Sunday, December 27, 2009

Baked Ziti and Meatballs: Sopranos Style

For the Meatballs
1 pound ground beef or a combination of beef and pork
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs, preferably homemade
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon very finely minced garlic
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all the ingredients except the oil in a large bowl. Mix together thoroughly. Rinse your hands with cool water and lightly shape the mixture into 2-inch balls. (Note: If you are making meatballs for lasagne or baked ziti, shape the meat into tiny balls the size of a small grape.)

Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the meatballs and brown them well on all sides. Transfer the meatballs to a plate.

Note:  The recipe goes on to say that you should finish cooking the meatball in the sauce . . . we didn't do that.

Thank goodness for comfort food.  I imagine that when an Italian girl eats baked ziti, she feels the way some people (Meredith) feel about macaroni and cheese.  I had made sauce a while ago and froze it, so I knew this wasn’t going to be an all day affair.  It might as well have been.  I defrosted two pounds of meat so I doubled the recipe.  Anyone know how many grape sized meatballs that makes?  A LOT!  That’s how many.  Also, I added hot Italian sausage to my baked ziti.  So, after cooking three batches of mini meatballs, I cut up some sausage and cooked it in a frying pan.  I've made this so many times before so I already knew how delicious it would be.  What’s not to like about pasta, sauce, cheese, meatballs and sausage?  I loved it, as always.

Mmmm... mac & cheese! Oh wait- that’s not what we were making? Italian Mac & Cheese! Close enough I suppose. Let’s get down to it: I, too, had sauce already made and in the freezer (non-Italians do this too!) so that part was done. I made the meatballs for Christmas dinner so they were already done too. So what DID I do today? Oh- I boiled pasta and grated cheese. But let me go back to the meatballs – they were absolutely delicious. It took a batch, but I finally figured out how to get the meatballs browned on all sides and not to stick to the pan. That I’m very proud of. I may make them my signature dish. Don’t tell Tony.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Forecast: Chili With a Chance of Cornbread

I’ve made chili before, but certainly not enough to wing it.  Here’s the recipe I used.  It's just a little different than the original recipe.

2 pounds ground beef
2 (16 ounce) cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with jalapenos, undrained
1 can Mexicorn with bell peppers
2 medium onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
Shredded Cheddar cheese
Light sour cream

In a skillet, cook beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Transfer to a slow cooker. Add the next ten ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4 hours. Garnish individual servings with cheese and sour cream if desired.

I love chili so I’m always going to have high hopes for it.  It’s a really easy recipe.  Next time, I’d either add more jalapeño peppers or maybe some cayenne.  It was a little spicy but I definitely needed more heat for my chili.  We also decided to make cornbread.  This was new to me.  I used the regular Jiffy mix and added a jalapeño to it. 

The verdict:  Chili was great but could have been spectacular with a little more heat.  Cornbread was easy and super tasty. 

I’d definitely make this again.  I feel like chili is something that I’d like to research a little more.  I’m thinking maybe try out different recipes until I find my favorite.  Maybe it’ll replace my quest for the world’s best nachos.  You know, now that I know where to find them.  (Lucky’s at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT.)  Anyway, maybe next time I’ll get up the nerve to try a recipe with cinnamon in it.  Oh, and one more thing.  Anyone know why we brown the meat before putting it in the slow cooker?  We throw all sorts of raw meats into the slow cooker.  What makes ground beef so different?  Just curious, really.  Whatever the reason, it works and it’s pretty yummy so I’m not going to go changing anything.

I’ve never used a recipe for chili so I certainly wasn’t going to start now! I typically cheat and start with a packet of Chili-O but since I was blogging this batch, I figured I’d go au naturale and just spice it up from the cabinet. So- I started by putting 93% lean ground beef in the skillet and once browned I added random amounts of: chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, cayenne and salt & pepper. While that simmered, I sauteed a diced Vidalia onion and two jalapeños in olive oil. Then I combined the meat and the cooked veggies and let that hang out while I started opening cans. Into the crockpot went: two cans of diced tomatoes with green chiles and two cans of dark red kidney beans (all undrained). The same combination of spices went on top of the tomatoes and beans and stir. Next I added the meat and cooked veggies to the pot. Stir well.Two more cans of tomatoes and more spices in the pot. Stir again. Finally I add one more diced onion, a diced green bell pepper, two more jalapeños and a can of corn. Oh, and more of those spices! Stir well, simmer for at least 4 hours.

You know- this was probably one of my favorite batches of chili I’ve ever made. It was spicy, zesty, tasty, comforting, chunky, smoky, veggie-licious WITHOUT all that sodium from the spice packs! I had mine with shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese, Fritos and a little dollop of (light) Daisy. OH! the cornbread! Saturday afternoon I picked up a bag of Southwestern-style jalapeño cornbread mix from the Napa Valley Pantry at Marshall’s on clearance. I would definitely recommend this to a friend. It tasted like corn cake with jalapeños in it. Really, really worth the three bucks. (P.S. Luckys! Luckys! I want nachos NOW!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Salted Peanut Chews

1 1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 egg yolks
3 cups miniature marshmallows

2/3 cup corn syrup
1/3 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 10-oz package peanut butter chips
2 cups crisp rice cereal
2 cups salted peanuts

Heat oven to 350.  In large bowl, combine all base ingredients, except marshmallows, at low speed until crumbly. Press firmly into bottom of ungreased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle immediately with marshmallows. Return to oven and bake 1-2 minutes or until marshmallows begin to puff.
In large saucepan combine all topping ingredients except cereal and peanuts. Heat until chips are melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in cereal and peanuts. Immediately spoon over marshmallows, spread to cover.
Refrigerate for 45 minutes or until firm.

When we decided we were going to do a dessert this week, I dragged out the little recipe book my mom made for me shortly after my grandmother died. I knew I'd find something in there that was both nostalgic and tasty. These salted peanut chews were exactly that. And so, I thank Mom (grandmother mom) for making these for us every Christmas. I think technically it's a Better Crocker recipe or something since you can find it all over the internet, but I'm sticking with believing they are a family treat!

These were really easy to make.  Perfect for someone who can't bake.  I mean, if you use 3 1/2 cups of marshmallows, you aren't going to ruin anything.  It took no time at all to make them.  The longest measure of time was the 45 minutes that I had to patiently wait while they cooled in the fridge.  I loved them.  They were chewy and delicious.  I'm taking them to a party tomorrow, but I'm saving some here for me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Green Chile Quiche


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 green chile peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust
  • 8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 4 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook peppers and onion until tender. Transfer to a bowl and mix with feta, sour cream and salt.
  • Spread bottom of pie crust with Monterey Jack cheese. Top cheese with pepper and onion mixture. Mix eggs and milk in a bowl; evenly pour over onion and pepper mixture. Top with Cheddar cheese.
  • Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until cheese is melted and eggs are firm.


Would you serve this to company? UH HUH! It was SO good. Savory, buttery, cheesy... Delicious!

Even though this was my first attempt at a quiche, I was hesitant to follow the recipe as written - I'm such a rebel... I refuse to believe that feta had any place in this ingredient list and so I substituted it for some shredded Parmesan. A couple other tweaks - I used added garlic, 4 eggs, 1% milk, light sour cream and about half the cheese. I'm not quite sure how the entire recipe worth of cheese would have fit into my 9" pie pan. That being said, the recipe was easy and makes me want to try my hand at adding just about anything to eggs and throwing it in a pie crust. I will be the Top Chef of QUICHE!


I love quiche.  I've never made one before, either.  I made a few changes . . . I used jalapeno peppers instead of chile peppers.  Whenever, the recipe called for cheese, I used 75% fat free sharp cheddar.  Finally, I added a can of diced tomatoes with jalapenos.  I drained them really well and cooked off the rest of the liquid with the onions and jalapenos.

I will say that I learned a few things during this process.  Next time (and there WILL be a next time), I plan to cook the pie shell just a little bit before filling it.  I feel like the bottom of the quiche should have been just a little crisper.
All in all, a very nice vegetarian option.  It'd make a great brunch item, too.  I had a salad with caesar dressing on the side.  That's all I needed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pot Roast

This pot roast was an issue from the get-go.  For starters, how can one expect the Italian girl from NY to know what pot roast is?  I picked up pork shoulder the first time around.  That wasn't right.  In my defense, it said pork roast.  I was making a roast, wasn't I?  On my second trip to the grocery store to rectify the situation, I had to text Meredith a million times to verify that I got the right meat. 

I have no idea what it's supposed to taste like.  I have no idea how to make it.  Hell, I don't even know what pot roast is.  The good news is that it's really easy to make.  The recipe I used, I found here.

2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 (1 ounce) package dry onion soup mix
1 1/4 cups water
5 1/2 pounds pot roast

In a slow cooker, mix cream of mushroom soup, dry onion soup mix and water. Place pot roast in slow cooker and coat with soup mixture. Cook on High setting for 3 to 4 hours, or on Low setting for 8 to 9 hours.

See, it doesn't say "beef" or "pork".  Anyway, moving right along . . .
I added carrots and celery to the bottom of the slow cooker.  When there were 90 minutes left, I sliced some mushrooms and added them to the slow cooker, too.
I would definitely make pot roast again.  Next time, I'll just make less of it.

Pot roast might be my favorite meal ever. It’s a commonly requested birthday dinner. So the idea of not knowing what it is was just so bizarre to me that we HAD to make it. Laura HAD to know why I love/make/eat it so much. That being said, I tried to do a couple things differently than my old standard. This time, I actually seared the meat first and after taking it out of the pan added roughly chopped onions, baby carrots and garlic and roasted the veggies in the oven for about 20 minutes. Everything then went into the crock pot with beef broth, onion soup mix, salt, pepper, etc. A couple of hours later I dropped a handful of mushrooms in for the duration of the cooking. I don’t think I noticed much difference in that extra effort. I made green bean casserole and these weird potato pancakes on the side. And I blame the photo quality this week on the mimosas ;)

 And Laura? Don’t make less next time... just give what you don’t want to me, ok?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Honey Grilled Shrimp

Honey Grilled Shrimp


1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons Italian-style salad dressing
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails attached
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

In a large bowl, mix together garlic powder, black pepper, 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce, wine, and salad dressing; add shrimp, and toss to coat. Cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat grill for high heat. Thread shrimp onto skewers, piercing once near the tail and once near the head. Discard marinade.

In a small bowl, stir together honey, melted butter, and remaining 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce. Set aside for basting.

Lightly oil grill grate. Grill shrimp for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until opaque. Baste occasionally with the honey-butter sauce while grilling.


I've made this recipe before and I loved it. I didn't baste, though. I put the honey into the marinade instead. Also, I fake grilled. Yeah, I said it - FAKE GRILLED. I let George Foreman grill for me and he did a GREAT job. I sprinkled some red pepper flakes on top. It was a nice kick to counteract the sweetness of the honey.

As a side I made Pineapple Salsa and it was really yummy. I approve of both recipes. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to get one of those brownies that I made today. No, I didn't bake them from scratch. Hey, there are some things better left to the professionals. Baking is one of them!


I was a little overzealous on this dinner plan! My “sides” for the shrimp were a New York strip, Crispy Smashed Potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts. As a result, I ended up slightly overcooking the shrimp, BUT the meal was delicious in any case.

To be honest, the marinade is almost identical to what I usually do for skewered shrimp. I added a little cayenne (next time I’ll add more), substituted olive oil for the Italian salad dressing and put some honey in with the marinade itself. I like using honey in grilled things – it does this kind of crusty, sticky glaze thing that is just heavenly. And yes - I “real” grilled of course.

The potatoes had some issues. They tasted good, but I couldn’t quite get the smashed part right. I think if I use smaller potatoes and cook them a little longer it might work out better. I’m not sure what the fix is, but rest assured I’ll keep trying.

The roasted Brussels sprouts really were the star of the show for me. I tossed raw sprouts with sliced shallots, garlic, bacon, olive oil, salt & pepper and roasted in a 450˚ oven for 25 minutes. I deglazed the roasting pan with a splash of white wine before serving. And as the star I believe they deserve a pic of their own!

Cheesy Tortilla Lasagna

1 cup (3 medium) chopped plum tomatoes
1 cup julienne-cut zucchini
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
1 (15oz) can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 (10oz.) can Old El Paso enchilada sauce
1 (8oz.) container southwest-flavor sour cream dip*
8 (6 inch) corn tortillas, halved
8 oz. (2 cups) shredded colby-jack cheese
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro

*can be made by mixing 1 cup sour cream with 1 tbsp. taco seasoning

Heat oven to 375ºF. Spray 13x9 inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In medium bowl, combine tomatoes, zucchini, onions and beans; mix well. Reserve 1/3 cup enchilada sauce; set aside. In another medium bowl, combine remaining enchilada sauce and sour cream dip; blend well.

Spoon 2 tablespoons enchilada sauce mixture in bottom of sprayed baking dish. Arrange 8 tortilla pieces over sauce, overlapping as necessary. Spoon half of the vegetable-bean mixture over tortillas, sprinkle with 2/3 cup of the cheese. Spoon half of the remaining sauce mixture over cheese. Repeat layers, reserving 2/3 cup cheese for top. Top with reserved 1/3 cup enchilada sauce. Cover with foil.

Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Uncover; sprinkle with reserved 2/3 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Let's see . . . I suppose I should start with the question on every Italian's mind: What the heck is a tortilla lasagna? It's a Mexican casserole. (Yeah, that answer didn't help me either.) Anyway, instinctively, I wanted to replace the tortillas with lasagna noodles. I would have too, if I could have found oven ready whole wheat noodles. Someone get on that, okay? The changes I did make were easy. I marinated chicken in a southwest marinade, then cooked and shredded it. I added yellow sweet peppers just because I had them and jalapenos because that sounded delicious. Had I remembered that I wanted to add corn, I would have done that too. Hey, leave me alone . . . I was out of my element here. I didn't have a southwest flavor dip so I used my Tastefully Simple Fiesta Party dip mix.

I made jalapeno corn bread in my bread maker as a side. If it was an Italian lasagna, I would have wanted bread so this made perfect sense to me.

The finished product was delish! I'm glad Meredith convinced me to make it. (Shh, don't tell her but I was totally on the fence with this one.) I would totally make this again. It will freeze well so I can freeze individual lunch size portions. I love that.

The only problem with the pictures of this lasagna is that you don't get a feel for how much stuff is in it. It looks prettier in person. If I was recommending other changes, I'd nix the zucchini and add corn instead. I think the chicken and jalapenos are a must. Then, with the extras (there will be extras) make a pretty plate and give some to your mom. At least, that's what I did. I should be on Top Chef when they deconstruct dishes. I could deconstruct Mexican casserole!

To be fair, I've made this recipe several times. I've made it by the letter with no changes; I've added ground beef; I've swapped veggies; I pretty much do what I like and have on hand. This time I added corn, fresh jalapeños, a red pepper. I also marinated chicken breasts in Badia's Mojo, grilled, then shredded and sauteed them in taco seasoning with a half an onion. For cheese, I did the Mexican shredded mix and some pepper jack. On the side I had some quick nachos and a Mexican side salad. Yum!

Once I'd made all my additions, I had enough stuffing for TWO 9x13s. It's a good thing I love this stuff. I'll eat it all week and freeze an entire casserole for another time.

Fit to Be Thai’d - Spicy Thai Slow Cooker Chicken


6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts -- or a combination!)
1/3 cup reduced fat peanut butter
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp Soy Sauce
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup sweet chili sauce
1/2 cup Sambal Oelek ground chili paste
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Place chicken (trimmed of visible fat) into slow cooker. Mix together peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, sweet chili sauce and sambal oelek. Pour over chicken. Cook on Low 8 hours or on High 4 hours. Serve 1 piece of chicken and sauce with chopped peanuts and cilantro as garnish.

Number of Servings: 6
We Found the Recipe Here


Umami! Yeah I have no idea if this was umami or not but I loved it. I ate it for a week straight and would eat it right now if I still had some left (I do have some left. It’s just in the freezer). I used the combination of boneless, skinless breasts and thighs, didn’t measure any of my ingredients and went for the red curry paste instead of the Sambal Oelek because that’s all I found. I also threw a couple dried red chiles into the pot on a whim. I ate mine with brown rice, sauteed broccoli and carrots and topped with green onions. I found the dish to have a slow, not so in your face heat that the peanut butter may have cooled. In any case, the PB added a creaminess and extra element of flavor (maybe umami?). I think this will end up being a go-to meal for me, especially since I don’t think that it necessarily NEEDS the crock pot. Thumbs up!

Ok, here's what I changed. I used more reduced fat peanut butter than what the recipe said. (I have an unnatural obsession with peanut butter, but that's an entirely different blog.) I used ground, rather than fresh, ginger. I couldn't find chili paste so I used an entire bottle of red curry paste because, well because it seemed like a good idea. Finally, I used the whole bottle of chili sauce.

This was really flavorful. It was aromatic. It tasted like some sort of Thai / Indian fusion dish. It was spicy, but not hot. It was . . . umami? Okay, not umami. I guess I'm trying to say that the dish had heat but not in that hot, red pepper kind of way. My suggestion would be to either make less of it or serve it to people. It's a really tasty dish but not something that I wanted to eat for a whole week straight. I guess I could have frozen it, but there's no room in my freezer anymore. (Again, an entirely different blog topic.)

The bottom line: Very appetizing. The dish reminded me of take out. It had that kind of feel to it. I ate it as a wrap and with rice on the side. Either way, it was enjoyable. So go ahead, try it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Smoke ’em if you got ’em! (BBQ!)

It’s Smoker Week! (And apparently LOTS of pictures week) I spent some time last month building a terra cotta flower pot smoker à la Alton Brown on Good Eats. I went from Home Depot to Lowes to Taylors to the little Feed ‘n Seed on the corner in search of my parts and pieces:
  • 16" terra cotta pot
  • standard hot plate
  • replacement grill grate
  • metal pie pan
  • 16" round terra cotta planter (This was ridiculously hard to find*)
  • replacement grill temperature gauge
  • bricks and/or planter “feet”
It finally came together with a price tag of around $50. They had a metal smoker at Home Depot for about that price. I could explain why terra cotta is better than metal... heat insulation, blah blah blah - but you know what? Take a couple minutes to watch Alton's video up there and see what he has to say.

On to the build! Once I had gathered everything I needed, I started assembling. The best piece of advice I ran across on the Internet was from Dave Naffziger’s blog post regarding getting the heating element OUT of the smoker itself. A little tricky on the reconnect of the wires through the pot, but otherwise a piece of cake. We want the temperature knob outside where we can adjust it!

Next goes the metal pan with the wood chunks. I used applewood and soaked them overnight. The first time I used the smoker, I skimped on the soaking time and had some flare ups and more smoke than I’d have liked. The grill grate sits nicely in the lip of the pot near the top.

Place the lid on top, stick the temperature gauge in the hole in top and we’re done!

Plug it in and voila! Smoke!

My first attempt at smoking I brined and rubbed a turkey breast with average results. In my opinion, it was too smoky BUT the lessons I learned from this trial run definitely paid off for my hunk o’ pork.
  1. Preheat the smoker! It'll take at least 45 minutes to get to 215˚F.
  2. Don’t short yourself on wood soaking time. The longer the better... overnight won't hurt. You’ll have a slower, longer smoke and there is less chance of a random fire.
  3. Have LOTS of aluminum foil handy. I don’t remember what for, but I know I ran out at 6am and wasn’t very happy about it.
  4. Don’t keep opening the lid. You’ll only let heat out and if air hits that smoldering wood down there.... again with the fire. Not fun.
And without further ado, the pulled pork (ahem- BBQ) that almost made Laura cry...

Pulled Pork BBQ
I used Alton’s recipe for the brine and rub with a couple of adjustments for my tastes. Starting with a 7 pound Boston Butt, I brined it from Wednesday night to Friday morning in a huge container filled with pickling salt, molasses, water, minced garlic and black peppercorns.

When the alarm went off at 5:30am, I got the smoker set up and going and pulled the meat out of the brine to take the chill off. At 6:15 the alarm went off again and I trudged into the kitchen to apply the rub I’d made the night before: ground cumin, ground coriander, chili powder, onion powder, paprika, garlic powder and a little black pepper. I used already ground spices because that's what I had on hand. Alton grinds his own :P

Ready to go:

At this point the smoker was at temperature, so I added a couple of chunks of applewood, put the meat on and went back to bed! About halfway through the smoke (at about 5 hours), I replenished the wood. At 10 hours I started checking for doneness by trying to pull the meat with a fork. I decided to let it go for one more hour and took it off at the 11 hour mark, wrapped it in foil and let it rest for an hour.

And then the pulling began.... (and initial sampling that made me go “WHOA! That is GOOD!”)

All pulled, chopped and out on the platter. Turns out it didn’t need any sauce at all, so I served my two saucy concoctions on the side along with some Frank’s Red Hot.

Rounding out dinner, we had baked beans (also Alton’s recipe), macaroni salad (Laura’s specialty), and coleslaw for the BBQ, of course. Delish! I honestly couldn’t have hoped for it to come out any better than it did.

Next time Boston Butt goes on sale I’m stocking up my freezer. In the meantime, I’ll be plotting what to smoke next! Beef maybe? Oh and I’d be remiss to not mention dessert: monkey bread and homemade honey ice cream!

*at time of posting, I have since broken the impossible to find lid to my smoker. I know what I’m doing this weekend since I’ve promised my parents BBQ for their birthday dinner!

Really, WHO gets up at 5:30 in the morning to make dinner? Slow cookers are for meals that take all day, aren't day? Millions of cookbooks were based on “fix it and forget it”. Not a single cookbook that I’ve ever seen talks about how to spend ALL DAY making dinner for your friends by fussing every hour with temperatures and wood. Naturally, I rolled my eyes. As far as I was concerned, this was just some quirky idea that was just going to make everything taste like smoke. I have a hard enough time making things on the grill not taste like smoke. Do I really want that on purpose?

Fast forward to noontime. Smoked food smell is wafting through Meredith’s house. Wait, I think SHE smells like the smoker. Oddly, I’m not repelled by it at all. It’s delicious. I was expecting the smoke smell that cigarettes give off. I was pleasantly surprised.

The rest of the process is a blur because I wasn’t going anywhere near that thing. This was her baby – I was staying out of it. I was planning on politely nodding when asked if it tasted good. You can imagine my surprise when I actually got to taste it. It was absolutely delicious. I’m going to be honest with you; it took all I had to wait for everyone to get to her house so I could eat.

I learned a lot from that meal. First, pork butt is not bad. (Meredith’s aside: It’s not the pork’s BUTT! It's its shoulder!) It may not sound like something you want to eat, but made correctly, it’s worth it. Second, barbecue is NOT something you make by turning on the grill. Finally, monkey bread is awesome.

Let it be known that I mentioned wanting to set up a smoker at my house. Let it also be known that I’m not going to do it. I don’t know that I have the patience to wake up early and constantly check temperatures.

Here’s my bottom line: If you have a free day and want to make something that tastes unlike anything else, then by all means go for it. Otherwise, do what I plan to do and request it at Meredith’s house. Now if I could just get her to make me some banana ice cream.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Meatloaf Mania

Some things are difficult to nail down with a recipe.  For example, everyone makes sauce in different ways.  The same applies for meatloaf.  There was no way we were both going to agree on one recipe that we wanted to use.  I have a standard recipe, but I thought that this would be a good time to try a stuffed meatloaf.  My normal meatloaf is a comfort food for me.  I wanted something out of the norm, but not too crazy.  I've seen recipes for meatloaf stuffed with spinach so that's what I looked for.  I found a Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Meatloaf recipe that I wanted to try.  Here's the recipe with my changes noted:

Cheesy Spinach-Stuffed Meatloaf (Pinwheel meatloaf aka Tournade)

1½ pounds lean ground beef (I used meatloaf mix)
¾ cup soft bread crumbs (1/2 cup used instead)
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt (I omitted the salt)
⅛ teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons ketchup
¼ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (I didn't top the meatloaf with more cheese)

1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, well drained
½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (1/3 cup of cheese used instead)
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (I used Mrs. Dash Italian blend)
¼ teaspoon salt (Again, no salt - the Mrs. Dash took care of that)
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder

1. Heat oven to 350°. In medium bowl, combine filling ingredients; mix well. Set aside. In large bowl, combine meatloaf ingredients, mixing lightly but thoroughly.

2. Place beef mixture on waxed paper and pat into 14 x 10-inch rectangle. Spread filling over beef, leaving ¾-inch border around edges. Starting at short end, roll up jelly-roll fashion. Press beef mixture over spinach filling at both ends to seal. Place seam side down on rack in open roasting pan.

3. Bake in 350° oven 1 hour. Spread ketchup over loaf; return to oven and continue baking 15 minutes. Top loaf with ¼ cup mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with additional Italian seasoning, if desired.

4. To serve, cut into 1-inch thick slices.

Okay, so the rolling of the meatloaf seemed a little odd.  It certainly went a lot better than the Chicken Cordon Bleu rolling.  Once I got the hang of it, the rest was easy.  The next time though, I'd use less spinach.  There seemed to be a lot of it in every bite.  Other than that, I thought the meatloaf was delicious. 

I'm soooo tired! And yet I made THREE meatloaves? oy. I didn't plan very well for this other than having the ground beef thawed and so eventually winged (wanged? wung?) it once I got to the kitchen. I started with a basic mixture of lean ground beef, finely diced onions, minced garlic and a couple of eggs; split that into three bowls and went from there.

To the first bowl I added: some grated Parmesan, Italian breadcrumbs and a spoonful of the red pasta sauce I made last weekend. Formed a simple loaf and topped it the last 10 minutes of baking with a mixture of ketchup, dried minced onion, brown sugar, pepper and dry mustard. To the second bowl I added: diced green chiles, panko breadcrumbs and stuffed the loaf (no rolling- just layered) with roasted red & yellow peppers and some pepper jack cheese. It was topped at the end with salsa.

To the last bowl I added: Worcestershire, onion soup mix, panko and stuffed it with a couple slices of muenster cheese. I topped it with the marsala/mushroom sauce that I'd made yesterday at dinner. All three loaves were served with mashed potatoes and an assortment of roasted veggies.

I actually liked them all. The Italian-ish one was most like my mother's that she used to shape into a heart for Valentine's Day. The beefy, mushroom-y one was just that – bold, rich and paired very well with the potatoes. The Mexican loaf was the most interesting I think – great flavor, I see potential here for something really fun.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pizza (That's Amoré)

Laura's Pizza
Pizza?  Hell yeah I'll make pizza.  I love making pizza.  I have a bread machine that makes the dough.  Anyone who thinks it's a piece of equipment that just takes up space needs to taste the difference between premade dough and bread machine dough.  Sure, I could make it all by hand, but I'll save that for the professionals.

My pizza of choice was pesto margarita.  The layers are:
dough - pesto sauce (I made pesto months ago and froze it in ice cube trays for easy use) - diced tomatoes with jalapenos (drained well) - shredded mozzarella - fresh basil - minced garlic

To grill or not to grill.  That was the question.  If not for the rain, I would have (maybe) attempted to grill it.  Maybe I would have made one personal pizza on the grill and the other in the oven.  Weather conditions as they were, they both were baked in the oven, on a pizza stone.  If you're going to make pizza, please invest in a pizza stone.  The crust just crisps up so much nicer with one.

The pizza was delicious.  I never made a pesto margarita pizza before.  It came out better than I had expected.  The crust was crispy enough to stand up to the bite test.  (My pet peeve is when you order a pizza and you go to take a bite just to have all the toppings slide off the slice.)  If people wonder why I'm not a fan of ordering pizza when I go out, this is why.  So, bottom line, I'll definitely make this pizza again.  I think I'm going to enjoy finding different toppings to use.  I'd love to know what everyone likes to put on their pizzas.  Doesn't everyone have a favorite?

Meredith's Pizza

OH Today was BUSY! I have no clue why I decided to build a smoker, smoke a turkey, make pasta sauce, grill some chicken AND make pizzas. I'm exhausted!

I made two different pizzas. I took the easy road and used two doughs I bought at Trader Joe's. On the first (whole wheat) dough I did: my homemade sauce (spicy!), pepperoni, roasted onions, roasted red peppers and mozzarella. I tossed fresh red peppers and a vidalia onion with some olive oil, salt & pepper and roasted at 375 for about an hour. I think the pepper was my favorite part of the entire meal.

The second crust (garlic and herb I think?) got a white treatment. I made a white sauce by sauteing onions and garlic in olive oil and then stirring in some light cream- finished with a little salt, pepper and fresh thyme. This went on first followed by a ricotta mixture (ricotta, thyme, garlic), caramelized onions, roasted garlic, prosciutto, and mozzarella.

To be honest I preferred the traditional red sauced pizza. The white pizza came out heavier than I'd have liked and the prosciutto ended up being moot- I think it was too delicate to hold up to the richness of the cream sauce and the ricotta. Bacon would have gone nicely here. The grilling of the pizzas is something I'd like to perfect in the future. My first attempt proved slightly undercooked in some spots- I feel the right temp on the grill and a better stretching of the dough is key.

(I couldn't decide on a pic)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Steak and Sweet Potato Fries

Let me start by saying that the reason why we didn't cook apart this weekend was because we were together. Then, please allow me to continue on by saying that I'll never master the art of grilling steak.  I'm learning to grill, but it seems to be a slow and painful process.  So, that being said, I present to you the steak and sweet potato fries that we made for my mom before we went out to dinner.  (Hey, you didn't think we'd spend our weekend cooking for this blog, did you?)

Meredith made the steak on my grill.  I have no idea what went on it.  You'll have to hope that she'll share that secret with you.  I made the sweet potato fries, sort of.  I put them in the oven and left them.  Meredith turned them and made sure they were done.

My mom loves steak.  That's where this whole steak thing comes from.  Last time she (Meredith) was here, she made a steak so good that my mom STILL talks about it.  So, Meredith thought it would be a nice thing to make mom dinner before we went out.  How'd it taste?  I took a bite and was jealous.  How'd my mom like it?  Well, her response should say it all.  After taking a bite, mom said "How do you DO it?".  That, should say it all.

Finally, I wanted to mention that Meredith is planning on making a smoker for when I go there in October.  Maybe if we're lucky, she'll take us through the process.  Meredith?  What do you say?

I don't have a lot to add to be honest. The steak got a little Worcestershire, salt, pepper and minced garlic and then was grilled over high heat for about 5 minutes per side. That's the BIG secret answer to the "How do you DO it?" question.

As as for the smoker, I have an entire blog entry in mind complete with pictures, step by step instructions and diagrams :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese

6 cups water
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp vegetable oil
1 lb small elbow macaroni
2 tbsp and 1/2 tsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1/4 tsp freshly ground black (or white pepper)
1/2 lb smoked gouda cheese, grated (or 1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese)
6 oz bacon, chopped

Cooking Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put the water, 1/2 tsp of salt, and oil in a large, heavy saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook — stirring occasionally, until tender for about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool water — set aside.

In a large sauté pan cook bacon until crispy for about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Set aside. In a small-heavy saucepan — melt 2 tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook — stirring constantly — for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp salt and pepper and continue whisking until the sauce is smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 8 minutes. Remove the white sauce from the heat and stir in the 6 oz of the cheese. Add the bacon. Continue stirring until the cheese melts.

Lightly grease a 6 1/2 x 10 inch dish casserole dish with the remaining 1/2 tsp. butter. Combine the cheese sauce, macaroni, and bacon in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Taste and season , if necessary. Pour into the prepared casserole and sprinkle remaining 2-oz cheese on top. Bake until lightly golden on top, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

We found this recipe here.

Laura's Macaroni and Cheese

I don't understand how I never knew about homemade macaroni and cheese.  I mean, I knew it could be made, but it seemed silly when all I need to do was add milk, butter and a cheesy powder to some macaroni.  And let's talk about the bacon.  I don't even LIKE bacon.  I've always felt like the place for bacon was on a BLT and little else.  Well, let's add mac and cheese to the list of places where I will always want to see bacon. 

I did make some changes.  I used all the gouda in the sauce and topped the casserole with extra shredded cheese.  Then, to make it really perfect, I sprinkled beautiful panko bread crumbs on top of that. 

Now, when I think of the perfect macaroni and cheese, I imagine a gooey mess.  It might be the Italian in me that wants to see the cheese melted and stringy as the mac and cheese goes from the casserole to the dish.  Whatever it is, I didn't feel I could accomplish that by drying it out in the oven.  My answer to that was to combine everything as directed and then broil it until the panko bread crumbs browned.  It was a perfect plan.  The only problem, it still needed more cheese.  Other than that, I'll never eat macaroni and cheese out of a box again and you shouldn't either.

Meredith's Macaroni and Cheese (TWO WAYS)

Alright, alright..... I've made macaroni and cheese a THOUSAND times. I mean- I live in Virginia- Hello!! It's a Thanksgiving staple. But I have NEVER made Patti Labelle's Over the Rainbow Macaroni & Cheese. It is HANDS DOWN the best mac & cheese I've ever eaten/made. That's saying a lot. I pitted it against the Emeril recipe above and Patti wins!! PLUS bacon went into both! Did you hear me? I said bacon!

All 4 stove eyes going, I accomplished macaroni & cheese two ways. Both delicious. However, Patti's recipe will now become mine around November. (Oh- and I posted two pics because, you know, it's mac and cheese TWO WAYS!)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 double chicken breasts (about 7-ounces each), skinless and boneless
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 thin slices deli ham
16 thin slices Gruyere or Swiss cheese
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup flour
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp olive oil
2 eggs
2 tsp water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lay the chicken between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently pound the chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. Take care not to pound too hard because the meat may tear or create holes. Lay 2 slices of cheese on each breast, followed by 2 slices of ham, and 2 more of cheese; leaving a 1/2-inch margin on all sides to help seal the roll. Tuck in the sides of the breast and roll up tight like a jellyroll. Squeeze the log gently to seal.

Season the flour with salt and pepper; spread out on waxed paper or in a flat dish. Mix the breadcrumbs with thyme, kosher salt, pepper, and oil. The oil will help the crust brown. Beat together the eggs and water, the mixture should be fluid. Lightly dust the chicken with flour, then dip in the egg mixture. Gently coat in the bread crumbs. Carefully transfer the roulades to a baking pan and bake for 20 minutes until browned and cooked through. Cut into pinwheels before serving.

Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence & The Food Network

Laura’s Chicken Cordon Bleu

First of all, I hate my camera.  I'm just putting that out there.  Moving right along . . . I'm in love.  Yep, I said it: IN LOVE!  I don't know where panko bread crumbs have been all my life, but I've seen the light. 

The preparation of this dish was messy.  First of all, I don't want to pound out chicken.  After pounding the chicken for what seemed like an eternity, it seemed like they still weren't thin enough so I cut down the amount of ham and swiss.  Then came the breading part.  I know all about not using the same hand for the egg as you do for the bread crumbs, but I couldn't avoid it here.  I kept feeling like the chicken was going to unfold and I did all I could to not let that happen.

I had roasted garlic and pecan rice and some asparagus to go along with it.  We had debated on sauce and finally decided on a mornay sauce with some mustard added in. 

The chicken was delicious.  I was really glad that we decided to use a sauce because it would have been a little too dry otherwise.  Honestly, I'd make it again just so I'd have an excuse to use the panko bread crumbs one more time.  A really delicious dish, just extend the cooking time and be prepared to get a little messy with the bread crumbs.  Trust me, it was worth it!

Meredith’s Chicken Cordon Bleu

I'm going to second almost everything Laura just said (except I LOVE my camera). The pounding... oh the pounding! As soon as I started, I remembered why I don't stuff/roll/roulade things. If anyone has the secret to getting a piece of chicken from one-inch thick down to a mere 1/4"-inch without decimating it, please share. I'm all ears.

Despite the messiness in preparation, the finished product surprisingly held together well on the pan. I ended up extending the cooking time to about 35 minutes. My (super delicious, wonderful golden gems of) Panko never got as brown as I'd have preferred. I'd actually recommend upping the temperature to 400˚ and cooking for about 20-25 minutes.

I topped mine with a white sauce made with swiss, dijon and a little thyme. Is it still a mornay if I embellished? I cooked up some yellow squash with onions and garlic and a little rotini with some of the cheese sauce to finish the plate.

All in all, it was tasty. Next time, I'd use more ham, skip rolling it up and just top the breaded chicken at the last minute with the ham and cheese. And would just have a mound of toasted Panko crumbs as a side ;)