Friday, October 30, 2009


It's 10:00 pm on a weeknight and you're hungry. Not really hungry, but interested in snacking. Do you grab some chips or popcorn? Cheese and crackers? Maybe. We made biscuits. Especially because we were watching Food Network whose shows are peppered with Pillsbury commercials. They got us. No, we didn't go out and buy a tube of pre-made biscuits, but they still got us. I threw caution to the wind, and did not "appropriately" search for the "right" recipe. Instead, I openned a cookbook and made the recipe within.

from the Taste of Home Cookbook

2 c. all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. shortening
1 egg
2/3 c. milk

1. Preheat oven to 450 °F. In a smal bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles course crumbs. In another bowl, beat egg with milk; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. (It will be very wet dough)
2. Turn onto a well floured surface; knead 20 times. Roll to 3/4-inch thickness; cut with a floured 2-1/2 inch biscuit cutter (or use a glass like I did).
3. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm. Yield 1 dozen.

These were just what we were looking for. Nothing fancy, but very satisfying with a little butter and honey. You could even brush them with melted butter before putting them in the oven if you like. My only regret is that we used skim milk, which is all that we normally have in the house, but I actually have a bottle of buttermilk in the fridge that would have been wonderful. Why do I have the buttermilk? You'll see. ;) These biscuits were a tad dry in the morning, but excellent with some eggs and cheese.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Deviled Eggs

The older I get the more I miss my great-grandmother, Marie. She was incredible. She passed away when I was 18.
As a child, I was very blessed by spending my days at my great-grandparent's house, rather than a daycare. I know how special this was because many people never even get to meet their great-grandparents let alone see them 5 days a week. Grandma was a firey Irish, Catholic woman who always made her opinion clear, especially in conversations with my grandfather. She also made it abundantly clear that she loved me to death. She read Little Red Riding Hood to me so many times that she probably could recite it in her sleep. She taught me how to prune and pick flowers from her rose bushes (after a five-leaf cluster), and place them in a glass on the kitchen window sill above the sink. She would let me play in that sink for what seemed like hours. I would put a stool up to the counter so that I could splash in the soap bubbles, and fill and pour out measuring cups full of the steamy water. However, Grandma didn't hesitate to shove a fresh bar of Caress in my mouth after I got angry with her and called her a name. All done with love.
For the most part Grandpa was the cook, and what a cook he was. From fresh baked breads, which made the most incredible toast, to soups, roasts, casseroles, and cookies. He grocery shopped every day. While eating breakfast, he would often ask us what we wanted for lunch or dinner! I used to think he was crazy, and now I find myself thinking about it too. So he was the daily chef, but on Easter and Thanksgiving, Grandma and Grandpa would both be in the kitchen, with the doors closed. The holidays always felt different in that house. Oh, the smells coming from that kitchen. The china placed just so on the white linen covered dinning table. It was very different from the work week. Occasionaly, I'd sneek past the double doors to watch as she basted the Ham with Sprite, or stirred something on the stove. One specialty that appeared only on Easter was her deviled eggs. She never had a recipe that I knew of-just a little grandma magic. When she slipped away, so did the recipe. For the next few years, Easter came and went, but without the deviled eggs.
After searching through many cookbooks I decided to try them for myself, but it didn't pan out. Something was not quite right. I tried onions, onion powder, garlic, vinegar, etc.. Finally, Easter 2006, after consulting with various family memebers. I got it-well, as close as it gets. So, without further adieu, my (grandmas's) deviled eggs.

Deviled Eggs

12 large, hard cooked eggs
2/3 c. Miracle Whip
1 tsp. yellow mustard
1 tbsp. dill pickle juice
salt and pepper

Peel eggs, slice in half lengthwise, and remove the yolks. In a small bowl, smash yolks with a fork until fine. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Fill a piping bag (or a plastic freezer bag with a corner cut off) with the yolk mixture, and fill the whites. Sprinkle with paprika for garnish.

I know, after all that build up, it's a very simple recipe, but it's a great one. The secret is using Miracle Whip rather than mayo, and adding the pickle juice. Note that the pickle juice and mustard measurements are approximate becuase I ususally just add some and taste until they are right. I do have a few tips though. For easier peeling, boil the eggs and refridgerate them overnight before peeling. I was in a hurry this time and peeled them after refridgerating for 3 hours, and I did notice the difference. Also, tap the eggs on the counter to crack the shell all the way around, and peel under cold running water. Even though I do measure the Miracle Whip, they do turn out a bit different each time. This time I think my yolks were smaller than normal and the proportions were a bit off. Not perfect, but very, very good. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grilled Pork and Chocolate Cheesecake

For his birthday, Dan asked for a meal of grilled pork (I used some brisket grillers we had in the freezer), and a chocolate cheesecake for dessert. So being the loving wife that I am, I happily prepared the meal with some garlic and rosemary redskin mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and a salad. Here is my seasoning blend for the pork. It could be used on anything really.

Pork Rub

2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt

As far as cheesecake goes, I usualy fancy plain with some sort of tart fruit element, like raspberry or lemon. Plain cheesecake with raspberry sauce, delicious. However, because of this little chocolate number, I may have to rethink my order the next time I visit The Cheesecake Factory.

Chocolate Cheesecake
a combination of Kraft's Chocolate Lover's Cheesecake and Classic Cheesecake

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/3 c. melted butter
3 Tbsp. sugar
3  packages (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
6 squares (1 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate, melted, and slightly cooled

Preheat oven to 325 °F, or 300 °F if using a dark, non-sitck springform pan. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate according to the package directions and set aside to cool. In a small bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and 3 tbsp. sugar. Firmly press into the bottom of the springform pan.
Beat together cream cheese, sugar and vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs and mix until just blended. Stir in the melted chocolate.
Pour filling over crust and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until almost set. Cool completely, and refridgerate overnight.

I think it was the graham cracker crust, rather than a chocolate cookie crust, that sealed the deal. I must give credit where it's due...this was Dan's idea.  Melted butter with graham cracker crumbs is a match made in heaven. I had to taste the mixture before putting in the pan, to make sure it was safe. It was. I am not a fan of those super sweet dessert scented candles that some people rave about. They are just too overpowering for me. But, if someone comes up with a graham cracker crust candle he or she may have a new customer. You hear that, Yankee? Even if you think you don't like chocolate cheesecake, try this. I promise you won't be disappointed.

If you'd like to try my raspberry sauce, put about 2 cups mostly thawed, frozen raspberries into a blender with a couple teaspoons sugar and 1/4 - 1/2 c. water. Blend until smooth. These measurements are approximate. I usually just eyeball it. Make it as thin or think as you like. Serve over any plain cheesecake, or try it on this one. We like Kraft's Classic Cheesecake listed above.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I made my own graham cracker crumbs for the first time. This was partially due to the fact that my grocery store stopped carrying the brand of crumbs that I typically buy, and that the crackers, by the ounce, were cheaper-and we'll have something in the pantry to munch on. I just used store brand honey graham crackers, and pulsed them in the food processor until fine. The ones I bought were squares rather than the rectangular sheets, so it took about 20-22 squares to yield 1 1/2 c. of crumbs. This made the crust very fresh and not completely uniform in texture. Lets just say that I don't think I'll be using the ready made kind anymore. I'll refrain from raving about this crust again. Maybe when I am feeling extra ambitious I'll try my hand at these.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Individual Potato Broccoli Frittatas - 2 ways

If I could design my perfect day, the recipe would be as follows:

Sleep in and wake up slow
Have a lunch of cider and doughnuts at your local cider mill of choice
Take a brisk hike in the woods
Eat a delicious, healthy, and leisurely prepared dinner
Watch Michigan football

Execute each step in this order with a good friend or loving spouse. Well, this was my Saturday. Exactly the respite I needed after a long week of work and not seeing my husband. : ( So, back to the food. I went with the idea of baking individual frittatas because I have made frittatas in a mini muffin pan for parties, and they turn out quite good. Also, I don't have a decent pan to go from stovetop to oven (ahhh...daydreaming of cast iron skillets), and I do have these great little non-stick 4 1/2 inch springform pans that we recieved as a wedding gift and have never used. You could, however, scale up the recipe for a 9 inch pie pan, or prepare the frittatas in a regular or jumbo size muffin pan.

Potato Broccoli Frittatas
adapted from Cooking Light

1 large redskin potato, cooked and diced
1/2 c. cooked broccoli
1 large clove garlic, crushed
2 sliced cooked bacon, chopped  (for my meat lover)
2 tbsp. chopped, cooked onion  (for me)
1-2 tbsp. chopped parsley
4 eggs
2 egg whites
1-2 tsbp. milk
2/3 c. grated cheese  (I used about 1/3 c. of 2 different kinds)
1/8-1/4 tsp. thyme
1/8-1/4 tsp. paprika
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Spray pans with non-stick cooking spray. Add half of the potato, broccoli, and garlic to each pan. (I did cook the garlic with a little bit of olive oil ahead of time) Now comes the "2 way" part. To one I added the bacon and some grated cheddar cheese, and to the other I added the onion and my new favorite cheese, which is a combo of white cheddar, swiss, and parmesan. Mmmm. In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, parsley, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over other ingredients. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. They will puff up quite a bit.

I did learn a valuable lesson when preparing this dish. Make sure that your springform pans are sealed properly and are liquid tight. Some of my egg mixtue leaked out when I poured it into the pans. One was worse then the other, and it just continued oozing. I kept saying "Oh, NO!" and laughing as the eggs weeped out of the side. But, since it was not completely gushing out, I gingerly threw them onto a cookie sheet with a piece of aluminum foil, and prayed for the best.  What I realized is that unlike a cheesecake, this egg mixture is thin and there is no crust to seal it off the bottom of the pans. Maybe not the best bakeware choice for this, but live and learn I guess.  The oozing did stop shortly after I put them in the oven, and the loss was not that much. They still turned out OK, and were very tatsy.  I served these with some crusty bread, and a tomato avocado salad drizzled with my homemade balsamic vinegarette.

I think my favorite thing about frittatas is that they are so versatile. You can put just about anything inside, like an omelette or a quiche. The possibilities are endless. Mushroom, onion, and swiss. Tomato and basil with parmesan. Ham and cheese.  Zucchini and squash, etc. Plus, it's a great way to get rid of some leftovers. Hmm...a Thanksgiving leftover frittata? Probably not. ;)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Spicy Baked Penne

So, this recipe does not have any special story to accompany it other than it is a delicious week night dinner to satisfy the mostly vegetarian (the would be me, but more on that later) and the omnivores they love...and to use up some things I had in the fridge.

Spicy Baked Penne

1 lb. penne rigate
1-26 oz. jar of your favorite sauce - I like the garlic & herb variety
2 bonless, skinless chicken breasts
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped (or 1/2 of a large one)
1 small orange bell pepper, chopped
Grated parmesan
about 8 oz. shredded Italian Five Cheese blend
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes - a couple of large pinches
1 large clove garlic, crushed
3-5 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
 1/4 - 1/2 tsp. oregano
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Start a large pot to boil for the pasta. Cook pasta until almost al dente. Drain, but do not rinse. (You still want some bite to it because it will absorb some of the sauce while it bakes.) Meanwhile, add oil and garlic to a skillet and preheat on medium-high. Cut chicken into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Add pepper, oregano, and a handful of parmesan, and toss to coat. When the skillet is hot, add chicken and saute until golden brown. In a medium sauce pan, combine the sauce, basil, pepper flakes, zucchini and peppers, about 1 cup of water, and cook over medium low to start to cook the veggies, and to start to marry the flavors. The water helps to thin the sauce out a bit because it will thicken as it bakes. (In a perfect world, the sauce would be hot, and the chicken and pasta would all be finished at the same time!) Combine the pasta, sauce mixture, and chicken in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Toss to coat, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown and the sauce begins to bubble.

This is not exactly your mother's mostaccoli. The veggies will still have a bit of a crunch, which we love, and the heat from the red pepper is just right. Comforting and healthful.

As for my diet, I have been working on the vegetarian thing for about 4 months now. I decided to do this both for health and environmental reasons. Plus, I have many friends who maintain a vegetarian diet so I know that I would have support if I need it. I have been doing pretty well, except for a couple of my favorite things, which I have chosen to keep eating in strict moderation. Fish is the first one; especially my sweet and spicy rubbed salmon, which I am sure that I will put up here at some point. The others are either chicken or turkey dishes. No pork and no beef. I have not eaten beef for nearly a year. I am enjoying it (if you didn't glean this fact from my first post...I love beans). I am forced to be more deliberate about everthing that I consume, and as a result, I am eating and feeling better.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Monster Cookies

About a month ago, we had the honor of being a part of one of the most beautiful weddings I have witnessed. It took place in Archbold, Ohio at Sauder Village. I had some free time before the ceremony and headed over to the Doughbox Bakery located just out in front of the village. The bakery sells everything from dinner rolls and noodles to freshly made doughnuts and pies. My eyes were locked on the cookies. They had chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar, the usual fare...and monster cookies. Regretably, I only purchased one (the size of my face) for Dan and I to share. My favorite cookie will always be chocolate chip, but this monster gave it a run for its money. Oatmeal, peanut butter, chocolate chip and m&m! Since then, I have been looking for a recipe. I actually found a hand written one that I was given many years ago, but never tried. However, that one made a gigantic batch and included corn syrup, which I did not have, and made me a bit skeptical. I finally decided on this one.

Monster Cookies

3 eggs
1 1/4 c. packed, light brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (I doubled this)
1 1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 c. chocolate candies (I was very generous; used closer to 3/4 or 1 c. ;)
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/4 c. rasins, optional (I opted out!!!)
2 tsp. baking soda
4 1/2 c. quick cooking oatmeal,  not instant (the 1 minute kind)

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Spray cookie sheets with non-stcik spray, or use parchment paper.
In a very large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and sugars. Mix well. Add the salt, vanilla, peanut butter, and butter. Mix well. Stir in the m&ms, chocolate chips, baking soda, and oatmeal. Drop by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto cookie sheets.
Bake for 8-10 minutes. Do not overbake. Let stand for 3 minutes (or longer) before transferring to cooling racks.

Oh, I decided to use dark chocolate m&ms for these cookies, and I am sure glad that I did. I highly recommend it if you like dark chocolate. Also, make sure that you use a very sturdy spoon or spatula to mix the batter-it gets super thick and tough to stir towards the end. The recipe instructs that you should not overbake. I heeded the warning and was very pleased. I baked the cookies until they were just barely turning brown around the outside. The top of the cookies looked like they were still a bit raw, but don't be afraid, once cooled they were not undercooked, but wonderfully chewy.

So, this recipe is not exactly like the ones that I had at the bakery. It might be better! Either way, I guarantee that they will be a favorite. And, with all of the protein and fiber from the oatmeal and peanut butter, these monster cookies are practically a health food. At least that's what I am telling myself.