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!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Roasted Asparagus & Creamy Roasted Asparagus Soup

Spring is here and asparagus is in season. Hallelujah! (Do I hear angels singing on high?) One of my favorite ways to cook asparagus is to roast it. It is simple, fast and healthy. Roasting brings out the flavors while adding a slight sweetness. That is precisely what I did yesterday for Easter dinner .

It was delicious, but the leftovers? The leftovers were waaaaaaay better. How can that be you ask? It be because I took the leftovers and made Creamy Roasted Asparagus Soup today. Never again will I roast asparagus without making extra for soup leftovers for the next day.

Roasted Asparagus

1 pound asparagus, woody ends cut (if you plan on making two meals with this, you will need
at least 2 pounds of asparagus. Save the woody ends if you plan to make soup later)
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Toss together all ingredients. Arrange asparagus on a roasting pan careful to not overlap stalks. Roast until asparagus is slightly softened and edges are starting to brown a bit, about 20 minutes.

Serve hot (or hide and "forget" to serve to your guests. Then use the asparagus tomorrow for Creamy Roasted Asparagus Soup).

Creamy Roasted Asparagus Soup
Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

1 lb. roasted asparagus, (see recipe above)
woody ends you saved from the roasted asparagus
2 cups chicken broth
2 T. onion, chopped
1 cup cream
Salt & Pepper

1. Boil woody asparagus ends in two cups of water until ends become tender. Discard ends after boiling, but reserve 1 cup of the water.

2. Chop roasted asparagus reserving some of the tips for garnish later.

3. Add chicken stock and onion to the 1 cup of reserved water and bring to a boil. Add asparagus and simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Puree soup mixture in a food processor or blender being careful while working with the hot liquid. Tip: cover blender or food processor with a dish towel in case of splattering.

5. Return to the pot and add the cream. Salt and pepper to taste. Heat through.

6. Serve with asparagus tips sprinkled on top.

~ You can use milk in lieu of cream, but I recommend the cream!

~ Read this article after you have eaten the asparagus, but before you go to the restroom. And don't call your doctor until you have read this. I have a friend who...well...maybe she wouldn't want to be outed on my blog, but she knows who she is. Let's just say she would have slept more peacefully had she read this after scarfing down her asparagus.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Le Sueur Pea Salad

Last Sunday my friend Becky told me that while attempting to feed her 10 month old some Le Sueur Peas, she herself had eaten almost two jars, practically straight out of the can, without even heating them. I love Le Sueur Peas, but without heating them? Eeeks. Imagine my surprise when my sister, Sara, brought up cold LeSueur Peas only days after Becky had made her confession. Is God telling me something about cold peas?
First let me say, not all canned peas are created equal. The only canned peas I eat are Le Sueur Peas. In fact, Le Sueur Peas are so good that Paula Deen's Green Pea recipe from her Celebrates! cookbook consists of two cans of Le Sueur Peas and a half stick of butter. That's it. Right there on page 70. The cookbook retails for $26.00 and the best pea recipe she can come up with is a can of Le Sueur Peas. So if you think you don't like green peas, try Le Sueur Peas.

Now back to our cold peas. How timely this all came about the week before Easter because the cold pea recipe Sara shared with me contains something we have plenty of this time of year. What's oval and hard-boiled and is hidden on Easter morning? Easter eggs.

Cold Le Sueur Pea & Easter Egg Salad
Courtesy of Sara (adapted from Paula Deen)

1 can Le Sueur Peas
1 hard boiled egg, chopped
1 T. mayonaisse
1 T. grated onion
Salt & Pepper

Drain the peas very well. Mix all ingredients. Serve at room temperature or cold.

I used two cans of peas and these other fancy ingredients.

And a little grated onion jus.

And there you have it. Not the prettiest picture, but my tummy didn't mind.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Kid Tested, Mother Approved Chicken Nuggets

Chicken Nuggets are so unphotogenic. They could never make it on a cat walk or in Hollywood or in New York for that matter. What these nuggets lack in beauty, they make up for in taste and nutrition! Don't take my word for it, try them.

Sometimes a mother just wants to be loved. Instead of making my children my own personal taste-testing guinea pigs, tonight I made them what they want...chicken nuggets. There was no mutiny at the table. There were no tears. There was just lip smackin', finger-lickin' and wild begging for seconds. Alas, a harmonious dinner table!

Are you ready for the shocker? These chicken nuggets are good. They're so good, I think I may actually bake them for myself when my nest is empty and chil'ren are all grown (if I make it that long, God help me). Not only are they good, they are good for you. By adding some unexpected ingredients into the breading, they taste yummier than your standard chicken nugget and they have some nutritional value.

Tomorrow, I'm having leftovers for lunch Shhh! Don't tell the kids.

My recipe is a compilation of various recipes I have used in the past, but with an emphasis on Jessica Seinfeld's chicken nuggets from her book Deceptively Delicious.

Baked Chicken Nuggets with Lite Honey Mustard Dip
(or baked chicken breast for grown-ups)

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped into 1" to 1 1/2" pieces
1 cup buttermilk,
1 T. hot sauce (Tabasco or the like)

1 cup bread crumbs or panko crumbs
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 t. paprika
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. salt

1 egg
1/2 cup broccoli puree (optional)

1/4 cup dijon mustard
2 T. lite mayo
2 T. honey

1. Mix buttermilk and hot sauce in one gallon Ziplock bag. Add chicken and marinate overnight in refrigerator or at room temperature 30 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Mix bread crumbs & next 5 ingredients (through salt). Set aside.

3. Beat egg and broccoli puree in small bowl.

4. Dip chicken nuggets into egg mixture and then into crumb mixture until completely coated.

5. Arrange chicken on large cookie sheet or two 9x13 pans being careful to not crowd chicken.

6. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

7. While baking, mix mustard, honey and mayo for a yummy dipping sauce.

Serve on paper plates, with paper napkins and with the T.V. on. You will be nominated for mother-of-the-year! (We don't really eat dinner with the T.V. on... that would defeat the purpose of all this cooking I do to make my family sit down and talk to me.)

This is powdered buttermilk. It is good to have on hand and lasts a long time. Don't just buy it for the chicken nugget recipe, make these pancakes with it.

The kids asked that I take a picture of their plates after they ate. I guess they are proud and since an empty plate is usually praised around here, why not take a picture? They must really be confused when they see me taking pictures of their dinner before we eat.

This is the honey mustard dip. Loooove it! Sweet and tangy. It is for the adults because the kids just use ketchup. Go figure.

Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes with Bananas and Whipped Cream

Ashley emailed me asking what kind of pancakes I fix for my kids. Unfortunately for their health, they got hooked on old-fashioned, enriched white flour, Bisquick pancakes before I started being sneaky and "fortifying" their meals. But I do have a recipe that I prefer over the Bisquick. I use a whole wheat flour and cornmeal mixture. I love the texture the cornmeal adds (the vary texture my kids despise).

If you try these pancakes and like them you can mix a big batch of the dry ingredients and store in a gallon Ziplock bag in the refrigerator (dried Buttermilk must be refrigerated after opening - I learned this the hard way). In the mornings you can add the wet ingredients to the premixed dry ingredients and have a pretty quick breakfast.

Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes with Bananas and Whipped Cream
adapted from Gourmet magazine, May 2006

dry ingredients:
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
6 tablespoons dried powdered buttermilk (cultured buttermilk blend)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

wet ingredients:
1 1/2 cups water
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
nonstick spray

chopped pecans
banana slices
whipped cream

1. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl, then add water, eggs, and oil and whisk until smooth. Let stand 5 minutes (batter will thicken). If batter is too thick to pour easily, thin with additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

2. Heat skillet to med- high heat. Spray skillet with nonstick spray. Pour batter onto hot skillet to form 3- to 3 1/2-inch rounds. Sprinkle tops with chopped pecans. Cook until bubbles appear on surface. Flip pancakes and cook until undersides are golden.

Serve with warm syrup, banana slices and whipped cream.

This is dried buttermilk. Find it in the baking section of the grocery store. It is good for marinating baked chicken, too. Although the name suggests it is bad for you, it actually has less fat than milk. So butter this!

The whole-wheat flour makes these pancakes really pretty and golden.

I got this HUGE measuring bowl for Christmas. It has a spout and a lid. I can store unused batter in the fridge. I love it!

Turn pancakes when bubbles form on top and begin to pop. You want the bottoms to be brown and the edges to be set. You may have to turn your heat down if the outsides are browning before the insides are cooked through.

The perfect bite: whipped cream, banana, pancake, real maple syrup and more whipped cream.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Do you ever get tired of the same ol' stuffing, night after night after night? Although I think you could stuff a bell pepper with just about anything and it would be good, tonight I stuffed ours with a ground pork/ground beef mixture and used a wild rice mix instead of white rice. If there were no children around here I would have used a spicy ground pork, but since I was bracing myself for the mutiny that has become a dinner ritual, I just used mild. In the past I have used this recipe Dad's Stuffed Bell Peppers and substituted leftover baked chicken for the ground beef; it was a light, yet filling dish. Tonight I switched things up again because you should never get bored with your stuffer.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

4 large peppers, halved lengthwise and insides removed

1/2 pound ground pork, mild or spicy
3/4 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup lite sour cream
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice mix (You can substitute brown rice. I added a teaspoon of beef
bouillon granules to the rice water)
1/2 cup ketchup
2 shakes Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup water

1. Saute pork, beef, onion and garlic until meat is cooked and onions are transparent. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder. Drain fat.

2. Add rice, tomatoes, oregano, sour cream and cheese. Mix well. Stuff into peppers.

3. Combine ketchup, Worcestershire and water in small bowl. Mix and pour over filled peppers.

4. Place peppers in oven pan and add about 1/4 cup of water to the baking dish, cover dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 5 -10 more minutes.

Notes: Since the wild rice mix doesn't absorb juices as easily as white rice, if you can make the filling the night before the flavors have a better chance of blending. I wonder if you could put the filling ingredients in the crock pot in the morning and stuff the peppers right before dinner? Hummm? Maybe next time.

Above, peppers begging to be stuffed.

This is my way of trying to stop the revolt before it begins. Since I do not believe in fixing kids their own separate "kid meal", this is my way of... well... it's my way of... of fixing them their own separate meal without admitting it! They get stuffed peppers minus the peppers and minus the onions plus cheese on top. And I think I will stick to my original plan and say that I will NOT fix my kids their own separate meals from now on because as doctored-up as their version was, they still pitched fits! So my first platform was correct: Never fix kids their own special kid-meal.

Here are a few other pepper recipes you may like to try:
Paula Deen's Stuffed Red Peppers (comes with a side of butter and a Krispy Kreme glaze)

Sweet Stuffed Bell Pepper Soup

Smoke Roasted Stuffed Bell Peppers

Top Chef Tonite

A new season of Top Chef begins tonight on Bravo. It begins at 9:00pm central time. If you don't catch it this week they will probably play it again next week before they play the newest episode. I really like this show and if you like reality tv or cooking you will too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Basil(less) Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce

I want to expand my culinary repertoire. I really, really do. Despite a few obstacles - dirty diapers, loads of laundry, no groceries, lack of willing taste-testers, hair that needs washing - last night I was able to get one step closer to actualizing this dream of mine. I printed this recipe a month ago and have looked it over several times, but the list of ingredients contains things I've never knowingly eaten or purchased. What the hey is cardamom? Will I even like it? And what does coriander taste like? If it tastes like black licorice I'm screwed. Is this Indian food? Honestly, I don't know, but I think it may be Indian. You tell me. Please. You tell me, is this Indian food?

So to make a short story long, cardamom spice costs $10 at Wal-mart. That means it is now an optional ingredient. I opted to leave it out since I have no idea what it will taste like and since I play the lottery each week and never win I figure my luck ain't so good. The basil was wilted and black at Wal-mart, Even though it is important enough to be listed in the recipe title, it is now optional, too. I skipped the Worcestershire for two reasons: (1) I don't love it and (2) if this is an Indian dish, I doubt Indians use Worcestershire (unless they live in Texas).

I doubled the amount of meat that was called for in the original recipe. I wanted the new flavors, but I wanted them less condensed. The end result was pretty good.

Basil(less) Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce
adapted from Elise Bauer's version at Simply Recipes

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon tumeric

2 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs (you can use breasts, but the thighs are more flavorful)

1 large red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeƱo peppers, seeded and minced
2 Tbsp olive oil or grapeseed oil

1 14-oz can coconut milk
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger

1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, ground coriander, cumin, ground cloves, cinnamon, ground cardamom, black pepper, chili powder, and tumeric. Set aside.

2. Rinse chicken, pat dry. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Put into a bowl and sprinkle the spice mix over all the pieces. Coat well and let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

3. Add 1 Tbsp oil to large skillet and heat on medium high heat. Add one half of the chicken pieces, spreading them out on the pan so they are not crowded. Brown for a few minutes on each side. When the chicken pieces are cooked through, and no pink remains, remove from pan, add to the bowl with the onions. Cook the second batch of chicken pieces the same way. Remove from pan, set aside. Use the same pan for the next step.

4. In same skillet heat 1 Tbsp oil on medium high heat. Add the onions and jalapeƱos and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Remove the onions, peppers and garlic from the pan and put into a medium sized bowl. Set aside and add to chicken.

5. Add the coconut milk, minus a couple tablespoons, to the skillet. In a small bowl, mix the remaining coconut with the corn starch to dissolve the corn starch. Add the corn starch mixture back to the skillet with the coconut milk. Cook on medium heat and scrape pan for crusty brown bits leftover from chicken. Stir till thick and bubbly. Mix in the Worcestershire sauce. Add chicken mixture, basil, and ginger. Cook 2 minutes more to cook through.

I served mine with Jasmine Rice and sugar snap peas. The Jasmine rice is so yummy.

(above) I cooked the chicken in 4 batches.

This is right before I took it off the heat to serve.
Confession: After I bought the ingredients for the Basil Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce, I reread the recipe. Where the heck is the curry in this ingredient list? Oh good gravy, what have I got myself into? I did a little research (i.e.: I read the ingredient list on the curry powder jar) and apparently we are making homemade curry. I guess that makes this a really fancy recipe. Maybe the curry powder would have been easier and tasted just as good? Maybe not. Who knows!
Did I mention that this meal was good? It was. It was good when I ate it with the family last night, it was better when I ate it for lunch today. Alone. Without interruption. In silence.
** This is not a kid friendly meal.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wanted: Room Mother - must bake

I think I have mentioned before that I don't bake. It is more or less a defense mechanism that I have self-imposed to keep me from eating every last bite of what I create. I lack self control when there is no one else around to judge pigginess. In college I started baking what I call "fake cakes". My mom gave me this cookbook for dorm dwellers (I wish I still had that taught me how to make fried rice using a hot plate). The "fake cake" was derived from some recipe I found it this pseudo cookbook. I don't remember the recipe exactly, but it had a yellow cake mix, a can of peaches and a stick of butter...I think? As a college student I tried to make this cake as cheaply as possible and resorted to Jiffy muffin mixes for $0.33. I convinced myself this "fake cake" was healthy because it had peaches in it and was a muffin not a cake.

Can you believe that still to this day I mix up "fake cakes" and try to feed them to my family? Now I kick them up a notch and add things that are healthy. I add pecans and flax meal for a crumble topping. I skip the butter completely and - get this - I still buy the Jiffy muffin mix. These cakes suck. They are hardly edible, especially without any butter. They are horrible. My husband, who already has an adversion to sweets, calls them "jacked-up cakes". And now the 6 year old is requesting I bake "jacked-up cake" because he doesn't know there is anything better out there (and he calls it by name - Jacked-up Cake). The 4 year old ain't fallin' for it. She has turned her nose up to the dessert (?) and would rather be sent to her bedroom for the evening than take a taste of Jacked-Up Cake. Note: Jacked-Up Cake is now a proper noun and thus capitalized.

I accidently jacked-up some cupcakes I was baking for the 6 year old's birthday snack at school. I was never asked to be the room mother for his kindergarten class and I guess I've held a little resentment. This was my time to shine, to deliver, to show those kindergartners just what I was made of. See what you missed out on? I am the mother of all room mothers! I can bake a bad-ass cup cake! Eat my dust!

Armed with one box of "Confetti Cake" mix and a stack of ice cream cones I set out to face the ones for which I so desperately longed for their approval. This is what I made.

Not being a natural baker I wasn't sure that this was the outcome for which I was looking. Do all ice cream cone cupcakes look like these? I guessed not.

Time was short. The baby was waking up from nap. I had only 4 more cones and no more cake mix. Soon the 6 year old would be home from school and he would be confronted by the ugly, fallen, raw-in-the-middle birthday cupcakes. And the truth would be out and everyone would know - I would have been a terrible room mother! Help, Calgon, take me away!

I swallowed hard. I reminded myself that these were just kids. What do they know about baking? What do they know about cupcakes? All they care about is the icing anyways. Wait a second. All they care about is the icing. Thank the Lord. Salvation at last! All they care about is the icing.

Quickly I iced the cupcakes with the store-bought tub of cream cheese icing. I pulled out all the sprinkles we had in the house, all the food coloring, all the left over Valentine's day candy, anything that would put a glimmer in a kindergartner's eye.

The bus was pulling up and I ran out to greet the boy. I revved him up by telling him he was going to decorate the cupcakes with all the fancy sprinkles and candy I've been hiding above the refrigerator. He couldn't wait to dig in. And he did a beautiful job hiding all my mistakes.

Now I remember what I had forgotten:I may not have been chosen to be the room's mom, but on that particular afternoon if my son was given the choice as to whom the perfect mother was, it was me! And that is way better than mothering a room!

Krispy Kreme for lunch?

Apparently Paula Deen is trying to kill-off her fan base one-by-one. If her Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding wasn't enough to send us all into cardiac arrest, how about this "Brunch Burger"? Although I will never attempt to make this little breakfast delight, I must admit I think it would taste rather delicious. I love mixing flavors -- and fatty with sugary with smoky would definitely apply here. But for the purpose of saving face I will denounce (and reject, in case Hillary Clinton is reading) this burger. I will stay on my strict calorie-counting diet and stick to the All American Burger at Scenic 90 Cafe for now.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Portobello Pasta

I just ate THE most delicious dinner and it was conceived out of pure dinner desperation. Those desperate dinners amazingly turn out to be some of my most memorable dishes. Tonight's creation proved no different. Here's what I was working with. I had portobollo mushrooms hiding in the crisper drawer under a bag of Romain lettuce hearts and they were turning darker by the minute. I had the obligatory pantry staple, pasta; it's ol' faithful on a dark and lonely night. I had fresh thyme in my purse. Yes, I did say I had fresh thyme in my purse. Isn't that where everybody keeps their fresh thyme? I stole it from the backyard kitchen garden of Skopelos on the Bay yesterday. And besides, I like to keep thyme on my side. Hardy har har! I had some heavy cream that was about to expire, but still smelled fine. So here's the recipe of the most delicious made-up, thrown-together dinner I may have ever made.

Thyme's on my Side Portobello Pasta
adapted from...oh wait...I don't have to give anyone else's my recipe!

16 oz. pasta
1 onion, diced
6 oz. portobello mushroom caps, roughly chopped (add more if you like, I'm going to)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
fresh thyme (about a teaspoon)
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
salt & pepper
1 T. sherry cooking wine (this is the secret need it! Yummy!)
1/4 c to 1/3 c. heavy cream

1. Boil pasta as per directions on package. Make sure you salt your water well. It should taste like the Gulf of Mexico and if you haven't tasted the Gulf of Mexico lately, you should! Drain and set aside.

2. Heat oil and butter in pan over medium-high heat. Add onions, mushrooms, garlic and thyme. Let onions brown and soften. Add sherry, let it reduce. Add cream, salt and pepper and let it reduce.

3. Combine mushroom mixture with drained pasta and toss. Serve with salad and crusty French loaf. Garnish with a little thyme on the side.

Here are a few pics to help you visualize the preparation.

This is why you shouldn't dice garlic and take photographs while holding a small child on your hip. Lucky for him, he still has 9 digits left! Shew! Close call.

Stolen thyme (above)

Slightly creamy, but not overdone. Just right!

My first helping of Thyme's on My Side Portobello Pasta. At this point I had no idea what I was in for, but after that first was all over!

Cook's Note: Don't forget the sherry cooking wine. It makes all the difference!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Spinach-Asiago Gratins

I've been dying to get some individual "bake & serve" ramekins so that I can make personal dishes. I found some for a good price and now I am ready to individualize dinner side-dishes for the rest of my life. Tonight I made individual Spinach-Asiago Cheese Gratins. Here's the skinney on the gratin!

Spinach-Asiago Gratins
adapted from Cooking Light magazine

1 T. butter
1 c. sweet onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 10-oz. frozen spinach
1 1/2 T. all-purpose flour
1 cup 1% milk
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
dash nutmeg
1/2 c. fresh asiago cheese, grated
1/4 c. parmesean cheese, grated
1/4 c. bread crumbs

1. Cook Spinach in microwave using directions on box (it's not necessary to cook until completely done, just get the chill off). Drain spinach well. Use a cheesecloth to wring out the water or drain in a sieve and use a spatula to push the water out.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Melt butter in pan and add onion and garlic. Saute 3 minutes or until tender. Add the spinach stirring to combine with onions and garlic. Remove pan from heat

3. Place flour in a small bowl and gradually add milk. Stir with a whisk until combined. Mix flour mixture into spinach mixture; add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly for 3 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat. Add cheeses. Mix.

4. Divide mixture into 4-6 individual ramekins (or one small pie plate will do just fine). Sprinkle bread crumbs over gratins.

5. Broil about 1 minute until tops begin to brown.

This is how I always drain my frozen spinach. I put a small amount in a cheese cloth and squeeze. It is much easier when you use two hands and aren't trying to take a photograph.

Reason # 1001 to Hate Wal-mart: If you are looking for cheese cloth at Wal-mart, please know that they hide it. It is not with the kitchen gadgets, like a rational person may think. It is with...the fabric, as in the material you use to sew dresses, etc.. I guess since it has the word cloth in its name they think it belongs in the sewing department.