Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Soup from Scratch

Since I appear to be channeling Little Suzy Homemaker, I figured I should just go hog wild and use the carcass of my less than perfect roasted chicken to make homemade chicken stock. I found a recipe for Basic Chicken Stock on a blog called Vintage Victuals. The recipe is adapted from The Joy of Cooking. The whole thing is so simple I can't believe I didn't try this sooner!

As a kid, I remember my mom making chicken stock. It seemed like soooo much work. Of course my mom made it on the stove using a recipe we saw on Martha's show called Everyday. It took all day. I remember not being able to do anything or go anywhere because we had to baby sit that simmering pot. I swear Martha makes everything more difficult than it has to be.

The recipe I used from Vintage Victuals doesn't need to be monitored at all. It uses a crockpot! Brilliant!!! I tossed all the ingredients into the crockpot and let the whole mess stew overnight. In the morning, I had stock that was cheaper and more flavorful than anything I could have found at the store. Mrblocko and I picked through the bones and recovered enough meat to make a hearty chicken omelet for breakfast.

What did I make with the stock? Cinderella wedding soup! ( I wrote about the Italian Wedding Soup in a previous post. I link the recipe in that post.) This time I used half orzo and half alphabet noodles. Blockette thinks the alphabet noodles are the best noodles EVER. She gave us a narrative of what letters she was eating throughout the entire meal.
This photo gives you an idea of how much soup this recipe yields. There are four containers on the bottom shelf and if you look closely there is a half full container on the top shelf. The tall containers hold four cups. These are the leftovers after we ate dinner. Like I said...a lot of soup. Good thing the soup freezes well!

The only issue I have with this recipe was that the broth became a bit gray after sitting in the fridge overnight. I think this may have been because I didn't strain my chicken stock through cheese cloth. The color could also be a result of boiling the noodles in the stock. All the starch from cooking the noodles remains in the soup. While this probably results in a more flavorful noodle, I think the starches make the broth on the murky side.

Basic Chicken Stock from Vintage victuals
1 chicken carcass
4 quarts of water
10 pepper corns
6 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon thyme
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
3 ribs of celery, roughly chopped

Place the chicken carcass in your crock pot. Pour the water over it and add the rest of the ingredients. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours; on high 3-5 hours. I left this batch on low overnight. Strain. Freezes well.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Roasted Chicken, Take One

I've never roasted a chicken before. I thought it was about time I gave it a go. Why not when roaster chickens were on sale for $.88/pound? Usually, when I try something new, I like to have Mrblocko around for moral support. That was the plan, but he was unexpectedly detained at work. I was on my own. I gave myself a little pep talk and told myself "You can do this!"

The recipe I used came from Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake. Her recipe is called Martha's Perfect Roast Chicken. It's adapted from Good ol' Martha Stewart. She's gotta know a thing or two about cooking. Doesn't she? At least the people who she pays to write her recipe's should. The recipe seemed simple enough....I followed the recipe VERY carefully. I didn't have a lemon so I stuffed the bird with an orange instead. Not a major change. Certainly nothing that would alter how the chicken cooked in the oven.

Desperately in need of some encouragement, I called my best friend MrsThunder. She's never roasted a chicken either, at least not successfully. (There was an incident with a roaster chicken and a crockpot. Let's just say things did not go as planned.) Specifically, I wanted to know if she thought it would be ok to use white embroidery thread instead of twine to truss the chicken. She agreed that it would be a suitable substitute. Then we got to talking about how I was cooking the chicken. She asked what I had my oven set to. I told her the recipe said 450. There was a slight intake of air and she said, "That seems kind of high." She went on her computer and did a quick search on roasting chicken and most recipes she found said to cook the bird around 350-375. By this time I was 30 minutes into a 50 minute cook time. I think I said something like, "Well, wish me luck."

I took the chicken out of the oven after 50 minutes and stuck my meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, like the recipe instructed. The temp read 180. I panicked. The recipe said that the temp should read 165. I worried that I had ruined it and overcooked the chicken. The chicken sat for 20 minutes (10 minutes longer than the recipe stated). I cut into the breast and nice clear liquid came out. That's a good sign I thought. Doesn't it look pretty?Then, pinkish liquid oozed out as I started removing pieces of meat. It pooled up and over my cutting board, down the counter, down the cabinets and on the floor. I grabbed a bowl and held it under the rim of the counter to catch the juices. I yelled for Blockette to come and hold the bowl. She started freaking out and said, "Mommy the chicken is NEVER going to stop leaking! Why is the chicken leaking???!!"

I transferred the chicken to a lasagna pan so it could catch the juices and I could still continue to carve it. I relieved Blockette from her juice catching duties and proceeded to clean up the huge mess in the kitchen. As I resumed carving the bird, I found the meat in the center was not completely cooked. I shrugged my shoulders and continued massacring the carcass and put all the chicken in a bowl.

We couldn't very well have chicken and gravy for dinner, not without serious hazard to our digestive tracts. I took half the chicken I removed from the bones and tossed it into a skillet with some taco seasoning and water. Viola, we had chicken tacos for dinner, with plenty left over for um...leftovers. The other half I divided in half again and mixed one part with BBQ sauce and the other with Peking sauce. I separated them into individual portions, and froze them for Mrblocko to take with him to work for lunch.

I really wanted this to work and I can't figure out why it didn't. Obviously it worked for Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake or she wouldn't have posted it on her blog. Maybe it's my oven? Next time I'm going to cook the roaster chicken at a lower temp for a longer time. Hopefully that will be the solution! I'll also make sure that Mrblocko is around to lend a hand so I don't have to traumatize our 4 year old again with an endlessly leaking chicken. Bawk Bawk!

Martha's Perfect Roast Chicken from Ezra Pound Cake
For the Chicken:
1 fresh whole chicken (about 4 pounds)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lemon, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
4 sprigs rosemary
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

For Pan Sauce:
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

To Prepare the Chicken: Heat oven to 450 F. Remove giblets and liver from cavity; discard. Let chicken rest at room temperature 1 hour. Trim excess fat from cavity. Rinse chicken thoroughly under cold water, inside and out, then pat dry, making sure the cavity is as dry as possible. Season cavity with salt and pepper, then stuff with lemon, rosemary and garlic. Rub skin with 2 tablespoons butter. Tie chicken’s legs together with twine. Season all over generously with salt and pepper.

To Roast: Place chicken in a large ovenproof skillet or small roasting pan (fitted with rack, if desired). Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (avoiding bone) registers 165 F, 50 to 55 min. Transfer chicken to a platter. Let rest 10 minu.

To Make Pan Sauce: Spoon and discard fat from juices in pan; pour accumulated juices in chicken cavity and plate into pan. Place pan over med-high heat. Pour in wine or stock to deglaze pan, stirring and scraping up browned bits with a wooden spoon. Cook until reduced by half, then pour through a small fine sieve into a liquid measuring cup. Return to skillet and add 1 tablespoon butter, swirling pan until melted and incorporated. Carve chicken and serve with pan sauce.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Focaccia Bread and Crockpot Lasagna

First things first, I gotta talk about this blitz bread. It has totally rocked my world. It's a yeast bread but it requires no kneading. I don't have much luck with kneading. I always end up with a big club hand of dough.

This bread is slightly thicker than focaccia bread you'd buy at the store. You don't need to knead the bread because you don't want a lot of rise from it. Focaccia is supposed to be a thinner bread. I've made no knead bread before, and it takes a long time. The classic no knead bread has several long rise times, and a long baking time in a super hot oven. Not so with this bread. It only calls for an hour long rise time, and you bake it at 375 for 40 minutes. Bread that you can make in under 2 hours? I'm all over that!

The recipe says to beat at high speed with a hand mixer. Know what? I didn't even do that. I thought the dough might be too sticky and strain the motor on my hand mixer. I just used a good old fashioned spoon and mixed the dough as fast as I could for a minute. This worked great! The dough still rose very nicely. I think it even rose a bit more than I expected.

I had a half cup of feta cheese I wanted to use up, so I tossed that in. I wouldn't go out of my way to put it in next time. It didn't do anything to improve the flavor of the bread in my opinion. If I had leftover feta I'd add it again, but only if I didn't have another use for it. It's definitely not necessary.

I had gotten a free container of Pasta sprinkle from Penzeys and I thought this bread would be a perfect use for the spice blend. It contains California basil, Turkish oregano, minced garlic and thyme. I also substituted garlic powder for the garlic salt. I thought the bread would be salty enough with the other salt in the recipe. It worked wonderfully, and made the bread extra garlic-y. Yay!

Next time I'll try baking this in two 8 inch cake pans. The 9x13 loaf was a lot for us to eat before it got stale. I'll try freezing one loaf to see how that works. I know quick bread freezes nicely, but I'm not sure about yeasted bread. It will be interesting to see if it gets gummy after being defrosted.
I've mentioned on here before that I'm not one of those people who thinks lasagna is a complicated dish. You can prep it all the night before and then stick it in the oven when you're ready to cook it. There's nothing much more simple than that, or so I thought. Enter Kraft's Slow cooker lasagna. I assembled the dish the night before in the liner of my crock pot. In the afternoon I took to out of the fridge and let it simmer in the crock pot until dinner. Between this and the bread, the house smelled like heaven. Blockette started asking if we could have dinner around 3:30.

I used Meijer's brand roasted red pepper and garlic pasta sauce. Even though I prefer Ragu brand's chunkier pasta, I find myself gravitating to the Meijer's brand because of the roasted red pepper flavor. I don't know when it happened, but somewhere along the line I've seemed to acquire a taste for roasted red peppers. I never seem to have the time or forethought to roast some ahead of time to add to my favorite pasta sauce. I guess Ragu does make a roasted red pepper flavor, but my Meijer's doesn't carry it. I think it's just so I will buy the Meijer's brand. I've got that much clout. Well I should. I'm there enough.

Anyhow, as I get back on track... I only made one substitution in this recipe. I used small curd low fat cottage cheese instead of the icky ricotta. And all was right with the world. The End.

Blitz Bread from Mel's Kitchen Cafe
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil (plus additional for drizzling)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 cups (14 ¾ ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
3 teaspoons dried herbs
dried herbs for sprinkling

Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ pan, and drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in the bottom. Combine all of the ingredients, except the dried herbs for sprinkling, and beat at high speed with an electric mixer for 60 seconds. Scoop the sticky batter into the prepared pan, cover the pan, and let it rise at room temperature for 60 minutes, till it is puffy.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F. Gently poke the dough all over with your index finger. Drizzle it lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with the dried herbs of your choice, if desired. Bake the bread till it’s golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove it from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*To make cheese-stuffed bread: Add 1 cup crumbled feta cheese to the dough after it’s been kneaded for 60 seconds.

Kraft's Slow Cooker Lasagna
1 lb. ground beef
1 jar (24 oz.) spaghetti sauce
1 cup water
1 container (15 oz.) P Ricotta Cheese
1 pkg. (7 oz.)Shredded Mozzarella Cheese, divided
1/4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese, divided
1 egg
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
6 lasagna noodles, uncooked
Make It

BROWN meat in large skillet; drain. Stir in spaghetti sauce and water. Mix ricotta, 1-1/2 cups mozzarella, 2 Tbsp. Parmesan, egg and parsley. SPOON 1 cup meat sauce into slow cooker; top with layers of half each of the noodles (broken to fit) and cheese mixture. Cover with 2 cups meat sauce. Top with remaining noodles (broken to fit), cheese mixture and meat sauce. Cover with lid. COOK on LOW 4 to 6 hours or until liquid is absorbed. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses; let stand, covered, 10 min or until melted.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Baked Lemon Noodles

This dish was very lemony and it was totally 100% my fault. I can't even blame the cats.

Apparently I'm losing the ability to read. I see the words but they don't get processed by the ol' noggin. This recipe for baked lemon pasta would have turned out much better had I read the directions properly. Instead of giving half a lemon a squeeze when preparing the creamy sauce, I squeezed the bejeezus out of the entire lemon. What I should have done was give the lemon a squeeze into the sauce, then squeeze a bit more juice over the dish after it gets baked. I also sprinkled parsley and Parmesan over the top before I popped it in the oven. It would have been better if I put it on after the dish had baked.

I can't wait to make these noodles again and not screw it up.

Baked Lemon Noodles from The Pioneer Woman
1 pound Thin Spaghetti
4 Tablespoons Salted Butter
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, Minced
1 whole Lemon, Juiced And Zested
2 cups Sour Cream
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt, Or More To Taste
Plenty Of Grated Parmesan Cheese
Flat-leaf Parsley, Chopped
Extra Lemon Juice

Preheat oven to 375. Cook spaghetti until al dente. In a skillet, melt butter with olive oil over LOW HEAT. When butter is melted, add minced garlic. Squeeze lemon juice into the pan. Turn off heat. Add sour cream and stir mixture together. Add lemon zest and salt. Taste, then add more salt if necessary. Pour mixture over drained spaghetti and stir together, then pour spaghetti into an oven safe dish.
Bake, covered, for 15 min. Then remove foil and bake for an additional 7-10 min. (Don’t bake too long or the pasta will dry out.) When you remove it from the oven, squeeze a little more lemon juice over the top. Top generously with Parmesan cheese, then chopped parsley. Give it a final squeeze of lemon juice at the end.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Baklava...still hates me

Why do I keep attempting baklava? Why? Why do I keep doing this to myself? I swear Baklava has declared me it's arch enemy. At least this version was less disastrous than previous attempts.

The very first time I tried to make baklava I the honey mixture I was boiling on the stove overflowed. I never knew how viscous warm honey truly is. Honey got all over the burner, stove top, oven door, kitchen floor and under the oven. No matter how often or hard I scrubbed, my feet were sticky whenever I stood at the stove. Luckily, that was back when I didn't do much cooking. I was able to ignore the issue quite nicely. This happened back when I was living in an apartment. Coincidentally, Mrblocko and I moved into our first house shortly after this incident. I still wonder if the next people to live in that apartment had an ant problem because I was to lazy to clean up the honey from under the stove.

Attempt number two came several years later. I had been cooking more frequently and had gained loads more confidence in the kitchen. I was extremely careful with the honey mixture, making sure it didn't boil over. This time it was the phyllo that gave me the trouble. I mentioned in Phyllo victory that the thin sheets of pastry have caused me pains in the past. I thought I was being careful. No matter what I did the sheets started to dry out as I was brushing on the butter. Wasn't the butter supposed to prevent this from happening? I guess not. By the time the phyllo met the baking pan, it was crispy.

I assumed I could make it better by putting the nuts and honey mixture on it. Surely the honey would soak into the phyllo and rehydrate it as it baked. NOPE! The only thing that happened was the phyllo didn't cook up and got too gummy to cut into squares. Only the inch or so along the edge was edible.

I got so angry at myself that I vowed I would never attempt to make baklava ever again. Of course then I saw a recipe called Lazy Cook's Baklava. I thought how could I possibly mess that up? There's no phyllo, and you don't heat up the honey! Famous last words.

Several months ago I accidentally grabbed puff pastry shells instead of the sheets. I came across this particular baklava recipe searching for a way to use them up. I've never used the shells before and I guess I didn't read the directions well enough, or just didn't understand what I was supposed to do.
Notice that the pastry isn't puffed up very high. The original recipe called for mini shells. I had the regular sized ones. I different could they be? I'll just adjust the bake time and add the nuts half way through. Not exactly. Had I read the directions on the box correctly I would have known that you bake the pastry to the full time, then take out the circular part that had the word "Top" imprinted on it.

What did I do? I smashed down that top part and added the nuts. This, of course, suppressed the rising of the shells' exterior. The result? Icky under cooked centers. The edges were tasty though. Mrblocko made me promise to try this one more time. Next time I'll try them with the mini shells. Hopefully, then baklava will decide that I'm a swell lady and raise the white flag.

Lazy Cook's Baklava from Noble Pig
1 box (2.1 ounce) frozen mini fillo shells
1/3 cup chopped pistachios
1/3 cup chopped cashews
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon water

Chop pistachios, cashews and almonds. Combine into one mixture. Fill shells with nuts and bake in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes or until shells are lightly browned.Mix honey with water. Remove the cups from the oven and spoon in honey mixture (really fill them up). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Ripple

I was very pleased how this pumpkin harvest bread from Cookie madness turned out. I think the chocolate ripple looks like a big smile. It's like the bread is glad to have chocolate in it's belly. I'm not sure how the ripple wound up looking like this. A truly happy accident! I first tried the chocolate pumpkin combo in cookies about 2 years ago. I thought the fusion of flavors was peculiar. I'm glad I got over my self and gave it a whirl. Pumpkin and chocolate are best buds. This bread is no exception.

I was surprised that this bread wasn't more moist. Don't misunderstand me, this bread was by no means dry. I'm used to quick bread that contains zucchini or banana. They tend to be very moist, sometimes a bit too moist. Does anyone else have that problem? By day three, the fruit based quick bread I make always gets sticky and gooey. Maybe it's just me.

The next time I make this I'm going to try it in mini loaves. That way I can freeze some and not gorge myself by eating half a loaf for breakfast!

Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Ripple from Cookie Madness
2 cups all purpose flour (9 oz)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup vegetable oil
½ cup milk
2 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup canned pumpkin (or sweet potato)
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
2 1/2 oz melted chocolate — bittersweet

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9×5" metal loaf pan with flour-added cooking spray. Mix flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon, clovers and ginger; set aside. Mix oil, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and pumpkin in a mixing bowl. Stir in flour mix. Before flour mix is completely mixed in, add nuts. Spoon out 1 c pumpkin mix and stir it with melted chocolate. Layer 1/2 pumpkin mix in pan. Spread chocolate batter over te pumpkin batter then top with final layer of pumpkin batter. Bake on center rack for 55 minutes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Autumn in your Crock pot

This dish makes your house smell so wonderful, and it tastes better than it smells. I got this recipe for autumn sausage crockpot from A Year of Slow Cooking. She describes this dish as "eating a bowl full of Fall." I told Mrblocko that before we ate it the first time. After the first bite he exclaimed, "OMG! She was right."This is a recipe that I keep in rotation all throughout the Fall and Winter. It's that time of year again! Woot woot! Doncha just love it when it starts getting cooler out? It's like nature is giving you permission to fill the house with the aroma of baked goods. Ok, so the crockpot isn't the same as using the oven to bake, but it stinks up the house just as perty.

The recipe doesn't specify, but in the past I've used regular raisins. This time I only had golden raisins. The dish has a better color composition with the regular raisins. Next time I'll save the golden raisins for baking. The other change I made to the recipe was to increase the carrots. 1/4 cup seemed to be a bit stingy for my liking. (If I remember correctly, this time I used 2 large carrots.) I also like to use 2 different types of apples to mix up the flavors. The dish should be even more colorful, but I had to peel the apples in order to appease Mrblocko. He doesn't like apple peal. (tisk tisk)

Autumn Sausage Casserole from A Year of Slow Cooking
1 pound sausage (I used chicken with artichoke and garlic)
1 large, or 2 small apples, chopped (no need to peel)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped carrots
3 cups already cooked long-grain rice
1/2 cup raisins
1 T dried parsley flakes
1 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup chicken broth or water

The amount of ingredients fit nicely in a 4 quart crockpot. If you are going to use uncooked pork sausage, I'd recommend browning on the stove top, and draining before adding to the crockpot. Otherwise, dump all the ingredients into the crock, and stir well. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours, or on high for 3-4. You're really only heating through, and allowing the vegetables to soften. This will not stick together like a gloppy casserole; it has the consistency of fried rice. Use bowls to serve rather than plates.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cat Couture

This weekend the cats were particularly docile. Those of you who have cats know what that means, time to annoy the heck out of them!!!

Boo, on the left is sporting a lovely blue eyemask. Basil, on the right is looking particularly smart in a Joann Fabric's 40% off coupon.
I think Boo looks a bit like the ladies in this picture from the 15th century. Coincidence that this is Queen Isabeau? Or should we say Is-a-Boo?

Basil, on the other hand, looks kind of like this guy, sporting a bicorn hat circa the early 1800's. Too bad Basil doesn't have mutton chops. It would totally complete the look.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Super Easy Sugar Cookies

For some reason I don't have much luck with things requiring a rolling pin, namely sugar cookies and pie crusts. You can imagine my excitement when I saw a recipe for Easy sugar cookies on Real Mom Kitchen. You don't need a rolling pin as these are drop sugar cookies. I never even knew such a thing existed. Thank you Real Mom Kitchen!

I used my handy dandy oxo scoop that I'm always yammering on about. It took a bit of experimenting to find the right size. The small scoop came out too small and the large scoop was way too big. I don't have the medium scoop, so I used the large scoop, cut them in half and rolled the dough back into balls before popping them into the oven. These were also made for Mrblocko's family reunion. I felt bad only bringing the Giant chocolate chip cookies, as they only make 12. These were not as big of a hit as the Giant cookies, but the kids liked them.

Blockette is all geared up for Halloween. She doesn't understand that it is over a month away. If the stores are all decked out it must mean that Halloween is tomorrow. I told her that Halloween wasn't for a while, but we could decorate the cookies in Halloween colors if she wanted. Oh, yes. She wanted.
I let her pick out the colors for the frosting. (I just used the stuff in the can. Nuthin fancy.) Blockette told me when the colors were mixed to the hue she desired. (That purple turned out quite electric didn't it?)I had some Halloween sprinkles left over from last year. The sprinkles were her job. This was the first time I gave her complete free reign with the sprinkles. I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the sprinkles actually made it on top of the cookies. I was expecting half of them to wind up decorating the floor.

I would make these cookies again, simply because they were so fun and easy. I do prefer the taste of the more traditional roll out sugar cookies though. Someday I'm going to have to get the courage up to make friends with my rolling pin.

(Edited to add, the link now says there is malware attached to the website!)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Readin in Style

Blockette is ALL about the fairies. She loves us to read her books about Tinkerbell and her friends in Pixie Hollow. I saw this cross stitch kit back in August at JoAnn Fabrics and I knew I had to make it for the little shorty short pants. I finished stitching it some time ago, but finally got around to making it into a bookmark. Blockette is over the moon in love with it.
The kit had enough thread to stitch 2 bookmarks. Anyone want one stitched up for their own shorty short pants? I'll make one for the first person to leave a comment!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie

I always hate it when people post things on their blog saying such and such is the best. What is the best? Especially when it comes to cookies, people's "best" cover a wide spectrum. Some people like their cookies crispy, others chewy, and others go ga-ga over the cake-y versions. When it comes to chocolate chip cookies in particular, I'm in the chewy category. I'm not going to say Lisa's Levain Bakery copycat Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe "evah", but it is my favorite.

This recipe is one of several attempts to copy the recipe for chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery. The cookies from this bakery are touted as "The most divine chocolate chip cookies in Manhattan" by the New York Times. Having never sampled any cookies from Manhattan, I've no idea the accuracy of that statement.

I've never actually had a cookie from Levain Bakery. I probably never will. I've no intention or desire to travel to New York, let alone Manhattan. Oh sure, I could purchase some online and have them shipped to my house, but $22 for four 6 oz. cookies, I think I'll live blissfully in ignorance.
Whether or not this recipe yields a precise replica of the Levain Cookie, I don't really care. All I know, is I love the cookies from this recipe. While the Levain Bakery's cookies are 6 oz, I make mine about 4 oz. This means that the recipe only makes 12 cookies.

I don't think I've ever been able to eat an entire cookie in one sitting. (If you click on the photo you can see that the cookie is about 4 inches in diameter, and almost an inch thick at the highest point in the middle.) If they are too big for individual portions, why not make them smaller? Their size is the key to their deliciousness.

Because the cookies are so enormous, the insides remain slightly cookie dough-like. I love me some cookie dough, but I'm not a fan of salmonella, particularly when it is attacking my own digestive track. This cookie provides a solution to that problem, with the added bonus of having the more fully baked cookie around the edges.

I made these cookies last year for my husband's family reunion, and it was requested that I make them again this year. This time around I used semi-sweet chocolate chunks instead of chips. I have no idea which version I like better as I didn't get to test a single cookie from this batch. People snatched these cookies off the dessert table before lunch was even served.

Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives
makes 12 cookies

2 sticks ‘cold and cubed’ unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 1/4 to 3 1/2 c flour (dough should be moist, kind of like cold cookie dough in a tube.)
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
3/4-1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 cups good quality semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (I usually use half semisweet and half milk chocolate AND, a little birdy told me they use Guittard)
1 cup walnuts (Toast the nuts for more flavor)

Preheat oven to 350 F. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream butter and sugars til well blended and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat til well incorporated. Add flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and mix until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chunks and nuts. Transfer dough to clean work surface and gently mix dough by hand to ensure even distribution of ingredients. Divide into 12 equal portions, **about 4 oz each.. Place each on sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake in the preheated oven 16-23 min depending on how gooey and raw’ish you like the middles (I bake mine at 375 for 18-20 min, as I prefer a less raw interior), until very lightly browned, taking care not to overbake. Let cool on rack and store what you don’t immediately eat, in an airtight container. To freshen them after a few days (if they last that long), give them a quick nuke in the microwave for 5-10 seconds.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mort and Snerd

When I was little, my Dad would joke that because he grew up near Lake Superior he knew all the seagulls. If we ever saw 2 seagulls together, one was always Mort and the other one was Snerd. To this day I have no idea what that was all about. I tried to Google it but only came up with sites related to Mortimer Snerd. Did you know there is a Mortimer Snerd who is a political blogger? A Mortimer Snerd ventriloquist's dummy? and A Mortimer Snerd rock band from the 70's?Anyhow, so you can see this design features both Mort and Snerd, and several of their friends flying in the background, who are also named Mort and Snerd.

The colors are a bit off from what they should be. The design was charted for Anchor threads. Since Anchor brand threads are a bit difficult to find on this side of the Atlantic, I swapped them out for DMC. DMC and Anchor don't have an exact conversion, so the end result has more gray tones than the original.

The gray values remind me of a humid summer day, probably an Ozone Action Day. Except...they don't call them Ozone Action Days anymore. Now they're called Air Pollution Action days, and they are on a color scale. If I had to guess, I'd say this was an Orange Day. Remember folks, Green Pays on Green Days, but Orange Days make a nice cross stitch.

Scene in the Dunes is a freebie from Wishful Thinking

Monday, September 14, 2009

Veggie pancakes

If shredding soft chocolate didn't endear me to my food processor, these veggie pancakes most certainly did. My food processor is so totally awesome!!!! It rocks hard core to the EXTREME!!! The old one was so small I would have to empty the bowl several times before all the ingredients were shredded. The new machine was able to hold all the shredded veggies at once. Not having to disassemble and reassemble the processor multiple times sure cuts down on prep time. Plus, there was the added benefit that the machine actually shredded the veggies in nice neat strips. (Even raw sweet potato!!!!) Wait, a food processor is supposed to do that? oh. Guess that old one really did suck.

This recipe is both good and bad for you. It uses a fair amount of oil to fry up the pancakes, but you are getting your family to eat lots of veggies. Ya win some, ya lose some. I try to think of it as a stepping stone dish. If they like the pancakes then you can say, "Well you liked X ingredient in that dish, let's try it prepared a little differently." Most of the time this works with Blockette (and sometimes even with Mrblocko!).

I've found that frying up these pancakes goes much quicker if you use 2 pans. I'm not coordinated enough to watch 2 pans at the same time without burning the pancakes. This is one of those dishes I only make on the weekends when Mrblocko is around to be the sous chef. Another time saver is to use a large ice cream/cookie scoop to portion out the pancakes. A 1/4 cup measure works fine, but using a scooper speeds things up quite a bit.

The recipe link above includes a recipe for a dipping sauce. I've never made it before because I'm not super keen on curry. We eat ours smeared with butter or sour cream. Oh, and of course, with sausage on the side. We woudn't want to go crazy and eat a meal sans meat.

Veggie Pancakes from Smitten Kitchen Makes about 24 pancakes.
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 medium onion, peeled
1 large russet or Idaho potato, peeled
1 yam or sweet potato, peeled
1 large or 2 thin carrots, peeled
1 zucchini
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
A pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 200°F. Place two nonstick baking sheets in oven. In small saucepan, bring salted water to boil. Add peas and cook, uncovered, until heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, then rinse in colander under cool, running water. Set aside in colander to drain completely. Using box grater or food processor fitted with grating disc, coarsely grate onion, potatoes, carrot and zucchini and place in colander set in sink, setting aside to drain. In large mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs. Whisk in flour, coriander, turmeric, and cumin. Mix in ginger, cilantro, and peas. Press potatoes and onion to extract as much liquid as possible, then add to bowl. Season mixture with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Using wooden spoon or hands, mix well, but do not overwork.In heavy-bottomed, 12" non-stick skillet over moderately high heat, heat 1-2 tablespoons oil til hot but not smoking. Drop 4 scant 1/4-c portions of potato mix into pan and flatten with spatula to form four 3-inch pancakes. Fry until bottoms are golden-brown (the color really counts on this; the darker you let it go, the more the pancake holds together – this goes for both sides.), 4-5 min, then turn over and fry until golden-brown and crisp, an additional 4-5 min. Transfer to paper towels to drain; season immediately with salt and pepper. Keep warm on baking sheets in oven while making remaining pancakes. Using paper towels, carefully wipe out pan. And 1 T oil to the pan and fry 4 more pancakes. Repeat with remaining batter, wiping out pan and adding 1 to 2 T oil before each batch.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Buffalo chicken meatloaf

Let me start out with saying I swore Blockette was going to turn her nose up at this. After the first bite she exclaimed, "Mommy, you gotta make this again!" That kid, she's always full of surprises. I didn't even have to pull out the big guns and tell her this was something they eat on The Biggest Loser. Boy does she love that show. It's a great bribe. I can't count how many times I've said, "If you don't ____ you wont be able to watch The Biggest Loser." Strangely Mrblocko and I weren't that jazzed about it. The meatloaf was on the soupy side before I put it in the oven. It needed to cook for 45 minutes before the juices ran clear. It hadn't set like a normal meatloaf so I let it sit on the counter for 10-15 minutes before turning out onto cutting board. It didn't fall apart, but it wasn't dense like a regular meatloaf. I'm guessing it is due to all the veggie add ins.

If Blockette wasn't so over the moon about this meatloaf I probably wouldn't make this again. How can you say no to a healthy meal that a kid wants to eat? She even requested the leftovers the next day.

I think Mrblocko and I will like the meatloaf more if it holds together better. To achieve this I'll use less milk, probably use a 1/3 cup instead of a half cup. I'll also try using only one egg white. If during the assembly process the mixture doesn't seem to hold up as well, then I'll add the second egg white. Both Mrblocko and I thought this meatloaf tasted best right out of the oven, so instead of making it in the normal 9x5 pan, I'll use 2 mini loaf pans. We'll eat one loaf right away and freeze the other one for another meal. This was not a microwave friendly leftover, and not great cold like a normal meatloaf. If I freeze the other half of the meat mixture, we won't have to worry about reheating the leftovers.

As always, Mrblocko smothered his portion with more hot sauce, and a bit of ranch dressing. Blockette and I ate ours without any sauces or dips. Blockette usually has to have some sort of dipping sauce on her plate. She didn't even ask, not even for the leftovers. That speaks volumes on how much she liked this meal.

Buffalo chicken Blue Cheese Meatloaf (from The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook)
2/3 c old fashioned oats
1/2 c skim milk
2 1/2 T hot sauce
1 lb ground chicken
1/2 c finely chopped celery
1/4 c shredded carrot
1/4 c finely chopped sweet onion
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp salt
2 oz (1/2 c) reduced fat blue cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly coat a 9x5x3 inch pan with cooking spray. Mix oats and milk in a medium bowl. Let stand 3 min, until the oats soften. Stir in hot sauce until mixed well. Add chicken, celery, carrot, onion, egg, and salt. Mix well. Gently add in the blue cheese crumbles. Spread mixture flat into prepared pan. Bake 35-40 minutes. Cut into 8 slices. Serves 4.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tasty Boogers and Goo

This summer Omnomicon had a recipe round robin blind testing 11 chocolate chip recipes. Bubbe's Fantastic Recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies got the blue ribbon. I thought that if it won the contest I'd best get to baking to try this marvelous cookie for myself.

What makes this recipe different from regular chocolate chip cookies is it contains ground oatmeal and shredded milk chocolate. Did someone say grinding and shredding???? Yahooo! Perfect excuse to give my swanky new food processor a whirl. (Thanks mom!!!!!)

Wow. Did that processor work like a dream. The oatmeal was ground in seconds. It would have taken my old machine a few minutes. It was so quiet and so fast I started giggling. Blockette, who was helping asked, "Mommy? Do you like your new toy?" Sweet sassy molassy does mommy love her new toy. My love for our new kitchen companion grew exponentially when I shredded the chocolate. The chocolate was on the soft side so I was sceptical. That food processor shredded up the chocolate effortlessly. Super dreamy! It would have taken me so long to shred by hand, and the heat generated from my old machine would have melted the chocolate into a lump as it shredded it.

Ah, give that photo a good lookie loo. See those small brown flecks? That is the shredded milk chocolate. If there's one thing I like in a chocolate chip cookie it's evenly distributed chocolate. You definitely get chocolate in each bite with this cookie.

As these cookies were coming together, Blockette peered into the bowl and exclaimed, "EWWWWW! That looks like boogers and goo!" I laughed at her and replied, "Really? Then I guess I get to eat yours." She came back with a quick, "But I think it looks like tasty boogers and goo." I don't think I want to know how she knows what tasty boogers and goo looks like. Somethings are best left in the dark.

Over all, these cookies weren't as fantastic as I'd hoped. Maybe I envisioned them to be over the top since they were reviewed as "the best." They were good, just not the best chocolate chip cookie in my book. The oatmeal made them quite dry and crumbly after a few days. When they became dry I made them into ice cream sandwiches, using dulce de leche ice cream. Yup, that solved the dry issue, especially when you let the ice cream get on the soft side so it melts into the cookie. Nummers!

I used my large oxo scoop and the recipe yielded 40 large cookies. This was only slightly more than 3 dozen the recipe states. I think the cookies could have been a bit smaller. If they were smaller they would have made more manageable ice cream sandwiches too.

The bottom line is I still prefer cookies that contain oatmeal to be paired with raisins or butterscotch chips. If you like chocolate chip's and oatmeal together, this version is worth a test drive.

Bubbe’s Fantastic Recipe for Choc Chip Cookies from Omnomicon yields 3 dozen cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 cups oatmeal, ground to mealy texture
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
12 oz chocolate chips [2 cups]
4 oz grated hershey bar [this amounts to 18.5 rectangles from the Big Bar. Food Processor is awesome, but freeze if you are gonna grate by hand)
1 cup chopped nuts of choice

Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla and beat til fluffy. Mix dry ingredients and add to egg mix. Stir in chips, nuts, and hershey bar. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a lined cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 6-8 min. check in at 6 min, and then every 2 min after that til you can see a little bit of browning happening on top].

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sweet Potato Hash

Once upon a time mom subscribed to Rachael Ray's Everyday magazine. When she was done reading the them she would pass them on to me. I found this recipe in one of those issues. I do like Rachael Ray's cooking, but I was never that enthralled with the recipes in her magazine. I think this may be the solitary recipe from her Everyday (everydaaaaay! Hi Uncle Clownsuit!) that I have ever made more than once. Personally, I won't subscribe to her magazine. What is the point when you can find all the recipes online? I guess people read her magazine for things other than the recipes. Good for them!The yellow stuff in the photo is scrambled eggs. I know it looks a lot like popcorn, but trust me it's not. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, the eggs look less like popcorn. Do it! Remember, I said less like popcorn, not completely un-popcorn like. What can I say, the lighting over my stove is such where I gotta use the flash. Flash + eggs= popcorn. Wouldn't that make an interesting ingredient substitution?

This is another dish that uses half a pound of bulk sausage. This time used the remaining half of a tube of bulk Italian sausage from when I made calibasitas. This dish is best with breakfast sausage though.

The original recipe calls for two pounds of sweet potatoes. I never weigh them. I just grab 2 that look nice. Have you ever noticed that some sweet potatoes are long and skinny, while others are short and fat? I always get one of each. I've never taste tested the skinny and the fat ones side by side to know if they taste different. In my head I imagine that they do. Let's not shatter my twisted little make believe world by telling me there is absolutely no difference. I like it here and no, I will not tell you what color the sky is here. Plbbbt!

Anyhoo, here is the original recipe for Sweet potato hash. But I don't make it that way anymore. Here are my slight modifications:

2 large sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound bulk pork sausage (breakfast sausage is best, but Italian will work)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 teaspoons ground cumin
Salt and pepper
1/2-1 c salsa or picante sauce

5-6 eggs

In a medium pot of boiling water, cook the sweet potatoes until almost tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and set aside. In a large nonstick skillet, cook the sausage over medium heat until browned and crumbly, about 10 minutes; transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
Heat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they begin to caramelize. Add sweet potatoes and cook until potatoes begin to get speckled with black bits of goodness. Add garlic, sausage, and cumin. Stir to combine. Add salsa, just enough to lightly coat the meat and veggies. In a separate pan scramble eggs. Add eggs to meat and potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with more salsa if desired.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

Birthday pie

I can't believe I almost forgot about this!! I decided to try Cookie dough pie instead of cake for my birthday this year. Blockette's birthday and mine are very close together and I didn't want to be eating cake for weeks on end. This wound up being the perfect dessert for the occasion. It happened to be hot around my birthday, and this pie uses the freezer, not the oven. Who wants to heat up the house baking a cake in the summer? Not me, that's for sure.

A few days before my birthday Mrblocko asked me if I minded making my own birthday dessert. Well, I sure don't mind when it's something so easy to make. I couldn't help giggling at how simple it was to prepare. Take pre-made cookies, dip them in milk, layer with cool whip, then freeze the whole thing. Aaaand... the name doesn't lie. The end result tastes like cookie dough, without the threat of salmonella.

The photo does not do it justice. I had a slice on a plate to take a photo but I turned around and it was gone. I think we have pie gnomes. You can still see those delicious cookie layers. The layers would be even more pronounced but I think I made my cool whip layers a bit on the thin side. I used the small container of cool whip, but I think the larger tub would have been better.

Next time I'll use half milk and half coffee. This was a suggestion from Big Red Kitchen, the kind blogger who provided this recipe, that I ignored. My taste buds must be changing again because I'm starting to find the idea of coffee in desserts appealing. They haven't changed enough, mind you, to go brew myself a cup. I still think I'd rather drink tennis shoe stew than a mug-a coffee.

I also neglected to decorate the top with chocolate sauce. I was lazy and didn't feel like getting fancy. It was my birthday and I felt I was entitled to not give a flip about fanciness. I'll go fancy next time. Without the chocolate sauce on top, the pie looks really boring.

Cookie Dough Pie from Big Red Kitchen
15.25 ounce package Chips Ahoy Cookies- Original kind
8-12 ounces Cool Whip- I used 8 ounces
2 cups milk*

Quickly dip cookies in milk, shake off excess liquid, and layer in 9" pie plate, breaking cookies to fill any gaps. Once first layer is complete, top with a thin layer of Cool Whip. Repeat twice more making last layer of Cool Whip a bit thicker. Garnish with chocolate syrup if desired. Place in freezer 2-3 hours before serving. Serves 6-8.

*Can use 1 C. strong coffee mixed with 1 C. milk for dipping instead of plain milk.

Note- You must dip quickly or your pie will be very soggy. Make sure to shake off excess milk as well so that you do not have a puddle of milk in your pie. You will have leftover milk but you do need that amount to get the cookie completely immersed. The final product will be like a soft cookie dough-like consistency.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dark chocolate Flourless PB cookies

Blockette calls this Monkey peanut butter. (See the cute little monkey on the jar? Why the monkey I wonder. I get monkeys and bananas, but monkeys and peanut butter? Who knew?) It's peanut butter blended with dark chocolate from Peanut Butter and Company. My mom had bought it for herself and didn't care for it so she passed it on to me. I tasted it and didn't care for it much either. I thought, well I wonder what it would taste like in a cookie?

Answer: Freekin awesome!!!! I used my "go-to" peanut butter cookie recipe from Baking bites called: Flourless Peanut butter cookies. I originally found this recipe because once upon a time Mrblocko had a co-worker who couldn't eat flour. (Ironically, he now has a co-worker that can't eat peanuts and almost killed her by offering her one of these cookies without telling her they were full of peanut butter.) I felt bad that I was making up a bunch of goodies for him to take to work and she couldn't have any. Little did I know I stumbled on one of our favorite cookies.

This was the first time I've made this cookie with anything other than plain old peanut butter. I used to only ever make it with Reeses brand peanut butter. While the Reeses brand tasted awesome, there wasn't that much difference to other brands. Now I just use whatever's in the pantry, which is almost always the 5 lb tub of Meijer's brand generic peanut butter. Yes, you read that right. Five pounds of peanut butter. We eat a lot of pbj's in this house. I got tired of constantly buying pb and never having enough to make these cookies. Now I prefer the generic over the other major brands.

The original recipe doesn't specify, but I like mini chips, or mini M&M's in this cookie. I prefer the chocolate to cookie ratio per bite with the mini's. I've used a regular sized chip and sometimes I got a bite that didn't have a chip in it. It made me very sad and I promised I'd never ever make that mistake again. Back to this particular version of this cookie. I used semi sweet mini chips. I debated using regular size M&M's but then I remembered that promise I made to myself about full size chips. Besides, I wasn't sure how the milk chocolate would taste with the dark chocolate in the peanut butter.

The only thing that would make these cookies even more awesome would be to figure out a way to add espresso to the batter. I'm worried that adding liquid might reduce the stability of the dough. Sadly, I don't have enough of this fancy peanut butter left to experiment with. Blockette isn't complaining because she's been having the remaing peanut butter with Blackberry jelly. (The other day I told her she had to be quiet because I was going to be on the phone with Grandma. She was adamant about me thanking my mom AGAIN for the "monkey peanut butter". She "reminded" me three times before I finished dialing my mother's number. The kid would not let it go.)

Mrblocko pointed out this peanut butter would be great to use in the peanut butter banana applesauce shake to turn into Popsicles. Why didn't I think of that. I probably would have had enough left in the jar to make the Popsicles after making the cookies had Blockette not been gobbling up the stuff in sandwiches.

I've done a bit of research here and there about these strange peanut butter flavors. I discovered Peanut Butter and Company makes other peanut butter concoctions that would be interesting to try in cookie form. There is another peanut butter company by the name of P.B.Loco who has equally interesting experiment worthy flavors. It's too bad I cannot continue scientific experiments on the multiple variations of this cookie. I'd be happy for more donations. I'd even share the end results with the kind benefactor, all in the name of science of course. Who isn't for scientific progress?

One last, slightly unrelated thing, this cookie has even gotten the cat seal of approval. I set 2 cookies on a plate, turned my back for a second and found my black cat, Boo, licking one of the cookies. (This is the same cat that once licked half the cream cheese frosting off a carrot cake intended for Mrblocko's birthday. Boo was sooo sick that day, and mad at me for it.) Luckily. I caught Boo before he actually ate the cookie. He's so dumb. He doesn't know chocolate isn't good for cats. Poor little guy. I never let him have any fun.

Flourless PB Cookies from Baking Bites
1 cup smooth peanut butter (I used a national brand)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat together all ingredients til smooth, adding chocolate chips at the end of mixing. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet and flatten slightly with a moistened finger. Bake 10-13 min at 350 F, til golden brown at the edges. Cool on pan before removing to wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 2 dozen.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Are you trying to make me vegetarian?

When I initially showed this recipe to Mrblocko he looked me over and exclaimed, "Are you make me vegetarian?!" (As if that was some sort of felony offense.) I assured him that we could have it with some meat instead of mixed with pasta, polenta, pizza or panini as the original recipe suggests. (That's alotta "P" alliteration. Try saying "pasta, polenta, pizza or panini" ten times fast!)

In Praise of Leftovers calls this dish Summer Ratatouille. This is a summer dish as in veggies that are plentiful in the summertime. It's really not a great dish for a hot summer day since you are heating up the house roasting those veggies for two hours. Luckily, Mother Nature has totally gone wonky and is giving us lovely October weather. I'm not complaining. Fall weather is my favorite, especially when I don't have to rake up leaves.

My veggie break down went like this: 1 red pepper, 1 vidalia onion, 2 zucchini, 1 yellow squash, 1 small bag fingerling potatoes, 1 lb Roma tomatoes, 1 bulb garlic, and kalamata olives. I meant to put in celery and carrots, but realized I left them out about 1 hour into the roasting. There were more than enough veggies so they weren't missed.

I used leftover olives from when I made Mediterranean chicken burgers. I don't think I mentioned that I when I purchased the elusive Kalamatas, I accidentally grabbed the olives that had not been pitted. I hate pitting olives. At some point in the process I manage to squirt brine in my eye or up my nose. I'm extra special that way.

Before the oven:

The next time I make this I will cook it over a higher heat, at least 325 degrees F. The veggies baked 2.5 hours and they were still not as charred as I would have preferred. The juices were supposed to have completely evaporated. There was still quite a bit of liquid left in the pan after 2.5 hours. I made the executive decision that it was time to eat and we would live with the less than crispy veggies.

Blockette not like this dish. She ate it, but there was less drama on a Friday afternoon episode of Days of Our Lives. Poor kid, cause Mrblocko and I really liked this dish. She is going to be forced to eat it again. What a mean mommy!

Mrblocko was pleasantly surprised at how good this tasted. I wasn't. Roast any veggie and it brings out the wonderful goodness. Mrblocko did say that he could live without the squash and zucchini. I smacked him good upside the head for being such a cheeky monkey. I'm not the biggest fan of zucchini either, but eating it with a piece of roasted potato or onion made it taste delicious.

Now I have two predominately veggie dishes to rotate into the menu. First the Calibasitas and now the Summer Ratatouille. Who'da thunk a girl who would only eat corn and carrots would have succumb to such vegetable variety?

As a side note, in making this dish I couldn't help experiencing some high school nostalgia. One year I bought my best friend a realistic looking black plastic rat for Christmas. It even squeaked when you squeezed it. Why a plastic rat for Christmas? Well, she already had a rubber chicken. The rat grossed out many a teacher. Tres wonderful. We called him Ratatou-E the Rat-a-tat-tat. Good times.

edited to add: Today's post from In Praise of Leftovers talks about using leftover Ratatouille in Mac and Cheese. I'm so doing that the next time I have Ratatouille leftovers. Num!

Summer Ratatouille from In Praise of Leftovers
4 large red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, cut into large diced pieces
1 head garlic, peeled and separated into cloves
1 large sweet onion, roughly chopped
2 lbs. tomatoes, roughly chopped or left whole if small
4 small or 2 medium green or golden zucchini
1/2 c. pitted Kalamata olives
lots of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 c. best quality olive oil
1 large bunch fresh basil, roughly chopped

Combine everything in your biggest roasting pan. Roast at 300F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, til mix is 1/2 the volume, liquid is evaporated, and veggies are all sticky and blackened in spots. Serve alone, atop polenta, tossed with pasta, or pressed between bread in a panini maker.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fancy pants and her new hair cut

Chicken soup for your belly

Soup season is upon us! Whoohoo! Yay fall! OK. Now that I've gotten that out of my system...MrsThunder asked me if I had a good chicken noodle soup recipe. Well, I don't exactly, but these 3 recipes below can be easily adapted to make them into chicken noodle.

This recipe is my go to chicken soup recipe. It's called Chicken mug pie. I never put the biscuits on top of the soup like the recipe tells you too. I prefer to dip biscuits rather than let them get super soggy in the bowl. Since I am lacking in a food scale, have no idea how much 1.5 lbs of chicken is. I usually chop up 4 well endowed chicken breasts. (For some reason the chickens at meijers are some sort of genetic freak of nature. If your chickens aren't mutants, use 5 breasts.) I omit the peas, so to make up for the loss in veggies I double the celery and carrots. I rarely use the half &half /cream. Whatever milk you've got in the fridge still results in a tasty soup. This recipe calls for shredded potatoes. If you want to have noodles, cook them first, then add them at the end. I don't think you'd want more than half a box.

I came across this recipe for cockadoodle chicken. I haven't tested it out, but it seems similar to the chicken mug pie. I don't think you'd have to use rotisserie chicken if you didn't want to. It would give you a nice mix of white and dark meat though. You might need to simmer the soup longer at the end if you are not using egg noodles. If you are worried about too much broth being soaked up in the cooking process of a thicker noodle, just boil them in a separate pot before adding, or add extra water/broth/stock at the end.

OK. So I know Italian wedding soup is NOT chicken noodle soup, but you could alter this recipe easily to make it so. In our house it is called "Cinderella's wedding soup". I thought giving it that name would be a good way to get a girl who wouldn't eat soup to at least try it. It worked brilliantly. This is Blockette's favorite soup, at least it was last winter. Who knows what the fickle girl will think this fall.

The recipe calls for little meatballs, but you could substitute chicken. You could even make the meatballs from ground chicken if you so desired. Whatever meat you chose, if you are making meatballs, use the leanest you can find. The meatballs cook in the soup so whatever fat content is in the meat stays in the soup. I think skimming off the nasty thick white layer of fat off the top of cooled soup is disgusting. I don't know why I'm so grossed out by it. Add it to the long list of Mrsblocko's weird quirks.

I've never used orzo as the pasta. I've never understood orzo. If you want the shape of rice, why not just use rice? Instead I use some similar sized pasta like acini de pepe, anellini or alphabet. I like the tiny cuts of pasta with the meatballs, but use whatever noodle floats your boat.

When prepared as directed, you get a really thick soup. I prefer a bit more liquid in my soup. Instead of 10 cups of broth, I use 6 (about 14 oz each) cans of broth, 3 cups of water and 1 cup of stock. If it wasn't so expensive, I'd use all stock. I like stock hands down over broth. It tastes richer, and has less sodium than the low sodium broth. It would probably be cheaper and even lower in sodium if I made my own stock. I guess I'm just too lazy to do spend the extra time it takes to make your own stock.

Be forewarned! This recipe makes a huge vat of soup. Use the largest pot you have or you will be sorry. I've learned this the hard way. Switching pots mid way through preparation is not fun. Pouring boiling hot liquid and a clumsy cook are not a winning combination. Personally, I love that this recipe makes so much. Most of the soup ends up in the freezer, and the soup does freeze beautifully. Sometimes I think the soup needs a bit more liquid after defrosting. That could be because I like a brothier soup.

I hope this was helpful. If you have a favorite soup, chicken noodle or other, please feel free to share in the comment section.

Rachael Ray's Chicken Mug Pie
1 tube jumbo bake-off butter biscuits,
Sweet paprika, for sprinkling
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast pieces, diced
3 tablespoons butter
2 ribs celery and greens from the heart, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup shredded potatoes, ready to cook hash browns,
1 pint half-and-half or cream
1 quart chicken stock, available in boxes on soup aisle
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, a healthy grating
1 cup frozen green peas

Preheat oven according to package directions and arrange biscuits on cookie sheet. You will have 4 extra biscuits. Save them for ham and cheese or egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches the next morning. Sprinkle biscuits with a little paprika and bake 10-12 minu.

In med pot over med-med high heat, cook chicken in butter 2 min then add veggies and season with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Cook 5 min more, add flour cook another min. Add potatoes, then whisk in half-and-half and stock. Add nutmeg. Bring soup to a boil by raising heat, then turn heat back to simmer and cook soup another 10 min. Adjust seasonings. Add peas. Stir in to warm them through a minute.

Serve mugs of soup with biscuits on top to cap the mug: chicken mug pies!

Italian Wedding Soup from Cook think
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 pound ground beef (or combination beef with pork or veal)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 egg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
10 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups orzo
1 carrot, diced
1 pound escarole, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, beef, onion, egg, salt, pepper, garlic, parmesan and parsley. Gently mix til just combined -- overmixing will toughen meatballs. Bring broth to a boil in large saucepan. While broth is heating, make small meatballs with beef mixture. (Meatballs should be between 1/4- 1/2" in diameter.) Once broth is boiling, gently add meatballs, orzo and carrots. As soon as broth starts boiling again, gently stir in chopped escarole. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer til pasta al dente and escarole wilted and tender, 10 min. Add salt and pepper or more grated parmesan to taste.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lemon Infused Chicken and Couscous Salad

I found this recipe sometime before the fall of 2008. I was having one of my many cold induced sleepless mornings. Usually parking in front of the TV listening to the repetitive nature of the morning news lulls me back into some sort of sleep state. (For some reason it has to be the Chicago NBC station.) This particular morning I was somewhere between awake and asleep. I was awake enough to hear what the news segment was about, but too asleep to open my eyes.

What they were making sure sounded delicious. The dish was supposed to be something simple yet impressive for the non-cook. When I was more than semi-conscious, I went to the NBC5 website and found the recipe. Good thing I printed the recipe out vs. bookmarking it because I searched the NBC5 website and the recipe was no where to be found.

Why on earth did they take it down? This is a stellar recipe. It is perfect for the summer because you don't need to turn the oven on. I toasted the coconut and almonds right on the stove top, although you could use your oven if you wanted to. I'm excited about this salad because it would be perfect to take to a church picnic or family reunion. Most of the salad recipes I have are mayo based, not exactly something conducive to sitting outside in the hot heat for an extended period of time.

I accidentally forgot to buy the tomatoes for this dish. I had an extra Roma tomato, which was the perfect amount of tomato to salad ratio for me. However, it lacked something visually without the red of the tomatoes. Next time I'll make sure they wind up on the shopping list.

I was uncertain about the amount of mint in the recipe so I used a big handful of mint, about half a bunch. A whole bunch of mint leaves seemed like it would be very overpowering. I think half a bunch of mint was the perfect amount for our tastes.

Since the goat cheese was optional, I left that out too. The dish seemed fine without it. The salt in the cheese would probably bring out the tangy and sweet flavors in the salad along with adding another dimension of texture. Blockette is fussy about cheese, especially white crumbly cheeses. I figured it would be best to keep it out of the mix.

The last change that was made was the vinegar. For some reason I can never find sherry vinegar. I'm not sure what sherry vinegar tastes like. I don't even know what regular sherry tastes like. Whenever a recipe calls for sherry vinegar I just substitute red wine vinegar. It always seems to work great for me.

Lemon Infused Chicken and Couscous Salad
1 whole rotisserie chicken (meat removed and shredded)
1 box roasted garlic couscous
1 bunch fresh mint leaves (I used half a bunch)
2 lemons, zested
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes halved
1 bunch of scallions. green parts only, cut on bias
4 T olive oil
1 heaping cup sliced or shaved almonds, toasted
1 bag orange flavored dried cranberries
1 cup toasted coconut
4oz goat cheese (optional)
1/4 c sherry vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)

Prepare couscous per package. Chop mint leaves. Combine mint, lemon zest, and oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Add chicken. Toss to coat. Then add couscous, tomatoes, almonds, cranberries, coconut and scallions. (Add crumbled goat cheese now if desired.) Thoroughly mix. Sprinkle with vinegar. Toss again. Chill at least 30 minutes. Serve with lettuce to garnish.