Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Napa Valley

Girl's weekend in Napa Valley . . . where do I start? It was amazingly relaxing and so special to be with my sisters, sister-in-law, aunt and cousin for 3 days. I really don't have any good explanation for why I've never been there before (and why my wine-loving husband has never been there either) and it exceeded my expectations. Even though I couldn't participate in the wine tasting because I'm pregnant, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. A special thanks to J for staying home with our daughter so I could have so much fun!


Hidden Oak Bed and Breakfast in Sonoma - clean, charming home and great breakfasts (and snacks)

Go Fish! in St. Helena - the pictures speak for themselves

The Oxbow Market in Napa - not quite the Ferry Market building, but really cool.

Tour of the Kunde wine cave and Rombauer - probably my favorites of the wineries we visited.

Lunch at the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America where I even ate pate and smelt - two things I don't normally enjoy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dessert for Friends

Last weekend, we were lucky to be invited to friend's houses for Saturday lunch, Saturday dinner, and Sunday dinner (well, that was women - the dads and kids ordered pizza). I showed my appreciation by baking and it was fun. First up were the cupcakes you see there for my godson Charlie's post-baptism party. It was a new recipe for orange cupcakes.  I didn't fill them with any jelly or filling, just frosted with a cream cheese frosting and served.

Orange Cupcakes (makes 28 regular sized ones)
from Cupcake Bakeshop

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2.75 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 c. milk
1/4 cup fresh orange juice with pulp
2 tsp. orange extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of one half orange.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare a pan with cupcake liners.

Beat butter on high until soft, about 30 seconds.  Add sugar.  Beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 30 seconds between each.

Whisk together salt, baking powder and salt in another bowl.  Add about a third of the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and beat to combine.  Add about a half of the milk and beat to combine.  Continue adding, alternating between dry and wet, finishing with the dry.

Add the orange juice, orange extract, vanilla, and orange zest.  Beat to combine.

Fill cupcake liners half full and place cupcakes in the oven.  Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.  Bake for 20-24 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Next up was this bundt cake. I've posted the recipe before and it was as good as I remembered it - very decadent. The best part about this is the mocha icing. I want to try it on other stuff because you don't get as much of the flavor on the top of a slice of bundt cake. We ate part of it Saturday night and I took the rest (sliced thin this time) to the Sunday evening event. And, had a piece for breakfast Sunday morning. Indulgence!

Speaking of indulgences, I'll report on my trip to Sonoma and Napa next week - have a good weekend! Thanks to everyone who is helping out with my daughter while I'm gone!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jalapeno Mac & Cheese

Do I need to say anymore? Are you with me, people? I love macaroni and cheese but I've never really played around with homemade recipes until recently. It's all about the proportions and once you get that down, there are so many variations. I wanted a spicy version to go with some steaks last night and this was great.

I put plain panko breadcrumbs on top (no butter or anything) before I baked it. You can leave the top plain or and you can even eat it right off the stove and skip the baking step if you want. You'll have a smoother texture if you add the cheese a little at a time and whisk until completely smooth but if you bake it, it doesn't seem to matter if it's a little lumpy going into the oven - the heat takes care of that. I mixed up some noodles and cheese sauce for my daughter (no jalapenos) and fed it to her right away. I baked the rest and we ate it as a side dish.

I like a larger elbow macaroni but at the grocery store this week, I could only find the itty bitty elbows. If I was going to make this jalapeno version again, I might saute some diced onions and red bell peppers and add it to the recipe or throw in some diced roasted red bell peppers. If you don't like it very spicy, you could use green chiles instead of jalapenos.

I've been reading up on mac & cheese in the crockpot so expect to see a version of that here soon!

Jalapeno Mac & Cheese (4 side dish servings)

Preheat the oven to 350. Cook 1/2 pound of macaroni (or noodle of choice) until al dente. Drain and set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium sized sauce pan and whisk in 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour until smooth. Add 1/2 cup milk and 2 1/4 cups of shredded cheese (for best results, add cheese a little at a time and whisk constantly). I used about a half cup of asiago, a cup of sharp white cheddar, and 3/4 cup of yellow cheddar.

If it seems too thick, add between a few tablespoons and another half cup of milk. Season with pepper, paprika, and cayenne (to taste). Add 2 T (or more if you like it really spicy) diced canned jalapenos. In a buttered pan, combine the macaroni noodles and the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the top with some breadcrumbs (plain or seasoned) and bake for 20 minutes (optional).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Deep Thoughts about Frosting

I just had to throw out part of the best cream cheese frosting I've ever made and it nearly killed me. But, I can't eat it with a spoon and I refuse to make more dessert after the crazy eating I did this weekend.

As I was rinsing it down the drain, I was thinking that this frosting is what I love about cooking: you take a couple of things that aren't great by themselves, combine them, and like magic you get something new and delicious. The frosting only has cream cheese, butter, sugar, and vanilla but put them all at the same temperature, in the right proportions, and whip them up with a mixer, and you get this incredibly smooth, sweet, delicious spoonful.

Cooking is a great example of the idea that the whole is more than the sum of its parts and this rings true to me in so many important areas of my life: church, marriage, and friends. God takes some people who by themselves are special and pretty great and brings them together with others in community to make something more.

When you feel like you're part of something incredible, whether it's just you and your spouse in your marriage, or a large group committed to some purpose, look at each other and notice how you're better together than you would be alone. And, that's my deep thought for a Monday

On to the menu for the week . . .

Sunday - Pizza
Monday - Chicken Orzo Salad
Tuesday - Scallops with spinach and white beans
Wednesday - Dinner with our 4B4W group
Thursday - Grilled steaks, rice & green vegetable
Friday - Sunday - Girl's weekend in Napa!!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bleu cheese stuffed chicken

Lately, I haven't had good luck making chicken breasts. I worry about undercooking them and it ends up dry. My sister Paula told me that this recipe from Cooking Light had turned out well for her so I gave it a try this week and it was great! I love bleu cheese and the filling is so good.

I was a little torn about making the sauce that went with it but I liked it in the end. It's not buffalo sauce like you'd get on wings but it has a similar flavor and gives the chicken a little kick.

I'm sure I'll be making this when we have people over and it'll go on regular rotation around here!

Blue Cheese Stuffed Chicken with Buffalo Sauce (serves 4)
Cooking Light March 2010

For the chicken:
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
1 tablespoon reduced-fat sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup panko breadcrumbs (or other unseasoned bread crumbs)
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl. Cut a horizontal slit through thickest portion of each chicken breast half to form a pocket. Stuff cheese mixture evenly into pockets.

Place flour in a shallow dish. Combine milk and egg in a shallow dish, stirring well with a whisk. Place panko in a shallow dish. Working with 1 chicken breast half at a time, dredge chicken in flour, then dip in egg mixture; dredge in panko. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken, flour, egg mixture, and panko.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter to pan; swirl until butter melts. Arrange chicken in pan; cook 4 minutes or until browned. Turn chicken over; place skillet in oven. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until done.

For the sauce:
1/2 tablespoon butter
6 tablespoons finely chopped drained bottled roasted red bell peppers
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon hot sauce

Combine everything but the hot sauce in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until the butter melts. Remove from heat and stir in the hot sauce. I used a hand blender to make it smooth - I didn't like it chunky - but you can leave it like it is if you want.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

It was drizzly on Monday and a little cold. My daughter wanted to go to the park but I told her it was too wet. Then, she asked to go to the Children's Museum in Boston but I told her it was 3,000 miles away. So, when she asked to make cookies, I had to say yes.

This recipe was buried at the end of a long post about when I was making the decision last year to go without white flour and sugar for awhile and I thought it was worth posting again. While there is a half cup of sugar and some chocolate chips, there's no white flour. If you don't care so much about sugar, up the quantities of the white and brown sugar to 1/2 cup each. I make them small, give away part of the batch, and limit my daughter and I to only a couple a day.

Chocolate Chip Cookies about 2 dozen

3/4 c. oats
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the oats in the blender and grind them until they're a flour-like consistency:

Mix the dry ingredients together. With a mixer, cream the butter and the sugars. Add the egg, oil, and vanilla. Add the dry mixture to the butter mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Drop batter onto a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Lick the remaining batter off of the spoon:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Menu for 4/12-4/17

Monday - White Chicken Chili and Greek salad
Tuesday - Leftover lasagna and Caesar salad
Wednesday - Dodger game!
Thursday - Bleu cheese stuffed chicken
Friday - Steaks and homemade mac & cheese
Weekend - not sure yet!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Teriyaki Salmon & Zucchini

I try to eat more Omega-3 fatty acids while I'm pregnant but sometimes I have a hard time preparing fish. I was intending to make this on the stove top this week but in the end, asked my husband to grill the fish outside.

I love homemade teriyaki sauce. This version isn't as thick as the bottled or restaurant versions, but it's light and flavorful. The zucchini goes nicely and I served it all with steamed jasmine rice. Even little girl ate a few bites!

Teriyaki Salmon and Zucchini (serves 2)

2 salmon filets, skin removed
2 zucchini sliced thinly
1 T toasted sesame seeds
1 c. teriyaki marinade (recipe follows)

Put salmon and 1/3 c. teriyaki marinade in a large ziplock bag and marinate for 20 minutes. Discard marinade and grill salmon until cooked through and flaky or heat a non-stick skillet or grill pan and cook on the stove top over medium heat until cooked through - about 5 minutes/side.

In a skillet, (you can use the same one as the salmon but take the salmon out first), saute the zucchini for 3-4 minutes. Add 2-3 T of the teriyaki sauce and cook until the zucchini is done. Serve the zucchini over or next to the salmon and sprinkle with sesame seeds and additional teriyaki sauce.

Teriyaki Marinade (makes 1.5 cups)

1/2 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
2 T worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 T white wine vinegar
2 T vegetable oil
1 1/2 T dried onion flakes
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground ginger

Combine all ingredients and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring Vegetables

For Easter supper at my mom's I made this green vegetable dish. I doubled the recipe and it was more than enough for 12 adults. The next night, I stirred the leftovers into some quinoa for a side dish with baked chicken breasts. You could cut down on the butter a little bit but don't skip the fresh basil!

Asparagus with Peas and Basil (serves 6-8)
from Gourmet April 2008

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 pound shelled fresh peas (2 1/2 cups; 1 3/4 pound in pods) or 1 (10-ounce) package thawed frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Cook shallots in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 4 minutes.
Stir in asparagus, peas, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then cover the skillet. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender but still slightly al dente, about 8 minutes. Stir in basil and more salt to taste.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Weekly Menu

A few people asked me to post my weekly menu after last week's post so here it is:
Easter - dinner at my mom's
Monday - Chicken breasts baked with a wine/herb sauce, broccoli, quinoa
Tuesday - Teriyaki salmon with zucchini and jasmine rice
Wednesday / Thursday - plans with friends . . . no cooking :)
Friday - Lasagna and caesar salad (x3 - cooking for friends who are having babies)
Saturday - White chicken chili & salad

What's on your menu for the week?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lamb for meat

He is risen!

Althought I *heart* egg salad sandwiches, no hard-boiled egg recipes here . . . let's get straight to the main course. Lamb is a typical Easter dish (did you know that the Pope's Easter supper is a whole roasted lamb? Glad I'm not cooking for him). We didn't eat lamb growing up and I've only prepared it a handful of times but I've always had good luck with it when I have made it.

One of my most shocking food purchase moments was when I had the butcher trim a rack of lamb for me at Bristol Farms. After he did exactly what I wanted, wrapped it up, and handed it over, I realized it was going to set me back $75! Sure there were 6 of us and so it's way cheaper than 6 of us could order lamb at a restaurant, but I was shocked.

So, needless to say, lamb is a "special occasion" meat at our house. Then, recently I came across this recipe on Blue Kitchen for lamb loin chops. Trader Joe's had a package with 6 small chops for less than $9 and I tried them out. They were awesome . . . easy, delicious, quick, household ingredients - what more can you ask for? I followed the recipe exactly and my husband was impressed with our weeknight feast. I served it with a cous cous from the same blog (recipe below).

On a health note, lamb is a good source of protein, iron, selenium, zinc and B12. It has less saturated fat and less marbling than other red meats like beef.

Lamb Chops with Dijon Mustard and Thyme
(Serves 2)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

6 loin lamb chops about 3/4-inch thick (about 1 lb total)

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

canola oil

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Mix Dijon mustard and thyme in a small bowl, stirring to combine. Set aside. Pat lamb chops dry with a paper towel and season generously with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat an oven-proof nonstick skillet over high heat. Brush pan with canola oil and sear the chops, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate and remove the pan from the heat.

Brush chops on both sides with a generous coating of the mustard/thyme mixture. Return chops to pan and place in the oven to finish. Cook for just 4 to 5 minutes total, turning halfway through. Plate and serve.

Couscous with Raisins and Onions(serves 2)
1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon canola oil

2/3 cup onion, chopped

1 cup Israeli couscous

1 1/2 cup boiling water

1/4 cups raisins
2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add oil and swirl pan to combine. Add onion. Cook, stir occasionally, until wilted but not brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add couscous and sauté for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the boiling water, raisins, lemon juice, cumin and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Green Bean, Asparagus, & Lemon Pasta Salad

(Photo from Martha Stewart . . . we ate it too fast for a picture)

My friend Marina made this pasta salad a couple of weeks ago and I've been thinking about it ever since. It's originally from Martha Stewart and has such great spring flavors. Martha says use half green beans and half yellow wax beans but I copied Marina and did green beans and asparagus. I used lemons off our lemon tree, green veggies from farmer's market, and a half bag of macaroni that's been lurking in my cupboards for awhile. I made half of the recipe as a side dish with some chicken my husband bbq'd and it was fantastic.

I liked being able to use one pot of boiling water to make it and don't skip (or skimp) on the pine nuts and shaved parmesan . . . yum.

If anyone wants lemons, let me know!

Green Bean, Asparagus & Lemon Pasta Salad (Serves 8)

4 ounces green beans, trimmed
4 ounces asparagus, trimmed
Coarse salt
1 pound curved, dried pasta (I used macaroni)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ounce pine nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (1/4 cup)
1/2 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese(1/2 cup
1 ounce Parmesan cheese shaved with a vegetable peeler (1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cups baby arugula

Prepare an ice-water bath. Cook green beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for about 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook 2 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beans to ice-water bath until cool, reserving water in pot. Drain beans, and cut into 2-inch-long pieces.

Add pasta to the reserved boiling water, and cook until al dente. Drain and rinse pasta with cold water then transfer to a large serving dish.

Whisk lemon zest and juice and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Season with pepper. Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified. Drizzle over pasta, and toss until well coated.

Add beans, asparagus, pine nuts, and grated Parmesan. Toss until evenly distributed. Just before serving, fold in arugula, and top with shaved Parmesan.