Category Archives: veggies

Roasted Roots

One day a couple of friends found a Rusted Root CD in the street. Just lying there. Unclaimed and unloved.

They picked it up and thought: Score! Free CD!

It was the mid-nineties and along with a fondness for baggy jeans (slit at the ankle to properly cover the Doc Martin. Duh.), the friends were fond of a song on the album:

Well, kind of. It was all right. They wouldn’t turn it off it came on or anything. But it’s not like they jumped up to hit record on the boom box to capture it on their latest radio mix tape with as little annoying DJ talk over the music as possible.

They brought the CD in the house, all set to pretend like they knew the words before the chorus and sing along (No, seriously. What are the words? That’s not English, right? That’s what I thought…)

The CD wouldn’t play. Scratched. Sliding across concrete does that to things.

Bummer.

The disappointment was palpable for about 3 seconds. So much for free music. (For all you youngsters out there, no, Napster had not been invented yet.)

And then the friends went off in search of candy. Or something similar.

Now for the shocking plot twist: I was one of those friends.

True story.

The roots in the recipe below are not rusted. That would require a side of tetanus shots, which would not be good for anyone. But they are roasted, which turns some ho-hum, forgettable vegetables into little gems of golden brown deliciousness. That’s good for everyone. Even for people who swear they don’t like vegetables.

I served up this smorgasbord of dirt-dwelling delights at my Project Food Blog luxury dinner party a few weeks back. They were a huge hit. They were also a huge pain in the…ass.

There, I said it. Don’t tattle on me now.

Kidding. They’re not that bad. Although if you don’t like breaking out your biggest, baddest, sharpest knife and hacking away at tough, dirt-covered balls of frustration perhaps this recipe isn’t for you. Celery root. Rutabagas. Leeks.

I feared for the safety of my fingers.

BUT! It is all worth it in the end. These little nuggets are a little bit sweet, a little bit savory and all warm and satisfying. There is something about slightly crunchy, deeply caramelized vegetables that just soothes the heart and soul as the cold weather sets in. My guests really enjoyed them. Even Eric, Mr. Veggie Hater himself. These would be a delightful addition to any holiday table. Make ahead and then just toss back in the oven for 15 minutes or so and serve.

The prep here, once you get past cutting the tough skin away from your celery and washing the weird waxy coating off your parsnips, is really simple. Toss the cut vegetables with a bit of olive oil, season liberally (and I mean liberally…you’ve got a ton of food here) with salt and pepper), toss with fresh rosemary and throw in the oven. Now, the recipe calls for adding whole cloves of garlic to the roasting pans about halfway through the roasting time. I ended up removing them from the finished product because I didn’t think anyone would want to crunch down on them. The garlic flavor was pretty subtle. I’m sure if you wanted a more intense flavor, you could mince the garlic and add as the veggies near the end of their time in the oven. Otherwise, the small flecks of garlic will burn and taste bitter.

ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH FRESH ROSEMARY (Recipe Source: Bon Appetit, December 2001 via Epicurious.com)

Note: This recipe makes a TON and serves about 8 generously. Feel free to scale back to meet your needs.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 pound red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound celery root (celeriac), peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound rutabagas, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound parsnips, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), cut into 1-inch-thick rounds
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Position 1 rack in bottom third of oven and 1 rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Spray 2 heavy large baking sheets with nonstick spray. Combine all remaining ingredients except garlic in very large bowl; toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Divide vegetable mixture between prepared sheets. Place 1 sheet on each oven rack. Roast 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reverse positions of baking sheets. Add 5 garlic cloves to each baking sheet.
  2. Continue to roast until all vegetables are tender and brown in spots, stirring and turning vegetables occasionally, about 45 minutes longer. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Let stand on baking sheets at room temperature. Rewarm in 450°F oven until heated through, about 15 minutes.)
  3. Transfer roasted vegetables to large bowl and then serve.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: One of the most popular posts on the blog: Snockerdoodle cookies!
Two Years Ago: Cinnamon Crispy Squares

5 Comments

Filed under sides, veggies

Adventures of a Camera Dummy

One day not too long ago, Eric came to me and said, “I think we should upgrade our camera. I want to try to take pictures of lightening.”

Um. Okay. I guess?<<cough, cough NERD ALERT! cough, cough>>

He added quickly, “And you can use it for your blog too.”

Oh. Well, in that case….I’m listening.

I’ve been thinking about the camera upgrade for a while but found myself reluctant to take the plunge. I’m not sure I have the photographer gene in me. I mean, I do okay here on the bliggity-blog. As my short, stocky, slow-witted, bald friend Mr. Georgey C. would say “Not showing off, not falling behind.”

Co-Stan-Za!

Photos are generally bright and clear. Food is identifiable. There are recipes that haven’t been blogged because the photos were not up to my (albeit perhaps lower than yours) standards, so I like to think I have some self-awareness in this area. Do I consider myself a photographer? No. Did I start this blog because I was really excited about taking pictures of my dinner? Honestly, that’s a big, fat negative.

Sigh. But photos are important. So I do try.

When a friend of ours recently offered to let us borrow his Nikon dSLR for a few days to try it out, I jumped at the chance. Try before I buy? Yes, please!

So he hauls this piece of equipment over to our house. The bag holding this stuff may or may not be too big for the overhead compartment. Please see an associate to check your camera bag. (Kidding, kidding…) He got about as far as turning it on before my head started to spin and panic set in.

Wait! What am I doing? It took me forever to locate the play button on the DVD remote, how am I supposed to work this thing? I can’t do this! Stop, stop! I wanna get off!

And so our friend left this very expensive and highly breakable piece of equipment in my care. Me. Accidental Dropper of Things. Eternal Mess Maker.

After tooling around (very carefully) with it for a while and getting nowhere, I had a brilliant idea – the manual! YES! I can read. The manual will help.

The manual did not help.

The manual assumes I have basic knowledge of photography terminology.

I do not.

F-stop means nothing to me. ::hangs head in shame::

The manual attempts to show the difference in the setting with tiny little black and white pictures that look exactly the same.

I can’t see the difference. ::hangs head in shame::


This thing is scary…

I know these things take practice, but how to practice when you don’t know where to begin? See, this is why I love writing about food way more than I love taking it’s picture. I learned to work a pencil and paper somewhere around the age of 5. At 10, I learned how to type with my fingers on the right keys. Nothing much has changed with these two items since then and they probably never will. I’ve been scribbling in notebooks and filling blank word docs for so many years, it’s comforting to know they will always be there. The latest and greatest digital camera will become obsolete. Words from the heart are forever.


Ahhh. Hello, old friends.

So maybe I’m no photog. Maybe I’ll have to send that fancy camera back across town to it’s owner without taking one decent picture with it. And that’s okay. Because I feel like my identity with this blog lies within the words. I hope that’s at least part of the reason why you keep coming back. It’s certainly why I do. 🙂 WORD NERDS! Holla!

Oh, who am I kidding. I want to take pretty pictures too!! Please help me. Oh my gosh, I feel like such a camera dummy. I am overwhelmed to the point of anxiety. If you started from the bottom up with your DSLR, what were some of the resources that helped you? How long did it take you to feel comfortable? I want to hear about your experience!

And now for something truly poetic. Lyrical even. Something that dances and sings on the tongue. Silky smooth, creamy, the butteriest of butternut squash soups. Simple and healthy to boot. And with a dollop of smokey roasted red pepper puree in each bowl, it’s downright literary.

Actually, it’s not a bunch of word fluff. It’s a bunch of delicious! I made this soup as the first course for my Project Food Blog luxury dinner party. Upon finishing, I was promptly removed from the competition. Hmpf. But that’s neither here nor there. 😉 This pureed soup is super simple to make, especially if you have a stick blender. With the natural sweetness of the squash, the warmth of the citrus zest and thyme and the toasty yumminess of the squash seeds, this is an easy dish that tastes like something special.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP WITH ROASTED RED RED PEPPER PUREE (Recipe Source: Gourmet, November 2003 via Epicurious.com)


Here’s a not so fantastic photo taken with my not so fantastic camera. 😉

For the soup:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/4 cups chopped onions
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 2 1/2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces (reserve seeds)
  • 5 1/2 cups (or more) vegetable broth (I used chicken broth. I just like the flavor better.)
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
  1. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté until tender, about 12 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add squash and 5 1/2 cups broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until squash is soft, about 40 minutes. Cool slightly.
  2. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return puree to pot. Add 1 teaspoon thyme and orange peel. Thin soup with more broth if desired. Simmer 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and chill. Rewarm before serving, thinning with more broth if desired.)

For the red pepper puree:

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped drained roasted red peppers from jar
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • Puree all ingredients in processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Bring to room temperature before using.)

    For the toasted squash seeds:

    • Seeds from one 2.5 lb. butternut squash
    • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
    • Salt, pepper and cumin to taste

    Rinse the squash seeds to remove any excess fibers. Spread in a single layer on a paper towel to drain and dry completely. Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and ground cumin. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until golden brown and crunchy, 8 to 10 minutes.

    ENJOY!

    One Year Ago: My favorite Beer Cheese Bread. Made this again just a couple weeks ago. Stuffed. My. Face.
    Two Years Ago: My grandma’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. I was JUST thinking about these. Must make. Now. 🙂

    16 Comments

    Filed under soup, veggies

    Is this heaven?

    So. Let’s be honest. What do you know about Iowa?

    Not a whole lot, right?

    You’ve probably heard about that crazy presidential caucus thing that goes on here once every four years that makes the media nearly wet their pants with excitement.

    Yes, there’s that.

    You are probably picturing miles and miles of cornfields, stalks reaching high toward a crystal blue sky dotted with puffy clouds and shivering in the summer breeze. Weather-worn barns with quaint, red-shuddered farm houses watching over fields of happily grazing cattle. Gravel roads. Pick up trucks. Country music on the radio. Oh, and stars! Millions of them overhead, brighter than you’ve ever seen.

    Yes, there’s all of that too. But, wow, there is so much more!

    Maybe you’ve never been to Iowa. Maybe you have no reason to come to Iowa and never will. That’s okay. We understand….

    But we, all three million or so current residents of the great state of Iowa, want you to know that if you do find yourself around these parts, you will be welcomed with open arms and warm hearts. Because in Iowa, in this the very heart of America’s Heartland, people still smile when they pass on the street. They still reach out a helping hand to a neighbor in need. In Iowa, small town main streets thrive, pulsing with life, laughter and a sense of community and pride. Everyone is invited, everyone is welcome, and everyone can feel at home.

    I am not a native of Iowa, but it has been my home for more than five years now. I still long for sunshine and beaches when the wind blows, and the snow falls, keeping the temperature outside well below the freezing mark. I grumble and scowl when my favorite bands don’t stop within 200 miles of me on their concert tours. I still miss my Nordy’s and H&M when I step into my much smaller shopping mall.

    Despite all that, Iowa is a great place to live. I can see why people who grew up here and leave and want to come back. It’s homey and comforting. Iowa is like a family that wraps their arms around and you and won’t let go. As the famous line from Field of Dreams goes:

    “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”

    I am especially grateful to call Iowa home this time of year. Right in my very own backyard, I have access to some of the most delectable and delicious sweet corn you have ever tasted in your life.

    I wait for it oh-so patiently every year. As we start creeping up on the end of July, I know it’s coming. Sweet corn season. Farm stands with hand painted signs pop up in parking lots and along rural roadsides. Farmer’s market vendors pile entire truck beds with hundreds and hundreds of ears, packaged by the dozen and ready to go. There really is nothing like it in the world. Sweet corn IS summer in Iowa. Golden like the sunshine, and sweet like the breeze. It is literally bursting with juice. It may even shoot across the table and hits someone else in the eye when you take a bite. It’s okay, though. There’s never any hard feelings when that happens. 🙂

    As a special treat, I’ve decided to take some time and share with you a recipe featuring sweet corn every day this week.

    It’s just a way for me to showcase my absolute favorite thing about summer: CORN! There will be a few surprises, maybe a few things you haven’t thought of before, but there is sure to be something to help you use up all the EARS of corn that are coming out your EARS. Heh. That’s a pun. 😉

    First up, a truly fresh and delicious summer side dish. This Roasted Corn Salad from the Pioneer Woman’s cookbook is colorful and vibrant, bursting with everything that’s great about summer. Fresh sweet corn off the cob, yellow squash, tomatoes, red bell pepper, onion, basil. The homemade balsamic vinaigrette really takes it over the top. I literally could not stop eating this. I topped grilled chicken with it for dinner and then ate the rest cold for lunch all week. It’s great warm, at room temp or cold and would be a great make-ahead option for a summer get together or potluck.

    A few changes from the original recipe – first, I cut it in half. If you’ve made a PW recipe before, you know they feed a crowd. I also cut the amount of garlic, but that’s just a personal preference. I find raw garlic can be really overpowering and I really wanted to taste the veggies here. Feel free to add more if you like. The original recipe also called for drizzling the veggies with olive oil before placing on the grill. I figured there was enough oil in the dressing, so I skipped that step so I could maintain some good crunch on the vegetables after grilling. Worked out well. My changes are noted below. 🙂

    Stop back tomorrow for another great sweet corn recipe!

    ROASTED CORN SALAD (Recipe adapted from: The Pioneer Woman Cooks)

    INGREDIENTS:

    • 4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
    • 1/2 red onion, cut into quarters
    • 1 medium yellow squash, halved lengthwise
    • 1 small red bell pepper, cut in half and seeds/rib removed
    • 3/4 quarters of a cup fresh diced tomatoes (use whatever kind you like. I used grape tomatoes, cut in half)
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    • 6 large basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
    • 1 very small, or half a large garlic clove, pressed or finely minced

    DIRECTIONS:

    1. Preheat outdoor grill to medium heat.
    2. Place corn directly on the grill and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until the kernels begin to brown. Add remaining vegetables (except tomatoes) and grill until softened but not overcooked, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from grill and allow to cool slightly.
    3. Roughly chop the veggies and scrape the corn off the cobs with a sharp knife (you’ll make a mess doing this, just be ready). and place in serving bowl. Add the diced tomatoes and toss.
    4. Make the dressing: Mix olive oil and balsamic vinegar together in a small bowl until combined. Add the the basil, salt and garlic and whisk again. Pour the dressing over the veggie mixture and toss until coated. Serve at room temp or chilled. Makes about 3 cups.

    ENJOY! 🙂

    3 Comments

    Filed under salads, sides, veggies

    Two is better than one

    Some things are just better in pairs. Shoes, for example. You always want to wear two shoes. Who wants to walk around with one shoe? And then what would you do with that one really dirty foot?

    There’s other things too. Let’s make a list! I love lists!

    <cough, cough> Nerd Alert! <cough, cough>

    Anyway, back to that list. Here we go.

    Things that are Better in Twos:

    • Chocolate chip cookies
    • Helpings of birthday cake
    • Hugs from adorable nieces and nephews
    • Consecutive days off work
    • Scoops of ice cream
    • Reruns of Seinfeld
    • Glasses of really good red wine
    • Hits of the snooze button
    • Favorite songs on the radio

    Things that are NOT Better in Twos:

    • Sharp sticks to the eye
    • Kicks in the pants
    • Fillings at the dentist
    • Paper cuts
    • Hours in traffic
    • Trips to the DMV
    • Reruns of Friends (Sorry, all. I didn’t like that show when it was on and I don’t like it now. Lower the torches and pitchforks, Angry Mob, please and thank you, not everybody likes the same things. I hope we can still be blog buddies 😉 )

    Yep. I think that about does it. That was some mighty fine list-making…what other lists can we make?

    Let’s see…how about a list of possible lists. As if I couldn’t dork it up any more in here.

    • Bands I Hate and Always Will
    • Top 10 Ways to Make a Huge, Ridiculous Mess in the Kitchen Without Really Trying
    • TV Shows I’m Only Slightly Embarrassed to Admit I Watch But Not Really Because I Don’t Have Near the Amount of Shame I Should When it Comes to That Sort of Stuff
    • Bugs and other Creepy Things I’m Afraid Of
    • Childish Names my Husband and I Call Each Other
    • The Many True and Compelling Reasons Why My Sports Team is Better Than Your Sports Team Despite the Fact that My Sports Teams ALWAYS Lose.

    Hold up! These other awesome lists are going to have to wait! I need to make an amendment to the first list. One other thing that’s better in twos:

    Ways to use up delicious summer produce!

    How could I forget that one? We gotta use this stuff up while we can. Hurry, I say! Hurry! Remember THIS? Yeah, that’s coming back. And soon. Summer’s sun-kissed bounty will be gone before you know it so doing up big in twos, threes, fours – that’s the only way to go.

    Here in Iowa we’re just starting to see the few of the seasons best at the farmer’s markets and roadside stands: sweet corn (I’ve got big plans for sweet corn, so stay tuned for that) and tomatoes.

    It took me until I was a bit older to enjoy tomatoes in their raw and natural form rather than just in ketchup form. 😉  Now that I do, I can’t get enough. Bruschetta is one of my favorite ways to stuff them in my face in copious amounts. 🙂 There’s just something about the combo of sweet, juicy tomatoes, garlic and basil, with that pungent kick of balsamic in the background that is one of my favorite things about summer. LOVE it.

    Below, I present Bruschetta two ways – because Bruschetta, like so many other things, is just better that way. One is the classic. The one we’re all used to seeing – a fresh tomato mixture, piled high on crusty toasts of french baguette. The other takes all the bruschetta flavors, adds homemade sourdough croutons and leafy romaine lettuce and calls itself a salad. That’s right. It went there.

    First, let’s look at the classic. Because some things are so simple they just don’t need to be messed with.

    On a recent trip to my hometown, my mom had this Double Tomato Bruschetta recipe picked out and asked if I wanted to help her make it. Um, YES! Before we got to the chopping and dicing, we had to first completely change the recipe. Ha. We nixed the sun-dried tomatoes, decreased the amount of garlic (because there is such a thing as too much garlic) and ditched the top with cheese and bake step. It came out GREAT! My mom really loved the taste of the fresh basil, having not cooked with it much in the past. This particular recipe didn’t call for any onion at all, but feel free to add some if you like it that way.

    Now, I think classic bruschetta is best enjoyed outside, around a patio table under the shade of an umbrella with something like this sweating in your hand:

    It’s kind of small group food. When you’ve got your four best girls around the table with you drinking sangria and talking about everything and nothing at the same time, this bruschetta fits right in. But if you’re partying on a bigger scale, this recipe may be a bit impractical. Logistics wise, that is….

    TOMATO BRUSCHETTA (Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com)

    INGREDIENTS:

    • 6 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
    • 1 clove of garlic, minced
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
    • Salt and black pepper to taste
    • 1 french baguette

    DIRECTIONS:

    1. Preheat oven to 400
    2. In a large bowl, combine the roma tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, basil, salt, and pepper. Allow the mixture to sit for at least 10 minutes. (The longer it sits the better it tastes, so make ahead if you can!)
    3. Cut the baguette into 3/4-inch slices. On a baking sheet, arrange the baguette slices in a single layer. Bake 7 to 9 minutes, until slightly browned and toasted.
    4. Spoon tomato mixture on baguette slices and serve. Makes 12 servings.

    ****

    So instead of an intimate gathering of girlfriends, let’s say you’re having a great big blow out BBQ type party with 30 of your besties and at least one pony keg. The kind of party where people eat for hours on end, filling their plates to dangerous, teetering levels as they make their way across your white living room carpet to the patio door to sit outside. The kind of party where people are so happy to be there and eating, they don’t even care THEY ARE ABOUT TO PUT POTATO SALAD AND LIME JELLO IN THEIR MOUTH IN THE SAME BITE! If that’s the case, you need something that’s a bit easier to serve.

    With this bruschtta salad you can get everything together ahead of time (in fact, I recommend making the dressing the day before, I just find homemade dressing taste better when they’ve had a chance to mellow in the fridge for a while) and then just toss it together with a drink in one hand while your friends are pulling up in the driveway. The bread soaks up the dressing just enough to be amazing but not enough to be soggy. The fresh mozzarella adds a great creamy texture.  It really does mimic the taste of classic bruschetta.

    It’s so easy, it’s so delicious and you can set it, forget it and actually spend time with your guests as they compliment your awesome spread. 😉

    BRUSCHETTA SALAD (Recipe Source: The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen)

    My tomatoes kind of sank to the bottom after tossing. 🙂

    INGREDIENTS:

    • 4 cups cubed sourdough bread
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
    • 1 small clove garlic, crushed through a press
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 8 cups chopped romaine lettuce
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
    • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (about 4 medium)
    • 1 cup diced fresh mozzarella (4 ounces; half inch dice)

    DIRECTIONS:

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread bread on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake until just crisp on the outside – about 6 minutes. Remove from pan onto a wire rack to cool.
    2. Meanwhile, make the the dressing. Whisk together oil, vinegars, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Put lettuce, basil, tomatoes, mozzarella and bread in a large serving bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and toss until everything is evenly coated. Serve immediately. Makes 6 main dish or 12 side dish servings.

    ENJOY! 🙂

    ****

    And, finally, one last list. If you’re still here and reading…HI! Thanks for playing. 🙂

    The lovely and talented Branny at Branny Boils Over tagged me with a bit of a getting to know you challenge. It just happens to contain lists. What luck! My answers appear below. Thanks for the shout out Branny! 🙂

    1) What was on your To-Do list today:

    • Sweep the bathroom. Make the sheer amount of hair I pick up into a wig. 😉
    • Wash some clothes.
    • Clean out the fridge. Free to a good home: a container with….something inside. It used to resemble food.
    • Eat a cupcake. That one was so easy I may do it twice.

    2) 5 Snacks you enjoy:
    I actually don’t do much snacking let’s see what I can come up with:

    • Apples. I eat an apple every day.
    • Yogurt
    • Caramel corn. I can’t keep it around or else I will eat it until I get sick!
    • Hummus
    • Chips and salsa

    3) 5 Places you have lived:

    • A happy home on a great block in suburban chicago
    • A couple of assorted dorm rooms at the U of IL
    • “The Players Club” that’s what we called our college apartment.
    • An apartment with my then boyfriend (gasp!), now husband
    • Our current lovely home. 🙂

    4) What were you doing 5 years ago:

    • 5 years ago was my first full year out of college. I went crazy and followed my boyfriend to Iowa. I sold clothes in the Junior’s department in a department store. Thanks, college education! The boyfriend proposed! And we bought our home. I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since all that. Wow!

    5) 5 things you would do if you were a Billionaire:

    • I’d start a writing group for girls. I’m not sure how, what kind or the logistics of the whole deal but I want to help girls discover and cultivate their talents.
    • Travel, of course. Maybe I’ll even leave the Midwest! How ’bout them apples!
    • I want to have my own bakery. But I don’t want to do any of the hard stuff like working 14 hours a day 6 days a week. I bet if I were a billionaire I could hook that up. 😉
    • I’d help my family and friends realize their dreams too, whatever they may be!
    • Save a whole bunch. I can’t help it. It’s what I do.

    Passing on this little challenge to a few other awesome bloggers I adore:

    2 Comments

    Filed under appetizers, salads, veggies

    Make new friends, but keep the old…

    I made a couple new friends this weekend. We met on Saturday morning at the grocery store. I knew I was going to bump into these two there at the store, the list in my hand told me so, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to have the guts to look at them. I was fully prepared to pull the old Oh, There’s Someone I Don’t Want to Talk To so I’m Going to Pretend to Concentrate Really Hard on This Display of Flour trick when I approached them in the aisles.

    I was nervous. See, I haven’t exactly been warm toward these two in the past. One of these guys, I have just come right out and said I didn’t like them. Out loud. In a snotty way. In front of others. The other, I just flat out ignored.

    Who did I make amends with this weekend? Who did I bond with over a cart with a wobbly wheel? Who did I invite into my home for a lovely summer meal? I think you’ll be surprised!

    My first new friend? Cilantro. Yes. I know. I know! I can’t believe it either. My arch nemesis. Cilantro and I are friends now after this weekend! Squee!

    My second new friend? Anchovies. It had never occurred to me to buy them before and they’d basically gone unnoticed until now. They’re a little…stand-offish, don’t you think? All packed down in that little can, lifeless and oily. Not exactly friendly if you ask me. But, I think they’re just shy. Because these guys brought a whole bunch of life to the dinner party last night.

    I brought my two new friends home, we talked through our differences, and I combined them into something really special and really delicious.

    Crunchy romaine hearts, colorful bell peppers, fresh tomatoes, sweet corn kernels, and spicy baked tortilla strips, all tossed with an herb-kissed Caesar dressing and topped with juicy strips of perfectly grilled sirloin. Also known as: Texas Caesar Salad.

    So good. This was the perfect light meal for a hot summer night. Eric, being the meat and potatoes kind of man he is, isn’t really big on the idea of a salad as dinner. Not manly enough. Or something.

    That’s why I added steak. Ha. That certainly gets his attention. We both enjoyed this on such a hot July night. The dressing had a great punch of flavor and brightness from the cilantro. Since there are so many strong flavors going on, I didn’t find the cilantro overpowering at all, which was a very pleasant surprise!

    Add an ice cold beer (or your favorite wine), some nice crusty bread and you’ve got a delicious dinner. Invite some new friends. May I suggest cilantro and anchovies? 😉

    TEXAS CAESAR SALAD WITH GRILLED SIRLOIN (Recipe adapted from: Bon Appetit, July 1999 via Epicurious.com)

    INGREDIENTS:

    For the dressing:

    • 2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
    • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
    • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1/4 cup chopped shallots
    • 2 anchovy fillets
    • 2 garlic cloves
    • 1 jalapeño chili, seeded, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    • 3/4 cup olive oil

    For the salad:

    • 8 cups bite-size pieces romaine lettuce (from 2 heads)
    • 1 large red bell pepper, diced (I subbed an orange bell pepper)
    • 2 scallions, finely chopped
    • 2 ears fresh sweet corn, grilled until tender and slightly charred, then cut from the cob
    • 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
    • Baked chili-lime tortilla strips (Recipe follows)
    • 1 lb. sirloin strip steak, grilled until desired doneness and sliced into thin strips
    • Additional freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    DIRECTIONS:

    1. Purée first 9 ingredients in processor until smooth. Gradually add olive oil and process until blended. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
    2. Combine romaine, bell pepper, scallions, corn, tomatoes and half the tortilla strips in a large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Divide among 4 serving dishes, top with steak, and garnish with additional Parmesan cheese and the rest of tortilla strips.

    BAKED CHILI-LIME TORTILLA STRIPS (Recipe source: Me!)

    • 2 medium flour tortillas
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
    • Zest of one small lime
    • Kosher salt and pepper taste

    Preheat oven to 425 degrees

    Using a pizza cutter, cut the tortillas into long, thin strips. Toss with olive oil and other ingredients. Spread in an even layer on a foil-covered baking sheet.

    Bake until golden brown and crunchy, about 5 to 7 minutes. Cool before using.

    ENJOY! 🙂

    Two Years Ago: Candy Kiss Cupcake Bites

    6 Comments

    Filed under beef, salads, veggies

    Daddy/Daughter Dinner (Disaster!)

    So, I’ve stuffed your faces with a lot of dessert here lately. Boozy tarts, rich and creamy ice cream, speedy no-bake treats, a refreshing popsicles.

    Whew! I don’t know about you, but that sugar coma is definitely setting in for me. 🙂 You’re probably thinking that’s all we eat! If we don’t shape up around here, our angry mothers will be banging on our door wielding piles of green things prepared to hold us down and shove them down our throats. Let’s switch gears and take a look at a healthy and delicious dinner we had recently. Contrary to what shows up in the blog, this IS the typical weeknight meal in my house….lean protein, fresh veggies, and whole grains. Balanced and tasty.

    Okay…so THEN I have a bit of all that other stuff (portion controlled, of course) But I clean my plate first. 🙂

    As I was making these honey-teriyaki chicken skewers, I couldn’t help but think about my one and only other experience with teriyaki chicken. My dad will remember this too…and laugh about it. It’s a perfect day to share a memory of my wonderful dad seeing as it is Father’s Day and all! 🙂

    When we were all just little things with teeth missing from our smiles and poufy bangs, the local Girl Scout council would put on a Daddy/Daughter Dance and invite a bunch of the troops from the area. It was a dress up affair, naturally. All of our dashing dads wore ties and jackets. The attire of choice, for us girls, was poodle skirts. I’m not really sure who decided we should all wear poodle skirts, but you just HAD to have one. Seriously. EVERYONE was doing it. Lucky for me, my mom was pretty handy with a sewing machine and she made me a lovely royal blue skirt with a white poodle on it. It had a rhinestone collar and a loopy white “leash” made out of a braided cord. And it twirled like a dream.

    It was all about the twirl. You know what I’m talking about. Mmm hmm.

    So all of us girls in our poodle skirts and our dads in their ties, headed for the dance. Occasionally we’d dance with our dads but mostly we just twirled in aimless circles to watch our poodle skirts flair out. I remember thinking I was extra lucky because I didn’t have to SHARE my dad with anyone else. Other dads had multiple daughters to escort to the event…not me though. I got my dad all to myself. I thought that was pretty special. At 8, I couldn’t think of many reasons why having a brother who was bigger, stronger and older than me was much to get excited about, except when it came to Daddy/Daughter dances. Brothers were not invited.

    This event involved dinner, of course. A banquet style feast where sullen teenagers in black vests wheeled out carts of mystery meals hidden underneath those silver dome things. Well, one year, after the skirt twirling had settled for the time being and we took our seats at the table, the meal under the dome proved to be a disaster of epic proportions.

    Teriyaki Chicken.

    The gasp was audible. The faces priceless. As a this plate of slimy chicken covered in a runny, unidentifiable brown sauce perched in front of each unsuspecting girl, everyone looked so horrified you would have thought we were being served a slab of mud crawling with worms.

    With faces twisted in absolute horror, a room full of hungry girls, famished after all that skirt twirling business, looked up into the faces of their smiling fathers and concluded loudly “Daddy, I don’t LIKE this!”

    Plates skirted across the table as they were pushed away with an “EWWWWWW!”

    There may or may not been a few sniffles and tears. Clearly those Girl Scout people were trying to starve us to death.

    I don’t think the dads were all that thrilled either, although I think they had the manners to not shout GROSS at their top of their lungs. Good job, Dads!

    So we all pushed this chicken slop around on our plates for a few minutes, maybe managed a couple gag-inducing bites. Then they took away all that nastiness and brought out cake or something. All was right with the world after that. We were not about to starve to death. Cake was better skirt twirling fuel anyway. 😉

    Despite the meal horror, I always had fun with my dad at our dances. The song “My Girl” will always reminds me of poodle skirts and feeling like a princess. Thanks for being such a great date, Dad! And happy Father’s Day!

    For the record, I think they switched to chicken fingers and fries after that. 😉

    Theses skewers are not at all reminiscent of The Worst Meal Ever. They are light, tasty and totally satisfying. And healthy to boot! Served up with a side of green beans and healthy, scallion and garlic studded brown rice, it made for a balanced and delicious meal!

    When I made these, I came home from work, got my brown rice going, cubed up the chicken, tossed it in the marinade and stuck it in the fridge to hang out for a few while I worked out for a half hour. I like the veggies and meat on the same skewer on the grill, but if you’re worried about the veggies getting overdone, you can do them on a separate skewer. I liked how the tomatoes got all wilty and concentrated and I’ve said before how much I adore bell pepper. The chicken had great flavor for just a few ingredients…a little sweet and a little salty, all delicious.

    HONEY TERIYAKI CHICKEN SKEWERS WITH SCALLION BROWN RICE (Recipe adapted from: Great Taste, Low Fat – Time Life Books)

    INGREDIENTS:

    For the Chicken:

    • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into two inch pieces
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoons honey
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
    • 1 clove of garlic, pressed
    • 1 green bell pepper, cut into one inch squares
    • 24 grape tomatoes

    For the Rice:

    • 1 1/2 cup of low sodium chicken broth
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • Salt to taste
    • 1 cup brown rice
    • 2 to 3 scallions, finely chopped

    DIRECTIONS:

    1. Start the rice: Bring broth, olive oil and salt to boil in a large saucepan. Add rice and stir. Cover and reduce heat to low. Allow rice to simmer for 45 to 50 minutes without lifting the lid or stirring. The broth should  be mostly absorbed when it’s done.
    2. Meanwhile, combine soy sauce, honey, ginger, sesame oil and garlic in a shallow bowl. Add chicken, toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
    3. Preheat the grill to medium heat. Alternately thread the chicken, bell pepper and tomatoes onto 8 skewers. Grill over indirect heat, for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, or until the chicken is cooked through.
    4. Just before serving, stir scallions into the finished rice. Plate rice and place skewers on top of rice. Serve. Serves 4.

    ENJOY! 🙂

    One Year Ago: Brownie Pudding
    Two Years Ago: Classic White Bread

    4 Comments

    Filed under chicken, veggies

    Beachin’ Pizza.

    It took me a while to get excited about homemade pizza. Even most frozen varieties seemed to taste better than my experiences with the homemade stuff. See my story about being traumatized by homemade pizza as a 9 year old. 😉 It would scare you off too. I’ve gotten over my fear at least enough to make it myself, but I still don’t make pizza from scratch as often as I would like.

    I was humbled to be named the WINNER of the April “You Want Pies with That?” round-up for my springy Pineapple Strawberry Pie (THANKS ALL!) and had the honor of picking May’s theme. I picked…you guessed it…PIZZA PIES!

    I picked it because I knew everyone could get really creative with it. If there was ever a blank canvas in the world of food, it would be an empty pizza crust ready to be piled with toppings. There are no limits.

    That said, I was all excited to go crazy with pizza. It’s fun to take the flavors of other meals and pile them on top of a homemade crust. Tacos, chicken wings, cheeseburgers and BBQ are all items that translate well into the world of pizza. Those are all well and good but I wanted to create a pizza like nothing I had ever seen before.

    Off I went on my merry way. 🙂 To CREATE!

    One of my husband’s favorite summer meals is a shrimp and sausage boil. It’s a pretty simple concept with four distinct pieces to the puzzle – shrimp, smoked sausage, red potatoes and corn on the cob. It’s all boiled up in a broth seasoned with Old Bay seasoning and lemon. It’s quick to put together and all the different textures and flavors make for a really satisfying meal.

    So…I got thinking. Is it possible to put all the goodness of a shrimp and sausage boil on a pizza? Would that work? Is it crazy? Have I gone off the deep end here?

    I’m brave. I like to try new things. I could do this. And if it flopped, well, so be it. I’m no stranger to that either. Bring it!

     Here’s what imagined:

    Homemade pizza crust, topped with a garlicky Parmesan/Old Bay “cream” sauce. I say “cream” because I actually made a béchamel with low-fat milk – per usual. On top of that, chunks of shrimp, marinated in beer and sprinkled with a bit more Old Bay, lemon-pepper corn kernels, sliced turkey kielbasa (any smoked sausage would do) and paper thin slices of red potato. To finish it off, just a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of fresh parsley for a bit of brightness.

    Now, did I succeed with this ambitious project?

    The correct answer is…YES!

    This was an awful lot of work as everything from the crust to the sauce to the toppings was made from scratch but in the end it was worth it. So many different flavors going on here that combined very well on a golden brown crust.

    Let’s talk about a couple of the individual elements, shall we? Namely, the crust and potatoes

    First the crust. Now, I really like this thin and crispy recipe from Cooking Light. I actually haven’t made any others since I found this one. I decided to go ahead and try the Baking Illustrated recipe this time (as seen at Brown Eyed Baker and  Annie’s Eats ). It’s very good. I liked the flavor and it got nice a crispy on the bottom which I like. However. I did find that it to be almost too much crust. It puffed up so much, it was like eating a chunk of white bread (not to say that’s bad…that’s just not how I like my pizza) It could have been operator error, I admit that. After the initial rise, I didn’t get down to the business of rolling and baking right away because I wasn’t ready. So it sat there on the counter for what was, essentially, a second rise. That could have affected the outcome of my final product for sure. Even so, the ease and the texture of the thin and crispy recipe will still probably keep that one at the top of the list. At least for now.

    And the potatoes. This was the part that worried me most. I knew if I left the potatoes in chunks, they would have to be par boiled before going on the pizza. Then I was worried that they would just turn to mush and I didn’t want that. So I decided to go with super thin slices. I don’t have a mandolin, and frankly those things give nightmares about lost fingers and bleeding out alone on the kitchen floor, so I used the thin slicer blade for my food processor to slice up the potatoes. I hadn’t used that particular blade yet, but let me just say I am IN LOVE. In fact, I went a little crazy, feeding potato after potato through the tube and watching them instantly transform into magically thin slices while squealing with delight. Really, you only need 1 to 2 good size reds to have enough for the pizza – it’s only a 12-incher after all. After they’re sliced, I soaked them in water for a good 20-25 minutes or so to remove the starch. Before I was ready to put them on the pizza, I drained off the water and patted them dry with a clean kitchen towel.

    I couldn’t decide if I should try to give the potatoes a head start on some color by giving them a quick roast in a hot oven. In the end, I didn’t, but next time I will. Although the potatoes were tender after the pizza was done baking, I think the end result would be more attractive with a bit more golden brown deliciousness over the top since there’s not much cheese. I included that step in my recipe below.

    So there you have it! A delicious and creative pizza treat! Enjoy!

    SHRIMP AND SAUSAGE BOIL PIZZA (Recipe inspired by this meal)

    Please excuse the craptastic photo – it’s the only one I had uploaded to Photobucket before my computer crapped out. It’s all I got, kids. Be gentle, I just lost an old friend. I’m grieving. LOL. 😉

    For the Crust:

    • 1 lb pizza dough of your liking (Here’s the recipe I used this time. Here’s the one I like the best. Premade works too, whatever your preference.)

    For the Shrimp & Sausage:

    • 1/2 lb. raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined (or thawed if you’re like me and use frozen), and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
    • About 6 ounces beer
    • About 4 ounces smoked sausage, very thinly sliced (this is about a quarter of a 1 lb. package, any kind you like will work. My preference is turkey sausage)

    In a bowl, combine shrimp, Old Bay and beer and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes.

    While the shrimp marinates, heat a skillet over medium heat. Gently brown the sausage slices on both sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

    In the same skillet, cook the shrimp pieces until just barely done – 1 to 2 minutes TOPS. In fact, if the pieces are a little underdone, that’s okay, they’ll finish cooking in the oven. Transfer to another plate and set aside.

    For the Corn:

    • 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
    • 1 teaspoon butter (I used Smart Balance here)
    • The juice of half a large lemon (or less if that’s too lemony for your tastes)
    • Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

    Combine corn and butter and steam in the microwave until defrosted and just tender – about 2 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and pepper. Set aside.

    For the Potatoes:

    •  1 to 2 good sized red potatoes (eyeball it), sliced ultra thin
    • Olive oil
    • Salt & freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

    Place potato slices in a large bowl of cool water and soak for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes and dry the slices thoroughly with a clean kitchen towel.

    Put the slices on a single layer on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Brush the tops of each one with a little bit of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in a hot oven (450 degrees) until just barely golden brown – 5 to 10 minutes.

    Helpful hint: Roast your potatoes while you preheat your pizza stone!

    For the Sauce:

    • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
    • 1/4 cup finely minced onion
    • 4 large cloves of garlic, finely minced or pressed
    • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup milk
    • 3 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning (or to taste)
    • Salt & freshly cracked black pepper to taste
    • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    In a saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add onions and garlic and cook until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

    Add remaining butter to saucepan and allow it to melt. Add flour and stir until combined and golden brown – about 1 minute. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until the milk just bubbles and thickens – about 5 minutes.  Add Old Bay and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add Parmesan cheese, stirring until melted and combined. Set aside.

    To assemble and finish:

    • Olive oil for brushing the crust
    • Cornmeal
    • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

    Prepare pizza stone by preheating in a 450 degree oven for about 30 minutes (or per your stone’s instructions)

    Meanwhile, roll out pizza dough into a 12-inch circle on a flour surface (I have a pastry mat I like to use, but parchment paper works fine too.

    Brush the crust with olive oil all the way to the edge. Spoon on the sauce and spread out, leaving about an inch of crust uncovered around the edge. Sprinkle the shrimp and corn evenly over the sauce. Next make a layer of potato and sausage slices over the top. Sprinkle with cheese.

    Remove pizza stone from oven and sprinkle the surface with cornmeal to keep the dough from sticking, carefully transfer the pie from the floured surface to the stone. Bake at 450 for 10 to 15 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Sprinkle with fresh parsley just before serving.

    WHEW! Now pop the top on a bottle of beer and ENJOY! You deserve it after all that hard work! 🙂

    6 Comments

    Filed under pizza, sausage, shrimp, veggies

    Don’t Delay, Act Now!

    Soup season is about dry up. If you’re thinking about soup, you better get on it because soup season is fading fast.

    Honestly, I’m not all that sad of the passing of soup season. I like soup. I like it a lot. But I like sunshine and warm breezes and summer berries and fresh tomatoes and sweet corn a just a little bit more.

    That’s what makes this time of the year so hard. It’s not quite winter and it’s not quiet summer. Some may call it “Spring.” I’m curious about this phenomenon known as spring. In the Midwest, I’m not sure we really experience spring.

    There’s an obvious summer. If 90 degrees and 100% humidity doesn’t scream summer, I’m not sure what does.

    There’s fall – full of pumpkins, sweatshirts and football. Summer is great for many reasons but those beautiful days in September and October are probably the best of the year, right? Yes. I agree.

    There’s winter. Please. One word: Blizzards. One more: 35 below. Wait, that’s two. See also: Here.

    And then there’s Not Quite Winter Anymore but Still Pretty Cold, Grey and Windy with One More Wallop of Snow after You Thought it was Over and Already Put Your Snow Blower Away. Also known as: Spring.

    Witness Exhibit A: The view from our back door on a March day.


    Notice the abundance of sunshine and the absence of five foot drifts of snow. Look, there’s the deck! I knew we had one of those! And the grass! It’s still there! We made it! We’re through!

    Oh, Spring – such an evil, cruel tease. 3 days later we woke up to more snow. So, I guess we’re not completely out of soup season yet. If there’s still snow on the ground in your neighborhood, may I recommend a big, warm, comforting bowl of Cheesy Potato Soup.  Guaranteed to improve your mood and warm your soul. I actually made this soup quite a few weeks ago (could it have been January still?? Whenever it was, we were still knee deep in soup season, that’s for sure!) but I was thinking about it again this week with our First Day of Spring Snow.

    This recipe hails from another one of my awesome Christmas cookbook gifts –  The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen! It is all kinds of fun and awesome. It’s full of down-home, comforting recipes and kitschy country crafts. I just love it. It’s too cute for words.

    What intrigued me about this recipe was the fact that soup portion and the creamy cheese sauce portion of the recipe are made separately, then mixed together, heated through and served. This is a different method than I’ve seen in the past and one I like. I avoid whole milk and heavy cream in cooking (baking/desserts…that’s a different story) and will almost always try to finagle a way to use low-fat milk instead (1% usually). I have found in the past that it works well in most applications. The one place it doesn’t work so well is if the milk mixture is cooked too long. Something happens to it – it breaks down, separates, curdles, SOMETHING. It changes the texture and makes it…not good. This is what happened the last time I made soup with a low-fat milk base. General Fail.

    With this method though, I was able to make the cheese sauce on the side, cooking the low fat milk until just thickened. Then I added my cheese to melt and stirred the whole thing into my pot of soup. Total time on the heat for the milk – about 10 minutes. It came out PERFECT. Creamy, cheesy and so delicious. I had some broccoli lying around that needed to be used up so I tossed that in there at the very end of the simmering time for the soup. No need to add that if you don’t have it or don’t prefer it. I also cooked up some bacon to crumble on top of each bowl. Again, just my preference. I like bacon.

    CHEESY POTATO SOUP (Recipe Adapted from: The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen by Teri Edwards & Serena Thompson)

    INGREDIENTS:

    • 4 tablespoons butter
    • 1 cup diced carrots
    • 4 cups chicken broth (1 32oz. carton)
    • 5 cups peeled and cubed russet potatoes (about 4 medium, 1/2-inch cube)
    • 1 teaspoon dried basil
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
    • 1 cup chopped broccoli florets (I added because I had some to lose up, feel free to add more, less or none at all!)
    • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 cups milk (lowfat or whole)
    • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
    • 6 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled (1 slice per bowl, optional)

    DIRECTIONS:

    Make the soup: Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the carrots and cook until softened-about 4 minutes. Add broth, potatoes, basil, salt,, and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes (or until potatoes are tender). If using broccoli, add about 5 minutes prior to the end of the simmering time.

    Make the cheese sauce: Melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and simmer until slightly thickened – about 2 minutes. Add the cheese and stir until melted and thoroughly combined. Gradually pour the sauce into the soup and stir until blended and heat through. Garnish each bowl with a crumbled bacon. Makes 6 generous servings.

    ENJOY! 🙂

    One Year Ago: Amazing Slow Cooker Pork Tenderloin – super easy and so delicious!
    Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream – as good as it sounds!

    5 Comments

    Filed under soup, veggies

    The Amazing Shrinking Pastry Crust

    In all my adventures in cooking and baking, I hadn’t yet tackled a baked egg dish. What could be better for a Sunday brunch/lunch than fluffy baked eggs, loaded with cheese, veggies and meat? For my introduction to this wonderfulness, I decided to go with a classic – Quiche Lorraine. On the side, I served up a simple green salad dressed with homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious! Light but satisfying at the same time. 🙂

    Quiche Lorraine is a classic French dish that combines a flaky pastry crust with eggs, milk or cream, Swiss or Gruyere cheese and bacon. Some recipes call for onion as well. It’s all baked in the oven until warm and golden and then sliced and served like a piece of pie.

    Here’s an example of where I had every intention of taking a store bought shortcut but ended up making everything from scratch instead. How often does that happen? It’s usually the other way around! I debated back and forth about making my own pastry. After much consideration, I decided I would use store bought pie crust this go round and save the pastry for another time. Well. I forgot to BUY the pie crust. D’oh! But I had the butter, flour and ice water necessary to make my own so rather than go back to the store, I decided I’d just make it myself.

    I baked my pastry and quiche in a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom as suggested in the recipe because I thought it would make for a prettier presentation than a standard pie plate. I ran into a pretty major snafu – my crust SHRANK LIKE CRAZY! Blast!

    I noticed it the minute I took it out of the oven – a HUGE gap between the pastry and the pan on one side of the pie. I had one of those “this can’t be good” moments, but moved forward anyway thinking I could somehow carefully pour the egg mixture into the crust and NOT have it overflow and run into that space.

    Um. Yeah. That’s impossible. Can’t be done. I poured the eggs into the crust, where they immediately spilled over the pastry like a river flooding its bank and started leaking out the bottom of my tart pan, which luckily, was already on a baking sheet covered in foil.

    Eep. 😐

    I tossed that thing in the oven to bake and immediately set out to find out what in the world causes insane pastry shrinkage. Ha. That makes me think of Seinfeld. Maybe my pastry decided to go swimming and the water was too cold?

    Anyway…

    I couldn’t really come up with a definitive answer. I got everything from the dough wasn’t cold enough, to it was too wet, to I stretched it too much in the pan. I swear I didn’t make any of these mistakes along the way, but maybe I did. Oh well.

    In the end, the half of my quiche that was not overrun by runny eggs was quite good! The pastry actually had a really great flavor and flake to it. It paired very well with other ingredients, all of which brought their own flavor to the table – salty, crispy bacon, creamy cheese, a slight bite from the scallions. We both enjoyed it very much. The other half…well…it was a little more frittata-like than quiche-like. It still ate, but the crust just got lost inside the egg and it certainly wasn’t as pretty.

    So, pastry experts! Any tips for a Newb? Is there a way to insure butter pastry won’t shrink? Any tricks of the trade to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    QUICHE LORRAINE WITH A SIMPLE SALAD (Recipe Adapted From: Emeril Lagasse via Foodnetwork.com)

    INGREDIENTS:

    • 1 recipe for Flaky Butter Crust, recipe follows
    • 6 ounces thick cut bacon, cut into narrow strips
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 large egg yolks
    • 1 1/4 cups half-and-half (I used fat free)
    • 3 scallions, white and greens, chopped.
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
    • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 cup grated Gruyere or Swiss
    • 1 recipe for Simple Salad, recipe follows

    DIRECTIONS:

    On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry dough in to an 11-inch circle. Fit into a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and trim the edges. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

    Line the pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the crust is set, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove the paper and weights and bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

    In a medium skillet, cook the bacon until crisp and the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Discard the fat or reserve for another use.

    Arrange the bacon evenly over the bottom of the baked crust.

    In a large bowl, beat the eggs, yolks, and half and half. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk to combine. Pour into the prepared crust and bake until the custard is golden, puffed, and set yet still slightly wiggly in the center, 30 to 35 minutes.

    Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with Simple Salad.

    FLAKY BUTTER CRUST:

    • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
    • 1 to 2 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed (I needed about 4)

    To make the dough in a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and butter in the processor and process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 seconds. With the machine running, add the ice water through the feed tube and pulse quickly 5 or 6 times, or until the dough comes together and starts to pull away from the sides of the container. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

    Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface according to the recipe, fit it into the pan, and allow to rest again in the refrigerator before baking.

    Yield: one 9-inch tart or pie crust

    SIMPLE SALAD

    • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
    • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar, optional
    • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 3/4 cup olive oil
    • Assorted salad greens, for accompaniment

    Beat the vinegar in a bowl with the sugar, garlic, salt and pepper until sugar and salt dissolves. Then beat in the oil by droplets, whisking constantly. (Or place all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake to combine.) Taste and adjust the seasonings.

    Toss a few tablespoons of the dressing with the salad mix and serve immediately.

    If not using dressing right away, cover and refrigerate, whisking or shaking again before use.

    ENJOY! 🙂

    One Year Ago: Chicken Piccata

    8 Comments

    Filed under breakfast, veggies

    Holy Guacamole!

    I would like to formally petition to add guacamole to the list of the things I thought I didn’t like but actually do. Alphabetically, it would come after eggplant but before sweet potatoes. 🙂

    It’s no surprise as a kid I didn’t like guacamole. I mean…LOOK.AT.IT. It’s a freaky bright green AND creamy. Ew. No, thanks. Pass the Velveeta dip, please…

    Well, as customary with most things I thought I didn’t like but actually do, I am now kicking myself for staying away so long. I should have known that actual guac pays no resemblance whatsoever to the green-powder drenched guacamole flavored Doritos I once stuffed my face with in college after a particularly long night out on the town.

    After that? SOURED. Seriously. I’m not sure they even make those anymore. It’s probably for the best. If you do see ‘em, resist those strangely perfect green triangles of highly processed corn product. You are better off. Just trust me, okay? Great. 🙂

    Stick with the real thing, because unlike it’s green Dorito cousin, actual guacamole is a hearty, healthy and satisfying snack. Avocados are insanely good for you, full of the heart healthy fat we SHOULD be eating. The Dorito version? Not so much.

    To save on added calories, serve it up with baked tortilla chips instead of fried. Or ditch the chips all together and use crunchy carrot or celery sticks as your dippers instead. Anyway you smash it, guac is good and good-for-you eats.

    For our Super Bowl party this year, I decided to try my hand at some homemade guac. I’d never made it before, but how hard could it be, right? Truth be told – it’s not hard at all! Actually, it’s simple! It seems everyone has an opinion on what makes a good guacamole and even though I’m new to its wonderfulness, I had pretty good idea of what I wanted in my final product. First of all, I wanted there to be some definite texture and chunkiness to it – too pureed and I’m put off. That’s part of the reason I was interested in recipes that included both diced tomato and onion. Second, I have quite the hatred for cilantro (sorry, cilantro fans) so I knew I’d be leaving that out.

    This recipe from my gal Ina fit the bill PERFECTLY. It’s a snap to throw together and it’s super fresh and delicious. The best part is you can adjust the ingredients to your liking. Salt is a key component to this, as it really makes the flavors pop. Be sure to taste as you go and season liberally. Then watch your party guests devour it. Or better yet, take the bowl, hide in a dark closet and eat it all yourself! 🙂

    GUACAMOLE (Recipe Source: Ina Garten, Foodnetwork.com)

    INGREDIENTS:

    • 4 ripe Haas avocados
    • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (I subbed lime)
    • 8 dashes hot pepper sauce
    • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
    • 1 large garlic clove, minced
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 medium tomato, seeded, and small-diced

    DIRECTIONS:

    Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. Immediately add the lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper. Makes about 3 cups.

    ENJOY! 🙂

    One year ago: Lemon-scented mini-cheesecakes with mixed berry topping. One of the most popular posts on my blog to date! I loved these little guys. 🙂

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    Filed under appetizers, veggies