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.