Thursday, December 29, 2011

Low Brow Carbonara

I'm not fancy.  I enjoy awesome food with specialty ingredients, but if I want to cook fancy foods I have to drive 20 minutes to the nearest gourmet grocery store to buy "the good stuff".  I don't have the time for that.  The other day I was talking to a friend of mine (who also has 5 kids) about something new I could make for my family.  She and her sister both chimed in unison, "Carbonara!"  Apparently in their family they have a recipe that everyone is a huge fan of.  They told me some of the ingredients and kind of gave me the method, but I pretty much took their twist of adding sausage and coupled it with everything I've learned from the Food Network to come up with this gem.  Normally, this is made from pancetta (Italian bacon that is salt cured instead of smoked...not found at my local market) and fancy hard Italian cheeses.  I made this with what I already had in my fridge...hence my kind of ghetto version of a classic.


Ingredients
1 lb pasta (I used penne piccolini, but I think it's typically made with spaghetti)
4 slices bacon
4 oz Italian sausage (your favorite heat level)
1 cup heavy cream at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup parmesan (the cheap kind from the green can works like a charm...remember...low brow)
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen peas

Cook the pasta according to directions.  While the pasta is cooking, dice the bacon and put it in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook the bacon until it is crispy, and remove it with a slotted spoon.  Place it on a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside.  Remove the sausage from the casing and cook it in the bacon grease, breaking it up as it cooks. Once the sausage is cooked, remove it from the pan and set it on the paper towel-lined plate with the bacon.  In a large bowl, combine the cream, eggs, cheese and spices and whisk until well combined.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water.  Put the pasta back into the pot it was cooked in, and add all the ingredients to the pot (toss in the meat, then toss in the creamy egg mixture, then toss in the peas).  Pour in the reserved pasta water and toss it all together.  The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs and you'll be left with this luscious sauce that will coat the noodles.  Garnish with extra cheese.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Candied Almonds and Poppyseed Dressing (with a Spinach Salad)

I was on a committee for our church Christmas party this year.  Together, a group of women decided what to feed 250 people for the event.  We were on a budget and decided along with an inexpensive main dish, to go the inexpensive salad route, but we didn't want to do iceburg salad with a bottle of Ranch and a bottle of Italian.  We decided on a spinach salad.  After looking through some recipes online, I decided to kind of improvise the nuts and I found a recipe with really good reviews for dressing (keep in mind...cooking for 250...never made candied nuts nor homemade poppyseed dressing...).  During the party, no less than 20 people were requesting the recipe because it was the best spinach salad they'd ever eaten.



First, the nuts.  I heavily altered a recipe I found online, and I can't for the life of me find the link.  (When I find it I'll post it). 

Ingredients
2 cups almonds (sliced, slivered, chopped, what-have-you)
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup honey
2/3 cup sugar

Lay your almonds on a sheet pan in a single layer.  Place them in a cold oven, then turn the oven on to 350 degrees. While the almonds are cooking, melt the butter and honey in a sauce pan over medium-high heat until boiling.  Boil, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat. When the almonds smell nutty (approx. 7-10 minutes), remove them from the oven and place them directly into the hot honey/butter mixture.  Stir until coated.  Pour in the sugar and stir until all the nuts are coated.  Spray the same sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the nuts from the sauce pan to the sheet pan.  Turn on your broiler and place the nuts back into the oven for 2-4 minutes (again, until they smell deliciously nutty).  Remove the pan and stir the nuts, then return the pan to the oven for another 1-2 minutes.  Cool completely on the sheet pan.  When it's cool, the nuts will be all stuck together.  Simply break up any large clumps with your hands. These nuts store very well in an airtight container for at least a week.

Next, the dressing.  I got the recipe in its entirety from allrecipes.com.  It is so easy to whip together, and costs practically nothing.  It's kind of tart, which makes it such a lovely complement to the sweetness of the dried cranberries and candied nuts. 

Ingredients
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp grated onion
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp poppyseeds

Pour all the ingredients, except the poppyseeds, into the blender.  Blend until your dressing is fully emulsified (until it goes from clear to opaque), about 30 seconds.  Add the poppyseeds and pulse once or twice.  Refrigerate until ready to use. The dressing may separate in the fridge.  Simply, shake it vigoriously before using it or place it back in the blender and pulse it a few times.

Assemble your salad immediately before serving (otherwise it goes all gross and wilty).  In a large bowl, add 4 cups spinach leaves with 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup candied almonds, and about 1/2 cup dressing.  Mix until the salad is well coated in dressing.  If it looks a little dry, add about a tablespoon more at a time until it is coated to your liking.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mini Frittatas

Do your kids love breakfast for dinner?  My kids LOVE breakfast for dinner.  Something else about my kids...they also love anything that is made in individual serving sizes (they call it "kid-sized").  Tonight was a breakfast for dinner night. 



There is no "best thing" about these mini frittatas.  The only complaint I got about them was "What?  They're gone?  I only got two!"  When she took her first bite, my 9-year-old said, "These are on your blog, right?"  No.  No they're not, but they will be in a few hours. 

This process couldn't be much easier.  You cut up various toppings, put them into muffin tins, pour uncooked scrambled eggs on top, and bake them.  So easy, so delicous, and a total crowd pleaser.  Feel free to switch up the toppings based on your personal taste.  Just be sure to put a good amount of toppings in there.  You don't want to end up with an under-topped frittata.



Mini Frittatas

Ingredients
12 eggs
4 tbsp milk - any fat content
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly cracked pepper
2/3 cup diced ham
1 cup shredded cheddar
3 tbsp chopped green onion
dash of hot sauce (I like sriracha - it tastes so good on everything!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.  Prepare toppings and set them aside.  In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, salt and pepper until very well combined and a little frothy.  Set aside.  Put toppings into the muffin cups (a good heaping tablespoonful is what you're looking for - loosely packed).  Pour egg mixture into the muffin cups until they are about 3/4 full (it turns out to be about 1/4 cup).  Bake on the middle rack for 18-22 minutes, or until the eggs are no longer jiggly in the middle.  They will be puffed up and golden and will be like little egg clouds when you bite into them! 

Yield 12 mini frittatas (6 servings).  These freeze and reheat well.  Just pop a couple in the microwave for 35-45 seconds.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Amazing Dinner Rolls

Thanksgiving is rearing its deliciously ugly head next week and I'm heading with the hubs and toddler to Las Vegas to have a weekend with my family.    My mom is that housewife who makes it look effortless to be perfect.  She's and insanely good cook and keeps an immaculate house.  As a wife and mom, I am consistently in awe of how she did it and kept her sanity.  Well, the past year or so I've gotten pretty good at this whole cooking and baking thing.  When I visit my family next week I'm going to flex my domestic muscles and make a few Thanksgiving favorites - rolls included.


(don't pretend that picture didn't make you drool a little)

I have a recipe for rolls similar to these, and they're really good but they make enough for an army.  Even with my brood we don't even eat 1/3 of them when I make them, which is more often than it should be.  I got my Thanksgiving copy of "Taste of Home" today and while thumbing through, I found a recipe that is very similar to the one I use, only scaled more than halfway down (high five!). 

These rolls were amazing (clearly, by the name!); delicate and soft, dense but kind of fluffy (if that makes sense). The flavor is fantastic, the texture is perfect.  My husband, who isn't even a "bread person", ate 3 of them with dinner tonight.  I think I've finally found my official "go-to" roll for family functions.  Look out, Peg (my mom)! 

Amazing Dinner Rolls
Recipe adapted from Taste of Home

4 1/2 - 5 cups bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1 tbsp butter
2 eggs
1-2 tbsp cool butter (to rub on top of rolls when they come out of the oven)

Heat milk and butter in a saucepan until the mixture is comfortably warm to the touch (120-130 degrees).  Set aside.  In the large bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook, combine 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast and salt.  Add the milk mixture to the bowl.  Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes.  Add 2 eggs and mix on high speed for 2 minutes.  Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft, slightly sticky dough (the dough will pull away from the bowl but will stick to your finger). 

Knead with the hook for another 4-5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Place in a lightly greased bowl.  Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and let rise in a cozy place until doubled in size (about 1 hour).

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and punch it down.  Divide the dough into 24 equal (or equal-ish), and shape into balls and divide between two greased 13x9 inch pans.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in size (about 30 minutes).

Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. 

This little monster couldn't wait for them to be done.  He stood at the oven door the whole time until I finally took them out.



When you remove the rolls from the oven, immediately rub butter (holding the butter in a paper towel) on top of all the rolls.

Yield 2 dozen

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Flaky Apple Pie

I'm not much of a pie person.  Growing up the only pie we had was my mom's banana cream pie (I'll post that one around Thanksgiving - it's pretty much insane), and it was only on Thanksgiving.  Clearly my mom isn't much of a pie person either.  Most of my friends are pie enthusiasts.  One of them is even the "Pie Expert".  I'm a subscribing member to Pie of the Month Club, but I've still never gotten into it (one time I was staying at the pie expert's house in Indiana and she asked if I liked pie.  I told her, "I like meat pies..."  A word to the wise?  Never say that to the pie expert).



Well, I married into a pie family.  My in-laws love pie, my husband loves pie, and my kids love pie. 

Since it's produce season I've been frequenting little farms and farm stands where I live.  Every time I've come home with peaches or apples the past month or two, Casey has jokingly asked if it was because I was making him a pie.  So a few days ago I decided to take the bull by the horns.  I did some research and found a crust in this book.  I figured that surely, if he's teaching me to cook EVERYTHING, there would be a stellar recipe for crust.  I did some more research and found a killer filling.  Since the caramelly sauce for the filling is poured in after the pie is already topped, it is baked with this sugary layer of goo which makes the crust delicately crisp and slightly sweet.  I had to refrain from breaking the entire top crust off the pie, putting it on a plate and taking a fork to it. 

Flaky Apple Pie
Crust by Mark Bittman, Filling adapted slightly from allrecipes.com

Crust
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp salt (if you use salted butter, omit the salt)
2 tsp sugar
16 tbsp (2 sticks) cold butter (the recipe calls for unsalted, but I always use salted)
6 tbsp cold water

Filling
8 apples, peeled, cored and sliced (the recipe called for Granny Smith, but I used Golden Delicious and Gala- fresh from the farm)
2 tsp corn starch
1/2 cup butter (again, the recipe calls for unsalted)
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup water

To make the crust, put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of the food processor, fitted with the dough blade attachment and pulse once or twice.  Chop the cold butter and add it to the bowl.  Blend until the mixture looks like cornmeal (about 10-15 seconds).  Pour that into a large bowl and add the water.  Mix with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon (adding a tiny bit of water at a time if your dough isn't coming together) gradually gathering the mixture into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes (you can freeze it for 10 minutes if you are in a hurry). 

While your crust is chilling, peel, core and slice your apples.  Place them in a large bowl and sprinkle with corn starch.  Mix the apples so that the corn starch is no longer visible.  Set aside.  Melt 1/2 cup butter in a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add 3 tbsp flour to form a loose paste.  Add your sugars and water and bring to a boil.  Turn heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove crust from the refigerator, split into 2 parts (refrigerating the top crust until you are ready to roll it out) and roll on a lightly floured surface, starting in the middle and working your way to the sides until you have a disc of dough about 1-1 1/2 inches larger than your pie plate.  Roll your crust onto the rolling pin and place it in your pie plate.  Fill the crust with apples, slightly mounding them.  Cover with either a lattice crust or a crust that has been vented liberally (I used several mini shape cutters for mine).  Gently pour the sugar and butter liquid over the top, so that it does not run off. (*See note, below). Be sure to lightly coat your top crust.  (Also, be sure to do this while the liquid is hot.  Otherwise it will firm up and will not reheat to the same runny consistency). 

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then lower the heat to 350 and bake for an additional 35-45 minutes until apples are soft.  Let the pie cool completely before slicing.

*If you're doing a full two crust pie, pour the sauce in (reserving a little extra for the top crust) before you top it.  If you're doing a lattice top pie or one with lots of holes (like the one pictured), top the pie before pouring the sauce.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Dead-On" Funeral Potatoes

I was trying to think of the most polite way to describe what funeral potatoes are, but there kind of isn't one.  Here's the deal.  This dish is a homemade take this hilarious but all too accurate recipe, which is something always served at the family dinner after a Mormon funeral.  Ask any Mormon in North America.  They all know funeral potatoes and they all love them.  Promise.

Casey loves funeral potatoes (as do I).  Once every few months I'll try out a new recipe for these because although I've always ALWAYS loved them, before I met Casey I had only made them once or twice.  I tried the semi-homemade version about 10 times before I just decided to make them from scratch and when Casey took a bite he looked at me and said, "These are dead on!"

"Dead On" Funeral Potatoes
Recipe by me

6 cups cooked shredded potatoes -

Sauce –
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
¼ cup dried minced onion
2 chicken bouillon cubes, crushed
1 cup water
2 cups milk – whatever you have on hand
3 cups shredded medium/sharp cheddar cheese

Topping
2 ½ cups panko bread crumbs (or lightly crushed corn flakes if you want a more authentic funeral potato)
4 tbsp melted butter
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese

In a soup pot, melt butter and add flour.  Cook, whisking constantly over medium heat, for 3-5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, bouillon, minced onion, water, and milk.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in cheese, one handful at a time, until melted and gooey and delicious.  Stir in potatoes, one cup at a time, making sure to coat the potatoes well.  Pour into a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking sheet.  Mix all three topping ingredients.  Spread evenly over the top of your potatoes.  Bake them at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until golden and brown and bubbly and awesome.

You can make these a day or two ahead without the topping (to avoid it getting soggy) if you keep it well-covered.  Then before your event, take them out of the fridge and add your topping about 30 minutes before baking.

You *can* use frozen shredded hash browns; however, I've tried them both with fresh potatoes I boiled and shredded myself and frozen shredded hash browns.  Even following the exact same sauce recipe, the frozen potatoes yielded an inferior result.  It's not a huge amount of work to just boil and shred your own.  To do this, pierce 8 medium russet potatoes (about 6 large, about 10-12 small).  Place them in a pot and cover them with water.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to medium-high and continue to boil until fork tender (approx 15-20 minutes).  Drain.  Once the potatoes are still hot but cool enough to handle, rub the skins off the potatoes with your hands.  Then either shred your potatoes with a cheese grater or the cheese grater attachment of a food processor.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Easy, Delicious Bread

A few months ago I went to the baby shower of one of my cousins (actually the daughter of my dad's cousin).  There were snacks and salads and a cutting board with delicious homemade breads.  I had to ask my aunt (actually the mother of the new mom, who is in no way my aunt), "Who made the bread?"  She told me it was her daughter-in-law.  Of course I texted her and asked for the recipe.  She gave me the base recipe and then a couple of variations to go on.  There are a couple of "funky" ingredients (I consider it a "funky" ingredient if I a: don't have it in my pantry or b: have to go to a specialty store to get it), but once you have them in your pantry they'll become staples (and they last forever).  This bread is hard to screw up, easy to manipulate into different flavor combinations, and is ready to eat in about an hour - baking time included.

Recipe from Tiffany Ritchie-Petty, who got it from a "Pantry Secrets" class she took

5 cups bread flour (*See note, below)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp instant yeast (the kind that needs no proofing prior to use.  I use SAF brand)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 quarter-sized blobs liquid lecithin - do not measure, just eyeball it (**See note, below)
2 cups hot tap water

Mix dry ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer, with the dough hook attachment.  Add lecithin.  Slowly add water while mixer is on low.  Knead with the dough hook on medium speed for 3-5 minutes.  Spray your hands and the counter top with nonstick spray and split into 2 loaves (if you're making a flavored variation of this bread, now would be the time for addins.  See variations, below).  Knead for an additional 1-2 minutes.  Form into loaves in a greased 9x5x3 inch pan or simply form into a ball and set on a greased cookie sheet.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise for 20-25 minutes.  About 10 minutes into the rising time, preheat your oven.  Bake at 350 degrees for 23-25 min (my oven is closer to 25 minutes...I've had doughy bread by taking it out too soon). 

*I never keep bread flour on hand  because it's expensive and takes up too much space.  In order to make my own bread flour, I simply add one tablespoon of vital wheat gluten to each cup of all-purpose flour in my bread recipes.  Store unused wheat gluten in an airtight container in the freezer and it lasts forever.  I can usually find it at the regular grocery store.

**Liquid lecithin is a preservative that helps keep your bread soft for days (if you look at the bread in your cupboard right now, chances are one of the ingredients is liquid lecithin).  Four months ago I bought a 16 oz bottle for $6.99 and I still have a significant amount left.  I make a variation of this bread at least once a week, so this is an ingredient that costs very little per use.

Some variations I've used that work well with this bread are:
-cinnamon swirl - combine 1/4 cup brown sugar with 1 tsp cinnamon.  When the dough is on the counter either knead the sugar mixture directly into the dough, or form the dough into a square and spread it on cinnamon roll-style then roll the dough into a loaf.  Lightly coat the dough with a couple teaspoons of honey and a light dusting of cinnamon-sugar before rising.
-cinnamon apple - peel and shred one medium apple (it should yield about 1/2 cup).  Place apple shreds in some paper towel and squeeze out most of the liquid.  Repeat the same steps as the cinnamon swirl bread, adding the shredded apple. Also add about 1/2 tsp salt to your cinnamon sugar just to add a little depth with the apples.
-spinach/feta- chop and saute 2 cups of spinach over medium heat until spinach is nicely wilted.  Place spinach in some paper towel and squeeze out most of the liquid.  Add to the dough, along with 1/3 cup feta cheese crumbles and knead until incorporated (small chunks of cheese and spinach add a good texture to the bread). 
-parmesan/herb - combine 1/3 cup parmesan cheese (I've used both freshly shredded and the cheap stuff in a green can and both are delicious), 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp garlic salt, 1/2 tsp ground dried garlic, and freshly ground black pepper (to your liking).

Any of these variations are delicious with a little bit of softened butter rubbed on top of the dough and just a light sprinkling of whatever seasonings you're adding to the inside.  Play around with it.  You will not be disappointed.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Magnolia Brownies


I’ve been a fan of this video since it debuted in 2005.  I also decided in 2005 that the next time I went to NYC I would “hit up Magnolia and mack on some cupcakes!”  The next time I went to NYC was in July 2009 for my honeymoon.  Casey is a good husband and a good sport, and so we hoofed it to Greenwich Village and got some of the most expensive delicious cupcakes I’d ever had.  Fast forward a few months.  We were at Barnes and Noble one night and I spotted this book and that was what I got for Christmas that year.  I was so excited, but the recipe I’ve made most often out of the book is the Chocolate Brownies with Cream Cheese Icing.  I make them so much that Casey calls them “my brownies” (we also refer to them as “$20 brownies” because it’s a huge pan of brownies and they’re obviously a bit more pricey to make than say, a Betty Crocker boxed mix).  I’ve made these probably 20 different times and I have making them down to a science. It all starts with butter.  Lots of it.  And we all know butter is good.

I haven’t ever actually tried the cream cheese icing recipe that accompanies the brownie recipe because I have a recipe that is really good, and also because I like to switch up my frostings a bit (the last time I made them I made them with a chocolate mint butter cream – yum). 
Magnolia Brownies
Brownie Recipe from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook; Frosting Recipe from myself
Brownie
3 cups cake flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature (one of the tricks I’ve learned from making these probably 20 times is using VERY soft butter – you don’t want it melted but you do want it soft to the touch.  Also the recipe calls for unsalted, I use regular old salted butter because that’s what I keep in my freezer)
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
9 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted

Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup cocoa powder
5 cups powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons milk (preferably whole)

Garnish
2 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted.

To make the brownies:  Place chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water on low heat.  Stir occasionally until completely smooth and no pieces of chocolate remain.  Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12x18 inch jelly roll pan with foil or parchment paper, then coat with nonstick spray.  Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
In the large bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Lightly beat the eggs, then add to the creamed mixture and mix well, scraping down the sides of your bowl.  Add the vanilla.  Add the chocolate and mix until well incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients.  Pour the batter into prepared pan.  Bake 25-30 minutes (in my oven, it’s precisely 26) or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached.
Let brownies cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, cream the butter and vanilla, then add the powdered sugar.  Add milk one tablespoon at a time until a spreadable (but not too loose) consistency is reached.  You want the frosting to go on smoothly but hold its shape at room temperature.  Once the brownies have cooled, frost liberally.  To garnish, drizzle horizontal stripes of melted chocolate approximately 1 ½ inches apart (this part isn’t an exact science…you just want it to look pretty.  You may not need the entire 2 ounces).  With the tip of a butter knife, drag your knife vertically through the frosting.



 
Other variations I’ve tried that have been completely awesome:

Pecan Brownies - Add chopped nuts to the brownie batter, then top the frosting with some additional nuts and mini chocolate chips. (On a personal note, I think adding nuts to brownies is a form of blasphemy, but I did this for Casey and my dad, both of whom love brownies with nuts...that's love!)

Mint Brownies – Add 1 tsp mint extract (I prefer to use regular mint as opposed to peppermint because I don’t like the taste) to your frosting and garnish with some smashed Andes mints.

Cream Cheese Frosted Brownies.  Substitute one brick of cream cheese for one of the sticks of butter in the butter cream.  If you want straight cream cheese frosting simply omit the cocoa powder.

Cinnamon Roll Casserole


I’m my father’s daughter.  My dad will buy anything if it’s on sale.  Although I’ve learned to curb my appetite for a good deal a little more than he has, there are some things I can’t help but buy.  For instance, donuts.  There’s a market by my house that makes the BEST donuts.  Seriously, they’re so good, and they’re remarkably reasonably priced.  Then after 7pm they go half price.  All of a sudden because they’re half price I have an insatiable need for donuts.  One night I went out specifically for donuts (usually I’ll go out for gas or something and if it’s after 7 I’ll automatically end up on a donut run) and they were out of all the good ones.  Did I turn and walk away?  Sadly, no.  (Dude…it’s donuts.)  I got 8 cinnamon/raspberry/apple/whatever-they-had-on-hand-rolls.  I wasn’t too shocked when nobody wanted to eat them.  After a couple of days I decided to make a quasi-bread pudding with them.  I’ll save the bread pudding-stravaganza of 2007 (where I literally turned any dough-based substance into a bread pudding) for another post, but it was awesome and this was a nod to those days.

Ingredients
5 cups cinnamon rolls, cut into 1-inch cubes
Raisins (if you like them)
Nuts (if you like them) - about 1/2 cup each of nuts and raisins

Custard -
5 eggs
2 cups milk (try to use whole)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
A dash of nutmeg
½ tsp vanilla extract

Cut the cinnamon rolls and place them in a 9X9 inch pan that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  Sprinkle with nuts and raisins, if you're into that kind of thing.  In a large bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients until very well combined.  Pour your custard mixture over the cinnamon rolls and press the cinnamon rolls to ensure they are covered by the custard mixture.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes while your oven preheats.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, or until your casserole has puffed up slightly and is set in the middle.  Spoon it onto plates or cereal bowls and cover with your choice of topping.  My kids like it with maple syrup, but I’ve also served it with leftover Butter Dream Sauce.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ratatouille Movie Night


Every Wednesday at Chez Bowden it’s Pizza Movie Night.  Sometimes we have pizza, sometimes we have rotisserie chicken and potato salad, sometimes we have Subway, but it’s “Pizza Movie Night”.  Well, this week I asked my kids what they wanted to do on Wednesday and they requested…nay…demanded ratatouille movie night – to both watch and eat ratatouille.  I won’t even start on how awesome my kids are because they’ll eat ANYTHING, I’ll just finish my story.

When I met Casey, he would just throw stuff in a pot and call it dinner.  He was the master of doctoring up a boxed mix.  He used to make this version of ratatouille that was just a bunch of sliced up squash and tomatoes and stuff, sautéed in a little bit of salad dressing, then baked off in the oven with cheese.  The other day when the kids requested ratatouille I decided to do a little research because other than Casey’s ratatouille, I had never had it.  Turns out he wasn’t that far off.  According to Mark Bittman, you take a bunch of vegetables (usually involving some sort of squash and/or eggplant, sometimes with potatoes and mushrooms, usually including onions and tomatoes) and some herbs and seasonings, layer them in a dish, and bake them until they’re nice and soft.  I took that method and added a little sauce and voila!  Awesome.  The kids couldn’t get enough.
Ingredients
Various vegetables, sliced into similarly thick slices.
(I used:
2 smallish-medium summer squash
2 smallish-medium zucchini
1 small red onion
4 medium tomatoes)

Sauce:
¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried minced garlic
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried parsley

¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese


Wash and dry your vegetables.  Slice into approx ¼ inch slices (slice tomatoes a bit thicker because they don’t hold up to the roasting time otherwise).  Using a 9X9 inch baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray (or 4-6 individual sized baking dishes), layer the veggies, lightly seasoning every other layer with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. 
In a medium bowl, combine ingredients for your sauce and whisk until well mixed.  Spoon the sauce over the top of the veggies – don’t worry about it only being on the top layer because there is a pretty significant amount of sauce for the vegetables and it will run down to the lower layers.  Set your baking dish(es) on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for an hour to an hour and a half(closer to an hour if you’re doing individual sized dishes or if your vegetables are pretty soft – longer if you have more vegetables or if you are cooking potatoes). During the last 15 minutes of cooking, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with each of your cheeses.  Return pan to the oven and continue baking until the cheese is golden and bubbly.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Strawberry Layer Cake


A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law, Janette had a princess party at my house for her two girls.  She asked me if I’d help her make this cake.  This cake is so simple yet so decadent and oh so very tasty.   So simple, in fact, that she sent me the instructions in their entirety (ingredient list included) in a single text message. 



The cake was good – so good that my 5-year-old changed her mind from wanting a Tinkerbell cake to wanting this same cake, “only with chocolate for the cake part on it”. 

I think the most important element in making this cake spectacular is KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).  For my 5-year-old I decided I’d fancy it up by making homemade whipped cream, cake from scratch, etc.  BIG mistake.  The frosting was drippy and the cake didn’t hold up as well as the Betty Crocker variety.  I think the success of this cake lies in the pre-packaged ingredients.  I’m sure it has to do with the stabilization of pre-packaged ingredients.  Follow the instructions.  They’re idiot-proof and you will totally impress your friends.
Strawberry Layer Cake
(recipe from Janette Nussbaumer, who says this is a Louisiana staple)
1 cake mix – we used both yellow and devil’s food and both were very tasty (prepared according to the directions)
1 12-oz container Original Cool Whip
1 16-18-oz container buttercream or cream cheese frosting
2 pints strawberries, sliced

Prepare cake mix according to package directions and bake in 2 8- or 9-inch pans. Cool.  When cakes are cooled completely, slice each round horizontally into two pieces (thereby creating 4 even layers).  Place the first layer on a platter and slather a good amount of frosting, leaving a ½-1 inch border (the frosting squishes thinner with the weight of the additional layers).  Repeat with each layer, then frost the sides after all four layers are together.  Garnish with a couple of sliced strawberries (or with chopped/shaved chocolate if you choose devil’s food, which is also delicious).
(The cake was so awesome that we forgot to take a picture once we cut into it...so this picture was totally an afterthought.  The cake mix was dyed pink with a few drops of red food coloring.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lime Kisses



What is it with summer and citrus?  I know that citrus fruits aren’t typically in season in the summer, but summer seems to be when I want lemon, orange, and lime flavored things – from sorbet to beverages to bars, etc. 

I found this recipe on Our Best Bites for “Orange-Kissed Cookies”, and although I love a good orange flavored dessert, I’m cuckoo for lime.  I took everything orange-related in this recipe and made it limey (and doubled the recipe…with 5 kids you kind of have to double every recipe).  I will admit I haven’t actually tried the original recipe.  I’d like to, but I may never actually get around to it.
As an aside, my kids had their little friend from across the street over yesterday and since I had a bazillion of these I sent a plateful home with her.  Today her dad came by and told me something to the effect of she’s only allowed to play over here if I promise to send her home with more cookies (which he totally thought were too good to be homemade). 
Recipe adapted from Our Best Bites, who adapted it from AllRecipes.com
Cookie –  
2 cups white sugar
1 cup margarine
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
6 oz (½ of a 12 oz can) limeade concentrate
1 tbsp lime zest (zest of 2 limes)

Frosting –
Zest of 1 lime
6 oz (½ of a 12 oz can) limeade concentrate
1 cup softened butter (I use salted.  If you don’t, add ½ - 1 tsp salt)
½ tsp vanilla extract
6 cups (maybe a cup shy of 2 lbs) powdered sugar
Green food coloring

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.  Set aside.  In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar and shortening until light and fluffy.  Add the sour cream and eggs and mix until everything is well incorporated.  Add the vanilla, limeade concentrate, and lime zest and mix again.  Add the flour mixture half at a time and mix until just combined.  Scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated and if needed, mix again until combined.
Your dough will be looser than a normal cookie dough.  Using a cookie scoop (or a tablespoon), drop rounded scoops onto a cookie sheet, spacing them appropriately (my cookie scoop fits about ¼ cup capacity, so I space them so I fit 12 to a sheet).  Bake 9-11 minutes or until the edges are beginning to turn golden and the cookies are set.  Allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 min then transfer to a wire cooling rack.


Sorry.  Just had to throw that in there because he's cute.
While your cookies are cooling, combine the wet ingredients for the frosting into your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add 4 cups of powdered sugar and combine.  Keep adding flour ½ cup at a time until a desired consistency is reached.  Add green food coloring until you reach the color you want.  After cookies have cooled, pipe or frost your cookies.  My kids decorated the ones shown with green frosting and sprinkles.

This recipe yields 50-75 cookies, depending on the size.  If you give them away, people will like you.
Update:  my friend Roxanne is having a party for her baby girl, and we were talking about strawberry flavored desserts.  I was in Las Vegas last weekend and while there was helping my mom make 1200 cookies for this seminar thingy she's in charge of.  When I went to the store to get ingredients to make these cookies, I saw next to the frozen limeade concentrate STRAWBERRY DAQUIRI CONCENTRATE! I had a lightbulb moment and decided to transform these little lovelies into strawberry daquiri kisses and pina colada kisses.  So I did. 

What you do is sub the limeade concentrate for either pina colada or strawberry daquiri concentrate.  These concentrates come in 10 oz cans rather than 12 oz cans.  With the strawberry, add 6 oz to the cookie and only 4 oz to the frosting; otherwise you will have an overpowering strawberry frosting.  With the pina colada, split the concentrate equally (5 oz in the cookie and 5 oz in the frosting).  I also topped the pina colada with toasted coconut.  For the toasted coconut, put 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded or flaked coconut on a foil lined baking sheet into a 350 degree oven for about 5-7 minutes.  Cool the coconut completely before topping the cookies.  You'll want to top the cookies when the frosting is still fresh in order for the coconut to stick.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Strawberry Lemonade Pancakes with Lemon Butter Dream Sauce

I love this summer.  I love this summer, if for no other reason, I have more opportunities to cook breakfast.  I have never really liked pancakes (which is ironic, because my other blog is called Let’s Go Get Pancakes).  About a year ago I traded in my career to become a housewife, and I decided that much like every other job I have ever had, I was going to master housewifery.  As everyone knows, homemade food is key in any house of a domestic goddess. 

The inspiration for these pancakes came from here.  Have I said that I love Joy the Baker?  Because I do.  She made me a pancake lover.  The syrup is a story in and of itself.  A girl my sister grew up with (I grew up with her older sister) posted something on instagram (photo sharing app for iPhone) about “fat sauce”.  Intrigued by the name, I asked what fat sauce was.  It is so simple and so decadent…and I’m including the recipe below.  To make it sound more appealing (and so my kids wouldn’t tell their real mom I feed them fat sauce all the time), I changed the name to Butter Dream Sauce.
Strawberry Lemonade Pancakes with Lemon Butter Dream Sauce
Pancakes adapted from Joy the Baker  and the Joy of Baking, Sauce adapted from Brittany Benson Seager
Pancakes
4 tbsp butter – melted and slightly cooled
2 cups buttermilk
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 tbsp  lemon zest (zest of approx 2 lemons)
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Topping
1 pint strawberries
1 tbsp sugar

Sauce
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
1 tbsp lemon juice (just juice one of the lemons you zested for the pancake)  (to make regular Butter Dream Sauce for non-citrus pancakes, simply omit the lemon juice)

Rinse and dry the berries.  Cut the end off and cut into pieces.  Place them in a medium sized bowl and sprinkle with sugar.  Lightly mash and stir the berries.  Set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the heavy cream, sugar and stick of butter.  Let this mixture sit over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves.  (I like to do this step while the pancake batter is resting and the griddle is warming up.)  Turn off the heat and whisk in the lemon juice. 
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt.  In another bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients in the center.  Stir until just combined.  Your batter will be lumpy and that’s okay.  Let the batter rest (about 10 min) while you heat your griddle to medium-high (about 350 degrees). 
Lightly spray the griddle with non-stick spray.  Using a ladle or scoop (I use my cookie baller), scoop about ¼ cup batter onto the hot pan, spacing your scoops of batter a few inches apart.  Let the batter cook 2-3 minutes until bubbles form on the top surface of the pancake.  Flip and continue cooking until the pancakes are golden brown on the other side (another 2 minutes or so).  Keep the pancakes that are done on a sheet pan in a 200 degree oven until all the pancakes are cooked.

This recipe makes enough pancakes to comfortably feed 6 people.  Serve the pancakes with 2 tbsp strawberries and a generous drizzle of the Butter Dream Sauce.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Baked Mac and Cheese

I’ve made homemade macaroni and cheese a few times, and it was always good but I never followed a “recipe”.  My friend Amiee (from my college days) also has a blog and posted this.  This recipe has been slightly adapted to suit my family and the ingredients I usually have on hand. It is way tastier than any of the concoctions I’ve made in the past, and I get consistently awesome results. 

Baked Mac and Cheese
Adapted from Amiee @ rollmeouttahere.blogspot.com

Ingredients:
8 oz large elbow macaroni
2/3 lb Cheddar/Colby Jack/whatever your preference, shredded
4 oz cream cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 cans evaporated milk
6-8 slices of American cheese, unwrapped
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 stick of butter, sliced
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1 ½ cup bread crumbs (I always make fresh – just put 2-3 slices of bread into the food processor and pulse into crumbs)
Tony Chachere’s seasoning
Boil pasta in a large pot, according to package directions. Drain. Pour noodles back into the same pot. Toss in butter slices. Mix until melted. Pour in all the evaporated milk. Then add the shredded cheese. Add seasoning and taste your mixture until it tastes salted enough. Once you think you've got that part right, add the beaten egg. Mix well. Pour half your mixture into a small casserole dish (8x8 or equivalent).  Randomly scatter half of your cream cheese cubes and press them down.  Then top with your American cheese slices – you may only need 4 of them. Add the rest of your pasta mixture and top with the rest of your cream cheese cubes.  Mix the melted tablespoon of butter and the bread crumbs.  Sprinkle over the top of your Mac and Cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until sides are nice and bubbly and the bread crumbs are golden brown. Let it sit for a few minutes before serving.

This is the perfect amount of food to use as a side dish for 6-8 people. I’ve heard it reheats well, but we’ve never had leftovers.  Since this is a very rich dish, I usually serve it with something light like grilled chicken and a salad.  I’m sure it could also be fancied up by using stronger regional cheeses, adding broccoli to your pot of boiling pasta (then making it the same way), or by adding cubed turkey, chicken or ham.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Banana Muffins

Confession:  I love muffins.  I especially love muffins that are made with banana, pumpkin, zucchini, or anything else that will make for a dense, moist texture.  These are the muffins that stay good for days on the counter top or months in the freezer.  Add chocolate to any of those muffins and I'm sold.  I also love google.  I had some spare bananas and wanted to bake a new twist on an old favorite.  Google lead me here.  Having failed miserably almost every time I've tried to make a quick bread, I now adapt all the quick breads I make into muffins.

Chocolate Banana Muffins
Adapted from joyofbaking.com

Ingredients:
3 ripe bananas, mashed (approx 1 lb)
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (pick your favorite sweetness-I almost exclusively choose semi-sweet/dark)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 

In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lightly fold the wet ingredients (banana mixture) into the dry ingredients until just combined and batter is thick and chunky. Fold in the chocolate chips.  Spoon batter into prepared tins until ½ full. Bake until muffins have risen and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18-22 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool and then remove the muffins from the tin. Serve warm or at room temperature.



Yield approx 15 muffins.  These muffins freeze beautifully!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Birthdays and Cupcakes and Brownies, oh my!


For special occasions, I’ve recently started making my friends food instead of buying gifts.  Food tastes good.  Food always fits.  You don’t have to worry about a gift receipt when you give someone food.  Also, I don’t like the pressure of an occasion gift. If I see something *perfect* for you in August, I’ll buy it and give it to you just because I like you…I won’t wait till Christmas.  On the flip side, you probably won’t get a Christmas gift from me unless I happened to find that gem during the month of December.  As an added bonus, when you give someone food, they almost always share it with you. 
I have lots of friends with springtime birthdays.  I did a lot of baking in May.  For two of my friends, the inspiration (read: entire recipe) came from here and here.  (Thanks, Joy the Baker!) 

(I also made these cupcakes in their full-size glory for Cinco de Mayo – what can I say…when you’re a housewife you have to make your own party sometimes – and they were literally the best cupcakes I’ve ever made!)
Jodi turned 30, so I made her 30 mini cupcakes for her 30th birthday.  I took them with me when I went to get my hair cut and colored (before we became friends she was my stylist).  She shared them with all her co-workers, and of course (coupled with the fact that I brought this guy) I was the most popular girl there.
Dulce de Leche Cupcakes
makes about 2 dozen cupcakes
Borrowed from Joy the Baker who adapted it from The Gourmet Cookbook
For the Cupcakes:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup buttermilk
For the Frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup dulce de leche, plus more for drizzling
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper or foil liners.  Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add butter and sugars.  Beat on medium speed until fluffy and pale brown, about 3 minutes.   Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add one egg.  Beat on medium for one minute.  Add the remaining eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute between each addition.  Stop the bowl and scrape down the sides as necessary. Beat in vanilla extract.
Add half of the flour mixture to the egg and butter mixture.  Beat on low speed and slowly drizzle in the buttermilk.  Beat until just incorporated.  Stop the mixer, scrape down the bowl and add the rest of the dry ingredients.  Beat on low speed until just incorporated.  Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and finish incorporating with a spatula.  Try not to over mix the mixture.
Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake pans, filling each liner about two thirds full.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out clean.  Let rest in the cupcake pans before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cupcakes should be completely cooled before frosting.
To make the frosting:
Place cream cheese in the bowl of an electric stand mixer.  Beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds, until very soft and pliable.  Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the butter and dulce de leche.  Beat on medium speed until well incorporated.  Stop the mixer and add the salt and powdered sugar.  Beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until fluffy and lighter in color.  Generously spoon frosting on top of cupcakes, or use a large frosting tip to pipe on frosting.
For garnish, I heated a few spoonfuls of dulce de leche of a low flame until just pourable.  Then I drizzled it over the cupcakes and topped with a few sprinkles.  Add a few sprinkles of fine sea salt if you're feeling fancy.  I stored the cupcakes in the fridge for an hour to chill the frosting slightly.  
I like to enjoy my cupcakes within two days of preparing them.  Feel free to wrap and refrigerate them because of the cream cheese in the frosting.  Let come close to room temperature before serving.

*The first time I made the frosting I needed about 6 cups of powdered sugar (it was hot and kind of humid outside) to make it pipable.  The second time I only needed the 2-3 cups. 

I decided to make brownies for Steph for her birthday last week.  I decided she should get one moist, delicious brownie for every year we’ve been friends.  That’s a significant amount of years.  We’ve seen each other through some significant stuff.  And these were some significant brownies.
S’mores Brownies
Borrowed from Joy the Baker who adapted it from Bon Appetit, October 1991

1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup graham cracker, roughly crushed with your hands
12 big marshmallows  (I also diced 6 additional marshmallows and stirred them into the batter. These marshmallows dissolve when baked, so you can leave them out, or throw them in.  Up to you!)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9x13-inch baking pan with 2-inch-high sides. Combine first 3 ingredients in small bowl. Stir butter and chocolate in a medium sized bowl over a  heavy  saucepan of simmering water.  Stir chocolate and butter in this double boiler until melted and smooth.
Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Stir in warm chocolate mixture, then dry ingredients. Fold in graham crackers.  Pour batter into prepared pan. Dot with 12 large marshmallows.  Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 30- 40 minutes minutes.
Marshmallows will be browned and puffy but will deflate as the brownies cool.  Cool for at least 20 minutes than slice with a sharp knife, cleaning the knife with hot water if it gets too messy and sticky.  Serve or wrap individually in wax paper for storing.
*The only alteration I would make to this recipe is instead of broken graham crackers in the brownie, I would break off large chunks and put them on top (kind of slide them in under the gooey marshmallow) when there's about 5 minutes of baking time left.  The grahams inside the brownie went soft, and I would like to see them add some crunch.
Happy baking!