Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chana Masala

Lately, I feel like websites like Smitten Kitchen and The Pioneer Woman have been in tune with my cravings.  That is kind of weird if you pause a moment and consider that ...

It's a Saturday night and I'm munching on the last of some naan bread.  Originally, I was going to make some black bean soup for dinner, but since I torpedoed a rare weekend off (I worked Saturday and then had a family obligation on Sunday), I figured that I'd suck up to my husband by making some Indian food.  After all, the family that burns out their taste buds together inevitably sticks together.  So I made Smitten Kitchen's recipe for chana masala.

So first off - I really need to share more of my reaction with you guys than just my standard "oh man" or "holy awesomeness Batman," but to be honest - my first reaction was a bit of meh and then my nose started running, which unclogged the rest of my senses and I was wowed by this dish.  My reaction became "oh man, my husband is going to ADORE me."

You may find Smitten's recipe here.  A couple of notes:

1) I have no knife skills.  They have improved over time, but if I was a contestant on any cooking show, some judge would throw my butt out of the kitchen because I suck with a knife.  So I use the handy dandy miniature food processor that I inherited from my beloved late grandma Boots.  She used it as a "nut chopper" (don't ask) and it's brilliant for small-scale cutting like onions and garlic.

2) I have finally conquered my fear of ginger, so much so that the next time I see soap that is scented with ginger, I am buying it.  Long after I had grated what I needed, I sniffed the remaining ginger like a junkie seeking some sort of a fix.  "It smells like ginger ale!" my mind crowed and shifted to images from my childhood.  Not that I drank a lot of ginger ale as a child, but it's a wholesome thing to drink and, um ... Ginger. Fear conquered!

3) Do not rub your eyes after you have cut and seeded hot peppers.  You will cry.  Many tears.

4) The cumin seed needs to be toasted and crushed.  I had not performed that task prior to dumping the spices into my skillet and was left standing with a plastic container full of cumin seeds.  So I omitted.

5) Target makes good naan.  Sure, it's probably more Minnesotan than authentic, but it sure is tasty.  Don't waste your time on the whole wheat stuff.  It tastes like arse.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oatmeal PB Cinnamon Chip Cookies

On the night before Valentine's Day, there were a group of women in my town who had been abandoned by our husbands so that they could go to New Ulm and drink copious amounts of beer at the Schell Brewery Bock Fest.

*Sniff* I was one of those *sniff* wives.  (I can just hear my husband faux-coughing at his computer as I write this:  "Mexico!") And true ... the majority of the women I was abandoned with had been part of January's three-day cruise weekend - so if you really look at it, we spent three days in the sunshine.  Our husbands spent one morning and afternoon drinking beer in 30 degree weather.

I'll stop complaining now.

Anyway - I wanted to treat my friends to some mini cheesecake bites that I had found over at Smitten Kitchen, but I realized at 1 p.m. that they needed six hours to chill in the fridge.  Dinner with my friends was at 5:30 p.m. and I was scheduled to work until 2 p.m.  You do the math ... So when I got home, I whipped together a cookie recipe that I found over at Evil Shenanigans.  For those of you who are regulars here, you'll remember the Spiced Cake with Brown Butter Frosting.  I still have friends who mention that reverently ...

Anyway - this is an old family recipe from Evil Shenanigans and the only alteration I made was to replace the semi-sweet chocolate chips with Hershey's cinnamon chips.  And man - my friends are lucky that there were any left ...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nut Cake with Jam & Whipped Topping

Notice an inordinate amount of whipped cream? Yeah, this was a plate I fixed for myself.  
The older I get, the more that I realize that your standard birthday cake, bakery cake, what have you is pretty much overdone.  Not over-baked, but overdone.  Most of the time, you get a sub-par, mass produced baked good that is then smothered in enough frosting to put a person into a sugar coma.  Don't get me wrong - I love me a good chocolate cake, red velvet is one of my new best friends and every once in awhile, I come across a decent whipped frosting on some of the "mandatory" cakes I'm forced to buy for birthdays, retirements or graduations.  But by and large, I'm getting burned out on cakes in general.

But every once in awhile on the food blogs I find something that looks incredibly simple and seems to promise everything that I've been missing in my cake life.  And this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who found it from the now defunct Gourmet magazine (bastard publishing industry), fits that bill.  Toasted nuts, ground up and mixed into everyday ingredients and topped with fruit preserves and lightly sweetened whipped cream?  Oh man - I could have gladly rolled around in this batter and would serve this cake to royalty.

I made a couple adaptations and would probably make a couple more the next time I make this dish:

1) I could have swore that I had walnuts somewhere in my pantry, but when I was envisioning this recipe, I envisioned pecans.  So pecans are what I used.
2) I guess the original recipe called for apricot or raspberry preserves.  Deb @ Smitten Kitchen used black currant.  I used black cherry Polaner All-Fruit.  Love. Love. Love.
3) When you look at Deb's pictures and the original recipe, it calls for the baker to top the cake with a layer of preserves and then just put the whipped cream on top.  My husband has this odd aversion to any fruit that is not a strawberry, so I put both toppings on the side so our guests could choose if they wanted to use the fruit or whipped topping.
4) I really loved the whipped topping and had never used sour cream before in this manner. But next time, I think I would grate some lemon zest in there and would consider putting in a bit more sugar.  It was good, but I felt like I wanted it sweeter.  (As I rail on about sugar comas and over-processed foods.)

You may find Smitten Kitchen's recipe here.  Happy baking!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Roasted Cauliflower with White Bean Citrus Salad

Here's how this went - I had a head of cauliflower that was begging for attention in my crisper drawer. (I shit you not, every time I opened up the fridge I heard voices ... "Shelley, you need to cook meeeee."  And then I would grab a beer and just shut the door.  Maybe the beer had something to do with this?)

So one morning I was trolling the blogosphere on the interwebs and I found this recipe from Michael @  It would fit two needs - 1) It would get rid of the talking, guilt-inducing cauliflower and 2) It looked like it would provide me for a relatively healthy lunch during the work week (and cut down on my Jimmy John's addiction.).

And wow - the finished product? I was not disappointed, in fact, I uttered a spontaneous "holy hell!" when I first bit into a bite of cauliflower that had been slightly flavored by the citrus vinaigrette of the bean salad.  And although Hubby and I had just had a late brunch of gut-busting scrambled eggs, I devoured the plate that I had arranged for purposes of blog photos.  This dish?  A little bit of roasted heaven.

You may find Michael's recipe here.  A couple of notes and alterations.

1) I used Great Northern Beans.  Garbanzos would almost be too dense for this dish.
2) I did not have the orange-infused olive oil mentioned by Michael.  So I zested a lemon (about 1 tsp of zest, maybe more ...) and used regular olive oil.  I also used lemon juice instead of the vinegar mentioned.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Romance starts here.

Or ... erm, well, maybe not, but I have to share the "squee" moment that I had recently when an old colleague of mine wrote me and asked me some menu ideas for the romantic Valentine's dinner that he was cooking his girlfriend.  I had an Ina Garten moment, you know what I'm talking about - she's on her show and she's cooked or concocted something fabulous for one of her equally fabulous friends.  If she's letting her friend do the work, she devises up a recipe, writes it down with her Sharpie and sends it along with her friend - complete with pictures so they know what mashed potatoes should look like.

Well, my friend Chris isn't getting the Ina treatment, per se, but I did spend the past few nights whipping together an entree that is worth a snog or two from his extraordinarily lucky girlfriend.  (My husband told me I couldn't use the term "sex-worthy."  Sigh!)  I remembered an entree that I had made a few years back - stuffed chicken breasts that had featured spinach, mushroom and feta.  Then I thought about a Rachael Ray dish that I made this weekend that featured roasted garlic, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.  This dish is a hybrid of both, brought together with a velvety bit of goat cheese.  Because nothing says "I love you" like goat cheese.  At least that's what I think.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts
by ShelleyBakes
(I concocted this dish to serve two, but if you're being generous this Valentine's Day and want to double date, you can easily double this and serve four.)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts - trimmed of any visible fat
4 oz. button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1/2 bag of baby spinach
5 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced/chopped (the kind packed in olive oil)
2 oz. goat cheese, cubed
handful of Parmesan cheese
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Wash and slice mushrooms, mince garlic.  Heat a skillet over medium high heat with about 2 T. extra virgin olive oil.  Saute mushrooms for about one minute, add garlic (careful not to burn, because that's typically what I do) and saute until golden ... about five minutes. Lower heat and add spinach, stirring the pan to let the leaves wilt down.  Remove from heat, dump into waiting bowl that is holding the tomatoes and goat cheese.  Add about a handful of Parmesan cheese and incorporate all ingredients together.

In the meantime, take your chicken breasts - you can either cut a slit in them for filling or you can flatten them.  I put the chicken breasts individually between sheets of waxed paper and then pounded the hell out of them with my rolling pin.  You're basically aiming for consistency - you want an evenly distributed chicken breast, not with one side heavier than the other.  Place chicken breasts on a baking sheet and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Spoon half of the filling in the middle of each of the flattened chicken breasts, bring the ends together and secure with a toothpick.  Brush the outside of the chicken breast with some olive oil and sprinkle with more salt and pepper.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes.  (Or when you take a steak knife and ascertain that the chicken is done by hacking into the poor bird.)  Remove toothpicks.  Serve.

Serving suggestions:  This would be great to serve with some roasted vegetables - baby carrots and baby reds that have been roasted with some olive oil and rosemary.  Baked potatoes could also suffice.  I also told my friend to pair this with a green salad and some good crusty bread.

And for the record, my husband is not getting stuffed chicken breast for Valentine's Day dinner (he had it twice this week, so he's probably thankful to be spared yet another night of chicken ...).  We're ordering in from our favorite pizza joint and I'm going to attempt these Molten Chocolate Cakes. :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mushroom Soup

Mushrooms were on sale the other day at Hyvee.  Since I've been on a healthy living kick lately, I was so psyched to use them.  I had major plans for them - they would be sauteed in a light drizzle of heart healthy olive oil and noshed on as a side dish for some wonderfully prepared breast 'o chicken.  Maybe they would be roasted whole with a bit of kosher salt (new favorite condiment, folks ...) and again with a driz of the heart healthy EVOO.

But reality kicked in and kicked me in the ass.  I had a shitty week at work and decided that life would be better lived with some leftover Chinese takeout and copious amounts of Sprite mixed with Seagrams Seven.  By the time I got out of my funk, my brave little mushrooms were about to look funky.  But since I'm convinced that the Pioneer Woman knows my moods, she came in and saved the day with this recipe from her side project, Tasty Kitchen.

Despite some of my blatant failures with this dish (substituted 2% for heavy cream ... FAIL!  Made a slurry out of flour and water instead of using cornstarch ... FAIL!), it was pretty damn passable.  And it included cooked carrots.  I love cooked carrots - this soup is damn near perfection.  You may find the recipe here.

And it gave me an excuse to use my buddy Paul's homemade hooch ... gotta love someone who makes their own wine.  And then shares it with me.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Crockpot Swiss Steak

Among the many things that I'm thankful, every winter I'm reminded how thankful I am that my father, my nephew and my brother like to hunt.  And that they are good hunters.  And as sad as it is that they shoot Bambi's mom or dad, I cannot complain when my father sends me home with about 10 pounds of free meat that he no longer wants cluttering his freezer. 

I've heard people's complaints about vension ... it's very lean, it has a "gamey" taste, etc.  Personally, my husband and I think it smells terrible when it cooks, but I can't look at free steak or ground venison and turn it down - because it's cheap (FREE!), it's very lean and I am one of those odd people who do truly enjoy venison until I have ate it for about three weeks and would rather become a vegetarian until the next hunting season rolls around.

I don't think I have a secret to making venison great, unless I take a page from my aunt Sue's book and fry up a platter of steaks and then bake them off while wrapped in bacon.  But if I had a secret, I think it would be this recipe.  Again, I found it at an odd source - a recipe listed in a debt reduction blog that I subscribe to, but this recipe is so good that I nearly cried.

Crockpot Swiss Steak
adapted from

1 1/2 lbs round steak, cut 3/4 inch thick (** you may use venison or beef)

What you are going to do is dredge this in a mixture of seasoned flour - since I doubled this recipe, I took about a cup of all purpose flour and mixed in some seasoned salt, black pepper, some cayenne pepper for kick and garlic powder.  Come to think of it, I used kosher salt too, because that's my new favorite seasoning.

Brown the dredged steaks in a mixture of butter and olive oil (about 1 T. of butter to 1 T. of olive oil.  I have no clue why I did this, it just felt like the right thing to do at the time.)
Move the steaks to a plate and add the following ingredients to the pan drippings:

    * 1 (16 ounce) can tomatoes
    * 1 small onion, sliced
    * 1 stalk celery, sliced
    * 2 medium carrots, sliced

Saute until the vegetables are softened - about 5 to 7 minutes.

Put the steak, the vegetables and all the drippings into a large crockpot.  Add:

    * 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
    * 1/4 cup red wine
    * 1/4 cup water

Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.  I came home from work at about hour four to make sure that my massive crock 'o deer was not drying out.  On the contrary, I had some awesome drippings going on in my crockpot.

Finally, when it is time to eat (and weep when you realize that the venison that's been so lovingly neglected in your Crockpot is fork tender), serve with hot noodles, rice or cheat like me and buy some Bob Evans' Cheddar Mashed Potatoes.  Seriously - I think they are laced with crack.  Never mind that I can make perfectly passable mashed potatoes, these are up there with my mom's.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's all about the chicken gumbo

When I worked as a journalist in Willmar, I got stuck working every other weekend as part of my job as the night reporter/cops and courts reporter.  Looking back, it was kind of a nice arrangement because every other week I would have Friday, Saturday and Sunday off and after a year or so of weekends working together, the weekend crew started to have potlucks on the Sunday evenings that we worked.  I was usually good for a dessert, the sports guys usually contributed chips and my news editor Susan would usually whip up a Crockpot full of Chicken Gumbo Sloppy Joes.

I never realized how much I would miss Susan's sloppy joes until I went about six years without having one, so I sent her a message the other day to ask for the recipe and oh man - it was like eating a little sandwich made from the clouds of Heaven.  Or in our case, some ground venison (love you dad!) and a little can of Campbell's Chicken Gumbo Soup.

This is the first time in my relationship with my husband that I've served French fries.  But they're baked, not fried.  I suck.

Chicken Gumbo Sloppy Joes
from Susan and a zillion other home cooks who got bored or bought the wrong can of Campbell's and decided that meat would make it nifty

Brown 1 pound burger with onion.

Then add 2 T. ketchup, 1 tsp mustard and 1 can Chicken Gumbo soup. Simmer a bit for it all to heat through and thicken.