Sunday, July 13, 2014

First Ever Birthday Weekend!





Not for me of course, I have long believed that having a birthday entitles one to having a full weekend celebration, but this was the very first birthday for my little one.  And I cooked up a storm.

The most complicated thing I made the whole weekend, was the birthday cake.  I wanted to make it gluten-free, so that my father would be able to join in the festivities.  I also had a mini-crisis in which I decided my baby was way too little for chocolate.  In the end, I baked this lemon layer cake from Annalise Roberts* with some minor adjustments.

1.  I did not make homemade lemon curd.  I am lucky I managed to bake a cake, the lemon curd was beyond me.  I bought and used one whole jar of Dickinson's Lemond Curd.

2.  I made Ina Garten's cream cheese icing because I'm not really a buttercream person.  The recipe is here.  I substituted lemon extract for the vanilla extract and vanilla extract for the almond extract.  It was heavenly.

Now, I may be a decent baker, but I am generally not a cake baker and despite my three cake stands, I own nearly nothing in the way of cake paraphernalia.  No piping bag, no offset spatula, nothing.  So what you see above was achieved through hyperventilation, hand-wringing, a knife, some water and a ziploc bag.

This particular layer cake required cutting the layers in half, so I did that with a bread knife, holding my breath, while my father said "up, down, no - hold steady".

Gluten-free cakes are even crummier than regular cakes, so I did a crumb coat.  I popped it back in the fridge, then pulled it for a final layer of frosting.   It was a warm day so whenever things got a bit too squishy I popped everything back in the fridge and walked away.  I used a knife wet with a titch of water to smooth the coat of icing, then piped on the dots with a ziploc baggie. High class I tell you, high class.

Absolutely everyone thought the cake was ridiculously delicious, except the birthday boy, who spat out any morsel of cake or frosting that we managed to sneak past his lips.  It wasn't exactly the reaction a mother could hope for, but I'm sure by next year he will be more into the whole idea of cake.

*I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog that her baking recipes are divine - her cookbook is Gluten-Free Baking Classics and I highly recommend it if you do any amount of gluten-free baking.

Monday, June 2, 2014

What's Really For Dinner

I have been honest I hope, about exactly how basic and low-frills my cooking has been post-baby. I basically consider it a victory every time a meal goes down on the table that does not include chicken apple sausages.  One of my new staples is what I call "Mexican Bowl" which is likely not Mexican at all, but is delicious and easy.

Basic concept: Cook rice, add toppings, add dressing, eat dinner.
Easy to execute: So much of this can be prepped ahead.  Grate the cheese, chop the lettuce and tomatoes, rinse and drain the beans, mix the dressing, thaw the corn.  Come dinner, all I need to do is press start on the rice cooker, go up to put the baby to bed, come back down, cut the avocado, toss together and serve.
Versatile: I made it vegetarian this time, because it means less work, but if you had leftover chicken or rotisserie chicken on hand, that would go well too.  Also, the way I prepare it, Ryan and I both just add our toppings ourselves to the rice base.  This is great for guests, or kids, who might not want all the choices (or want to keep them separate).
Forgiving:  I wrote you a recipe, but I never use one.  I eyeball everything.  You can too!

"MEXICAN" RICE BOWL
serves 2ish hungry people

INGREDIENTS:
3/4 C raw rice/ brown rice/ rice quinoa blend
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 clove garlic
1 t cumin
pinch salt
olive oil
1 C shredded cheese (cheddar? monterey jack? habanero jack?)
1 C chopped tomato
1 C chopped lettuce
1 C corn (frozen is fine, ideal even)
1 1/2 avocados, chopped
optional: shredded chicken

DRESSING:
2.5 T red wine vinegar
1 T lemon or lime juice
4 T olive oil
1/4 t cayenne
1 t cumin
1/2 t salt

DIRECTIONS:
Do ahead if you like: Get some bowls ready.  Fill a bowl with your chicken, another with your cheese, another with your tomato, another with the lettuce. Measure your rice product and put it in the rice cooker or pan.  Mix up the dressing in a separate bowl and set aside.
Game time: Cook the rice. I use a rice cooker, but you can use a pan.  I just always opt for the easiest way.   If you're using frozen corn, you might want it to be warm for the meal, so you can microwave it or heat it on the stove top.  In a small saucepan, heat up the olive oil on medium low.  Mince your garlic clove and add it to the oil.  Add the rinsed and drained beans and then sprinkle with the cumin and a pinch of salt (to taste).  Warm the beans.  Dice your avocado.
Assembly:  Lay down the rice, then the beans, then the corn, then your cheese (adding the cheese near the warm ingredients helps it to get a bit melty if you're into that sort of thing - which I am).  Then add your tomato, lettuce and avocado.  Pour your dressing over the whole shebang.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

New Toy, New Troubles, New TASTY




We bought a grill, a Weber Spirt gas grill that is my new favorite cooking tool.  So far we have made wings (heavenly, but still perfecting our spice rub), burgers (standard issue), chicken (meh, should have used a better recipe) and pizza.  Mmmm. Pizza.  The dough was delicious beyond delicious, but I am yet a novice.  I went into pizza making with only the vaguest of recipes and the most cursory of looks on the internet.

Here is what I learned:
  • Brush your dough with olive oil, it helps with the sticking.
  • Having a grill that tells you how hot it is, is magnificently convenient and helpful.
  • Wet toppings = sad, so keep them dry so they don't interfere with the crust's crisping.
  • Keep your toppings warm.  Ours got a bit cold.  I think next time I'll put them on the raised rack in foil while we do the crust so they go on nice and hot.
  • Cheese next to the crust, it's the best way to melt it.
  • Smaller is better, because it's easier to remove
  • Thin crust is a nasty nasty thing to try to lay on the grill properly.  I will be rolling out my dough thicker next time.
  • Cooking on the grill is one billion times faster than doing it in the oven (actually, no, that is a gross exaggeration, but the oven takes 6-7 minutes for the crust and then another 5ish minutes for the toppings.  I think we went from dough on to topped pizza and off the grill in under five minutes.
Here is what I need to know:
  • How do you transfer your dough to the grill? It seems like it should be easy, but alas, it was terribly hard and resulted in some tears and much swearing.  
I promise to make many more pizzas this summer and let you know when I have hit level win.

If you have mastered the art of pizza-on-grill please, please, please share your tricks, tips and techniques in the comments.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Yet Another Grilled Cheese




It is entirely possible that I have never met a grilled cheese I didn't like.  But this grilled cheese is one that I didn't eat.  Not because I had anything against it, mind you, simply because I made myself a different one.  Mine was tasty, true, but since my mother-in-law proclaimed this to be the best grilled cheese she'd ever eaten, I figured I might as well share.  Now, my mother-in-law may have been exaggerating slightly as she is often overly generous with her praise of my cooking (not a bad trait at all, I must say) but my husband did confirm that it was a damn good sandwich.

GRILLED CHEESE WITH CHEDDAR, HORSERADISH, ONIONS AND APPLES

INGREDIENTS:
2 slices of bread per person - I used multigrain, it's all I had, but I think a nice deli rye would be ideal
3 slices of bacon per person, cooked up to a crispy goodness
onions, carmelized by cooking on low heat until golden, silky and sweet
red horseradish (seriously, my husband WILL NOT with the white stuff)
grated cheddar cheese - a nice sharp cheddar, and a decent amount per person, no skimping
a tart apple (maybe half an apple per person, how much do you like apples?) like a Northern Spy or Granny Smith, sliced and sauteed until soft and juicy but not mush
Butter

ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS:
Begin with the bread.  Smear one side with a thin but even layer of horseradish.  Get it all the way to the edges (doing things to the edges is key with a good grilled cheese).  Mix together your onions and apples and then carefully layer them on top of the horseradish.  Top it with half of your grated cheddar cheese.  Then apply the slices of bacon.  Top with another layer of cheddar.  Finally add the top slice of bread.

DIRECTIONS:
Heat up a pan to medium high (a cast iron would be lovely).  Melt a healthy pat of butter in the pan.   Plop the sandwich in the pan.  Cook until the cheese starts to melt and the bread is toasty.  Using a spatula, carefully slide from the pan.  Melt another healthy pat of putter in the pan.  Carefully flip the raw side of the sandwich so it's touching the pan.  Cook until the cheese is completely melty and the sandwich is golden on the other side as well.  Cut.  Munch.  Mmmmm.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Turnips are Terrific?

Do you eat turnips? I mean ever.  Have you ever tasted a turnip?  There is a serious anti-turnip bias in this world. This winter, I ended up with one. One turnip.  Not one anti-turnip bias.  I don't know why.  Maybe it was cheap.  Maybe it was for the baby.  Maybe my mom's neighbor got it in his CSA and gave it to her and then she gave it to me thinking I would eat it.  That seems the most likely.  So what's a girl to do?  I hate waste, so I cooked the thing. Turns out, turnips are quite tasty and subsequently I went and purchased more turnips with the intention of eating them.  My only problem is that literally every single time I make turnips, someone will start whining about it before they have even taken a bit. That someone is never the baby, who scarfs the things down without complaint.  It is usually a grown person who should know that I would not repeatedly serve something that tastes bad and should also be mature enough to not whine.  So just in case you've got a few lurking at the bottom of your vegetable drawer, waiting to be used up, here's how to make turnips taste terrific.*+

*no promises. If you think beets taste like dirt, I have no clue what you'll think of turnips.  I find turnips to be somewhere between a potato, a radish and an apple, three foods that do not initially seem to have much in common.  If cooked well, they can be starchy and slightly sweet.

+I said taste terrific, not smell.  Turnips smell…like turnips.  It is not the best food smell I know, so let's leave it at that.

TURNIPS:
INGREDIENTS:
3 C Turnips
3-5 T butter
1/4 C water + 1 t Better than Bullion (Chicken Flavor)
salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:
Cut your turnips up nice and small, I think I did a 1/4" dice (or would have if my dicing were accurate like that).  Melt your butter over medium low heat.  Add the cut up turnips.  Let them sit for about 5 minutes, they should develop some color.  Then turn them and let them cook for another 5 minutes (more color!).  Finally, add your liquid.  I bet you could use a quarter cup of chicken stock, but I think the water + bullion is more concentrated in flavor?  Anyway.  Let the turnips cook another 5-10 minutes.  You don't want them to be mushy, but they shouldn't be hard.  Add salt and pepper at the end, because your stock/bullion/whathaveyou may be saltier than you think!

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Taste of Spring


As the calendar turns from April to May, I can only hope the torrential rains go the way of the proverbial showers and bring plenty of beautiful flowers.  I can't quite stomach any more rains or the hearty dinners I crave when the weather is nasty.  I want bright, sharp, crisp spring tastes!  But I never would have expected to love this particular spring salad.  It has zucchini in it and I think I've made it abundantly clear how I feel about zucchini.  But my Uncle John was visiting and he seems to have made it a personal quest to get me to love the few vegetables I despise, and so he turned out this perfect spring salad.  As I helped myself to another serving, he modestly asked if I was eating it just to be polite.  It was my fourth serving.  I do not do fourths just to be polite.  If your palate is craving spring as much as you're craving the sunshine, definitely try this.  And have fourths, if you want. I won't judge.

INGREDIENTS:
1 bunch asparagus
1 zucchini
1 lemon
1/4 C olive oil
salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:
Wash your produce and locate a large serving platter.  Cut off your asparagus below the bottom knuckle, you don't want that overly woody tough bottom bit.  Then using a peeler, slowly, carefully, create long fettucini like slices of your asparagus.  Work top, then bottom and you'll end up with a long slightly thicker bit in the middle, but that's okay, once it's marinated it will be as tender as your other bits.  Then using a mandolin (or your knife if you're skilled like that), julienne your zucchini. My uncle used the outer sections, leaving a core of about a quarter inch cube.  Arrange the zucchini and asparagus on your platter, tossed gently and allowed to twist and turn over itself.  Zest and juice one lemon.  Mix the lemon juice with 1/4 C of olive oil and pour all over your zucchini and asparagus salad.  Then sprinkle the zest over the top.  Allow it to marinate a bit before eating if you can.  I think ours sat for about an hour, but I'm sure it would be delicious even with a shorter wait time.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Will a Menu Do?

This.  This is where I have been.  This is what keeps me from typing up real recipes and often times, even cooking things that would be worthy of the blog at all.

But despite this sweet distraction, I managed to host my parents and grandmother for Easter. No new recipes of my own device, but plenty, plenty of cooking.  I could not have gotten through the cooking without my mother.  In fact, I was so overwhelmed that one night I dreamt that I overslept and she made all the waffles.  But the food was all so delicious, that even though I did not once raise my camera above the table, I still need to share it with you.

Saturday Lunch

Greek Pasta Salad - Ideal because I mixed it up during naptime, sent Ryan out in search of crusty bread to serve with it, and then was able to put it on the table within minutes of my guests arriving.  I used Barilla Gluten-Free pasta so my dad would be able to enjoy it, and it worked perfectly.

Saturday Dinner

Mark Bittman's Spicy Shrimp - Takes no time at all.  No grill this time, so we did it in the oven.  Juicy delicious shrimp, requiring the minimum effort.

Fried Polenta - A hybrid of Ina Garten's original recipe for the rosemary, parm and red pepper flakes, and my own adaptation which uses less cream and butter.  This is gluten-free as long as you dust your triangles of polenta in cornstarch, not flour.  Oh, and did I mention it's easiest to pour the polenta into a pie plate and cut wedges rather than using a square pan?  Because it is.

Baked Artichokes - These are delicious.  Do not be skeptical just because it's a Rachel Ray recipe.  Use the anchovies.  You will not be disappointed.  Also, it looks pretty impressive, but is really easy to make.

Easter Sunday Brunch

Deviled Eggs were a must.

Buttermilk Waffles - I obviously did not make them with bananas, because bananas are gross.  But I did make them with whipped cream and strawberries, which was delicious. It was my first time using the waffle iron, so I'm not sure I did a great job with the whole waffle thing, but they are really great and crisp leftover.  I've got a stack of them in my freezer.

Easter Dinner

Duck Breast  - I cannot miss with this recipe.  It is always spot on.

Pommes Anna - except my mother really did make them, so they were as nice as my mother's.

Roast Asparagus - no recipe, just a bunch of beautiful spring asparagus (pick the skinny ones), laid out on a pan, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and roasted at 425 for 10 minutes.  Perfection.

Easter Dessert

Lemon Ricotta Cake  - I did not do the layer of lemon curd, because of the time and effort required.

I did however, make it gluten-free with some help from the amazing and wonderful Annalise Roberts, who helped me with the adaptions.

What you need to make it gluten-free:
Her gluten-free flour mix, which you can purchase ready made from Amazon: Authentic Foods GF Classical Blend - 3lb

So make the recipe with the following adjustments:
Substitute her flour blend for the regular flour, 1 to 1 substitution.
Add 1/2 t of xanthan gum
Reduce the butter to 10 T
Reduce the sugar to 1 1/4 C
Increase vanilla to 2 t (oh come on, you were going to do that anyway).

The result is delicious.  I swear no one would know that you're serving gluten-free cake.
And if you like it?  Definitely buy her book: Gluten-Free Baking Classics because it's full of gluten-free recipes that actually work.




Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Party Pizzas

It's been really hard for me to come back here.  I haven't wanted anything else to replace Dexter's picture at the top of the screen.  And yet, I've also avoided even looking at the home page, because seeing him brings me too much pain.  But here I am, and I come bearing pizza.  It's the not the first time I've done fancy pizza for Oscar night and with how delicious these turned out, I'm willing to bet it won't be the last.

The plan had been to make pizza topped with smoked turkey from the delicious looking turkey legs they have at Whole Foods, but Whole Foods was unfortunately without turkey and I was left wandering aimlessly.  Which is when a yogurt maker (I am not even kidding you) who was giving out samples asked what he could do for me.  I told him I really didn't need yogurt, I needed smoked turkey legs because now I had not one clue what to do about dinner.  

Luckily, he did.  Claiming to have been a chef in his pre-yogurt making days, he recommended dried plums (*cough* prunes *cough*) to complement my likely cheese choice of gruyere.  And then while wandering through the dried fruit section I scooped up some dried mission figs as well.  

And behold.  Two amazing pizzas, both of which I would gladly eat again.

Unfortunately my recipes are a bit sketchy.  I've got to ease back into this thing, you know?

FIG PIZZA WITH DUCK BACON, RICOTTA AND SPINACH

INGREDIENTS:
1/4 recipe dough
1 C mozzarella
4-5 oz ricotta cheese
3-4 slices duck bacon, chopped into bits and sautéed until crisp
8-10 small figs (maybe about a cups worth?) sliced thin
fresh baby spinach
balsamic vinegar and olive oil

DIRECTIONS:
Bake the dough for 5-7 minutes at 450 or until it starts to harden.  Top with the cup of mozzarella, the duck bacon bits, the figs and spoonfuls of the fresh ricotta.  Rinse and dry the baby spinach, tear off any overly long stems and quickly toss the spinach in a bit of balsamic and olive oil, just enough to barely dress it.  Lay the spinach over the pizza and then pop it back into the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melty.  



THREE CHEESE PIZZA WITH DRIED PLUMS AND CARAMELIZED ONIONS

INGREDIENTS:
1/4 recipe dough
1/2 C mozzarella
1/2 C comte
1/4 C fontina (although play fast and loose with the cheese amounts, really)
1/2 an onion, sliced very thin, cooked in a bit of olive oil over low heat until soft and golden
5-6 dried plums, sliced

DIRECTIONS:
Bake the dough at 450 for 5-7 minutes or until it starts to harden.  Top with the cheese, sprinkle over the caramelized onions and place on the dried plums.  Pop back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melty and delicious.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Goodnight Sweetheart


I'm sorry I haven't been here.  My heart just hasn't been in it.  My sweetheart, my beloved Dexter, had to be put to sleep right after Christmas.  I sat up with him the night before we said goodbye and I wrote him this:

Dear Dexter,

I miss you already.  I miss the way you learned to lick my ears because I would turn my face away when you tried to cover it with kisses.  I miss how you demanded tickles, pawing my arm relentlessly if I dared to stop.  I loved how you wanted attention and cuddling, even sticking your nose right over the top of a book and leaving it there or smacking it until I put it down, the hell if I was trying to read.  At night when I watched TV I would lay on my side and you would come curl up in that empty space.  I hate having that space empty.  I chose you because I wanted a dog that would love me back.  Thank you for loving me.  For letting me carry you in my arms like a baby, with your hindpaws on each side of my hip and front paws around my neck.  

I wish I could see you again as a puppy, bouncing up and down so high that you once jumped straight in through the open driver's side window of a car shocking my friend who had double parked.   I wish I could again find you snuggled into a special hiding place, like the laundry basket or the second shelf of my closet.  

I will never see a blizzard without wishing you were there to bound into and over the snowdrifts, shoving your muzzle deep and coming up with a little snow crusted beard.  I will not hear a middle of the night thunderstorm without thinking I should bring you into the bedroom so you won't be scared and waiting while you went back to bring your stuffed elephant, Lovey, in with us too.  

I will NOT miss your houdini like escape skills, breaking out of a kitchen that was gated, then a kitchen that was gated and secured with a bungee cord.  I will NOT miss your Usain Bolt level speed if ever you managed to escape, leading me on a not so merry chase through city streets needing to be lured back by a stranger's kindness and her chicken sandwich.  

In the morning I will let you nibble a few bits of scone, since you prized baked goods above all other foods.  And then I will have to say goodbye.  It's going to hurt me a lot more than it will hurt you, because slowly you have stopped doing all these things that made you your very own self.  And I know I need to let you go.  But I wanted you for years before I had you and I will want you still for years after you have gone.

Who is going to lick away my tears now bear?

I loved this little dog so very very much and miss him every day.  Here he is in all of his fuzzy glory.










Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bird's Nest Cookies


In the midst of all the chaos, there is still Christmas.  Maybe it's having a child of my own, maybe it's just that I've always been violently attached to traditions, but this year, I have no tolerance for change.  A few years ago, we overthrew the family bird's nest cookie recipe in favor of Ina Garten's Jam Thumbprints, which are delicious, rich, buttery and shortbready.  But this year, with my mother making a gluten-free version for my dad, I wanted nothing more than the original.  Of course, no one HAD the original. My mother had tossed the original recipe deeming it too fussy to deal with.  She claimed her brother might have a copy, but nope.  And the whole time I couldn't get the recipe out of my head.  I could picture it so clearly.  Why could I picture it so clearly?  Maybe because I had it all along.  Safely written in the cookbook my mom gave me full of family recipes, was our bird's nest cookie recipe.  So with my little one safely in my mother-in-law's arms, I whipped up a batch.  They are every bit as good as I remember.  They are also, a bit fussy in parts, but I'll try to help you through that.

BIRD'S NEST COOKIES
Makes ~ 3 dozen
recipe courtesy of someone my mother's family once knew (a  little help on this mom?)

INGREDIENTS:
2 sticks of softened unsalted butter (this is 1 C)
1 C brown sugar, lightly packed
2 T vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
2 eggs (reserve the white of one, so you need 1 whole egg + 1 yolk for the cookie, 1 white for rolling)
2 C flour
1/2 t baking powder
2 C chopped nuts (I used a mix of walnuts and pecans)
assorted jams, jellies and marmalades

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Cream together your butter and sugar. This was a bit harder than usual.  Maybe brown sugar is softer than white and can't break up the butter as well?  So maybe soften the butter properly (I am notoriously lazy and rarely soften the butter enough).  You don't want it to be liquid, but it should be soft to the touch.  Then add your eggs, mixing well after each. Next add the extracts and quickly mix again.  Finally, mix together your flour and baking powder and slowly add to the wet ingredients.

I used a mini-prep to chop my nuts.  They should be small so they stick, kind of like this:

Prepare to roll the cookies.  You'll need a small plate covered with nuts, a bowl with the egg white and an ungreased cookie sheet.  

First, create a small ball with the dough.  If you make them too small, it's hard to make an indentation for the jam. If you make them too big, well, you don't get as many, and it's a lot harder to fit in your mouth.  I think about 3/4" is the best which is a bit smaller than I usually make cookie balls.  

Next, dip the ball in the egg white.  Then roll it in nuts and place on the cookie sheet.
You may not need the full two cups of nuts and if you'd like to save nuts, I'd say only pour some on the plate and replenish periodically.  You can't save what's left on the plate after you've rolled because of the egg white.  Ew.

The balls should be 2" apart on the cookie sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. This baking thing is the other fussy part.  If you over bake it's extremely hard to make an indentation.  If you under bake, well, you have gross raw cookies.  So watch them carefully.  I had some take longer than 12, but most came in at 12 minutes.  My mom's recipe said 10.  In order to check for doneness, I wanted them to sort of slide off their spot when poked, have a light golden underside if checked.  When you pull them out, make a small indentation in each and allow to cool on a cooling rack.  You can make your indentation with your thumb (ow! hot!) or with the back of a teaspoon measure (which isn't great because it's more likely to make the edges of the cookie split apart).  Your call which you use.

When the cookies are cool, place a small amount (about a teaspoon) of jam into the indentation. I used blueberry, raspberry and apricot for these, but you can use whatever you like!


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