Thursday, April 24, 2008

Beefy Baked Beans

I should be embarrassed to admit I eat and cook this cookout favorite as a weeknight meal, but I do and I'm not. Maybe I should be embarrassed that I add ketchup, mustard and brown sugar to the mix, but I do and I'm not. Throw in some bacon and browned ground beef and this protein-packed side dish becomes the main attraction. Or is that a fatal attraction? Never you mind, it's good!

I don't ordinarily like baked beans all that much, but I first ate this concoction at a niece's 8th grade graduation party six years ago (Did you know they celebrate graduation of 8th grade these days? Apparently they do, and if they are serving Beefy Baked Beans -- I do too!) and it was true love ever after.
I'm not going to give you a full-out recipe this time. You can remember this one because there are no exact measurements.
First you need to brown some ground beef. About a pound will do, but no matter how much you use it will taste just fine. And while you are at it, throw in some bacon pieces. I only used two strips 'cause I'm dieting! More would have been much better, but two sufficed this time.

Add some chopped onion while your browning the meat (or meats, rather).

Drain well. 'Cause were dieting, remember?

Now you are going to mix in the rest of the ingredients.

And add a big ol' squirt of ketchup, too.

I let mine cook for at least thirty minutes. The gravy turns a pretty dark, rich color. I am sure the color has nothing to do with the dark brown sugar I added or the bacon or the... oh what difference does it make? You have to make something for dinner, why not make it taste good?

There is one more thing you need to round out your BB-Q inspired dinner. You must make Sara's Crunchy Cabbage Cole Slaw. I make myself a bowl of Beefy Baked Beans and slop a scoop of Sara's Crunchy Cabbage on top. Heaven. Make sure you get a little of each dish in every bite. Um-um-good! If you have the family cookbook Sara's recipe is on page 17. If you don't, I post it later.
And some people may like to add a drip or two of Bean-o on top, but I wouldn't know anything about that. Download a $1.00 off Bean-o coupon here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sara's Chicken Salad

My sister, Sara, can throw together a mean chicken salad. It's really "springy" with grapes and pineapple and makes for a light and refreshing lunch. Her chicken salad has a lot of texture that makes it fun to eat - and unexpected. She puts a little curry and soy sauce in the dressing, but it is just enough to make you wonder what that flavor is, not enough to overwhelm you. I also like her chicken salad because it's a nice twist on the traditional chicken salad my mom used to make.

Don't get me wrong, I loved my mother's chicken salad. My mom took her chicken salad to the next level by grinding up the chicken. She used this scary looking "machine" (I use the word machine loosely -- it was 100% manual) that she kept on the top shelf in our laundry room storage (essentially this top shelf was our kitchen gadget graveyard). Maybe once a year she would get a ladder to reach this mysterious grinder (while all the odd-shaped and seldom used Tupperware containers fell on the floor around her) and she would make chicken salad. All those years as a kid, I would look up on that high, high shelf (probably 8 feet up) and see this inexplicable device. To make it even more chilling, when mom was grinding the chicken she would warn me sternly to stay back. She told me to keep my fingers away or the grinder would, in effect, maim me for life and leave me disfigured, disfingered and dissatisfied with my unopposable thumbs. I didn't like that grinder.

Today we have food processors which have proved to be safer on one's digits, but for some strange reason, I don't grind my chicken when I make chicken salad. Go figure!

The Dressing: Sara's chicken salad requires a little forethought. If you have three kids, you don't need to do any forethinking. If you have only yourself to feed and worry about, you should mix the dressing the night before you plan to make the salad. And then go get a pedicure or have your bikini line waxed or do whatever it is people without kids do these days.

Here my 4 year old is mixing the dressing. Don't tell my mildly neurotic husband, but I didn't make her wash her hands first. Hee hee. Jokes on him!

Slice your grapes, otherwise you'll never be able to keep them from falling out of your sandwich.

I like to slice my celery small. The four year old did wash her hands by this point. Her desire to help wasn't as fleeting as it usually is, so she lathered up and got right to work....after we looked for her apron under her bed, searched for a barrette to keep her hair back, cleaned a dirty knife because it was her size...

I used some fresh pineapple this time, but really, you don't need too. Sara uses a can of pineapple tidbits and after tasting my salad, I like her version better. Honestly, hers is waaaaay better.

Although I skipped a few photographic opportunities in the assembly process, this is the final product. Yummy, slightly sweet, slightly savory chicken salad on whole wheat Italian bread.

Sara's Chicken Salad

1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Juice of ½ lemon

Combine all dressing ingredients and refrigerate overnight so the flavors marry (they have no fears of commitment and will never be unfaithful...awe...young love).

Chicken Salad:

3-4 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 can pineapple tidbits
1 can water chestnuts, drained & slivered
2 cups seedless grapes, halved
2 cups celery, sliced
1 4-oz. pack slivered almonds

Lightly toast almonds in a skillet on med-high heat. Watch and stir to prevent burning. Combine all ingredients and eat as a sandwich on fresh French bread or by itself over a bed of fresh baby greens.

If you wish to add salt, do so only on individual portions right before consumption. Adding it earlier will draw out the moisture and make for a soggy salad.

This chicken salad really lacked compared to yours. Am I doing something wrong? All I can figure is that I am missing the most important ingredient of all - good company! We miss you and will think of you with every bite.
Your sister, Kristy

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Baked Brie in Puff Pastry with Brown Sugar & Pecans

In honor of my brother Greg turning 50 years old today I am posting two dishes I know he will love. The first is a dish I watched him devour the last time he was home (visiting). He didn't realize it was a "dip" and was to be eaten with slices of apple and pear. Instead he ate it like a main course. I can't say I blame him much. Since stumbling upon this Baked Brie in Puff Pastry with Brown Sugar & Pecans recipe in a magazine several years ago, I have enjoyed it often and have dreamed of how to make it into a main course.

The second recipe I am going to share was my dream actualized. I'll call it a Greg Special because I finally figured out how to make the above mentioned appetizer into a dish deserving to be called dinner (or at least lunch)!

Baked Brie in Puff Pastry with Brown Sugar & Pecans
originally from Southern Living magazine

¼ cup firmly packed Light Brown Sugar
¼ cup chopped pecans
1 T bourbon
½ (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff-pastry sheets, thawed
1 (13.2-ounce) round Brie
apple and pear slices (for dipping)

1. Stir together first three ingredients
2. Place puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface; roll out fold lines. Spread brown sugar and pecan mixture in a 5-inch circle in the middle. Place Brie round on top of sugar mixture. Fold in corners and rub seams tightly to prevent leaking. Turn upside down so the folded portion is on the bottom. Make sure Brie and sugar mixture in sealed to prevent leakage.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until lightly browned and cheese is melted.
4. Let cool 10 minutes.

Brie Quesadilla
otherwise know as A Greg Special

In a desperate attempt to feed my family I resorted to my usual Plan B (Or is it Plan C? Plan B is breakfast for dinner; this must be Plan C.), quesadillas. I made the kids the standard cheese & whatever-meat-I-can-find quesadilla. I customized the husband's version to include roasted red peppers, olives, mushrooms and fresh cilantro (fancy, I know). I made myself what I will forever call a "Greg Special" - a Brie, Sliced Granny Smith Apple, Pecan and Bacon Bits Quesadilla.

Place tortilla on flat griddle on med-high heat. Add grated (or thinly sliced) brie cheese, a few sprinkles of Real Bacon Bits, a few pieces of pecans and some slices of Granny Smith apple. Sprinkle more cheese on top so the next tortilla with stick well. Slap on top another tortilla shell (there, Paula, I said it Tortilla SHELL. Go ahead, correct me. I couldn't hold it back any longer.) Grill until tortilla is browning and flip. Brown the second side and eat as a main course if you are me or my 50-year-old brother.

And by the way, it was really good!
Happy Birthday, Greg.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dining Disasters

Not all meals are blog worthy. This weekend I made a few questionable dishes that deserved to be swept under the rug. Remembering the subtitle at the top of this web page - "...culinary misadventures..." - I decided I should fess-up and tell it to ya straight!

My first misadventure was a dish that I had been dying to prepare from Cooking Light, April 2008 , Thai Noodle Salad with Sauteed Tofu. I thought it would be a spin-off of my favorite Thai dish, Pad Thai Pasta; it wasn't. Before you gross out and hit the Back button on your browser over the "sauteed tofu" portion of this salad, I need to tell you that the sauteed tofu was the only redeeming quality of the dish. I am a big fan of sauteed tofu, so before you turn your nose up, you really should give it a try. But not at my house and not with this recipe.
I was ready to make you a tofu believer with this salad. I took careful photos of the tofu preparation so that you would attempt the tofu at home.This is how you press the water out of your tofu.This is how you chop your tofu.This is how you dress your tofu salad.This is how you take a great big bite of your tofu and your Thai Noodle salad.

And this is where you "store" your salad after you take a great big bite.

Misadventure number two was Poppyseed Bread from a favorite local restaurant's cookbook. I have had their Poppyseed Bread on multiple occasions and it is quite delicious. Most everything they serve is delicious, especially their chicken salad and their bread pudding. Can you name that restaurant?

Like I have said before, I am not a baker. I guess this fact still holds true. I tried to substitute some whole wheat flour for some all purpose flour. Yuck. Big mistake. I won't do it again. I promise (until the next time).

"Why, " you ask, "if the bread tastes so bad, is there only a sliver left in the photo?" The answer, my friends, is elementary and I would think that by now you know me well enough to know what I did with the bread. No, I did not eat it all myself regardless of the foul taste (but that is a good guess). I told my kids it was "cake" and that if they could choke down their dinner they could have a slice for "dessert." They ate it and then they asked for seconds. It's a cruel trick, but much less wasteful than what I did with the noodle salad.

I will attempt the Poppyseed Bread again. If all goes well, I'll pass the recipe on to you!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Vegetable Lasagna

Ever since I went to Bunco at my friend Missy's house six years ago I have been looking for a delicious White Vegetable Lasagna recipe. Her's was yummy and she claims to not remember which vegetable lasagna recipe she cooked that fun & fantastic evening before I had three blood hungry leeches hanging from my bosom. I have since tried a few different recipes, but I am usually left underwhelmed and hungry. Tonight's Vegetable Lasagna came from a free e-mail subscription of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food and I must announce that my hunt is over. I HIGHLY recommend this Freeze-Ahead Lasagna Primavera and since I can't mess with perfection, I'll give you the recipe just as Martha did...word-for-word.

Besides being packed with veggies, loaded with cheese, and easy to prepare, this dish uses uncooked lasagna noodles. That means one less pot to clean and one less step to take. Enough said. Amen. End of story. Or as my 4-year old Sass-Pot daughter would say: E. N.

And on a sad note, I gave back my sister her awesome camera with the macro lens. That means, until my sweet and thoughtful husband buys me the camera of my dreams, I am back to another borrowed camera that, although I am grateful for, doesn't flatter a novice photographer like myself. I will think of it as a opportunity to improve my skills as a picture-taker. You will think of it as an opportunity to look at some other blogs with better pictures. My husband will think of it as no dinner on the table until the goods are delivered (preferably by the UPS man)!
Below are the ingredients. You can see I use only the finest - GV brand.

This is my first layer. There was plenty of everything, unlike some recipes where you are stretching your ingredients to make sure you have enough for a second layer.

Ladies and gentlemen, Freeze-Ahead Lasagna Primavera!

Freeze-Ahead Lasagna Primavera from Everyday Food Email Newletter

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for foil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups whole milk
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas
1/2 pound carrots (4 to 5), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 container (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta (about 2 cups)
1 large egg
1 package (9 ounces) no-boil lasagna noodles (12 to 16 noodles)
1 pound part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1 cup grated Parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium; add flour and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes (do not let flour mixture darken); whisk in milk. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook, whisking occasionally, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add spinach, peas, and carrots; season with salt and pepper. Set sauce aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, egg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and teaspoon pepper.
3. In the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, spread a thin layer of vegetable sauce. Layer noodles, half the remaining vegetable sauce, another noodles, half the ricotta mixture, half the mozzarella, and half the Parmesan; repeat.
4. Cover dish with lightly oiled aluminum foil, and place on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes, uncover, and bake until bubbling and browned, about 20 minutes more. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

To freeze: Prepare through step 3. Cover lasagna tightly with plastic wrap, then aluminum foil; freeze up to 3 months.

To Bake From Frozen:Remove plastic wrap; cover baking dish with lightly oiled aluminum foil, and place on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Remove foil, and bake until bubbling and browned, about 30 minutes more. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lemon Squares, Lemon Bars or Lemon Shapes

Ice Cream and pickles? None for me, thanks! I was never one with mean cravings while I was pregnant with my chil'rens. I have always heard about these crazed twinges moms-to-be get, but I never fell victim to any myself. Thank goodness. While pregnant with my third child, however, my appetite changed. I craved something, something sweet and tart and something I had only tasted maybe once before. I had a hankerin' I could not deny and it would not go away. I wanted Lemon Squares (or some may call them Lemon Bars, but at my house they are never square nor are they ever bars for that matter because I make them in an oval pan).

If you have read my blog before you know I avoid making desserts because I am prone to eating the entire pan all by myself. This must rum in my family (I mean run in my family) because I know of one sister (no names) that baked and ate an entire Eclair Cake while her husband was at work. She washed all the pots, pans and dishes so no evidence would be left behind. Smart gal because I have another sister that didn't cover her evidence as well. She ate almost all of a Grand Marnier Cake and left one tiny slither to be found by her kids. When her meek elementary-aged son came home from school and asked to have the last piece of cake she just about bit his head off for selfishly considering eating the last piece of cake. The nerve of him!

So you see, I get it honestly. I won't tell you what happened to all the Lemon Squares I made. You're smart, you figure it out.

Lemon Squares
(a.k.a. Lemon Bars or at my house "Lemon Shapes" because who really needs to be tied down to a specific shape)

When I make this recipe I half it, so in the photos of the final product you only see half of what the following recipe will produce.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (optional)
1. Combine the flours and confectioners' sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the butter to make a crumbly mixture.

2. Press the mixture into a greased 9x13 pan. It won't be pretty; it never is! Keep in mind that this crust will be covered with the lemon mixture, so beauty is as stomach tastes. I just made that up. Dang. Dip your fingers into a little flour to keep from sticking to the dough. Bake crust at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Watch the edges.
3. While crust bakes, mix the eggs, granulated sugar, flour, lemon juice and zest. Pour over baked crust and bake for about 25 minutes longer. Watch the edges.

4. Let cool and cut into any shape your heart desires. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.

5. Eat. Eat some more. Wash the pans and remove all evidence of a dessert being prepared. When your kids get home from school, hide the Lemon Squares and eat them in the laundry room alone while you complain about your miserable laundry-folding existence (the complaining keeps them at bay and they are less likely to catch you). Remember to wipe your mouth before exiting because kids get suspicious when they see the confectioners' sugar on your upper lip. But I would not know any of this from experience or anything.
These are the ingredients I used. You could skip the whole wheat flour and just use the all-purpose, but I am a healthy junk food-eater and I make desserts with fruit (lemon) and whole grain wheats.
The crust hardly looks crusty. It's actually a real mess so don't think you are doing it incorrectly because it won't stick together.
Just do your best. That's what my mom always told me about school when I was a kid. I am pretty sure I didn't actually do my best and I turned out o.k.. Your crust will too.
Rub your lemon to get the juices flowing before you squeeze it. My mother-in-law showed me a trick. She puts her lemons in the microwave for a few seconds to get their juices juicier. It's fruit foreplay.

Above is the filling before I poured it into the baked crust. It's runny now, but it thickens up in the oven.Tah-dah! Presenting Lemon Shapes. The unrecognizable shapes are in the rear and on the bottom; it's a photography trick. I read about it in the fancy photography guide.

The irony is that all the Lemon Shapes are now on my rear and on my bottom! I guess the tricks on me!

I love these things! They are so darn good.

I wish I could stop at three. Or five.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

This Chicken Soup Can Beat Up Your Mom's Chicken Soup!

You can't tell by just looking at the photo above, but there are a few "secret" ingredients in this Chicken Soup that make it extra special and extra delicious. You'll have to check the ingredient list to find out what they are or (even better)make it to taste the difference. P.S. Don't tell your mother, but I am pretty sure this Chicken Soup is better than hers. I can see the bumper sticker now: My chicken soup can beat up your mom's chicken soup!
Our house is full of sick puppies. The husband is recovering from (what I thought would be minor) surgery. In my attempt to nurse him back to health I worked myself sick and tired, but mostly sick. The baby has a severe ear infection that antibiotics aren't treating easily and in my attempt to soothe his cries at night I have rocked myself sick and tired, but mostly tired. And the other kids? They have the usual snotty noses, germy fingers and hacking coughs. This can only mean one thing for dinner tonight: Chicken Soup.
Normally I would cool my stock in the refrigerator overnight so that it wouldn't be so fatty, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Tonight we will sacrifice our long-term health and well-being for immediate health and gratification and thus artery-clogging-soup it is!

My Chicken Soup Can Beat Up Your Mom's Chicken Soup Chicken Soup

Stock portion:
2 1/2 to 3-pound chicken, cut up (this particular time I used 6 thighs & 2 small breasts)
3 1/2 quarts water
1 onion, sliced in half with skin and all
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
3 cloves garlic, smashed
4 bay leaves
2 chicken bouillon cubes or 2 t. of bouillon granules
Salt and pepper
Soup portion:
2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups sliced celery
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup cooking sherry
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper

1. Add all of stock list's ingredients to a big soup pot. Bring to a boil then simmer until chicken is tender, about 35 minutes. Skim top throughout process to remove the scum that rises. Remove chicken from pot and set aside to cool. When chicken has cooled enough to touch, but is still warm, pick the bones clean. Set chicken aside.
2. Remove and discard bay leaves, onion and garlic from stock. Pour stock through a strainer (I line my strainer with a cheesecloth) to remove small yuckity-yuck and to have a beautiful, clear stock.

At this point you have stock and can use it to make a million different things. I like to put mine in the refrigerator over night so I can skim off the fat and have Low-Fat Chicken Stock for this delicious, creamy chicken soup or for future dishes like PW's Chicken Spaghetti and Ashley's Cheesy Orzo and Creamy Asparagus Soup and Balsamic Glaze for my chicken thighs. Store stock in two-cup increments inside Ziplock freezer bags. They're the perfect size for all your chicken stock needs and they thaw quickly. Now back to the soup...

3. Bring stock back to a boil, add carrots, and cook for 3 minutes. Add celery and continue to cook for 10 to 20 minutes. Add chicken, parsley, sherry, Parmesan and cream. Cook until warmed through (about 5 minutes). Taste soup and add salt and pepper as needed (it tends to be under salted at this point). Also check doneness of celery and carrots.

Stock's ingredients (below): The Maggi product (with the yellow lid) is Chicken bouillon granules. A Colombian student recommended it to me a few years ago. I used to use Knorr, which I loved, but this stuff is found in the Hispanic section of the grocery and is cheaper than Knorr. Plus, I feel cultured using a product that is labeled in Spanish. Ironically, MSG is spelled the same in Spanish. Who knew?

By the way, do you know of a chicken base that doesn't contain MSG because all of a sudden I am feeling really guilty and bloated and head achey this... is this an asthma attack I feel coming on?

And below are the soup's ingredients. Can you find the "secret" ingredients? Where's Waldo? I normally like using regular sized carrots, but the Easter Bunny ate all of ours. These little ones will have to do, but don't peel them like someone I know once did (I won't mention any names, but she makes Cheesy Orzo).

Throw these in for good measure. Sister Schubert's Yeast Rolls. I love yeast. In my rolls.

Below the stock is simmering. Bubble. Bubble. Bubble. I learned something new about simmering in last month's Bon Appetit magazine. When simmering the bubbles never break at the top. They are small and rise slowly, but don't bubble and break. Read more about simmering vs. boiling here or just go about your merry way and continue simmering the same way you have always simmered.

Strain the stock to get a pretty, clear stock.

Or don't strain it and just eat this yuckity-yuck scum. I'm sure it tastes delicious.

That's all of the cooking process pictures folks. Some friends showed up to visit the patient and I thought it would look funny if they saw me paying more photographic attention to our food than to our children. But the food never sasses me and always smiles pretty when I bring the camera out. Who can blame me?

But I was able to sneak this photo in when the visitors weren't looking. I pretended like I was aiming the camera at the kids, then did the ol' switch-a-roo technique. "Oh, kids. You are so cute the way you turn your noses up at the food I serve you. Here let me get your picture while you look disgusted and are stomping your feet and demanding macaroni and cheese. I love the way you do that!"

This soup is so good and if it weren't for it, I would never make Chicken Soup at all. I tend to think the Sherry and the Parmesan cheese (and the cream) are the secret ingredients, so please, whatever you do, DO NOT leave them out!