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Happy Easter!

8 Apr

Couldn’t resist sharing this with you all–I followed the directions on the Betty Crocker website for this adorable bunny butt cake. Cute!

Enjoy your holiday!


Baked Eggs Florentine

28 Mar

You know those mornings when you wish you could snap your fingers and have a healthy, hot, delicious breakfast appear? This is kind of like that. You dump everything into a ramekin and toss it in the oven, and voila. Eggs and vegetables that magically bake together into something that’s sophisticated and yummy, and jam-packed with nutrients to boot.

This is a riff off the baked eggs I posted not long after this blog was born. That’s still a great recipe, but I had a bunch of spinach and mushrooms in the fridge this week. They, I decided, looked like breakfast. And so it was. The result reminds me of something you’d get in a fancy restaurant–chi-chi places love putting eggs over salad–and it’s perfect for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. If you have a bunch of ramekins, you could do this for a party–they’re quick and easy and the single portions are perfect for a late morning gathering. And because they’re low-carb, they should work for just about everyone you’d want to entertain.

I am making this again today, gang. It is that good. For one serving, you need:

A small handful of spinach leaves, rinsed well

Two mushrooms, sliced or broken

Two eggs

A pinch of Parmesan cheese (omit if you want, but I wouldn’t)

Olive oil

Other veggies you have laying around–tomatoes, broccoli, onion, asparagus would all be nummy.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray your ramekin with olive oil. Put it onto a small baking pan to make moving it into and out of the oven easier.

Smoosh your spinach leaves into the dish–it’ll cook down quite a bit, so put in a little more than you think looks reasonable. Give them a small drizzle of oil, and top with the other veggies. On top of that, carefully break your eggs.

Sprinkle with a touch of Parmesan cheese (it’s salty–you don’t need extra salt) and pepper if you so desire. Bake it for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on your oven; take it out when it looks slightly undercooked, because it’ll keep cooking in the dish for a minute or two after you take it out of the hot box. Grab a spoon and enjoy.

Crockpot (or not) Beef or Chicken Chili

12 Jan


Not so much. We got a whopping inch. Enough to throw the TV weather guys and county schools directors into apoplexy but not quite enough to make us abandon our cars on major highways. But we came close! And between that and football playoffs this weekend (GO RAVENS! Was that out loud? Sorry.), it’s a great week for chili.

There’s a widely-held belief out there that chicken chili has to be white. White, my friends, makes for a lovely stew or soup or pot pie, but not chili. Chili is red and spicy and hearty and warms you for hours after the bowl is gone. And chicken, as we’ve discussed before, will take on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. So there’s no reason to avoid red chicken chili–I’ve made it for years and lightening hasn’t struck me yet.

This is a pretty straightforward recipe. There’s no mystery here. And you can make this a dice-and-dump if you’re in a hurry–just chuck everything into the slow cooker and let ‘er rip. I like to brown my meat with the onions first to give it a little texture, but feel free to skip that if you’d rather. The final taste will be the same.

Chili is a great meal for the winter, and this one gets better as it sits–leftovers are divine. It freezes perfectly as well. I hope you enjoy it. You need:

1 pound chicken breast or beef/steak (I use stew meat), cut into bite-size pieces

1/2 sweet onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced (or two frozen garlic cubes)

1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with chilis (try Ro-Tel)

1 14.5 oz can of plain diced tomatoes

12 oz tomato paste

30-ish oz canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained (I use one can of light and one can of dark)

2 bell peppers, chopped (I use one red and one green)

2 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 bay leaf

Chili flakes, to taste (more = way hotter)

In a pan over medium-high heat, brown the meat and onion until they’re golden on the outside (you’re not cooking; you’re just searing the outside). Stir in the garlic and cook another minute. Remove from heat and pour into large soup pot or slow cooker.

Add tomatoes (I drain them if I’m using the slow cooker, and just dump them in if I’m cooking this on the stove), tomato paste, beans, peppers, and spices. Stir well. In a slow cooker, cook on low 6-8 hours. On the stove, bring to a simmer and cook 1-4 hours (more cooking means a more developed flavor). Taste and add spices as needed–I usually add more chili powder and stir in some Smoked Chipotle Tabasco at the end). Serve alone or over rice or pasta.

King Cake

18 Nov

Let’s get a few things out of the way here.

First, I’m no photographer. This looked better in person than it does here.

Second, I’m aware it’s not Mardi Gras and that I probably violated some sort of natural law that applies only in New Orleans by making this recipe yesterday. It was for a baby shower (which explains the pink and blue sprinkles) for a friend of mine who’s from NOLA, and just seemed like a fun way to welcome her new little one. Because first, it’s totally New Orleans, and second, it’s got a BABY inside, y’all! Seriously–is that perfect or what?

This started out as an Emeril recipe. Which is fine, but he has two recipes for King Cake–one with cream cheese and sugar inside, and one with a nutty, cinnamon-y mixture. I, having sadly never set foot in Louisiana and only having had King Cake once before, emailed a high school friend of mine who lives there to ask which was more correct. She picked cream cheese, so off we went.

Emeril has a really funky way of proofing yeast. He combines the eggs and butter and milk and sugar, and then stirs the yeast in. I tried it. Disaster ensued. Maybe it works better down south. But it didn’t work for me, and I went back to the traditional way, which is to heat the milk, stir in the sugar, and drizzle the yeast on top. Let it sit until it’s foamy. Foolproof.

I used mostly cake flour in this. Cake flour has a much softer crumb than AP flour and made for a pastry-like texture in the final cake (which may or may not be correct but I liked it). You can use all AP flour if that’s what you have on hand. I would not use any wheat, though. It’ll be too heavy.

The other thing I did was to make my dough in the bread machine. If yours has a dough setting, that’s easiest. Dump and set and walk away. If not, follow the directions below.

Finally, I used a lot more sugar in the glaze than Emeril called for. His was really watery. Mine was thick. I’m an icing girl. 😉

The ladies seemed to like my cake. The husband said it was the best dessert I’d ever made. If that’s not a compliment, keep it to yourself and let me live in my little Make Believe Land for awhile longer, ‘K? Thanks. I’ll definitely make this again–likely as individual cakes next time, just to see if it’ll work that way.

If you want to give this a shot, you’ll need:

2 packages dry active yeast

1/2 cup sugar

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

5 egg yolks

1 cup warm milk (just hotter than your body temperature)

2  cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Vegetable oil

8 ounces cream cheese

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Juice of one lemon

2 tablespoons milk

Colored sugar sprinkles

Plastic baby toy

If you’re making this in a bread machine: Stir together milk and sugar, and then sprinkle yeast on top. Leave it until it bubbles up. Then, dump the flour, butter, egg yolks, yeast/milk mixture, nutmeg, salt, and lemon zest into your bread machine, set it on the dough cycle, and walk away.

In a mixer, proof the yeast as outlined above. Using the mixer, stir together that mixture with the butter and egg yolks. Add the flour, nutmeg, salt, and lemon zest to the wet stuff and beat on medium using a dough hook until it forms a ball and starts to climb up the mixer. Then turn it into a greased bowl, cover with a clean towel, and let rise about two hours.

While your dough rises, mix together your softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup powdered sugar.

After your dough cycle or rise in a bowl, turn the dough out onto a floured countertop and roll it into a rectangle, about 30 inches long by 6 inches wide. Spread the cream cheese mixture down the center of the rectangle. Then, fold the long ends over the cream cheese mixture, pinching them in the center to seal up the dough with the cream cheese inside.

Transfer your dough to a large cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (spray that with nonstick spray too, just to be safe). Grease a coffee or other can (I used a steel-cut oats can), and form the dough into a ring around that, with the seam side down. Gently press your baby into the underside of the dough and seal it up. Cover again and let rise 45 minutes.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. With a sharp knife, make slits across the top of the cake, every 4 inches or so. Bake the cake about 30 minutes, or until puffed and lightly golden brown. Remove the can as soon as you take the cake out of the oven. Let cool completely.

With a whisk, mix together the remaining powdered sugar, lemon juice, and milk. Pour over the cake, letting the glaze drizzle down the sides. Sprinkle the cake with the colored sugar, alternating colors in wide stripes. Let set and enjoy!

Birthday Shout-Out

17 Aug

I’m 40.


Today, I’m 40. How the hell did that happen?

I am not complaining by any stretch–my dear friend died this year at 37, so every year I get now feels like a bonus. I made it to 40! Yay me! DH took me to Central Michel Richard, which was wonderful and amazing and such fun! And my super sweet, , awesome group of close girlfriends threw me a wonderful surprise dinner last night, with delicious food and lots of wine (and a margarita–thanks Amy!) and a whole pile of amazing gifts that were perfect, just for me. I am still overwhelmed and feeling super blessed to be surrounded by such thoughtful, generous, heart-filling friends.

I’m giving myself a gift today. I’m cheating on you all. I mean, I’m not off sending recipes to my other blog buddies or anything, but I’m recycling an idea from an email exchange I had with a high school friend yesterday. She’s throwing a food-themed party for her daughter and asked if I had any ideas for desserts that might be fun and get the 10 year olds involved.

I thought about it and came up with an idea my friend said she liked (although maybe she was just being nice…I never know). It’s pasted below. I’m off to lunch downtown with my family, feeling very blessed. Even at 40.

The food party dessert idea:

Have you watched Chopped or Food Network Challenge or Iron Chef? You know how they get baskets with “mystery ingredients” that they have to use?

Give each girl a “mystery ingredient,” but make them different so they don’t all come back with the same thing. Somebody gets a banana, somebody gets peanut butter, somebody gets maraschino cherries, etc. Put them on teams of two or three if you have a lot, with each team having its own ingredient, but where each girl makes her own thing.

You start out with pre-mixed up brownie batter and some cupcake liners–the foil or silicone if you can get them. And then you have your “pantry” with other things–ice cream, whipped cream, crushed peppermint, crushed oreos, mini-marshmallows, M&Ms, etc. And it’s like Iron Chef. The girls each make a dessert that must use the mystery ingredient, in combination with anything else they want. So they could bake their ingredients into a brownie cupcake (which is what you’re making with the tins and the brownie batter) or they can bake a plain old brownie cupcake and top it, or crumble it into something, or whatever.

They can mix the brownies with whatever creations they want while the pizzas bake, and then you bake off the brownies while they eat, and then they come back to assemble their finished dessert at the end. Each girl talks about her dessert to the “judges” (you or the other girls) and then there are prizes, all that sort of thing.

Crockpot Lasagna

10 Aug

I had a girls-night-out date with friends last night, which meant whatever dinner I made at home was only for DH and the kids. And it was one of those days I felt like I was flying–this one has a doctor’s appointment, that one has a playdate, gotta register for ballet, grocery store run, and wow, gotta actually work a few hours–without a whole lot of spare time for playing with food.

My gang is an easy one to feed, generally speaking, and peanut butter sandwiches or cereal would have done them just fine. But I really did want them to have a hot meal, and so I gave them cow.

I’m not a red meat eater, but the rest of my crew loves beef from time to time. There’s no better time to indulge them than on a night I’ll be out, and there’s not an easier way than Crockpot lasagna.

This was a Weight Watchers recipe that was actually really good on its own. I’ve doctored it up to boost its heft a bit: I added an egg to the ricotta layers (and a bit more ricotta than the original recipe) to give them a little more substance, boosted the meat a little bit (you could also add mushrooms to this if you wanted even more oompf), and messed with the spices to simplify matters. The original recipe called for basil and oregano, and in my house, that translates to a shake or two of Italian Seasoning instead. I also used less onion than the recipe called for and upped the garlic.

A word on the meat: If you’re a beef eater, this is a great meal. My family gobbled it up. If you’re not, it works really well with ground chicken. I know. Turkey. Everybody uses ground turkey. But slow-cooking ground turkey results in a kind of odd chewy texture to the sauce. I love me a good turkey burger (we’ll talk about that soon), but turkey in spaghetti sauce doesn’t rock my world. Ground chicken holds up just like beef and since it absorbs the flavor of whatever you cook it with, is a great substitute in this recipe. My pathetic excuse of a Soviet-era supermarket carries ground chicken breast meat, but your butcher will grind a few breasts for you if you don’t see it pre-wrapped in the meat case at your store.

This recipe is super saucy when you put it in the crock. Fear not–you’re not cooking the noodles first, so they absorb a whole lot of the moisture. You’ll end up with a traditional lasagna texture here, not a soupy mess (as I feared the first time). I use the no-cook noodles, but I hear that regular noodles work just fine; if you’ve tried that, leave me a comment and let me know. 🙂 A friend of mine uses jarred spaghetti sauce instead of tomatoes and sauce and she says it comes out really nicely that way. This also freezes beautifully if you have leftovers and want to hold onto them.

Haul out the slow cooker and give this one a whirl. I hope your family likes it as much as mine does.

You’ll need:

1 1/4 pounds lean ground beef (I use 7% fat) or ground chicken

1/2 small yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

28 oz can crushed tomatoes

15 oz can tomato sauce (I use the pre-seasoned)

1 tsp dried Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 1/4 cup part-skim Ricotta cheese

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

6 no-cook lasagna noodles

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat with olive oil. Add meat, onion, and garlic and saute until the meat browns (you don’t have to cook it all the way through). Add the tomatoes, sauce, and spices. Simmer about 5 or 10 minutes to let flavors meld together.

In a medium bowl, stir together ricotta, egg, and 1 cup of the mozzarella.

Spoon 1/3 of the beef mixture into your Crockpot (at least 5 quart size). Break three of the lasagna sheets into pieces and arrange over meat mixture to cover. Top that with half the ricotta mixture. Repeat layers, ending with a layer of meat sauce.

Put the lid on your Crockpot and cook on low 4 to 6 hours. Turn cooker off. Sprinkle top with Parmesan and remaining mozzarella and put the lid back on for about 10 minutes to let the cheese melt. Uncover and let sit about 15 minutes to firm up the lasagna.

I get about eight servings from this recipe. Your mileage may vary…

Dinner Party

9 Aug

We had friends to dinner last night and since “what to make” is a perpetual conundrum for many of us, I thought I’d share our menu and a few tips with you.

The day before dinner, I made a simple pound cake. Any recipe will do. The only fiddling I do with these is to add the zest of one lemon. You won’t be able to pinpoint lemon in the finished cake, but it’ll taste a little brighter than one without.

A few hours before our guests arrived, I zested and juiced lemons and prepared the oil for Giada’s Pasta with Lemon Oil and Shrimp, which is a great entertaining recipe–everyone likes it and it comes together very quickly and easily. The oil is best if you add the lemon zest a few hours ahead, so you might as well deal with the rest of the lemons ahead of time.

I also chopped tomatoes and cucumber for my tomato cucumber salad. I didn’t chop the basil ahead of time–the edges will blacken. Covered that with plastic wrap and set it aside. I also opened and drained a can of Italian-style diced tomatoes, and mixed those with one clove of chopped garlic.

About 20 minutes before the party, I cut a baguette in half lengthwise and toasted it under the broiler. When it was done, I brushed it with olive oil, cut it into slices, topped the oil side with the drained tomato/garlic mixture, sprinkled it with Parmesan, and popped it back under the broiler for five minutes to let the cheese melt. Voila–bruschetta. I set those on the kitchen counter with a bottle of wine and glasses, to kick things off.

While the bread toasted, I whipped half a pint of heavy whipping cream with a tablespoon and a half of powdered sugar and a quarter-teaspoon of vanilla extract. Covered that and set it in the fridge for later.

Once we all settled in, I made the rest of the pasta while everyone sat around the kitchen island with their wine. I love that fettucini recipe but do fiddle with it: I don’t add any pasta water to mine and I replace bitter arugula with sweet basil. I also add a pinch of red pepper flakes and use a little less oil than she calls for. Pine nuts would also be good in this but I didn’t do that this time around.

While the water boiled, I popped the garlic bread under the broiler for a few minutes, and then sliced it, put it in a cloth napkin-lined basket, and set it on the table.

Once the pasta wrapped up, I poured the vinegar and oil over my salad and put everything in big bowls, which went in the middle of the dining room table. We ate family-style, with everyone serving themselves, and it worked beautifully. Dessert was served the same way, with a plate of pound cake slices, a bowl of the whipped cream, and a bowl of blueberries that were all passed. I like family-style parties because everything is passed at least twice so no one feels self-conscious about taking seconds, and it encourages chatting and lingering. We hadn’t seen our friends in awhile, and lingering was welcome.

This meal was perfect for a summer party. It tasted light and fresh, but no one went home feeling hungry and we all enjoyed the evening. Two thumbs up.

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