Monday, December 27, 2010

Heating Things Up


Here in RI, like most of the Northeast, we got at least 18 inches of snow yesterday. I know our house is probably buried in Jersey, too, and I feel a tiny bit sorry for our upstairs neighbor having to do the shoveling alone. Not so sorry, since I wouldn't be much help anyway, but a little bit bad. Bad enough that I'll probably make him some cookies when we get back. Me, I'm so over cookies.

I'm over sugar actually. It's a blasphenous thing to say, but after two weeks of non stop sugar, I have to call it quits for a while. Luckily massive snow drifts and a long morning of snowman making lies in my future, so the motivation to make spicy pots of toasty soup is fresh. This one is perfect for defrosting snowpeople after sledding, fort building, or whatever else you have planned while digging out from the blizzard today, if you must.

Martha's Chicken Soup, North African Style
adapted from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

Ingredients:
3 whole bone in chicken breasts, split, skin removed
3 medium carrots
1 medium white onion
2 celery stalks
3 sprigs fresh parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 quarts water
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 medium butternut squash
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
freshly ground black pepper
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can chick peas, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked couscous or brown rice
Cilantro and lime wedges for garnish

Preparation:
Slice onion and one of the carrots in half, place in a stock pot. Add chicken, celery, and water. Add parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for one hour.
Remove chicken and shred, set aside. Strain broth to remove all solids and return back to the pot. Dice remaining carrots and the butternut squash and add to the stock Stir in ginger, red pepper, cumin and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Add chicken, chick peas, and rice or couscous and stir. Season with additional salt and black pepper to taste. Serve with cilantro and lime wedges.

This post is linked to:
Souper Sundays
Hearth and Soul
Hunk of Meat Monday

Monday, December 20, 2010

Baking Lessons: Episode 3


Lesson of the day: Turns out, you can learn something from a novice.
Especially a really cute novice who is probably tired of you trying to teach her how to cook.

D Money has her work cut out for her. Her dad doesn't cook. That is not to say he can't, because the man makes a killer roast and amazing chili. He just doesn't have the time or inspiration, so they eat out at least 3 times a week. Over the years, I've cooked dozens of meals for them, and I tend to leave the recipe lying around in the hopes that one day, it will be repeated by my teenaged sister in law. I realized ages ago that that will probably never happen, and that even in hoping for it, I'm being kind of a self serving douche. Who am I to force my recipes on anyone? Even if they are family?

D Money drove that message home for me again yesterday. I had brought along my cookie book, ready to pull out some fabulous classic recipe for us to bake together. Then she said, "Sugar cookies! I have the easiest recipe," as she pulled out a book and a giant plastic tub. I swallowed my inner control freak and let me little sister in law show me the way. We ended up with a batch of deliciously sweet cookies, crisp along the edges, but soft in the center, just the way a perfect cookie should be. I was very pleasantly surprised by the cookies, but even more so by the fact that D Money has begun to show some confidence in the kitchen. It's safe to say I got schooled.

Basic Cookie Mix
from Reader's Digest: Cook Now, Serve Later
makes about 8 cups

Ingredients:
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups nonfat dry milk powder
5 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1.2 tsp. salt

Preparation:
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Sift this mixture twice. Store in a tightly sealed container for up to three months in a cool dry place.

Sugar Cookies
makes 18 cookies

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups Basic Cookie Mix
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
Colored, demerera, raw, or granulated sugar for decorating

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets. In a large bowl combine first 4 ingredients. Pour decorating sugar into a shallow dish. Using a teaspoon or one inch cookie scoop, scoop out batter and drop into sugar. Roll to coat and place on prepared cookie sheets, two inches apart. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until edges are golden and transfer to a wire rack to cool. For a crisper cookie, bake for a few minutes more, a few minutes less if you prefer a soft sugar cookie. Store in an air tight container for up to a week.

Print this Recipe

This post is linked to:
My Meatless Mondays
Hearth and Soul
Miscellany Monday

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Cheating


It's almost Feast of the Seven Fishes time peeps! Almost time for stuffing my face with fried smelts, scungilli, and bacala. The weird thing is, I won't be doing it on Christmas Eve this year. I know you Italians are gasping for breath (like a fish out of water, no?) at the blasphemy of such a thing, but it's true. My aunt has decided to host the party this weekend instead, and I don't blame her. Hosting a Feast of the Seven Fishes every year for 20 or more people for 15 years would exhaust anyone. Plus, I'm kind of psyched. It means I get to spread out family holiday cheer for another week. Sweet.

Now normally, gifts and dishes are banned from this event. My aunt, uncle, and grandmother do ALL of the prep and cooking (I told you'd it was exhausting!), but I'm cheating this year. In a few ways. I wanted to bring something small and I've wanted to make limoncello for ages. I even had the perfect French lemonade bottles saved from the summer. But then I got forgetfully pregnant and found myself two weeks before the party, having not begun the 3 month process. Oops. Making limoncello for real takes time and is well worth it, but I found a cheater's version online (and yes, it's Giada's). Eric did the math and figured out that Giada's version would yield only a 14% alcohol content. Not. So we made a few adjustments and ours is 30%, much more like it! This is still not the real deal, which is far thicker and more potent in flavor, but it works for now. Next year I'll go for broke and do it up right, if the baby doesn't make me forget again.

Cheater's Limoncello
adapted from a recipe by my ex, Giada DeLaurentiis
Makes 3 750 ml bottles, plus a bit of extra syrup

Ingredients:
20 lemons
2 750 ml bottles of your favorite vodka
6 cups water
4 cups sugar

Preparation:
Using a vegetable peeler, carefully peel lemon zest in long strips, making sure to leave the white pith behind. Any pith that remains on the zest can be scraped off with a spoon. Place all zest into a large pitcher. Pour vodka over zest and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to sit at room temperature for 4 days.
On day 4, prepare simple syrup by stirring water and sugar in a large pot over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool completely.
Be sure bottles are completely cleaned and dried. Pour vodka through a strainer to remove all lemon zest. Pour into prepared bottles until 2/3 full. Top each bottle with simple syrup and seal. Give them a quick shake to mix the contents. Store any remaining syrup in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a month. Label and decorate bottles if desired and store in the fridge for up to a month.

This post is linked to:
Vegetarian Foodie Friday
Free For All Friday
Hop Along Friday
Foodie Friday

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Breaking Up is Hard to Do


Dear Giada,

I'm terribly sorry it had to come to this, but it's time. I feel in the end we will both be better off, well I will at least. It's over and I don't know if I'll ever look back. Don't let it get you all upset inside, it was completely your fault, no doubt about it. It is your history of inconsistency that keeps me from being even remotely interested in continuing this relationship with you. I just can't count on you anymore.

You'd be much better off finding a person that can deal with your empty promises, your constant flirting with others, and your obsession with citrus zest. I might miss certain things about you, like that amazing Anthropologie wardrobe, but I just can't take it anymore.

I'm glad this is done and we're going in separate directions. There are so many others out there and I'm sure you'll find someone willing to put up with your annoying fake accent in order to catch a glimpse of that d├ęcolletage. I hope you'll be happy, I know I will be, now that I've found someone else.

Love, Joanna

By the way, you can actually generate a break up letter online if so inclined. How disgusting is that? 



I baked up a batch of these Lemon Ricotta Cookies for IHCC this week. They looked and sounded good enough, and they would certainly help me in my quest to use up the lemons that created this giant mass of zest.


Something happened. I should have expected it, with the terrible track record G and I have, but I forged ahead anyway. These could possibly be the most boring cookies known to man. I ended up making a quick glaze with lemon extract and powdered sugar to up the flavor, because the cookies themselves are just eh. They aren't sweet. They don't taste like lemon. They have a strangely soft pillowy texture that just doesn't work for me. I don't get it. I don't know if I'm just choosing the wrong recipes, but I think it's time I throw in the towel.

I just have to post the final results of this little lemon experiment and I'm out. I tried.

This post is linked to:
IHCC

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When Life Hands You Lemons

I have 18 naked lemons in my refrigerator. Naked because they have all been stripped of their sunny exteriors  for another recipe, one I'll show you later next week when it's done. There were originally 20, but now I'm down to 18 and trying to figure out how much lemon curd one girl and a boy with no sweet tooth can possibly consume without slipping into a diabetic coma. I love me some lemon curd and a big batch would help me make a big dent in my vast collection of rapidly perishing lemons. I just need to research how to preserve it so I don't have to store a gallon of curd in my fridge. I'm sure it can be done.

Meanwhile I used two lemons for a treat I've never made before, and probably never would have. Lemon squares are a decidedly summer indulgence, and one I like, but never really loved enough to bake. When I asked my Facebook friends what they'd do with 20 lemons, at least 4 people said lemon squares. The crust in this mishmash version is sweet and a bit crumbly like a shortbread cookies and the filling is just tart enough.  I'd have to make enough of these to feed an army to use all of that juice, but it's a start. A creamy, sweet/tart start that I'm enjoying as I type this with a big mug of tea on the first snowy day of the year. Yum.


Sugared Lemon Squares
-  a combination of recipes from Betty Crocker
and The Best Bake Sale Ever


Ingredients:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus more for decorating
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbls. heavy cream (optional)
4 eggs
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbls. flour

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk 1 cup of flour with powdered sugar. Cut in butter and cream until crumbs form. If this mixture seems a bit dry, add cream a Tbls. at a time to reach the correct consistency. Press into a 8 inch square baking pan, building up 1/2 an inch on all sides. Bake for 20 minutes or until edges are just golden.

While crust bakes, prepare filling. Beat eggs, lemon juice, and granulated sugar until pale, about 2 minutes. Add 3 Tbls. flour and beat until just combined. Pour over hot crust and return to oven for 20 - 25 minutes or until filling is set. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Using a knife dipped in hot water, slice into squares and remove from pan with a thin spatula. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Print the Recipe



This post is linked to:
Hearth and Soul
Tasty Tuesdays
Tuesday Night Supper Club

Friday, December 10, 2010

K.I.S.S.


I don't have much to say today, so I'm keeping it simple (perfect for this week's IHCC theme!). I finally have all of my holiday shopping and wrapping completed, but I still have lots of crafting to do and cards to finish. That's my one goal for today. Get the cards in the mail. I should be able to handle that, right? Well, I would, if I could stop staring at these Honey Vanilla Bean Marshmallows. They keep pulling me in and I may end up getting sidetracked. If you get a Christmas card from me and it's sticky, you know why.

Oven Fried Garlic and Onion Chicken Fingers

Ingredients:
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 cup French's Fried Onions (yet another thing that was in my pantry and I don't know why)
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup whole wheat flour
Olive oil in a sprayer, or cooking spray (Mistos are one of the kitchen gods' greatest inventions!)

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, pulse fried onions with bread crumbs until crumbs form. Add pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder and pulse to combine. Pour into a shallow dish. Pour flour into another shallow dish, and beat eggs in a third. Dredge chicken tenders first in flour, then egg, then onion coating. Place on a lined baking sheet and spray liberally with oil or cooking spray. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through.

Serve with homemade honey mustard dipping sauce for kiddos, or as a salad for grown ups. Mine is just mixed greens, tomato, red onion, blue cheese and dried cranberries. Nothing special, but it sure is good!

Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:
1/2 c. dijon mustard
2 Tbls. plain yogurt
5 Tbls honey

Preparation:
Whisk ingredients to combine. 

*Note, for the salad, I whisked a few Tablespoons of olive oil and red wine vinegar into this sauce to make a dressing and seasoned it with salt and pepper. It definitely needs the acidity!

This post is linked to:
IHCC
Souper Sundays

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Girth

This morning it was 32 degrees outside when I left my house. Ridiculous. I can't begin to fathom how not ready I am for the colder weather. It's not like it's a surprise. It's just that this year I'm faced with a whole new set of challenges. Like the fact that none of my many winter coats will now zip around the protruding pumpkin that has become my belly. I have a propensity for buying slim fitted things, which I kind of forgot about until I tried to zip up my favorite coat. Yeah, so not happening. I'm going to have to buy something, which sucks big time since I'm trying not to buy maternity clothes. Maybe I'll just walk around in an afghan all season. I could call it a poncho and then I'd be so fashion forward, right? Just agree with me, since you don't want to upset the pregnant lady.

Not that baking will help the girth situation (which I am completely digging anyway), but it certainly helps the cold situation. I love having the oven on in the winter. I also love using up leftover stuff, so this muffin recipe used a bit of my Thanksgiving relish, plus a can of pumpkin pie filling I bought accidentally (thinking it was plain old puree). So fraking good guys. And if you haven't yet caved to my peer pressure and bought Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, then you can click the link for the dough recipe. Or just buy it already. It is Christmas time after all, and this book will change your life.


Pumpkin Cranberry Streusel  Muffins

Ingredients:
1/2 batch of Pumpkin Pie Brioche Dough 
1 cup of cranberry sauce, preferably homemade
6 Tbls cold butter
2 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup pecans, chopped

Preparation:
Line muffin tins with 16 paper liners. Dust your work surface and the surface of your brioche dough with flour. Cut out half of the dough with kitchen shears or a serrated knife. Quickly shape the dough into a ball, dusting with more flour if needed. Drop the ball of dough onto your floured work surface and cut in half. Cut each half into 6 even slices. Roll each slice into a ball (  they should be about the size of a golf ball) and drop into muffin liners. Cut a hole in the center of each ball with a knife and use your fingers to stretch the hole to about the size of a large grape. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit for 45 minutes to rise.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare the streusel topping by combining cinnamon, flour, sugar and pecans in a small bowl. Cut in the butter with a knife or a fork until crumbly. As the brioche dough rises, your holes may begin to fill up, so you may need to re-stretch them. Once you have done this, spoon a teaspoon of cranberry sauce into each muffin. Top with streusel. Bake for 20 minutes and allow to cool in the pan.

Print the Recipe

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Copycat


 On our visit to Philly this fall, I went a little nuts over these tasty risotto balls we had at La Scala. I've been dying to make them ever since, but have yet to have a little extra risotto on hand. When I put the effort into making risotto, I rarely make enough for leftovers, since reheated risotto is just not risotto. The best way to use up leftover risotto is to make arancini, and there are hundreds of recipes out there. My leftovers, however, were several cups of humble brown rice left from my Nonna Luna debacle, so a bit of research was in order.

Turns out, you can make arancini with plain cooked rice. Apparently it's the Sicilian way. I found a recipe, but it claimed to take 4 hours. Yeah, uh. Hells no am I spending four hours making rice balls. I ended up just figuring it out, and E and I had our La Scala copycat arancini in about half an hour. While they were not quite a creamy as the originals this time, I know a few more tweaks can make them just right. They were balls of delicious and cheesy goodness spiked with pancetta, so you really can't go wrong. I can definitely see serving small arancini as an appetizer for a holiday cocktail party, dressed up with little skewers. Anyone wanna host one and invite me? I'll bring the balls. The rice balls.

Arancini di Riso with Pancetta


Ingredients:
3 cups cooked brown rice
4 eggs, divided
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs, divided
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/3 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
1/3 cup pancetta, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup smoked mozzarella, cubed
1 cup whole wheat flour
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Preparation:
Set up three shallow pans for coating rice balls: one with 1 cup of breadcrumbs, one with flour, and one with 2 eggs, beaten. Set aside.

Cook pancetta in a large, deep pan until crisp and browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and leave any grease in the pan. In a large bowl, toss rice with pancetta, two eggs, basil, 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Add about an inch or two of oil to the pancetta pan and heat over medium high while you prepare the rice balls. Using a large muffin scoop, scoop out rice mixture, press a cube of mozzarella inside and top with enough rice to cover. Release the scoop into your hand and press firmly into a ball. Dredge in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Repeat.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Once your oil is ready (either it has reached 350 degrees or a wooden spoon handle dipped in the oil creates bubbles), drop balls a few at a time into hot oil. Once golden (about 3 minutes) turn to cook the other side. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and set on paper towels. Once all of the arancini is fried, place them on a baking sheet. Warm them in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. Serve with your choice of tomato sauce.

Print the Recipe

This post is linked to:
Hearth and Soul
Tuesday Night Supper Club
Tasty Tuesdays

Friday, December 03, 2010

Heart and Soul


Notice anything different? Yeah, boyeee! That'd be a quick shot taken from my new baby. I am now the lucky owner of a Nikon D40X. The very lucky owner. You see, when my parents last came to visit I asked my step-dad to bring his camera along for me to play with, since I was in the market. He did, and little did I know, he tucked that little bit of info away for what would become weeks of undercover communicado. He and E had it all planned out. My mom, true to style, ruined the whole surprise. When I told her about my broken point and shoot she told me Ralphy was planning to give me his camera. So my birthday and Christmas came early this year, on Thanksgiving. I have lots to be thankful for.

My family is awesome. So for this week's IHCC theme, Warm the Belly, Fill the Soul, I thought of making a family dish. One inspired by Giada's family for my own to enjoy. I found this recipe from G's Nonna Luna and thought it would be a perfect little homage to my amazing famiglia. From her kitchen to mine, right (Sorry, wrong Food TV star)?

Sadly, we were underwhelmed by this dish. E and I found it bland, and the butter/hot sauce combo looked too "buffalo wing-ish" for me to really dig it. I tossed in some peas for a much needed veggie boost and hoped for the best. It was ok, but if this is what has become poor Nonna Luna's food legacy, shame on Tits McGee. I'm sure her grandmother made better food than this!



Nonna Luna's Rice
Adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis

Ingredients:
1 stick of unsalted butter
2 cups brown rice
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 clove garlic minced
2 lbs. small shrimp, cleaned
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
juice of 1 lemon
4 Tbls hot sauce
1 cup heavy cream
pepper

Preparation:
Melt half of the butter in a large sauce pan. Add rice and cook, stirring, until toasted, about 3 minutes. Add chicken stock and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until all stock is absorbed. In a large saute pan, melt remaining butter over medium high  heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice and hot sauce and cook until shrimp is just turning pink. Stir in cream and heat through. Serve over rice.

Print the Recipe


Notes: I am currently entered in three, count 'em, three food related contests. If you love me, please help me out by taking a few moments to vote! Thank you, thank you for your support, and I will always return the favor!

Just leave a comment on this post to vote for my Plan it, Blog it! Thanksgiving 2010 entry. Each comment is a vote!


Click here to vote for my entry in the Archway/Bakespace photo contest. Leave a comment to vote for my photo: #12. Each comment also enters you in a giveaway for a box of all of Archway's holiday cookies which are scrumdiddlyumptious.


Click here to vote for my entry in the Chile and a Spoon Contest. Just a click for Go Ahead and Snicker will do it.


This post is linked to:
IHCC
I am a Food RENEGADE!
Foodie Fridays
Fresh Clean and Pure Friday
Seasonal Saturday

Thursday, December 02, 2010

You Can't Catch Me, I'm the Gingerbread Man


I never need an excuse to get crafty. I never need an excuse to eat cookies. When I get the opportunity to do both simultaneously, a happy girl am I. Archway Cookies is hosting a little photo challenge with my hero Babette of BakeSpace fame, so I had to throw my name in the hat. I scored a bulging box of holiday cookies from Archway with the instructions to create something that would capture the holidays and snap a photo. No baking required. Most of the cookies were too soft to use for any real crafting, since I wanted to make something that would last. No sense creating something I'll just have to toss! Luckily they were all good enough to eat, especially the Candy Cane flavor (which was gone in a day. Actually, hours.). The Gingerbread Men were the only cookies I thought might hold up, so this garland was born.

As a bonus, BakeSpace and Archway are offering an ultimate gift box of cookies for one lucky voter. The poll is up, and all you need to do is leave a comment to vote and be entered in the cookie drawing. I'm #12 and, as always, I appreciate your support! Click here to vote!

Want to make you own garland? Here's how:

Gingerbread Man Garland

What you'll need:
One bag of Archway Gingerbread Men 
Spray Shellac or Lacquer
Mod Podge, Sparkle
E6000 craft adhesive aka the best stuff ever
1/2 inch Eye Pins
Baker's Twine
Red and Clear Crystal Beads

What you'll do:
Step 1: Sort through your bag of cookies and set all of the whole gingerbread men aside. Stuff the broken ones in your mouth.

Step 2: Using a pastry brush, brush all of the crumbs from all sides and edges of the cookies.

Step 3: Lay the brushed cookies out on a non stick, disposable surface outside or in a well ventilated area, like your garage. I used a slick poster board, but parchment or wax paper would work. Make sure you read the instructions and drying times on the can before you start! Spray well with a coat of shellac or laquer (or if you're like me, have your husband do it. Those fume aren't good for baby!) Once dry, flip and spray the backs. Repeat to give cookies three coats of shellac.


Step 4: Move your little project inside where it's warm. Using a foam brush, brush each cookie with a coat of Sparkle Mod Podge. Yes, it looks white, but don't fret. It will dry clear and shimmery. Allow to dry completely.

Step 5: Carefully slide an eye pin straight down into the top of each cookie. Right into the little man's noggin. Be gentle! Even though you've sealed them, they can still break! Remove the eye pin, dip into E6000, and slide back into the hole. Wipe any excess glue and allow to dry overnight.



Step 6: Measure out your desired length of baker's twine. Make a knot a few inches from one end and string on beads and a cookie in your desired pattern. Make another knot next to the last bead. I used three fingers to measure the spaces between cookies and tied another knot before continuing to string. Repeat until you run out of cookies or twine.




Don't know what to do with any leftover cookies? Make earrings for your Tacky Christmas Sweater Party, use them as pendants for cute kids, or tie them to gifts to spice up your wrapping. I think they would be adorable on boxes wrapped in brown kraft paper and tied with baker's twine!


*Note: I received this box of holiday cookies from Archway for free, under no commitment to review them. All of the comments and opinions shared here are my own.