Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just random thoughts ...

I've been reading a lot lately.  A lot ... and it is good:

Reading "The Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Some magazine columnist had talked about how this book had transformed her life ... kind of like the first time that I discovered the Harry Potter books.  I'm not feeling "transformed" yet, but I've been having this weird sense of deja vu.  And that's when I remembered that one of the cable networks (TNT, I believe?) had adapted this book into a mini-series that I've watched.  And enjoyed.  So ... that works.

I've been OBSESSED with the books of JT Ellison lately ... she writes the Taylor Jackson series of murder mysteries and I've actually exchanged a few tweets with Ms. Ellison.  She's a solid writer.

"True Blood" is back and I just finished the latest book in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris - "Dead Reckoning."  Although I love the TV series (ahem, Alexander Skarsgard), I'm kind of an ornery purist when it comes to the books and I wish that Alan Ball was a little more faithful to the books.  Then again, he gave me Alex Skarsgard.  I guess I can't be too ungrateful.

I have Steig Larsson's book "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and I want to see if I'll get sucked into that like everyone else in America.  I also have Stephen King's latest story anthology to start reading ...  thank God for the public library. 

So now you know what I've been doing instead of cooking lately. :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Italian Cream Cake ... and an awesome dad

In the minutes before my husband and I were married, my dad and I were hanging out in the basement of our home church - a vintage, little "white church in the valley" sort of place that had been the sight of his own wedding some three-plus decades before.

"I brought this with me," he said, reaching into his pocket and hauling out a white handkerchief. Since I was worried about tripping over my own feet and thankful that I was fitting into my wedding dress, I spared him the withering glance that I had reserved for my family members who were on the verge of tears.  But then he flipped it around and showed me the initial that was embroidered onto the fabric - a large "E" that stood for my late grandpa's last name. 

"Oh dad," I said.  "That is so sweet."  And it was ... this wasn't even his father's handkerchief he was holding, it was my grandpa Stan's - my father's father-in-law.  A huge absence in the group of loved ones that were gathered up above, waiting for the bridesmaids to hustle down the aisle and the appearance of my father and I at the back of the church.

All of the sudden it hit me - although I didn't plan on tearing up, I should likely be prepared in the event that common sense left me and I found myself weeping like a little kid.  I gave dad a panicked look and he sprung into action - bringing me back a paper towel.  I had to grin - we didn't truck with no Kleenex in my family - paper towels, toilet paper and real handkerchiefs were the snot rags of choice.

"I'm ready," I said.  The following is one of my favorite pictures from the day ... my friend Weaver snapped it as my dad and I were waiting to ascend the stairs.

How do you honor an awesome man?  You make him cake.  And not just the kind where you crack open a box of Duncan Hines and faux your way to a good looking cake (although I do have a yen for a good marble cake with the canned chocolate frosting.  It's childhood and comfort food wrapped into a single package.)  So I made the Pioneer Woman's Italian Cream Cake.  And no alterations were needed - I made the recipe as-is and uff da ... it was good.  For Father's Day I made a layer cake, so I could be cool and impressive, but I made this before for a group of co-workers and put it in a regular 9 x 13 cake pan.  I just adjusted the baking time to cook it longer.
This picture is straight off the camera and not really a great example of food photography.  Not that I care too much ... cake is made to be consumed!
I hope that all the fathers I know out there had a wonderful day.  And as for my dad?  There's no one like him in the universe and I'm very glad that he is my dad.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Pizza

I recently got the best email ever from the folks at Pillsbury.  The subject of said email:  "Peanut Butter, Beer & Bacon!"  If you ask me, that's like a trifecta of perfection.  And this sinful confection of chocolate, peanut butter and deliciousness was the prominent recipe in this particular email.

This pic is straight off the Blackberry.  This recipe was too good to stage for better pictures.

A couple notes about this recipe - A) it's infinitely easy.  It's all the good things that can happen when you utilize convenience ingredients and it's one of those recipes that will make people think that you're a rock star.  Or that you must love them very, very much.  (And since I made this for my Urban Family, yes - I love you.  And I love the fact that you eat my cooking so I do not have to truck leftovers home and succumb to temptation.)  B)  The recipe says that it makes 12 servings.  Um, yeah.  If you're looking to be in a carb coma, cut this dish into 12 pieces.  More likely, this can be cut into 24 wedges or stretch it even further by cutting it into squares.

Alterations I made:  The original dish called for using chocolate chip cookie dough. I substituted peanut butter cookie dough (I'm a freak for that). Also, I omitted the additonal fudge topping on the top of the dish (I subscribe to the belief that there is such thing as too much chocolate) and forewent putting peanuts on this dish and used chopped up Reese's Peanut Butter cups instead.  Because there may be such thing as too much chocolate, but there's no such thing as too much peanut butter combined with chocolate.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tortellini Salad

I've waxed ecstatic about the culinary things that I left behind in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  It still amazes me that after over five years of being gone from the Lakeshore (Manitowoc is located on the western shore of Lake Michigan), that I still dream in detail about things like Newey's Pad Thai, a sub from Fatzo's or the tortellini salad from Maretti's Deli.  Luckily for me, Maretti's is still in existence and they still serve what was my favorite payday lunch - a half sandwich (ham and provolone on crusty white bread with a thick smear of butter) and the tortellini salad.  Maretti's was only located a few blocks from the newsroom and typically on payday, someone would volunteer to drive over and pick up lunch.  Maretti's had other salads - the mozzarella salad is also pretty notable - but there was something about the tortellini ... maybe it was the amount of garlic that they used and subsequently kept my editors away from me.  This salad is magical.  And this is my bastardized attempt to try and capture a little bit of that nostalgia.

Tortellini Salad

2 packages of refrigerated tortellini (I use Trader Joe's Spinach and Cheese Tortellinis)
1 c. basil pesto (You can make your own or use prepared pesto)
1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste

Prepare the tortellini according to package directions.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Add rest of ingredients and mix gently (don't want to damage the tortellini, y'all ...).  Chill before serving - four to six hours is ideal and will let the flavors meld even better, but overnight is optimal.

So does this taste like Maretti's salad?  It's not an exact replica ... to come close, I think that I would need to add more garlic, but this is a nice approximation and good to bring for potlucks.  And to ward away vampires.