkraut:
2 light wheat hotdog buns
2 turkey bratwurst
1 beer (Leinenkugels) or 2 cups water
1 15 oz. can sauerkraut
4 tbsp. Gulden’s spicy brown mustard
Heat a large skillet over medium. Add beer or water and bring to temperature. Add brats to the beer and simmer for 20 minutes, until warmed through. In small sauce pot over low, bring sauerkraut to temperature. Serve brats on a bun, top with sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard.
German Potato Salad:
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
3 slices of center cut bacon
½ yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup potato water (more or less)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
Put diced potatoes in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for 10-12 minutes until tender. Drain, but save ¼ cup of the water. While potatoes are boiling, add bacon to a pan over medium heat. Sautee for about 8 minutes, until bacon is crisp. Drain grease, lay bacon on a paper towel to drain, add onions to pan. Sautee over medium-low for 5 minutes, until softened. Add bacon, potatoes, vinegar and seasonings. Add water until potato salad reaches desired consistency. Taste for seasonings, and adjust. Serve warm.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Restaurant Favorites

Like anyone, JJ and I love eating out, however it’s quite pricey, and you cannot control the amount of fat/calories in your food. I like to recreate meals that we’ve had at our favorite restaurants for the challenge, and also so I can tweak it a bit so it’s exactly what I want to eat. The blue cheese chopped salad is something I’ve had at outback. From what I can remember, it is just lettuce, pecans, blue cheese, and scallions with some sort of little crunchy tortilla strips. I love pairing blue cheese and pear, so I thought that would be a good addition, as well as cucumber and peppers, salad staples. I had some leftover Chinese rice noodles from PF Changs night, and I decided to sub those for the tortilla strips. I think what I love the most about this salad is the blue cheese dressing is a vinegar based dressing, which I much prefer over a mayo base. I think it tastes pretty similar! I also added grilled chicken for protein and balance.
The sweet potatoes were a Texas Roadhouse inspiration. JJ loves their cinnamon-honey butter, and I think it’s pretty good too. Sweet potatoes are much healthier than russets, and match wonderfully with the butter. They’re not complex, but the combination of flavors is delicious. I don’t think TR adds vanilla to their butter, but I like a little vanilla with my whipped sweet potatoes.
Blue Cheese Chopped Salad with Grilled Chicken
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon-Honey Butter

1 head romaine lettuce, chopped finely
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 pear, peeled and finely diced
1/4 cup cinnamon pecans (recipe follows)
1/3 cup blue cheese vinaigrette (recipe follows)
¼ cup blue cheese crumbles
½ cup crushed Chinese rice noodles
2 chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2 inch thickness
1 tbsp. grill seasoning
2 sweet potatoes
2 tbsp. cinnamon-honey butter (recipe follows)

Blue Cheese Dressing:
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. vinegar (white, champagne, apple cider)
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. sour cream (or fat free buttermilk)
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. sugar
¼ cup blue cheese crumbles
Combine all ingredients until smooth and incorporated. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a few days.
Cinnamon Pecans:
1/4 cup pecans (or walnuts work well too)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp. brown sugar
¼ tsp. cinnamon
Melt butter and brown sugar in a small nonstick skillet. When combined, turn heat off and toss nuts and cinnamon in mixture.
Cinnamon-Honey Butter:
4 tbsp. light butter at room temp.
1 tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Tiny splash of vanilla extract
1 tbsp. brown sugar
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, leftovers can be stored in the fridge for weeks.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Poke the potatoes a few times with a fork all over. Bake directly on the oven rack for 50-60 minutes, until tender.
Season chicken breasts on each side and cook on a grill pan for 6-7 minutes on each side. Take of the grill and let it rest and cool.
Mix lettuce, pepper, cucumber, scallions, pear, noodles and half of the dressing in a big salad bowl. Top with pecans, then with grilled chicken. Add blue cheese crumbles and the remainder of the dressing on top. Serve immediately.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Italian Deliciousness!

This recipe is a classic chicken parmesan, but it's baked not fried. The pasta was inspired by a Giada recipe found here. It is a nice warm, filling, but not too heavy dinner. I make my own basic sauce and keep it in the fridge for a week or two at a time, but a good jarred sauce can be substituted (recommended Newman's Sockarooni).

Baked Chicken Parmesan and Penne with Eggplant Puree

1 lb. chicken cutlets
1 cup flour
1 egg
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup basic marinara
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

1/2 lb. penne (recommended Barilla plus)
1 eggplant, peeled and diced
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 roasted red pepper
1 cup basic marinara
1/4 cup parmiggiano reggiano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
10 basil leaves, torn

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Arrange 3 plates, one with flour, on with beaten egg, one with bread crumbs. Dredge chicken in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Place in a baking dish. Top with marinara and cheese. Bake 25 minutes until cheese is melted and golden and chicken is crisp and brown.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place eggplant on a cookie sheet, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast in the oven for 30 minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt heavily, drop in penne and cook 10-12 minutes. Drain and save 1 cup of the pasta water, set aside.
Place eggplant in a food processor and puree with red pepper and some pasta water.
Add pasta back to pot, add marinara, red pepper flake, olive tapenade, and eggplant puree. Taste for seasoning, plate, top with parmiggiano reggiano and basil

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Valentine's Treats

This past Christmas, I was planning to make tons of cookies for all of my family and friends, but it was right after my wedding and all of my baking supplies were at home from when I made my wedding cake. I decided to delay my bake-a-thon, and make Valentines packages for everyone.

The packages consist of:
Coconut White Fudge Truffles
Peanut Butter Hearts
Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies
Kahlua Dark Chocolate Truffles
Strawberry Jam Thumbprints
Outrageous Brownies
Cranberry White Chocolate Biscotti
Banana Spritz Hearts

Coconut White Chocolate Fudge Truffles
For these, I use the basic fudge recipe on Jet Puff marshmallow cream jars. I make the fudge according to the package, but substitute white chocolate for regular, and coconut extract for vanilla. I shape the fudge into balls, dip them in white chocolate, and roll in coconut. JJ calls them snowballs, they're delicious!

Peanut Butter Hearts
I made up the recipe for the filling based on cake filling/icing. They resemble a Reeses.
Peanut Butter Hearts
3 cups dark chocolate chips (recommended Ghirardelli)
4 tbsp. butter
1 cup peanut butter
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup peanut butter chips
Heat a large glass bowl over a pot of simmering water. Add chocolate chips and stir until just melted. While chocolate is melting, add butter, peanut butter, sugar and vanilla to a mixing bowl and mix until combined and smooth. Scoop into a piping bag with a small round tip (wilton #4). Pour melted chocolate into a squeeze bottle. Squeeze a light coating in the bottom of the mold, put in the freezer for 1 minute, remove and pipe peanut butter in the center of the heart. Squeeze chocolate to cover and fill the heart. Put back in the freezer for 3-5 minutes. Pop out of the mold and lay on wax paper. Repeat process until you’ve used up all the chocolate and peanut butter mixture.Melt peanut butter chips over double boiler and pour into another squeeze bottle. Drizzle over hearts, let hearts cool and harden, store in bags or food storage containers.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

Banana Spritz Hearts
My mom makes banana spritz christmas trees with her cookie press and they're my favorite Christmas cookie. I couldn't have Valentines subbing for Christmas cookies without them, so I thought I'd make them hearts instead. I used a cookie press for these cookies, which can be quite a headache, but the key is to make sure the dough is cold, and the cookie sheet isn't hot.

Cranberry White Chocolate Biscotti
I used Giada's recipe, found here, but I didn't use the pistachios. I also drizzled pink white chocolate over the biscotti, but didn't photograph the final product. (This photo is the biscotti after I cut the log, but before the second bake).

Strawberry Jam Thumbprints

The recipe I used can be found here. These are a classic cookie that was very popular this past Christmas. They were on the cover of Gourmet, and there were recipes in Bon Apetit, Cooking Light, and other cooking magazines I subscribe to. They looked so good I just had to make them.

Not photographed: Outrageous Brownies, recipe found here

Kahluah Dark Chocolate Truffles, recipe found here

Poll Winner #2

This was the winner of last week's poll for what I should make today. As I do with many things I cook, I research the dish and look at the many different ways it's prepared, then I come up with something of my own to suit my tastes. Hopefully you'll enjoy my take on this classic dish.

Pasta e Fagioli

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ pound 96% lean ground beef
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic minced
1 small yellow onion chopped
2 carrots peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon dried Italian spice blend
1 15 oz. can dark red kidney beans
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
¼ pound green beans in 1 inch segments
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup ditalini or orrechetti pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
In a soup pot on medium high, brown ground beef for 6-8 minutes. Drain if necessary. Add garlic, onion, carrots, spices, salt and pepper. Turn heat to medium and let vegetables sweat. After 5 minutes, add kidney beans, tomatoes, green beans and chicken stock. Turn heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes to a few hours. Add pasta, cover, and let simmer another 15 minutes. If soup looks thick, add chicken stock until desired consistency is reached.

Beer Bread
I have experimented with basic beer bread recipes for so long, and this is my final recipe that I think works best. The beer you choose will make all of the difference. If you are going to flavor your bread (cheddar and herb is good) you'll want a Budweiser or Miller, however if you want the beer to flavor the bread, a good honey wheat beer or dark beer is great. I like to use either Sunset Wheat or Creamy Dark Leinenkugels.
1 12 oz. beer
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and stir for no more than 1 minute, until ingredients are combined. Pour into a greased loaf pan, bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown.
If desired, brush with melted butter during the last 10 minutes of baking.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dinner...and an unexpected dessert

I love a good one pot pasta dish that’s hearty, comforting, and fresh tasting. Roasted garlic is what makes this meal different. I do not like cooked tomatoes (except in sauce when they’re pureed) so I add my cherry tomatoes at the end, but they can be roasted with the garlic for a sweeter flavor, or added in at the end raw for a fresher flavor.
Roasted Garlic Pasta with Prosciutto, Spinach and White Beans
½ lb. penne (recommended Barilla plus)
½ lb. prosciutto
6 cloves roasted garlic
1 cup white wine
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup parmiaggiano reggiano cheese, grated
½ cup (or more) warmed chicken stock
Salt and Pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt heavily and drop in pasta. Cook 10 minutes until al dente, drain.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay prosciutto on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until crispy.
Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add roasted garlic and white wine, simmer until alcohol cooks off. Add spinach and cover, let spinach wilt, about 5 minutes. Turn heat off, add beans, pasta and cheese. Toss to coat, if dry, add chicken stock until it reaches desired sauce. Toss in tomatoes and break in prosciutto, to serve, top with parmiggiano reggiano and basil.
Roasted Garlic - I made this on Saturday and kept it in snapware for use today.
1 head of garlic
1 tbsp. extra virgin onlive oil
salt and pepper
Roast garlic at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes until golden brown.
It should look like this:
And Dessert!
(My blog, my soapbox)

When I got home tonight, there was a package on the doorstep. I was so happy to find a valentine from my parents. It contained 4 chocolate bars of fair trade chocolate (2 mint chocolate, perfect for cookies this weekend...) If you're interested, and I hope you are, visit for fair trade products.
I am so lucky to have parents who are so invested in social justice! They have educated me, and I try to educate others about such an important issue! There are so many fair trade food products to use, as well as gift items that are fair trade as well. Please take the time to read up on these issues, and consider spending a bit more on products that are fair trade. I love baking with this chocolate, and I also have fair trade vanilla, coffee, soup mix, olive oil and nuts.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

To satisy my cravings...

Yesterday someone posted on a message board asking for a banana nut bread recipe, and since then I can't stop thinking about how delicious it sounds! Applesauce is on the menu for next week, so I figured I'd just get a big jar and make some lowfat Banana Nut Bread. I looked up a few recipes and found this one, which looked delicious in the picture, and I decided to edit it a bit to make it healthier. My changes are in noted.

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat flour, 2/3 cup all purpose)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used 1/2 tsp)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (I used 1/2 cup splenda brown sugar)

2 eggs

1/2 cup oil (I used 2/3 cup applesauce)

3 1/2 bananas, very ripe, mashed (I used 3)

2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream (I used light sour cream)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used 1/2 tsp. Penzey's double strength vanilla)

2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (I used 1/3 cup)

Set oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Beat sugar and eggs with a whisk until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Drizzle in oil. Add mashed bananas, creme fraiche, and vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients and nuts. Pour into a lined loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mardi Gras!

I was watching a foodnetwork show on Mardi Gras food, and saw someone making a King Cake. I did a little research, and decided to give it a try. I used an Emeril recipe. I decided to fill mine though, with cream cheese and cherry fillings, because I saw another one made that way. This cake was much easier to make than I thought it would be, I had no problem with the yeast and shaping it, and baking it on a pizza pan was perfect! I couldn't find a little plastic baby to put in, so I used a walnut. I'll be bringing this to a Superbowl party on Sunday!

King Cake

The dough, kneaded

Next, Filling the cake:
1 can cherry pie filling or homemade cherry cake filling
Cream cheese filling:
1 brick cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
splash of milk

Finally, Rolling it onto the pizza pan

Comfort Food

Every now and then when I’m planning the week’s menu, I’ll ask JJ if he’s in the mood for anything. Some people say he’s lucky to have a wife who cooks him dinner every night, I say I’m lucky to have a husband who will eat whatever I make. He told me he was in the mood for Shepherd’s Pie. I described a few ways I could change it up, but he told me he wants the traditional, not exactly healthy version. I decided to compromise with it, I’m still using canned cream of mushroom, but it’s fat-free, low sodium, and I’m using ground soy crumbles instead of ground beef. Here is what I came up with…

Shepherd’s Pie

1 sack of Morningstar Farms Grillers Crumbles (in freezer section)
1 can 99% fat free, low sodium cream of mushroom soup
1 can of cut green beans
½ lb. baby Yukon gold potatoes
½ cup reduced fat sour cream
Splash of skim milk
Salt and Pepper
½ cup shredded Cheddar Cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Add potatoes to a large pot of cold water. Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt heavily. Cook potatoes 20-30 minutes, until fork tender.
Add crumbles and mushroom soup to a casserole dish, stir to combine. Drain green beans; add to create a second layer.
Drain potatoes, add back to pot. Smash together with sour cream; add milk until they reach desired consistency. Season potatoes with salt and pepper, then spread over to create the top layer. Add cheddar cheese on top, put casserole in oven and bake until golden brown and melted, about half an hour.

*To speed up the process – While potatoes are cooking, put casserole in oven to warm the bottom 2 layers, when potatoes are ready, take it out and add them on top, then put casserole under the broiler to brown the top.