Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thoughts on The Next Food Network Star Episode 8

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the post.  It just makes me smile.
I thought while I'm (possibly--not going to make promises I might not deliver) writing more thoughts on the challenges of episodes 4-7, I might as well have one that is (somewhat) current while it is fresh in my mind and not completely obsolete.

The Next Food Network Star Episode 8:

Camera Challenge: Make a cupcake that represents you.

Don't get me wrong, I love cupcakes, but I'm kind of ready for a new food trend...anyone else? 
I would definitely make a cupcake that includes my Grandma Kaye's Fudge Frosting because it's a family recipe and I've learned so much about cooking from the women in my family.

I'm pretty sure I would make a version of these Boston Cream Cupcakes.  I'm quite in love with them these days since they are tasty and look so cute.  That said, this challenge makes me think I should probably memorize a cake recipe from scratch.  I'm guessing they wouldn't let me doctor up a cake mix (as I usually like to do) and you can't refer to any recipes while you're in the competition. 

Star Challenge: Go on the Rachael Ray Show and present a make over of a traditional family dinner 
I randomly drew Chicken Stir Fry
I would make something like Make Shift Mu Shu Pork with Broccoli Slaw
This is a great healthy recipe (hooray for broccoli slaw!) that is quick (especially with the tortilla version), easy and very family friendly. 

(an idea for Chili was the first thing that popped into my head and although I didn't draw that one, I thought I'd share it.  I didn't brainstorm a dish for the others...)

Chili: I would make a Tamale Pie-like recipe where chili would be on the bottom and then it would be topped with cornbread and baked.  Like Vic's recipe, it would be great to mention that this would be a great use for leftover chili.  I think knowing that this challenge is for the Rachael Ray show (queen of 30 minute meals), I would want to make a recipe that was easy, accessible and family friendly. 

Thoughts on The Next Food Network Star...Episode 2 and 3

This is for any other Next Food Network Star nerds like me (and for a couple friends who will remain nameless who have been giving me a hard time about saying I would do more of these and then procrastinating like crazy)...

I started to write these awhile ago but never got them finished.  Thought I would at least get these published while the show is on right now and I can ponder who's going home this week while I wait a few days for the episode to appear on Hulu.

Episode 2 (do any of you even remember that one?):
First Challenge: Create a pizza that captures "you" and tell a story

It's hard to decide this one, since I love to make pizza and I feel like there are a lot of different pizzas that I feel could represent me.  I would probably land on making a more sophisticated Taco Pizza that would definitely have roasted green chiles on it (you haven't lived until you've tasted green chile on pizza, it's incredible!) and would be able to connect my experience of how living in different parts of the country has influenced my cooking (Among other places, I spent some time growing up in New Mexico and went to college in Iowa (surprisingly, they love taco pizza there--topped with crushed Doritos!). 

Second Challenge: Restaurant Inspired Dishes reinvented to be accessible to the home cook but still able to impress: (the contestants were assigned one of three dishes to make over)

I would make:
Short ribs (time consuming): Steak Bites (bite sized pieces of steak quickly seared in butter so they are brown and crispy on the outside and rare on the inside) served with a roasted parsnip-potato puree and a red wine butter sauce

Abalone (expensive ingredients): Bay Scallop "Bisque"
(probably something similar to this:

Pork Belly (high technical ability): I think I would secretly hope against getting this one because it's still stumping me a bit...
What comes to mind is glazing thick cut bacon with hoisin sauce and maybe pairing it with a fried rice.  I really liked Jeff's spring roll idea and I love to make spring rolls, if only he didn't have such trouble with them (and controlling the perspiration...yikes!).

Episode 3:
Make Dinner with a Hershey's Chocolate Product

contestants were randomly assigned a Hershey's Product (I randomly drew one of the available options.  I picked Almond Joy Pieces).

I would make: Asian Style Rice Noodles with a Coconut Curry Sauce and ground Almond Joy Pieces. 
The coconut in the Almond Joy Pieces makes me immediately think of an Asian noodle dish where I could make a sauce utilizing more coconut flavors and sweet and savory work in harmony.

Dessert Challenge: Create 150 individual desserts plus two team desserts.
Teams: "Team Robert:" Unique Flavor Combinations vs. "Team Duff:" 5 Star but something a 6 year old would like
Randomly (again), I drew what team I would be cooking for and I drew "Team Robert."
I would make: Some kind of dessert parfait (kind of like these Coconut Lime Dessert Parfaits).  To increase the "unique flavor combination factor," I think I would make use of a fresh herb flavor such as mint or basil in both the whipped cream and garnish.  I also like the idea of doing something similar but using oranges and rosemary (here's a fancy sounding idea)--possibly layering an orange rosemary compote with creamy marscapone or zabaglione custard and crushed biscotti or anisette cookies

I like the parfait idea because there's a wide margin for error, yet it can still look elegant.

Best Blueberry Muffins

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with blueberry muffins.  Even though they sound so appealing, just about every blueberry muffin I've come across in stores or coffee shops remind me more of how my Strawberry Shortcake doll's best friend smelled than a delicious baked good.  Add to that, muffins are notoriously high in fat and calories makes me usually pass.

Until now.
Come to Mama
This recipe unashamedly belongs wholly to America's Test Kitchen.  I saw them make these muffins on an episode of their PBS show (love it) not too long ago and couldn't stop thinking about it.  What makes these special (besides the fact that those kitchen testers probably churned out 157 batches of blueberry muffins before landing on this particular recipe) is that they have really deep, concentrated blueberry flavor thanks to making a "jam" to swirl in to the batter and a crackly topping of lemon sugar.  Those steps add a few minutes to the process but they're totally worth it.

Beware you might consume your day's worth of calories in muffins.  These are best shared with a friend over a cup of coffee (make her take the leftovers).

Blueberry Muffins
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

2 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh blueberries, picked over (*see note if using frozen)
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk (**see note)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the topping, stir together the 1/3 cup sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper middle position and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a small sauce pan, bring 1 cup of the blueberries and 1 teaspoon of sugar to a simmer over medium heat.  Cook, mashing the blueberries with a spoon and stirring frequently, until the berries have broken down and the mixture is thickened and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes.  Allow to cool to room temperature, 10-15 minutes.

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining cup of sugar and eggs together in a medium bowl until thick and well mixed.  Slowly whisk in the butter and oil until combined.  Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla.  Fold the egg mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened (the batter will be very lumpy with a few spots of dry flour; do not overmix).  Gently fold in blueberries just until dispersed. 

Fill muffin cups completely full with batter.  Spoon 1 teaspoon of the cooked berry mixture into the center of each cup of batter.  Using a chopstick or skewer, gently swirl the berry filling into the batter using a figure-eight motion (see picture below and also admire my antique muffin tins courtesy of my late Grandma Kaye).
We're swirling, we're swirling...
Sprinkle the lemon sugar evenly over the muffins.

Bake until the muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17-19 minutes.  Cool the muffins in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove them and transfer to a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes before serving. 

*Note: If using frozen berries, cook 1 cup of berries as directed above.  Rinse the remaining 1 cup berries under cold water and dry well.  Stir blueberries in as directed above as well.

**Note: You can make your own buttermilk substitute.  Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to 1 cup milk and let sit for 2 minutes or combine 3/4 cup plain yogurt with 1/4 cup milk.

Source: The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2010

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cherry Rhubarb Crisp

In case you haven't noticed, I have just the tiniest bit of a sweet tooth (no kidding).  It's terrible and a habit I wish I could break (not really, I am afraid).  It was especially bad during my pregnancies--I believe I still have a few of the Milky Ways I enjoyed during that time plastered to my middle.  Although it's abated somewhat, I still have to end the evening with something just a tiny bit sweet.  I'm not picky, it doesn't even have to be extravagant. 

A crisp is one of the simplest desserts around and it goes together extremely quickly.  Despite its rather humble place in the dessert world, I don't think you can go wrong with a sweet fruit filling topped with buttery, brown-sugar crumble.  Since we've had an abundance of fresh fruit in the house, I decided a crisp was in order. 

It can be varied in the topping and filling based on what you have on hand.  I was feeling nostalgic about my Grandma Lois' Cherry Rhubarb Jam (I'll have to get my hands on and share that recipe) and thought I'd give that Cherry Rhubarb combination a spin.  Feel free to substitute another fruit: blueberries, peaches, blackberries, apples, you get the idea...

Cherry Rhubarb Crisp
3 cups pitted cherries
3 cups rhubarb, trimmed and sliced (frozen is fine)
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract, optional
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup regular oats
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
4 1/2 tablespoons chilled butter or stick margarine, cut into small pieces
whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt for serving (we did a splash of half and half because that was what was in the house at the time)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Spray a medium sized baking dish (11x7 or 8x8-inch recommended) with cooking spray.
Add fruit, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, lemon juice and almond extract in baking dish and stir to combine. 
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture becomes like coarse meal.  Sprinkle over the fruit mixture. 
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until bubbly and beginning to turn golden on top. 
Top each serving with whipped cream or ice cream. 

Recipe adapted from: The Best of Cooking Light, Blueberry Crisp a la Mode
Note:  This is a very basic crisp recipe.  You can add other things to make it more personal:
I have been known to use whatever odd bits of granola (or crumbled up granola bars), the mangled gingersnaps at the bottom of the bag, lonely graham cracker pieces, chopped nuts etc. I have lying around to make a crisp--just stir those extra bits in with the flour and oats (or in place of the oats) before adding the butter (using more butter if necessary).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

No Fail Hard Boiled Eggs

Ok, I realize that I am probably the last person on Earth to learn how to properly hard cook an egg.  In the past, I always felt like it was a guessing game...were my eggs going to still be runny? Were they going to have that extremely unappealing green ring around them?  It felt like such a head game.  On the off chance that maybe others, too, have been stymied by a such seemingly simple task (And if that's so, don't feel badly--I'll share with you that it wasn't until a few years ago that I was successfully able to make Jell-O, for Pete's sake!), I thought I would share this technique.  

To give credit where credit is due, my husband was actually the one who taught me (thanks, Honey!).  Now, I have it down to a science and hard boiled (really, the appropriate term is supposed to be "hard cooked" because you don't actually want to "boil" your eggs, per say) eggs are pretty much a staple in our house.  They come out creamy and golden every time.  Not runny nor a hint of green and no strong smell (that comes from overcooking which is why the yolk turns green in the first place).  My boys will eat multiple in a sitting (if I let them).  Sprinkled with salt and pepper, they're a cheap, nutritious snack that can also be used to bulk up a salad, treated a bit devilishly or whipped into a sandwich filling, pronto. 

No Fail Hard Boiled Eggs
Place raw eggs in a pot just big enough to hold them in a single layer.  Add water to cover eggs completely.  Over high heat, bring water to a rolling boil.  Immediately, turn off heat, cover pot and let eggs sit off heat and covered for 12 minutes.  After 12 minutes, carefully drain water and cover eggs with cold water, allowing to sit until cool enough to handle.  Store in their shells in the refrigerator until ready to use. 

- Older eggs are easier to peel.  Hard boiling is a great way to use up eggs that are nearing their expiration date (you might notice the one in the picture above is a little jagged around the edges, that's because they were pretty fresh eggs).

- Peel eggs under running water for easier removal and to make sure you don't crunch on any little egg shell bits (that totally ruins things for me).

- Eggs once they're boiled will keep in the fridge for up to one week.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ricotta Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter

Last Wednesday was one of those extra-crazy, hectic evenings.  Mealtime rolled around and there was nothing even remotely ready to sit down for.  Quick! Feed the kids whatever randomness you can gather from the fridge!  Never mind that it doesn't entirely cover all the food groups and your five-year-old goes to bed wailing that he didn't get to eat "real dinner."  Jay and I agreed that I would put together something for us once the little darlings were tucked away for the night.

Once the kids were in bed, I set to work on a dish I had been wanting to try for awhile.  It made use of the remaining container of ricotta cheese I had used to make Summer Lasagna the week before and some fresh sage leaves I actually happen to be (trying) to grow this year.  I put on a pot of water to boil, browned some butter and within a short time, we were settled on the couch in front of the tv together with our respective pasta dishes (what a treat nowadays since having kids--the whole eating in front of the t.v.--for our family, that is).  Traditionally, "gnocchi" are little dumplings made from potatoes and flour and served with pesto or pasta sauce.  That said, gnocchi (which translates literally into "lumps") can actually be made from many ingredients.  These Ricotta Gnocchi were incredibly simple to make and are creamy and light, Italian comfort food.  I served them with sage brown butter, as recommended by Mark Bittman, the recipe's author.  You don't have to wait for a night when the kids are already in bed to make them (I would think they would be kid friendly--especially if they got to help), but I don't blame you if you do. 

Ricotta Gnocchi
1 15 ounce container ricotta cheese (preferably whole milk)
1 1/4 cups shredded Parmesan cheese (this is a time where freshly shredded improves things greatly)
2 eggs, beaten
freshly ground black pepper
3/4-1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
8-10 fresh sage leaves

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  In the meantime, in a medium bowl, stir together ricotta cheese and Parmesan.  Mix in eggs and stir until well combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add in 1/2 cup flour, adding more until mixture comes together in a very sticky dough.  Put one spoonful of dough into the boiling water.  If the dough holds its shape while it boils, the dough is ready, if not, add more flour.

Put the butter in a large skillet and melt it over medium heat.  Continue to cook butter until it becomes a nutty brown color.  Add the sage leaves and fry in the butter until crispy looking (just a minute or so).  Turn heat to low and just keep warm.

Place spoonfuls of the dough (working in batches of about six at a time) into the boiling water.  When gnocchi rise to the surface, remove from water with a slotted spoon and add to the skillet with the sage butter.  Continue to boil gnocchi and transfer to skillet until dough is used up.  Once all the gnocchi are in the skillet, toss with the sage brown butter, taste and adjust seasoning as needed and serve immediately.
Serves 4

Source: Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi by Mark Bittman

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pinepple Upside Down French Toast Bake

This is a breakfast dish that is probably not going to win too many health awards.  I think it ranks pretty highly in the delicious category, though.  French toast is really elevated to the next level when baked with a layer of caramelized pineapple.  Sometimes I dream of running a bed and breakfast someday, and if I did, this dish would likely make a frequent appearance.  Here, it is pictured (don't mind that the last piece available to photograph after we'd had brunch with our church happened to get a wee bit dark--ahem, that's just "extra caramelization" : ) alongside Honey-Lime Drizzled Canteloupe and Blueberries (scroll down for my extremely precise recipe! : ). 

Pineapple Upside Down French Toast Bake
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 20 ounce can crushed pineapple in juice, drained and juice reserved
6 large eggs
1 cup half and half or milk
1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8-10 1" slices of bread (French, Sourdough, Italian), day-old is great

Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.

In a small sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Stir in brown sugar and stir until dissolved.  Add pineapple and mix well.  Remove from heat.  Spread in an even layer over bottom of baking dish.  Arrange slices of bread in a single layer over top of pineapple mixture.

In a bowl, mix together eggs, half and half, reserved pineapple juice, salt, vanilla and cinnamon.  Pour over bread.

Bake French Toast in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until bread is golden, eggs are set and knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to sit 10-15 minutes before serving.  Cut into squares, and lift out of pan with a pancake turner (you can flip it over so the pineapple part is actually upside down, if you like). 

French Toast can be made a day ahead of time, covered with foil and refrigerated overnight.
Remove from fridge 15 minutes before baking.

Source: Pineapple-Upside Down French Toast presented by The Bouldin House Bed and Breakfast

Honey-Lime drizzled Cantaloupe and Blueberries
Slices of cantaloupe, rind removed
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil or mint leaves

Arrange melon and berries on a platter.  Sprinkle lime zest over fruit.  Whisk together lime juice and honey.  Drizzle over fruit.  Garnish with thinly sliced mint or basil leaves.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Lasagna and Menu

Happy Birthday, Open Fridge!  Today marks the One Year Anniversary of my first post.  My goodness, how time flies.  I feel like I've learned a lot in the last year and hope that some of those smarts have been passed on--at the very least, a bit of my photography has improved!  I've really enjoyed keeping record of things that have come out of my kitchen and have been so touched and humbled by your kind and encouraging feedback.  Thank you. Thank you. 

Today's recipe is a reminder of how much I love this time of year.  It never ceases to make me happy thinking of (and using!) the abundance of produce available in the summer. Confession, here's how much of a weirdo I am: it's only July, and I am already shuddering to think of every day bringing us closer to day light savings time...seriously, Lauren, stop and just enjoy the moment, will you?  This delicate lasagna is rife with the flavors of summer--fresh tomatoes, zucchini, basil and just the thing to bring me back to reality that I can currently enjoy abundant sunshine and freshly-picked vegetables that have not trotted the globe.  Make it as a main dish or as a starring player in the menu suggested below and then go outside and enjoy those balmy evenings (hopefully, more mosquito-free than we seem to be experiencing these days!)!

Summer Lasagna
Grilled Italian Sausages (I used Chicken Basil flavored and they were yummy!)
Green Salad with Easy Balsamic Vinaigrette (try it with Toasted Walnut Oil!)
and Homemade Croutons
Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Whipped Cream (or peach cobbler would be fantastic right now)

Summer Lasagna
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup basil pesto
salt and pepper to taste
9 lasagna noodles, cooked "al dente" to package directions
3-4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 small zucchini
1 small yellow (crookneck or zucchini) squash
4 garlic cloves, minced and divided
1-2 pints grape tomatoes, halved

fresh torn basil leaves for garnish

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions.  Drain and set aside. 
While noodles are cooking, make ricotta mixture.  In a small bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and pesto.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, set aside.  
Thinly slice zucchini and yellow squash.  Place 1/3 of minced garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saute pan.  Over medium high heat, stir frequently until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Add half of zucchini and squash slices, season with salt and pepper and saute just until tender, 3-5 minutes.  Remove from pan, place in small bowl and repeat with remaining half of squash slices.  After zucchini has been sauteed, add remaining garlic, olive oil and tomatoes to pan.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until tomatoes begin to break down.  Remove from heat and set aside.

To assemble: Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.  Lay down 3 lasagna noodles.  Top with a layer of zucchini (using about 1/3).  Spread a layer of half of the ricotta mixture over top (you can also just place small dollops evenly over surface).  Top with a layer of tomato mixture (about 1/3 of the tomatoes).  Repeat with a second layer.  Top with lasagna noodles, remaining zucchini and tomatoes.  Sprinkle with reserved 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and bake, just until heated through--20-30 minutes.  Garnish with fresh basil leaves, slice into pieces and serve.

Variation: The original recipe does not bake the lasagna.  Each noodle is cut into thirds and the lasagna is assembled on each individual plate.  This makes for a gorgeous presentation and will avoid heating up your kitchen from turning on the oven.  The lasagna will be served much closer to room temperature (which is still a delicious thing!).

Adapted from: Martha Stewarts' No Bake Summer Lasagna 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Easy Chicken Tacos

Since getting rid of our cable last Fall, I have discovered the hidden gem that is PBS.  One of my favorite shows is "From America's Test Kitchen: Cook's Country."  It is totally cheesy, but is extremely informative and the cooking demonstrations always leave me feeling hungry and excited about trying a new recipe.  This recipe for Chicken Tacos is one of those that piqued my interest.  I never would've thought to combine the ingredients called for, but it makes for an extremely easy, flavorful taco filling.  Make some extra to put into quesadillas and burritos for the rest of the week as well!

Also, for fun, I included a sample menu of what I served with the chicken tacos.  Hope you find it useful!

Fiesta Menu: 
Easy Chicken Tacos and suggested toppings
Tortilla chips with pico de gallo and packaged queso dip (Velveeta and a can of Rotel is still my fav)
Spanish Rice
Canned Refried Beans heated and topped with shredded cheese
Cantaloupe slices with lime zest, honey and lime juice drizzled over top
Tropical Shortcakes: yellow cake topped with chopped pineapple, mango, kiwi and berries, pastry cream and whipped cream

Easy Chicken Tacos:
3 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced (look for these in the Latin foods section)
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped and divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
salt and pepper to taste
12, 6-inch flour tortillas

For serving: grated cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato or pico de gallo, diced avocado, sour cream

Directions: Melt butter in large skillet over medium high heat.  Add garlic and chipotle peppers and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in orange juice, Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 cup cilantro.  Bring to a boil.

Add chicken and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat until chicken is cooked through and registers 160 degrees, about 10-15 minutes, flipping chicken half-way through cooking.*  Remove chicken from sauce mixture, transfer to a plate and set side, tenting with foil.

Increase heat to medium-high and cook until sauce is reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in mustard.  Using 2 forks, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces (and removing any "icky bits" as necessary).  Return chicken to skillet.  Toss with remaining cilantro and toss until well-combined.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve in tortillas with desired toppings.

*Crock Pot Variation: Follow above direction through bringing the sauce mixture to a boil.  Place raw chicken breasts in a crock pot, pour sauce mixture over chicken and cover.  Cook on high for 4-5 hours or until chicken is cooked through and shreds easily with a fork.  Remove chicken to a plate.  Pour sauce mixture back into skillet and reduce as directed above.  Shred chicken, toss with sauce mixture and serve or return to crock pot to keep warm until ready to serve.  Stir in fresh cilantro right before serving.    

Source: Easy Chicken Tacos from America's Test Kitchen, Cook's Country TV

Sunday, July 17, 2011

S'Mores Bars

Last weekend, we got to attend my husband's Family Reunion in Southern California.  It was a really wonderful time, and as part of the gathering, we got to have a beach bonfire (Huntington Beach, Surf City USA, baby!).  No bonfire is complete without S'mores, and I can't think of a better way to enjoy them than against the backdrop of the roaring Pacific and a setting sun, but this recipe is a close second.

Although these are indoor s'mores, you won't feel like you're settling (and you won't go to bed smelling like a campfire).  Jay, my husband, who doesn't even like traditional s'mores can't keep his hands off of them.  Personally, I think the addition of the butter and brown sugar and a dusting of sea salt takes these to a whole 'nother level...

S'Mores Bars
12 (5x2 1/2 inch) Graham Crackers
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 miniature marshmallows
1 cup chocolate pieces (about 4 chocolate bars, broken into pieces or milk chocolate chips)
sea salt for sprinkling, optional

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 15x10x1inch jelly roll (or cookie sheet with edges) with aluminum foil leaving a 1-inch overhang on ends.  Spray foil with cooking spray.  Place graham crackers onto foil so sides touch.

Melt butter and brown sugar in medium saucepan over Medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and mixture just comes to a boil, abotu 5 minutes.  Pour evenly over crackers.

Bake 5-6 minutes or until bubbly.
Remove pan from oven; sprinkle with marshmallows and chocolate pieces.  Continue baking until marshmallows begin to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Sprinkle with a fine dusting of sea salt, if desired.  Cool completely.  Lift from pan using foil.  Cut into bars.

Source: Back of Market Pantry (Target) Brand Honey Graham Crackers

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Antipasti Salad

I put this salad together after I had a whole lot of toppings leftover from my grilled pizza adventure a little while back.  I hate to waste leftovers and always try my best to maximize ingredients.  I figure, if you're going to buy that $2.99 can of artichoke hearts, it's helpful to have some other ideas on how to use them...

Anyway, since we are in the "dog days" of summer (and not yet "over" as stated by the  Florence and Machine song that naturally starts playing in my head as soon as I think of that phrase--also embarrassing confession: I know that I am officially old when I hear songs first covered on the show Glee and then hear them by their original artists, but I digress...), this salad is light yet flavorful and happens to use some things that might happen to grow in your garden right now (not mine, I get all my stuff from the store...curse you, black thumb.).  Feel free to improvise and add other goodies to this as well--sliced cucumber or zucchini, cubed salami or pepperoni pieces, cooked cooled pasta to bulk it up, you can even substitute another kind of Italian cheese for the fresh mozzarella.  Make it your own and eat those dog days away.

Antipasti Salad
1/2 can quartered artichoke hearts (about 1 cup)
1 cup grape tomatoes, larger ones halved
1 cup fresh mozzarella, cubed into bite sized pieces
1/2 can whole black olives (about 1 cup)
1 cup white button mushrooms, quartered
1/4-1/2 cup favorite Balsamic vinaigrette or Italian style dressing (see below for optional recipe)
1/4-1/2 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced, reserving some whole ones for garnish if desired

Directions: Combine all the salad ingredients in a bowl except for the dressing and basil leaves.  Stir in desired amount of dressing.  Gently fold in shredded basil and garnish with additional basil leaves as needed.  Can be served immediately or allowed to marinate for up to 24 hours (keep basil off until ready to serve).

Easy Balsamic Vinaigrette:
    4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    pinch of salt
    1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    2-4 tablespoons olive oil
   1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    fresh ground black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a plastic container with a lid.  Shake vigorously until ingredients are combined.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.  Shake again immediately before using. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cherry Pineapple Dump Cake

 Happy 4th of July!  I hope everyone had a lovely day.  Even though the day has passed, I thought I would share a quintessential pot luck dessert.  A few processed ingredients "dumped" (hence the name) together never tasted so good.  You can have all of the ingredients on hand and throw it together at the last minute.  There are all sorts of variations out there--feel free to substitute another fruit for the cherry pie filling and I included the option of adding pecans and coconut, although I am a purist and leave them out.  Keep the ingredients on hand for when you need to throw together a quick dessert!  

Cherry Pineapple Dump Cake
1 can (21 ounce) cherry pie filling
1 can (15 ounce) crushed pineapple in juice
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick (8 tablespoons butter)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or Cool Whip for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.  Pour cherry pie filling in bottom of baking dish.  Spread out evenly.  Drain juice from pineapple and set aside.  Spread crushed pineapple over top of pie filling.  Sprinkle dry cake mix evenly over fruit mixture.  Melt butter and combine with reserved pineapple juice.  Stir in water and pour liquid over top of cake mix.  Do not stir.  If desired, sprinkle with pecans and coconut.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream or Cool Whip. 

Recipe Adapted from "The Cake Mix Doctor" by Anne Byrn

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Grilled Pizza

Grilled Pizza Margherita
 With it being summer and all, the grill beckons me to lay something beyond hamburgers and hot dogs upon its fiery grates.  I had been wanting to try grilling pizza for some time now and I'm glad I finally took the opportunity.  I was nervous about how it was all going to work out.  I mean, it seemed like it could be a real recipe for disaster (I had visions of sauce and cheese falling to a flaming doom). 

Thankfully, it was much easier than I was anticipating.  Here are the keys: keep your pizzas small.  This is a great time time let everyone dress individual pizzas (6-8" around max will keep things much easier to handle).  Also, precook your pizza crust on the grill for just a minute on both sides.  This will give you a sturdier base on which to put your toppings and you will feel much more confidant in the transfer process.  Overall, it made me feel very accomplished to serve grilled pizzas (it also made me dream of a custom built, wood-burning pizza oven in the backyard but we are a long ways from that!). 

I served very traditionally Italian style pizzas--the wonderfully simple, Margherita style (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil) and another of my favorites from when we visited Italy, Quattro Staggioni (which literally translates into "Four Seasons" and is divided into four quadrants of toppings: ham, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and black olives).  I think each topping is supposed to represent a season, but beats me which one is for which!  Regardless, it employs several of my favorite ingredients and I thought it was high time to recreate the Quattro Staggioni at home.

Pizza Margherita
1 recipe pizza dough (see below)
1-2 cups favorite jarred pizza/pasta sauce (more traditional would be just tomatoes seasoned with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and some spices--Italian seasoning--but I was lazy)
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into rounds
large handful fresh basil leaves

Quattro Staggioni toppings: (on top of sauce and cheese placed individually in each of four quadrants of the pizza)
thinly sliced ham, cut into bite sized strips
quartered artichoke hearts
thinly sliced black olives
thinly sliced mushrooms
Quattro Staggioni in the front

Preheat grill to medium high.  Divide pizza dough into fourths and roll out to desired width and thickness (6-8" is easiest to work with).  Grease the grates of the grill well with olive oil (an easy way to do this is use tongs holding a wad of paper towels dipped in oil rubbed against the grates.  Be careful of flare ups).  Very carefully and working in batches as needed, lay the pizza dough on top of the grill grates.  Allow to cook for just a minute or so.  As soon as bubbles begin to form on the top of the dough, use tongs to flip over to the other side.  Allow to cook for another additional minute or just until the dough is cooked enough to handle.  Remove from the grill, set aside and repeat with remaining pizza crusts. 

Once pizza crusts have been pre-baked, top with sauce or tomatoes, cheese and desired toppings.  Lower grill heat to medium low.  Using a large spatula, a pizza peel or your hands, carefully return topped pizzas to the grill.  Cover and cook for just a few minutes, until cheese is melted, checking to make sure that the bottom crust is not getting too dark (you can always turn down the grill .  Use a spatula or pizza peel to remove pizzas.  Let sit for a few minutes, slice and serve. 

Note: You can also use these ingredients to make a baked pizza.  See my Homemade Pizza Party post on some helpful instructions for indoor pizza!

Homemade Pizza Dough
Makes about four individual pizzas (can also make one 12-16” pizza, depending on thickness)
2-2 1/2 cups flour (can use up to half whole wheat and up to 1/2 cup corn meal)
1 envelope quick rise yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
6-8 oz. warm water (around 110 degrees)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
Optional: 1 tsp. herbs or garlic

    In a glass measuring cup, add yeast and sugar to warm water.  Stir and allow to sit for about 5 minutes to proof (it will grow in volume and be bubbly).  Meanwhile, in a food processor or stand mixer, blend together flour, salt and olive oil (and herbs, if using).  While processor is running, pour in water-yeast mixture and continue to process until a solid ball of dough is formed (you may have to add a little more flour or water).  Allow to run 30 seconds more.  Turn off machine and pull out dough.  Place in a greased bowl and cover with a dish towel or greased plastic wrap.  Allow to sit at least 30 minutes.  Punch down dough and turn in on itself a few times.
The little thief was at it again, but I was able to stop him this time!
Inspiration derived from: Annie's Eats' blog entry on Grilled Pizza

Also, check out my friend, Amy's post on Grilled Pizza she just did the other day as well!  It looks super yummy!  I'll have to try that combination of toppings soon!