Archive | July, 2010

Cookware

14 Jul

Every so often, we’ll chat about the stuff in our kitchens–what we like to use for different kinds of cooking and what we might not like so much. Gadgets, pans, tools, all that kind of stuff. Hope we can exchange thoughts and ideas and learn some new things along the way!

I used to be a nonstick pan girl. Many Christmases ago, my mom gave us a set of nonstick Calphalon from Target, and it served us well for a number of years.

And then I started reading about Teflon and what happens to it when it gets hot, and the fumes that may or may not fill the house when it’s on the stove, and how studies that had nothing to do with DuPont found that it maybe might not be something you want around your family.

I am a scaredy cat when it comes to cancer. My mom had it when I was 12. My dad had it twice and it killed him on the second go-round. And this year, it took away my best friend at the ripe old age of 37. I gave up red meat because of it (more on that another day), I strongly encouraged my husband to replace our old charcoal grill with gas because of it (he did–God love him), and I am a sunscreen addict, all because of cancer. It’s a bad way to go and if I can avoid it, I will.

And so, the nonstick pots and pans were chucked. And slowly, one pan at a time, I started buying this:

That is Calphalon Commercial. It’s anodized aluminum, which I love for the way it conducts heat evenly and gets hot fast (I have one cast iron skillet and a cast iron grill pan that I also adore, but they take forever to get hot–forever doesn’t work for me when I’m rushing to get dinner on the table). And–here’s a trick for y’all–if you let it get good and hot before you add food and you give it a few extra minutes on the burner before you put anything in there, it’s almost as nonstick as the Teflon coated stuff I had before.

At the moment, I have an 8-inch omelet pan that I use for eggs and grilled cheese and infusing olive oil with garlic (YUM!!) and small cooking jobs. I have a massive 12-inch skillet that I use for browning chicken or sauteeing in dinner-size portions. There’s a saucier that’s used for anything and everything. I have a big pasta pot that I use for all sorts of boiling and soup-making and fun, and I have a big wok that’s awesome for Pad Thai and Chinese food and really big dishes. One of my favorites is the 12-inch Everyday Pan, which is usually available for a song online and is the ultimate everything pan. I also have a paella pan that doesn’t see much use, but is fantastic the once or twice a year I yank it out.

I never use nonstick spray on my pans. Over time, it leaves a sticky film that you’ll never get off. I spray them lightly with olive oil or coat the bottoms with a few teaspoons of oil before I start cooking (but after the pan gets hot). Cleanup is simple and easy, and I love that I can use metal utensils on them without worrying about scratches. And they’re ovenproof, which is another feature I don’t use much but is darn handy when I need it.

So that’s my cookware. It is expensive, but I use coupons and sales, and buy one piece a year, and it’s been worth it, both for its performance and for my peace of mind.

Do you have cookware you love? Post a comment and tell us. I can’t wait to hear what the rest of you use the most. 🙂

Double Chocolate Brownies

12 Jul

During a playdate last year, I asked my kids’ friends’ mom if they could have some brownies after lunch. She said sure, and I started pulling ingredients out of my pantry–chocolate, sugar, flour. I turned to say something to her, and she had this look on her face.

“What?” I said.

She laughed. “You make brownies without a mix? I had no idea you could really do that!”

Scratch brownies are the best, and these take so little time to throw together that mixes don’t tempt me one little bit. The microwave does most of the hard work, and the only hardware you need are a bowl, hand whisk, knife, and some measuring cups and spoons. Badda bing, badda boom, brownies.

The recipe is from an old church cookbook–you know the ones. Spiral bound with a cheesy image of a sunset on the cover, filled with parishoner-contributed recipes that generally have a lot of mayonnaise (aioli, lots of the ladies write)  or lard (!!) or pinches of ingredients. Recipes, in other words, that have been handed down through generations.

They. Are. The. Best.

This one is no exception. I give it to you un-doctored and un-messed-with, but for one thing: I usually toss a handful of chocolate chips in there. Give them a little crunch; I don’t like nuts in my brownies, you see.

One word: If you bake these in a metal pan and your oven temperature is true, they’ll be done-but-gooey in about 17 minutes. If you’re baking in Pyrex, as I do, you’ll need closer to 22 or 25 minutes.

Brownies. Off you go. Enjoy.

Double Chocolate Brownies

1/2 c unsalted butter

2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, roughly chopped

1 c sugar

2 eggs

2/3 c flour

1 tsp vanilla

1 dash of salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 7 x 11 pan. Melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave, taking care not to scald chocolate. Mix in sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in flour and add salt. Pour into pan. Bake 17 – 25 minutes. Let cool before slicing.

Cardamom-Almond Biscotti

9 Jul

I never liked biscotti.

Shocked? I know. But I never did. I didn’t like that they were rock-hard, and I didn’t like that they weren’t very sweet, and I really didn’t like that the chocolate-dipped ones (chocolate can make up for a myriad of culinary sins) melted on my fingers while I chipped teeth gnawing through the rest of this so-called cookie.

My mother-in-law, though, loves biscotti. Only she calls them Zweiback. Back in the day, she made them all the time for her five kids.

These days, she’s not cooking much and I felt terrible when I saw the plastic containers o’ rock-hard biscotti from a warehouse club on her pantry shelf. Ick. So I went looking for a recipe that might redeem biscotti in both of our eyes.

I found it. Well, kind of. I found a recipe for cardamom-almond biscotti that I knew she’d love–she’s ape about cardamom–but that had bits of almond in the cookies. Which meant my father-in-law had to stay away. Nut issues.

So I fiddled with the recipe. And what I came up with is a biscotti you can eat happily without dunking it in liquid first (what is that about??), that sings with cardamom and almond in a sweet, but not too sweet, crunchy but not rock-hard, cookie that’s easy to make and lasts a good long time in a plastic container or zip-top bag. And that’s safe for non-nut-eaters. And yes, my kids love them too. Bonus.

Cardamom-Almond Biscotti

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter (1 stick, unsalted)

2 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract (the fake stuff if you’re dealing with a nut sensitivity)

2 cups flour (You can do up to 1/2 cup wheat flour if you want, but more toughens these up)

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (ground, people. Not the pod kind)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Beat in extracts.

Combine your dry ingredients (I don’t sift, but knock yourself out if you like to do that) and stir them into the wet goods.

Divide your dough (it’s sticky–coat your hands in cooking spray first) into two pieces. On parchment paper, pat each half into a 2 x 10 inch rectangle. Bake those 25 minutes.

After the 25 minutes, pull them out and let them rest 5 minutes. Then carefully, with a serrated knife and a light hand, slice the logs width-wise into 1/2 inch slices. Place those cut-side down back on the baking sheet, and bake them another 12 minutes.  Let cool completely.

Simple, easy, yummy. Makes my mother-in-law happy. And that makes everybody happy.

Tomato Cucumber Salad

8 Jul

Let’s start with the obvious: This is hardly a novel idea. Nor complicated, sophisticated, or terribly chef-ish. But like I told you in my first post here, I’m a working mom cooking for my family. This works for us.

We eat this salad all summer long, when produce is its freshest and the tomatoes (garden or farm market, please–none of those grocery store marbles) burst with flavor straight from their container. I’ve been known to cook up a half-pound of Rotini or shell pasta and toss it in here along with some shrimp to make a light entree.

Notice there are no proportions to this recipe. You make as much or as little as your family will eat. It’ll keep in the fridge for a day or two, but just-made is best.

You’ll need:

Tomatoes. I prefer Campari for their size and sweetness, but any variety will do.

Cucumbers. I prefer English, but again…whatever works.

A handful of fresh basil leaves

Extra-virgin olive oil

Balsamic vinegar.

Slice the tomatoes and put into a bowl. Give your cuke a quick peel, slice it, and add it to the tomatoes. Then, shred your basil leaves (you know how, right? Stack the leaves, roll them up into a cigar, and slice the cigar into shreds) and sprinkle that over top. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar (I prefer about a 4 to 1 ratio of vinegar to oil), and enjoy.

Happy summer.

Tuna Casserole, Minus the Cream of Mushroom Soup

7 Jul

I know, I know. Tuna casserole went out in 1962. Nobody cooks that way anymore.

Think again, y’all. This recipe is decidedly healthier than its Leave It To Beaver counterpart–no cream of mushroom soup, anywhere–and it’s quick and easy and family-friendly and darned good comfort food. Also reheats and freezes beautifully, which makes it fantastic to bake up in a foil pan and take to a new mom (which is what I did this morning), sick friend, or anyone else you’d take dinner to. Add a salad and you have a hearty, filling meal.

Funny story: I made this about three weeks after my son was born and in my sheer exhaustion, I left out the tuna. It was still delicious. I bet chopped chicken, turkey, or ham would be great too, if you’re not a tuna eater.

This one started as a Susan Powter recipe–remember Stop the Insanity? I’ve adapted it to our family’s tastes. It’s creamier than the original (she added milk), less spicy than the original (for the kids), and makes more than her recipe did. I also did away with a few steps–sweating vegetables and that sort of thing–and found the dump-and-bake method worked deliciously. It’s one of my family’s favorites. Let me know what you think.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

12 oz egg noodles

2 5-oz cans of tuna (go for the white lump Albacore here–it makes all the difference)

8 oz sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped celery (from the salad bar if you don’t keep it around)

16 oz reduced-fat sour cream

1/2 cup Italian-style breadcrumbs

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp Mrs. Dash Original Seasoning (I use a teaspoon, if we’re being honest. A tablespoon is too much for my kids)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and coat a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray (you can also use a deeper round casserole dish if you prefer–it makes the recipe creamier without as much crunch from the topping later).  Cook the egg noodles in boiling water, but drain them a few minutes early–you want them on the harder side of al dente.

Combine the cooked noodles, celery, mushrooms, sour cream, tuna, and Mrs. Dash and stir well. Spread into your casserole dish. Top with the bread crumbs and Parmesan, and spray the top with cooking spray. Bake it for a half-hour, or until the top is crunchy.

Creamy, comforting goodness. Yum.

Banana Bread

5 Jul

Our elderly neighbor, Miss Mary, took a spill a few weeks back and has been laid up ever since. Miss Mary is in her 90s and her grandkids are all grown up, so we’ve all sort of adopted each other. She brings my kids Advent calendars every year and asks about their Scout activities and sports and school, and they take her drawings that she hangs on her refrigerator.

Today, we wanted to take her something that might make her smile but wasn’t exactly sick food–she hates being old and she hates being sick, and chicken soup wasn’t going to fly this time. So today, we baked banana bread. I’ve had this recipe for a good 10 years and no memory from whence it came. But we’ve tried a lot of banana bread recipes and I always come back to this one–simple and basic and good.

Banana Bread

1/3 c shortening

1/2 c sugar

2 eggs

1 3/4 c flour (you can use up to 1/2 c of white-wheat flour without mucking up the texture)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 c ripe mashed banana (about 2 bananas)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together sugar and shortening. Add eggs and beat well. Mix dry ingredients and mix with sugar mixture, alternating with bananas. Bake in greased loaf pan about 50 minutes or until a wood toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean

The 6-year-old mashed up the bananas for me today and helped mix in the other ingredients. We doubled this recipe, using 1 cup white-wheat flour for the two loaves, and I stirred some chocolate chips into one loaf for the kids; I usually use mini-chips for this but regular chips work just fine. Blueberries are also yummy, but be sure to reserve 1/4 cup of the flour and toss the berries with that before you mix them in or they’ll all sink to the bottom. And nobody wants that.

Seriously The Best CC Cookies Ever

2 Jul

A neighbor and I were emailing back and forth about chocolate chip cookies a few weeks ago, and I pointed her to what I said was the recipe for the most amazing chocolate chips in the world. As in, ever.

“Did you just hear the gates of hell clang shut for dissing Toll House?” she wrote back.

I laughed, but the thing is this: Toll House cookies never work for me. Ever. They either get dark brown and hard, or they spread out into super-thin Frisbees with chocolate chips poking up, or they’re raw in the middle, or I have to make them as bar cookies, which is cheating and doesn’t really produce chocolate chip cookies at all. Operator error, perhaps, but that recipe is a dud as far as I’m concerned.

Enter my main man, Alton Brown. I have yet to make his “The Chewy” recipe without having half the room ask me for the recipe (I only make them to take to parties–having a batch in the house would be disastrous for my wardrobe), and I’ve never had a cookie left over.

Alton’s a food geek (That’s a compliment. I have a little foodie crush on Alton, truth be told, and get a wee bit giddy when he starts up with his scientist schtick.). And his recipes can be a little bit tedious. I don’t ever weigh ingredients as he insists, and I don’t run to the store for freaky-sounding things I’ve never heard of that pop up in his stuff from time to time. But these cookies? I’m telling you. He’s right about some things:

  1. Making the dough with melted (not soft) butter and then refrigerating it for a few hours before you bake gives you a wonderfully chewy cookie that doesn’t spread to Kingdom Come on the baking sheet. You do, however, need to chill the dough for a few hours. Hide your spoons and lock up the fridge or it’ll never survive to baking–it’s that good.
  2. Using bread flour (which has more protein than other flours) instead of AP flour gives you a delicious little crunch on the outside of the cookie, enveloping that wonderful chewiness inside.
  3. Kosher salt. Kosher salt is key. I’m not a salt user, but you need it here to compliment the chocolate. And the Kosher flakes are nice and big, so you get this little hint of salt with every bite. People who don’t know it’s there won’t taste salt, exactly, but they’ll taste something wonderfully different than other chocolate cookies offer.
  4. See all the brown sugar in this recipe? Toffee, my loves. The molasses comes out in the baking and you get this subtle, wonderful toffee taste.

I, as always, tweaked this one just a tad. I learned way back in high school to double the vanilla in any chocolate chip or similar cookie recipe. Such a difference. I didn’t double it here, but I did take it up to 2 tsp instead of 1 1/2. I also make these cookies smaller than Alton does–a scant tablespoon of dough for each cookie–and only bake them for about 10 minutes. Trust him on the parchment paper, by the way. That brown sugar is seriously sticky when it’s done baking.

Oh. Spring for good chocolate chips, OK? I prefer Ghiradelli, but you go with whatever brand you like that isn’t waxy and processed-tasting out of the bag. If you want them to taste good in the cookies, they have to taste good by themselves.

So. Off you go. Give these a whirl and let me know how those old, tired Toll House cookies stack up. I’ll be here, munching on these…

Simple Tomato Sauce

2 Jul

Tonight, the simplest tomato sauce in the world. I whipped it up in about five minutes of hands-on involvement and an hour of simmering time. I used…

about 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 a Vidalia onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

1 8-oz can tomato sauce

about 1/4 cup basil leaves, from the windowbox on my back deck, chopped into thin ribbons

about 1/8 cup oregano leaves, from the neighboring box, roughly chopped

I heated the oil (you’ll need enough to thickly coat the bottom of a saucepan) over medium-low heat and then added the onion. That sauteed until it started to soften, and then I stirred in the garlic for a few minutes. Let that go until you smell the garlic, but don’t let it brown! Then I stirred in the tomatoes, sauce, and about a third of the herbs (I’d have stirred in a pinch of salt if we were a salt-eating family, but we’re not), took the heat all the way down to low, and let it simmer (uncovered) for an hour, stirring very occasionally. After that, I took it off the heat, stirred in the remaining herbs, and served it over Rotini pasta with a sprinkling of shredded Parmesan on top.

This was wonderfully thick and rich and yummy. I think I’ll stir in a bit of white wine and maybe some pepper flakes next time, just for kicks. I also think it would do fine in the slow cooker and freeze beautifully.  The family ate it quite happily. 🙂

Welcome to my Kitchen!

1 Jul

Hi there. Pull up a chair. Grab a fork. This is gonna be fun!

I’m always playing with food. Tweaking recipes. Messing with ingredients. Smelling and tasting and browsing and dreaming. Happy in the kitchen, as my favorite chef says.

Food keeps your body nourished, but it can also do the same for your soul. Adding a little of this or that, combining these things, and tossing a little heat over things should be fun, and playing with food makes me happy.

This blog will share my kitchen adventures with you. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

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