Sunday, March 27, 2011

Karli the Herb Farmer

Today I invested $8.99 in a little pellet "greenhouse" for herb seeds. I spent about $7 on cilantro, basil, parsley and mint seeds. So for about $16.00 I'm starting my own herb farm. This is a brand new venture for me--the person who thinks she lacks a green thumb. Only time will tell at this point.

From the picture, you can see my rows and the cute little pellets. Once the seeds have germinated and sprouted I can transplant them into pots and move them outside.
Grow, babies, grow!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fat Tuesday Dessert: Bread Pudding with Grand Marnier Caramel Sauce

I feel like my new knowledge is dangerous for my waistline. That knowledge is: I had everything I needed to make this dessert and didn't know it. Well, now I know. I can make bread pudding and caramel sauce pretty much any time I please. I sort of wish it had been more difficult to make...maybe that would deter me.

Alas, it was Fat Tuesday and I decided Brent and I needed to celebrate. So I added bourbon to a pasta dish, aptly named it Bourbon Street Salmon Pasta, and then created one of the tastiest desserts ever! This made enough (well a little more than enough) for the two of us. We also had leftover sauce...I've decreased the amount in my version below.

Bread Pudding with Grand Marnier Caramel Sauce
3 1/2 slices stale French bread
1 1/2 Tbsp melted margarine
2 eggs
1 cup milk (I used skim)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 Tbsp light corn syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp margarine
1 Tbsp Grand Marnier

Tear bread into bite-sized cubes and place in shallow baking dish and drizzle with melted margarine. In a bowl, mix together the remaining pudding ingredients. Pour over bread and press down to make sure each piece is soaking. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, until bread springs back and no longer looks "eggy."

In small sauce pan, heat sauce ingredients, stirring occasionally.

Top bread pudding with sauce and whipped cream.

Next time I'll put less sauce on our portions, but as I said, I made too much this time. I'll also add pecans to the bread pudding. I know many people like raisins, but Brent doesn't like them, so I'll pass on that addition.

Side note: If you don't stale bread, simply put the torn pieces into a 250 degree F oven for about 10 minutes. That should dry them out enough to soak up all the pudding. 

Fat Tuesday: Bourbon Street Salmon Pasta

I have to say, I'm pretty pleased with the name of this dish. Perhaps it would have been named differently, but since it was Fat Tuesday, this seemed appropriate. Anything to make the mid-week doldrums a little more fun!

I got the inspiration for this pasta dish from a recipe for Scotch Salmon. I already had all the ingredients except the smoked salmon, which also pleased me. (Don't start thinking I'm easy to please, now)

This whole meal came together in about 30 minutes and provided enough for 3 hearty servings. You easily substitute a different vegetable if you don't like/have peas. Also, I think a jarred sun-dried tomato pesto would have been a nice addition.

Bourbon Street Salmon Pasta
1 1/2 cups farfalle (bow tie) pasta
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp margarine
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup bourbon whiskey (I used Brent's expensive Basil Hayden's--shhh)
2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
1/2 cup milk (I used skim and it came out just fine, but of course heavy cream would be dreamy)
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup (8 oz) smoked salmon, cut into 1 inch pieces
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat large skillet over medium heat. Melt oil and butter, adding garlic when melted. Cook for about 1 minute. Add flour and stir quickly to remove any clumps. Add bourbon, stock, sun-dried tomatoes and parsley, cooking about 3 minutes until slightly thick and bubbly.

Tip: If you don't have bourbon in your house you can substitute 1 tsp vanilla extract or sparkling apple cider!

Add milk, peas and salmon and cook through until peas are cooked. Season with salt and pepper as appropriate.
The sauce before adding the pasta

Drain pasta and add to skillet, tossing to combine.

Colorful and bursting with flavor

This dish doesn't need a lot of extra salt since the stock and smoked salmon provide that flavor. I really enjoyed this, but found myself wishing I'd added some shallots when I added the garlic. I think it needed that slightly onion-y taste.

But overall, I was really happy with my impromptu Fat Tuesday main course. Of course, we had to follow it up with a wonderful Bread Pudding with Grand Marnier Caramel Sauce!

Ethnic Comfort Food: Moroccan Meatball Stew

Last Saturday morning I turned on the Food Network as I was sipping my coffee and cuddling with my furkid. Rachael Ray's new show happened to be on and I'll admit, I was hooked. She prepares a whole week's worth of meals in one day and provides instruction on how to finish the meal on the day you choose to serve.

Most of the meals looked "just ok" however one meal caught my eye and taste buds. Her Moroccan Meatballs with Eggs was unlike any other dish I'd ever seen. She made little meatballs with lamb, mint and traditional meatball binders. Then she created what I call a stew with diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, onions and zucchini. What gives this dish its ethnic (Moroccan) flare is the spice mixture known as Ras El Hanout. She provided a recipe to make your own from spices in your cupboard.

Ras El Hanout
1 Tbsp Turmeric
1 Tbsp Cumin
1 Tbsp Coriander
1 Tbsp Paprika
1 1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Allspice
1 tsp Cardamom
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/2 tsp Cloves

I made the spice mix and stored it in a glass jar. You won't use all of this in one recipe--you could also mix and match these spices to your liking and make very little if you didn't want leftovers.

Moroccan Meatball Stew
1 pound ground lamb or beef (I used beef)
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
5 eggs, 1 for meatballs, 4 for poaching and serving, optional
1 medium onion, 1/4 onion grated and juiced, 3/4 onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, 2 minced or pasted, 2 sliced
1 small handful fresh mint leaves, leaves picked and finely chopped
Pinch ground cinnamon
Few grates nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for liberal drizzling
1 small zucchini, sliced on an angle or chopped
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Spice Blend or Ras el hanout
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas
A handful cilantro, leaves picked and chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the large mixing bowl, combine the meat, bread crumbs, 1 egg lightly beaten, 2 to 3 tablespoons grated onion and juice, 2 cloves minced garlic, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and a liberal drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Roll the meat into walnut-size balls and arrange the meatballs on a large baking tray. Roast the meatballs until cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meatball ingredients before mixing

Meanwhile, heat more extra-virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion to the pan with the sliced garlic, and zucchini. Cook 7 to 8 minutes, then add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, honey, and spice blend, and bring to a bubble. Drain the chickpeas and stir into the sauce. Remove the meatballs from the oven and slide into the sauce. Cool entire mixture completely and store in fridge for make-ahead meal.

When I was ready to serve this, I reheated half of the meatball mixture in a smaller sauce pan over medium heat. Add a bit of water if the sauce is too thick. I made 2 "wells" in the sauce and dropped one egg in each well. Cover the pot and simmer the eggs in the bubbly mixture until poached. Carefully scoop the mixture into a shallow bowl, being sure not to break the egg. When ready to eat, break the yolk and stir around like a gravy! YUM!

Served with crusty French bread. This was perfect for a snowy March night!
Brent's review: While he enjoyed this, I knew it wasn't a hit with him when he didn't take it as his lunch the next day. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Cook's Best Friend

I just had to share this picture I took while I was doing my cooking today. I was in the kitchen for a couple hours, chopping and stirring and making little meatballs (post coming next). I'm sure it smelled delicious. This fellow enjoyed watching until he fell asleep right in the middle of the kitchen floor.

We adopted Porter on January 15th and he's quickly become part of our family. He loves to be close to one of us at all times and will make himself comfortable wherever we are.

When we adopted him, he weighed 103 pounds. His health was at risk and he really needed someone to help him lose weight with diet and exercise. I'm proud to say that he currently weighs about 90 pounds. I consider that a big accomplishment! We just need to lose about 10-15 to be considered healthy for his build.

As a side note, look how shiny and beautiful his coat is! 

Cheesy Sunday Night Dinner

I watched Rachael Ray's new show this morning as I was enjoying my coffee and oatmeal. The new show is based on the concept of cooking a week's worth of food in one day. Then all you have to do is re-heat when the busy week commences. I fell in love with one dish, so I did the cooking for that today. I'll post the recipe and pictures on the night we actually eat it! Can't wait.

Since I was on a Rachael Ray kick, I pulled out a cookbook I was given a couple years ago. There are some really great quick recipes so I made one for dinner tonight. This dinner took me all of 15 minutes. WOW.

Gnocchi with Spinach and Gorgonzola
2 (10 oz) boxes of frozen chopped spinach
2 (14 to 16 oz) packages fresh gnocchi (I used DeLallo brand Tri-Color and Whole Wheat)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp chopped garlic (I used the jarred kind because its so quick and easy)
black pepper
1 cup chicken stock
8 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Defrost the spinach in the microwave according to package instructions. Drain in colander.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for gnocchi.

Place walnut in saute pan over medium heat and toast until fragrant, about 4 minutes.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and then the spinach, breaking up with spatula. Season with salt and pepper, add the stock and bring to a light boil. Add the Gorgonzola and stir until the cheese melts.

As the cheese is melting, add the gnocchi to the pot. Cook about 3 minutes, until the gnocchi start to float to the top. Drain, then add the spinach mixture to the drained gnocchi and toss to coat. Add in most of the walnuts. Serve topped with reserved walnuts.

We purchased a rotisserie chicken while we were at the store this afternoon. It went perfectly with the slightly heavy gnocchi.

This dish was a winner! Because it didn't require heavy cream for the sauce, this is relatively healthy. Although, I didn't like the whole wheat gnocchi as well as the regular or tri-color.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Valentine's Two-Steppin' Tenderloin

The perfect Valentine's Day meal...except I didn't make it on Valentine's Day! Brent was travelling, so I made this a couple weeks before the romantic holiday.

I'll admit, I was really disappointed with the tenderloins that I purchased from my local grocer. I bought them packaged since they were on sale. I should have known better...they put the "bad" side down, so I couldn't see that it had some weird connective tissue on one side. Blech. Note to self...spend $1 more and pick the exact cuts I want from the meat case.

BUT I cooked the tenderloins perfectly and the pesto and rice "pilaf" came out nicely! The cool thing about this recipe is the cooking method. It's like a chef's secret: from the stove top to the oven = perfectly browned and perfectly medium rare (or whatever doneness you prefer).

A tip to cut down on ingredients and time: buy jarred pesto. YES, making your own is probably healthier because you can control the amount of oil, type of nuts, etc. But making it myself made for more dishes to wash--I'm not a fan of more dishes. :)

Two-Steppin' Tenderloin

Colorful and easy!

Dinner in a Flash!

I had to go to a meeting on a Monday night so I only had a short amount of time after taking the dog on a walk (YES, we got a dog!) before I had to leave. Brent wasn't home from work yet. Yikes! What to do? Make something that can hold and/or be served at room temperature. Bingo.

Cannellini Bean and Arugula Salad
3 Roasted Red Peppers, canned, chopped
1 garlic clove
lemon zest
4 Tbs chopped parsley
14 oz can cannellini beans, drained
2 Tbs lemon juice
2Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 small bunch arugula leaves

Mix together beans, garlic, zest, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Place arugula on plate and drizzle with a bit more lemon juice and olive oil if you like. Scatter the beans on the arugula, top with peppers and then bean mixture.

I served with a simple baked salmon. I used similar flavors to make it all go together--squeezed a little lemon juice and some olive oil on the salmon before baking.
This was so light and fresh. Very healthy!

Baked Brie Success

My mom has been watching the food network and reading more foodie stuff lately. Blame it on me, I guess. She was bound and determined that she was going to make a baked brie for a dinner party. While we were on a trip to CostCo she purchased a prepared brie but I decided to take a stab at making my own.

Phyllo Dough
Brie Wheel
Raspberry Preserves
Egg Whites
In that order...easy


I had to put a little something on the top--but as you see below...

I covered up the snowflake cut out with my raspberry garnishes.

Roasted Dinner

First of all, let's just get it out there. My last post was in November and it is now March. Oh my! Where does the time go?

Ok, I feel better now.

We had some friends over for dinner the other night and I was particularly proud of the meal I prepared that night. Sometimes I'm critical of my recipes, but this time I wasn't. It was the bomb. Especially the (couldn't be easier) Bacon-Wrapped Dates. My mouth is watering remembering them!

This is less of a recipe and more of a concept. Cut each date (I planned on 2-3 per person) on one side and remove the pit. Cut pieces of Manchego cheese to fit neatly inside each date. Cut strip of bacon to just wrap around the stuffed date. You don't want to double up or the bacon will be raw. Put toothpick through each date. Cook in oven at 400. Turn after 6 minutes. Cook another 6 minutes. Make sure the bacon is done to your liking. Remove and let cool slightly. Drizzle with a bit of maple syrup (mine happened to have bourbon mixed in it from the glaze I'd just made for the salmon-below).
Before cooking

Absolutely delicious!

On to the rest of the meal. I tossed cauliflower in olive oil, salt and pepper. I roasted it at 400 for probably 20 minutes. Tossing occasionally. When it appeared nice and golden, I seasoned with a little bit of lemon juice and chipotle powder.
Roasting gives the cauliflower a unique flavor

Roasted some asparagus too!

I got so excited about the meal that I forgot to get a finished shot of the salmon. But I did get the pre-cooked shot. I drizzled a maple syrup/bourbon mixture on this salmon before cooking and halfway through. Simple.