Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Black Beans and Rice : New Years Good Luck

New Years is on the horizon. Do you have any resolutions for next year? Do you make resolutions? I've mostly given up on resolutions, as I rarely stick with them. Instead, I try to make changes or plans in my life as a situation or need comes up. But I've always liked the idea of new year's resolutions; a new beginning, new adventures and plans.

I also like new year's traditions. My mom always makes black eyed peas on new year's day. She says it brings good luck in the new year for those who eat them.

I fear I am going to have bad luck in Germany trying to find black eyed peas - make that, impossible-never-going-to-happen luck. So, I went out in search of something I can make to bring us luck in 2009.

On a cute little blog, which unfortunately seems now defunct, the chef made Black Beans and Rice (Moros y Cristianos). She also tells the history of the recipe: "Black beans and rice is a popular Cuban dish said to bring good luck when eaten on New Year's Day. In Spanish, the dish is called Moros y Cristianos or Christians & Moors, with the black beans representing the dark-skinned Moors and the white rice representing the lighter-skinned Christians." Not sure how that relates to good luck, but as long as it does, I'll go with it.

Turned out quite delicious! And I'm very happy to have my 2009 lucky recipe handy for January 1.

Wishing you all a safe, and happy New Years!

Black Beans and Rice

Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, by Sugar Rush

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, stemmed, peeled if desired, and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 cups drained cooked or canned black beans
1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; don't bother to drain), optional
1 cup bean cooking liquid, or chicken, beef or vegetable stock, or water
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili peppers
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Cooked Rice to serve

Place the oil in a large, deep skillet and turn the heat to medium. A minute later, add the onion and bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the pepper is soft, 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, the beans, the optional tomatoes, the spices and the liquid.

Turn the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, until the beans are hot and most of the liquid is evaporated, 10 to 20 minutes.

Stir in most of the parsley and remove the bay leaf.

Arrange rice on a platter, in a ring if you like. Spoon the beans over the rice or into the center of the ring, or pass them separately. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve.

In case you prefer a vegetarian black eyed pea recipe:
- Black Eyed Peas and Collard Greens, from Gluten-Free Bay
- Creole Black Eyed Peas, from FatFree Vegan Kitchen
- Black Eyed Peas, from Slashfood

Guten appetit!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Shrimp Étouffée

It's Christmas Eve (as I write this). Wow. Naturally, I'm not quite ready for the end of 2008. While I've seen and done a lot this year, I always feel like I've left opportunities on the table. New hobbies, a few personal to-dos, house organization, and naturally, some travel. On the other hand, we did manage to grab life by the kohonas and do some pretty cool things! Skied a world famous glacier in France, started a food blog, got some great biking in (Tour de France style - Tim, not me), visited with old friends and got to know some new friends, and finally made it to Berlin. We also had one very important, life changing accomplishment this year... our baby due in January. For that, and many more wonderful experiences, I will always appreciate and cherish 2008.

Since we are far away from family this year and are enjoying a very leisure and relaxing Christmas Eve, I have time to blog for Friday's post (after this, I will be wrapping Tim's presents). On such a special day, I feel like I should provide a special recipe.

Shrimp Étouffée is a recent discovery, and one that will be cooked for years to come! It's a powerhouse of flavors, and has nothing but goodness in it. Shrimp, vegetables, and rice. It sounds so simple, but is so wonderful.

Don't be deterred by the long list of ingredients (it's just a lot of spices, and you likely have almost everything in your kitchen), or the multi-step process. The prep and cooking go by very quickly, and every bit of effort is rewarded.

Wishing you and your family a glorious holiday!

Shrimp Étouffée
from Cooking Light

4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 ounces)
Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2/3 cup diced celery
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper (I used 1 red bell pepper only, to avoid waste)
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon salt-free Cajun seasoning (Very important that it's salt-free, or you risk over-salting. You can always add more, but you can't take it back)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped green onions (I did not use any green onions, and turned out great)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided (I also didn't have parsley)
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 30 shrimp)
4 cups hot cooked long-grain rice

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat; bring to a simmer. Cover and remove from heat.

Melt 1/4 cup butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Add flour to pan; cook 8 minutes or until very brown, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup broth mixture to pan; stir with a whisk until smooth. Add remaining 3 cups broth mixture, stirring with a whisk until smooth; set aside.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter in a large Dutch oven (I used a large regular pot) coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 cups onion, celery, and bell peppers to pan; cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender and onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally. Stir in 3/4 cup water, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add tomato paste, Cajun seasoning, garlic, salt, black pepper, and red pepper to onion mixture; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add reserved broth-flour mixture and Worcestershire sauce to pan, stirring well to combine; bring to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add green onions, 1/4 cup parsley, and shrimp; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done. Discard bay leaf. Serve over rice. Sprinkle each serving with 2 teaspoons remaining parsley, if desired.

More cajun inspired dishes:
- Shrimp Po'Boy Sandwich, from Nola Cuisine (this is definitely on my list to-make!)
- Fried Catfish and Hushpuppies, from Nola Cuisine
- Chickpea Gumbo, from FatFree Vegan Recipes
- Cajun Quiche in a Rice Crust, from Cooking Light (omit the sausage, or use a veggie substitute)

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cherry Topping (or pie filling)

For dessert, I would always choose a fruit option (pie, cobbler, etc) over cake (chocolate, cheesecake, etc). So, if I am going to have cheesecake (twist my arm. go ahead, twist it. oh, ok, I'll have a slice!), it most definitely will have a fruit topping. And if I'm baking said cheesecake, I'm going to whip up my own fruit topping, avoiding the overly gooey store bought kind.

Since Tammy had such a winning recipe for cheesecake, I wanted to try her cherry topping. Mine looked significantly different than hers (comparing pictures). Hers had more of the store bought look, with a thicker consistency and dark red color. Mine stayed light pink in color and fairly runny. I was using corn starch to thicken the sauce, and was worried about adding too much (see recipe notes below). Using jel would be easier, but cornstarch is more common to have in the house and was my preference to use.

No matter the color or consistency, the taste was delicious! Those who took a small amount of sauce to start, asked for more. And there's no mistaking, homemade is waaayyyyyy better than store bought.

Cherry Topping/Pie Filling
from Tammy's Recipes

3 cups pitted sour cherries
1 1/2 cups sugar
clear jel or cornstarch, for thickening (I used 2 teaspoons cornstarch, but will increase it to 3 next time)

Makes 3 cups.

Combine fruit and sugar in a pan and stir together. Bring to a boil.

Mix cornstarch or clear jel* with some cold water or reserved cherry juice (about 1/3 cup of each), whisking to remove lumps.

*Cornstarch thickens, and will continue to become thicker as your mixture cools. Do not make it as thick when hot as you would like it to be when it has cooled, or it will be too thick. Clear jel, however, is the same thickness hot as it is cold. We prefer clear jel for thickening pie filling, as it is easier to see the consistency, and the pies don't tend to run over in the oven as easily.

When cherries are boiling, add thickening while stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Add enough thickening to make the consistency you desire. We like our pies fairly thick, but cheesecake topping thinner.

If you're making a pie: Pour into pie crusts (unbaked pastry). Bake pies at 425 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until browned.

Other fruit topping recipes for cheesecake:
- Blackberry Sauce, from Joy the Baker
- Blueberry Sauce, from Annie's Eats
- Mixed Berry Sauce, from Something Sweet
- Plum and Strawberry Sauce, from Wannabetvchef.blog

Guten appetit!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Classic Cheesecake

I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday, and celebrating with friends & family all around you. Words can never describe the magic of this season! I love it.

As a holiday recipe, I'd like to share with you a very delightful treat: Cheesecake.

You all know, my last attempt at cheesecake turned out OK, but not great. I decided to go back to the basics and make a really great classic cheesecake. My sister, in particular, loves cheesecake. So I also thought I should have a solid recipe in my arsenal for her birthdays, special occasions, etc.

This recipe is definitely my new go-to cheesecake! Was very easy, tasted creamy and rich, was dense, and cooked without any hassle (no water baths, etc). If a cheesecake recipe turns out this perfect on your first try, it's got to be good.

My only complaint would be that it made a very thin pie. I would rather have a thicker cheesecake, and will use a deep dish pie plate next time. Problem easily solved!

If not a cheesecake, what dessert will you make/have you made for your December holiday gatherings? Please share.

Happy, happy to all of you!

Classic Cheesecake
from Tammy's Recipes

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces sour cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
one 9-inch graham cracker crust*

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. (seriously, that's all there is to it!)

Pour into crust and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Chill for at least 4 hours or up to two days before serving. Top with fruit topping (easy and delicious cherry topping recipe coming up on Tuesday), whipped cream, or just eat plain!

* You can make your own crust by combining 1 cup graham cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 4 tablespoons melted butter. Press into the bottom of your dish and fill as directed.

Mmm, mmm, cheesecake:
- Blueberry Cheesecake, from The Blog Chef
- Vegan Eggnog Cheesecake, from Fatfree Vegan Kitchen
- No Bake Cheesecake, from Closet Cooking
- Chocolate Pecan Cheesecake Bars, from Bake or Break

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Soy Ginger Salad Dressing

Are you a salad fanatic? Or you think you could be, if you found the right dressing? (I fall into the latter category)

This is a delicious winter dressing, that reinvigorated my zest for salads. Yes, 'zest' I tell you! With maybe a bit of zing thrown in too. I really, really liked it.

Anyway, whether you want to zip up your weeknight salads, or you're planning to serve salad at your holiday dinner party, this dressing will be a hit!

As an added bonus for wintertime, the recipe includes ginger. Did you know that ginger is used often in Japanese cooking/teas during the winter, due to it's warming effects on the body? And, ginger happens to be very, very good for you. It helps with circulation, calming an upset stomach, arthritis and digestion (to name only a few benefits). But, ginger is not the reason to make this dressing. You should make it because it's delicious!

Pairs well with both leafy salads and pasta salad.

Soy Ginger Salad Dressing
recipe came from a friend, unknown original source

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a container that you can seal, and shake really well. Done.

Guten appetit!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Monkey Bread

Oh, sweet goodness... where have you been all my life?! From the second I saw the recipe and thought about this bread, I knew I was going to love it. And I did. I loved it the morning we made it, then again that afternoon and evening. And I helped myself to more the following day. I propose a name change to 'crack bread'. I've never felt so addicted to a food - I want it again, now. (Beware of denying pregnant women food)

Luckily, we made two batches of this delicious recipe. Otherwise, there could have been fierce battles over the sharing of 'my bread'. Not to make you think I'm a ginormous piggy, we only made two breads because we thought our first batch was a botch - the dough seemed really runny, and it was taking a long time to rise. But as soon as we started on the second batch, our first began to spring to life and so we had two monkey breads to feast on!

If you are hosting a brunch, shower, or holiday breakfast, please consider making this bread (and inviting me over!). Pretty please! Yes, I'm begging.

The bread is cinnamon gooey goodness, with a nice, fluffy doughy texture. Like cinnamon rolls, only better. I would rate the recipe difficulty as 'medium' (Only because of its time requirements, and multi-step process. But the recipe itself is a surprisingly easy, step-by-step process and worth every second of effort).

TIP: If you want to speed your prep time along, after putting the dough in a bowl and covering it with saran wrap to rise, heat your oven to 300 degrees and open the door. Place the bowl on the oven door, so it catches the heat from the oven. OR, you can turn on your oven to 400 degrees, after heated, turn it off. Place a cookie sheet of hot water on the bottom rack and your bowl with dough on the rack above, covered with a dry dishtowel. Shut the oven. Either way, your dough will rise twice as fast!

Monkey Bread
from my friend Sonya

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

For the dough:
3/8 cup warm milk (about 110 degrees F)
1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 package rapid-rise yeast
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons salt

For the sugar coating:
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the glaze:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon water

Have all the ingredients at room temperature. Butter the monkey bread baking mold (a 10 inch round bundt pan) with the 2 tablespoons softened butter.

To make the dough, in a bowl, whisk together the milk, water, melted butter, granulated sugar, egg and yeast.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour and salt and beat on low speed just until combined. Slowly add the milk mixture and beat until the dough comes together, 1 to 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the dough is sshiny and smooth, 5 to 6 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 1 minute. Form the dough into a ball. Coat the inside of a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray, place the dough in the bowl and coat the surface of the dough with cooking spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour (see Tip).

Meanwhile, prepare the sugar coating. In a bowl, stir together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Put the melted butter in another bowl. Set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape into an 8-inch square. Cut the dough into 6 equal strips, then cut each piece crosswise into 8 pieces to form a total of 48 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, dip into the melted butter and roll in the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture, coating well. Stack the balls in the prepared baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 30-45 minutes. Do not let the dough rise over the top of the pan.

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven. Place a piece of aluminum foil on the rack to catch any drips during baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the plastic wrap and place pan in the oven. Bake 30 minutes, or until cake is slightly crunchy on top.

While the bread is baking, combine all glaze ingredients and whisk until smooth.

When bread is done, remove from oven. Place a plate on top of bundt pan (upside down) and flip so that cake falls out onto plate. Drizzle the glaze on top (you may not want to use all of the glaze, depending on how sweet you want it). Serve warm.

Serves 12-15 people.

Today, I have no other recipes to offer in place of this Monkey Bread. Nothing can compare. (pitter patter, goes my heart. growl growl, goes my stomach!)

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rocky Road Granola Clusters - Fun homemade gift

Today is going to be a short post. We have wonderful guests visiting us, and I was able to finish these neighbor holiday gifts just before their arrival. But now that they're here, we want to go out, not be inside on the computer.

This is a tribute to the season, for anyone looking for something wonderful and easy to make homemade, as a low-cost, delicious, made with love gift for family, friends or neighbors during Advent. How delicious are they? Tim liked these so much, he told me I was never allowed to make them again, they're too dangerous to have in the house. I actually thought they were a bit too sweet, but I err on the lower end of the sweet spectrum. For the holidays, I think most people like to indulge.

This would also be a fun project to do with little bakers in the house. All that's required is mixing and spooning the mix onto baking sheets to harden.

My gift to the neighbors...

Rocky Road Granola Clusters
from Safeway

1 (16-oz.) package chocolate candy coating, chopped (I used chocolate chips, and they worked fine. But they do not melt easily in the microwave, and if not watched and strirred, can burn)
2 tablespoons shortening
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 to 3 cups coarsely chopped granola bars
3/4 cup sesame sticks or thin pretzels
3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted (I forgot to add these, and was still great!)
1 cup miniature marshmallows
12 caramels, chopped

Combine chocolate coating and shortening in a large microwave-safe bowl; cover loosely with heavy-duty plastic wrap. Microwave at HIGH 11/2 minutes or until melted, stirring once. Stir in peanut butter. Let stand 2 minutes. Stir in granola bars, sesame sticks, and almonds. Stir in marshmallows and caramels last so they don't melt. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto parchment or wax paper. Let clusters stand until firm.

Easy peasy.

Guten appetit!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hearty, Healthy Lentil Stew

This is one of my favorite winter meals. Complete comfort food.

Requires a bit of time (to cook the lentils and rice), but the preparation and work involved is very minimal. It's simple, packed with flavor, warm and healthy. Bring on the snow! I'll be tucked away on the couch, resting my big pregnant belly, watching a movie and eating lentil stew with fresh, crusty whole wheat bread. (sigh)

If you're a skier/snow-shoer, consider bringing this in your thermos instead of chili. Does a similar job, and would be a nice change.

A toast: To warm food, and cold days!

Lentil Stew
from Cooking Light

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped carrot
1 garlic clove, sliced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained
1 cup dried lentils
3/4 cup instant brown rice
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in a small Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

Add onion, celery, carrot, and garlic to pan; sauté 8 minutes or until tender.

Add broth, water, and tomatoes; bring to a boil.

Stir in lentils; simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in rice; simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in red pepper, salt, and black pepper.

More lentil soup recipes:
- Syrian Vegetarian Red Lentil Soup, from Herbivoracious
- Lentil and Escarole Soup, from Farmgirl Fare (use Vegetable Broth)
- Moroccan Lentil Soup, from A Year in Crockpotting

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Black Bean and Spinach Lasagna

Have a lot going on this holiday season?? I love it, but it can be exhausting.

You sail through Halloween because it's the first; you/the kids dress up, everyone's excited, fall has arrived, etc, etc. Then Thanksgiving comes around and it's a family chaos bonanza, and you love it too because of the traditions, having everyone gather, and eating too much (mmm, pumpkin pie!). Then a few days later, barely recovered from Thanksgiving, December hits and you're in a shopping frenzy, going to holiday parties, friend/family open houses, and before you know it... cooking is a distant memory and a dinner of snickers and apple seems OK.

STOP. I have a great solution!

Black Bean and Spinach Lasagna. Yes, it's your solution. Why? Because it's delicious, it makes a ton, and freezes great. Make the recipe and cook half for dinner this week, and put the other half in your freezer for 2 weeks from now, when you are not even remotely going to want to cook OR have time to cook. A half-recipe will easily feed 3-4 people with a side (try garlic bread, or simple salad).

I'm wishing you fun, laughter and energy (given to your body through eating well!) this holiday season. Enjoy these moments.

Black Bean and Spinach Lasagne
from Cooking Light

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional, I omitted this as Tim doesn't like cilantro)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups (16 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese with peppers (I used a mixed pre-shredded bag of cheddar and emmentaler), divided
2 (16-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (2-pound, 13-ounce) jar pasta sauce (try the Smokey Marinara sauce, tastes great!)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
9 precooked lasagna noodles
Garnish: chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Stir together first 5 ingredients and 1 cup shredded cheese; set aside.

Mash beans with a potato masher or fork in a large bowl (* VERY important to do this first, as I dumped in the pasta sauce too quickly and found it hard to mash the beans after); stir in pasta sauce and cumin.

Spread one-third of bean mixture on bottom of a lightly greased 13x9 inch baking dish (use 2 smaller pans if you are going to divide the lasagna and freeze half).

Layer with 3 noodles, half of spinach mixture, and 1 cup cheese; repeat layers.

When you are close to the end: spread with one-third bean mixture, top with remaining 3 noodles and remaining bean mixture.

Bake, covered, at 350 for 1 hour; uncover and top with remaining cheese. Bake 5 more minutes or until cheese melts. Garnish, if desired.

Lasagna, lasagna and more lasagna:
- Roast Vegetable Lasagne, from Exclusively Food
- Roasted Squash-Onion Lasagna, from One Hot Stove
- Fennel and Tomato Lasagna, from Mostly Eating
- 3 Cheese Pesto Vegetable Lasagna, from Ms. Adventures in Italy

Guten appetit!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Banana Bread

The smell of banana bread reminds me of waking up as a kid to delicious morning smells. I love the way it fills your house. My mom, aka 'Super Mom', made us breakfast every morning (and yes, she had a full-time job too). Waffles, oatmeal, pancakes, blueberry muffins... and banana bread (not all in the same day though!).

This isn't actually my mom's recipe, as I simply haven't asked her for it yet. But it tastes just like it, so my guess is that it will be pretty close. This one came from a friend, and it's HER mother's recipe. Go moms!

Mmm, delicious.

- As you gear up for the holidays, make a double batch and freeze a couple loaves to bring with you to brunches, family gatherings or as a hostess gift. You can freeze the loaves up to 6 months.
- To freeze banana bread, wrap tightly in saran wrap and then tinfoil or a ziploc sack. To eat a frozen loaf, you can thaw/warm it in the microwave or oven.
- Bought too many bananas? You can also freeze the banana's up to 3 months! They will turn dark or black in the freezer. When you are ready to make a batch of banana bread: remove bananas from the freezer and let thaw for 5-10 minutes, then peel them with a knife. You don't want them to go too soft, or they are very hard to peel. I also find that I need an extra banana to fill the cup portions required when using frozen.

Banana Bread

3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
4 eggs
1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups banana, sliced into small pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans), toasted or raw *optional

Preheat oven to 350. Grease one 9x13 inch pan, or two 7x3 inch loaf pans.

In a medium bowl, mix the flower and salt together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy (approximately 5 minutes). Then add the sugar and mix, eggs (one at a time) and mix, and finally the vanilla. Beat until everything is mixed well (an extra 1-2 minutes).

Then add the heavy cream and baking soda, and mix well. Next add the banana slices and mix until the banana has been mashed and fully integrated.

Add the flour/salt mixture slowly (1/2 cup at a time), while beating on medium speed. Be sure each addition is mixed in well before adding more flour. Mix a little longer past the last flour addition, and done.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 45-50 minutes. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Twists on tradition:
- Mocha Banana Bread, from Cooking with Amy
- Chocolate Chip and Sour Cream Banana Bread, from Closet Cooking
- Cherry Coconut Banana Bread, from Treat a Week Recipes

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Goodbye Onion Tears!

I'm taking a break today from recipe posting, as we just returned from vacation and need to prepare for Thanksgiving! Yahoo.

Speaking of which, with Thanksgiving upon us, there are a lot of onions out there, ready to be chopped. I, for one, hate the sting of onion fumes. I tear up and look like a raccoon within seconds.

I was reading a post from another food blogger (And darn it, I can't remember where/who now! If you read this post too, please let me know, as I'd like to give credit and link back) about her remedy: have a candle lit very close to your cutting board, while chopping the onion. Supposedly, it burns away the sulphuric fumes of the onion. Interesting. Has anyone ever tried this?

My mom told me that by not cutting the root end, you can prevent tears. Never worked.

I got a little curious (ok, bored), and decided to look up a few other old wives tales for onion tear prevention. Here are a few of the ideas out there:

- Have running water next to your cutting board while chopping onions
- Before cutting, apply cooking oil to your knife
- Stick a toothpick in your mouth while you cut the onion (Seriously? Someone please try this!)
- Keep your mouth shut and don't talk (Remember to breath, please)
- Place onion in the freezer for an hour before cutting
- Wear contact lenses (Apparently, this is one of the few times people with good vision get screwed)
- Peel the onion first under cool running water
- Chew gum
- Hold a piece of bread in your mouth (The image alone made me laugh)

And drum roll... my favorite recommendation:

- Hold a match or incense stick in your mouth (red tip out) while you cut the onion and your eyes won't tear up at all. (Lit or unlit? Be sure to cut quickly!)

I'll be trying the gum chewing method, and perhaps the candle. Hey, can't hurt.

Previously posted, favorite recipes:
- Fried Rice with Tofu
- Chickpea and Corn Fritters with Chipotle Salsa
- Enchiladas

Guten appetit!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Vegetable Pot Pie: Wrap up Thanksgiving with Leftovers!

First rule of any party: don't run out of food or drinks. Never seems to be a problem at Thanksgiving though. Despite the fact that people (read: me) stuff themselves silly, there is always, always a ton of food leftover. I see so many creative recipes that deal with leftover Thanksgiving food, but they are usually focused on turkey.

This Vegetable Pot Pie recipe can use whatever veggies you have. Hooray! It's not a picky recipe, and based on the reviews, I almost completely switched up the veggies. It tasted amazing! I don't even think it matters if your veggies are spiced from the Thanksgiving dinner. Just adds more flavor. Or you can adjust/lessen the recipe spices slightly.

Use leftover carrots, potatoes, onions, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, brussel sprouts, or sweet potatoes. The only thing I might be weary of, are the sweet potatoes if you typically bake them with marshmallows. I don't see marshmallows as a good addition to pot pies, but maybe that's just me. I suppose, if you were really industrious, you could rinse the marshmallow off the sweet potato slices (assuming you don't whip your sweet potatoes), then add them... Hmmm??

But don't only save this for Thanksgiving leftovers. Would be a great 'clean the fridge out' recipe, or just-because you feel like a warm delicious pot pie (because it's so darn good, I tell you!). Or, use it as your Thanksgiving dinner. It's certainly delicious and impressive enough!

p.s. While I can't categorize this recipe as 'easy', it's by NO means difficult. Everything comes together very quickly, and the two part (crust, then filling) process is nothing to be weary of. I promise! Probably one of the easiest homemade pot pie recipes out there and makes you look like Chef du Jour.

Vegetable Pot Pies
adapted from Ina Garten at the Food Network

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup sliced yellow onions (1 onion)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon white wine
Pinch saffron threads (or substitute marjoram)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/4 cups large-diced potatoes
1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced sweet potato/yams
1 1/2 cups broccoli, quartered
1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced carrots (4 carrots)
1 1/2 cups frozen peas

For the pastry:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Fresh, ground black pepper

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

After you are done with the pastry, start on the pot pie ingredients.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the flour, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly add the stock, white wine, saffron, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the heavy cream and season to taste. The sauce should be highly seasoned.

Cook the potatoes and yams in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Lift out with a sieve. Add the brussel sprouts and carrots to the pot and cook in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Add the potatoes and mixed vegetables to the sauce and mix well.

* If you are using already cooked Thanksgiving/dinner leftovers, you will want to skip some of these cooking steps for the vegetables and simply add directly to the sauce. Great time saver!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls (best to use bowls without a lip, such as a large ramekin).

Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside, top edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the sides, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top (feel free to be decorative!). Sprinkle with cracked pepper.

Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Baked Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar

This is a favorite of mine! While most normal portions for an adult might be 1/4 of the squash, I eat a full half. I would probably eat both halves, if I thought I could get away with it. My sisters were the same way. When my mom made this squash, there was never any leftover. Poor mom... I even think there were times she sacrificed her own squash portion to us wolves.

In any event, you now know that this recipe is good. Really good. Of course, you should like squash. Which Tim doesn't, and that secretly makes me happy, because that means there's more for me!

Baked Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium acorn squash
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
Fresh ground pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 425.

Butter a rimmed baking sheet or pie plate (depending on how many you are making). Halve 1 medium acorn squash (TIP: Use a kids pumpkin carving tool. It's much easier than a knife, which slides and is hard to slice through the squash). Scoop out the seeds/pulp.

Place the squash halves, scooped side down, on prepared sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Squash should be browned when turned over.

Remove squash from the oven, and turn over. Prick insides all over with a fork. Place 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon light-brown sugar in each half.

Continue to bake until flesh is easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Variations of Baked Acorn Squash:
- Acorn Squash with Cranberry Apple Stuffing, from Elana's Pantry
- Spicy Apple-Butter Acorn Squash Rings, from Seasonal Ontario Food
- Baked Acorn Squash with Granola and Apples, from 24 Boxes
- Acorn Squash with Chili-Lime Vinaigrette, from Smitten Kitchen

Guten appetit!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Seasonal Recipe Cooking

Currently, I am on vacation. I may be cooking, but we'll see if I have access to upload and blog while away!

In the meantime, I wanted to pass along a great website for Seasonal Cooking. In the US, we're somewhat spoiled with the availability of food. It's not so in other parts of the world.

And even if the food is available, the Slow Food movement and buying local is becoming ever more important... environmentally and economically.

You might already buy local and cook more seasonal recipes. If so, awesome! This may be another resource to add to your arsenal.

For those who want to edge their way into cooking more seasonally, Seasonal Recipes will be a handy resource for you. It's very easy to use, has reviewers ratings and feedback, and updates automatically by season.

So go check them out... you might find something to make for a fall family breakfast, or for the grand family Thanksgiving. They offer seasonal, as well as holiday, recipes.


Here are a couple recipes that looked good to me:
- Curried Squash Soup
- Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing
- Pumpkin Waffles

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

The sweet tooth strikes again! But, I consider this a somewhat timely post, as the holidays are approaching and lots of moms/dads start baking indoors with their munchkins, or like to bring treats to work for holiday parties, or maybe you'll be throwing a holiday open house. Whatever the occasion, definitely consider these little gems.

First, I love peanut butter. Remember this? Mmmm. Second, this recipe includes chocolate. Hello little darlings, where have you been all my life?!

Truly, these Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookies are delicious. I guarantee these cookies will make your house smell divine, be fun to make, and completely eaten within a day (maybe a day and a half, if you hide some or have unfathomable willpower).

I don't even have a finished cookie picture, I was too focused on eating them! I hope you make these, and I hope you enjoy the coming holiday season with lots of yummy sweet treats.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook by Smitten Kitchen

"They’re crisp on the outside, and almost cakey on the inside."

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter at room temperature (I used chunky)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (for sprinkling) sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter chips (I did not use these, and still turned out great!)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I increased the chocolate chips to 3/4 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Next, add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanut butter chips.

Place sprinkling sugar on a plate. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls (I used my hands to make them into balls) into the sugar, then onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. Using a fork, lightly indent with a criss-cross pattern, but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Do not overbake*. Cookies WILL appear to be underdone, but they are not.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

* I overbaked the cookies because I was thinking "I like crunchy cookies". They still turned out yummy for me, but these cookies are naturally a bit crunchy - just wait for them to cool. To keep a good balance, I recommend sticking to the directions and not overbaking.

Guten appetit!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tomato Braised Beans with Polenta

I received this recipe recommendation from my friend Erica, as we were swapping high-protein recipes to make sure we were both getting enough nutrients for our growing baby bellies. It's always fun to try a friend's family favorite, so I jumped on this one right away.

I rarely cook with polenta, not sure why. It's delicious, and this recipe was fantastic! It might need to be a new years resolution to make/eat more polenta.

I will say that making the polenta was a bit tricky, or at least, I thought so. However, since making this recipe, I've read other polenta making reviews/tips, and think I'd have an easier time of it in the future. It requires constant attention and stirring, so be forewarned. But, the result is worth it.

Tomato Braised Beans with Polenta
from CookingLight

2 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarse yellow dry polenta

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add parsley and garlic to pan; saute 1 minute. Add sage and tomatoes; cook 12 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates (only took me about 4 minutes).

Add black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and beans to pan. Cover, reduce heat, and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Polenta: (I am using alternate polenta cooking instructions, as the original recipe did not work well. But I kept to the original recipes measurements and ingredients)

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat.

Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 1 cup polenta in a very thin stream. You should be able to see the individual grains spilling into the pot. As you are adding the polenta, stir it with a whisk, and make sure the water is always boiling.

When you have added all the polenta, begin to stir it with a wooden spoon. Stir continuously, bringing the mixture up from the bottom of the pot and loosening it from the sides. The mixture will form the correct consistency of polenta in 35-45 minutes, when it forms a mass that pulls cleanly away from the sides of the pot.

Serve polenta warm with bean mixture on top, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Yields 4 servings.

More polenta recipes:
- Zucchini Polenta Tart, from Chocolate & Zucchini
- Baked Polenta Fries, from 101 Cookbooks (I think these would be great with a smoky-tomato salsa)
- Polenta Cookies, from Serious Eats
- Olive Oil, Grape and Polenta Cake, from Baking Bites

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How to cook Artichokes

We're in the midst of the holiday bonanza! With Halloween down, have you started to think of your Thanksgiving menu? For some reason, artichokes have been my new favorite go-to vegetable (I always love artichokes, but they're usually a special occasion veggie due to the cooking time required and seasonality of them). But I can absolutely imagine them in a Thanksgiving feast.

In any event, they do require a bit of prep work and also an hour to cook. I think that puts a lot of people off. But, they are worth it! Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever met someone that doesn't like artichokes. If you haven't ever made them before, or it's been a while, check your market and pick some up! I strongly urge you. Deee-licious!

Hello, my pretty... here is an artichoke fresh from the market:

Ready to get started? Here is the cooked, ready to be served, artichoke we are working towards:

What you will need:

2 large artichokes (green, with very little browning of the leaves)
1 large stock pot and steam tray
Kitchen scissors
4 tablespoons of butter
1-2 lemon wedge slices (optional)

Wash the artichokes under cold water, pulling the leaves out a big to allow the water to get in deep. Turn over onto a dry rag or shake most of the water off.

On a cutting board, slice off the stem of the artichoke, leaving 1/2 inch on the bottom. Remove, by peeling, the bottom first layer of leaves if they are overly small or brown.

Next, with a sharp knife, cut off the top of the artichoke, removing about 3/4 of an inch. Then with your kitchen scissors, cut the sharp tips (about 2-3 cm) off of the remaining leaves of the artichoke. You do not need to dig into the center of the artichoke for the inner leaves, only cut the ones you see on the outside of the artichoke.

Pour water in your large stockpot up to the steam tray level (about 2 inches), and add the lemon wedges. Insert your steam tray, and place the 2 artichokes on top, facing down (so the stem will face up). If they can't face down, it's no problem. Lay them on their side.

Bring water to a boil, cover and lower the heat to simmer. Cook for 40-50 minutes, or until you can easily pull a bottom leaf from the artichoke. Be careful to ensure your pan never goes dry!

I also test the leaf by trying to eat it (see below), to know if it's done. I get frustrated when I under cook an artichoke, but I haven't ever had a problem with overcooking. So I typically let mine cook for around 50 minutes, sometimes even a little longer, testing as I go.

When the artichokes are done, remove with tongs (they will be hot!) and place upside down on a dish towel to remove excess water.

Divide the butter between 2 ramekins and put in the microwave for 10-20 seconds to fully melt (be careful, as butter likes to pop and can make a mess if left alone in your microwave for too long!).

Serve the artichokes with butter. Will feed 2 people, as each should have their own artichoke. Otherwise, you risk a revolt at your dining room table.

Now... how do you eat an artichoke? I didn't take any pictures of that, and probably couldn't describe it nearly as well as Smitten Kitchen does, so head on over to check out her explanation. She also gives some alternate methods of cooking artichokes, and a mayo dip vs. butter. The best method I have found though, and I've tried many, is to steam in a pot on the stove. It might take an hour, but again, they are worth it.

Guten appetit!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumpkin Muffins

Here's another Halloween/pumpkin recipe I tried recently... Pumpkin Muffins. If I could, I would eat muffins all day long, everyday. Really.

Nothing stops me in my tracks while perusing a food blog or recipe book like muffins. While that may seem surprising, as I don't feature a lot of muffin recipes, I should tell you that I make the Morning Glory muffins once every 2 weeks. (sigh) I need to branch out, I know. I have a backlog of new recipes to try though, stay tuned!

This pumpkin recipe is courtesy of Muffin Top, a yummy blog devoted to more than just muffins, who nabbed it from Gourmet magazine.

Our critique: I really liked them, tim was not a fan. He didn't dislike them, but said the pumpkin pie flavor didn't seem right as a muffin. I think he would like them if I adjust the amount of pumpkin and add nuts or other flavor to make them a bit more complex. If you like pumpkin, you will like these. Another important note, they were best the first day. The slightly browned, crunch on top from the sugar became soft and a little moist over the following 1-2 days. I recommend bringing them to work, or a holiday party, where you know they'll all be eaten right away. Otherwise, dont sugar coat all the muffins, and they will keep better.

I will definitely give these little babies another shot, maybe mixing up the recipe a bit for Tim, maybe not. They look so tasty in the picture, it makes me want to reach through the screen and eat one now.

Pumpkin Muffins

originally from Gourmet, November 2006

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15-oz can) *christine from Muffin Top said she accidentally put the entire 15 oz. can in, with no ill effects
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice (a combo of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and allspice)
1 1/4 cups, plus 1 tablespoon sugar (kept separate)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350. Put liners in muffin cups.

Whisk together flour and baking powder in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, WHISK together pumpkin, oil, eggs, pumpkin-pie spice, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking soda, and salt until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined.

Combine cinnamon and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in another bowl/ramekin.

Divide batter among muffin cups (each should be about 3/4 full), and sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes, then transfer muffins from pan to rack. Best eaten same day! Great plain, or try them with a yogurt butter, mmmm.

More delicious pumpkin recipes:
- Cream Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes, from Tammy's Recipe
- Spicy Pumpkin Pecan Raisin Muffins, from Farmgirl Fare
- Pumpkin Spice Scones, from Pinch My Salt
- Brown Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Bars, from Karina's Kitchen (gluten free)

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

As we approach Halloween, we need some festive recipes to get us in the mood. Whether it's creative, spooky, or just seasonally appropriate, share with us your favorite Halloween/October recipe in the comment section! We're all on the look-out for new, yummy recipes.

I don't remember if I've mentioned this yet or not, but lately, I am craving lots, and lots, and LOTS of sweets. I keep telling Tim that this baby is all him - Tim has always had a sweet tooth, whereas I prefer to eat more dinner and skip dessert. Right now though, I could eat a whole bag of snickers Halloween candy in one sitting. Not good.

My sweet cravings are your gain! This was a recipe that spoke to my pregnancy sweet tooth, fit the season, and reminded me a bit of carrot cake with the cream cheese frosting (oh, how I loooove carrot cake!).

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting - mmmm, yum.

The cake turned out moist, light and a nice combination of pumpkin/savory and sweet. The frosting really did take the cake! Mmmm, good. All things combined, took me 30 minutes of active work in the kitchen to prepare, then another 30 minutes of baking. For the rewards, very easy and time well spent.

If you're having a family Halloween dinner, maybe a few friends over, or even a cozy twosome night at home handing out candy, this will only add delight to your night! (that little rhyme was unintentional, I swear)

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
from Tammys Recipes

16 ounces (2 cups) canned solid-pack pumpkin (I used 1 - 15 oz. can, and worked great)
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Frosting:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3/4 cups powdered confectioner's sugar
2-4 teaspoons milk
chopped nuts, for topping

Beat pumpkin, sugar, and oil. Add eggs, mixing well.

In another bowl, combine dry cake ingredients and stir to mix. Add to pumpkin mixture and beat well.

Pour batter into greased 15 x 10 x 1-inch jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool on a wire rack (in the pan); cover with a towel after about 15 minutes of cooling.

To make frosting, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a mixing bowl until smooth. Gradually add sugar, mixing well. Add milk until frosting reaches desired thickness. Frost cooled cake and sprinkle with chopped nuts if desired.

More pumpkin cake recipes:
- Pumpkin Bundt Cake, from Whipped (this is on my 'must try' list for next year!)
- Pumpkin Cake Pops, from The Recipe Girl
- Pumpkin Cake Roll, from Taste & Tell
- Pumpkin-Orange Breakfast Cake With Fresh Orange Syrup, from Tea Spot

Guten appetit!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Halloween Party Ideas

Do you have fun Halloween plans? I love this time of year. Even us big kids get to dress up and act silly.

Since we'll be traveling over the holiday, I wont have the chance to make some of the recipes I had been looking forward to. But my loss could be your gain! I thought I would list some fun ideas for Halloween parties, or just fun weekend family treats, you could try. If you make any of them, be sure to let me know! I was going to make the spiders and witch cupcakes for Tim's work group, maybe next year.

On a side note, although the pictures look incredibly impressive, I chose and liked all of these recipes because they also seemed fairly easy and VERY do-able. No crazy ingredients, or cooking methods/terms I hadn't heard of. If anything, some required multi-steps, but that's just an issue of time commitment. Hey, if you're going to make something fun for halloween, no one has to know it was actually pretty easy! Get the biggest bang for your effort, right?!

Enjoy my fellow ghosts and goblins! And be safe.

Here is my personal favorite: Ladies Fingers

All I can say is, 'wow, martha!'. Click on the link to see recipe details (they're cookies with almond fingernails).

Great Spider Cupcakes

How cool are these?! And sooo easy.

Spider Cupcakes
from Family Fun Recipes

Chocolate cupcake (body)
Canned chocolate icing
Chocolate sprinkles (hair)
2 pieces of eye-type candy (we used Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts) *
Clean scissors
1 package of black string lace licorice (legs)

Frost the cupcake with chocolate icing and cover with sprinkles.

Press the eyes into place.

Use scissors to cut eight 4-inch pieces of licorice for the legs. Holding all of the legs together in a bunch, bend them in half and crease. Push the end of each leg into the cupcake as shown.

* I bet you could find a thick tube-like (rope?) licorice that has a black center/filling. Then you'd just need to cut horizontal slices for the eyes. Cut carefully, as the licorice is likely to 'squish' as you cut it. Use a serrated knife.

Wicked Witch Cupcakes

A very fun cupcake accompaniment to the spiders, or if you happen to have a couple little girls in the house wanting to be witches this Halloween.

Rachel Ray's Gigi Apple Cake

This one is thrown in as a delicious looking cake, more for the low-key adult party you might be throwing. Apples always feel like autumn to me.

And for drinks, the Melted Witch, from All Recipes:

1 (32 fluid ounce) bottle lemon-lime sports drink
1 (32 fluid ounce) bottle lemon-lime flavored carbonated beverage
Combine in a punch bowl and serve over ice.

Happy Halloween to you all.

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Orange Ricotta Cheesecake with Orange Curd

I would love to have a go-to recipe for cheesecake. It's my sisters favorite dessert, and always seems so fancy (read: difficult and impressive). If I could find an easy, yummy cheesecake, my life might be complete. Ok, slight exaggeration. But it would be nice.

What drew me to this recipe was the simplicity. 5 ingredients for the cheesecake filling! Oh yeah.

Plus CJ raved about the results and said it was the only cheesecake her husband would eat. That sounded pretty darn good to me, to bake I go!

Orange Ricotta Cheesecake
from Cafe Johnsonia

Graham Cracker Crust:

9 full-size graham cracker sheets
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
3 Tbsp. sugar

Place graham cracker sheets in a large Ziploc bag and crush using a rolling pin. Pour the crumbs in to a small mixing bowl. Add the sugar and melted butter. Toss together with a fork until all the crumbs are moist.

Press crumbs into a 9"springform pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Prepare filling while crust bakes. Cool completely before using.

Cheesecake Filling:

1 cup sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange
4 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 cups (22 ounces) whole milk ricotta (don't use skim, it won't be as good)

Have all ingredients at room temperature, 68 to 70 degrees.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the sugar and zest in a large bowl. Rub the zest and sugar between your fingers until the sugar looks wet and sandy. Add the eggs and beat on high speed until thick and pale yellow, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix well. Stir in the ricotta cheese.

Scrape the batter into the prepared crust and smooth the top. Bake for 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F, and bake until a knife inserted about 2 inches from the edge of the cake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes more. The center will be softer and the cake will seem to jiggly, but it will set after it has cooled. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack before unmolding. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably 24 hours, before serving.

Serve with Orange Curd (recipe below) drizzled over each slice. Cafe Johnsonia also recommends a bitter orange marmalade.

My Notes:
Next time, I will cook the cheesecake in a water bath. I read after the fact that it allows for cheesecake to stay creamy in the middle (ours was a little dry, although I did not try the larger cake), and supposedly prevents the top-center from caving. Overall, both Tim and I liked the cheesecake, we ate the little ramekins, but it wasn't a rave review. His coworker though, who I gave the larger cake to, raved about it and specially loved the orange curd drizzle. So maybe it was just the ramekin cakes that were a bit dry, I need to remake this recipe. We all enjoyed the orange curd, definitely a keeper!

For the ease of baking, I would definitely consider making it again, but I'm still on the hunt for a perfect go-to cheesecake.

Orange Curd
Juice and zest of 2 oranges
2/3 cup granulated white sugar (you can cut back a little on this if the orange is very sweet)
4 tablespoons butter
2 large whole eggs, lightly beaten
dash salt

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.

In separate bowl, grate orange peel and squeeze juice from oranges. Add sugar and egg. Whisk to combine. Add the melted butter to bowl, and pour everything back into the pan.

Over medium heat, whisk the orange curd constantly until it thickens--sort of like a thin pudding, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Strain orange curd over a clean bowl with a fine mesh strainer (very important!). Enjoy warm or cold.

More cheesecake deliciousness:
- No Bake Cheesecake, from Closet Cooking
- Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars, from Baking Bites
- Cheesecake Marbled Brownies, from Rosa's Yummy Yums
- New York Style Cheesecake, from For the Love of Baking

Guten appetit!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Super Food, Sweet Potato Fries

Have you heard of the Super Foods? These are a combined list of foods naturally high in vitamins and nutrients our bodies need. You should try (no one is perfect!) to eat as many super foods, or concentrate your cooking with them, whenever possible. It's not too hard, since they're some of the tastiest foods around.

Although I find Sweet Potatoes on some SF lists and not others, I consider them a great eat! They're a nutritional all-star. Why are they so good? They're packed with carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Important, important, important, and yep, important.

Here's a list of the top 5 'Super Foods' found in North America, and here's Wikipedia's list.

Sweet Potato Fries are healthy, but also easy (my cooking middle name!) and delicious! They make a great side dish for fish, Enchiladas, Chickpeas with Spinach, chili or Cauliflower Soup. Or use them as a finger food/appetizer. They're great plain, or you can make a yogurt dipping sauce for them.

Sweet Potato Fries
from Cooking Light

2 (8-ounce) peeled sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 425.

Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise; cut each half lengthwise into 6 wedges (or more, I like mine a bit smaller, so they will brown/crisp a little more).

Combine sweet potatoes and remaining ingredients in a bowl; toss gently to coat.

Place wedges on a baking sheet (do not overlap); bake at 425 for 25 minutes or until very tender.

More sweet potato recipes:
- Sweet Potato Patties, from Exclusively Food
- Creamy Sweet Potato Soup, from Simply Recipes
- Sweet Potato Pot Pies, from 101 Cookbooks
- Roast Sweet Potato, Feta and Walnut Salad, from Exclusively Food

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Olive, Thyme and Lemon Pasta

I almost considered re-making this recipe before posting, but I think I'll do a follow-up and edit after making it again later. For now, I'd still like to share it with you. The recipe is crazy (yep- cRaZy!) easy, and very tasty. Wonderful weeknight meal.

The only reason I considered waiting, was to make sure I could recommend the right measurements, but I'm pretty confident in my adjustments. The original recipe calls for waaayyyyyy too much parsley. It's like you're eating parsley, with a bit of olive and noodles. So the below measurements are adjusted according to my preferences.

I was especially excited to make this pasta because I was told by my Doctor that squeezing a slice of fresh lemon food will allow my body to ingest more iron naturally from the food. I hadn't known that, thanks Doc! Making sure you get enough Iron is something very important for veggies, especially the vegetarian ladies out there. So, if you're not making this pasta tonight, and have a salad, chili, or whatever planned, be sure to give it just a little kick with a squeeze of lemon wedge. I love lemons, so this was an easy 'prescription' for me to follow.

(Sorry about the dark photo!)

Olive, Thyme and Lemon Pasta
adapted from Martha Stewart

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for water
8 ounces dried pappardelle (I used linguine and loved it)
16 Kalamata olives, pitted (I used 8 Kalamata olives + 8-10 green olives, pitted)
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (I didn't have fresh, and used dried - 1 teaspoon)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon juice from the lemon
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes (more, to taste, if you prefer a spicy bite!)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and pappardelle, and cook until pasta is al dente, following label directions. Drain in a colander, reserving 1 cup cooking water.

While pasta is cooking, combine olives, parsley, olive oil, thyme, lemon zest, orange zest, and red-pepper flakes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until a chunky puree forms. Transfer to a warm serving bowl large enough to accommodate cooked pasta.

Add pasta, and toss to combine. Add 1/4 cup cooking water, and toss to combine. Add more water if necessary; pappardelle has a tendency to absorb liquid quickly, so more water may be needed. The sauce should cling to ribbons of pasta but should not be dry. Serve immediately.

Serves 2, or 4 to 6 as an appetizer

Guten appetit!