Sunday, December 7, 2014

Apple Gingerbread with Vanilla Glaze

Classes are ending this week (thank goodness!) and I promised my upper level seminar snacks on the last day. I decided I wanted to bake and I had some apples left in the fridge that needed using up. Apple spice cake? Apple muffins? 

I wanted something holiday-related, so I went back through some of my bookmarked recipes. I found a recipe for pear gingerbread. Aha! Apple gingerbread it is. 

Notes: Me and glaze? We're not friends. I've never been good at getting the consistency right. This recipe as it was originally written did not work: the glaze was too dry. I upped the amounts and that worked better. If there's one thing I've figured out, it's that glaze is not an exact science. I heated a little bit more milk than I needed and just fiddled with the amounts until I got it right. 

I used my stand mixer to make the glaze and it worked great. You don't need to use it; you just need some elbow grease and a whisk.

Mixing the apple pieces into the flour will help them not sink to the bottom of the batter, so be sure not to skip that step.

The gingerbread is fluffy and sticky and delicious! If you're bored with other holiday desserts, give this one a try. It would be perfect for a holiday potluck because you can make it well in advance.  

Ingredients:
For gingerbread (adapted from this recipe):
2 cups flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons fresh ginger
1 cup milk
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup molasses 
1 teaspoon vanilla 
2 eggs
2 apples

For vanilla glaze (adapted from this recipe):
1 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons milk
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Directions: Heat the oven to 350 and butter a 9x13 baking dish.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and sugar. Peel and chop apples into small pieces (mine were a little smaller than 1/2 an inch). Mix the apples into the dry ingredients. 

In another bowl, crack and beat the eggs. Add in oil, milk, vanilla, and molasses. Stir to combine. 

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until well-combined (don't over mix). Pour batter into the baking dish and bake for 30-40 minutes until a tester comes out clean. 

Let cool completely and then cut into small squares. Put wax paper under a cooling rack and transfer the squares to the rack. 

To make the glaze, add sugar, salt, and vanilla to the bowl of your stand mixer. Stir together. Melt the butter and add it to the bowl. Heat the milk for a few seconds in the microwave and pour it in the bowl while the mixer stirs. The glaze should be thick, but you should be able to drizzle it. If it seems too thick, add a little more milk. If it seems too thin, add a little more sugar. 

Using a whisk or a fork, drizzle the glaze over the gingerbread. Allow it to set for about 15-20 minutes. Serve and enjoy!


Ham, Havarti, and Chive Drop Scones


Can you tell that I'm on a scones kick recently?

Our Thanksgiving didn't quite go as planned. We were supposed to go to West Virginia to visit some friends, but the day before we were supposed to leave, I got sick. It was the worst head cold I've had in a good long time, so I spent most of the holiday on the couch watching the first season of Twin Peaks with Scott (he hadn't seen it before).

I felt better by Sunday, so we decided to do our Thanksgiving dinner then. I made meatballs (our tradition), bacon brown sugar roasted brussel sprouts, and regular old Stovetop stuffing. For breakfast, I made some new scones.

Notes: I loved these, but Scott was less crazy about them. He thought the chives were a bit overpowering (what does *he* know!? ;-)). If you have a picky eater in your house, you might want to use a little less.

I used sour cream to make these and it was a bit difficult to mix them because the sour cream was thick and cold (of course you need it cold). You might want to use a little milk to thin it out.

I divide these between two baking sheets because I like them the size of biscuits. If you like yours bigger, just make bigger handfuls.

Ingredients:
2 cups of flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup shredded havarti cheese
1/2 bunch of chives
6 tablespoons of cold butter
4-5 slices of deli ham
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons of milk (more if needed)

Directions: Heat the oven to 350.

Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to a large bowl. Whisk to combine.

Mince the chives and chop the ham into small pieces.

Cube the butter and add it to the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or your fingers. The butter should be the size of small peas.

Add the ham, cheese, and chives. Add the sour cream and milk and mix with your hand until it forms a soft sticky dough.

Drop small handfuls of dough on to a baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature and enjoy!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Cheddar Cilantro Drop Scones

The colder weather is beginning to arrive, so it's time to break out the cold weather comfort food.

I was having some friends over for lunch and I made a big batch of chili. I got sour cream, cilantro, and cheddar cheese for chili toppings. I ended up with some leftover cheese and cilantro. I wasn't sure what to do with them, but then it occurred to me I could bake them into some savory scones. I had originally planned to make cornbread with the chili, but why not try something different?

Notes: I made drop scones because I wanted round ones, but I didn't want to bother patting the dough out and cutting them with a biscuit cutter. They're rough-looking, but of course that's the point! 

I don't think the cheddar cheese is particularly overpowering in these, so if you're not a huge fan of strong cheeses, don't worry. It will taste more savory than anything else. 

If you don't dig cilantro, you can easily replace it with chives or parsley. 

This batch made about 9 healthy-sized scones. 



Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro. 

Directions: Heat the oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with foil or parchment paper. 

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add in the butter and work it into the dry mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers. The butter should be the size of small peas when you're done. 

Add the cheese and cilantro and mix to combine. Pour in the buttermilk or yogurt and mix with your hands until it becomes a soft sticky dough. 

Drop handfuls of dough onto the baking sheets (try to form them into balls as best you can---the dough will be very sticky) leaving at least two inches between each ball. Bake for 20-25 minutes until they are golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm or move to a cooling rack and then serve at room temperature. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Q.E.D.: Grilled Black Bean Burgers

I saw this recipe over at The Pioneer Woman not long ago. I knew I wanted to try it, but I decided to wait until the weekend. I usually don't do new recipes during the week because I want to give myself extra time in case they're more complicated than I expect.

Well, these were so quick and easy they took me no time at all. A Q.E.D. black bean burger? Say hello to your next weeknight meal!

Notes: The original recipe has these shallow-fried, but I decided I wanted the grill marks. I think it came out well. The important thing is just to get a nice crust on the outside and heat the beans all the way through.

The hot sauce is optional here, but it really wakes up the flavor of the beans. You could replace it with some lime juice or extra Worcestershire sauce.

This recipe makes 4 patties. Use your favorite burger toppings! I love mashed avocado on mine, so I included that.

Ingredients (adapted from this recipe):
2 15 oz. cans black beans
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 egg
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt
Hamburger buns
Tomatoes
Spinach or Lettuce
Avocado
Slices of cheese (I used pepper jack)

Directions:

Drain the beans in a strainer (do not rinse). Transfer to a bowl. Using a fork or potato masher, smash the beans until they form a thick, chunky paste (you want to leave some beans whole).

Add in the egg, bread crumbs, spices, salt, sugar, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Mix everything together with your hands. If the mixture seems too soft, sprinkle in a few more bread crumbs until it feels sticky. Let stand 5 minutes.

While you're waiting, slice the tomatoes and mash up the avocado. Heat the grill pan on high.

When the grill pan is hot, add the burgers. Cook 5-6 minutes per side. When they're done, top the burgers with spinach, tomatoes, mashed avocado and serve.


Enjoy Q.E.D. grilling any night of the week!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Eat Food, Save Money: Freezer Friendly Spicy Vegetable Soup

On this edition of "eat food, save money," we're goin' cold. Ice cold.

Homemade soups freeze very well. They are also heartier and more flavorful than the kind of pour out of a can. And when you make homemade soup, you get A LOT more soup for your money than you do when you use the canned version.

Frozen meals make for an easy weeknight dinner. After a rough day when you're tempted to just eat out, if you have a ready-made dinner waiting at home, it's much harder to justify a run through the drive-thru. So, the next time you have a lazy weekend afternoon, consider helping your future weeknight self by making some soup and then freezing it.



Notes: The easiest way to freeze meals (if you ask me) is to freeze individual serving sizes in small plastic freezable containers. Then you can just pull 1 or 2 containers out of the freezer depending on how many people are eating.

Let a frozen meal thaw in the fridge for at least 24 hours. If dinner time rolls around and your meal isn't completely thawed, you can always just heat it up in a pot on the stove.

I start this soup the same way I start my gumbo. It gives the soup a nice deep color and flavor. And since the soup is made with cajun seasoning it makes sense to treat it like gumbo.

You can use hot sauce or fresh chopped hot peppers in place of cajun seasoning.

Feel free to mix up the veggies and use your favorite. You can even use a selection of your favorite frozen vegetables to make the soup more pantry-friendly.

Need some protein? Add some canned beans when you add the frozen corn.

If you want to make this even easier, just skip the butter and flour and throw it all the slow cooker for 8 hours on low.

Ingredients:
1 quart chicken or veggie stock (or water)
4 tablespoons tomato paste
5-6 carrots
1 bunch celery
1/2 pound fresh green beans (or 1 cup frozen chopped)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 onion
1 tablespoon cajun seasoning
1 small bunch fresh rosemary
5-6 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour

Directions: Dice the carrots, celery, and onion. Chop the green beans into small bite-sized pieces. Mince the garlic and rosemary.

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter melts, add the flour and whisk to create a roux. Whisk until the roux is the color of milk chocolate. Remove the pot from heat and dump in chopped veggies, garlic, and rosemary. Stir until the sizzling stops.

Add in tomato paste and cajun seasoning and stir. Return to heat and stir in stock. Add corn kernels. Bring the soup to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the soup to simmer for between 1-2 hours.

When the time is up, remove the soup from heat and allow it to cool. Divide it in to single servings in freezable containers. You can defrost the number of servings you need for 24 hours in the fridge and then heat the soup in the microwave before you serve it. You can also just put the frozen soup straight into a pot and heat it on the stove.

Enjoy your frozen and frugal meal!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Apple Pie Scones

It's fall break for us! Scott and I are off on a second honeymoon and I could not be more excited. But before we go, we're doing our best to use up the food we have in the house. I had about a cup of yogurt left and a rather sad looking apple. As luck would have it, I saw a recipe for apple scones from Runner's World. Even if we don't finish them before our trip, we can just pack them in a bag and have a snack for the plane.

Notes: Scones that you buy at the store or the coffee shop are hit-or-miss if you ask me. Most of them are really dry and crumbly or dense. These are light and fluffy and fresh. The key to fluffy scones is to not overwork the dough. Don't mix it too much before you transfer it to the cake pan.

Speaking of the cake pan, this is a great trick! I usually cut my scones like biscuits and make them round, but this recipe gives you the triangle shape.

The dough it really sticky, so when you pat it into the cake pan, run your hands under some lukewarm water first.

We're charging the camera battery for the trip, so I don't have a photo for you. Trust me--they are beautiful!

Ingredients (adapted from this recipe):
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 apple

Directions: Heat oven to 350. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan.

Peel and dice the apple. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and baking powder.

Dice the butter and cut it into the flour mixture using either a pastry blender or your fingers. The butter should end up the size of small peas.

Add the yogurt and vanilla to the butter-flour mixture. Stir with your hands until just combined into a soft dough ball.

Move the dough into the cake pan and gently pat it evenly into the pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Cut into triangles (yields 8 triangles).

Serve and enjoy the flavors of fall!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Q.E.D.: One-Pot Mexican Veggie Rice

School has finally started again. I will miss my quiet summer days, but I am excited to be back in the swing of things.

Since school has started, we definitely need another Q.E.D. meal.

Notes: We like things spicy in this house, so I used spicy ketchup and hot sauce. If you're not a fan of spice, leave one of them out.

You could sprinkle some cheese on top of this if you like, but we skipped it.

Feel free to change up any of the ingredients! Use whatever veggies you like.

Ingredients:
1 can black beans
1 can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons spicy ketchup (I used Heinz Tabasco)
10-12 dashes of hot sauce
1 large or 2 small zucchini
1 shallot
4-5 garlic cloves
1 cup of frozen corn
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 cups minute rice
1/2 cup water
1 bunch fresh cilantro
Salt
Pepper
Butter or olive oil for sauteeing

Directions:

Mince the garlic and dice the shallot and zucchini. Add butter or oil to a large skillet with a lid. When the butter melts or the oil is hot, add shallot, garlic, and zucchini cook for about five minutes.

While that's cooking, rinse and drain the beans. Add beans and corn to the pan. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder. Stir everything together. Add tomatoes, ketchup, water, and hot sauce.

Bring everything to a boil. Add the rice and stir. Cover and turn the heat back to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes. While the rice is cooking, chop the cilantro and stir it in when the time is up.

Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gumbo Risotto


A combination of two of my favorite dishes? Yes, please!

Notes: Gumbo risotto will probably take a little longer than regular risotto. The addition of the vegetables and sausage will make it a little harder for the rice to absorb the liquid. No worries: patience is virtue.

If the stock starts to run out, but the rice isn't done yet, just add water to the sauce pan. Just make sure the water get warmed up in the pan before you add it.

If you like your gumbo not-so-spicy, you can try 1 tablespoon of cajun seasoning rather than 2.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 cups chicken stock or water
1 pound kielbasa
4-5 carrots
4-5 celery stalks
1 small onion (I used a shallot)
4-5 garlic cloves
1 stick butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons cajun seasoning (I use Tony's)
1 bunch fresh parsley

Directions:

Heat the stock or water in a sauce pan on medium-low. Peel and chop the carrots, chop the celery, mince the garlic, and dice the onion. Slice the kielbasa. Chop the parsley.

In a large pot on medium-high, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour into the butter and allow it to cook until you have a roux that's the color of milk chocolate. Add in the carrot, onion, and celery. Remove from heat and stir until the veggies stop sizzling. Return to heat, add in garlic and sausage. Stir in the rice. Add in the cajun seasoning and stir.

Add 4 ladles of stock and stir. When the mixture looks dry and most of the liquid has been absorbed, add two more ladles of stock. Repeat this step until the rice is tender. This should take about 45-50 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Yellow Layer Birthday Cake

It's Scott's birthday today! I love making birthday cakes for him, so I try to do something special every year. He wanted a yellow cake with white icing this year, so I was happy to oblige.



Notes: Baking layer cakes from scratch takes time, but it's mostly prep and waiting. The actual work isn't much greater than making a cake from a box.

If you're using Greek yogurt, you'll need to thin it out with milk. Instead of using a full cup, use 2/3 of a cup and mix it with 1/3 cup of milk.

I'm not into leveling and all that. It's a homemade cake! It's going to look a little rustic. but I do want to get creative with the decorations. I used an outline of a fleur-de-lis that I printed out. I laid it on top of the cake after I frosted it. Then I shook sprinkles all over the cake and CAREFULLY peeled off the paper. It's like a reverse stencil! I thought it came out well.

You can easily make the layers of the cake a day or two in advance. Just let them cool, wrap them in plastic, and pop them in the fridge until you're ready to frost and decorate.

Ingredients (adapted from this recipe):
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup regular sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups plain yogurt
Double batch of white chocolate butter cream

Directions: Heat oven to 350

Make sure the eggs, yogurt, and butter are at room temperature. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda together in the large bowl. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Lower the speed and add the eggs one at a time. Add in the vanilla and yogurt. The mixture will look lumpy and curdled, but that's normal.

Add the flour in batches and mix until just combined. Divide the batter into two cake pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and tester comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool in the in the pan for about 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely on cooling racks.

When the cakes are completely cool, frost with the white chocolate butter cream. Decorate to your liking!



Serve to your favorite birthday person and enjoy!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas

I used to think that my favorite food was pasta. I do love it and always will, but Mexican food has emerged as my #2 favorite. We've eaten so many tacos this summer. But you can't have tacos all the time. Sometimes you've got to throw some enchiladas in the mix---you know, for variety!

Notes: There are very few meals I could make twice in a row, but this is definitely one of them. I could eat another pan of these no problem.

Minute rice normally only takes 5 minutes, but it absorbs the tomato sauce more slowly than water, so it will likely take more time. If you have cooked rice left in the fridge, you can easily just stir it into the tomato sauce and heat it up.

If you're tortillas are not so pliable, cover them with a damp paper towel and zap them for a few seconds in the microwave.

Feel free to adjust the heat levels to your liking.

Ingredients:
8 large flour tortillas
1 pint button or cremini mushrooms
10-12 oz. of baby spinach (1 large bag or 2 smaller bags)
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
3-4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups uncooked minute rice
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons ketchup
10-12 dashes hot sauce
1 small bunch of cilantro
6 oz. of colby jack cheese
8 oz. of our favorite enchilada sauce
Salt
Pepper

Directions:

Heat the oven to 375. If your tortillas have been in the fridge, take them out and let them come to room temperature.

Clean and slice mushrooms.and mince the garlic. Chop cilantro.

Add butter to a large skillet with a lid and turn on medium-high. When the butter melts add mushrooms. Let them cook about 2-3 minutes before adding the garlic (you don't want it to burn). Cook 2-3 more minutes. Add in the baby spinach. Using tongs, turn the spinach in the skillet until it wilts. Season with salt, pepper. Add in cumin, chili powder, and ketchup. Stir.

Pour in tomato sauce and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in rice. Turn the heat back to low and cover. Let stand for 8-10 minutes until rice is tender.

Grate cheese. Pour a small amount of enchilada sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of filling on to a tortilla. Roll up, folding in the sides so that the filling is secure. Place seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat for all 8 tortillas.

Pour enchilada sauce over the enchiladas. Top with grated cheese. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer Squash Wild Rice with White Beans and Tomatoes

After the holiday weekend, it's time for a healthy dish to counteract all those burgers and hot dogs!

Notes: You can adjust the cooking time here so that the veggies are cooked to your liking. Simmering the squash for 40 minutes makes it very tender. If you prefer yours toothy, add it when you add the tomatoes.

I used a boxed wild rice medley for this. It's very easy and economical. All you do is add the same amount of water that is listed on the back of the box. You just cook it along side the veggies.


Ingredients:
1 cup uncooked wild rice medley (I used a boxed mix)
1 3/4 cup water
1 large or 2 small yellow squash
1 large or 2 small zucchini
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
1 15 oz. can small white beans
1 shallot
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch chives
1/2 bunch thyme
8-10 dashes of hot sauce
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil

Directions:

Mince the garlic and dice the shallot. Slice the squash and zucchini into half moons.

Heat a small amount of olive oil on medium-high in a large skillet (make sure it has high sides and a lid). Sautee the onions and garlic until just tender and fragrant. Add the squash and zucchini. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the water and bring everything to a boil.

Stir in the rice and then turn the heat down to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

While the rice is simmering, mince the thyme and chives. Rinse and drain the beans. After the 20 minutes has passed, add the tomatoes, beans, and herbs. Season with hot sauce and another round of salt and pepper. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes until the rice is tender, but still chewy. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

I confess: I am not a big fan of frosting.

I know there are some people who will eat frosting straight from the bowl and never mind the cake, but I'm pretty much the opposite. Give me a delicious cake and who needs all that gloppy, sugary nonsense on the top? Maybe a little powdered sugar, but otherwise why mess with perfection?

Well, I finally found a frosting recipe that even made me want to lick the bowl. White chocolate buttercream. It's just the right level of sweetness for me and it enhanced the flavor rather than detracted from it. And it just might be the easiest frosting I've ever made.


Notes: You have no doubt heard that you shouldn't try to make things like frosting and ganache with chocolate chips because they have shelf stabilizers in them. I've heard that too, but I'm here to tell you that whatever voodoo happens in the melting and cooling process here, the frosting came out great.

You have to plan ahead for this one since the white chocolate/butter mixture has to sit in the fridge overnight. The good news is melting the two together is so easy, you could do it in your PJs right before you go to bed.

I was able to frost about 14 cupcakes with this batch of frosting.

As for the cupcakes, you might want to dust the cherries with a little flour or cocoa powder before you put them in the batter. They'll sink to the bottom because the batter is thin.

Ingredients for Frosting (adapted from this recipe):
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup (2 sticks) butter

Directions: Melt the butter and chips together in a small saucepan on medium. Stir frequently until everything is completely melted. Cool for 15 minutes. The butter will separate from the chips, but that's OK.

Put the sauce pan in the fridge overnight. When you're ready to make the frosting, pull the pan out of the fridge 30 minutes ahead of time.

When the frosting is at room temperature, beat in a stand mixer on medium speed for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy. Spread on cakes or cupcakes.

Ingredients for Cupcakes (adapted from this recipe):
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup prepared coffee, cooled
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped fresh cherries

Directions: Heat the oven to 350.

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa, and sugar) in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together the wet ingredients (coffee, oil, vinegar, and vanilla). Add the wet to the dry and stir gently until just combined. Fold in the cherries.

Spoon into a paper-lined or greased cupcake pan. Bake fro 18-20 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Frost with white chocolate buttercream and enjoy!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Lima Bean, Tomato, and Corn Salad


One can never had too many recipes that are suitable for ferrying to parties. Summer time means lots of cookouts, BBQs, family reunions, and pot lucks.

Dishes that travel well have a couple of good qualities. First, they don't contain ingredients that spoil easily (read: no mayo). Second, they are flexible and can be easily doubled or tripled. Finally, they don't take hours and hours of prep (who wants to spend all day or morning in the kitchen while you're trying to get ready for a party?). This salad meets all the criteria.

Notes: I wouldn't recommend canned lima beans for this. They are too mushy and salty, and they won't have the nice bright green color to make the salad pretty. Frozen lima beans work much better.

You can substitute frozen corn with no problem, but since it's summer and corn is in season, I thought fresh would be great.

This salad doesn't have a heavy dressing. I just used fresh herbs and the toasted garlic.

You can easily double or triple this recipe depending on how many people you need to serve. This will serve 4-6 depending on the serving size.

Ingredients:
1 bag frozen lima beans
3 ears fresh corn
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
1 small bunch parsley
1 small bunch chives
3-4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons butter
Salt
Pepper

Directions:

Start by shucking the corn. Strip the kernels off by standing the ears up in the middle of a large bowl and running your knife down the side.

Heat a large skillet on medium and add the butter. While the butter melts, mince the garlic. Add the garlic to the butter and sautee until it just starts to turn light golden brown. Add the corn and lima beans (don't bother defrosting). Season liberally with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn and lima beans are tender, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

While the beans and corn are cooling, slice the tomatoes in half and mince the chives and parsley. Add them to the bowl you plan to serve the salad in. When the corn and beans are cool, add them to the tomatoes and toss everything together. Serve immediately or let it chill in the fridge. Enjoy!

Classic Hot Dog Chili + Hot Dog Chili Tacos

Since this week was 4th of July, everyone was making classic American cookout foods. A friend of ours decided to have a hot dog and America-themed movie night in honor of Independence Day. All of the guests were assigned to bring hot dog toppings that are traditional in the region you grew up in.

Of course, the classic NC hot dog is mustard, hot dog chili, and cole slaw. We could have purchased canned chili, but what would be the fun of that?

Everyone knows that the downside of having a 4th of July cookout is that you often end up with leftovers you don't quite know what to do with. That's why I've included a recipe that helps you use up the rest of your hot dog chili.

Notes: Hot dog chili isn't the same as the chili you would eat in a bowl. It's thinner and the meat is less chunky. That consistency is achieved with water and a potato masher.

We were able to find spicy ketchup in the store, but if you don't have any, just use a combination of regular ketchup and hot sauce.

Ingredients for Hot Dog Chili (adapted slightly from this recipe):
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup spicy ketchup (we used Heinz Tabasco ketchup)
1/3 cup water
10 oz. tomato puree
2 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat a non-stick pot on medium-high. Add the ground beef and break it up into chunks. Switch to a potato masher to get the crumbly texture. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in water, ketchup and tomato puree. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Ingredients for Hot Dog Chili Tacos (makes 6 tacos):
2 cups leftover hotdog chili
6 taco shells
1 15 oz. can pinto or kidney beans
1/2 pint cole slaw (I used store bought)
1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I had mahon, but sharp cheddar would be great)

Directions:

Heat oven to 350. In a small sauce pan, heat the leftover chili and beans together. Stir well.

Bake the taco shells for 5 minutes. When the shells are done and the chili is hot, assemble the tacos. Put the chili at the bottom, add the cheese and put the cole slaw on top. Enjoy!






Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Caprese Pizza

I thought I was making margherita pizza, but it turns out traditional margherita pizza doesn't have fresh tomatoes on it. No matter! It's caprese pizza, then! No matter what you call it, it's delicious and beautiful.



Notes: Don't skimp on the tomatoes here. Go for the super fresh and flavorful ones. I would have used heirloom tomatoes, but the store was out. I wouldn't try to use small tomatoes like cherry or grape. You'd need a lot of them and you'll have trouble slicing them thin.

You want to make sure to get the excess liquid off the mozzarella and the tomatoes before you bake the pizza. Make sure to pat the mozzarella dry before you slice it and lay the tomato slices on paper towels.

The mozzarella will cook more evenly if you let it come closer to room temperature before you bake the pizza, so take it out of the fridge early.

The fresh basil goes on after the pizza is done. It gives the added freshness. Also, the basil may burn in the oven if you add it before you bake the pizza. If you plan to have leftovers, only sprinkle fresh basil on the pieces you're going to eat that night. Put the rest in the fridge and then sprinkle it on the leftover pieces after you heat them.

Ingredients:
1 ball homemade pizza dough
1 large or 2 small tomatoes
1 large or 2 medium balls fresh mozzarella
2 small bunches of basil leaves
Your favorite store bought pizza sauce
Dried basil
Salt
Pepper

Directions: Heat oven to 525. Position one rack at the top and one rack at the bottom. Take the mozzarella out of the fridge.

Thinly slice the tomato and lay each slice on a few paper towels to get rid of excess liquid. Lay a paper towel on top.

Pat the mozzarella dry with paper towels and thinly slice.

Roll the pizza crust out and put it on a foil-covered pan or pizza stone. Spread a thin layer of pizza sauce over the dough. Lay the slices of mozzarella evenly on the dough. Top with the tomato slices. Season with salt, pepper, and dried basil.

Bake for 8 minutes on the bottom rack and 8 minutes on the top rack until the crust starts to turn golden brown and the cheese starts to brown and bubble.

While the pizza is cooking stack up the basil leaves and cut them into a chiffonade.

When the pizza is done, sprinkle the fresh basil on top. Serve and enjoy!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Q.E.D.: Black Bean and Zucchini Tacos

Remember how I told you not to toss out the zucchini innards from the mexican zucchini boats? Well, you'll be glad you didn't because now you can make black bean and zucchini tacos!

You may have noticed that we eat a lot of tacos around here. That is partly because tacos are delicious. Who doesn't like tacos? It's like not liking kittens (I'm a dog person and even I love kittens). The other reason we eat a lot of tacos is because we (a) often have leftover bits of something-or-other that we need to use up and (b) tacos are super fast. Tacos: economical and low maintenance.


Notes: If you don't have leftover zucchini innards, you can just substitute 2 small zucchini. 

I had leftover stuffing from the zucchini boats, so my tacos have rice in them. It will make the tacos more filling, but if you're not a fan of multiple starches, you can leave the rice out. 

Tacos are a wonderful excuse to try different kinds of cheese. We experimented with mahon this time. It was great! 

Ingredients:
1 box taco shells
2 small zucchini (or leftover zucchini innards)
1 cup cooked rice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 15 oz. can black beans
1/2 bag of frozen corn
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 small onion
1 small bunch cilantro
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
10 or so dashes hot sauce
5 oz. mahon cheese (or manchego, or your favorite taco cheese)
2 tablespoons butter
Salt
Pepper

Directions:

Heat the oven to the temperature listed on the instructions for the taco shells (usually 325 or 350). 

Dice the zucchini and the onion and mince the garlic. Roughly chop the cilantro. Rinse and drain the beans.

In a large skillet, heat butter on medium high until it melts. Stir in the chili powder and cumin to form a loose paste. Add the zucchini, garlic, and onion. Sautee until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add in the rice, beans, corn, tomato paste, and hot sauce. Stir to combine and turn the heat back to medium. 

Heat the taco shells for about 5 minutes (follow the box directions). While the taco shells are heating, grate your cheese. 

When the shells are done, fill them up and top them with cheese. Enjoy!




Friday, June 27, 2014

Mexican Zucchini Boats


Remember the stuffed tomatoes I made a little while ago? Well, the stuffing-things-into-summer-produce bug has bit me. I made up my mind several weeks ago to try some sort of stuffed zucchini, but I hadn't decided what I was going to stuff it with. I was thinking about burritos the other day and inspiration struck: mexican zucchini boats.

Notes: You can make the rice with just water, but you'd be sacrificing an amazing amount of flavor. Canned tomato puree is easy and inexpensive. I happened to have fresh on hand, but I would have used canned otherwise. It gives the rice a lot of depth.

You want to make sure not to make the rice mixture too wet. If it seems to have too much liquid when it's finished, you can drain it (you'll have your strainer out anyway).

Don't toss out the zucchini innards once you're finished scooping! I've got a plan for those---stay tuned for the next recipe!

These are so cute, they would be great for entertaining.

Ingredients:
1 cup minute rice
1 cup tomato puree
2 medium-large zucchini
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 shallot
1 15 oz. can of black beans
10 dashes hot sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
3-4 oz. cheese (I used Mahon), grated
Salt
Pepper
Butter or olive oil

Directions:

Heat oven to 400

Mince garlic, shallot, and cilantro. Rinse and drain the beans. Heat just about a tablespoon of olive oil or butter in a sauce pan over medium-high. When the oil is hot or butter melted, add the garlic and shallots and saute until just starting to turn translucent.

Season with salt and pepper. Add cumin, chili powder, sugar, and hot sauce. Pour in tomato puree and stir. Bring the mixture just to a boil and add the rice. Turn off the heat and let stand 5 minutes.

While the rice is finishing, cut the zucchini in half length-wise (I cut mine in half across first to make shorter boats). Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop some of the innards out of the zucchini. Be careful not to dig a hole in the bottom or the sides. Place the boats in an oiled baking dish and season the inside with salt and pepper.

When the rice is done, add in the black beans and cilantro and stir everything together. Using a slotted spoon to drain off the excess liquid, scoop the rice mixture into the zucchini boats, packing it in. Put grated cheese on top of each boat. Bake covered with foil for about 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for about 8-10 more minutes until zucchini is fork tender and the cheese starts to just brown.


Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lemon Garlic String Beans

This dish is one of the first side dishes I learned to make really well. It's easy, but so flavorful, it's good enough for company. I've made it with just green beans several times. This time I found some great looking yellow wax beans and I thought the mix would be nice. It did not disappoint.

Notes: I use two different cooking methods on this. First, I steam the beans and then I saute them. The steaming gets them tender-crisp and the sauteing give them extra flavor and cooks the garlic.

This is such a great dish for beginner cooks. It doesn't have a ton of ingredients and since it's not complicated, it gives you a chance to work on some cooking basics like mincing garlic. You can cut the stem ends off the beans, but honestly it's faster for me to just snap them with my hands. I wrote the recipe the snapping way.

If you're new to cooking with lemons, the zest is your friend. The zest is the colorful part of the peel---the part above the white pith. The pith is bitter, but the zest has all the essential oils and lots of lemony flavor. I have a zester that I use to take off the zest, but you could just as easily use a microplane. Just be sure not to take off lots of pith along with your zest.

Ingredients:
1/2 pound of wax beans
1/2 pound of green beans
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 lemon
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Directions:

Start by prepping the beans. Snap of the stem ends and snap the larger ones in half. Set aside. Mince the garlic and zest the lemon.

Add a small amount of water (just enough to cover the bottom) to a large skillet that has a lid. Heat the skillet on medium-high until the water starts to simmer and produce steam. Add the beans and steam the for about 10-12 minutes until the green beans turn emerald green (darker, but still obviously green).

Drain the water out of the pan and return to heat. Push the beans to the sides of the skillet and add the butter in the middle of the pan. When it melts, add the garlic and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Stir everything together and saute for about 5-7 minutes until some of the beans just start to brown.

Turn off the heat. Slice the lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the beans. Toss to coat, serve and enjoy!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Grilled Portobello Steaks

If I had an alternative life, I would have become a biologist. Specifically, I would have gone into mycology. I LOVE fungi. I think they are the coolest things on the planet. It was by far my favorite lab in biology class in college.

Since I picked philosophy instead, my love of fungi will have to be a hobby. Cooking mushrooms are definitely a part of that hobby.

Notes: I get it. Some people just don't get down with mushrooms. It's usually either because they are (a) a fungus and that creeps people out or (b) the slightly rubbery texture. But if you're on the fence about mushrooms, grilled portobellos might be the dish to win you over.

I improvised this marinade and it turned out great. The mushroom caps will shrink a little, so be sure you get nice big ones.

This recipe serves 4 (one mushroom per person), but if you have hungry folks, you might want to make extra.


Ingredients:
4 portobello mushrooms
1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
10-12 dashes hot sauce
4-5 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons honey mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon herbs de provence
Pepper to taste

Directions:

Clean the mushrooms by wiping them off with a damp paper towel. Remove the stems. Using a spoon or fork, scrape the gills out of the mushrooms.

In a small bowl whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade. Put the mushroom caps into a plastic food storage bag and pour in the marinade. Massage the food storage bag to make sure the the mushrooms are covered in the the marinade. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Heat a grill pan on high or an outdoor grill on medium-high. Grill the mushrooms for about 3-4 minutes per side. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Peach Muffins

The amount of produce in my fridge is getting a little out of hand. I brought so much home from the store today that it took up the whole counter after I washed it all.

But it's summer time! There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables in season---how can you resist?

Case in point: fresh peaches. I walked by a whole pile of them at the store and the impulse baker took over. Peach muffins for everyone!

Notes: These are delicious. They aren't too sweet, which makes me happy. If you want a little extra sweetness, I would add about 1/2 cup of honey.

Be sure to dice your peaches very small. You want them to cook all the way while they're in the muffins.

This recipe made about 16 muffins for me, so you might want to have two muffin tins ready. If you have to do them in batches, just put the batter in the fridge for a little bit. Make sure to take it out about 10 minutes before you bake it.

Make sure all the ingredients are close to room temperature to make sure they mix well.

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla or peach liquor
1 egg
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2-3 fresh peaches

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350. Remove the egg, butter, yogurt, milk from the fridge and set aside. Peel and cut the peaches into a small dice.

Add flour, baking soda, and cinnamon to a bowl and whisk together. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, add melted butter and sugar and whisk until mostly smooth like a very thick molasses. Beat the egg and whisk it in. Add milk, yogurt, and vanilla and whisk everything together.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet in batches and stir just to combine. Gently fold in the the diced peaches.

Spoon the batter into a paper-lined or greased muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until the muffins are a light golden brown.


Enjoy the fruits of summer (in a muffin)!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Q.E.D.: Fried Egg and Goat Cheese Breakfast Sandwich

When we were visiting our parents a few weeks ago, my mom made me a fried egg sandwich for breakfast one morning. I had forgotten how great fried egg sandwiches are. I decided to make one this morning and put my own twist on it.


Notes: This makes a great breakfast, of course, but it could easily be a light lunch as well. Add a green salad and you'd be good to go.

I've written the directions using sight clues rather than time. Eggs vary pretty widely, so you're better off just watching to see when it's done rather than trying to time it.

I desperately wish I had used some herbed goat cheese, but I only had plain. It was still good.

You want to make sure you take the goat cheese out of the fridge well ahead of time so that it's spreadable.

This recipe makes one breakfast sandwich.

Ingredients:
1 large egg
2 slices of bread (I used multigrain)
Goat cheese for spreading
Butter for frying
Salt
Pepper

Directions:

Remove all ingredients from the fridge. Put a small amount of butter in a small skillet. Heat between medium and medium-high.

When the butter is melted, crack the egg gently in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. When the white starts to turn opaque, tuck the sides slightly in with your spatula (just so it will cook more evenly and fit on your bread). When the whites are almost totally opaque, pierce the yolk.

Put your slices of bread in the toaster. When the toast pops up, flip your egg, turn off the heat, and let the egg sit in the pan.

Spread the goat cheese on both slices of toast and slide the egg on top of one of the slices. Assemble the sandwich, serve, and enjoy!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Orzo Stuffed Tomatoes


It's summer time and that means tomatoes are in season. And that means you need a recipe that features tomatoes prominently!

Notes: Truthfully, the tomatoes I used were not quite ripe. But that's better. You need some that are a little sturdier to stand up to baking. Since you bake them, the oven develops their flavor, so you don't have to worry about how they taste.

On the subject, I wouldn't use fancy tomatoes for this dish unless you're making it for company. Heirloom tomatoes would be impressive and delicious, but they're also a bit pricy. It's a little more economical to use your run-of-the-mill tomatoes. Again, the baking makes them taste more tomato-y.

The goat cheese makes this dish! You can see from the photo I baked some without (for Scott, who is a philistine and doesn't like goat cheese), but they are really much better with it than without it. Don't skimp on it!

Ingredients:
8 medium-large tomatoes
1 box orzo pasta
1 bag (about 2 cups) baby spinach
1 batch homemade pesto
4 oz. of goat cheese
Salt
Pepper

Directions: Heat oven to 400.

Boil the pasta according to the directions. While you're waiting for the water to boil and pasta to cook, scoop the innards out of the tomato. Use a small knife to cut the membranes away from the inside of the tomato and then use a spoon to scoop them out. Season the insides with salt and pepper and place in an oiled baking dish. Roughly chop the spinach.

When the pasta is finished, drain it and return it to the pot. Add pesto and baby spinach and stir until the orzo is coated with the pesto and the spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the orzo into the tomatoes and top with goat cheese.

Bake uncovered for 25 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and the goat cheese just begins to brown.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Q.E.D.: Pasta with Peas and Mozzarella


Sometimes great things happen when you make a mistake.

I had planned to make one of my staple dishes for dinner: pasta with a vegetable and an olive oil and herb sauce. I like a healthy sprinkle of parmesan on this dish, but I was out, so I sent Scott to the store to get it.

That didn't quite work out. Scott, who doesn't have a ton of culinary knowledge, got mixed up and brought home mozzarella instead of parmesan. No matter, I thought, I'll figure out a way to use the mozzarella. The only think I could think to try was to chop it up and add it to my dish.

Well, it turned out great! The mozzarella melts just a little and it provides a great mix of textures with the peas.

Notes: I added the the mozzarella to the pasta after I put it in the serving dish. Dice the mozzarella and keep in a separate container so that you can add it to the individual servings of pasta. If you add it to the dish as a whole, it won't heat up the same if you have leftovers. If you don't plan to have leftovers, then you can add the cheese to the pot when the pasta is finished.

Ingredients:
1 box elbow or shell pasta
1/3-1/2 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter (optional)
5-6 cloves of garlic
1/2 bag frozen peas
1 tablespoon Italian herb blend
1/2 tablespoon basil
Fresh mozzarella
Red pepper flakes
Salt
Pepper

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a small handful of kosher salt. Cook the box of pasta according to the directions.

Mince the garlic. Add olive oil, butter, herbs, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to a small pan. Heat the mixture on medium low while the pasta cooks.

Dice the mozzarella.

When the pasta has about 2 minutes left to cook, add the peas. When it's finished cooking, drain and return to the pot. Pour the oil mixture over the pasta and peas. Stir to coat throughly. Put the pasta in the serving dish and add pieces of mozzarella. Stir gently. Enjoy!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Pot Roast Spud + Slow Cooker Chuck Roast

Lots of my posts start out talking about our favorite restaurants and this one is no different.

McAlister's Deli in Lake Charles fed Scott throughout the two years we lived apart. He probably ate there three times a week or more. One of his favorite dishes was their pot roast spud: it's a baked potato with pot roast and gravy poured on top of it. It's easily something you can make at home, so I decided to try it using the slow cooker.

Notes: The slow cooker wins again! The pot roast is delicious: the meat is super tender and flavorful. You can use this in a number of different ways and it makes enough (at least for us) for plenty of leftovers. Having cooked meat in the fridge is such a help during the week when you have to get dinner on the table. It's so versatile, you can use all week without getting bored!

I have tried several methods for cooking baked potatoes. This is the one that works best for me. Every time I've tried it some other way, the potatoes are never cooked all the way. The salt and butter just makes the potato skin that much tastier, but you can omit it if you'd like.

Ingredients for Slow Cooker Chuck Roast
1 3-pound chuck roast
2-3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon ground thyme
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon cumin
Pepper to taste

Directions for Slow Cooker Chuck Roast

Slice the onion and put the slices in the bottom of the slow cooker. Whisk together the thyme, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cumin to form a paste. Rub the paste into the chuck roast. Put the roast on top of the onions in the slow cooker. Set for 8-10 hours on low.

When the roast in done, use tongs or a fork to shred the meat.

Ingredients for Pot Roast Spud
1 Russet potato per person (this recipe will serve 2 people with leftovers or 4 people with no leftovers)
1/2 bag of frozen mixed vegetables
1 large onion
1 pint mushrooms (I used cremini)
1 cup beef stock
2-3 cloves of garlic
2-3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Shredded cooked chuck roast (however much you want)
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup of milk
Salt
Pepper

Directions for Post Roast Spud

Heat the oven to 400. Prick potatoes with a fork. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and rub them with butter. Wrap them in foil and bake for 1.5 hours.

While you're waiting, slice the mushrooms and mince the garlic

When the potatoes are nearly done, heat a large skillet on medium high and add three tablespoons of butter. Add in the mushrooms and cook until they start to give off liquid. Add the garlic and Worcestershire sauce.

Sprinkle in flour and stir to coat. Whisk in the beef stock and milk. Allow the mixture to thicken a little. Stir in the mixed vegetables and slices of beef. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

When the potatoes are done, slice them open and fluff the insides with a fork. Scoop the pot roast mixture over top. Serve and enjoy!


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Party Planning + Black and White Baby Shower Cupcakes


A few months ago, I hosted my sister's baby shower. Alexander (born in March) is the first grandchild in both my family and her husband's family. Naturally, we had to have a party. Since I love cooking, I offered to make the food for lunch rather than have it catered.

Cooking and entertaining can be stressful, but planning makes all the difference. Here are some tips to help you get everything done:

1. No Surprises: The most important thing to do is make something (a) that you already know how to make and (b) that you won't have to spend a ton of time putting together on the day of the party. Never made a bleu cheese souffle? Your sister's baby shower is not the time to try it. Ideally, you want to pick a recipe that you've tested and that's been well-received. The meal doesn't have to be fancy; it just has to taste good. Particularly for baby showers, people get hung up on making food that's delicate and intricate like fancy hors d'oeuvres. I understand why: they look impressive. But you're creating WAY more work for yourself if the whole menu is like that. Fancy hors d'oeuvres are labor and time-intensive. Plus, people like real food. Have you ever actually felt full from eating finger sandwiches? Unlikely. People will be happy with something tasty, so go with what you know and what works.

2. Plan ahead: For my sister's baby shower, I had a four-page printed list of everything I would need, including things like cutlery and napkins. It was sorted by menu item (i.e., main dish, salad, dessert). I finalized the list weeks in advance. When I went to the store to do the shopping, I walked around with the list and a pen, crossing things off and making notes. You can't expect yourself to just remember and think of everything a day or two before. Start your list early, revise it, add to it slowly, and remember to take it with you to the store!

3. Prep ahead: One of the reasons I picked the menu I picked for my sister's shower was because I knew there were lots of things I could do in advance. I made lasagna (one meat, one veggie). The whole day before the shower, I spent cooking and doing prep work. For example, I browned the ground beef, seasoned the ricotta cheese, and sliced the mozzarella. I used plastic food storage containers with screw-top lids (for safe transport) to hold all the prepped ingredients. The rule goes like this: The less you have to do on party day, the better! You want to enjoy the party you're hosting, not spend the whole day stuck in the kitchen. Anything you can prep ahead of time, do it!

4. Get help: Nobody says that you have to do absolutely everything yourself. A friend of mine who was coming to the shower called me up and asked if she could bring something. I said, sure, how about an appetizer? That's one less thing I have to do. Another friend asked how she could help the day of. I asked her to put one of the salads together. If someone offers to help you, take them up on it. Also, if you're making the main dish, why not get a store-bought dessert or appetizer? There's no rule that says you can't let people help you or take some help from the store. Party planning can be stressful, there's no need to make it harder for yourself than it has to be.

Enough advice! How about some cupcakes? I followed this recipe, but changed a few things.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup prepared coffee (just use some leftover from that morning)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
Nutella (frosting)
White chocolate chips (decoration)

Directions: Heat the oven to 350. Line your muffin tin with cupcake liner or spray with cooking spray.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add all the wet ingredients to it. Blend until smooth. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and bake for 18-20 minutes.

When the cupcakes are cooled completely, spread Nutella on top as frosting (NOTE: don't refrigerate these. The Nutella will harden). Sprinkle with white chocolate chips. If you're making these for a party, make them the day before!

Enjoy your party!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Deconstructed Boudin Risotto with Spinach

I've mentioned before that we miss Cajun food. One of the things we miss most is boudin (pronounced boo-dan) balls. Take boudin sausage, roll it in bread crumbs, and deep fry it. Simply amazing. They are a staple at many Cajun restaurants and Louisiana cocktail parties.

I wouldn't dare disrespect the myriad Cajun cooks out there by attempting to make my own, but I thought a risotto dish that was at least reminiscent of them would be acceptable.



Notes: The Cajun version of boudin includes rice mixed with the pork, hence the risotto. I used brown rice, which is not traditional, but I couldn't find Arborio rice in the store that day. I liked the brown rice; it has a chewier texture.

Normal boudin balls would never contain spinach, but--come on--you need SOMEthing healthy in this dish. I figured chopping it up would hide it a little better.

If I had thought about it, I would have toasted up some bread crumbs and sprinkled them on top.

Risotto isn't hard, but it does take patience and observation. Just be sure to keep and eye on it.

Cajun food is, of course, on the hotter side, but you can adjust the hot sauce to your taste.

Ingredients:
1 pound ground sweet/mild Italian sausage
1 1/2 cup short grained rice (Arborio, white, or brown)
1 small bunch parsley
2-3 cups of baby spinach
4-5 cloves garlic
4-6 cups of stock or water
Hot sauce
Salt
Pepper

Directions: Heat a large skillet on medium-high. Pour the stock in a sauce pan and heat on medium-low. Mince the garlic.

When the skillet is hot, add the sausage and brown until just done. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside.

Add the garlic to the skillet cook for just a minute. Add the rice and toast with the garlic for another minute. Add four ladles of stock. Stir occasionally. When the rice starts to look dry and the stock is almost fully absorbed, add two more ladles of stock. Continue this process until the rice is almost cooked (approximately 45 minutes). Season with salt and pepper once the first round of stock is absorbed.

While the rice is cooking, chop the spinach and parsley. When the rice is nearly done, add the spinach, parsley, and sausage to the skillet. Douse it with as much hot sauce as you like. Heat everything together. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Snack Dinner with Homemade Salsa and Guacamole

Scott and I have developed a new fun and easy weeknight meal: we call it snack dinner.

Snack dinner came about because of a long-standing guilty pleasure of mine. Occasionally when we go out to a pub, I order nachos as my meal. I love nachos, but I never order them as an appetizer because I can't ever finish them and my main dish. So, I eat them as my main dish.

When I make soups and stews, I sometimes end up with more carrots or celery than I can use. We had some extra one night and I was thinking about a way to use them up. Scott suggested we make some guacamole and dip the leftover veggies in it. And snack dinner was born.

Snack dinner has many advantages, not the least of which is its flexibility. Here is basically all you need:
1. Some grouping of cut raw veggies (carrots, celery, green beans, zucchini, bell peppers, broccoli)
2. Some form of dip (salsa, guacamole, hummus, bean dip)
3. Some kind of chips or crackers (baked pita chips, tortilla chips, wheat crackers, regular ol' potato chips)
4. Some kind of fruit (orange slices, apple slices, grapes, a mixed fruit bowl)

Viola! Snack dinner. It's fun, it requires minimal preparation, it's pretty healthy (veggies, fruit, small portions), and it helps you to accommodate all the eaters in your house because it's so customizable.

Best of all you can eat it from the comfort of your couch!



Notes: Both my guacamole and salsa are pepper-free because Scott doesn't like peppers. So I get the heat from hot sauce. You can add whatever peppers you like.

Snack dinner can easily be made in advance. If you're using carrots and celery for another dish earlier in the week, go ahead and cut up the rest for snack dinner later. I think the salsa is better if you let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days so the flavors have time to meld.

For snack dinner, you can use as much store-bought stuff as you want to make things easier.

Homemade Guacamole Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados
2 limes
1 small bunch of cilantro
Hot sauce
Salt
Pepper

Directions: Slice the avocados open and remove the pit. Scoop the innards into a bowl and mash with a fork. Mince the cilantro and add it to the avocado. Cut the limes in half and squeeze the juice over the mixture. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Stir to combine.

Homemade Salsa Ingredients:
4 roma tomatoes
1 small bunch of cilantro
1/2 a shallot
2-3 garlic cloves
Salt
Hot sauce

Directions: Cut the tomatoes and the shallot into a small dice. Mince the garlic and cilantro. Mix together. If you have the time, let this mixture sit for 24 hours in the fridge. Before you serve, add in salt and hot sauce to taste.

Enjoy a snacking good time!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cheese-less Broccoli and Mushroom Rice Casserole

Although I am an ardent cheese lover, there are some things with cheese that don't even appeal to me. One of those things is a cheese-heavy casserole. Don't get me wrong: I could eat most of a pan of baked mac 'n cheese by myself if you let me. But there's something about the combination of mixed vegetables and cheese that doesn't sound appealing.

I was thinking about casseroles earlier this week and I decided to make one without cheese. Chicken pot pie was my inspiration: it has a nice creamy texture without any cheese. So I made a pot pie base and combined it with the traditional ingredients for broccoli and rice casserole. Viola! Cheese-less perfection.

Notes: This dish is flexible: add in whatever combination of veggies and ingredients you like. You could easily use brown rice if you prefer it or add some cooked chicken for a meaty version. You could switch out the broccoli for peas or zucchini. Casseroles are all about using what you have.

Feel free to take some help from the store on a busy weeknight. Use pre-sliced mushrooms and steam-in-the-microwave frozen broccoli to minimize your chopping and sauteeing time.

I wrote the recipe so that you make the bechamel in a separate sauce pan, but you can just make it in the same skillet that you cook your veggies in if you want to save dishes. Just push the veggies to the edges of the skillet so that you have an empty circle in the middle for the sauce.

This is a great way to use up leftover rice, but if you don't have any, no worries. Just make 4 servings of minute rice while you're prepping your other ingredients. It only takes 5 minutes!

Ingredients:
2 broccoli crowns
1/2 a shallot or small onion
2-3 garlic cloves
1 pint of fresh mushrooms (I used shitake, but use whatever you like)
4 cups of cooked rice
1/3 cup of butter (about 6 tablespoons) plus 2 tablespoons
1/3 cup of all purpose flour
1 can of chicken, veggie, mushroom, or beef stock
3/4 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of soy sauce or worcestershire sauce
Salt
Pepper

Directions: Heat the oven to 350.

Cut the broccoli into small florets and slice the mushrooms. Dice the shallot (or onion) and mince the garlic.

Using a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-high and sautee the garlic, onion, and mushroom for about a minute. Add in the broccoli and sautee until just fork tender. Season the veggies with salt and pepper.

In a small sauce pan (see note), melt the rest of the butter on medium-high. Whisk in the flour until a smooth paste forms. Whisk in the stock and then whisk in the milk. Add the soy sauce or worcestershire sauce. Let the sauce thicken (about 5 minutes).

Add the cooked rice and sauce to the skillet of veggies. Stir to combine. Add everything to a buttered baking dish and bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes until bubbly and just a little dry on top. Serve as is or with a sprinkle of parmesan if you just have to have some cheese! Enjoy!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Q.E.D.: Vegetable Curry with Couscous

Spring produce is appearing in our local grocery store, which makes me so happy. Spring and summer are the best seasons for cooking because you have such an amazing selection of produce to choose from. It might also be the case that because winter was so hard this year, any sign of spring brings me joy!

Notes: I used to make vegetable curry a lot and for some reason it's fallen out of the rotation. I'm not really sure why.

This one is on the cusp of Q.E.D. because it's right at 30 minutes. But you can do it!

I bought a box of couscous that was on sale a few weeks ago. When I planned to make curry, I thought: why not use couscous instead of rice? Better yet, since couscous absorbs liquid so easily, this dish can become a one-pot wonder.



Ingredients:
1 box of couscous
1/2 a medium-sized zucchini
1 small broccoli crown
1 small yam or sweet potato, peeled
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 13-15 oz. can of unsweetened coconut milk
2-3 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 small bunch of fresh basil
Salt
3 tablespoons butter or coconut oil

Directions:

Dice the zucchini and the yam, and cut the broccoli into florets. Mince the garlic and ginger and slice the basil.

Heat the butter or oil on medium-high until it melts. Add the basil, garlic, ginger, salt, and curry powder and stir until fragrant. Add in the yam and cook for about a minute. Add in the coconut milk. Let the mixture cook for about 3 minutes.

Add in the broccoli florets and cook for about 5 more minutes. Then add the zucchini and cook for about 3 more minutes.

Bring the mixture to a boil and stir in the couscous. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand for 5 minutes. When 5 minutes is up, stir to make sure the couscous is cooked. If it's not, let it sit for another 2 minutes. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Zucchini Pesto Pizza

Well, spring is starting to show up here in Philly, so it's time for me to come out of hibernation!

Some friends of ours were in town last weekend, so I decided to do some cooking. Pizza makes for great casual entertaining food, so I made two: one traditional pepperoni (Scott's favorite) and a vegetarian option. It was delicious, if I do say so myself!

Notes: I neglected to take a photo of this one since we had guests!

The crust for the zucchini pizza was a mostly whole wheat crust because I happened to have some white/wheat flour to use up. I don't really prefer it for pizza crust because I think it comes out too dry, but the flavor paired nicely with the homemade pesto.

I used havarti instead of the traditional mozzarella for this pizza. Havarti melts beautifully and you don't get the excess liquid that you can occasionally get with fresh mozzarella.

If you have a mandolin, you can make quick work of the zucchini. I have one, but mine is such a pain to clean and store, I just used a knife.

You can slice the zucchini and make the pesto ahead of time if you're using this recipe to entertain.

Ingredients:
1 ball of homemade pizza dough
Some homemade pesto
1/2 a medium-sized zucchini
Approximately 5 oz of havarti cheese

Directions: Position the oven racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven. Heat the oven to 500. While you're waiting for the oven to heat, shred the cheese and thinly slice the zucchini.

Roll out your pizza dough to your desired size and shape (I used a regular round pizza pan).

Spread the pesto on the pizza (reserve some for garnish). Cover the pizza evenly with a layer of cheese. Lay the zucchini slices on top of the pizza.

Bake the pizza on the bottom rack for 8-9 minutes and then move the pizza to the top rack for 8-9 more minutes until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown just slightly. Top the pizza with the reserved pesto. Slice and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Slow Cooker Ham and Bean Soup with Kale

Well, the snow just keeps piling up and I am OVER IT. I'm officially going on record as anti-snow. It may be pretty when it's falling, but once you've dealt with it for weeks on end, it loses its charm.

Since winter won't quit, neither will my winter comfort recipes. It was time to break out the slow cooker again for some soup.

Notes: The slow cooker is a winner again! This soup is hearty and exactly what you need on a cold winter night.

I used canned beans, but you could used dried beans as long as you soak them the night before. You can add those to the slow cooker with the other ingredients. Canned beans will fall apart if you cook them for 8 hours.

On ham hocks: you'll find them in the meat section of grocery store with the large hams and ham steaks. I would have liked a smoked one, but I couldn't find one. The one I got was a "country" ham hock, so it was salted. If you get one of these, DON'T add more salt to the soup. I used 1 tablespoon of cajun seasoning and my soup was a bit on the salty side. I'd err on the side of caution and use your favorite salt-free seasoning. A nice mix of cumin, paprika, and garlic powder would be a good. Use some red pepper flakes if you want some spice. You can always add salt if you need to.

Ingredients:
2 15 oz. cans of cranberry beans or pinto beans
1 ham hock
5-6 celery stalks
5-6 carrots
3-4 cups of unsalted chicken stock
1 onion
1 small bunch of kale (I used Lacinato)
Seasonings of choice (easy on the salt, see note)

Directions:

Peel and slice the carrots. Slice the celery. Dice the onion. Put the onion in the bottom of the slow cooker and place the ham hock on top of them. Add in carrots, celery, and stock. Season to taste. Set the slow cooker for 8-10 hours on low.

When there is an hour left of cooking time, rinse and drain the beans and add them to the slow cooker. Remove the bones from the ham hock and break up the pieces of meat, discarding the fat and skin. Once the time is up, thinly slice the kale and stir it in. Let sit for 5 minutes and serve.

The slow cooker: the number one chill killer! Enjoy!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

King Cake


See this beautiful creation? It is a king cake. A king cake is a traditional dessert made and eaten during the Mardi Gras season. When Scott and I lived in Louisiana, we would get one (or two) every year. They are just so delicious.

I have wanted to make my own from scratch for a long time and I decided this year was the year. I planned to make it for the Super Bowl and I set aside a whole day for baking. And what you see above is the result.

The recipe I used was an older one originally posted in the Times Picayune. You can find it here. I won't bother retyping it, since I didn't change a thing. There's a "cheat" at the end of the article using pre-made refrigerated crescent dough. But try the from-scratch version first. It's just more fun!

The only thing I did differently was the decorations. Instead of using food coloring, I found colored sugar and just sprinkled it on the icing.

Enjoy!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sausage Gumbo

Scott and I have been very lucky to live may different places. We often play a game that you might call "Dream Town." Our "Dream Town" would be made up of all of our favorite businesses and restaurants from all the places we've lived. For example, Dream Town would have our vet from Louisiana, it would have our favorite breakfast joint (The Courier) from Illinois, and it would have the pizza parlor (Hillside Pizza) from Massachusetts.

One place that would definitely be on that list is Nina P's from Lake Charles. One of the reasons it would be on that list is because of the gumbo on their menu. Their gumbo was probably one of the most comforting foods I've ever had--it made you feel better on a chilly gray day in the bayou.

Since Mardi Gras is coming up, Scott and I are missing our favorite things from Louisiana, so I decided to make some gumbo this weekend. And since it's going to snow on Monday (again), I can't think of a better way to stay warm.

Notes: I have Tony Chachere's cookbook. It doesn't contain a recipe for sausage gumbo, so I read through all the different gumbo recipes and constructed a kind of hybrid from all of them.

It's likely that my roux was not dark enough. I was afraid of burning it. The gumbo we used to get in Lake Charles was much darker than mine. Also, I substituted carrots for the more traditional bell pepper because Scott isn't crazy about peppers. It still tasted great even though it's not 100% correct.

This is not a quick meal, but boy is it worth it. Make it on a chilly weekend and you'll have plenty of leftovers for the week!

If you wanted to make a vegetarian version, you could use red kidney beans or sliced fresh mushrooms in place of sausage. Just add them to the broth about 30-40 minutes before the 2 hours is up. If you add them at the beginning, they'll just fall apart.

Ingredients:
1 pound kielbasa
5-6 carrots
5-6 celery stalks
1 onion
1 small bunch parsley
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 heaping tablespoons of Tony's Original
1 quart of water plus 3 cups
1 stick of butter
4 tablespoons of flour
3 cups minute rice

Directions:

Start by prepping all your veggies. Peel and dice the carrots. Dice the celery and onion. Mince the parley and garlic. Slice the kielbasa

Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour. Let the roux cook until it's the color of milk chocolate (not dark chocolate). Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the veggies until they stop sizzling. Season with Tony's. Return the pot to the heat and add 1 quart of water.

Stir in the garlic, sausage, and parsley. Bring everything to a boil and then turn the heat back to a simmer. Allow the gumbo to simmer for 2 hours.

When the gumbo is almost done, bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a smaller pot. Stir in the minute rice, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork when it's done.

To serve, put the gumbo into a wide-mouthed bowl. Use an ice cream scoop to make ball of rice and plop it right in the middle. Top with parsley or serve with file (if you can find it in your grocery store!)


Bon appetit, mais cher!