Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Semi-Vegetarian Lasagna

For some odd reason, I do not know how to make regular lasagna. I'm sure that I could go to any website out there and find a recipe for lasagna, but instead I always buy the box of Creamette and make their vegetarian lasagna that's featured on the back. One reason I make it? Because it's a no-boil recipe and I've discovered that I probably don't make regular lasagna because I'm intimidated as hell at the thought of boiling noodles and trying to assemble a "real" lasagna.

So here's my tricked out version of Creamette's finest - it's a good makeahead dish to throw in the bottom of your fridge, bake on a cold evening and eat the leftovers for the next couple days after that. (Move over Wheaties - I have a new source of breakfast goodness.)
Vegetarian Lasagna
adapted from Creamette


First, saute a clove or two of minced garlic in some olive oil. Add some sliced mushrooms and saute until tender. Then I usually take a can of Hunt's sauce (it's cheap, it makes several meals, I love it) and add it to make the sauce. Recently to please my honey, I added some ground beef to suit his palate.

Ricotta mixture:

1 15-16 oz. container of low-fat ricotta cheese
3 c. shredded cheese (I usually use a mix of Italian cheeses - provelone, Parmesan and mozzarella)
2 eggs

Mix these bad boys together.

To assemble:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put 1/2 cup of sauce mix on the bottom of a greased 9x13 pan. Pick up your lasagna noodles and spread on some ricotta mixture. I've never thought about it, but I usually put the noodles cheese down in the pan. I don't think it really matters. You'll get about three or four lasagnas per layer of noodles. I then put down a layer of fresh spinach leaves and top it with some more sauce. Repeat with a layer of cheesy awesome noodles. More spinach and sauce. Finally top with another layer of cheesy noodles. At this point, you should be out of sauce and top this layer with some Parmesan cheese or whatever suits your fancy in the Italian cheese world.

Cover with tin foil and bake the lasagna for 45 to 50 minutes until hot and bubbly. Uncover and let stand for a couple more minutes.

This stuff also freezes well. If you're going to freeze, cover the lasagna with some plastic wrap and then some tin foil. Before baking, remove the plastic wrap and recover with foil. Thawed lasagna can be baked for 45-50 minutes at 350 degrees. Frozen lasagna is going to take you about two hours.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

An interesting request ...

I was slaving away at the cab company today (Read: Catching up on email and reading a cookbook) when my future sister-in-law asked me if I knew any blogs that were about kitchen organization. And no, I really didn't until I Googled "kitchen organization blog" and found this consortium of sorts of blogs on WordPress that have entries about kitchen organization. Because the list looked so nifty, I thought I'd share.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jambalaya Casserole

Prepare yourself to fall in love ... the first time I made this, I was really apprehensive because this is a recipe that is built to make THREE casseroles and it's jambalaya - you kiss a lot of frogs before you find a keeper, I've found.

Jambalaya Casserole

From "Best of Country Casseroles"

3 large onions, chopped
3 large green peppers, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
12 garlic cloves, minced (do not be afraid ...)
1 1/2 c. butter
3 lbs. cooked smoked sausage (I use turkey to cut back on fat ... see 1 1/2 c. butter for explanation)
9 c. chicken broth
6 c. uncooked long grain rice (I used brown ... it worked fine)
3 c. fresh tomatoes, chopped **
1 1/2 c. chopped green onions (I omitted because I didn't have any ... it was fine)
3 T. Worcestershire sauce
3 T. hot pepper sauce

Be easy on yourself - if you have a food processor, pull it out from its dusty perch and use it to chop your veg - a couple pulses should do - you don't want to puree your onions, peppers, celery and garlic. But you don't want to be eating whole garlic cloves either ...

Once chopped, sautee veg in butter until they are crisp-tender. (Not sure what it means - I think you will 'divine' whether it's good to go or not.) Put into a very large bowl and stir into remaining ingredients.

This is enough to make three casseroles. You'll want to bake the jambalaya in shallow, greased casseroles, but I just used regular Tupperware to freeze what I didn't immediately bake. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 45-30 minutes or until rice is tender. (MAKE SURE YOU COVER OR THE RICE WILL NEVER COOK!)

**Variation: When I first made this casserole, I didn't use fresh tomatoes - I used diced tomatoes and saved the juice from the cans to use as liquid in this dish. And if I can read my scribbles from the first time around - you're going to want 2 cans of diced tomatoes (or 3 ... I like tomatoes) and decrease the chicken broth to 7 or 8 cups.

Disclaimer! This stuff freezes well, but if you don't thaw the casserole before you cook it, it will take FOREVER to bake. So make it easy on yourself - thaw it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Rum Cake ... 'tis the season to get MERRY!

I am pretty much in love with the Pioneer Woman Cooks website. First and foremost, the woman is funny. And most importantly, she makes some of the tastiest and most accessible recipes on the Internet. PW's philosophy on cooking is somewhat similar to mine - if it needs ingredients you cannot pronounce, chances are your loved ones won't eat it.

Ever since a friend gave me a taste of rum cake she had brought back from Jamaica a few years back, I've had this odd craving for rum cake. But it's not something that I've made - mostly because I don't have rum in the house, I used to live alone and even now that I live with Ryan - why make an entire cake? Luckily, Ryan and I had a dinner invite a couple weeks back and I got to polish off this gem of a cake. And man - it's everything a cake should be - decadent, moist and most importantly? Easy. This one will show up at future gatherings.

The Pioneer Woman’s Mother-in-Law’s Christmas Rum Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1 small package INSTANT vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup rum (dark or light is fine)
1 cup chopped pecans
Brown sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 325.
Grease and flour Bundt cake pan. Sprinkle nuts over bottom of pan. If desired, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar over the nuts.  Mix all cake ingredients together.  Pour batter over nuts. Smooth out ’til the top is even.  Bake 1 hour, or a little less if the pan is black. Do not overbake!

While cake has ten minutes to go, make the glaze.
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup rum

Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water and sugar. Boil 4 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn off flame and pour in rum. Stir to combine and reheat for 30 seconds.

Remove cake from oven. Immediately drizzle 1/3 of the glaze on the bottom (top) of the cake. Allow to sit for five minutes.

Invert the cake onto a serving plate. Prick surface a hundred times with a fork (gently, please.) Slowly drizzle remaining rum glaze all over the top of the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Cool to room temperature before serving to ensure glaze has soaked in.

Note: You will want to transfer this to another platter before taking out in public. The rum glaze is SUPER STRONG and taking the cake away from the glaze ends up being a good thing, otherwise the edges of the cake taste like a distillery. Also - if you have pets who like to jump up on the counter, make sure you take away the offending cake platter away so they do not sample the rum glaze. I'm just sayin' ...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cookbook Review: Better Homes & Gardens Cook Once, Eat Twice

I got this cookbook last year for a Christmas present after I read about it in one of the several blogs that I subscribe to. It's a great premise - use your crockpot to cook an initial meal and then use the leftovers the next day to create a second totally different meal. However, I come from the school of thought that if you have leftovers - woo hooo! It's another day of bean soup or another plate of pot roast to heat up the next day.

I can see where this particular cookbook might hit your pocketbook a little harder because the recipes themselves are pretty detailed. .... You also have to watch the calorie content in the recipes. 500 calorie recipes might be good for families feeding linebackers, but a wee bit too much for Ryan and I.

Having said all of these things, this is the cookbook that has gotten me over my fear of lamb. Don't get me wrong - I've ate lamb and I've loved it (come to think of it, that sounds really cruel ...) but to cook lamb? Daunting! But with 243 calories, 5 grams of fat and cooked in a crockpot? I can make the Greek Lamb Dinner (p. 74) and use the leftovers in the Lamb Gyro Salad (p. 75).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Monster Cookies

To view the awesomeness that constitutes one of my favorite cookies in the world, view picture below.

I got this recipe from the SingForYourSupper blog, but for some odd reason, I'm having problems with the link, which is here. She found the recipe at AllRecipes, which is here. There's really nothing Christmasy about monster cookies, but the recipe below makes a ton of cookies. Perfect to feed both Ryan's and my coworkers.

Monster Cookies

6 eggs
2 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup butter
2 2/3 cups peanut butter
9 cups rolled oats
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I omitted)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease cookie sheets.
Cream butter and peanut butter together. Add the sugars and stir until well mixed.
Add eggs one at a time, then add vanilla.
Mix oatmeal and baking soda separately, then stir into batter.
Add chocolate chips last. (Omitted!)
Drop by heaping teaspoons onto cookie sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Oreo Balls

My dentist told me about these bad boys when she was filling my latest cavity (irony? I think so) and they sounded so disgustingly good I decided to find them on the Internet. And found them I did at

Oreo Balls
  • 1 package regular size Oreo cookies, crushed
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 package white almond bark
  • 1 package chocolate almond bark


  1. Using a blender or hand held mixer, mix Oreos and cream cheese together. (I used my food processor. Trust me. Dust it off. It works awesomely.)
  2. Roll into walnut size balls.
  3. Chill for an hour.
  4. Melt approximately 3/4 package of white almond bark.
  5. Stick a toothpick in an Oreo ball and dip it in the melted white almond bark. (Did not have toothpick so used skewer from my grill set that I bought last year after Christmas. It worked awesomely.)
  6. Allow to harden on wax paper. This takes about 15 min.
  7. While waiting, melt about 1/4 package of chocolate almond bark.
  8. When Oreo balls are no longer sticky to the touch, decorate with drizzles of chocolate and white almond bark.
  9. I just use a sandwich bag with a tiny hole cut in one corner to drizzle the almond bark. (I accomplished this with a spoon.)
Verdict: These are pretty damn easy to make. I will make them again, I have not, however, tried one because I'm afraid of the addiction it might cause.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas ...

Shopping does not get me into the Christmas spirit. Neither do most television specials (although I weep if I ever watch the cartoon with Baby New Year in it ... crazy, I know.). And whereas Jesus is the reason for the season (I love that particular rhyme because it's cheesy, but true), for me it is Christmas when I start baking.

Since time is short (yeow! Four days until Christmas!), I'm going to flood you with a couple of recipes and posts so you can recreate them for your own eating/sharing pleasure if you wish. One disclaimer though - nothing I really made this year screams Christmas except for the Oreo balls. I was going more for taste than pizzazz, I guess.

The gift bags I made for my co-workers. If they don't love me after this then ... bah humbug!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake

I'll be honest - there's something missing in this recipe and I wasn't too fond of it. I brought it home for Thanksgiving though and supposedly my uncle Dave ate it, so ... but yeah. This isn't going to win any awards and it won't impress the hell out of your friends and families, so I will continue searching for greatness.

Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 (9 inch) prepared graham cracker crust
1/2 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Blend in eggs one at a time. Remove 1 cup of batter and spread into bottom of crust; set aside.
3. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to the remaining batter and stir gently until well blended. Carefully spread over the batter in the crust.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until center is almost set. Allow to cool, then refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Cover with whipped topping before serving.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The method to my madness, Part II

OK – so you know why I love cookbooks as much as I do. Let me know tell you how I “judge” a cookbook and can tell you whether or not it has merit.

Yeah, that last sentence just made me sound way cooler than I truly am. I couldn’t tell you if a cookbook is a good one or not, because they all bring something (literally) to the table. For instance, people go ga-ga over “The Joy of Cooking.” Well, Ryan has a copy and I really don’t like it. I can see where it’s valuable to people who aren’t very experienced with cooking, but if I’m going to make homemade mac and cheese, give me the recipe in its entirety, don’t direct me to a separate section so I can learn to make a roux. On the other hand, my beloved orange “Betty Crocker” book? Is it sad that I think I’d take my copy to the grave with me?

Needless to say, I love cookbooks. And when I get a new one, I go through the book in its entirety and either earmark pages or I use pieces of paper to mark particular recipes that I think will be a good bet. I’ve recently fell in love with using those Post-It flags or bookmarks. That way they actually stick to the page and don’t fall out of the book if you happen to throw it at your cat. (That only happened once and he was creeping toward a freshly baked chicken. And it was a wee paperback. What would you do?)

I will fully admit that between my cookbooks, my cooking magazines, the recipes that I’ve torn for newspapers over the years and my latest addiction to food blogs, I’m probably never going to make every single recipe that I’ve marked and saved.

But part of the fun is trying.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Best of the Blogosphere: Holiday Candy Edition

I've been skulking around the food blog world lately and have decided that there are more recipes out there than time. Hence, I'm going to try to make what I can, but share my holiday making "wish list" with you all so you don't miss out!

Sugared Cranberries

Sesame Candy - This one is Middle Eastern and I have a feeling that I'm really going to attempt this one. It is nothing like the ones my mama makes!

Coconut Bars - Technically, this does not count as candy, but it looks sooooooooo good.

Assorted Treats - The blogging world has been full of fleur de sel caramels and despite last year's utter failure at making homemade caramels, I really really want to try these. And who has heard of buckeyes? They sound good too.

This is just a start - if I find more, I'll share 'em. Otherwise, this year's holiday-treats-as-gifts are on the simple side - brown sugar shortbread, dipped pretzels and Oreo balls.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cranberry Oatmeal Bread

I found this peach of a recipe from and I think this bread is going to turn into a serious addiction in my life. It's moist, it's good, it's somewhat healthy, Ryan doesn't like it and man - I just love cranberries. It also freezes well and is a good addition to a holiday brunch.

Cranberry Oatmeal Bread

1 cup oatmeal
1-1/4 cups hot water
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1-1/4 cups brown sugar
2 Tbsp. grated orange peel
1 egg
2-1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1-1/4 cups chopped cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8x4" loaf pans and set aside. (FYI - I used muffin tins and one of those mini loaf pans. I put waaaay too much batter in the mini loaf pan - I probably could have made about 6 more muffins.)

In medium bowl, combine oats and hot water, stir, and let stand for 5 minutes. In large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add oat mixture, sour cream, orange peel, and egg and blend well. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon and mix gently. Fold in cranberries and walnuts. Spoon batter into prepared pans and smooth to level. In small bowl combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Sprinkle over batter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 55 to 65 minutes until bread is golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool 5 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the edges of the breads and remove to wire rack to cool. Wrap in plastic wrap to store.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nutty Choco-Oatmeal Cookies

These cookies ended up being gifts to my coworkers out at the cab company. I assume they loved them. Heard no reports of food poisoning ...

I'm not a big chocolate chip cookie fan, but if I am craving said cookie, this is my favorite recipe on the entire planet. I found this recipe a few years ago, probably from Family Circle, and it's been cut out and hung on my fridge ever since. When I was in newspapers, I liked to whip up a batch of these from time-to-time. I don't make them as often anymore because Ryan's a purist and isn't a fan of healthy stuff (oatmeal) in his cookies.

These are seriously good though.

Nutty Choco-Oatmeal Cookies
1 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. (two sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 c. old fashioned oats (I use rolled oats that I find at the natural foods store)
1 c. chocolate chips
3/4 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, take your electric mixer to the butter and brown sugar. Beat until fluffy, add eggs and vanilla and mix until incorporated. The recipe says to use your mixer for the next part, but I always make a godawful mess, so I use my wooden spoon and fold the flour mixture into the egg/sugar stuff. Mix until just combined. Then add the oats, chips and nuts.

Place these bad boys on your cookie sheet about two inches apart. Typically, my little dough balls are about 1 inch in diameter, etc. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes.

Eat. Love. Thank me later.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The method to my madness

I’m not sure what it is about me and cookbooks, but I’m pretty sure it’s genetic. As I’ve patiently explained to Ryan, there is no real good reason that I have about fifty cookbooks, ranging in specialty from Indian food to 1970s Lutheran cooking madness, but I love each and every one of them.

Just like my mom does. Just like my Aunt Sue does. And just like both of my grandmas did. Some of my greatest treasures are cookbooks I got from my grandmas, their handwriting populating the corners of recipes that they tried and liked, recipes that they meant to someday make for their families and recipes that totally flopped when they tried to reproduce them in their kitchens. (A note from one of my grandma’s cookbooks: “BAD!” OK, grandma – I won’t make that one.)

When I would go to church festivals with my mom or if we were anywhere that sold an organization’s cookbooks, my mom would always buy three – one for her, one for my Aunt Sue and one for my Grandma Boots. I now have many of those cookbooks that once belonged to my grandma and there’s something right about that. And now if I see a unique cookbook, I’ll buy three copies – one for my mom, one for Suzie and one for me.

My Grandma Boots is currently in a nursing home and she’s gone to that place in Alzheimer’s where many people can’t reach her. But some of the best times that I had visiting her in the home when she was coherent were the times that I’d pick up a current copy of “Taste of Home” or Paula Deen’s cooking magazine and bring them in to page through with her. We would talk about the things that I would make for Ryan and how much recipes changed – how Chinese food used to be a rarity for American housewives to make and how now everyone has a go-to recipe for their own version of Sesame Chicken.

No matter how much my grandma’s mind has slipped over the past decade, there is one moment that cemented her reputation as one of the ultimate bakers in my mind. I was living in Wisconsin and tried to make a cranberry cake with a buttercream sauce. My mom always made it for me, it was one of my favorites and I wanted to try to recreate that dessert for some friends. The cake turned out fabulously, but the sauce never thickened properly.

So I came home and had coffee with my grandma and grandpa. When I told grandma what happened to the sauce, she immediately narrowed her eyes. “Which cookbook did you use?” I told her which one. “Whose recipe was it?” I told her the cook. “Hmpfh,” Grandma said. “Well, she can’t cook.” Grandma turned to where she had her handwritten recipe files. “Next time, use this one.”

And next time I make that cranberry cake, Grandma – I will.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Smoky tomato and black bean soup

Two words: Hot damn! Followed by one with many syllables: Yeee-oooooooo-w.

I had some leftover chipolte peppers in adobo sauce lurking in my fridge and found this recipe when I was trolling for ideas out in the blogosphere. It combines two of my favorite things - black beans and tomatoes. What an awesome idea for a soup! Right? Well, sort of. Ryan and I nearly offed a gallon of milk trying to eat our respective bowls of soup. It's very good, but very hot. I will make this when I am ill and trying to clear out my sinuses. Or else, I'll decrease the amount of peppers that I put in this bad boy.

Smoky Tomato and Black Bean Soup
serves a few hungry people as a first-course or lunch

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
half of one (7 oz.) can of chipolte peppers in adobo, with sauce (I'd halve this amount)
1 (30 oz.) can black beans, drained
1 (28 oz.) can fire-roasted whole tomatoes, with liquid
1 cup water
1 small bunch fresh oregano (I omitted)
salt, pepper

Take half of peppers out of the can, split them open with a paring knife and scrape out the seeds. *(This part is a pain in the arse, but if you don't get rid of the seeds, this will be even hotter.) Discard seeds. Chop peppers. Add oil into a big saucepan or medium dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions, cooking until they begin to brown. Add garlic and chilis and about half the adobo sauce. Cook for a few minutes. Add black beans and tomatoes with liquid and water. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, leaving them in chunks. Bring to a boil. Skim off the foam if you are particular like that, and then lower the heat. Add fresh oregano and simmer gently for the flavors to meld, 15 minutes if you are famished, 45 minutes if you can wait. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

**Another note - Ryan and I were starving the other night and had some of this soup in the fridge and some leftover rice from our jambalaya. So I combined 'em. And it tasted excellent. Keep this in mind for a second-day makeover or something like that.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Guest Post! Creamy Potato Soup

This recipe (and pictures) comes from my friend Lindsey. A couple of comments about Lindsey - a) she knows good potato soup - her mom has a recipe that is to die for and is loved by many ex-DJs from KWLC and b) she knows good cooking in general and if you ever need a Tastefully Simple consultant, let me know and I'll hook you up with her.

This recipe comes from Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook "Deceptively Delicious" where Ms. Seinfeld very sneakily hides all sorts of healthy schtuff in what would typically be viewed as comfort food. Lindsey made the potato soup and even added in some broccoli for an extra healthy factor.

Creamy Potato Soup
from Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (with a few LT twists) 

• Nonstick cooking spray
• 2 teaspoons olive oil
• 1 small onion, chopped
• 1 clove garlic, cut in half
• 2 (14-ounce) cans reduced-fat low-sodium chicken broth
• 2 pounds potatoes, any kind, peeled and chopped
• ½ cup cauliflower puree
• 1 ½ cups butternut squash or carrot puree
• 1 cup lowfat (1%)buttermilk **
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1/4 cup shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (optional)
• store-bought croutons (optional)

Coat a large pot with cooking spray and set it over medium heat. When the pot is hot, add the oil, onion, and then the garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft but not brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the broth and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully spoon the mixture into a blender or food processor and add the vegetable purees, buttermilk, and salt; puree until smooth. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with cheese, if you like. (Here’s where LT added some steamed broccoli to her dish. One word: Yum.)

**Don’t have buttermilk? Don’t fret. An easy substitution for buttermilk is to take 1 c. of milk and add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice. Wait for about five minutes and presto – you have buttermilk. Or an uncanny substitute.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shelley's New Best Friend

A dear friend of mine just had a baby and I've promised food that she can throw in her freezer. OK - that's not too difficult, but finding the perfect recipe is. So, I went to my handy stash of recipes to try in Google Docs and found one for a Tuscan Stoup that sounds good and sounds like something that her other two children might actually eat. One problem - it calls for an ingredient that I've never heard of. And for once, Wikipedia didn't really steer me in the right direction.

So ... I went to and since I'm fancying myself these days as a novice foodie, I actually signed up for their free membership and posted my dilemma on their community board. Not 15 minutes later, I received reply from people who are far more knowledgeable than I am.

Recipezaar ... I think I love you.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A blast from the distant past

A couple of my readers might remember my Great-Grandma Florence Ewing, but unfortunately for the rest of you, Grandma Ewing went to her heavenly home about 15 years ago and there's no one else like her in this world.

First and foremost, my grandma was tiny - she came up to about my chest. That lady was chin-high, but damn could she cook and bake. I can close my eyes and remember exactly what she looked like - my grandpa Stan favored her in looks and oh, how my grandpa loved his mom. All of the Ewing kids adored her, so did her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. I would give anything for a loaf of her lemon poppyseed bread. My mom almost cried the day that she opened grandma's last jar of homemade pickles.

One of the things that is maddening about losing someone like my great-grandma is that many of her recipes came from the confines of her head - the lady rarely wrote anything down. So to find this one, with little to no explanation - is a sweet surprise. Even if its just a road map.

Fried Green Tomatoes
by Florence Ewing

Green tomato Seasoned flour
Bacon grease

Stem and wash a green tomato. Slice it round. Roll in seasoned flour. Fry in bacon grease or oleo. Try these for supper. Very good.

Grandma didn't waste words, y'all.

Guinness Cupcakes

When my buddy Erin suggested we have a meal where every recipe had alcohol in it, there was only one that I could think of turning to (instead of just trying to make my mom's vodka slush): Guinness cupcakes. I had run into a recipe for these lovely, stout-laced cakes on a food blog and decided to make them for my friends. And yes friends, it is very, very good.

Guinness Cupcakes
by Dave Lieberman
12 ounces Guinness® stout
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I substituted applesauce for a "lighter" recipe.)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for garnish
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 c. powdered sugar (eyeball it and don't be afraid to try the frosting to make sure it tastes what you want it to be.)
cocoa powder for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the Guinness®, milk, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the sour cream. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sugar, flour, and baking soda. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet Guinness® mixture. Butter 24 muffin tins and divide the batter among the muffin tins.

Bake 25 minutes until risen and set in the middle but still soft and tender. Cool before turning out of the tins.

Make the frosting:
Beat the cream cheese in a bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the heavy cream. Slowly mix in the confectioner's sugar. Top each cupcake with a heap of frosting and dust with cocoa.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What happened?

To a week's worth of pumpkin?

Well ... on Tuesday, I made macaroni and cheese. Wednesday I made macaroni and cheese. Today is Thanksgiving. :) My favorite chef Erin is cooking for me and member of his family. (I love you, man and I look forward to learning more of your craft.)

I have a few recipes up my sleeve though. In the meantime, I hope you all stuff yourselves silly and enjoy time with your families.

I'll be back. Maybe tomorrow - maybe the weekend. :)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ravioli in Pumpkin Cream Sauce with Cranberries and Walnuts

This recipe comes from Leslie Sansone's book "Eat Smart, Walk Strong." And considering what's in the ingredient list, it should suprise none of you that I made this dish this weekend while Ryan was gone. The man is patient and will eat damn near anything, but if I presented him a plate with dried cranberries on it ... I think he'd reach for a phone and order takeout.

The first time I made this dish a few years ago, I absolutely adored it. This time, not so much - I think because I've been seduced by the pumpkin cream penne that I made last week. Darn you Rachael Ray!
Ravioli in Pumpkin Cream Sauce with Cranberries and Walnuts
by Leslie Sansone "Eat Smart, Walk Strong"

1 lb. frozen or fresh ravioli (I used four cheese)
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped (didn't have 'em, used pecans instead)
1 T. butter
2 T. minced garlic
2 T. fresh sage leaves (didn't have 'em ... boy do I suck)
1 15 oz. can pumpkin
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. dried cranberries

Cook pasta according to directions. In the meantime, heat your oven to 400 degrees and place the walnuts on a baking sheet. If you so desire, go ahead and roast them (about three minutes). But you can omit this step if you so choose.

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium until bubbling. Add your garlic and saute for a minute. Add sage leaves (doh!) and saute an additional 30 seconds. Add the pumpkin and milk and stir. Continue cooking until the sauce is hot and bubbly. If it seems too thick (and it probably will), just add a little bit more milk until you get it to the desired consistency.

Put the pasta in a large serving bowl, cover and toss (GENTLY!) with pumpkin sauce. Sprinkle with nuts and cranberries. Serve at once.

Verdict: Meh. Probably won't make it again.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pumpkin Chicken Enchiladas

Are you ready for me to be done with cooking with pumpkin? I think Ryan is too - but only a few more days left in this week and perhaps a turn to something more "traditional" in the future.

In the meantime, I made this for Monday night's dinner and wow. This is the first time that Ryan didn't take seconds on an entree that I made, but I didn't think it was that bad. (In fact, I'm eating it right now for breakfast - move over raisin bran - I got a new source of awesomeness.)

I got this recipe from my friend Lindsey who stole it from Martha Stewart. Both of us put our own twists on the original recipe and I think that if you're trying to eat healthy or sneak some healthy stuff into your family's food, this might be a way to go.

Pumpkin Chicken Enchiladas
by Lindsey Thompson - adapted from Martha Stewart

8 corn tortillas
6 scallions, diced (LT uses cilantro, 2T fresh chopped - I used a 1/4 of an onion, finely chopped)
leftover chicken, shredded (maybe a pound)
optional: roasted green chiles, chopped small (SK omitted)
6 oz. of white sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1 can of pumpkin puree (15 oz)
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 jalapeno (remove seeds and membranes if you don’t need extra heat)**
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin (I added this too)
2 teaspoons of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock or water

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. In a blender, puree pumpkin, jalapeno, chicken stock, garlic, chile powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Place 1 cup of this sauce in the bottom of an 8 inch glass casserole dish. In a bowl, combine shredded chicken with green chiles, cilantro, and/or scallions and season with salt and pepper. Place some of the chicken mixture on each tortilla and then lay the tortilla seam side down in the casserole dish. Pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas. Top with cheese. However, if you are casein-free, this recipe is fine without cheese. Martha recommends placing your casserole dish on a baking sheet in the oven to prevent any spills. Bake for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and casserole is bubbly.
Serves 4 alone or possibly 6 with sides.

**Variation: I've been craving chipolte peppers in adobo sauce since my buddy Paul S. made salsa using it. To my Midwestern tastebuds, these peppers are plenty spicy, but they had a heat and a depth that I haven't found in fresh peppers. (It's probably the MSG.) Anyway - in lieu of the jalapenos, cumin, chili pepper, etc., I just took one chipolte pepper and threw it in my food processor along with a spoonful of the sauce. One word: Heavenly.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cooking for dads

I found a mention at the Star Tribune about this site - it's an Eden Prairie father who has his own cooking site. His recipes are very basic, but they're geared towards guys who don't know how to cook.

Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

Welcome to the inaugural post of all things pumpkin. I'm starting out with a recipe that I found on a food blog, which they had found from the "Everyday with Rachael Ray" magazine. Sincere apologies to the blog, because I can't remember where I found this recipe.
I've cooked with pumpkin before and its surprising when you step away from the idea of pumpkins in pie and actually use them in an entree. Pumpkin pie is sweet because of the amount of sugar that goes into the recipe. Plain pureed pumpkin is mild and savory - it makes a very interesting addition to entrees. And, pumpkin is chock full of vitamins. So yes, if you turn your eyes to the minimal amounts of cream and oil that go into this dish, this recipe is actually good for you. 

Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce
from Everyday with Rachael Ray
1 pound penne pasta
2 T olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, grated (use a zester if you have it. If you don't, chop the hell out of the cloves.)
salt & pepper
1 15-oz. can pure pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 c. chicken broth
large dash of ground cinnamon
two dashes of nutmeg
1 T. hot pepper sauce (or to taste)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese plus more for topping
7 fresh sage leaves (of course I didn't use this ... silly sage leaves!)

Cook pasta until al dente. While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil and add onion and garlic. Cook for about five minutes, or until softened. Stir in the cream, broth and pumpkin (a whisk works best). Bring to a boil and let it simmer for about five minutes, giving the sauce a chance to thicken. Once the pasta is done, drain and add sauce. Toss to coat. Serve with parmesean. Not sure what RR did with the sage leaves.

I may be ugly, but I am surprisingly tasty.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A week of pumpkin

In celebration of the season and because pumpkin puree has been cheap in the grocery stores, I've decided to take this highly underrated ingredient and incorporate it in more than just pies and breads.

What surprises me about pumpkin is that when I think of it, I automatically associate it with sweet stuff. Pumpkin isn't sweet at all and it really adds a depth of flavor that you wouldn't expect, IMHO.

Anyway - expect some pasta with pumpkin as a sauce (one recipe is really good, the other one - meh); a Mexican dish that features corn tortillas, pumpkin and chicken and an easy-schmeezy pumpkin cake.

I hope everyone has a good holiday week!

A request and an apology

One of my favorite cooks recently asked me to post some gluten-free recipes and I had every intention of making a fabulous pork chop recipe that she had sent me. But I had forgotten that Thursday - the night I had planned to cook - was the same night I had my root canal, so no pork chops for me.

So the pork chops have been slated for another night - so to give my buddy an option that doesn't involve pasta, here's my cheesy potato recipe. You will love it. Just ignore the fact that it's drenched in butter and you'll be a happy camper.

During summer of 2008, this became my go-to recipe for any get togethers that my friends and had. What I like about this recipe is that you can make it the day before and that it travels well (considering it's a casserole).

I adapted this recipe from a cookbook I got from my future mother-in-law Gloria called "Best of Country Casseroles." It's published by the same folks who do the Taste of Home magazines, one of my yardsticks of culinary greatness.

Cheesy Potatoes
from Best of Country Casseroles
2 (10 3/4-oz.) cans of cream of mushroom soup
1 c. sour cream
3/4 c. melted butter, divided
3 T. dried minced onion
1/2 tsp salt
1 (32 oz) pkg of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes
2 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
2 1/2 c. crushed cornflakes (omit if needed)

In a large bowl, combine soup, sour cream, 1/2 c. butter, onion and salt. Stir in potatoes and cheese. Transfer into a greased 9x13 pan. Toss cornflakes and remaining butter, sprinkle over the potatoes. Bake, uncovered at 350 degress for 50-60 minutes.

Variations: I haven't tried this, but I wouldn't be afraid to ... what if you used the frozen potatoes O'Brien (those are the ones with peppers and onions). I think that at some Monterey Jack would also be good switch-outs for this particular recipe.

Optional! Cornflakes are optional ... if you opt to not use them, cut back the butter to 1/2 c. for the casserole itself.

WARNING: The particular pan that's used to bake this dish is a pain in the ass to clean. Just giving you fair warning.

Cookbook Review: Better Homes & Gardens Low-Carb Slow Cooker Recipes

A lot of Atkins diet followers RAVAGED this cookbook in their reviews. And I can see why: When I gave up potatoes, I found this cookbook inherently flawed because if you're in the beginning stages of Atkins, you can't eat anything in this particular book.

But if you're not depriving yourself of carbohydrates and are looking for some recipes that are simple because they utilize a crockpot and aren't too damning in the fat and calorie column, this is a very decent cookbook.

I got this book at Half-Price Books for about $7.00 back in the day. Amazon has some for sale that are second-hand and pretty damn cheap. This cookbook isn't a tome by Julia Child, but it would be good for anyone who is short on time but are ravenous when they get home.

Suggested picks:
Ratatouille, p. 26 - not just an annoyingly cute cartoon. We're talking some serious vegetables. And if you're like me and utterly baffled by eggplants, this is an easy way to cook this seriously delicious vegetable.

New Mexico Beef Stew, p. 50 - This is one that I'll be making in deference to my future husband and his love for spicy food. This stew gets its spice from chipolte peppers that are canned in adobo sauce. (Check the Hispanic section of your market and if you don't have that, check where the taco stuff usually lurks.) The first time I had these kind of peppers was when my buddy Paul and I were experimenting with various kinds of salsa and wow - they just add depth that you don't get from your typical green, red, jalapeno, etc.

Lentil Veggie Soup, p. 92 - I have this one marked special because this is perfect pantry soup and would be good if you have some leftover carrots or celery in your fridge that need to be used.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

This is me sans noodles. I'm pretty damn tasty and don't you want to make me?

I got this recipe out of the October & November 2008 issue of Taste of Home. Ryan told me the other day that he was digging pasta with white sauce, so I earmarked this recipe to try on a night when I was relatively short on time, wanted something relatively decadent, yet wouldn't make me want to cry mercy when I was on the treadmill. So why did I choose an Alfredo sauce? Well ... this one isn't too bad ...

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
from Taste of Home October/November 2008

6 oz. uncooked fettuccine (that's half of a small box, yo)
1 lb. boneless, skinless chiken breasts, cubed (I used 2 frozen ones)
1 small onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. salt (eyeball it)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (again - use judgement - you don't need no measuring spoons!)
1 T. butter
1 T. (heaping) flour
1 1/2 c. fat-free half and half**
1 c. frozen peas, thawed (don't worry if they aren't totally thawed)
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
**I didn't have this, so I basically used a 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream and what I had for milk in the fridge, which ended up being the rest of my skim milk and some 2% from my honey's stash.

Cook fettuccine according to the directions on the package. While this is cooking, saute chicken, onion, garlic, salt and cayenne in butter until the chicken is fully cooked. Stir in flour until blended. Gradually (who am I kidding? I dumped it in) add the half-and-half, peas and cheese. Bring to a boil, cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Drain fettuccine; toss with chicken mixture.

Drumroll ... here are the nutrition facts:
1 c. equals 425 calories, 8 grams of fat ... 49 grams of carbs. Let's focus on the calories and fat. Those are good numbers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A shout out ...

To my mama ... today's Mama Sharon's birthday. She's the woman who taught me how to cook and she's probably one of the most fabulous people on this earth.

I love you!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday Madness: Meet Erin McIntosh

Erin McIntosh is a member of my "urban family" here in Rochester. You know the group of people - you spend the most time with them, their kids are like your kids, you end up spending some portion of a holiday weekend with them and you hope to hell that when old age hits, you are all entrapped in the same nursing home.

In all honesty, I would forego almost any meal in the city of Rochester in favor of just sitting at Erin and Paul's house with a big old plate of his Penne a la Vodka in front of me and a smaller plate of his Kenny Rogers corn bread to my right. Erin's cooking is just that genuine and good. And because he is one of my favorite cooks in this world, he's agreed to talk for Monday Madness:

What is your first cooking memory? Probably making Christmas cookies every year ... We would make sugar cookies and throw flour at each other.

What is your go-to dish if you're cooking for friends? Pasta is always there. (Ed. note: YES!) I always have a pasta dish of some kind ... (although) when people come over I like having different things.

What is your favorite thing to make? That's a toss up between bread and dessert. Although I really like making dessert, there are health consequences to making them all of the time.

OK - so if you were on Death Row, what would be your last meal? (Erin is one of the only people who doesn't think that this question is strange. Instead, he pulls toward him his little black box of recipes that he's tried and perfected over the years to find that perfect meal.) For appetizers, crab and lobster stuffed mushrooms. A pre-entree would be that Craisin and cashew salad. My main course would be pasta with a side of sweet potato casserole. He looks up and smiles. Basically carbs, carbs and more carbs. And then a piece of cheesecake at the end.

Words of wisdom for other cooks: Make a mess, I know I do. Everything tastes better that way ... I'm serious! (Ed. note: The other secret to our success as cooks is that we have significant others that clean up after us. It's a good thing. And we love you for it.)

Penne a la Vodka
by Erin McIntosh

1 lb. penne
1 12 oz. can of stewed tomatoes or 8 oz. fresh tomatoes, quartered
Olive oil

3 T minced garlic
1/4 c. fresh basil
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. vodka
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to top with

Cook pasta according to directions on box. Saute garlic and tomatoes for five minutes. Add 1/2 c. vodka and simmer 10 minutes until reduced and thickened. Add basil and cream, heat slowly. Toss mixture with cooked pasta. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Italian Wedding Pasta

For those of you familiar with Italian Wedding Soup (commonly consists of meatballs, pasta and spinach), here is a variation by called Italian Wedding Pasta. And friends - prepare to fall in love.

Here's the breakdown ... the biggest pain in the arse factor that you're going to find with this particular recipe is making the meatballs, but after trying one of these solo outside of the pasta, I have a feeling that I might steal the meatball portion of this recipe if I ever make spaghetti and meatballs. These meatballs would freeze really well, so if you were inclined to make a ton of them, you could stockpile them in your freezer for use in this casserole, spaghetti and meatballs, etc.
I'm a pain in the arse to assemble, but you will love me!

I also like this recipe because in addition to having two of my favorite ingredients: cheese and pasta - it also has spinach. This could be a sneaky way of incorporating veggies in my someday kids' diets - especially if they take after their father and not me.

Italian Wedding Pasta from

1 lb. ground meat (recipe suggests turkey, I used ground pork because it was on sale ...)
1 1/4 c. unseasoned breadcrumbs
3 cloves garlic (you're supposed to squeeze one of them through a garlic press - I do not have that implement, so I just minced the hell out of the garlic and am pleased to report that there will be no vampire attacks in my household for the forseeable future)
1 egg
1 c. Romano cheese (I used an entire small tub of the grated stuff from Sargento)
1 box of bowtie pasta
1 T. cornstarch (didn't have ... used flour ... I'm bad)
1 1/2 c. 2% milk
1 can (14 oz) chicken broth
9 oz. fresh baby spinach

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cake pan with tin foil. Make your meatballs: Combine meat, garlic and 1/4 c. of the Romano cheese. Form into balls (1 inch - should make 36 ... I did not count), bake for 20 minutes.

While you're assembling meatballs, start boiling a large pot of water for your pasta. Once water is boiling, add a little salt and the pasta - cooking for two minutes less than the package dictates. (That's about 8 minutes - keep in mind that you're going to be throwing this in the oven - your pasta will continue to cook as it absorbs the chicken broth, etc.)

Whisk together your milk and the cornstarch (or flour if your pantry's a mess like mine and Argo goes missing). Once the pasta's done, drain and add the milk mixture and chicken broth back in with the cooked pasta. Heat to a boil and boil for one minute to thicken the sauce. Stir in spinach, 3/4 c. of Romano and your baked meatballs (again, they might be not entirely done - they will keep baking in the oven). Top the pasta with the rest of the Romano cheese and bake for 20 minutes.

Verdict: I'm in love with this dish. I have some in the freezer right now to check out its leftover quotient. If it freezes beautifully, I think I might weep with joy. (Update: 11/1/08 - It freezes beautifully. I love you pasta!)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A love letter to Ina

For those of you who aren’t freaks and don’t know the traveling schedules of your favorite Food Network celebrities, my beloved Barefoot Contessa – real name: Ina Garten – signed copies of her new cookbook on Nov. 12, at Williams Sonoma in Edina. Since I have a side project working for my buddy Chuck (whose business is in Wayzata), I figured that I would mix business and pleasure and take an afternoon to drive up to the Twin Cities on Wednesday. And I would probably embarrass myself whilst walking into Williams Sonoma and drool on Ina Garten. (She’s very awesome – you need to check her out. I could only be that cool when I grow up.)

But as my luck would have it, it is a very foggy day in Minnesota this morning and I have responsibilities at my real job that I need to take care of. So Ina, my apologies for standing you up and please know that you should really travel to Minnesota in the fall or summer. If you do, you can help yourself to some of the bounty of produce that our local farmers harvest and enjoy balmy weather – not this icy shit that we are currently experiencing.

I watched the Steakhouse Classics Revisited last night and will make the filet mignon soon. I won’t even flinch if Ryan decides to put ketchup on it.


A preview

Next week's Monday Madness will feature one of my favorite chefs of all-time and a recent meal he made for my urban family. The secret ingredient in every single recipe that Erin made? Alcohol.

This isn't Erin, this is my buddy Anne, sporting her contribution to the cause. And ignore the crappy quality of the photo. I was experimenting with my new career of shooting pictures of food and I forgot to turn the flash back on.

No-Roll Pie Crust

Since I showed you the lazy person's version of a pie crust, I figured I'd seal my reputation with this one as well ... just like Ms. Saint's apple pie crust, this one is also no roll!

This recipe served me well when I was living in Malta, partly because I didn't have a rolling pin and mostly because that even if I would have had one, I still wouldn't roll out pie crust. (I'm not good with rolling pins, just ask my mom.)

This one is from the "new" Rossville cookbook and was submitted by Clara Leas. I don't think I ever met Clara, but love this pie crust.

No-Roll Pie Crust

2 c. flour
2/3 c. cooking oil
3 tsp. sugar
3 tsp. milk
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients into a bowl, stir with a fork. Form into a large ball with hands; divide in half for 2 crusts. Pat into pie pan. If you need a double pie crust, pat half on waxed paper.

I used this one to make apple pie. I'd just slice up my apples, dot them with butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Then I'd bake for about 20 minutes, or until the apples were tender and the crust was nicely browned. (Actually, I could never see the crust - it was under too many apples. Tender apples ... best bet to guess if pie is done.)

Eva Marie Saint's Apple Pie

One of the best things to come out of my subscription to Bon Appetit magazine is this recipe for Eva Marie Saint's apple pie. If you don't want the hassle of rolling out a crust, like shortbread and just like pie in general - this is the pie for you. My buddy Zach can eat the whole pie.

Eva Marie Saint's Apple Pie
from Bon Appetit - 2005

1 1/2 lb. apples (that's about three apples - use tart ones like Granny Smith or Cortland), peeled and sliced very thinly
1 c. cold water
3 T. fresh lemon juice (I use the concentrate stuff)

1 c. flour
1/2 c. butter, softened (that's a stick y'all)
1 c. sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon (just eyeball it ...)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel and slice the apples, soaking them for about 30 minutes in cold water with lemon juice. (I've heard that people have skipped this step and it's fine ...) Combine the dry ingredients with the butter and use a pastry cutter or a fork to incorporate the "dough." Reserve 1/4 c. of the crumbs and pat the rest into a 9-inch pie pan. Arrange the apple slices around the pan, sprinkle with cinnamon, top with the rest of the dough and bake for 50-60 minutes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Click on this link

And chuckle at the drawing. And don't be afraid of beets, borscht is good - I can't make it, but it's very damn good.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thoughts on sweet potatoes

Let me preface this blog entry by saying this: I think I hate sweet potatoes. This hatred stems from an incident when I accidentally horked up my sweet potatoes over lunch and my mean kindergarten teacher yelled at me and told me that I had made myself sick. (Yeah - I really hated kindergarten. I mean, really ... just ask my mom about the couch I ruined because I would get home, sit down, feel like I was in my comfort zone and hork all over the arm of the couch because I was so relieved to be home. It didn't happen just once - that's why we got rid of the couch.)

Now that I've told you what a neurotic kid I was, I'm now appealing to you from the depths of cyberspace. I think I hate sweet potatoes, but I think I want to make sweet potato fries because if you bake them, they are better than regular potato fries that you bake (something about less carbs, more complicated carbs ... I'm not sure, I've just read the buzz - sweet potato fries are the way to go.)

Anyone got any sweet potato musings they'd like to share with me? How about squash recipes? That's another fall favorite that scares the crap out of me.


Poor Man's Cheez Its

Uniformity is not my strong suit when it comes to forming crackers ...

Baking, baking, baking

Ryan had company the other night, so I figured that I'd make something for him and his friend Derrick to snack on (because men cannot live on apple pie alone ...). I had found this recipe for homemade cheese crackers on awhile ago and it was in my "to-make" pile.

Now I'm going to be honest - at first I thought these were a pain in the right ol' arse. Part of it was that I hadn't let the butter soften long enough and then there was the whole stirring aspect and then forming the crackers into little balls ... but after they had cooled down and I started eating these crackers in earnest, I realized that these were damn tasty - kind of like a poor man's Cheez It. And if I ever get into the organic thing and have a hankering for crackers, this would be worthwhile to make because you know exactly what is in the cracker that you're eating.

So without further ado - the poor man's Cheez It.

Cheese Crackers

1/2 c. butter, softened (do NOT skip this step! The butter will know and will thwart you!)
2 c. grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. dried chives

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the cheese and butter. Mix together until well blended. Add flour, salt and chives to butter mixture and mix until well blended. (HINT: This is where I got out my mini food processor and blended the ingredients that way ... seriously - do yourself a favor - use your food processor if you have it.) Form dough into one-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten balls using the bottom of a drinking glass that has also been dusted with flour. (Again ... hint to be followed - otherwise the crackers will stick to your drinking glass and cause much annoyance.) Prick each cracker several times with a fork. Bake crackers for 12-15 minutes until very lightly browned around the edges (I left them in for about 20 ...). Remove to a wire rack to cool.

The recipe also claims that these freeze well - for some reason, I don't ever see these lasting to the freezing stage unless I make about 100 of them, which I probably will never do.

Variations: The recipe called for cheddar cheese - I had a chunk in the freezer and got sick of grating it, so I grabbed the pre-shredded
bag of cheddar and Monterey Jack that was in my cheese drawer. Cheddar would have made it saltier overall, but I thought the cracker tasted pretty awesome. I'd also be curious to see what a Parmesan cracker would taste like.

I also did not have dried chives in my pantry, so I
used dried thyme. Which I don't think really did anything ... maybe next time I would use rosemary? Also, I'd maybe do a dusting of sea salt on the top of the cracker prior to baking.

Oh, I'm a tasty and delightful cracker floating in a sea of chili.

Apple Turnovers

In the beginning there was really annoying puff pastry to be rolled.

Let me preface this post by saying: This dessert is a pain in the arse. But man ... as much as I griped at the time I was making this, I was stunned when these babies came out of the oven.

I found this recipe on a blog and that particular domestic goddess adapted this recipe from the mother of domestic goddesses: Ina Garten a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa. Ms. Garten is not my favorite Food Network celebrity, but if I ever had the chance to meet her, I'm sure I'd make an embarrassment of myself because she is that awesome.

One of the particular things that I like about Garten's approach to cooking is that she's not afraid to use a shortcut. In this case, her shortcut is using puff pastry for the turnover. Another disclaimer: Puff pastry is kind of spendy, in my humble opinion. The stuff I got at the market was $4.50 for two sheets which translated into 8 turnovers. And while I was taken aback at first, I can say now that I'm probably going to use puff pastry in the future, even if it won't become a staple in my pantry.

Apple Turnovers

From Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa” (Food Network)

  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 1/4 pounds tart apples, such as Empire or Granny Smith (3 apples)
  • 3 tablespoons dried cherries (I made do with Craisins)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 package (17.3 ounces, 2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the orange zest and orange juice in a bowl. Peel, quarter, and core the apples and then cut them in 3/4-inch dice. Immediately toss the apples with the zest and juice to prevent them from turning brown. Add the cherries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

Flour a board and lightly roll each sheet of puff pastry to a 12 by 12-inch square. Cut each sheet into 4 smaller squares and keep chilled until ready to use.

Brush the edges of each square with the egg wash and neatly place about 1/3 cup of the apple mixture on half of the square. Fold the pastry diagonally over the apple mixture and seal by pressing the edges with a fork. Transfer to a sheet pan. Make 2 small slits, and bake for 20 minutes, until browned and puffed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes: I've been reading a lot of The Pioneer Woman lately and she's been using a lot of whiskey in her cooking lately ... the orange juice and the zest really add to this, but I'm curious what it would taste like if I used whiskey instead of OJ. Hmm ... Another thought - what about walnuts or pecans in this dish? I think that would also be delightful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Baked Spaghetti

Oh, I am a cheesy, melty pan of goodness!

This dish is one of my ma's recipes. I was in junior high or high school when she started making this and I remember that it became a staple. It's not my favorite spaghetti dish of mom's - my personal favorite is when she opens up the cans of Chef Boyardee, dumps them in with some browned hamburger and puts a ton of garlic powder in the concoction. Nothin' says lovin' like that particular recipe.

Baked Spaghetti
By Mama Sharon

1 lb. ground beef
1 3/4 c. milk
1 lg. jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce
3/4 c. shredded Velveeta (plus 1/2 c. more for topping)
12 oz. spaghetti
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
2 T. butter
2 T. flour

Brown hamburger, add spaghetti sauce. Heat, break spaghetti into thirds and cook according to pasta directions. Drain and rinse. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in flour and gradually add milk. Cook until boiling. Add 3/4 c. shredded cheese, cook until melted.

Layer in a 9x13 pan - 1/2 spaghetti; 1/2 meat sauce; 1/2 cheese sauce. Repeat with remainders. Top with the remaining Velveeta and Parm cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Eat. Love. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cooking blog round-up

Disclaimer: When I was a journalist, I hated blogs. I found them to be unfounded sources of gossip and basically no better than your average tabloid. Then again, I used to live in a community with an active blog presence that had an ongoing ... rivalry? ... with the newspaper I worked for. I don't know if rivalry was the word, but I worked at a twice-weekly newspaper and the relationship I had with the bloggers reminded me of how much I hated radio broadcasts and TV broadcasters when I worked at dailies. This hatred probably stems from my competitiveness and hating to be scooped, etc.

Anyway - that was a weird rant ... back on topic! Now, as the proprietor of not one but THREE blogs, you can probably tell I'm something of a blog addict. And this cooking blog came from reading a lot of excellent ones that are out there on the blogosphere.

I thought I'd take today and share a handful of the really good ones that I like:

1) This one IS first because I wouldn't have half the recipes in my bookmarks without it: I'm going to warn you right off - if you like cooking, you might become an addict after visiting what has to be classified as foodie porn. People from all over the world (I get aggravated by the metric system on a regular basis with this site ...) submit pictures and suggestions to the moderators of this site, who in turn post the creme de la creme of food recipes from the blogosphere on this site on a daily basis.

2) is also an incredible web site that I access daily. I wouldn't go as far as saying the PW adheres to the "simple and lazy" mantra, but she has some of the most accessible recipes that I've found on the Net. She also has a wicked sense of humor and a writing style that I really admire.

3) Dragon's Kitchen. Again, not the "simple and lazy" category, but this person has some incredible recipes up her sleeve.

4) I include this one because I admire this person's tenacity:
This woman has vowed to post one recipe per day for a year using nothing but her collection of crock pots. Not every recipe is a winner, but there are some good things to be found.

Macaroni Redux

This is a pan of perfection
I told you all the other night that I am trying to perfect cheese sauce for my beloved macaroni. Well, my friend Mariah just made it easier for me by sending me her family's recipe for cheese sauce. And trust me ... it is perfection:

Cheese Sauce
(Note from Mariah: For your mac & cheese, here's a recipe for a cheese sauce. We used it for mac & cheese, on peeled, cubed & boiled potatoes, on peas, on broccoli, on cauliflower. My aunt makes sure there is some every Thanksgiving & Christmas to go on her mashed potatoes ...But, I admit, this recipe kind of sparks a battle between my Midwestern upbringing & my more recent desire to not eat super-processed foods (e.g. Velveeta))
(Ed. note: I hear you sista! But Velveeta is soooo goood! :)

2 T butter or margarine
2 T flour
1 C milk

Melt butter in saucepan over med heat, stir in flour. Add milk, a little salt & pepper. Cook until thickened, stirring frequently. Add 3-4 (or more) thick slices of Velveeta. Stir until melted into sauce. Pour over whatever you've got.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


One of my goals when I started this was to have pictures when I posted recipes so you could get a glimpse at what something should look like. (Then again, if you don't know what a pancake looks like, I must ask what rock you might have been living under.)

But happy days are ahead. I took pictures of the baked spaghetti (I made that last weekend when the Swensons were over and before letting them dig in, I had to snap a couple of pics - I'm such a gracious host) and I even modified the awesome macaroni and cheese to make a decadent no-bake version. And yes, I took pictures of that - even before Ryan spooned his up he asked me if I had a chance to take pictures yet.

Thanks everyone for reading - it has been awesome to hear feedback and to even have my mom ask how one of her co-workers knew how this blog existed (thanks Facebook!). There's lots more coming ahead and I'm really excited.

Some things to look forward to:

  • Interview with one of my favorite cooks in the whole, wide world! My buddy Erin is renowned for his corn bread, his olive flatbread, his homemade mac and cheese, his vodka penne pasta, his tres leche cake - hell, I don't think I've ate ANYTHING of his that I haven't adored. He's also great about handing out leftovers.
  • An Italian dinner party with my friend Will. Hell, he hasn't scheduled it yet and I just volunteered to help if he needed (yeah - my Italian skills go as far as spaghetti and tiramisu - it will be the blind leading the blind.).
  • More awesome recipes than you can shake a stick at.

Depending on how things go, I might increase the frequency of how often I post, because I have a lot of seasonal recipes up my sleeve and what's the point of giving you a pumpkin cheesecake recipe in April? So please stay tuned!

Ham and Bean Soup: Crockpot Style

This is another one of my mama's specialties although I have some pretty fond memories of eating this soup with my Grandma Boots. This is the ubiquitous Ewing recipe for ham & bean soup - grandma always made this in her stockpot, my mom modified it to make in her 6 qt. Crockpot. Mom always has a crock of this ready if I'm coming home for a weekend and leaves it on the "low" or "keep warm" setting until it's gone or until she's packing me some leftovers to take home. This is one of those soups that just gets better as it sits:

Ham & Bean Soup - crockpot method

1 lb. dried white beans (I use great northern, baby limas are also good)
1 ham hock (look near the chicken gizzards if you're having a hard time finding this rarity)
3 carrots, sliced (since this is overnight, kind of give 'em a medium density so they don't fall apart in your crock)
2 celery, sliced
**Mom has also been known to peel and slice a couple of potatoes into her crockpot ... it's good, but these days I'm trying to avoid carbohydrate overload. But I'm eating bean soup ... never mind.

Dump the lot together in a 6-quart crockpot, fill the rest of the space with water and start cooking overnight on the "low" setting. (No sense in rushing this awesomeness.) In the morning, the hock will be ready to strip the meat that's hunkering around the bone. It's kind of a disgusting process, but take a slotted spoon, take the hock out and use a fork to get the good stuff away from the fat and the bone and put it back into the soup. If you've cooked this for a good 8 or so hours, the beans will be tender enough to eat, but if you're from my family - why would you? Park your crockpot at the "keep warm" setting. This soup will be darn near perfect at around lunch time. It will be even better for dinner. (This is the point where Ryan is glaring at me to shut the crock pot off. So I will, my mom probably wouldn't.)

Bean soup freezes relatively well (if you have any leftovers ...), but I'm warning you - this needs a ton of salt. I usually let people add their own, but it definitely needs some sodium. You could probably toss a bay leaf in as well when this is cooking, but other than salt and pepper, I keep the spices to a minimum. This soup will stand on its own.