Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cheesy Baked Tortellini

Tonight's dinner was Cheesy Baked Tortellini and it was oh so good! It was easier than I anticipated, and included pretty much just opening a bunch of packages, combining them, and baking in the oven for 30 minutes.

I made a 1/2 recipe for my little family and it was just the right size. Check out the recipe (HERE) and try it out for yourself. Don't even think of omitting the fresh thyme or parsley - it would be too bland without it. Keep in mind, it's not the most gourmet meal, but it's quick, easy and my 5 year old loved it! I bet the leftovers would be super too, once the pasta absorbed more of the sauce.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Giveaway Winner Announced!

Congratulations to Suzie, winner of her own little elastic-bound notepad! And to the rest of you: no worries. I have another giveaway planned in a couple of weeks. Happy cooking!

Failure x2

Failure. It's inevitable. With as many new recipes as I try each week, there are bound to be a few that just don't work out. And with as many photos that I take each week, there are bound to be problems there too. Such is the case for today's post.

Two weeks ago I tried a new recipe called Zucchini & Ravioli in Walnut Sauce and it was awful. The photo was appealing and the list of ingredients sounded promising, but the meal was terrible. Ah well, that happens. Thank goodness for PB&J!

Today I took some great photos of our dinner and also of a bar cookie we tested tonight. When I was ready to post them on my blog, we had some technical difficulties, and were unable to retrieve any of the photos off of my camera. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Good thing life goes on, right? We cook, we eat, we do dishes. Failures or no failures, we're able to find sustenance and then get on with the important things in life.

notes on this week's menu & recipes
You might notice that Ratatouille au four shows up again this week. I was supposed to make it for dinner tonight, but decided to take a nap instead of starting dinner. I do have my priorities, you know.

I'm looking forward to the Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole next Sunday. First of all, who doesn't like breakfast foods for dinner? Secondly, this recipe appeals to me because I can make it in the morning, still get my afternoon nap in, and have a great dinner that evening.

Happy Cooking everyone!

Week 26 Menu

Monday - Creamy Fennel and Potato Soup (+ cornbread leftovers)
Tuesday - Ratatouille au four (oven ratatouille)
Wednesday - Baked Potatoes (with all the good stuff!)
Thursday - Cheesy Baked Tortellini
Friday - eat out
Saturday - Grilled Pizzas
Sunday - Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole

Week 26 Recipes

Creamy Fennel and Potato Soup
4 servings
(I halved the recipe since my little family cannot eat 8 servings of soup!)

1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cups coarsely chopped cored fresh fennel bulbs (from about 2 lg)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 ounces potatoes, peeled, diced
2 cups (or more) canned low-salt chicken broth
1 tsp (or more) fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, finely crushed
1/4 tsp dried tarragon

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add fennel bulbs, onions, and potatoes; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until slightly softened, about 8 minutes. Add chicken broth and lemon juice; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly.

Meanwhile, bring cream fennel seeds, and tarragon to boil in heavy small saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 20 minutes so that flavors blend.

Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return soup to same pot. Stir in cream mixture. Simmer until flavors blend, thinning with more broth if desired, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and more lemon juice, if desired.

(This can be made 1 day ahead: Prepare soup, cool slightly. Chill until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm over medium heat, stirring occasionally.)

Cheesy Baked Tortellini
Giada De Laurentiis

Olive Oil
2 cups marinara sauce (I love Prego)
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 lb purchased cheese tortellini
2 oz thinly sliced smoked mozzarella
1/4 cup parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8x8 inch baking dish.

Whisk the sauce, mascarpone cheese, parsley and thyme in a large bowl to blend. Cook the tortellini in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain. Add the tortellini to the sauce and toss to coat. Transfer the tortellini mixture to the prepared baking dish. Top the mixture with the smoked mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheeses on top melt, about 30 minutes.

Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole

Cooking Light magazine, May 2007
(makes 6, 1-cup servings)

8 oz ciabatta bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
cooking spray
1 lb turkey breakfast sausage
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 large eggs
1 (8-oz) carton egg substitute
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400. Arrange bread cubes in a sinle layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 for 8 minutes, or until toasted.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray and brown sausage, stirring to crumble. Combine sausage, bread, and onions in large bowl. Combine milk, cheese, eggs, and egg substitute in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add milk mixture to bread mixture, tossing to coat bread. Spoon into a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350. Uncover casserole. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until set and lightly browned. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

BLrTwsbamyd - The Perfect Storm of Sandwiches

Today for lunch I had a BLrTwsbamyd, also known as a bacon-lettuce-roasted tomato-with-sourdough-bread-and-mom's-yummy-dip sandwich. It began simply enough, with just a desire for a good BLT. I purchased the needed ingredients: bacon, lettuce and tomatoes. The next day, I decided to oven-dry the tomatoes for a little twist (I'm such a dare devil!). The following day my mom came to visit and made the yummiest sourdough bread dip you can imagine. Today at lunch I decided it was time to create my much-anticipated sandwich.

I toasted the sourdough bread, slathered it with dip, added three oven-dried tomatoes, a leaf of crisp lettuce, topped with warm crispy bacon and another slice of toasted sourdough bread. I paused just long enough to photograph it, and then I inhaled it. It's very likely that this sandwich will never again occur. Bacon and sourdough bread are specialty items around my house and never last long. The bread dip my mom made, while very delicious, is not something that I'll always have on hand, and unless I need them for a recipe, I'm not sure I'll be oven-drying my tomatoes regularly. Ah, but it was a good sandwich. (insert wistful sigh here)

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
(great on pasta, or for just eating as a snack)

Slice tomatoes in half and place seeds-up on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 1 hour. Reduce heat to 200 degrees and bake tomatoes for 2 hours. Turn off oven and leave tomatoes in for 1 more hour. Remove from oven, cool and place in a bag to store.

( Yugoslavian cheese spread)

*great on sourdough bread, or as a dip for veggies*

1 8-oz box of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup feta cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Italian Herb Seasoning

In small bowl of electric mixer, beat all ingredients until light and fluffy. Spoon into a small serving dish. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 20-30 minutes before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Giveaway! Happy 100th Post!

With the posting of this week's menu, I have now officially hit the century mark. By way of celebration, I'm giving away one of my favorite (albeit small) things:

I found this adorable, yet functional notepad a couple of weeks ago and it has become a permanent part of my purse-stuffings. I write my grocery list in it, my books-to-check-out list, important phone numbers, and things needing to be done that I think of while waiting at red lights.

I love the little green elastic band that wraps around and keeps my important scribbles cozy. It prevents pennies, lip glosses & melted M&Ms from making a mess of my notes.

Now, I'm not going to give you MY actual notebook. No one is that lucky. Instead, I went back and purchased a new, clean one, ready to be mailed off to one of you lovely readers. To be entered in the drawing, just submit a comment to this post or another post during this week. (Your comment can even be, "ooh, ooh, pick me!") I'll put your names in a hat - or better yet, my favorite mixing bowl - and draw one out. I'll announce the winner on Sunday, August 26th.

Good luck, and keep cooking!

Week 25 Menu

Monday - Chicken Salad Croissants & corn on the cob
Tuesday - Simple Beef Stroganoff & Skillet Cornbread
Wednesday - Fajita Chicken Quesadillas
Thursday - Pork Chops w/ apples & onion
Friday - Crockpot BBQ Chicken
Saturday - Tacos
Sunday - Ratatouille au four (oven ratatouille)

Week 25 Recipes

Corn Bread Baked in a Skillet
from The Way We Cook

2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch ovenproof skillet (cast iron, or other). Beat eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl with a whisk until thoroughly blended. Add the buttermilk and whisk to combine.

Stir in the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt with a wooden spoon. Pour into skillet. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Set the skillet on a rack to cool. Cut bread into wedges and serve.

**note: This is one of the best corn breads I've had in a long time. We couldn't eat the whole thing the first night, so I left it in the pan and covered it with foil. While I cooked dinner the next night, I heated up the leftover cornbread in a 200 degree oven (still in the skillet covered with foil). Still delicious!

Pork Chops with Apples and Onions
from The Way We Cook

4 thick center-cut pork loin chops
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 medium apples, peeled, halved & thinly sliced
1 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper. In a large skillet with an ovenproof handle, heat the oil. When it is hot, add the butter. Brown the pork chops over high heat on both sides - about 2 minutes per side. Remove from pan.

Add the onion and apple slices to skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring often for 10 minutes or until the onion softens. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.

Pour the stock into the pan. Stir until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens slightly. Add the salt, pepper, and half of the thyme.

Return the pork chops to the pan and spoon some of the onion mixture over them. Place the skillet in the oven and roast the pork for 10 minutes or until the chops are cooked through.

Taste the sauce for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if you like. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbsp thyme before serving.

Brownie Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

I stumbled across a yummy-looking recipe on a blog called Just Recipes and I've been waiting for just the right moment to try it out. Yesterday our nieces and nephews came for a sleepover and I knew they would make the perfect guinea pigs for a new cookie recipe. My 4-year old nephew and 10-year old niece even offered to help - can't beat that!

Look at their flour-leveling skills! These two are well on their way to becoming my permanent soux chefs (is a head chef allowed two soux chefs?)

Well when the brownie cookies were done, we decided to make them sleepover-worthy by filling them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. They're very good cookies on their own, and simply divine in "sandwich" form.

Here is the link to the Brownie Cookies recipe, and I'll also post it below.

Brownie Cookies
(Original recipe by Lindsey Johnson)

14 Tbsp. butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1-2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whisk together:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place butter and unsweetened chocolate in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for several minutes on 50% power until melted. Whisk to combine. Add the brown sugar and the cocoa powder. Whisk well until smooth. Let the mixture cool slightly. Add egg and egg yolk, whisking well again. Add the vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients a little at a time and whisk well between additions. (You may need to switch to a wooden spoon towards the end. Add the chocolate chips

Use a small ice cream scoop (1 Tbsp. size) or two spoons to drop tablespoon size balls of dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake cookies for about 8-9 minutes. (Check a little before just to make sure...) The cookies will look dry on top, but will be soft in the middle.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet and then remove to a cooling rack to let the chocolate chips set before storing.

Makes about 3 dozen.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

My Secret Weapons

I have this recent need to perfect my bread-making skills. I figure if I'm going to have all of this wheat and flour in my food storage, then I darn well better know how to use it.

My latest experiment (around our house it's pronounced suh-periment) was a white/wheat bread recipe based on the Honey White Bread recipe I posted earlier. The only change I made was to substitute 1 cup of the white flour for wheat flour. It still turned out great - not too heavy. I might actually try 1 1/2 cups next time.

Now comes the part where I reveal my secret weapons. Yes, plural...weaponS.

#1: An electric knife
#2: A bread slicing guide

If you're going to bother making your own bread, you'll want your finished product to look as good as it smells, and these two tools do the trick. You place your beautiful loaf of bread in the guide, plug in your electric knife and slice away. The knife does all the work and slides right through the toughest crust. (It's great for turkey carving too!) You get a perfectly sliced loaf of bread ready to eat or freeze for later. No more sawing and mashing your bread. Wait. Now I'm sounding like an info-mercial. Anyway, now you know my secrets for great looking sliced bread.

note: I have to add that I was DYING to somewhere include the pun "it's the best thing since sliced bread" but I refrained out of respect to my readers.

Sign of a Great Cookbook

A few of you have asked where I find my recipes. My biggest source is the internet of course. My next best source is cookbooks that I check out from our library. If I like the book enough, I'll buy my own copy. I checked out this one a few days ago and I've already gone through it to mark recipes that I'd like to try. As you can see, this book has a lot of potential. I'll try a few recipes and if we like them, then I'll buy the book for my for-keepsies library. This week, the Corn & Pasta Salad and the Maple-glazed Chicken with Pears recipes are both from this book.

I added two recipes this week - Aloha Coleslaw & Tuna Waldorf-Esque Salad. I'll add the recipe for Zuchinni & Ravioli in Walnut Sauce later. That one still needs fine tuning.

Happy Cooking everyone!

Week 24 Recipes

Aloha Coleslaw
A colorful summer salad: a different twist on your usual coleslaw.

2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3 Tablespoons diced green onion
1/4 to 1/3 cup diced red pepper (can substitute orange or yellow)
1/2 shredded carrots
1/2 cup mayonnaise, or just enough to coat salad the way you like
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium to large bowl, combine cabbage, pineapple, cilantro, green onion, red pepper and carrots. Add mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar and stir to coat. Add more mayo if you like a creamier salad. Add salt and pepper to taste.

This salad may be made ahead of time, but the pineapple may create more juice. Drain before serving if necessary.

Tuna Waldorf-esque Salad
A great sandwich filler, a bit fancier than just plain tuna!

1 (6-oz) can tuna
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 green onion, diced
1 apple, cored and diced (Granny Smith recommended)
1/4 to 1/3 cup diced walnuts
3 Tbsp diced celery
mayonnaise or Miracle Whip (I prefer Miracle Whip)

Combine ingredients and add mayonnaise to your liking. (We prefer a drier tuna salad.) Taste, and add salt and pepper.

Week 24 Menu

Monday - Asian Coleslaw & Grilled Chicken
Tuesday - Robyn's Roast
Wednesday - BBQ Chicken Sandwiches and Corn & Pasta Salad
Thursday - Grilled Fajita Chicken Quesadillas
Friday - eat out
Saturday - Maple-glazed chicken w/ pears
Sunday - Zucchini & Ravioli in Walnut Sauce

Monday, August 6, 2007

Sneak Some Zucchinni Day

August 8th is "Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Night." No joke. Do a Google search if you don't believe me! I just felt it was my duty as your favorite food blogger to inform you. (I am your favorite, right?)

For your entertainment, I found the following link. It's a well-documented adventure of a family properly celebrating August 8th. It appears to be an annual celebration too.

Sneak Some Zucchini


No-Knead Bread

Ignore my well-used cutting board and take a look at this delicious, crusty bread! It's super easy - no kneading! The first time I made this recipe, I used an 8-qt dutch oven and it didn't rise as much. This time I used the 6-qt and it was perfect (thanks for lending me your dutch oven, Robyn). The original recipe can be found here, but I'll type it up below with the (very few) changes that I made.

I must add that my original thought on this recipe is that it would work great if I had minimal ingredients, and no electricity. In any situation, I'd be able to provide a life-sustaining meal for my family. We're supposed to be prepared for anything right? Because it uses a dutch oven, this recipe could be made using coals, but I haven't yet tried it.

(click here for original recipe)

No-Knead Bread
adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery

3 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
Cornmeal, wheat bran, or flour for dusting - as needed

1. In a large bowl, add flour and yeast. Whisk to combine. Then add salt. (If you add salt and yeast at the same time, the salt will kill the yeast). Add 1 5/8 cups water and stir until blended. Dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside. Let dough rest at least 12 hours at room temperature, about 70 degrees. (I let it rest 18 hours - mix it up in the evening and it's ready for tomorrow afternoon)

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface (a.k.a. your counter) and place dough on it. Sprinkle with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. If you use a quick, light touch, it won't stick too bad to your fingers. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let dough rest about 15 minutes. (Instead of plastic wrap, I just cover the dough with the bowl it just came out of.)

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface and your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into ball. Cover a large, clean bowl with a cotton towel (not terry cloth). Sprinkle flour, cornmeal or wheat bran on towel (I use a bit of wheat bran, and mostly flour). Set ball of dough on top of towel so it sinks down into the bowl. Dust dough with more flour, bran and/or cornmeal. Cover with another towel or plastic wrap and let rise 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, place a 6-qt heavy, covered pot (cast iron/dutch oven, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven and heat oven to 450 degrees. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot. It might look like a mess, but it will turn out fine! Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 25-30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15-30 minutes until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

(My favorite part is hearing the crust crackle and pop as it cools!)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

What IS that?

Eggplant. Never tried one? Me neither. My son gaped in horror as I placed one into our shopping cart Saturday. "What is that, and do we have to eat it?" Even the check-out clerks had no idea what it was. Are they really that rare? I had no idea. Monday's meal is chock-full of eggplant, and I'll let you know what I think. Take into consideration that the innocent little eggplant will be absolutely smothered in a creamy, cheesy sauce. It has a better chance of getting rave reviews that way.

Week 23 Menu

Monday - Eggplant Gratin & No-Knead Bread
Tuesday -Easy Baked Manicotti
Wednesday - Unbelievable Chicken & Corn on the cob
Thursday - Hot Dogs, Chips & Potato Salad
Friday - eat out
Saturday - pesto pasta & Erin's Pan Bread
Sunday - Vegetable Frittata

Week 23 Recipes

Just one recipe this week, but it's fabulous!

Carmel Apple Dip
(from the Frost sisters)

1 cup brown sugar
1 8-oz block of cream cheese

Bring cream cheese to room temperature. In a small bowl, mix brown sugar and cream cheese until blended. That's it!