Sunday, December 14, 2008

Salad: Christmas Salad 2008

Some friends of mine have this one special Christmas dinner every year. This year, I volunteered to bring the salad. As I stood in my favorite produce market last week, I had a sudden fit of pride. I was going to bring a darn good salad, and I was not, I repeat not, going to look at any recipe. I decided to let the season inspire me. What kind of salad is really a Christmas salad? Is there such a thing? Well, if there isn't I just made one. And I like it. And everyone else at the dinner liked it as well. Make it and tell me what you think. If it needs improvements (and I think the dressing really does), please improve.

Christmas 2008 Green Salad (for lack of a better name)

boston lettuce
candied pecans
homemade croutons
stilton cheese with apricot
dried cherries
white wine vinegar and cider dressing

1. Make the candied pecans. Toss 1/2 pound of halved pecans in wash (1 egg white, 1 tablespoon of water), then coat with spiced sugar (1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, dash of nutmeg, dash of ground cloves, dash of ginger). Spread coated nuts on greased cookie sheet and cook in 250 degree oven for 1 hour, turning every fifteen minutes. You won't use all of the pecans for the salad. But, I used what I wanted and put the rest in a pretty bowl on my table...that is until P crawled onto the table and poured the bowl of pecans on the floor. I swore when he did that.

2. Make the croutons. Tear a day old baguette into bite sized pieces (I usually make about four croutons per person. You don't need to tear the entire baguette apart). Toss the pieces in olive oil until each piece is good and soaked. Roast pieces of bread in 400 degree oven until they are browned and crouton-like, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. Make the dressing. In the interest of full disclosure, I was unimpressed with this dressing. It needs something, but I don't know what. Let me know if you figure it out.

1/4 cup apple cider
1/8 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
scraped sugar bits from pan I used to make candied pecans
1/2 Tablespoon minced shallots
bit of salt
more sugar if you want a sweeter taste

4. Tear butter lettuce into bite sized pieces. Wash and dry.

5. Assemble salad with everything but dressing. Crumble the stilton/apricot cheese onto and within the lettuce. Toss dried cherries, cooled pecans and croutons in.

6. Two minutes before serving, add dressing and toss.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Breakfast: Fake Cinnamon Rolls (Or Orange as the case may be)

I believe in a lot of things. I believe in being nice. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in Hot Breakfasts. As my daughter G used to say, "for real life, I do." However, mornings are tight at our house. The bathroom is in heavy demand, people are practicing instruments, almost all major appliances are up and running. Speaking of running, I am usually back from my run and instead of running on the street, by 7:30am I am running around my house barking orders to play the right note, start the dishwasher, or get out of the bathroom. So, given the morning craziness, my strong belief in Hot Breakfasts suffers dearly. Enter Fake Cinnamon Rolls. My dear friend H introduced these to me a few years ago. She brought this towering gooey mess of Orange Rolls to Easter Dinner. I couldn't stop eating them. I took four just for myself. When my daughter asked me if there were any more of H's orange rolls, I lied and said, "I don't think so", when in fact there were about seven left. I wanted them all for myself. Whenever somebody reached for one, I gave their hand a dirty look. I resented H for not making these sooner, and I told her so. She said, "well, I didn't think you made things out of a can." "What?" I replied. "These are just canned biscuits dipped in butter, sugar and orange peel, then baked in a bundt pan." "Oh.", I humbly replied. Fast forward a few years later. I make these fake cinnamon/orange rolls all the time. When I have an extra fifteen minutes in the morning, I pop these puppies in the oven and wha-la, the girls treat themselves to a yummy breakfast dessert (post scrambled eggs, mind you). And if any of you are grossing out that I in fact use biscuits from a can, too bad. I guess that means you can't come over and try one. Just kidding. I said I believe in forgiveness, and for real life, I do.

Marilyn's Orange Rolls (including a cinnamon roll variation)
3 cans prepared biscuits --Pillsbury Biscuits (buttermilk)
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
grated rind of one orange

Mix butter, sugar, and rind. Dip biscuits in mix, then stand on end around greased bundt pan. Pour extra mix on top (I add a bit of the orange's juice as well). Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes.

For Fake Cinnamon Rolls, I use 1 teaspoon of cinnamon instead of orange rind. I also use 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar, but be sure to watch closely because the brown sugar causes potential gooey-ness to drip over the pan.

Finally, I don't use all 3 cans of biscuits for my girls in the morning, I reduce the whole recipe and use one can, and bake it in any sort of small baking dish. Yummy.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Breakfast: Pumpkin Waffles and Buttermilk Syrup

Nothing is better than a good friend. Well, I should rewrite that-- "Nothing is better than a good friend who fixes you good food." A few weeks ago, an especially dear friend of mine fixed an amazing breakfast. We were celebrating our most beloved day of the year--The First Day of School. So, we gathered around her table and feasted on pumpkin waffles and buttermilk syrup. While the pumpkin waffles are lovely and seasonal, this syrup will knock your socks off. D's parents visited last week and I fixed the waffles and noted syrup. When nobody was looking, I grabbed the nearest waffle scrap and dunked it in the syrup. As I ate the dunked scrap, a bit of syrup fell onto the counter. After looking around the corner to make sure nobody was coming into the kitchen, I wiped the drop up with my finger and licked it clean. Maybe I should have written "Nothing is better than a good friend who fixes you good that is so good you lick it off of the counter."

Pumpkin Waffles with Buttermilk Syrup

2 cups flour
2 T. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
1 T. sugar
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. coriander
1/4 t. salt
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 c. milk
1 c. pumpkin
3/4 c. butter
1 T. vanilla

Mix the above ingredients together. Beat 4 egg whites until stiff and fold in to the batter. Cook in waffle iron.

Buttermilk Syrup

1 cup butter
1 cups buttermilk
2 cups sugar
1 t. baking soda
4 T. Karo syrup
2 t. vanilla

Cook in a large pot (it bubbles up!) Keep stirring for 7-10 minutes at boiling temperature. Now, make sure you boil it long enough. The first time I made this, I didn't boil it long enough and it was too runny.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dessert: Mexican Chocolate Cake

Long ago (I really mean a few posts back, but because I am an infrequent blogger, it was long ago) I promised I'd post my favorite Mexican chocolate cake recipe. Here it is. I love this stuff. Mexican chocolate should only be reserved for cool people. Try this and you'll see what I mean: make the cake and don't tell anyone you added cinnamon (and a dash of chile in my case). See who notices. If someone asks you what spices were added, you can immediately admit them to your Cool Club.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Breakfast: Survival Mode Breakfast

Nutella. Nutella is such a valuable part of my life that I can not find words adequate enough to describe its importance. I will say this--right now we are in the middle of a light kitchen renovation (I say light because we are not changing the footprint of the kitchen, but that's the only thing we aren't changing). Nutella is saving my life. Can't find the syrup to spread over the waffles? Nutella and a plastic knife do the trick. Kids are bored and need something to do? Paper plates and Nutella, and finger painting never sounded so fun. Snack time while I'm in the middle of painting? Stick a bunch of plastic spoons by a jar of Nutella and the next thing you know, three girls are giggly and full. If this kitchen turns out, and I'm really doubtful at times, I will owe it all to the ever yummy Nutella.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Snack: Pico de Gallo

What do I eat when I'm famished? I'll tell you. I eat Pico de Gallo. Chime in here if I am wrong, but I believe Pico de Gallo is like Salsa, only not. It is diced vegetables tossed together, rather than mushed together. My dear friend SES makes the world's best Pico de Gallo, but I don't think she calls it that. All I know is that one day, she brought me a large container of this concoction along with a bag of chips. I ate the entire contents of the container by myself (there were a few chips left in the bag). I told no one and I admitted to nothing.

It may seem like I'm on a Mexican food kick here. But Mexican food is an integral part of my life. In fact I'll prove it to you by publishing my favorite mexican chocolate cake....but not until I eat another few bowls of Pico de Gallo.

Pico de Gallo

3 tomatoes, diced
1/4 red onion, minced
1 avocado, diced
fresh lime juice (lots and lots)
cilantro, chopped (optional)
fresh corn (optional, but if you do it, use corn that you cut directly off the makes all the difference)

Dice the tomatoes and avocados. Mince the red onion. Juice the limes into the vegetables. Add optional vegetables. Mix. Serve with tortillas chips.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dinner: Chips and Salsa (and lots of other stuff)

D has been traveling a lot lately. When he travels, our night time rituals slack, and dinner is no exception. My second child loves bean dip. So, a few weeks ago, I thought, "why not make bean dip into a dinner?" Fast forward to tonight. If you had walked into our kitchen at 6:36pm, here is what you would have seen:

Chips and Dip Dinner

Bowl of Tortillas Chips
Bowl of Guacamole
Bowl of Bean Dip
Bowl of Sour Cream
Bowl of Salsa
Bowl of Fresh Strawberries

Sounds strange. But as I watched my beloved chitlens munch on small chips with loads of beans and avocados, I thought, "well, this is a well rounded meal, if ever I saw one." 45 minutes later their tummies were full. So, another easy dinner that works for me.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lunch: Caprese Salad

Tomatoes. We have a past. Until I was 18, tomatoes and I were not friends. But, I will never forget the day we started a relationship. I was sitting in my Aunt's kitchen, talking about food. I mentioned my dislike of tomatoes. She looked at me strangely, then asked:
"Have you ever had tomatoes with fresh mozzarella?"
"Well, I'm going to prepare tomatoes for you."
Ten minutes later she hands me a beautiful plate and proclaims, "This is how tomatoes were meant to be eaten. You eat this salad, and you will like tomatoes."
She was right. As soon as I took a bite of the tomato, mozzarella, and basil, I knew.

I knew that tomatoes and I were going to have to start over, and find a place where we could co exist.

At this point in the post I have to say that I had a caprese salad in Italy last week. I cried as I ate it. I love tomatoes. I love buffalo mozzarella. I love that God created an herb (basil) specifically meant for one of his beloved fruits.

I love you, tomatoes. I'm sorry I ever doubted you.

fresh tomatoes
fresh mozzarella
fresh basil
olive oil

slice tomatoes and arrange on plate. Slice mozarella and arrange on top of tomatoes. Scatter fresh basil over cheese. Drizzle lightly (very lightly) with extra virgin olive oil.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dinner:Macaroni & Cheese

I really believe in sharing recipes with others. If I have a friend who is suffering, and I can not be with her physically, I send her a recipe. Buttermilk Waffles, Coconut Rice, Crock Pot Chicken, Macaroni and Cheese-- those are all physical representations of love, hugs, and warm quilts, wrapped in the disguise of food. Is there anything more hug-worthy than home cooked Mac & Cheese?

Everybody has their own version of homemade Macaroni and Cheese, don't they? But, mine is special. It is special because it was given to me, shared with me by a dear friend who will now be referred to as JM. JM has a knack for good recipes. She is a foodie in her own right, but she truly appreciates down home cooking and the joy of comfort food. A few years ago, she put together a little book of favorite recipes which she gifted to family members and good friends for Christmas. I was lucky enough to receive her book. Though I own a fair share of cookbooks, from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking to the Disney Magic Kitchen Cookbook, JM's book is a bright star that shines on my shelf. S0 I thought I'd share the wealth with y'all. With JM's permission, here is her mother's Macaroni and Cheese recipe.

1 cube butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. chicken bullion (or 1/2 cube Knorr's chicken bullion cube)
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp. lowery's seasoned salt
dash of pepper
dash of nutmeg

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups gruyere (I've also used jarlsberg in a pinch and it was magnificent.)

Boil 16 oz. pasta (JM prefers shells because the cheese wells up inside. I tend to agree with her). While pasta is cooking, make your white sauce. In medium sauce pan, melt butter. Add flour and whisk for two minutes. Add milk, mustard, seasoned salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Continue stirring over medium heat until sauce is thickened.

In a casserole dish, layer: 1/2 pasta, 1/2 cheese, 1/2 pasta, 1/2 cheese. Pour white sauce over the top. Sprinkle 1/2 cup bread crumbs on top. Bake for 35 minutes at 350.

This dish is so comfortable that I am always bursting at the seams to share it with others. In fact, it is the "star" of my standard meal I take to mothers of newborn babies. It is the epitome of comfort food.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dinner: Chicken Cutlets

The older I get and the more children I have, the less I want to host dinner parties. Several years ago, planning and executing dinner parties was my most favorite thing to do. Back then I had one child, numerous childless friends, and more time to plan and cook. Things are very different now. I have four children and almost no time for such frivolities. My childless friends now have children themselves, and it is all we can do to e-mail one another or meet for lunch once in a while. Last month we invited friends over for dinner. We rarely see these dear people, and I wanted to offer them comforting food. But my life being what it is, I did not plan the meal until that morning. As I drifted through the grocery store, I felt increasingly frustrated with my inability to pull off a tasty evening. I stopped in the meat isle and had a little talk with myself, and here is how it went:
Type A Rebecca: Why are you incapable of keeping it together?
Overwhelmed Rebecca: I guess I just have too much on my plate. I'm sorry (said apologetically).
Type A Rebecca: You have been cooking since you were eight. You have buckets of experience. If you can't pull together a good meal for friends by now, you have failed.
Overwhelmed Rebecca: I haven't failed. I've just been busy. I've had four kids in seven years. I put my husband through graduate school. I manage a home. What have you done?
Type A Rebecca: I gave up a lot for you. I am held captive in the dark recesses of your mind, only to emerge when you wonder whether or not you should have gone to law school (which you didn't, by the way).
Overwhelmed Rebecca:Yeah, you don't need to remind me.
Type A Rebecca: Whatever. You need to decide what to serve these people. And fast. How about Steaks au Vinagre?
Overwhelmed Rebecca:Too hard.
Type A Rebecca: Roast?
Overwhelmed Rebecca:Too generic.
Type A Rebecca:Lobster?
Overwhelmed Rebecca:The girls would cry if they saw the little guys going into the big pot.
Type A Rebecca: Wow, you really are inadequate. Let me give you something you can wrap your simple mind around: chicken cutlets.
Overwhelmed Rebecca: I love chicken cutlets! They are easy, yummy, impressive, and even little kids love them.
Type A Rebecca:There you go. And don't forget the arugula, lemon wedges and bread.

Chicken Cutlets (Italians call it Chicken Milanese)

fresh bread crumbs
parmesan cheese (optional)
1 egg
splash of milk
olive oil
chicken cutlets (my favorite are the Perdue Thin Sliced Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts)*

*If you don't buy pre sliced thin chicken breasts, be sure to pound your chicken until it is incredibly thin. We're talking like 1/16" thin.

Heat pan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix egg with milk, beat well with fork. Toss bread crumbs, a bit of shredded parmesan cheese, and a few dashes of salt. Spread bread crumb mixture on plate. Dip individual chicken breasts in egg wash, then bread crumbs. Fry in pan until both sides are golden brown. Place finished chicken in warm oven until entire batch is done. Serve to soon-to-be-impressed-and-full crowd.

We always serve ours with lemon wedges. Fresh lemon juice on a crispy chicken cutlet is heaven.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dessert: First Hot Fudge Sauce

Profiteroles with chocolate sauce

Homemade Hot fudge sauce is a lot like organizing old photos to me-- I always mean to make it, but I never do. Until last week. D and I were preparing for a dinner party, and we decided to throw all norms aside and make a chocolate sauce for our profiteroles (the most underrated and easiest dessert on earth). We read a few recipes and combined a few of our favorites. The sauce was scrumptious (or "scrump" as my friend AB used to say). When all was said and done, D and I realized one thing: we can never go back to store-bought fudge sauce. My recipe is below. There can be so many variations on a fudge sauce. At some point I'll add cinnamon for a Mexican flare, but I'll wait for the perfect ice cream flavor (dulce de leche, perhaps?).

Our First Hot Fudge Sauce

1/2 cup butter
four ounces unsweetened baking chocolate (I use Baker's, unless I'm feeling particularly snotty--then I reach for the Scharffen Berger.)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups sugar
1 can evaporated milk

Chop baking chocolate into smaller pieces (I'm not specific about this, but the smaller the pieces, the faster it will melt). Over double broiler (with water on simmer), melt chocolate and butter. When both butter and chocolate are completely melted, add vanilla and sugar. Stir until completely blended. At this point, the mix will be strangely thick. Add evaporated milk and continue stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat. At this point, I pour the hot fudge into a jar and store it in our fridge. It keeps for a couple of months (that does not mean it lasts for a couple of months). I love this fudge sauce so much that when no one is looking, I sneak a spoonful just to fill my chocolate craving. And wouldn't you know it does the trick every time.

This all makes me wonder--do you buy pre-fab fudge sauce, or do you insist on the real deal?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Celebrating: Easter and the Cream Pie

Easter is approaching faster than I can say "peep", and I am rapidly planning my Easter menu. We all have our "must haves" for certain holiday meals. And for some unexplained reason, I have to have cream pies on Easter. Doesn't Easter always seem like a creamy day to you? Spring is in the air (or at least it should be), all the children are dressed in non-threatening pastels, and the smell of baked ham fills the air. So, in addition to the usual potatoes, ham and salad, I am fixated on cream pies. Last year I made key lime. This year, I will be doing chocolate cream with a graham cracker crust, followed by banana cream with a nilla wafer crust. Both will be easy, both will be yummy, and both will be devoured by 4:00pm this coming Sunday. What are you fixing for Easter Dinner?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Baking: Baker's High

I love to run. I have been running for 20 years now, and it is has been and always will be one of my most cherished pastimes. Having written that, I am not a real runner. I am quite slow (ten minute mile on a good day), I have limited distance (eight mile Saturdays are my specialty, but I've never gone farther than that), and simply put, I don't have any ambitions to run a marathon. Half marathons are my favorite races, and I'm content with those accomplishments. During the past 20 years, I can count on my hands the number of times I have experienced the "runner's high." They were glorious moments and I will never forget them. But last week I believe I experienced my first "baker's high". I set out to make a complicated cake for HS's 40th birthday. I got the recipe from Regan Daley's book, "In the Sweet Kitchen". I am hesitant to recommend cookbooks, because there are so many out there, but this book has been interesting, challenging, and as tasty as ever. On page 399 of "Sweet Kitchen", Daley writes about a S'mores Roulade. After reading the recipe several times (D had to pull the book from my hands as I fell asleep on the recipe in question), I set out to gather ingredients. The only random ingredient called for is graham flour--used to make graham crackers. I sent D to our local Whole Foods where he could not find graham flour. After researching on Wikipedia, I learned that graham flour is also called "whole wheat pastry flour". D went back to Whole Foods, and lo and behold, whole wheat pastry flour is in their bulk section. The roulade is comprised of four parts: sponge cake base, chocolate ganache filling, marshmallow filling/frosting (painstakingly homemade, not from a jar as one friend accused), and chocolate shavings. I won't bore you with the intricate details of putting everything together, but I will say that it was a culinary challenge. As I finished rolling the cake, I frosted it with the remaining marshmallow fluff, then threw the homemade chocolate shavings on top. When I saw the finished product, I screamed in delight. I did it! I made a seemingly difficult cake. I could not have been happier with the outcome. An unfortunate friend called the minute I screamed, and I had to gush and gush about the delightful concoction sitting on my kitchen table. She patiently listened as I worked through my exuberant baker's high. I have always struggled as a baker, and my baking skills are not impressive. But, the only thing better than knowing I have added a notch to my baker's belt was the appreciation from HS when I took the cake to her house.

What is the hardest thing you have ever baked? Did it turn out well? Have you experienced this sought after "baker's high"?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Buying: How Do You Costco?

I was at a dear friend's house last weekend and we were discussing our favorite Costco (insert Sam's Club here if need be) products. JF fixed several meals using different items she purchased at Costco--items I had never noticed before. Of course, the day after I returned from her house, I rushed to my local warehouse and scooped up both the deli sliced turkey and the fresh ravioli. As I waited in the check out line, I do what I usually do: peruse other customer's carts (nosy, huh?), wondering why they buy what they buy. My bi-monthly cart at Costco usually contains, but is not limited to, the following items: Cibo Pesto ($7 a jar, but lasts for at least three different pasta meals), rotisserie chicken (I'll devote a whole entry to that later), Barilla pasta, Annie's Mac & Cheese, fresh mozzarella balls, bananas, spring salad mix, Peppridge Farm 5 grain bread, canned albacore tuna, and some other "fun" product to fulfill my need to buy impulsively. So, what about you? What do you buy at Costco? What is your must have there? What key ingredients have you discovered at Costco that make great meals?

(And for all you high brow friends out there, we'll devote another entry to Trader Joe's at a later date.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Breakfast: The Cold (cereal) War

An epic battle rages inside my head. For years, I have struggled with my feelings about cold cereal, particularly sugar cereal. I hate sugar cereal: it is full of preservatives and strange ingredients; it does not sustain you after you eat it (i.e., if you eat it at 7:30am for breakfast, you are hungry for lunch by 7:50am); and it is full of sugar (just like a juice box or fruit snacks--a cavity's best friend). On the other hand, I love sugar cereal: it is the stuff childhood memories are made of; it is convenient, spontaneous, and downright fun; and it allows my children a glimpse of normalcy (thus preventing them from being the "weird" kids on the block who have never heard of Fruit Loops or Lucky Charms). Last year, a peace treaty paved the way for sugar cereal's role in my life: My kids eat it as their after school snack. Watching my waif like, bird like daughters gobble up three bowls of Lucky Charms at one sitting got me thinking--Why does cereal have to be bad for you to be fun? Why is healthy cereal so unfun? I started experimenting, and have come up with a few concoctions that have gone over very well. My only disclaimer is this--my children are not picky eaters (another epic battle fought and won; one child at a time). They do think the recipes below are yummy and diverting, all at the same time. Now if only I could make up my own cereal boxes that are fun to read.

If you try this, or have variations of your own, do share.

Banana Cream Pie Cereal
fresh banana slices, a bit of white sugar, cheerio & rice crispy cereal, and whole milk (The creaminess of whole milk makes the "cream pie" suddenly seem legitimate...but that's probably all in my head.)

Peaches & Cream Cereal
fresh peaches, a bit of brown sugar, cheerio & rice crispy cereal, and whole milk

Blueberry Buckle Cereal*
fresh (or frozen) blueberries, a bit of brown sugar, a teeny tiny bit of cinnamon, kashy go lean cereal or cheerios, and milk
(may substitute or combine with raspberries)

You get the idea. We also use fresh strawberries and huckleberries. I am heavy on the promotion ("Can you believe you get to eat Banana Cream Pie cereal for breakfast? This must be a special day!") The possibilities are not endless, but they are guilt free.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dessert: The Sweetest, Kindest Sugar Cookie

Valentine's Day is a very big deal at our house. We send cards and pass out treats. For several years, I religiously made an extra large batch of heart-shaped, frosting-covered sugar cookies. We delivered them to neighbors, friends, and colleagues. Sadly, I do not have the time for this anymore. For the second year in a row, I have opted for an easier treat (last year we made Ina Garten's Homemade Marshmallows and this year we made Regan Daley's Chocolate Fudge Cookies). "How could those be easier than sugar cookies?" you may ask. Trust me, they are. But, that is not the point I want to make. I want to make this point: This is the best sugar cookie recipe I have ever used. I adore it. My sisters adore it. In fact, one sister loves it so much that when I told her I was posting my sugar cookie recipe, she asked "Are you really going to give that recipe away? Isn't that a secret?". Well, yes and no. I love giving recipes to others. And no, I do not believe in secret recipes. So, happy Valentine's Day to you. May your day be as sweet as the frosting on your perfect sugar cookie.

1 cup shortening (butter flavor is best)
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream (whole milk vanilla yogurt works just as well)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbs. almond extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. soda
4 tsp. baking powder
4 1/2 cups flour

Cream shortening and sugar. Beat in eggs, sour cream and extracts. Add dry ingredients (may need a little more flour). Mix dough until soft. Chill several hours (even up to two days). Roll, cut, and bake at 350° for 10 minutes. (The longer you allow the dough to chill, the easier it is to roll and cut.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bread: M. Bittman's Artisan Bread

My life has changed forever. Yesterday I started yet another batch of homemade artisan bread; and I had great success. This is the end of a long road I have traveled for many years. In 1996 I attempted my first artisan loaf. I tried to create my own steam injection oven by spraying the loaf with water every 3 minutes. The crust was chewy but uninspired (well, let's call a spade a spade--it was yucky). Over the years, my bread projects took several detours and knowledge-gathering quests. I've tried baguette pans (with all those teeny tiny holes), water soaked bricks, sourdough starters; you name it. I even stripped the gears of my Kitchen Aid mixer's engine by over-kneading Julia Child's French bread recipe--that was on my 30th birthday. Fast forward to yesterday. This time, I followed Mark Bittman's article published last year in the New York Times (recipe and link attached to this post).

If you choose to take on this project, here is my advice: Follow Bittman's instructions and advice to the letter. You may be astounded and even turned off at how long it takes to make the bread (20+hours). But do not be fooled. When all was said and done, I spent a total of twenty minutes active time in the kitchen, and that is probably an exaggeration. I spoke with several of you today about the success of the bread and the same question kept coming up: what container do you cook the bread in? I used a knock off Le Creuset pot--a cast iron, enameled pot, with no black handle (so it can "handle" the 450ยบ oven). One friend used a large pyrex corningware container with a glass lid. In the end, it doesn't matter which container you cook the bread in as long as it can fulfill these two requirements: 1) the container can withstand 450° temperature; and 2)the lid is a tight enough fit so that the bread can steam itself while it cooks. If you try this, let us know how you did. ACME bread now has fierce competition (well, not really, because I don't live in Berkeley anymore..sniff sniff). I know my travels through the bread world aren't over, but I really like where I'm going.

P.S. Bittman wrote a follow up article that I found extremely helpful. In the Jan & Feb (2008) Cook's Illustrated, there was an additional article focusing on this recipe and exploring ways to improve the bread's flavor. If you belong to their website, you can access it online (the article is called "No-Knead Bread 2.0"). I subscribe to the magazine, and will try a few of their pointers. Good luck.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Snack: The Best (Pinto) Bean Dip

When I was younger, one of my favorite restaurants offered a warm pinto bean dip along with their tortilla chips. After I left home, I craved the dip day and night. Fifteen years later, I've created a bean dip to fill that ever present craving. This dip takes the edge off of any homesickness I may be feeling.

1 can refried beans (pinto, of course)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup salsa
1/2 cup shredded cheese (I use the shredded mexican blend. If that is not available use mild cheddar.)

In a medium sauce pan, combine refried beans, sour cream, and salsa. While stirring, cook over medium heat until very hot (not quite bubbling). Add cheese and stir constantly while it melts. Now, at this point you may want to add more cheese, depending on how cheesy you want it to be. Pour into small serving bowl and top with additional cheese. (If you are really into this, I crumble queso blanco over the top of the hot dip. Queso blanco--now available in the cheese section of most Costco's--is a salty creamy mexican cheese that melts well. If you use it everyone who eats it will realize you totally know Mexican food, and you will be the talk of the block.) Serve with tortillas chips.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Snack: Simple and Fresh Guacamole

I love the Super Bowl. I generally do not know which teams are playing until the week of the big game. But still, I love that one Sacred Sunday each year where we all get to eat like little piggies while we watch over-the-top commercials, followed by men trying to hurt one another. I just love it. On the other hand, I can not abide Super Bowl parties without Guacamole. So, here is hoping you'll have perfectly ripe avocados to smash together, while you laugh over those talking Budweiser horses.

2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 red onion, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (If cilantro freaks you out, like it does some people, you don't have to add it.)
2-3 ripe avocados (keep the pits; you'll need them later.)
lemon juice or lime juice, to taste
salt to taste
dollop of sour cream (optional)

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, cilantro and juice. Toss and let sit for a few minutes. Add "just ripe" avocados (I am not an expert in determining when avocados are ready to eat. What irks me is when I peel a $1.50 avocado only to find out it is far from ripe...and there's no going back). With a potato masher or fork, mash avocado with tossed ingredients until you have what looks like guacamole. Add sour cream only if you are looking for a creamier dip. I almost never add sour cream unless I am serving Guacamole with tortilla soup. Legend has it that the avocado pits keep the avocado from turning that nasty pukey color, so throw those babies in the bowl when you are finished. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dinner: Baked Pasta

On cold winter nights when I am feeling less than ambitious, I make Baked Pasta. Baked Pasta is a commoner's dish that makes me feel comfortably common. Rather than follow the recipe for the red sauce below, you should take liberties and make your own (even if it's canned). I have several friends who may shun this particular red sauce (including my near and dear husband). But it is what it is. And it is easy to me. (On a side note-- this is a great make-it-in-the-morning-so-you-can-throw-it-in-the-oven-at-night dish.)

1/2 lb. ground beef (or more if you are a meat lover...which I am not)
1 small white or yellow onion, diced
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
14 oz. can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons minced basil (or 2 tsp. dried basil)
1/4 cup brown sugar
salt to taste
1 pound pasta-boiled and drained (use whatever shape you have on hand--I generally use penne or farfalle)
shredded mozzarella cheese (I use 1 pound--but you may use as much as you want, depending on how cheesy you are.)

Brown ground beef with onion. Drain fat (unless you are trying to fatten your children...which is one of my current goals). Add crushed tomatoes, sauce, basil, brown sugar, and salt. Simmer sauce while you boil pasta and shred cheese. Put a ladle full of sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish or 9X13 pan. Layer sauce, pasta, and cheese, in no particular order. But, do top with last bit of sauce and last bit of cheese. Bake when good and ready, at 350° until bubbling. Serve alongside crusty bread (that you bought...because you didn't have time to bake any).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lunch: Adults Only Tuna Sandwich

Each day I fix my four-year-old daughter one of three possibilities for lunch: a bowl of yogurt topped with granola, a fluffernut sandwich (more on that next week), or an ambitious bowl of macaroni and cheese. I tire of these possibilities; and after fixing her plate I always ask myself, "but what should I eat?". Well, a few days ago I concocted a tuna sandwich that makes me excited about eating lunch. Here's hoping you will take a few minutes to fix a slightly nicer lunch for yourself than you will for your children.

serves 1-2 (depending on how hungry you are, and how late you put off eating lunch)

1 can albacore tuna
1/4 of a red onion-minced
1/2 of a lemon's juice
1 tsp. lemon peel
diced avocado
dash of white pepper
dollop of mayonnaise

Add everything to a bowl and mix well. Eat as a salad alongside crusty bread, or find some sort of cracker to scoop it up, or settle for dressing up the same bread your children eat.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Breakfast: Oatmeal Cookie Style Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a perfect food. It is easy to cook. It is easily influenced by other flavors. It is healthy. My kids eat it. At our house, we eat oatmeal from both ends of the spectrum--steel cut fancy oatmeal all the way to generic brand instant oatmeal from the cheapest grocery store. This year, I started experimenting with oatmeal. After several tries, I came up with a flavor to beat all, if I do say so myself. I chose instant oatmeal because I usually make this on a school day morning when time is of the essence. It is so full of tastiness, it reminds me of eating an oatmeal cookie. If your children have yet to develop a taste for almonds, omit them if you must.

serves 4

4 cups water
2 cups instant oatmeal (more depending on desired consistency)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
2 Tablespoons slivered almonds

Bring water to a boil. Add oatmeal. Stir over low heat. Add extracts, brown sugar, coconut, and almonds. Mix. Add more oatmeal or anything else. Serve. Watch your children smile.