Monday, April 30, 2012

Getting the hang of this bread thing

Last week I found this recipe for a version of the “Outback Steakhouse” bread.  I always LOVED that bread.  My husband I haven’t been to Outback in forever, so I thought it would be fun to try to recreate it.

Note to self - don’t make bread on a Friday evening.  It didn’t come out of the oven until midnight.  My husband and I ate a few bites, but we were tired and wanted to go to bed.  It was so good right out of the oven though.  Warm and super soft and airy.  I put the loaves in an airtight container and we ate more over the weekend.  Just popped it in the microwave before eating and it was still pretty yummy.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly because I’m not a fan of caramel color.  I recognize that it’s derived from a plant, but it’s still very processed and I didn’t want that.  I wasn’t that concerned with getting the bread to be the dark color - I just wanted the flavor.  It’s a great basic honey whole wheat. It has this nice sweetness to it and, for me, 
the texture is perfect - not too dense. I don't like breads that seem stale right out of the oven. Yesterday I made a sandwich using leftover lamb and provolone cheese. It was a perfect match because the lamb is slightly sweet and the bread is slightly sweet. It was fantastic.

This recipe makes 8 small loaves.  I scaled it down to make 4 small loaves.  I want to make it again however and make a larger, “normal” size loaf and use it for our everyday bread.  I may be getting addicted to the bread making thing - I’m starting to think it would be great to just make our own sandwich bread.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Asparagus and Cucumber Salad

As I mentioned in a previous post, I eat soup just about every day.  I have a very routine evening eating habit as well - salad, entree, dessert.  I keep my salads very light, but I must have one.  I just love the fresh veggies and it's a perfect start to the evening.  I try to keep them seasonal and usually use a light italian dressing or simple olive oil and vinegar.

I found this recipe recently and I thought it looked yummy.  However, potatoes are too heavy for a weekday salad.  So I replaced the potatoes with diced cucumbers.  And since I was being lazy, I’ve been just dressing it with my normal dressings.  But I love it.  Everything is small and crunchy and light.  It’s a perfect spring salad.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pizza Rolls!!

Halfway through making this recipe, Michael and I were both thinking - there’s no way these are worth it.  The sauce is easy, but the whole wonton part is messy and oh so time consuming.  I couldn’t imagine they would be good enough that I would ever want to do all that again.  But I was wrong.  These things are TA-STY!!  I mean, I’m certainly not going to make them every weekend, but I’ll definitely make them again.  They were crispy and had this great sweetness that a really good spaghetti sauce has.  When I make them again I may try adding pepperoni and more cheese.  In fact, I think I would add a sprinkling of cheese on top of the tablespoon of sauce in the hopes of creating a melty, cheesy layer between the sauce and the top of the wonton.  :)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

My vegetable soup - late April edition

This weekend I decided to make my veggie soup again and change up the ingredients to match the season.  After some research on what is in season at the moment and based on what I saw in the grocery, I chose asparagus, artichokes, leeks, spinach, and fingerling potatoes with thyme, parsley and bay for the herbs.  When deciding on these ingredients, I realized that they are much more delicate than previous soups, so I needed to alter the cooking method as well.

I ended up not finding the baby artichokes that I wanted, so I went with frozen peas.  I love them and they really remind me of spring.  And the frozen ones have this great “pop” that the fresh ones don’t have.  Also, I kept the diced tomatoes in the recipe because I wanted tomatoes, but I drained them because I didn’t want the broth to be too tomatoey.

The recipe is below, but basically I sauteed the leeks and spinach, boiled the potatoes and asparagus (in mostly water because I wanted the soup to be lighter) and then added them all together.  After about 6 minutes I added the herbs and salts.  And finished with the peas and some lemon juice and lemon zest.  It came out super fresh and light and perfect for spring.  I still ended up cooking it too long - my potatoes were pretty mushy.  The recipe below is adjusted to what I think the time should be.

Late April Spring Vegetable Soup
Yield: 6-8

1 Tbsp Butter
2 Leekssliced
8 cups Water
2 cups Chicken Stock
1 bunch Asparagusdiced into 1 inch pieces
1.5 pounds Fingerling Potatoes
2 cups Spinach
1 can Diced Tomatoesdrain most of liquid
1 Tbsp Herbs De Provancedried
1 ½ Tbsp Thymefresh
2 Tbsp Parsleyfresh
3 Bay Leavesfresh
1 Tbsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper(I used white pepper)
1 tsp Garlic Salt
1 package Spring Peasfrozen
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice(about ½ a lemon)
1 Tbsp Lemon Zest(about ½ a lemon)
Olive Oil

Heat butter in sauté pan over med high heat.  Add the leeks and sauté until golden.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In large stock pot, add water and chicken stock.  Then add potatoes and bring to boil.  Once boiling, add asparagus and cook for about 5 mins. and then turn down to a simmer.

Meanwhile, reheat the leeks, add about ¾ of the spinach and sauté until just wilted.  Add all to soup, along with the rest of the spinach.

Add tomatoes and herbs and salts and pepper.  Cook for a few mins. - at this point, your potatoes should be just about right.

Turn off heat.  Add package of frozen peas.  Add juice and zest of ½ lemon.  Stir and let sit for about 5 minutes while the peas thaw.  Serve immediately with a drizzle of olive oil and an extra squeeze of lemon.  Or refrigerate immediately to stop the cooking.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Celebrity Sighting (oh and a chocolate chip cookie)

From the title of this post, you can tell what was the most exciting part of making this cookie.  Don’t get me wrong - the cookie is yummy!  But, while getting the ingredients for this cookie at Whole Foods, we saw Jared Padalecki.  I love Gilmore Girls and Supernatural, so this was a little overwhelming for me.  As we walked into Whole Foods, there he was, walking in as well.  By himself, nothing fancy, no entourage.  He looked a little overwhelmed - he obviously had not been there before.  I ended up behind him on the escalator and was too starstruck to even think to take a photo.  Plus, I did think it would be rude to take a pic of his backside.  :)
We made some eye contact over cart selection and there was sun in my eyes (literally, that’s not a metaphor) so I kind of squinted up at him.  My husband, who was behind me, did smile at him.  And then I proceeded to hyperventilate a bit.  I may have been shaking too.  I’ve never reacted like that to a star sighting, but it was just so unexpected and he’s been a part of my TV watching since 2001, so I kind of lost it.  I was able to calm myself and we had some dinner before shopping.  We saw him one more time, and then he was gone.  But that made my night - who am I kidding, it made my weekend!

Anyway, the cookie was from this recipe.  I didn’t really follow all of the directions - the author recommended refrigerating the dough overnight or longer and I wanted cookies last night.  But they were exactly what I was looking for... just a basic, yummy chocolate chip cookie.  The recipe makes A LOT!  For me, it made about 7 dozen.  I only baked 16, and then I froze the rest in nice little scoops, so we can have cookies whenever we want.  For a really long time.  And now, the day after, the cookies we made are a really nice crispy/chewy combo.  I definitely recommend the recipe.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Maw Maw’s Spaghetti (and a yummy cinnamon roll)

This weekend my Mom was in town.  She’s visited many times, so we’re past doing a lot of touristy stuff.  On Sunday, we decided to take it easy and stick with my tradition of testing recipes.  Our whole family has been trying to recreate my Maw Maw’s* spaghetti and it’s never quite right.  Over Christmas I had her walk me through the recipe, and I tried it, but with no luck.  So, I asked my Mom to try to make it while she was here since she used to help her Mom make it.  My first inkling that this was going to work was when we were buying the ingredients and my Mom was very discerning about the sausage.  It had to have a certain “look”.  I knew this was a good sign and I was right!  She made a remarkable close version of the dish.  I will need to add more water next time because the sauce was not quite “saucy” enough.  And I would like to try it with different smoke sausages.  But it was oh so yummy!  The flavor is very hard to describe, which is why it was hard to nail down.  It’s sort of a “country” spaghetti - not really Italian, but maybe a mix of Italian and German.  I definitely think the fact that the smoked sausage had paprika in it is significant, but I’m not sure about the other sausage ingredients.  I’m so excited to have a good hold on this recipe.  And it’s fairly decent calorically, so I could even eat it as a weekday lunch and not feel bad.

I have to admit, I feel a bit protective of the recipe, but I will share it here anyway :)

Grice Spaghetti
Yield: 8 servings

1 pound Pre-Cooked, Smoked Sausage,something with paprika, like a german sweet or kielbasa
½ Onion, chopped
2 ribs Celery, chopped
1 can Tomato Sauce
1 pound Spaghetti
A Little Pasta Water

Fry sausage until crispy, remove from pan

Sauté onions and celery until soft, about 8 mins.  Add tomato sauce and one can of water (or more).  Cook for another 10-15 mins.

Meantime, cook spaghetti until just shy of al dente (it should still have quite a bit of bite to it), drain and add pasta to sauce.  Add a little pasta water to sauce if sauce is too thick or there is not enough liquid - the sauce should be a bit soupy.

Bring to boil, turn off heat, cover and let pasta sit until sauce is absorbed - approx. 30-45 mins.

Serve with sliced pickles and cheddar cheese.


Cinnamon Roll Redo

I also wanted to try a traditional cinnamon roll (after the not so wonderful one I made last week).  I knew I would need to tackle using yeast, so I just went for it.  I found this recipe and it seemed pretty straightforward and easy.  And it was.  The only thing I altered was that I used almond milk instead of real milk.  Since I’ve never had the rolls with real milk, I had nothing to compare it to.  But we all loved the way they came out, so I’ll just keep using almond milk, since that’s what I always have in the fridge.  They were light and fluffy and had a great, true cinnamon roll flavor.  Maybe even with a hint of the almond, which is a good thing in my opinion.  I need to work on the icing though... I wanted it to be more like a frosting than a glaze, but it didn’t work out.  Need to try some different ideas - less milk or more butter maybe?  Also, using yeast was not as scary as I thought, so maybe I’ll actually try a bread recipe soon.
I’m rewriting the recipe here since the original website seems to be protected - I couldn’t copy it into my recipe program.

Cinnamon Rolls
Yield: 8 Rolls

For the dough:
3 ¼ cups All Purpose Flour
¾ Tbsp Rapid Rise Yeast
4 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, melted
4 Tbsp Sugar
¾ tsp Salt
1 ¼ cup Milk, warmed

For the filling:
6 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp melted butter

For the glaze:
1 cup Powdered sugar
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 tsp butter, at room temp
3-4 Tbsp Milk (I used half and half)

1) In a large mixing bowl, combine milk, sugar, and yeast.  Let stand for 2-3 minutes.  Then add in the melted butter and salt (I used my Kitchenaid mixer with the whisk attachment)
2) Mix in the flour slowly, stir everything together
3) Knead for about 3-4 minutes until the dough becomes smooth.  (I used the whisk attachment until dough came together and then I switched to the kneading attachment and kneaded the dough for about 3 minutes)
4) Knead by hand for about 1 minute on floured board.  Place in greased bowl and cover with wet towel.  Place in warm spot and let rise about 30-40 minutes
5) Gently deflate the dough and knead for a minute
6) Roll out the dough to a 10-12” rectangle on lightly floured surface. (This took awhile - several minutes).  Brush with the melted butter.  Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together and spreads mixture all over rectangle..  Roll into a log starting with the long side.  Pinch to close.  Once rolled, cut approx. 8-10 rolls (about 1 inch in width).  Place the slices flat on a greased baking dish.  Cover and let rise - about 45 mins to an hour.
7) Preheat oven to 350F and bake rolls for 22-25 minutes until golden brown.
8) Make the glaze: Whisk together sugar, butter, vanilla and milk until it reaches a thick, but still pourable consistency.
9) Once rolls are done, let cool for 10-15 mins and then cover with glaze.
10) Serve warm

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sweet Spring Supper

Yesterday my husband and I had some friends and family over to celebrate spring.  I love entertaining - I get to cook all kinds of food and spend time with wonderful people.  It makes me super happy.
This was the menu...
Jelly Bean Martini

Bacon “Chips”
Deviled eggs
Caramel Pecan buns
Beecher’s Flagship cheese with Pear
Hillary’s addition: Chicken and Avocado dip/salad

4-Hour lamb
Provencal French beans
Sausage & mushroom strata

Chocolate cream pie
Easter candy

As soon as I decided to have a party, I knew I wanted to try to make lamb.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been enjoying lamb and thought it would be perfect for this meal.  Ironically, as I was scouring over various lamb recipes, I caught a “Barefoot Contessa” episode where she prepares a 4 hour lamb with french white beans.  It was exactly what I was looking for - an easy to make, lamb dish and a simple, elegant side dish.

Lamb Prep

After that, I decided on the chocolate pie.  I don’t know why, but I saw an image of one and instantly wanted to make it.  I didn’t end up making that recipe... I ended up making an America’s Test Kitchen recipe because I have found that if there are a ton of recipes for something, ATK’s recipe is always the best one.  And it was pretty darn tasty - I mean they had me with the oreo crust.  It was also fairly easy to make which was a plus.

Pie Prep

Then I decided I wanted to add a “breakfast” item to the entrees and as soon as I saw the sausage and mushroom strata recipe, I knew it was perfect.  It has to sit overnight, so it’s something you can make the night before.  And then it’s just heat and serve.  So easy.  And the sausage and mushrooms were yummy together.  I think I would use a sweet italian sausage next time.  Or, as my husband suggested, sliced cured sausage.

Sausage & Mushroom Strata

For the “starters”, I chose the bacon “chips” because these had been on my list of things to make for some time now.  And they were tasty!!  I wish it were easier to make a large batch, because they would be great for parties, but I feel like no matter how much I made, it would never be enough - they are like crack.  (note: although the recipe reads easy to do, it significantly depends on super crispy bacon and unless you have many baking sheets and large or multiple ovens, you have to do multiple batches if you want a large amount of “chips” - I simply didn’t have the time to devote to that and would never have that kind of time while prepping for a party).  Also, I added to the recipe a bit - I made some with cayenne and some with paprika.  Both were good, but I think the kick of the cayenne was a bit better.  Seriously, they are so addictive.

Bacon Chips

Secondly, I decided to make mini-cinnamon rolls.  As you can see from the link, this was not a “mini” recipe, but I thought the recipe sounded good (and didn’t involve yeast, which I did not want to deal with) and felt like I could just make smaller rolls.  Well, I’m not the greatest baker and I’m not sure what happened, but the dough was very gooey and there was no way I could roll it or spread it out.  I was about to throw in the towel when I thought: I’ll just add the filling ingredients into the dough and make muffins!  They were super good right out of the oven, hot and gooey and soft, but as they sat, they did get a little hard.  I found that if the muffin happened to get a good amount of the filling in it, then it was super tasty - caramelly and gooey and kind of broke apart like monkey bread.  But if there was not a lot of filling, then it was a little “hockey puck-ish”.  I think I may just bite the bullet and start trying to make things with yeast.

Caramel Sticky Muffins

I also made deviled eggs - just my normal recipe (eggs, little mayo, lots and lots of pickle relish and pickle juice), but I did add finely diced celery this time and I think I liked that.  And I put out some Beecher’s Flagship cheese that we picked up at this new place near our house - Henri’s - with some pears.  Beecher’s is so good and it was perfect with the pears.

And thanks to Hillary, we had this incredibly yummy chicken and avocado dip/salad.  I think it was originally a chicken salad recipe, but she made it into more of a dip and we ate it with chips.  It was fantastic!  We completely devoured it.  I’ll see if she will provide more details in the comments.

Onto the lamb and white beans... I was so nervous about this dish.  But, as you can see from the recipe, it was so easy!  It came out tender and succulent - it really absorbs all the flavors of the wine and the herbs.  And the white beans are a perfect accompaniment!  You basically use all of the same herbs in the bean dish, so the flavors meld nicely.  I piled my lamb on top of the beans and covered the whole thing with sauce and was very happy indeed.  I would like to try lamb chops as well, but for this party, I wanted each guests to be able to take as much or as little lamb as they wanted, so I knew the shank was better for that.
I would probably cook the beans (the step before combining with the herbs) slightly less next time.  They were perfectly al dente when I drained them, but they continued to cook and, in my opinion, ended up a little too mushy.  They were delicious, but I wanted more bite to them.

4-Hour Lamb & Provencal French Beans

My last addition to the menu was the jelly bean martini.  I saw this about a week ago and thought it was so perfect in color and sounded yummy.  I used the Starburst jelly beans (watermelon - picked from a mixed bag) because I know they have a strong flavor and Tito’s vodka.  My husband was the bartender and did a great job mixing them up.  They were yummy, but I wanted more jelly bean flavor - I didn’t have a high enough jelly bean to vodka ratio.  I think if I did this again, I would simply buy one flavor of jelly belly so I could make sure I had enough jelly beans.

Jelly Bean Martini

Overall I was super happy with how everything turned out!  It was so great to spend the day with everyone.  The weather was nice, we had a lovely walk after dinner and then we came back and had pie!

Chocolate Cream Pie

Wow!  So, so good!!  Rich and decadent and silky smooth.  And a perfect chocolate flavor.  Seriously, you can never go wrong with an America’s Test Kitchen recipe.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Parmesan Chicken with Caesar Roasted Romaine

This dish is SO good!  I found this recipe about a week ago via Flipboard.  It was posted originally by Bon Appetite, so I was pretty sure it was going to be good.  It seemed easy and low in calories, so it was a perfect weeknight recipe.  Honestly though, I did not expect it to be this good!  I do contribute part of its yumminess to the fact that I bought some fantastic chicken breasts from Whole Foods.  They were more expensive than I would normally spend, but I think they were worth it.  It was so moist and juicy and super easy to make.

I was also fascinated by the idea of roasting the romaine.  Roasting it gives it this great depth of flavor - it really intensifies the crisp freshness of the lettuce, while the texture becomes luscious and velvety.  I topped it with olive oil, garlic, salt, and white pepper before it went into the oven and when I took it out, I added parsley and a sprinkle of parmesan.  I decided not to add the anchovies because, although I like the flavor of anchovies, I’m not a fan of the fillets.

The best part, one breast and ½ romaine heart is 360 calories!!  I love it!!  I definitely plan on making this often.

Some notes:

When I took the chicken out of the oven, I left it on the pan, tented in aluminum foil for about 10 mins.
Also, my chicken took about 20-25 mins to cook fully

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Recipe Recreations...

This weekend I decided to recreate a couple of the dishes I loved at Poppy in Seattle.  Particularly the Crab, Avocado & Grapefruit Salad and the Eggplant fries.

First, the eggplant fries...
I was a bit nervous to try these because I don’t love eggplant - but I did love these at Poppy and I felt like I could make it work.  Also, I knew I wanted to bake them since I wanted them to be healthier and frying is just messy.  I found this recipe and felt it came close to what I was wanting.  It was a good start but I had to change it quite a bit.

I had also considered doing 2 batches - one just like the recipe and one where I dessicated the eggplant.  But the more I looked at recipes, no one was using the desiccation technique, so I decided it wasn’t worth it.

Initially I tried exactly what the recipe called for but it just didn’t work.  The eggplant is too slick and wet and the panko and breadcrumb mixture didn’t stick at all.  Michael suggested removing the “fries” and wiping them clean and then coating them in flour first.  That seemed to work at first, but when I got to the breadcrumb step again, still nothing stuck.  So I decided to start over entirely.  Luckily, I had planned to only use ½ the eggplant, so I had the other half to try some adjustments.

I got rid of everything and started from scratch.  After slicing the eggplant, I coated the fries in flour, then coated them in 2 WHOLE eggs, not just egg white.  I want them to be as low-cal as possible, but I just don’t think the egg whites have enough binder.  Then I coated them in the panko mixture and it worked perfectly.  I cooked them for about 12 mins and they were perfectly crisp and tasty.  And then, with the honey, they were ooey, gooey yumminess.  Truly a perfect sub for fries.

Some notes:
Pre-coat with flour (possibly add salt to flour)
Use whole eggs (may not need to do this - when I make these again I will try just the whites to make sure)
More salt in bread crumbs, plus add herbs
Maybe drizzle with olive oil before going in oven - the Poppy fries were more luscious (but I also think theirs were actually fried)
Michael suggested taking the skin off the eggplant, but it didn’t bother me

Eggplant Fries
Makes about 60-70 fries

1/2 large Eggplant, sliced into thin strips
1/4 cup Flour
1 cup Panko
1/2 cup Plain Bread Crumbs
Seasonings - I used garlic salt, paprika, & cinnamon (but I would add Herbs and more salt next time)
2 Whole Eggs
2 Tbsp Honey

Preheat oven to 400. 
Slice your eggplant into very thin strips.
Put flour in ziploc bag.
Whisk two eggs in a medium-large bowl. 
Add 2 cups panko, 1 cup plain bread crumbs and seasonings to a ziploc bag and shake.
Place a handful of your raw eggplant fries into the bag of flour and shake to coat.
Then transfer to bowl with the eggs and coat well.
Place egg coated eggplant fries into the panko/bread crumb mixture and shake all around to coat the fries with the mixture.
Place your coated eggplant fries onto your pan (not overlapping) and cook about 10-12 minutes, or until browned and crispy. 
Once out of the oven, sprinkle with kosher salt.
Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce - I drizzled them with honey

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size - 12 fries; Calories 168; Total Fat 2.67g; Sodium 167.28mg; Total Carbohydrate 30.47g; Sugars 2.8g; Protein 5.8g


Then I made the Crab, Avocado, Hearts of Palm & Grapefruit Salad.  I just made this up from what I remembered.  Obviously I knew the main ingredients, but I couldn’t remember if there were greens and if there were, I didn’t know what kind.  I decided I wanted some kind of green.  I wanted to use watercress because I thought their delicateness would be a perfect compliment.  But I couldn’t find any, so I went with arugula because it’s my favorite green right now.

Then there was the dressing.  Again, I couldn’t really remember what they had, but I seem to recall a citrusy quality.  I went with grapefruit juice, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, honey, salt and a little, really good olive oil.  I was super happy with this and may use it on other salads!

Also, we tried to be thrifty and bought claw meat - being from New Orleans we both love the claw meat, but for this salad, you really need the clean, fresh flavor of the lump.  And, ideally, the freshest crab possible.

Overall it was quite yummy - very light and full of citrus flavor, which makes it a perfect spring salad.  Honestly, you could leave the crab off entirely and it would be a good, inexpensive, weeknight salad.

Some notes:
Use fresh, good quality, lump crab meat
Loved everything else, especially the dressing
Would like to try it with watercress

Crab, Avocado, Hearts of Palm and Grapefruit Salad

Makes 2 salads

For Salad:
2 cups Arugula Or Watercress
¼ Avocados, diced very small
4 - 6 Tbsp Lump Crab Meat, separated into chunks
2 stalks Hearts Of Palm, sliced finely
½ Grapefruit, separated into segments

For Dressing:
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Grapefruit Juice
1 tsp Lemon Juice
2 Tbsp Honey
⅛ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
¼ tsp Salt

For the dressing: whisk all ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.  (note: this makes more than the 2 salads, so you can save what's left for other salads)

For the salad:
Place 1 cup arugula in a bowl
Add 1 Tbsp diced avocado (about ¼ of ½ avocado)
Add 2 - 4 Tbsp crab
Add 1 stalk, sliced hearts of palm
Add 4 grapefruit segments
Cover with 2-3 tbsp of the dressing and mix gently with fingers to keep everything from breaking apart

Repeat for second salad.

Nutrition Facts:
Salad: Calories - 68; Total Fat - 4.4g; Sodium - 170mg; Sugars - 2.8g; Protein - 2.6g
Dressing: Calories - 40; Total Fat - 2.7g; Sodium - 58mg; Sugars - 3.7g; Protein - 0