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Real Food

February 20, 2013 2 comments
Baby Carrots

Real Baby Carrots

Oops, it’s been a few months since my last post. So, what are my excuses this time? The usual—holidays, sickness, family stuff, doggie drama, and work. I had a respiratory infection that lasted over seven weeks. During that time, I didn’t cook very much and when I did, it wasn’t inspired. Some of the results were downright dismal. Definitely not blog worthy. Unless, I wanted to write about my failures, which could be funny. I was beginning to think there was a curse in my kitchen. Maybe it was just my taste buds weren’t working. Thankfully, my taste buds are returning to normal and I’m cooking more.

Sautéed Baby Carrots

This weekend, I made something that was so simple; it was not even recipe worthy. However, it was divine. It all started in our backyard. We were clearing out the winter garden to make room for the early spring garden. I’m not sure if we are supposed to do this now, but the timing seemed right to get the onions in the ground. We’re learning what works for us. In the process of clearing space, we had to sacrifice some carrots. We harvested  the prettiest, most tender baby carrots I’ve ever seen. They were an organic rainbow mix – orange, yellow, white, and, purple. Beautiful and delicious.

I trimmed the stems and put them in the compost. Washed the carrots. In a skillet over medium heat, I steamed/sautéed the largest ones first in just a bit of water. Then added the next ones in size. I added the tiniest carrots at the end of cooking; they only had a few seconds on the heat. By this time, the water was gone, so I added a smidge of butter. I then topped them with freshly snipped parsley and a sprinkle of Kosher salt. Within 30 minutes, the carrots went from in the ground to on our table. To me, food doesn’t get much fresher or better.

It sounds silly, but they were so “carroty” tasting that it’s almost indescribable. If your only experience with baby carrots is with those little nubby things in the grocery store, then you are missing a treat. I would highly recommend buying some at a local farmers market or even better yet, growing your own. Carrots are easy to grow. You can even grow them in a deep pot if space is a problem.

Happy eating and happy gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

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Pumpkin Bread Pudding

November 21, 2012 4 comments

Not sure I’ve posted a recipe without a photo. But I am tonight, because I don’t have time to make the dish and take a photo. Plus, I wanted to get it posted before Thanksgiving. Ok, so there isn’t a lot of time to make this in time for Thanksgiving, but it is quick. And you might be making a pumpkin pie anyway, you could have leftover bread, so you might have all the ingredients already. And maybe you feel like trying something new.

This Pumpkin Bread Pudding is a nice alternative to a traditional pumpkin pie. It combines the best of two worlds–pumpkin pie and bread pudding! It’s not just for Thanksgiving time; you can make it year round. I keep a bag of bread cubes in the freezer. If we have an extra chunk of bread, it goes in the bag. When I get enough, then I make it.

Hope you have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving. Many thanks to all of you.

Bread Pudding

5 cups stale firm bread “cubes” (crusty French bread, cinnamon swirl bread, etc.)

3 tablespoons melted butter

1⅓ cups sugar

3 large eggs

2 cups half-and-half (or 1 cup milk and 1 cup cream

15 ounces pumpkin purée (canned pumpkin is fine)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ cup golden raisins (or dried cranberries)

½ cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)

Optional toppings: whipped cream, warm dulce de leche or caramel sauce, whiskey sauce, and/or a sprinkle of pecans.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Melt the butter in an 11×17 baking dish. Swirl it around to coat the bottom and sides. This is a lot of butter, but you will later pour the excess into the pumpkin mixture. Tear or cut the bread into medium pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the bread with ⅓ cup of sugar, toss it around, and let it sit while you prepare the pumpkin mixture.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add 1 cup sugar, half-and-half, pumpkin, excess butter, salt, spices, and vanilla. Mix well. Pour the pumpkin mixture over the bread and stir. Place half in the baking dish, sprinkle with raisins and pecans. Top with remaining mixture. Top with the other half of the mixture. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until firm and lightly brown. Serve warm with one of the toppings or enjoy it plain! 

Frittata

October 4, 2012 6 comments

Matt’s Kitchen Sink Frittata

Recently a fellow blogger, posted about writer’s block. Mike (at Made by Mike) was suffering from it and I know that feeling all too well. I haven’t posted in over a week and wondered if maybe that was my issue too. But I don’t think so. I’ll chalk it up to not feeling well the last week or so. Caught a cold at my nephew’s wedding (it was worth it) and I am suffering with fall allergies. Spending time clearing the summer garden and working on the fall garden does not help my allergies but it helps keep me sane.

Combine puniness with learning new software at work and it’s no wonder I’m not cooking, blogging, and taking food photos! So, with little fodder for the blog, I turn to my husband, Matt, for this recipe – Kitchen Sink Frittata. It’s his latest creation. I’ve slowly corrupted Matt. When we first met, he was a recipe follower, but not so much these days. He got the inspiration for the frittata from one of his favorite cookbooks, The All New Good Housekeeping Cook Book. However, we had leftovers so he used them instead of following the recipe. He cleaned out the refrigerator and used leftover creamed spinach, the Cutest Potatoes Ever, and the Layered Summer Vegetable Bake. It was delicious. Have I mentioned lately that I love having a husband who enjoys cooking?!? I am allergic to eggs (and sensitive to dairy), but I ate some anyway, it was totally worth the rash and itching. Typical medical disclaimer: if you are allergic to any of the ingredients please do not risk it by trying this recipe! I have dealt with food allergies for so long, I know my limits. Disclaimer over, and now back to the recipe…

Frittata (Print recipe)

8 eggs

1½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

¼ cup half-and-half

¼ cup water

3 tablespoons fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, Greek basil, thyme), roughly chopped

2 cups potatoes (I would do more), thinly sliced

2 cups roasted veggies, chopped and/or thinly sliced (tomatoes, onions, peppers, artichokes, eggplant, summer squash, mushrooms, zucchini, garlic, etc.)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup creamed spinach (or other greens, add cream cheese and/or more cheese if just using regular spinach)

1 cup grated cheese*

Frittata and FredBread ToastPreheat oven to 425º F. In a large bowl, combine eggs, water, half and half, salt, and pepper. Beat until combined. Add herbs and half of the cheese, beat some more.

Note: this step assumes you are using up leftovers and everything is cooked. In a large oven safe skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Make sure you have some oil on the sides of the pan to prevent sticking. Reheat ingredients according to their thickness and ability to handle heat – heat the potatoes first, then the veggies, and then the spinach. As soon as everything is warm and reasonably well combined, add egg mixture. Stir slightly so that ingredients are evenly distributed, then let it cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until it starts to set on the edges. Pop it in the preheated oven.

Cook for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and top with the remaining cheese. Pop it back in the oven until cheese melts (about 2 to 4 more minutes).

To serve, loosen frittata from skillet by easing it up around the edges. Use a good metal spatula to loosen the bottom, and then gently slide it onto a platter. Makes: 6-8 servings.

*You can use cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, or another cheese of your choice. You can also use more if you prefer. You really can’t have too much cheese with the amount of eggs in this frittata.

Sausage Cheese Balls

July 29, 2012 7 comments

Sausage Cheese Balls

In a previous post, I mentioned a variation of cheese straws – sausage cheese balls. Well, here is a quick recipe with only three main ingredients (optional seasonings can be added). It’s a fairly versatile recipe; you can use pork, chicken, or turkey sausage. If you want a vegetarian version, you can use soy or TVP (textured vegetable protein) sausage. You can make a gluten-free version using a gluten-free biscuit mix. I even prefer this to the traditional biscuit mix. I have not tried a vegan version with soy cheese and veggie sausage because I have not found a biscuit mix that it is vegan. This is a great recipe to make ahead and freeze. Just thaw, heat (optional), and serve.

Sausage and Cheese Balls (Print recipe)

1 pound sausage (pork, turkey, chicken, soy, or TVP)

2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

3 cups biscuit mix (Bisquick or a gluten-free variety)

¼ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, pepper flakes, or Aleppo pepper, optional

¼ teaspoon garlic powder, optional

Cook and drain the sausage (this makes the final cheese ball less greasy). While sausage is cooking, let the cheese come to room temperature. Combine the sausage, cheese, biscuit mix, and optional seasonings. I use my hands to mix it well. Shape into 1 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350º F. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to cooling rack. Serve immediately or you can freeze them. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes: about 4 dozen sausage cheese balls.

 

Banoffee Pie

May 29, 2012 2 comments

What does a born-and-raised Southern woman make for a going away dinner for a friend from the UK? A banoffee pie, of course! According to Wikipedia, a banoffee pie is “an English pastry-based dessert made from bananas, cream, toffee from boiled condensed milk (or dulce de leche), either on a pastry base or one made from crumbled biscuits and butter. Some versions of the recipe also include chocolate and/or coffee.” I had no idea what I was getting into. I’d never tried a banoffee pie; I just knew that Conor mentioned that he liked them. I liked the idea behind it – crust, layer of soft toffee (a.k.a. caramel), sliced bananas, whipped cream, and grated chocolate. What’s not to love?!? Also, it sounded like it might be fairly easy to make.

So I turned to Google and searched for a banoffee pie recipe. I found several versions. Some used pastry crusts, others used crumb crusts. Some had homemade toffee made from scratch; others used a toffee filling made from sweetened condensed milk. Some included chocolate; others did not. The common thread was sliced bananas and whipped cream. Next time, I will try flavoring the whipped cream with some espresso powder. I only used vanilla this first time, but I think coffee would give it a nice flavor boost.

Dinner was rather spur of the moment. We originally planned to meet at Sam and Greg’s, a local pizza and gelato shop. But that just didn’t seem right. A home cooked meal seemed like a better send off for Conor before he moved to Richmond, VA. Conor was our co-worker from our days in Building 17 at Intergraph. I was the Betty Crocker of the group and cooked for the folks in the bay. That’s actually kind of how Matt and I started dating. When I’m stressed, I bake. When I started the job at Intergraph, I was stressed a lot! So, there was lots of baking. I would bring in food and Matt would stop by my cubical and we started hanging out together.

Back to dinner and the banoffee pie. I had my food preservation class earlier that day at Harrison Brothers Hardware. I completely forgot it was the same day as the going away dinner. So, I decided on something easy to prepare – homemade chicken and dumpling stew, a fresh picked salad from our garden, and a quick version of the banoffee pie.

Figured there was not enough time to make homemade caramel or toffee, so I used a can of  Nestle’s La Lechera (The Dairy) dulce de leche. This particular brand is made in Chile and it is awesome! You can find it at a Latin American market or in the international section of a large grocery store. Usually, Publix and Kroger carry it (in Huntsville and Madison). When I find it on sale, I buy a few cans and keep it on hand. It is almost as good as a homemade caramel and it is so much easier! It reminds me of the caramel we made as a kid by boiling unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk. This method produces great results but it can be dangerous. Cleaning caramel from the ceiling is not fun :(. I would not recommend this method! However, if you are inclined to make your own dulce de leche, I would recommend looking at Cooking for Engineers. A great website and they provide a safer method.

I liked the idea of a crumb crust since it is quicker to make than a pastry crust. I decided to go with the digestive biscuits recommended in a few recipes. This is my new go-to crumb crust; it isn’t as sweet as a graham cracker crumb crust. Digestive biscuits are easy to find in Huntsville. You can get them at Publix, Kroger, The Fresh Market, Earth Fare, and the European Market on the Parkway. TJ Maxx and Target also stock them on occasion. I like the McVitie’s brand. If you can’t find them, shortbread wafers or graham crackers would be fine. Or if you want to make a pastry crust, go for it!

The finished pie in the photo is a little thin. I should have used a 9” or 11” springform or tart pan. However, I made three pies (9”, 4½”, and cupcake sized). The cupcake was for testing (you need a sample when experimenting!), the small pie was for Conor to take home. That left me with either a 9” or 11” pan. I went with the 9” and the caramel layer was a little thin.

Bottom line, this is an easy recipe, though I’m not sure it is a true banoffee pie. But it was tasty and Conor liked it (high praise!).  So here is my version of a quick banoffee-like pie…

Crumb Crust:

2 cups cracker or cookie crumbs* (I used 16 McVitie’s Original Digestive Biscuits)

½ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon sugar

Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350º F. In a medium bowl, combine the crumbs with the sugar and salt. Stir in the melted butter. Press the mixture into a 9” or an 11” spring form or tart pan lined with parchment paper (just to make slicing and removing the pie easier). Use the back of a spoon or a measuring cup to press the mixture up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on a rack. Then refrigerate until firm.

Filling:

13.4 ounce can La Lechera dulce de leche

3-4 bananas (firm, not too ripe)

½ pint heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon powdered sugar

pinch of espresso powder or instant coffee, optional

1 ounce chocolate, grated

Heat the caramel. You can heat it on the stove or in the microwave. Heat just until it is warm and soft. It can burn, so don’t overheat it. Actually, I just placed the entire can in the warm oven after the crust baked. Pour the warm caramel into the cooled crust. Spread it with a spoon. Try not to dig into the crust or you might get crumbs in the caramel. It tastes fine, but the texture gets a little funny. Chill for an hour or until the caramel is firm.

Slice the bananas into ¼-½” uniform slices (just depends on how much banana you want). Arrange in a single layer on the caramel. Whip the cream and add the sugar and the vanilla (and coffee if you want). Top the bananas with the whipped cream. Sprinkle with grated chocolate. Chill until you are ready to serve.

This pie is better served fresh. Even covered in whipped cream, the bananas can get a little mushy for my taste once refrigerated. I made it and served it on Thursday, it was great on Friday. The last slice on Saturday was not as good as the one on Thursday. Serves 8.

Pretzel Button Snacks

April 4, 2012 6 comments

This is a quick snack that is perfect for parties. Hopefully there is enough time for you to try them this Easter weekend. This is also a versatile recipe with all the different flavors of Hershey’s Kisses and M&M’s that are now available. The flavor combinations are almost endless! There are also lots of new candy colors that make this an especially cute snack! If you want to coordinate with party colors, you can even order special colors of M&M’s from their website (http://www.mymms.com/).

Variations:

  • I tried these with Rolos and pecans. Not bad for a “quick turtle” candy treat. Sprinkle with a little flake salt for an extra sweet and salty treat.
  • Spelt pretzels are also very good in this recipe for people on a wheat-free diet! I like the spelt pretzels from Newman’s Own.
  • Removing the wrappers from the Kisses takes the most time (aside from the cooling).  To save time, you can use jumbo chocolate chips, sometimes found in the baking aisle.  They won’t be as chocolatey, but I bet they would still be delicious. 
  • You can also use chocolate disks or wafers found at cake supply stores (like Lynelle’s in Huntsville). 
  • Future experiment:  I think mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would be delicious, but I’m not sure how they would look (not that it really matters, since the taste would be so good!).
  • I don’t think the peanut M&M’s are as “cute” as the regular sized M&M’s, but they still taste good!
     

 Pretzel Button Snacks

1 bag pretzels (squares are perfect; round, or traditional also work)

1 bag Hershey’s Kisses (most any flavor would work)

1 bag M&M’s or Reese’s Pieces (most any flavor would work)

Preheat oven to 300º F.  Line a baking sheet (preferably with sides) with parchment paper.  Cover with a single layer of pretzels.  Place a Hershey’s Kiss in the center of each pretzel. Carefully move the baking sheet to the oven.  If you jostle them too much, you might end up with lopsided pretzel buttons (not that I did this or anything :-).  Bake for about  2½ to 3 minutes. Watch them while they cook; you don’t want them too melted.  You want them just melted enough to hold an M&M.  Remove baking sheet from the oven.  Immediately, press an M&M into each melted Kiss so it looks like a button.  Don’t press too hard or chocolate will squish everywhere. Allow the chocolate to harden before storing or serving.  You can either do this at room temperature (if you have enough time) or in the refrigerator (if you have enough space).  Store in an air-tight container.