Sunday, November 6, 2011

Frozen Raspberries, Two Ways - Raspberry Lemonade Bars & Raspberry Muffins

Just a quick post today to share two yummy new recipes I made recently.  The first is Raspberry Lemonade Bars.  This recipe is another from the blog Sophistimom I mentioned the other day.  This was definitely "a keeper," but next time I would probably make two changes.  First, I would decrease the sugar a bit because we really love the tartness of lemon and these were definitely on the sweet side.  Second, I would decrease the amount of flour in the filling.  I know the flour is there to give the filling some body, but 2/3 cup just seemed like much too much and made the filling a bit too dense.  That said, they really were tasty, just a few tweaks I'd try for next time.

The other recipe was Three-grain raspberry muffins from The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook.  This recipe is without a doubt my new favorite muffin recipe.  I made the recipe as written, only substituting white-whole wheat flour for the all-purpose and frozen raspberries for the fresh ones.  Delicious!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Recipe All My Own - Spaghetti with Roasted Eggplant

I am the first to admit that creativity in the kitchen is not my strong suit.  I much prefer to peruse cookbooks, magazines, and blogs and choose other people's recipes to cook.  Yesterday, however, I just did not have the energy to hunt down the perfect recipe.  The clock was ticking, I was hungry, and I had three giant eggplants in the fridge that no one will touch except me (not that I'm complaining because, trust me, I love eggplant).  I was almost ready to give in and make a sandwich, when I realized that I actually could whip up something of my own invention.  Hence, my Spaghetti with Roasted Eggplant.  It is really rather simple, but quite yummy if I say so myself.  So if you like eggplant, you might want to give this a try.  If not, maybe you might also feel inspired to wing it in the kitchen every once in a while.

Spaghetti with Roasted Eggplant
Print Recipe

1 large eggplant, or 2-3 smaller ones
2 small onions, or 1 large
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti, or pasta of your choice
1 jar marinara sauce (I like this homemade sauce from Giada DeLaurentiis' Everyday Italian, or use your own favorite jarred or homemade sauce)
Pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Chop eggplant and onions into bite size pieces.  On a jelly roll pan, toss veggies with enough olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven approximately 20-25 minutes, stirring once halfway through.  Veggies are done when they are tender and lightly browned.

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain into a colander and set aside when finished cooking.

Warm marinara sauce briefly in the microwave or in a small saucepan.

In a large bowl or pot, combine spaghetti, warmed sauce, and roasted veggies, making sure to leave behind any excess olive oil in the roasting pan.  Toss to coat.  Serve with Romano cheese.  Enjoy!

Chewy Lemon Snowdrop Cookies (minus the snow)

I found my most recent baking inspiration on one of my new favorite blogs, Sophistimom.  I'm a particular fan of the "Well Fed" portion of this blog.  I definitely recommend checking it out sometime.  Jamie's recipes sound scrumptious and her photography is positively drool-worthy.

Now, on to the recipe at hand:  Chewy Lemon Snowdrop Cookies.  I followed Jamie's recipe almost exactly, making only one significant change by skipping the powdered sugar coating.  It just so happens that I am married to a lemon addict who doesn't like extraneous toppings/icings/frostings/coatings/etc. to stand between him and his lemon fix.  Turns out plain Chewy Lemon Cookies are yummy indeed.  They had a bright lemony flavor and a perfectly chewy texture as I ate them warm from the oven.  Even better, they maintained that perfect chewy texture the following day.  I'm thinking I might need to play around with this recipe and use it as a base for chewy chocolate chip cookies.  The oh-so-elusive "perfect" chocolate chip cookie would have precisely this texture. I'll have to see and let you know!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spaghetti with Pesto and Tomato-Mozzarella Salad

I decided to try this quick and easy recipe from Good Housekeeping Family Vegetarian Cooking: 225 Recipes Everyone Will Love mainly because I had all the ingredients on hand.  I was in the mood for something simple and yummy that would also leave me some leftovers for tomorrow.  I pretty much followed the recipe as written, making only a few slight changes.  First of all, I chopped up one large Brandywine tomato from last weekend's farmers' market instead of using cherry tomatoes.  Second, I used my own pesto that I already had made and frozen in ice cube trays.  Trust me, after making three double batches of it this weekend, I was all too happy to pop a few cubes into the microwave to defrost and voila! ready to use -- so much easier than making it from scratch every single time.  And last, I used whole wheat angel hair and less mozzarella than called for because I only had the end of a package.  OK, so maybe I made more than a few changes, but the essence of the recipe remained the same.  The result?  Deliciously simple.  Can't wait to eat those leftovers tomorrow!

P.S. This is the cover recipe of this cookbook.  A beautiful full color photo -- talk about inspiration!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Books & Cookies...sounds like a good night to me!

After dropping Nick and his father off at dart league, his mom and I headed over to the local Borders.  We just had to check it out one last time before the doors close for good and 70-90% off was just too tempting.  Yes, I know I already have too many books and definitely too many cookbooks, but again 70-90% off!  They were practially giving the stuff away.  And for a miniscule amount of money, I added two books to my collection; one cookbook: The One-Block Feast: An Adventure in Food from Yard to Table all about local food and one regular book: The Cookbook Collector (just can't get away from the topic of cookbooks now can I?).

So anyways, that was a good start to the night and when we got home we decided we wanted a little homemade dessert.  We decided on a recipe I found quite awhile ago on King Arthur Flour's website for Kids' Choice Chip and Fruit Oatmeal Cookies.  We may not really be kids, but when it comes to cookies, I think there's a little kid in all of us.  So our choice was to use white chocolate chips, dark chocolate chips, and dried cranberries. You can use any combination of dried fruits, chocolate chips/chunks, and/or nuts that you like, but that is what we had in the pantry and we thought they sounded good together.  And the verdict? YUM.  These cookies were so good, especially while still warm from the oven.  Definitely a keeper recipe.  The only thing we did differently was to use all-purpose flour instead of whole wheat.  Usually I am substituting the other way around, but these are cookies so we decided they didn't really need to be too healthy.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A family favorite: Apricot Squares

According to my brother, I shouldn't have to make anything for my own party, the "Boo! Christine in moving to Albany party" that is.  Truth is, I volunteered -- I just can't resist the opportunity to make and share something yummy with people I care about.  Also true is the fact that my brother was really only saying this because I was already in the middle of baking, and he would much prefer that I left the final product at home for him to enjoy!  Well, in the end he got his wish.  My first attempt was to make Mini Jam Tarts (which I've made and written about previously), but they ended up a crumbling (but delicious!) mess because my silicone muffin pans are tucked away in a box in my in-laws basement.  I thought they would come out OK in regular muffin pans, but I was sadly mistaken.  They tasted good, but let's just say they wouldn't have survived the trip to Astoria without oozing everywhere.  So my family got to enjoy my first attempt while I went to work on Attempt #2 for the party.  Since I was not in the mood to face another potential mess, I decided to go with a tried and true recipe and picked a family favorite: Apricot Squares.  This recipe was passed down from a friend of my grandmother's to my grandmother, to my mother, to me.  I used Raspberry Jam instead of Apricot Preserves because I had a homemade jar our landlord gave us as a parting gift when we moved out.  I've tried this recipe with all sorts of homemade jams and they always come out delicious.  So here it is, our family recipe:

Apricot Squares:
Print Recipe

1 1/4 cup oats

1 1/4 cup flour (I often use whole wheat or white whole wheat & am still very happy with the results)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
12 oz. apricot preserves (or other flavor jam or preserves, just don't use jelly because it's too thin)

Combine all ingredients, except preserves, in a large bowl.  Reserve approximately 1 cup of crumb mixture and press the rest into a greased 13 x 9 baking dish.  Spread preserves over base.  Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Cool at least 10 minutes, cut into bars. 

Note: If you are having trouble covering the bottom of the pan, you can reserve less crumb for the topping, it will still work out fine.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cleaning out the Kitchen

It's official: We're Moving!  OK, it's been official for awhile now, but I've been so busy packing that I haven't been posting.  We have to be out of our apartment by the end of the month, so I've been trying my hardest to reduce the amount of food in our pantry and freezer.  The more things I use up, the less I have to pack up when we leave and the less we spend on groceries during our remaining time here.  My latest use-it-up recipe was Smoky Southwest Pizza from Camilla Saulsbury's Puff Pastry Perfection.  I adapted and streamlined it a bit so I was able to use only ingredients I had on hand.

I have to admit, I made this once before and completely screwed it up.  I didn't follow the directions and I used way too much salsa which made the whole thing come out as a soggy mess.  This time, I learned my lesson and just eyeballed everything and it turned out really yummy.  For my version, I defrosted a sheet of frozen puff pastry and rolled it out slightly onto a cookie sheet sprinkled with a little cornmeal.  I spread a very thin layer of good quality salsa over the pastry, and then sprinkled a reasonable amount of cheddar cheese on top.  The whole thing cooked for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees.  It came out MUCH better than last time.  So, once again I warn you: do not overdo the salsa.  You will regret it.  If I wanted this to come out even a tiny bit better, I probably should have pre-baked the pastry like the recipe suggested, but I was in a hurry and missed that step.  Thankfully, my error this time around was not nearly as bad as my prior attempt.  If you love puff pastry as much as I do, definitely check out Camilla's cookbook.  (I also recommend her blog Enlightened Cooking).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Another use for pesto

Just a quick post to share a family favorite that uses some more delicious summer pesto: Pesto Chicken Pizza from Health Magazine.

I never use commercial pesto because the one time I was craving pesto in mid-winter and decided to buy a jar, I found it way too salty and it had a bunch of questionable ingredients in it that just didn't seem like they belonged in pesto.  If you ask me, the real deal is easy enough to make and freeze to enjoy year-round. (See my original post here.)

Last week, my mom made this recipe for us and she used a large ciabatta loaf instead of the pizza crust. All she did was cut the loaf in half and then cut it again lengthwise.  I think I liked this variation even better than the original!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Vacation Requests

Not the type that cause drama in the workplace.  Recipe requests, of course!  I just got home from an awesome week spent on the beaches of Ocean City, NJ (our own little slice of heaven on earth) with the majority of my Mom's side of the family.  As we always say, "We're either eating food, talking about food, planning the food for our next meal, or shopping for food."  Basically, we like food.  So a week away with family definitely involved a lot of good food and also the swapping of recipes.  I'd like to post some links to a few of the recipes that my fellow beach-goers thought they might like to try.

First, we have a delicious, healthy recipe packed with good for you ingredients: Barley, Black Bean, and Avocado Salad from Reader's Digest's Eat to Beat High Blood Pressure.  I got this recipe from my best friend who even cooked it for me once :)  I usually follow the directions to make it with brown rice, but either way is yummy.

Next, we have Parchment Baked Halibut with Pesto, Zucchini, and Carrots from Health Magazine, which I've posted about before, but it's so good, it's worth mentioning again. You can use any kind of white fish you like. (Once again, here is a link to the recipe for Basil Pesto from Giada DeLaurentiis' Everyday Italian.  You can just follow the instructions for the sauce by itself.)

Next, we have a delicious Light Fruit Vinaigrette from Camilla Saulsbury's blog Enlightened Cooking.  I like to make a Blueberry version following the Large Batch instructions and substituting Blueberry Jam for the Raspberry in the "Summer Raspberry Variation."  All the other variations sound amazing, but so far I've stuck with the Blueberry.  I brought two bottles of this yummy dressing on vacation with me and even the four-year old enjoyed it.  Any recipe that gets adults AND kids to eat more salad definitely qualifies as a home-run in my book.

I also need to mention a breakfast favorite: Multi-Grain Pancake Mix from Cooking Light Magazine.  My grandma, aunt, mother, and brother are already fans of this recipe, so I'd say it has a pretty good track record.  Grandma even brought a double batch of this mix to the beach this year.  I found this recipe a few years back and we love it so much because it is yummy, healthy, and easy to whip up ahead of time. When you are ready to make some pancakes (or waffles), it's as easy as using store-bought pancake mix, but so much better.  Just follow the directions for Multigrain Pancakes and you'll have breakfast in no time.

And of course we can't forget dessert: Lemon-Cranberry Cake from Better Homes and Gardens.  OK, the recipe is actually for Orange-Cranberry Cake, but sub in lemon zest and lemon juice for the orange, and voila, you have Lemon-Cranberry Cake.  I just happen to prefer lemon, but either way could work nicely.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Special Request - Peanut Sauce

While discussing with Christy the amazing variety of products one can buy at Trader Joe's, she mentioned peanut sauce.  And true to form, I interjected: "I have a recipe for that!" So here it is from Cooking Light Magazine.  I've never made the full recipe, just the peanut sauce.  The only thing I do differently is to use regular peanut butter, because I don't buy reduced-fat peanut butter.  In a pinch, any hot sauce will work in place of the Sriracha.  I most often make this sauce to toss with whole-wheat spaghetti, sauteed onions, and veggie slaw (also from Trader Joe's) for a yummy peanut noodle dish.  You could also add chicken, but I'm usually too lazy for that.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Summer Favorite - Pesto (& Ways to Use It)

I got home from the farmer's market last Saturday with three beautiful bunches of fresh basil and immediately went to work making a double batch of Basil Pesto from Giada DeLaurentiis' Everyday Italian (The first list of ingredients and the first paragraph of the directions are all you need to make the sauce.)

I absolutely adore pesto and I always make extra in the summer months to freeze for the rest of the year.  After the sauce is made, I scoop it into a couple of ice cube trays. After the cubes are frozen, I just pop them out and transfer them to a freezer bag or container.  Then, when I am making a dish that calls for pesto, I just defrost the number of cubes I need depending on what I'm making.  One of my favorite recipes that calls for pesto is Parchment Baked Halibut with Pesto, Zucchini, and Carrots from Health Magazine.  You can use any kind of mild white fish for this recipe, but usually I use flounder or sole.  

I've also made my own copy-cat version of a recipe called Farfalle alla Nonna, one of my favorite dishes from Acquista Trattoria, one of my favorite Italian restaurants near St. Johns University.  Basically, I toss together bow-tie pasta, sauteed chicken pieces, pesto sauce, and strips of sun-dried tomatoes.  I've always skipped the mushrooms, but they probably would be a nice addition if you like them.  My version isn't as good as Acquista's, but it is still quite yummy. 

And finally, I got the inspiration for my third favorite pesto recipe from Anna Thomas's Love Soup.  It's basically a "gourmet" grilled cheese sandwich made with layers of soft goat cheese, strips of sun-dried tomatoes, and pesto.  I think you can figure that one out without the actual recipe.  I followed the recipe from the book the first time I made it, but now I just wing it.  It's the type of recipe where you go "why didn't I think of that?" because it's so easy and delicious.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Decadence

I just pulled a pan of incredibly rich Double Delicious Cookie Bars out of the oven.  They are really for a family graduation party tomorrow, but Nick and I couldn't resist doing a taste test to see how they came out.  All I can say is YUM.  Double delicious is an accurate term for these devilish delights.  I don't know how the rest of my family will feel about them tomorrow, but they get an enthusiastic thumbs up from the two of us.

I got the recipe from the Hershey website, but I did make a few slight changes.  First, I used chocolate chunks in place of the chips because that was all I had.  I don't think this swap altered the flavor of the cookies much, if at all.  Second, I used a bag of all-natural peanut butter chips I picked up at Whole Foods because I like them better.  I find them to have a richer peanut butter flavor and a superior creamy texture compared to some others I've tried in the past.  This is just a preference and you could use whatever brand you prefer. Last, I skipped the chocolate drizzle simply because I ran out of chocolate.  It's a crime I know, but don't worry it's at the top of next week's grocery list.

Celebration (Irish Cream) Brownies

I was going over for a girl's-night-in at my best friend's house Friday night because she was having a crazy week and wanted to hang out and unwind. Most likely, this would also involve wine drinking.  So I was thinking, what makes a crazy week better other than some girl-time and a glass of wine? Chocolate of course.  So I mixed up a batch of Irish Cream Brownies.  In the meantime, she got some really great news and the crappy-week brownies morphed into celebration brownies.  They were quite yummy and I definitely recommend.  The recipe is from Cooking Light Magazine and I almost  followed the recipe exactly.  The only substitution I made was to use 2 eggs in place of the 1/2 cup egg substitute.  You will never find a carton of fake egg in my fridge.  I'll take the real thing, thank you very much.  Cheers!

Leftover Magic - Mini Jam Tarts

All too often, partially used ingredients linger in the fridge or pantry until I force myself to figure out something to do with them.  The latest project I gave myself was to come up with a way to transform the dribs and drabs of leftover jam cluttering our fridge into something delicious.  Since there was not enough left of any one flavor to make any sort of full recipe, I had to do a little searching.  If I were a Jam-on-Toast kind of girl this never would have been an issue, but that type of breakfast just doesn't do it for me.  Mini Jam Tarts, I've discovered, are more my style.  This recipe comes from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics. I didn't bother with the egg wash or any type of decorative cutouts.  I just made simple, round tarts using my silicone mini muffin pans and making them that size yielded two dozen, giving me plenty of opportunity to mix and match jam flavors.  I started with the end of a jar of black raspberry jam, then moved onto the end of a jar of peach jam, and finished off with some strawberry jam.  The possibilities are endless, especially when your grandfather-in-law makes (and shares) so many delicious flavors of homemade jam :)

Weeknight Dinner - Tortellini with Peas & Prosciutto

As much as I love to cook, it rarely happens of a work night.  By the time we get home, Nick and I are usually starving and end up pulling together something easy that will be ready quick and won't make a lot of dirty dishes. This usually means we eat a lot of leftovers, sandwiches, salads (for me), and frozen pizzas or hotdogs (for Nick) for dinner.  One night last week, we got home as usual, but I had a burst of motivation and decided I was going to cook real food on a work night for once.  My recipe of choice was Tortellini with Peas and Prociutto from the new cookbook Food Network Magazine Great Easy Meals: 250 Fun & Fast Recipes.

I doctored up the recipe a bit because I was missing a few ingredients, but the end result was still quite good.  First, I used cheese tortellini instead of meat tortellini.  Second, in place of the tomato paste, pasta cooking water, and heavy cream, I substituted a generous amount of jarred marinara sauce. Third, instead of sprinkling the parmesan cheese on as a garnish, I added some extra and stirred it into the sauce to make it a little richer since I had skipped the heavy cream.  Last, I left out the fresh parsley because I didn't have any.  The end result was a delicious weeknight dinner that we both liked and that was on the table in less than a half hour.  In my book, that is nothing short of a miracle.  Now, if only something could be done about those dirty dishes...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Maple Roasted Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potatoes

Now, this is definitely not a new recipe for me, but it is a easy, yummy one that I wanted to share.  I've been making this recipe for a few years now and it continues to be a regular favorite.  It comes together in a flash.  All you need to do is chop up the veggies (sweet potatoes, carrots, and onion), toss them into a baking dish with some maple syrup, salt, & pepper, top with chicken thighs and its ready to go in the oven.  Forty minutes later (with just a quick flip half-way through), and I've cleaned up the small handful of dishes I've used, my feet are up, maybe I'm even sipping some wine, and dinner is on the table.

This is what I call an "all-in-one" recipe - protein, veggies, & starch all together in one dish.  I always use a 13x9 baking dish and increase the amount of veggies, because they are so delicious and I just can't get enough of them.  If you are anything like me and hate dealing with raw chicken, this is the perfect dish for you.  The thighs go from package to pan to oven, no cutting necessary.  That, in my opinion, is culinary magic.

Maple-Roasted Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potatoes from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook.

Blueberry Goat Cheese Muffins

I really love trying new muffin recipes and different flavor combinations.  I had an open package of goat cheese and some frozen blueberries in my freezer from last summer, so I decided to give this one a try.  This recipe might sound a little weird, but it's really very delicious.  It's sweet with a slight touch of savory; tender on the inside, but with a perfect golden, crusty exterior.  My only recommendation would be to not overdo it on the blueberries.  I always tend to add extra since I love them so much, but in this case that wasn't the best idea.  The excess fruit sank to the bottom and made the muffins difficult to remove from the pan.  They still tasted really good, but if you want muffins that don't fall apart, I wouldn't go over the 1 cup amount.  To add a bit more nutrition without sacrificing flavor, I also substituted white-whole-wheat flour in place of the all-purpose flour.

This is another great recipe from Camilla Saulsbury's 750 Best Muffin Recipes,a cookbook I can't recommend enough.  You can also find the recipe on her blog Enlightened Cooking.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Train Food, Part II - Black Raspberry Bars

So, I’m back from Ocean City. Finally. Trust me, I love going to the beach and I really didn’t want to leave, but the train was not my friend this time around. The whole trip home was a headache, but I did get an extra day off work out of the deal, so things could have been worse. And before we know it, we will be back down at the shore (36 days, not that I’m counting or anything).

For my trip home, my suitcase was a bit lighter since I no longer had the tin of La Verne's Black Raspberry Bars that I brought with me. What, you never packed dessert in your suitcase? Ok, I’m a little strange, I admit. Regardless, the bars were very yummy. I made them with Nick’s Grandpa’s homemade Black Raspberry Jam which made them even better. This is another recipe that would probably be good with other flavors of jam if you don’t have Black Raspberry. I found this recipe in the cookbook One Big Table by Molly O’Neill. (The full recipe can be found on the book’s Amazon product page, just scroll down to find it.) I can't speak for the rest of the book because this is the first recipe I made from it, but this one was a winner for sure.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Train Food - Cherry Lime Granola

I will shortly be on a train bound for Ocean City!  Well, the train actually goes to Atlantic City, but that's just a pit stop on the way to my favorite place on earth :)  Sun, sand, surf, family, good food, and a few good books?  Sounds like the perfect holiday weekend to me (except for the fact that Nick isn't coming, so I guess I should say the almost  perfect holiday weekend).  Anyway, what does this have to do with cooking and recipes?  My impending train trip got me thinking about the trip I took last month to Maryland to visit some dear friends from high school.  For that trip, I was travelling on two trains and then renting a car.  Now anyone who knows me knows that I can get pretty cranky when I'm hungry, so I wanted to pack some sort of yummy snack to have while in transit.  I needed something to tide me over in between being able to find some real food.  The day before I started packing, I had made a recipe for Cherry Lime Granola from Everyday Food Magazine to have for breakfast.  So on a whim, I decided the leftovers would be packed into a few small containers and tucked into my bag wherever they fit.  The granola is delicious, filling, and portable so it really did make the perfect train food.  Filled with nuts, fruit, and oats it was even decently healthy (better than the chips and candy bars you could buy at the train station anyway).  I even had a container left-over to eat for breakfast on the last day of my trip.  My friend Sam thought it sounded yummy too and she just recently asked for the recipe.  So I was thinking it would be a good one to share with everybody.  When I made it, I used walnuts instead of almonds because I didn't have any almonds.  I think it would be good either way, so use whatever kind of nut you like best.

One tip to keep in mind - DO NOT OVERCOOK IT.  If you've ever eaten store-bought granola, you know that it is typically dry and crunchy, as it should be.  I've made various recipes over the years and expecting my own granola to be dry and crunchy, I've made the mistake of overcooking it more than once. What can be confusing is that when you check the pan after the time the recipe calls for, it will likely be sticky and still seem kind of "wet."  This always made me think it wasn't ready yet and I would keep adding minutes to my timer, waiting for the granola to achieve the right texture.  The additional time in the oven, did not make my granola any crunchier, it just made the nuts burn which trust me, is not so tasty.  Just make sure that the granola has reached that lightly golden color the recipe calls for and it should be ready to take out of the oven.  Let it cool completely, and when it does, that stickiness should go away.  Wait until it is completely cooled to pack it into a container or else the trapped heat could make it soggy.  Following these tips I learned the hard way, this most recent granola recipe was finally a success.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Just something chocolatey..." (Black Bottom Cupcakes)

That was my brother's response when I asked him what he wanted me to make for his birthday dessert. Given that I absolutely love chocolate and own no less than 11 chocolate cookbooks, I figured I should have no problem honoring his request. I flipped through a bunch of my cookbooks and I wasn't finding anything I thought he would like AND was made with only ingredients I already had in the apartment. (I had procrastinated this particular baking project and I really did not want to go back out to the store at 10 o'clock at night.) So I moved onto my recipe binders and found a recipe for Black Bottoms that fit both of my criteria. This recipe was featured in a really cute article in Woman's Day magazine about the signature dishes of various staff members' Moms. Woman's Day is a magazine that I happen to receive for free and I rarely find recipes in it that appeal to me. However, this particular article really caught my eye. I had already made the Apricot Jam Tart from the same article for my Mom for Mother's Day, so I took a chance on this one hoping the results would be just as delicious. And boy were they good.  Moist chocolate cupcakes with a chocolate chip cheesecake topping, what's not to love?

If you want to try them yourself, just a few tips:
1. in my mini muffin pans they made 4 dozen, not 5 dozen
2. don't forget the 1 cup of water - it's written in the text of the recipe, but not in the ingredient list

As for the Apricot Jam Tart recipe, that was also fabulous and I definitely would make it again. I actually used peach jam in place of the apricot because I had a jar of my grandfather-in-law's homemade peach jam (delicious in and of itself). And I also went with pecans in the crust because I was out of almonds and thought pecans would go well with the peach filling. One word: Yum. It was universally like by all who tried it. The only thing I would do differently next time would be to use cookie cutters to make shapes (hearts maybe?) for the top layer of crust instead of the criss-crossing lattice. Though it was quite pretty, it was kind of a pain to make since the thin strips of dough kept tearing apart when I lifted them up off the table. This recipe seems to lend itself to different flavor substitutions, so if you are lucky enough to have a jar of homemade jam (or even a good quality store-bought jar), I'd give this one a try too.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Pot of Beans

I found the recipe for Yankee Bean Pot from the bookThe Essential EatingWell Cookbookby doing a search of my Eat Your Books Bookshelf for "slow cooker + beans" on Thursday night.  I had a bag of dried mixed beans I wanted to use up and I figured I could use those in place of the Navy or Great Northrern beans called for in the recipe. I had all of the other ingredients except for the Canadian bacon.  Friday morning I was going to the grocery store anyway, so I could pick that up.  With my plan in place, I set my beans soaking overnight.  I went to the store and decided on pancetta instead of the Canadian bacon.  I ditched the idea of the ham hock and decided to use up the end of a container of beef broth in place of the water.  Even though ham and beef are completely different, I figured the beef broth would lend a bit of a meaty flavor to the dish. Without the ham hock, I thought just adding plain water would not give me enough flavor. Except for those few changes, I pretty much followed the recipe as written.  I used a little white wine to deglaze the pan when it started to get lots of brown bits (I don't use non-stick skillets).  I got everything into the slow-cooker, set it to HIGH, set the timer and went out for an afternoon of errands and shopping.

When I got home, my apartment smelled amazing.  I cooked up a pot of brown rice to serve with the beans. It turned out to be a simple, delicious, and economical meal especially since I also have enough leftovers for several lunches.  I'm not sure if this dish was intended to be served in "beans & rice" style, but it definitely worked that way.  The broth the beans cooked in was fragrant, meaty, and slightly sweet.  It made a nice little sauce to top off the beans and rice.  My beans didn't get quite as tender as I expected, but they were definitely cooked and tasted wonderful. I'm wondering if this happened because the beans were so old - they were hanging out in my pantry for quite some time.  Regardless, this was a successful and yummy dish.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Apple Cranberry Harvest Muffins

The most recent new recipe I have tried is "Apple Cranberry Harvest Muffins" from 750 Best Muffin Recipes: Everything from breakfast classics to gluten-free, vegan and coffeehouse favoriteswritten by Camilla V. Saulsbury.

I had some wrinkly Granny Smith apples that were begging to be baked into something.  They were definitely past their prime, but not a lost cause all together. I also have half a freezer full of frozen cranberries and am always up for baking something new that uses some of them up. In addition, the recipe called for shredded carrots plus some other pantry staples that I had on hand.  So this recipe was looking like a good one to try.  

As with most muffin recipes, this one came together fairly quickly.  The only substitution I made was to use white-whole-wheat flour instead of the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe.  I have found this substitution to be very successful in a variety of muffin and quick bread recipes. White-whole-wheat flour is a milder variety of whole wheat, so I find the taste is closer to all-purpose flour while keeping the nutrition of whole-wheat.  I personally wouldn't make this substitution in other more delicate baking recipes such as cookies or cakes where the difference in flavor would be more noticeable.  

I also only put pecans in half of the recipe since my husband doesn't like nuts.  When I went to try them, I accidentally ate one of the muffins without the nuts (oops!), but I'm kind of glad I did because I got to try both versions.  They were both delicious and I would definitely make this recipe again. The touch of cinnamon in the recipe really makes the flavors all come together.

Overall, I would highly recommend this cookbook. While 750 probably sounds like more muffin recipes than you would ever dream of needing, I have to applaud Camilla for her creativity. The variety in this cookbook is fantastic and almost every single recipe looks like something I would like to try. So far all the recipes I have made from it have been home runs including:

Multigrain Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Berry Corn Muffins
Cranberry Multigrain Muffins
Honey, Whole Wheat and Wheat Germ Muffins

I own several of Camilla's cookbooks and first discovered her through her blog Enlightened Cooking.  While I can't post the full recipe I'm writing about today, she has lots of delicious recipes on her blog including a few from this particular cookbook. I highly recommend checking it out :) 

Books and Binders and Recipes, oh my!

I have cookbooks coming out of my ears.  I honestly have more than any other person I know.  Ever since I discovered the fabulous website Eat Your Books actually using them has gotten a lot easier.  This is a website where you can create a virtual "bookshelf" of all the cookbooks you own and then you can perform searches to find recipes within your own books. So for example, if I have some corn, roasted red peppers, and cheese on hand I can type these ingredients into the search box and find all the recipes in my own books that use these ingredients. I LOVE it.  

I also have a large collection of clipped recipes from magazines and printed recipes from websites that I have organized into binders (finally).  And also a magazine holder that is collapsing under the weight of all the "special issue" magazines I've picked up that I want to keep intact and not rip apart. 

All this said, I clearly have a lot to work with.  The idea of this blog is to chronicle my cooking adventures as I work my way through my vast collection of recipes.  I won't be posting the actual recipes since that would violate copyright.  However, if a recipe can also be found online, I will share the link. (For example, a recipe from The Bon Appetit Cookbook might also be found on bonappetit.com.  If that is the case, I will post the link to that recipe). If not, I will simply give my review of the recipe, any thoughts I have on that particular cookbook, and whether or not I recommend it. 

I'm ready to dust off my bookshelves, crack open those gorgeous volumes of culinary temptations and get in the kitchen.  Here's to home cooking!