Saturday, May 31, 2008

James Beard Burgers & Cool and Creamy Cucumber Salad

There will be no photos of the absolutely delicious burgers that we had for dinner last night because my camera was not in the mood to cooperate. It had been on the charging station, like it always is when not in use, and the green "go" light was on, but when I tried to use it to take a photo of my luscious, moist & juicy burgers ....I got nuttin'. The lens would not retract, yet the power light was on. I surmised that it was the battery and ran to Circuit City to get another one long after we all had devoured the burgers and cukes. So no photo of the burger and a not so great one of the cukes that sat a little too long to be properly photographed. Just trust me that the James Beard burger is one of the best burgers I have ever made. Who would have thought that one tablespoon of heavy cream would make such a difference?

James Beard’s Favorite Hamburger
Printable recipe
2 pounds chopped beef chuck or round
1 onion
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Unsalted butter
Vegetable oil, as needed
Kosher salt, to taste

Spread the meat out on a board and grate 2 to 3 tablespoons of onion into it—use a fairly fine grater so you get just the juice and very finely grated raw onion. Now mix in about a tablespoon of heavy cream and some freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Form into patties--a 6 to 8-ounce patty for an average serving.

Using a black iron skillet or your best copper one or your pet aluminum frying pan, Teflon-coated or not (with a Teflon coating you won't need much fat, just a little bit for flavor), and cook the hamburgers in the butter and oil over fairly high heat, giving it 4 to 5 minutes a side, depending on how well done you like it. Salt this creamy, oniony, peppery hamburger before serving it on a buttered bun or English muffin, or as a main course with sliced tomatoes and onions or some home-fried potatoes.

We cooked ours on the grill, cause...well it's grill season. My friend Brandon advised me to work with a simple two-zone fire. Sear it hot so it gets a nice char/crust and then finish it over the cooler section of the grill until it's the way you like it. I take mine medium well thank you. We topped the burgers with sauteed mushrooms, cheese, and onions and pickles. Evan had a hard time getting his mouth around his and only finished half a burger. I almost finished all of mine, but couldn't get that last bite in. Man they were good.

The Creamy Cucumber Salad was just perfect too, and the ginger-soy dressing, it's outta this world. This recipe is from my friends Todd & Diane at White On Rice Couple. If you want the recipe visit them
here. You will also get to see gorgeous photos of how the cucumber salad should really look. By the time I got home from the store and took of photo of the cukes, they just weren't as perky and crispy as they should have been. What I love most about his recipe was the delicious dressing. I think I added more ginger than the recipe called for, but I am a ginger fiend, so all was good.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Now with printable recipes!

Since the start of this blog a mere 5 months ago, I have been trying to be able to create printable pages for the recipes. After a 2 month search I came up empty handed. I had just about given up and decided that I was going to either have to A) go .com or B) change the layout of the site from a black background (which I love), to a white background to make the recipes easier for people to print. (You can thank me now Mom G). So last week I wander over to Susan’s site Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy and I see that she has printable recipes….on blogger. Hmmmm. How’d she do that?? I had to know. The best way to find out something you want to know…ask. So I did, and she sent me a nice email and explained it all to me, so I can now present you with printable recipes!

If time permits I will try to go back and catch up on some, but I doubt I will ever get to all of them. So if you see a recipe you really want, just let me know and I can send it to ya, but all future recipes will have printable versions. Yeah technology.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Edge of Summer

So it's official...the beginning of the summer cookout season. If it wasn't for the weather, summer not Fall, would be my favorite season. I'm not a fan of the heat or the humidity. I love the sunny weather and the beach, the food, the long nights by the fire pit, but the weather is not for me. Give me a cool breeze and a crisp night and I am one happy girl but I do love the fact that it's getting warmer out, the flowers are starting to bloom, and soon there will be fresh veggies from the garden to eat and cook with. My favorite part of summer is the cookouts and having my family and friends over. Yesterday we had a Memorial day cookout. The weather was just perfect. Highs near 80, sunny and mild, and just enough of a chill at night to light a fire and make smores. Welcome back summer. We missed you.

Brats on the grill, Dorie's poundcake, Wild Rice & Sausage Caserole & the dessert table.

Along with lots of other food I made my Wild Rice & Sausage Casserole. I’m always looking for new side dishes. I came across this one on one of the food boards I frequent. I took a recipe that one of the girls posted and I tweaked it a bit and it’s really been a big hit because it’s one of my most requested recipes. It’s super simple too. I usually double it, because one pan is not enough for a party

Wild Rice & Sausage Casserole
Printable Recipe

1 6oz box of Uncle Ben's Long Grain & Wild Rice, cooked according to box
1 pound bulk pork sausage (Pssst, your looking for the roll of sausage with Mr.Jimmy Dean’s name on it). Browned & drained (use the Sage flavor if you can)
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup diced celery
1 tablespoon of butter
1 package of mushrooms sliced (I use Portabella)
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup chicken broth

1 cup shredded cheddar

Cook the rice according to the package directions. The last time I was at the grocery store I found that Uncle Ben’s had a quick cooking wild rice. I used that and it worked just fine too. After the rice is cooking transfer it into a large bowl so it can cool down.

Cook the sausage in a large pan, breaking it up as it cooks. While the sausage is cooking I add some Mrs. Dash, and salt & pepper.

Cook onions and celery in about a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter until tender. When the onions are almost translucent, put in the sliced mushrooms and cook them about half way through. You want to get a lot of the water out of them. Set aside. In a bowl combine mushroom soup and chicken broth. Whisk it up until it’s smooth. Add all remaining ingredients and gently stir. Place into a greased 9x13 pan. Cook at 350 uncovered for 45 mins or until brown and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Stand back and wait for compliments and recipe requests!

Ryan & Evan with the giant football, the whole gang on the deck, Sara, my John & Tati.

Evan blowing bubbles, my Dad with Moose, Eva & Ken, John (Tati's John).

As soon as the food is hauled away indoors, Tati starts asking where dessert is. The woman has a sweet tooth to rival my own. So out came Dorie's Peanut Butter Crisscrosses. Printable Page, brownies, more cookies, and Dorie's Pound Cake served with strawberries and cream. We were all so stuffed by the end of the night.

Perfection Poundcake
Printable Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 2-1/4 cups cake flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan or an 8-1/2 x 4-1/2-inch loaf pan. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked one on top of the other. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, a full 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater and reduce the mixer speed to medium. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 to 2 minutes after each egg goes in. As you’re working, scrape down the bowl and beater often. Mix in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it is incorporated - don’t overmix. In fact, you might want to fold in the last of the flour, or even all of it, by hand with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and smooth the top.

Put the cake into the oven to bake, and check on it after about 45 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. If you’re using a 9×5 pan, you’ll need to bake the cake for 70 to 75 minutes; the smaller pan needs about 90 minutes. The cake is properly baked when a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, transfer the pan to a rack and let rest for 30 minutes.

Run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan and turn the cake out, then turn it right side up on the rack and cool to room temperature.

Wrapped well, the cake will keep for 5 to 7 days at room temperature (stale cake is great toasted) or up to 2 months in the freezer.

SMORES! All the kiddos round the fire. They were all a gooey mess!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses

What a weekend it's been so far. I have been on the go non-stop since Friday morning. Yesterday I took a much needed day off from work and Eva and I went to Ikea in Stoughton, MA. It was totally a girls days out and just what I needed. We spent about 3 hours there shopping. I picked up some really nice flexible cutting boards, a huge wooden cutting board, a dozen glasses that match the set I bought from Ikea last year, those were 12 for $4.99, how can ya beat those prices? Lets see I know there was more, I'm mentally picturing my shopping cart, oh I picked up a cutting board for my Mom too. We also stopped by the little market they have as you are exiting the store and I picked up the most delicious cookies. They are little oat wafers with a chocolate filling, so good. Big box of those $4.99. What a bargain! I also got the boys some wafer candies that they like. After we got back we went to dinner with Ken & Eva. Such a nice day for me.

Today we spent most of the day in the yard again preparing for tomorrow's cookout. We'll be having about 14 people over. After a busy day of planting and yard work I ventured into the kitchen to cook and make some cookies for tomorrow. No they are not my only dessert, I have other goodies up my sleeve too silly monkeys.

This is my first recipe from Dorie's Baking cookbook. John and I split one once they cooled and man they were good. We do that a lot, split the ugly cookie, you know the one that is misshapen, or an odd size, or a little burnt, we always split that one in two and share, plus it's a taste test for me and this one passed with flying colors! This recipe makes a lot of cookies. I think I got close to 50 from it!

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch of nutmeg
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter (not the "natural" type)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups chopped salted peanuts
About 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 35o degrees. Line baking sheets with silpat or parchment paper. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg; set aside.

Working with a stand mixture fitted with the paddle attachment (or hand mixer and a large bowl), beat the butter on medium speed until light and creamy, one to two minutes. Add peanut butter and beat for another minute. Add the sugars and beat 3 minutes more. Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl. On low speed, add the flour mixture, mixing only until they just disappear. Mix in the chopped peanuts.

Pour the 1/2 cup sugar into a small bowl. Working with a level tablespoonful of dough for each cookie, roll the dough between your palms into balls, then roll in sugar to coat. Place two inches apart on baking sheet. Dip the tines of a fork into sugar and press the tines against each ball of dough twice, making a crisscross pattern.

Bake 12 minutes, rotating sheets from top to bottom and front to back at midway point. When done, cookies will be lightly colored and still a little soft. Let cookies sit on baking sheet a few minutes before transferring to cooling racks. Repeat with remaining dough, making sure to cool the baking sheets between batches.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I'm gonna need a bigger shelf

I am obsessed with a new cookbook.

I swore I was done buying cookbooks. I have a shelf full that spans across half of my spare room. I convinced myself that I would cook from the books I already have. I did not need another cookbook…I have no room for another cookbook….but…I wanted another one. Just one more. Baking…From my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. I had seen so many of her recipes on the food blogs I read, and they all looked so fantastic.

I needed this cookbook. I had a Borders gift card in my wallet, just calling out to me…”Go buy that cookbook.” “You need it…it needs you” “Your family and friends will be forever grateful for all the culinary delicacies you will create from it” “BUY IT”. How could I ignore the voices in my purse?

I have been reading it like a novel for days now. I sit at the edge of the couch with my cuppa tea, post-it notes in hands, tagging all the delicious wonderment I see before me. I take it and read it in bed, and let me tell ya, it’s no paperback. This is a weighty and heavy book. I dragged it to work with me so I could go over some of the recipes during lunch. What should make first?? Cake? Pie? Cookies? Crumble? My brain is in recipe overload.

I think I have narrowed it down to three I will make this weekend. We are going to have a little cookout for Memorial Day. Plenty of folks to test the new recipes out on.

Oh yes new cookbook, you and I are going to become very close indeed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mexican Lasagna

We spent another day almost completely outdoors again. It feels so good to work in the sunshine. We visited a few more nurseries, a few stores and Home Depot all before noon. When we got back we decided to get the garden in since the fear of frost here has passed. I made sure I checked the weather forecast for the week; because it’s not often that we plant before Memorial Day weekend here in RI. This year our garden includes: Best Boy tomatoes, Sweet 100 tomatoes, zucchini, squash, broccoli, lettuce (4 kinds), eggplant, cucumbers, and beans. I also have my herb garden planted too. I can’t wait to use the different basils. I planted lots and lots of basil. I mean lots….like you would look at me and think how much basil can one family use, but let me tell ya, I love the stuff. Can you say pesto??

There were also a lot of flowers that went in over the weekend. I think I bought about 4 flats of flowers. I can’t help myself when it comes to the yard and flowers. I love to see everything blooming all summer long. My nails need some serious attention from all the digging though. I suppose I should wear garden gloves, but I just can’t. I like to feel the soil in my hands; gloves just get in the way. So I will be chopping off all my fingernails tonight for sure. The perils of gardening.

It was supposed to start to raining at about 4pm today, and for once, the weatherman was right. 4pm and it started to sprinkle. It was good timing. I could go in and make a recipe that I had been eyeing for a few weeks. Many thanks to Kay at Kitchen Scrapbook for this one. I found her blog a few weeks back and have seen some really interesting recipes there. This one in particular intrigued me so I made it for supper. I tweaked things a little to my likings and it turned out really great. John absolutely loved it. I brought some over to my neighbors and they loved it too. Definitely a keeper! Thanks Kay!

Mexican Lasagna
1 1/4 lbs ground beef (I think I used about 1 ½ pounds)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups salsa (that was the jar for me)
1 can (16 oz) refried beans
1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (10 oz) enchilada sauce
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies (I omitted cause me no like!)
1 envelope taco seasoning
1/4 tsp. pepper
6 flour tortillas
3 cups (12 oz) shredded Mexican cheese blend, divided (I used 2 bags (Monterey Jack & the Taco blend, so about 4 cups).
2 cups broken tortilla chips
Sour cream, sliced ripe olives, guacamole, and chopped tomatoes, optional

In a large skillet, cook the onions under they are just tender, Add the beef, and garlic and cook over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in salsa, beans, enchilada sauce, chilies, taco seasoning, and pepper; heat through.

Spread 1 cup of the mixture into a greased 9×13 baking pan. Layer with 2 tortillas, 1 cup of cheese and a 1/3 of the meat mixture. Repeat with 2 more layers. You should end up with the meat mixture on top. I had about a ½ cup of cheese left so I sprinkled that on top before it went into the oven. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray (we don’t want cheese sticking to the foil now do we?) cover tightly and bake for 30 minutes at 375. I uncovered it after about 25 minutes into the baking time so the cheese would get nice and bubbly. That took about another 10 minutes. Once it’s out of the oven you need to let it sit for 10 minutes before you cut into this bad boy or you will have a cheesy mess. You can use this time to sprinkle your crushed tortilla chips on top. I served this with some sliced avocado and some sour cream with chives. So good!

New York Style Crumb Cake

After a long day of yard work I settled down to watch some of the shows that I had taped and never got around to watching. I had 2 America’s Test Kitchens to catch up on and the first one was Crumb Cakes. I watched as they made a delicious looking New York style crumb cake. I barely made it through he episode before I was falling asleep on the couch, but I stayed awake long enough to watch this particular recipe. Since I had all the ingredients on hand I decided to make it the next morning.

Sunday morning bright and early I’m making the crumb cake. 45 minutes later I am pulling out it out of the oven and it didn’t look right. Oh not right at all. I don’t know what went wrong….I followed the directions to a T. I generously covered it with pebbles of dough and my topping failed. I did not get a moist crumbly topping. Not a crumb in site, in fact my topping sank! After 20 minutes of rolling dough into pea-sized pebbles, the damn topping sunk!! I was not happy. “My cake is a failure,” I said to John. He took a piece. “Tastes good,” he said. “So it’s not a failure”. “But it doesn’t look pretty”. I replied. “Who cares” he said as he grabbed another piece. Oh well, at least it will get eaten.

I need to go back and watch the other crumb cake that was on the show. The preview said it was called Blueberry Boyfriend Bait. Maybe I will have better luck with that one.

So may I present to you my not so crumby crumb cake.
New York Style Crumb Cake
Crumb Topping
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoons salt
8 tablespoons, unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and still warm
1 ¾ cups cake flour

1 ¼ cups cake flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 piece, softened but still cool
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup buttermilk
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

FOR THE TOPPING: Whisk sugars, cinnamon, salt, and butter in medium bowl to combine. Add flour and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until mixture resembles thick, cohesive dough; set aside to cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 16-inch length parchment paper or aluminum foil and fold lengthwise to 7-inch width. Spray 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and fit parchment into dish, pushing it into corners and up sides; allow excess to overhang edges of dish.

In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt on low speed to combine. With mixer running at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg, yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk; beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping once if necessary.

Transfer batter to baking pan; using rubber spatula, spread batter into even layer. Break apart crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces and spread in even layer over batter, beginning with edges and then working toward center. Bake until crumbs are golden and wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan by lifting parchment overhang. Dust with confectioners' sugar just before serving.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Grilled Swordfish Steaks with Fried Rice

Ever since I opened up that box from California and saw my new mortar and pestle my brain has been churning with ideas on what I could make using it. I had picked up 2 swordfish steaks, so I decided that I would make up my own little marinade with the help of my dandy new toy. Into the mortar went some mustard seeds, a little olive oil, some honey, the juice of half a lemon, a tablespoon of Dijon, and a bit of salt and black pepper. I mashed the hell outta everything with my humongous pestle and marinated the swordfish in my concoction most of the day while I went back outside to play.

It was a beautiful day, so we spent most of it outside planting and cleaning up the yard. We visited a couple of my favorite nurseries and came home and dug in the dirt. John got all the Earth Boxes up from the basement and got them primed and ready for planting. We both had really dirty hands when we came in. After a quick scrub I got started on the Fried Rice. I loosely followed the recipe for Spam Fried Rice from Jaden (of Jaden's Steamy Kitchen). I threw in a few things here and there, left out the Spam, and just kinda winged it until I thought it would taste right and oh tasted right. It was the best fried rice I've made yet.

The secret to great fried rice - use day old Jasmine rice. It's the best! Here's what I did:

Fried Rice
3 cups of Jasmine rice, cooked the day before and broken up to remove clumps
2 eggs, beaten
Handful of green onion, chopped (I got mine from my herb garden, yeah perennials!)
1 tablespoon white wine
2 tablespoons fish sauce (or soy sauce, I used Fish sauce....I love Fish sauce, I think I used more than 2 tablespoons!)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup fresh jumbo shrimp (I cut these in half so they would be bite size)
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
Dash salt

Heat some cooking oil in wok or large pan over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add eggs and gently stir to cook eggs. When eggs are about 80% done (still a little runny), remove from pan and set aside.
Turn heat to high. Add a little more cooking oil to pan. When hot, add green onions, and cook for just a minute. Add the shrimp and cook until just done (about 2 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside. Add the rice, and the rest of the ingredients (except the wine & fish sauce) and mix until combined.

Let it all just sit still in the pan so that the grains of rice have a chance to heat up, about 1 minute. Add cooking wine and fish sauce and stir again.

This made a lot of rice. Since it was just John and I tonight for dinner, we have plenty for lunch tomorrow. Best fried rice - ever! The swordfish was fantastic too. I think I hit on the perfect combination of flavors, it was tangy and sweet with just enough lemon.

Since I played in the dirt all day, it's time to pamper myself, I'm off wash up, paint my toenails and lay on the couch like a lump!

Things that make me happy #14


Yesterday I checked out a little farmers market that is just under 10 minutes away from work, near a state park. It had rained all morning, so I wasn't sure if there was going to be anyone there, but I went anyway. Am I glad I did! Since the weather was still kinda crappy there were only about 10 tents set up. I wandered over to one that was selling organic veggies & herbs! Woo hoo - jackpot! I always try to use organic plants, and I garden organically, so this was a gold mine for me and the plants were cheap! Since I had already purchased the majority of my herbs & veggies for the garden I didn't get too much, but I did see a few things that I did not have. Red Rubin Basil - just look at that color!

2 kinds of lettuce I hadn't seen before. Anuenue & Special Amish Bibs (that's the one with all the cool colors). I didn't plant any lettuce last year, so I decided this year it was time. I'm going to plant 4 different kinds. Oh I also picked up a little Sage plant too.

I found some Creeping Rosemary (Prostrate Rosemary, that's what the tag said) at another stand. How cool is that? I never even knew it existed. I'm going to plant it along with my regular ole' rosemary and see how it does.

The name of the farm where I got the basil & lettuces is called Cedar's Edge Farm and they are located in Johnston, RI. I bit of a way from where I live, so knowing they will be at the Farmers Market every Friday makes me really happy. I'm hoping they will have some organic fruits when it gets closer to summer. I also checked on the Farm Fresh Rhode Island website and found a few other Farmer's Markets that aren't too far away. John and I might make Saturday morning Farmer Market Mornings!

Sharing the Love

My friends Todd & Diane do something on their blog which I think is just so beautiful. They "Share the Love". They share. What kind of stuff do they share? Well a few have been....fruits from their garden, doggy biscuits, herbs & spices, blooming teas, etc. but most of all they share the infectious spirit of giving. Was I ever surprised when just a few months after I had starting reading their blog, I received a box in the mail from them that had beautiful oranges (some still on the vine!) and a huge bunch of rosemary, both from their garden. It really touched me to know that 2 people, who I had never met before, would reach out in kindness that way. A few week's back they showcased all the beautiful items that they had got in return for Sharing the Love. I was proud to be included in that group. I now find myself in a store, picking up something, and saying "Oh Todd & Diane would love this". The Saturday before Mothers Day they sent me some of their favorite chocolate covered macadamia nuts. A Mother's Day gift for me! I was so surprised! The enclosed note said I was a "beautiful soul". Sniff. It really did make me tear up. It's not often in life you find people who are just generally so goodhearted. I think they are the beautiful souls.

Although it sounds like a cliche, I really do love to give more than I love to receive, and more importantly, I love that I have 2 new friends all the way over on the other coast, who inspire me, and instill the spirit of giving into me. Thanks for that guys.

What lead up to that post ya might ask? Well Friday I came home to find yet another box from California in my breezeway. It was a big one. I happily teared into it and the first thing that I saw was this:
A mortar & pestle! I had a little bitty one at home, but it was never very useful to me. I had asked in a comment on their blog, where they had found the beautiful mortar & pestle which I had seen on one of their videos, and a week or so later, one shows up on my doorstep! Also included in the box were a whole bunch of spices! Beautiful, colorful, aromatic, containers full of the most delicious spices! Yes they really are that wonderful. Here's the roll call on the spices, some of which I have never heard of, but can't wait to experiment with!

Star Anise
Bay Leaves
Indian Mace
Garam Masala
Cumin Seeds
Green Cardamon Pods

Dried Goji berries
Annato seeds
Whole Cloves
Mustard Seeds
Whole Allspice
Juniper Berries

Phew! Quite a list huh? Tonight I'm going to make some grilled swordfish with a special marinade that I have been planning around some of my new spices! I need to get grinding!!

Thank you again Todd & Diane. I am blessed to call you my friends.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tropical Angel Food Delight

This is one of my most requested recipes. It’s light and sweet and full of pineapple, strawberries and coconut. I swear I could eat half a pan of this myself. I know my Mom really likes it, so this was dessert for Mother’s Day. It doesn’t hurt that it’s really easy to make too. This is a great dessert to take to a summer pot luck.

Tropical Angel Food Delight
1 prepared angel food cake, cut into bite size pieces.
1 ½ cups cold milk
2 packages (3.4 ounces) instant coconut pudding mix (you can substitute vanilla)
1 quart of vanilla ice cream, softened
1 large can crushed pineapples, drained well
½ cup coconut flakes
1 ½ cups sliced strawberries
1-16 ounce carton whipped topping, thawed
½ cup toasted coconut flakes, plus a bit more if you want a toasted coconut topping.

Spray a 9x13 inch pan lightly with no stick spray. Cut your angel food cake up into bite size pieces. I find the easiest way is to just rip it up with your hands. Add this to the pan pressing the cake down a bit as you go. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl beat the milk and pudding mixes on low speed for about 2 minutes until they thicken. Add the softened ice cream and beat until just combined. Spoon over the cake pieces and refrigerate until firm.

When the pudding layer has firmed add the crushed pineapple, a thin layer of flaked coconut and a layer of sliced strawberries. You want to try and cover the whole surface with berries so everyone gets some in every bite they take. (See photo above). You can certainly vary this recipe with any fruit of your liking, but this flavor combination is really terrific. Spread with whipped topping and sprinkle with toasted coconut and strawberries for garnish. Chill for at least an hour before serving. Refrigerate leftovers (if there are any)!

See how light and fluffy it is on the inside? Yum.

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

If you want appetizers that will have folks coming back for 2nd's and 3rd's and 4th's then you want to make these stuffed mushrooms. Sweet crab and buttery mushrooms mixed with Monterey Jack & Colby cheeses. I bet no one can eat just one. My Dad proclaimed these the best stuffed mushroom he has ever had......I hafta agree.

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

30 Fresh mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter
4 shallots, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup cooked crabmeat (or imitation crab, which is what I usually use for this recipe)
½ breadcrumbs
¾ cup shredded Monterey Jack & Colby blend
2 eggs beaten
Fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 400. If you can fit all 30 mushrooms in one pan, then more power to ya my friend, I have to use 2 pans for this many mushrooms, or make half the recipe, and well that just isn’t gonna happen, so 2 pans it is. Butter up the bottom of the pan pretty well and set aside.

Clean your mushroom and remove the stems. Take a spoon and scoop out a little bit of the mushroom so there is room for the stuffing. Chop all the remaining mushroom stem and set aside. In a large frying pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Mince 4 shallots and add them to the pan. Let them cook until they are soft and translucent. Add all the chopped mushroom stems and innards (doesn’t that word make you think of guttin’ a deer???) Anyhow, cook them until they are soft. Remove pan off the heat and add the crab and ¼ cup breadcrumbs. Stir gently. Let this cool slightly.

Beat 2 eggs in a bowl and add to mushroom mixture. Make sure your mixture is cool or you will have scrambled eggs and mushrooms, which isn’t a bad thing, but just not what we want for this recipe. Mix in the cheese and chopped parsley. Sprinkle on lemon juice right before you pop them into the oven.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thick & Chewy Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies

I scribbled this recipe down a few months ago. I don't remember where I found it exactly, but I do remember that it was from a magazine and that the copy at machine at work was down, which forced me to copy it by hand and that it was during lunch, cause I can still see the dried remnants of hummus on the paper.

They make some really big cookies, which of course is a very good thing. I'm getting into full swing for Mothers Day so I decided to throw these together for my kids and nephew who I know won't like the dessert I'm making. I do know they will love these.

Thick & Chewy Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/8 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoon's unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup brown sugar (I used light)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 - 2 cups chocolate chunks (I used about 1 1/2 cups)

Heat oven to 325. Put one oven rack on the upper middle and one on the lower middle. Mix flour, salt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

With a mixer, mix butter and sugars until blended. Mix in egg, yolk and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in chips.

Bake reversing cookie sheet positions half way through. Bake until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden but the centers are still soft and puffy, 15 - 18 minutes. This dough can be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen up to 1 month. If using frozen dough, increase baking time by 1 - 2 minutes. Cool cookies on cookie sheet. Store in air tight container.

I have already threatened to slap the little hands that have been trying to steal cookies. It's not often I make them wait for a treat, but tomorrow's Mother Day so they have to do what I say cause my rule is Mother's Day is a weekend event and what I say goes. So there.
Okay, okay so I caved in and let them have one cookie.....just one.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Things that make me happy #13


I have been looking for a pair of chocolate brown slide in Keds for years. I finally found them today. I had been to Kohls a few days ago and purchased 2 pairs of sandals for work. One pair of black and one brown. I happily slid the black ones on yesterday morning and I noticed something strange....they squeeked, a poofy, airy, squeeky noise that was really annoying. I figured that it was because they were new, so off I went to work in them. The squeekiness did not wear off. I squeeked all day. It was getting a little embarrassing. I went to my morning supervisors meeting and I felt I had to explain the noise, cause everyone could hear it. They all laughed of course, but it was really starting to annoy me. By lunchtime everyone who works within a 10 foot radius of me was ready to hit me. I tried to stay seated as much as I could, but I do have to get up to do certain things. I even slipped them off for most of the afternoon and ran around barefoot. It was that bad.

I called Kohls customer service and explained to the nice rep that the shoes were driving me crazy and that I had worn them most of the day (trying not to scuff them up) but I had had it with them. I asked if I could still bring them back, yes she said as long as I had the slip, which I did. So back to Kohls I went and I took a little detour to the shoe section and low and behold, sweet maker of all Keds...there they were....chocolate brown slip on' my size...and they were still cheaper than both my pairs of sandals! I am very happy indeed.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Banana Bread

I found this recipe in Yankee Magazine about 20 years ago. The original page from the magazine got so torn and tattered from use that I finally had to break down a few years ago and re-type it (with all my notes) on the computer. It’s the only banana bread recipe that I use. What makes this different is that the bananas are whipped and this bread bakes low and slow producing the perfect moist and flavorful banana bread that you will ever have. It’s so simple to make that I can whip up one of these in less than 10 minutes.

I thought it might be nice if John took some into work to his new colleagues. He wouldn’t let me make anything for him to bring his first week. I even offered to make my “To Die For Blueberry Muffins”. He didn’t want to look like a kiss ass. Well with week 2 almost underway….let the ass kissing begin!

Make sure your bananas are ripe.

Banana Bread
3 large ripe bananas
½ cup butter (1 stick) room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ - ½ cup chopped nuts or dates (if desired)

In a large bowl crush the bananas with a fork until the break down. With an electric mixer on medium speed cream the bananas until they are light a fluffy, about 2 minutes. Set aside. In a large bowl cream the butter and the sugar. Add the eggs, then flour, and baking soda. The mixture will be thick, almost dough like at this point. Once this is well combined add the whipped bananas in and mix slowly, just until they are incorporated in the batter. Don’t over mix! Lastly if you want dates or nuts in your bread, gently fold them in. Turn the batter into a well-greased loaf pan. I use a non stick loaf pan so I just lightly spray it with vegetable oil.

Bake slowly in a 325 pre-heated oven for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes clean. This loaf was finished in 65 minutes.

We love ours toasted with a thin layer of cream cheese. A decadent breakfast for us!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Chocolate Chiffon Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

One of my favorite shows on the Food Network is Good Eats. It’s one of the few shows, besides Ina’s, that I can say I have seen every episode of. I had waited so long for Alton to do a show on cupcakes, and I was not disappointed. He chose to make 2 different chiffon cupcakes, the 2nd being chocolate. There was no question in my mind as to which recipe I was tackling..chocolate, my beloved sweet of choice.

This recipe used up lots of bowls and dishes, but it really wasn’t complicated at all. If possible you should use a kitchen scale while making these, since some of the ingredients are measured in ounces. Let me note that I didn’t get 24 cupcakes out of this batter. Mine only produced 20. Don't let these bake more then the suggested 30 minutes. I set the timer for 28 minutes and pulled them out as soon as the timer went off. They were perfectly done.
The smell that was coming out of the oven was unreal. It was like I was baking a rich chocolate cake. The boys tore themselves away from the Wii long enough to come downstairs to ask what that “wicked awesome” smell was. They did make the whole house smell delicious.

The produced a really light and delicate cupcake with a rich chocolate flavor. Warning: they are so light and airy and two of mine tipped over with the weight of the frosting.

Cupcakes before dinner…..I’m such a bad mother.

Chocolate Chiffon Cupcakes
4 ounces cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup hot water
1 1/4-ounce cocoa powder
5 large egg yolks
6 ounces sugar, divided
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place paper liners into 2 (12-cup) muffin tins and set aside. If you prefer, set 12 ovenproof coffee mugs on a half sheet pan and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.Place the hot water and the cocoa powder into a small bowl and whisk to thoroughly combine. Set aside. Place the egg yolks and 5 ounces of the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on high for 2 minutes or until the mixture becomes pale yellow and 'ribbons' when lifted. Add the cocoa mixture, vegetable oil and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients and whisk just to combine. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl while you whisk the egg whites.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar into a clean bowl and whisk on high using the whisk attachment, until it becomes foamy. Decrease the speed to low and gradually add the remaining ounce of sugar. Once the sugar has all been added, increase the speed back to high and continue to beat until stiff peaks form, approximately 2 minutes.

Transfer 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and whisk until well combined. Add the remaining egg whites and fold in gently. Transfer batter into prepared muffin tins or coffee mugs, evenly dividing the batter between the cups. Place both muffin tins on the middle rack of the oven or, if using mugs, place all of them on a half sheet pan and set on the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean or the cupcakes reach an internal temperature of 205 to 210 degrees F. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Of course I used the buttercream frosting from the episode. I have made lots of buttercream over the years but haven’t made one with shortening so this was a change for me. It was really nice, not overly sweet and really creamy.

Buttercream Frosting
6 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
2 ounces shortening
1 egg, room temperature
1-pound confectionery sugar
1-teaspoon vanilla extract

In a mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter and shortening until light and fluffy, about 3 – 4 minutes. Add the egg and beat until combined, about 2 more minutes at high speed. Work in the pound of confectionery sugar a ½ a cup at a time. Turn the machine off when you add each addition, re-starting it slowly each time. Once all the sugar has been added add in the vanilla and beat until frosting is smooth and light, about 3 minutes. If you are not using immediately, store in fridge. Let frosting come to room temp before spreading.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cheeseburger Pie

If you love cheeseburgers then you will love this pie. It’s got all the ingredients that you usually would add to a cheeseburger….the onions, mustard, ketchup, pickles, cheese, all that’s missing is the bun and you won’t even miss that!

I don’t remember where I even found this recipe, but it’s one that John and the kids love. I do remember that I made it several times and tweaked it until I got the right balance of mustard & ketchup. That was tricky. Too much and it was overpowering, too little and it got lost in the pie. It’s great to make ahead of time and then just pop in the oven when you are ready to eat. I always double the recipe cause John can finish off half the pie himself, plus the leftovers are great for lunch.

Cheeseburger Pie
1 prepared pie crust (I use Pillsbury, that red box hasn’t let me down yet)
1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
1 medium onion – chopped
2 cloves garlic – chopped
¼ cup flour
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons pickle juice
3 Vlasic Stackers – finely chopped (or use any pickle you have on hand)
2 tablespoon yellow mustard
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Place the pie crust in an 8-inch pie pan. Poke holes in the bottom and sides of the dough with a fork and bake at 425 for 12 – 15 mins (until lightly browned). Once the shells are out of the oven, lower the heat to 350.

Cook onions and garlic in small amount of oil until tender. Remove from pan. Cook ground beef (I added some Mrs. Dash and some garlic salt to this while it cooked). Drain any grease from meat. In a large bowl add the onion mixture to the ground beef. After the mixture has cooled a bit add the flour, pickle juice, pickles, mustard, ketchup and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Mix to combine. Add mixture to the baked pie crust.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 mins. I cover the edges of my pie with a crust saver; if you don’t have one, place some tin foil around the edges so they don’t burn. Sprinkle with the remaining cup of cheese and return to oven for 5 mins. Let cool for 10 mins before

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Swiss Chard with Olive Oil, Garlic & Sea Salt

I stopped at the market on the way home and as soon as I walked into the produce section my eyes were drawn to bright colors of this beautiful Swiss Chard. I grew up eating the stuff. When I lived back and home with my parents, we grew it in our garden every year. Only my Dad and I liked it though. My mom used to make it with potatoes for us. I can skip the potatoes and go straight for the chard.

Let me try to describe the taste to those of you who haven't had the pleasure of eating Swiss Chard. It's kind of like tangy spinach, with a little broccoli rabe mixed in and maybe of dash of collard greens. It's not for everyone and I say thank goodness cause that just means more for me!

This variety was called Bright Lights.

Swiss Chard with Olive Oil, Garlic & Sea Salt
1 bunch of Swiss Chard
2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
sea salt

Rinse and clean the chard and coarsely chop it in 3 inch sections. Use a big pan to cook this in. It will look like a mountain of greens at first, but it will cook down to nothing. Let the pan get good and hot. Add the olive oil and then add the chard. Turn it frequently as it cooks. Add the garlic after about 2 mins when they have wilted down a bit. I add a little sea salt at this point too, but I also hit it with some more salt just before serving.
Green leafy veggies, yum!