Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Roasted Vegetable Orzo


I am still mildly obsessed with orzo. I blame it on my New Years Eve dinner that I had with my friends here in Rochester. I don't remember what else was in my dish, but I remember being in awe of the orzo and loving it especially much after a night of drinking 7 & 7s with my friends at my favorite dive bar.

Ever since January 1, 2009, my culinary world has been rocked by this rice-shaped pasta.

Roasted Vegetable Orzo
from Imperrfections and AllRecipes.com

2 zucchini, sliced
1 red onion, cut into chunks
8 oz portobello mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
4 cubes chicken or vegetable bouillon
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 (16 ounce) package orzo pasta (**I buy my orzo in bulk from the natural foods store and used a vegetable-based orzo for this one ... I just thought the tri-colors were pretty)
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
basil to garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place vegetables in a large bowl and mix with garlic and olive oil. Spread vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add bouillon cubes, wine, and orzo, and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain. Stir in roasted vegetables and Parmesan cheese, and serve warm.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake

You know you have something special when a somewhat fussy two-year-old likes your recipe. I love my buddy Lukas, but he's stuck in that stage right now where he really likes things like bread and ketchup. And potato chips. Lukie belongs to the Urban Family that Ryan and I hang out with on a regular basis. We get together most weekends and grill out during the summer.

Lukie's dad - who cannot wait to bring his son for their first meal together at our favorite Indian restaurant - informed me that the Cherry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake I brought to a recent shindig was so good that even Lukie ate it.

I call that victory.

Cherry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
I got this from Smitten Kitchen who got this from Bon Appetit, June 2008

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3 cups whole pitted fresh Bing cherries or other dark sweet cherries
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground medium grind)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, separated
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk (**I used 2% ... it was fine ...)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (**did not have, so I omitted)

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Combine 1/4 cup butter with brown sugar and vinegar in 10- to 11-inch ovenproof skillet with 2-inch-high sides. Stir over medium heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add cherries and bring to boil. Remove from heat.

Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter in large bowl. Add sugar; beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with milk in 2 additions each, beating just until blended and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another medium bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until whites are stiff but not dry. Using rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of whites into batter to lighten slightly. Fold in remaining whites in 3 additions (batter will be thick). Spoon batter over cherries in skillet, then spread evenly with offset spatula to cover cherries.

Bake cake until top is golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in skillet on rack 5 minutes. Run spatula around edges of cake to loosen. Place large serving platter upside down atop skillet. Using pot holders or oven mitts, firmly hold platter and skillet together and invert. Leave skillet atop cake 5 minutes. Remove skillet. If necessary, rearrange any cherries that may have become dislodged. Let cake cool at least 45 minutes. Cut cake into wedges and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cooking Italy: Bisteca Fiorentine-T-Bone Steak, Florentine Style

One of the most recent additions to my pantry in my quest of being an awesome cook are black peppercorns. I typically throw 'em in when I'm making stock and since pepper is probably one of my favorite spices, it's just a joy to have around. So buying black peppercorns for the latest Cooking Italy recipe wasn't necessary - I'd just use up some that I already had on hand.

Just one problem ... I don't have a mortar and pestle for grinding and I don't have one of those peppermill thingies (was on the wedding registry ... people must have underestimated my love for pepper ...). So when it came time to "coarsely grind" my peppercorns, I was a bit stumped. So I grabbed two Ziplock bags. And my rolling pin. And I tried to beat the hell out of my peppercorns. Didn't really work. I thought about grabbing a hammer, but dear husband was already staring at me like I was insane.

So as soon as he left the kitchen, I grabbed the next implement handy ... my coffee bean grinder. And yup! That worked perfectly. (Note to self: Make sure hubby doesn't use said grinder before I clean out the peppercorn residue ...)

This steak - from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Italian Cooking" - was delicious, even though I thought I overdid it with the peppercorns (I didn't bring out the coffee grinder for nothing, mind you ...) But this was awesomely seasoned with just a hint of garlic and the perfect shade of pink to signify medium well.

Bisteca Fiorentine - T-Bone Steak, Florentine Style

from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Italian Cooking"

A charcoal or wood burning grill (**I hauled out my Bobby Flay cast iron grill pan - have I told you lately that I love that pan?)

Black peppercorns, ground very course or crushed with a pestle with a mortar (or decimated with a coffee grinder)

1 T-Bone steak, 1 1/2” thick, brought to room temperature

Coarse sea salt

OPTIONAL: a lightly crushed and peeled garlic clove

Extra virgin olive oil


If grilling with charcoal, wait until you see a white ash. If grilling on gas grill, preheat 20 minutes ahead to high. Rub steak with peppercorns on both sides.

Grill to desired wellness. Medium rare is about 5 minutes on one side, 3 on the other. As you turn steak, rub with garlic clove, including the bone, add salt. Do this on both sides.

When steak is finished, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. I let my steak rest for about 10 minutes to let the juices settle back into the meat (and I even tented it with foil because that's what Ina Garten would do ...)

**Yet another random note ... another reason why I was really excited about this recipe was that we have a new deli/butcher that's opened up in town and it's just down the street from my office. It's called Meatheads and at one point I had found the website, but now I can't - but if you're in Rochester, trust me ... it's just an amazing place. And the service is stellar.

Giada's White Bean Dip


Oh Giada - how do I love thee? Well, I adore you for creating such an easy recipe that made me look like a rock star at a recent party that I attended. And also - thank you for not being a snob about using canned beans. Oh yes, I know the joys of cooking my own garbanzos, pintos and black beans, but sometimes a girl just doesn't have the patience to cook beans or has forgot to let them soak overnight.

Blessed is your name, Giada. Even if you drive my husband up the wall.

White Bean Dip
by Giada DeLaurentiis

* 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
* 2 cloves garlic
* 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 1/3 cup olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons
* 1/4 cup (loosely packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves
* Salt
* Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Place the beans, garlic, lemon juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, and parsley in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is coarsely chopped. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer the bean puree to a small bowl.

**Note - the original recipe calls to make toasted pita triangle to serve along with this dip. I said "screw making my own pita triangles" and served the dip with a mix of crackers - the ones shown are the bagel chips by Gardettos ... killer!

Another note - when I made this for the party, I ended up doubling the recipe. And lo and behold, I ran out of olive oil so I only made it with the 1/3 cup of olive oil and this was still fabulous. I'd recommend cutting the oil in half in this recipe.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Margarita Cupcakes

Check out my mad cake decorating skills. I got a pastry bag and EVERYTHING because I have too much time on my hands. However, my amateur attempts at frosting go really well with the 1970s orange Tupperware I inherited from my grandma. This batch of cupcakes also commemorated the last of my granny's tequila. I love you so much Grandma, but now I'm buying Jose Cuervo. I'm just sayin' ...

How can you go wrong cooking with booze? You just can't. Even if you don't think you like tequila, you should try this cupcake.

I have spoken.

Margarita Cupcakes
from Confections of a Foodie Bride and Wilton

9 oz Margarita mix
3 oz tequila
3/4 oz triple sec
White cake mix (No-pudding mix works best)
3 egg whites
2 T vegetable oil
1 T lime zest
1 recipe Lime Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)

Mix together the margarita mix, tequila, and Grand Marnier in a large glass or spouted bowl. You will use 1 1/4 cup of this in the cupcake mix. Throw the rest in a glass with some ice and drink it.

Mix the cake mix, egg whites, vegetable oil, lime zest, and 1 1/4 cup of the margarita mixture. Mix on low for about 30 seconds and then increase to medium speed for two minutes (the batter will still be a bit lumpy).

Spoon the batter into a prepared muffin pan (fill the cups somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 full) and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick registers “done” in the center cupcake. Remove the pan from the oven and cool 5 minutes. Remove the cupcakes and cool completely on a baking rack.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, make the frosting for the cupcakes.


Lime Buttercream Frosting
4 cups confectioners sugar
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1/8 tsp salt
3 Tbsp lime juice

Add the butter, confectioner’s sugar, salt, and lime juice to the stand mixer and mix on low using the paddle attachment until combined. Turn the speed to med-high until the icing is fluffy. Add the icing to a pastry bag or use a spatula/knife to frost the cupcakes.

Note: Use additional lime juice or water to thin the frosting, if necessary.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Getting to know you ...

I don't get Vanity Fair anymore, but when I had a subscription, one of my favorite pieces was "The Proust Questionnaire" featured at the back of the issue. Every month, they would talk to some luminary and ask them these questions.

Since I've always wanted to do this, I'm going to subject the rest of you to it as well - here is my Proust Questionnaire ... if anyone else decides to do it and posts it on their blog - leave me a comment and post the link! I'd love to read 'em!

The Proust Questionnaire has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature. Here is the basic Proust Questionnaire.

1.What is your idea of perfect happiness? Sleeping in on a weekend with my husband and cat. Then waking up and having coffee.
2.What is your greatest fear? Being in a high space without any rails or handles.
3.What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Lack of ambition.
4.What is the trait you most deplore in others? Closed minds.
5.Which living person do you most admire? Michelle Obama - I freakin' LOVE her!
6.What is your greatest extravagance? Jimmy John's sandwiches - specifically the Vito, with Skinny Chips and a Diet Coke.
7.What is your current state of mind? Tired, slightly pensive
8.What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Am I a bastard if I say honesty?
9.On what occasion do you lie? When it's preferable to the truth.
10.What do you most dislike about your appearance? I'm not fond of my gut - it's up there with my missing toenail although I think both give me character.
11.Which living person do you most despise? It's a toss up between Spencer Pratt and Dick Cheney.
12.What is the quality you most like in a man? A sense of humor
13.What is the quality you most like in a woman? Someone I can drink beer with
14.Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Ummmmmmm
15.What or who is the greatest love of your life? My husband
16.When and where were you happiest? On a solitary bike ride in Gozo, spring 1999. BTW - I don't ride bikes often, so that in and of itself should tell you something.
17.Which talent would you most like to have? Invisibility.
18.If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? The fact that I so desperately want to please others all the time.
19.What do you consider your greatest achievement? Having a wonderful and individual relationship with each of my four nephews.
20.If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? I would be a much loved copy of a children's book or someone's favorite blanket.
21.Where would you most like to live? Somewhere in the woods
22.What is your most treasured possession? My grandma Boots' diamond ring.
23.What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Feeling helpless
24.What is your favorite occupation? writing
25.What is your most marked characteristic? my ability to talk to absolutely anybody about absolutely anything - even if I don't know what the hell said person is talking about.
26.What do you most value in your friends? longevity
27.Who are your favorite writers? Stephen King, John Irving, Joyce Carol Oates, Bob Dylan
28.Who is your hero of fiction? Gandalf in any phase of Tolkien. Gandalf or Dumbledore ...
29.Which historical figure do you most identify with? Right now, I'm loving Eleanor Roosevelt.
30.Who are your heroes in real life? My parents and my cousin Trix
31.What are your favorite names? Stanley, Anne, Cate
32.What is it that you most dislike? raw carrots
33.What is your greatest regret? not applying myself more in college and not getting to know my American Literature professor from Malta
34.How would you like to die? Smiling in my sleep when I'm 99. Preferably on the same day as my husband. :)
35.What is your motto? Never been a better time than right now.

Cooking Italy: Pasta with Pesto, Green Beans and Potatoes

If carbohydrates were indecent, then this dish would be pornographic. Not that I like pron, but this dish is that good.

This is part of my Cooking Italy quest. I've really been enjoying reading Marcella Hazan's book "Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking." I've also been enjoying the camraderie of the group that I'm working with.

And of course - potatoes AND pasta? In one dish? Oh heaven ...


Pasta with Pesto, Green Beans and Potatoes
from "Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan

2 C. tightly packed fresh picked basil leaves (**I actually found mine at the natural food cooperative since my basil plant still needs to do some growing!)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 T pine nuts (toasted - erm ... I forgot this step ... if I do toast, I usually do it in a dry skillet on medium heat - make sure you watch, otherwise you'll scorch)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped before processing
Salt

Wash basil and dry with paper towels. I used my food processor to incorporate these ingredients. Do the rest by hand and add:

1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
2 T freshly grated romano cheese
3 T butter, softened

(and who am I kidding? My Wisconsin cheese stash is almost nil at this point, so I did buy some of the pre-grated stuff from the grocery store ... sorry friends!)

For Assembly

1 1/2 pounds pasta (I used some whole wheat noodles that I found at the natural food store - they were fabulous!)
3 small new potatoes, boiled in skin, skin removed afterward, thinly sliced (I used Yukon gold ... awesome!)
1/2 pound young green beans, ends snapped, cut half (depending on size)
Save a few tablespoons of pasta water to add into pesto

Toss pesto with cooked pasta, beans, and potatoes. Add in pasta water as needed. Serve immediately. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Light-er/ish Carrot Cake

An example of my not-so-mad decorating skills. But hey, this was frosted at 6:30 a.m., give me some credit.

One of the oddest remarks I ever had about my cooking was from one of my old coworkers, who upon hearing me announce that I had made the best cookies ever told me I was unabashedly vain about my cooking and rightfully so. Ever since then, I have found that coworkers are probably the best guinea pigs in the world.

I made this cake in honor of the birthday for two of my coworkers - polar opposites who happened to share the same birthday. When I asked them what they wanted and suggested carrot cake, their eyes lit up and I was really excited to make this cake for them.

I found this carrot cake from Chow Times who found it in Cook's Illustrated from November 2006. And although this was a very good recipe, I used to have one from a Light and Tasty magazine or from Taste of Home that was lighter in calories and fat, but was way more moist than this tasty cake. If I can find it amongst my cartons of recipes, I'll make that and post it as well.

But don't hold your breath. Just make this one. :)

Light-er/ish Carrot Cake
from Chow Times

Ingredients
vegetable cooking spray
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 large eggs
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 pound carrots (about 6 medium), peeled and grated (about 3 cups)

Instructions
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350F. Lightly coat a 13 x 9 inch metal baking pan with vegetable oil spray, then lined the bottom with parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Combine the eggs and sugar in another medium bowl.

Use and electric mixer to beat the eggs and sugars until they turn thick and creamy, 1 to 3 minutes.
Turn the mixer to low and slowly whip in the oil until thoroughly combined and emulsified, 30 to 60 seconds.

Sift half the flour mixture over the batter and gently mix in.
Repeat once more with the remaining flour mixture and continue to whisk the batter gently until mist of the lumps are gone (do not overmix).

Use a rubber spatula, gently stir in the carrots.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top.Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a wire rack and remove the parchment paper.Flip the cake right-side up, and cool completely on a wire rack, about 2 hours, before frosting (if desired) and serving.

Light Cream Cheese Frosting (Makes about 2 cups)
12 ounces low fat cream cheese, softened but still cool
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Mix the cream cheese and vanilla together in a large bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the confectioners; sugar and stir until thoroughly combined and smooth. (Instructions said not to use electric mixer - I said to hell with that. I think it turned out fine.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tuscan Dip

After the Lime Blackberry Babycakes fiasco of 2009, I was in a panic because that was the second dessert I was bringing to a very important party. The party started at 6, I got home from the cab company at 2, fretted until about 3:30 p.m., and finally decided to head to the grocery store to get the ingredients for the very simple but totally awesome dip.


This is from the folks at Kraft Foods. They'd like you to use their products, but it's not necessary.

Tuscan Dip
from KraftFoods.com

1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1/2 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped black olives
1/4 cup finely chopped red onions

Mix the cream cheese and the sour cream together first. Fold in the veg. Chill.

I served with red, green and yellow pepper strips. I meant to serve it with cherry tomatoes and crackers, but I forgot those at home. *sigh*

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Why I Blog ... Why I Cook ... Why do you cook?

I've been loving the companionship and the banter of my Cooking Italy group. One of my fellow group members emailed us a question the other day and asked us why we blog. I actually liked my answer, so I thought I'd post it for the rest of you so you know how this blog has transformed from "simple recipes for lazy people" to where I'm at today reading Julia Child's "The French Chef" and trying to master Italian cooking.

I also left a question for my fellow bloggers at the end and I'd love to hear what any of you have to say about why you cook. :)
~*~*~*~*~*~*~
When I first started to blog, my original idea was to create and post “simple recipes for lazy people.” One of the ground rules was that if I couldn’t pronounce something or had no clue if the ingredient was a plant or a piece of meat, it probably wouldn’t make a guest appearance on my blog. Well – that lasted for about two or three months and then the cooking bug really bit. I started using the blog to branch out and use vegetables and ingredients I had never used before. And then one day I found myself chopping up little bits of Scharffen-Berger chocolate to make some itty bitty chocolate chip cookies. It was evident to me then that a) I don’t have children, hence I have time to actually do this kind of thing and b) part of the joy in cooking for me is the challenge and learning new methods.

In terms of my cooking style, I don’t think that I really have a style right now. I’m really influenced by my fellow food bloggers and get a lot of my recipes by trolling the web. Part of the reason that I was psyched about Cooking Italy was that this would give me a chance to immerse myself into a particular cooking style.

Finally, I have a question for all of you … why do you guys cook? I come from a long line of WONDERFUL cooks in my family and I am just a product of genetics, standing at my oven with one hand on my hip, mimicking so many who have cooked before me. :) What are your favorite cooking memories? Why do you challenge yourself to become better cooks?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cooking Italy: Basic Bruschetta

Like I explained earlier this week, I have joined a cooking group called "Cooking Italy." Our inaugural recipe was for a basic tomato bruschetta.

The recipe comes from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking." And I'll be honest - when I first looked at the recipe I didn't think that I would be wow'd. (Then again, I eat macaroni and cheese with hot dogs cut up in it ... I'm not exactly gourmet.) But wow'd I was ... this recipe combined two of my favorite things (tomatoes and olive oil) and the flavors of the basil (fresh from MY plant) just popped in my mouth.

Bruschetta with Tomato

from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking

**I ended up reducing this recipe because it was just for my hubby and me. Well, mostly me.

2 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
4 slices good, thick crusted bread, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, 3-4″ wide
1 fresh, ripe tomatoes, cut in half, seeded, and chopped into 1/2″ cubes (**I didn't seed mine)
3-4 basil leaves , torn into small pieces - or oregano
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper

  • Chop tomatoes right before you are going to grill bread.
  • Grill or broil bread to golden brown.
  • Smash garlic with a knife, rub on bread once it is toasted.
  • Top with tomatoes, basil (or oregano), and drizzle olive oil.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately
The idea for this fabulous cooking experience is from Angela at Spinach Tiger. The rest of the folks who are participating are listed at the right side of her blog.

Lime Blackberry Babycakes

These are the cupcakes that committed suicide on my counter. Really.

They started out so promising.


Then disaster struck ... but man I love to eat my mistakes.

Lime Blackberry Baby Cakes

1/2 cup of unsalted butter softened
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups of AP Flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Zest of 3 limes, finely grated, plus the juice
12 Blackberries
1/3 cup of Blackberry jam - seedless
1 cup of powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12 cup muffin pan with non stick baking spray (the kind with flour). In a bowl mix flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl mix together the buttermilk, vanilla, lime zest, and juice of the limes. Set both of those aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter and sugar together until light in color. Add in eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. With the mixer on low add in the flour in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk mixture and ending on the flour mixture. Fill the muffin cups 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full. Add 1 blackberry to the middle of each cup and bake for 20-25 minutes. There will be batter left over. Cool in muffin tins for 10 minutes and then cool completely on a rack. In a small sauce pan heat the jam until melted and then sift in the powdered sugar and stir until combined. Drizzle over the warm cakes and let cool until set about 30 minutes.

(Various notes to self: A) I must not have read the "there will be batter leftover part" because I filled my cupcake tins way too full. B) I should have let my cakes cool a little bit longer. Which is probably why the blackberries spontaneously left their little warm nests to crush themselves upon my baking rack. C) Even when I make mistakes, it still tastes good.)

An apology ... I know that I got this from a baking blog somewhere, but cannot find the original entry where this came from. So my sincere admiration and apologies to whoever this awesome chef is! If you created this, leave a comment and I will be happy to give credit where credit's due!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

New herbs, new goals and Cooking Italy

First and foremost - except for one day where I had this weird bout of nausea and had to stay home from work - I haven't had a day off since the Monday of Memorial Day and I found myself looking forward to this weekend much like a dehydrated man in a desert looking for the closest oasis. (How's that for a visual?) And I'll be honest - I was not disappointed. In fact, this was one of the best weekends I have had in a very long time.

Ryan's brother Kyle and Kyle's wife Amanda showed up on Friday to hang out with us over the weekend. Amanda indulged me and let me take her (in the rain, no less) to Rochester's Farmers Market where we shopped for deals, dodged raindrops and avoided stepping in goose poop. (Nice, I know ...) In my quest to indulge my inner Ina, I picked up a rosemary plant and a basil plant and look forward to many months worth of fresh herbs if I don't accidentally kill them. (I'll show you pictures later - I transplanted them this evening to their permanent homes and it was too dark to show you my latest buy.) On Saturday night, we grilled chicken breasts, potatoes and baby carrots in foil packets and fresh asparagus. I even tried my hand at grilling peaches, but made all of my guests try my latest culinary effort before I dared to try it myself. (Always the consummate host.)

All in all - it was a wonderful weekend.

Next up ... new goals. I don't think that I'm the first food blogger to realize that with an expanding repertoire of recipes, I have an expanding waistline to match. So after much thought and consideration - I've decided to *gasp* try to eat healthy. I'm still mulling in my head what this is all going to entail, because for the most part I do cook healthy foods, but the hubby and I both have a fondness for large portions and second helpings. That's going to have to change.

How will this affect you, dear reader? I don't think it will that much. Because I've vowed to cook one decadent thing a week and to immediately ship the leftovers to my husband's office. :) But I'll keep you all posted as to how things are going.

And finally - the one decadent thing a week is probably going to be in the form of a new group that I've joined in the food blogging realm called "Cooking Italy." It's been started by Angela at Spinach Tiger and revolves around Marcella Hazan's book "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking." One of the things that I've really wanted to do in my food blogging life is to join a group like Tuesdays with Dorie, Barefoot Bloggers or Tyler Florence Fridays (hey ... I might still join these groups. :) ) Right now, the Cooking Italy group is my speed and something that I'm really interested in learning (I freakin' LOVE Italian food.)

And of course, the first recipe is due tomorrow and I am still waiting for my copy of Hazan's cookbook, but no fear - I'll be doing this at the last minute tomorrow, I am sure.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mama Beans!

Even at its blurriest, these beans are divine

OK - I've been obsessed with my mother's cooking lately - not entirely sure why, but I love her. Her cooking is just a reflection on how awesome she is as a person.

We had an event at work recently where my boss grilled and I provided fiber to my entire staff of coworkers in the form of my mom's three-bean casserole. What's funny is that I absolutely hated this dish when I was a kid and I'm not sure why - I bet it had something to do with what it looked like, but now that I'm older, I think I could cheerfully eat this on a daily basis. And boy would my husband love me after that.

Mama Beans! Otherwise known as Three-Bean Casserole

1 lb. ground beef, browned
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 lb. bacon, chopped and browned
1 lg. can pork and beans
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 can butter beans, drained
1 c. ketchup
1/2 c. mustard
1/2 c. brown sugar

I brown the ground beef and the onion together and follow up by browning the bacon, which I chop into smaller pieces. (Although if you wanted, you could break it up after browning ...) Drain oil from bacon. Add meat to bean mixture, add ketchup, mustard and brown sugar. Stir well until all is mixed together. I cook mine in a crockpot on low for 6-8 hours, on high for 3-4 hours. And of course it's always better the next day. :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Strawberry Tart


I find myself wondering from time to time what I did before I had Twitter in my life. For anyone who has been living under a rock for the past year or so, Twitter is an online social networking forum where you give updates of your day, make random shout-outs, etc., in 140 characters or less. I remember when I first heard about it - I signed up and wasn't too impressed by it. But then I started noticing that a lot of my fellow food bloggers used Twitter to advertise their posts, started following them and now I'm a Twitter addict.

One of my favorite things about Twitter, beyond having totally random conversations with people that I don't even know, is that I get a lot of awesome recipe ideas from my Tweeps (that's Twitter speak for peeps. Sad, I know ...).

This one was no exception. This is from Esi at Dishing Up Delights who found this gem at Kevin's spot Closet Cooking. This tart is simple, stunning and will impress any dinner guest with its flavor (unless of course they hate strawberries.)

Strawberry Tart
adapted from Dishing Up Delights and Closet Cooking

Ingredients:
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg (lightly beaten)
1 tablespoon water
1 cup strawberries (cleaned, trimmed and sliced)
1 dash ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
1 handful pistachios (chopped) (**I omitted)

Directions:
1. Roll the puff pastry out into a large rectangle on a lightly floured surface.
2. Score a line around the puff pastry 1/2 inch from the edge.
3. Mix the egg and water and brush over the outside of the score.
4. Mix the strawberries, cinnamon and jam in a large bowl.
5. Place the strawberries on the pastry on the inside of the score.
6. Bake in a preheated 400F oven until the pastry is golden brown, about 15-25 minutes. (I used a cookie sheet that I lined with foil, sprayed with some cooking spray. See footnote about the huge mess I made.)
7. Sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.

Just a warning - my tart leaked just a little bit and now I have burnt strawberry jam at the bottom of my oven (which is in desparate need of a cleaning anyway). So maybe place another pan under your cookie sheet to catch said mess.