Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

Our last meal of 2006. I hope everyone has a very happy and healthy New Year.

We started our meal with fried calamari:

... coated in a mixture of flour, dried parsley, salt and pepper. Our supermarket didn't have any fresh calamari so we had to buy 2 1/2 pounds of frozen. It made a lot of fried calamari. It was nice and crispy and extra tasty served with a spicy marinara.

SP wanted to grill so we got some steaks. He was worried that the fire wasn't hot enough, but the steaks:

... we perfectly cooked and had a great smokey flavor. We also baked potatoes in the oven after rubbing them with salt and butter. Creamed spinach rounded out this steakhouse classic meal.
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Canadian Benny's

The Canadian Benny's I made on Christmas morning were such a hit that I decided to make them again this morning. I would have made them for New Year's Day breakfast, but unfortunately I have to work tomorrow.

These are so good that we've concluded the hash browns are completely unnecessary. Next time I make this dish I won't bother with the potatoes. It's not like the benny's aren't rich enough on their own.
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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Chicken Sandwiches and Onion Rings

We'd been snacking on leftovers all day so dinner tonight wasn't a big production. I wanted to experiment with a new way to cook onion rings:

... but it didn't work out so well. When I make fried calamari I use flour as the coating. I thought I could do the same thing with onion rings but the flour wasn't enough of a coating and I ended up with plain old fried onions. and learn. If I didn't experiment in the kitchen I'd never know what works and what doesn't. At least the sandwiches were good - chicken marinated in lemon juice, salt, pepper and dried basil then pan seared and served on a roll with roasted red peppers, mayo and some melted pepper Jack cheese.
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Pizza Friday

Last night's pizza was the last pizza of 2006. It's hard to believe it's almost 2007. I feel like I just get used to a year and then it's over. As I get older I feel like time is moving faster than it did when I was younger. I remember back to this time a year ago when we had just decided to start saving for a house and now here it is, a year later, and we're in our new home.

Anyway, it's much too early for this kind of talk, so on to the food! I'm worried I might be losing my touch. This pizza:

... had mushrooms, pepperoni and black olives on top of mozzarella and a thick marinara. Despite the spiciness of the pepperoni, the mushrooms cooked in olive oil with salt and pepper and the kick from the marinara, the pizza was bland, bland, bland. I think there was too much cheese, but SP thinks it was because I put the toppings on top of the cheese instead of under it.
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Friday, December 29, 2006

Stuffed Mushroom Recipe - For Jessy

Stuffed Mushrooms

12 large mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 cup pepperoni, finely diced
1/4 cup green pepper, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
12 Ritz crackers, crushed
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced (1 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
few grinds of pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup chicken broth

Wash mushrooms and pat dry. Remove the stems and finely chop.

In a large pot melt the butter then add the onion, pepperoni, green pepper, garlic and mushroom stems. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the cracker crumbs, cheese, parsley, seasoned salt, pepper and oregano and mix well. Stir in the chicken broth. Allow to cool.

Use a teaspoon to spoon the stuffing into the mushrooms, making sure to really pack it down and mound it up over the top (as shown in the above photo). Arrange in a baking dish, top each mushroom with a small dab of butter and bake at 400 degrees for about 5-10 minutes to melt the butter and start cooking the mushrooms. Squeeze half a lemon over the top just before serving.

** TIPS: I use a food processor to finely mince each ingredient since it's the only way to get them into very small pieces. You don't need to clean the processor after each ingredient since they'll all be going into the pot together. When processing the green pepper and onion there will be a lot of water - make sure you drain both of them before making the stuffing or it will be soggy. To crush the crackers, place them in a food storage bag, close the bag and use a rolling pin or can to crush them. For the party I doubled the recipe since these tend to go quickly.
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Mom's Christmas Party

Thus ends the week of excessive eating, also known as the week after Christmas. It's been a very long week but all the parties are over and the next big meal won't be that big - just New Year's Eve dinner for SP and me. It's been a lot of fun, but I'm exhausted!

My mom's family always comes to town a few days after Christmas for a gift exchange and huge holiday feast. You might think these photos look familiar and they should; it's almost the exact same meal we had for Thanksgiving.

Even though we had a huge meal, you always need some noshy things, including:

... cheese straws and artichoke dip

The turkey was succulent and juicy, even the white meat:

... and don't tell anyone, but I added a full stick of butter to the potatoes, along with some sour cream. As you can imagine, they were very rich and creamy:

Mom always roasts the sweet potatoes:

... with lots of butter so they caramelize on the outside. They're always sweet and perfect with a pat of butter. And the stuffing was even better than Thanksgiving, with lots of celery and onion.

Green beans and corn made up the vegetable portion of the meal:

My plate with all the yummy food:

I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the candy cane breadsticks that are in the upper right-hand corner of the photo. They were starting to get too brown and we had to get them off the baking sheet before they burned. They're very simple to make and are a staple of the after-Christmas party.
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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Housewarming Party

Since all my family comes into town after Christmas we decided to throw a housewarming/Christmas party so everyone could see the new house. What started as a small party for five people grew into a party for 16 so of course we had to have a lot of good food.

My mom was in charge of the salad since she is the queen of salads. She made this one

... with romaine hearts, bean sprouts, shredded red cabbage, shredded carrots, cucumbers, radishes and Craisins. But it's the dressing that makes the salad - she combines three different mustards, white balsamic and olive oil. It's truly incredible.

No family party is complete without these stuffed mushrooms:

... which came from a newspaper clipping passed down from my mother-in-law to my husband to me. The secret is the pepperoni in the filling.

SP is the king of penne vodka:

... and he managed to whip this up after working all day.

I wanted to try a new Ina Garten recipe so I chose this one:

... for sausage wrapped in puff pastry. It couldn't have been easier to make and was a huge hit with the Dijon mustard for dipping.

This version of 7-layer dip actually had eight layers:

... refried beans, mashed avocado, sour cream, shredded cheddar, shredded pepper Jack, green onions, tomato and sliced olives.

Our supermarket always does a free turkey giveaway during the holidays so we got a 7-pound turkey breast that I roasted with butter, salt and pepper:

... and it was exceptionally moist and flavorful. White meat is notoriously dry, but somehow I managed to cook this one to perfection.

I've seen the folks at America's Test Kitchen make their version of spinach dip so many times that I had to try the recipe:

... which was really, really good. I served it with pumpernickel bread and homemade pita chips.

As the party grew in number SP insisted that I add another dish to the menu so I settled on macaroni and cheese:

... made with mini penne, pepper Jack, cheddar and Swiss and sprinkled with Pecorino instead of bread crumbs. The results were much better than I could have anticipated. The kick from the pepper Jack was a nice touch.

And what party would be complete without chips and salsa:

This was part of our Christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law from Harry and Davids.
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Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! I hope everyone had a great holiday. We did a lot of eating, as I'm sure most people did. And the fun is just beginning. We still have a whole week of eating ahead of us.

When we got married we started a tradition of having my mother-in-law over for breakfast Christmas morning. Previous menus have included French toast casserole, a strata and scrambled eggs but this year I decided to go a bit fancier with Rachael Ray's take on Eggs Benedict. Her Canadian Benny's:

... were insanely good. As I usually do with her recipes, I tweaked things slightly. Instead of whole grain bread I used English muffins and instead of frying the eggs, I poached them. I also added the cheddar cheese to the sauce instead of melting it over the eggs. The sauce was so good we were all spooning it over the hash browns (made with red bliss potatoes, green pepper and onion). We washed this tasty breakfast down with some mimosas.

After this filling breakfast I can't believe we had room for dinner only a few hours later, but we managed to find some room. Dinner is always at my stepgrandmother's house. Before we ate we noshed on some olives, two different kinds of cheese spread (one was gorgonzola with dried cranberries and chopped walnuts and the other was a goat cheese with dried cherries), as well as some shrimp cocktail. I was too busy chatting and forgot to take pictures and by the time I remembered the plates were looking a little picked over.

The Christmas meal is always the same every year: roast beef studded with garlic:

Yorkshire pudding made with the beef drippings (this was a particularly good batch this year):

Green beans with slivered almonds:

Whipped potatoes with lots of cream and butter:

and a salad with mixed leaf lettuce, grape tomatoes, celery, scallions and a tangy vinaigrette:

My plate with a little bit of everything:

It was all really good. Sadly, we didn't have time to stay for dessert since we still had to make a stop at my sister-in-law's house to see all of SP's family. I hear there were cookies and an almond cake with raspberry sauce.
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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Dinner

We always have seafood for dinner on Christmas Eve and this year I decided to shake things up a bit.

We started with fried calamari:

... which were coated in flour seasoned with dried parsley, salt and pepper and then fried in vegetable oil. I also made a spicy marinara for dipping.

SP has been itching to grill, so for dinner we had grilled shrimp over couscous and a salad:

I marinated the shrimp in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and then skewered them for easy grilling. We have a charcoal grill and the smokey flavor was really great with the shrimp.

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas!!
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Christmas Banana Bread

We're low on funds this year because we bought the house so for Christmas I decided to bake chocolate chip banana bread to give to our families. My mom found me decorative mini loaf pans:

... and I baked the first batch today. For these 8 loaves I needed to make the standard recipe four times. It was a lot of work, but the results should be worth it. Later today, once they're cool, I'll wrap them in red and green cling wrap.

And just for fun, here's a picture of our cat sleeping between the pillows on our bed. That seems to be his new favorite spot to catch a quick nap.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Pizza Friday

After a few weeks of pizza with red sauce and various toppings, we decided to do something completely different this week:

... broccoli pizza. I chopped two small heads of broccoli into small bite-size pieces and sauteed it in some olive oil with minced garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. I layered half the mozzarella first, then the broccoli mixture and then the remaining mozzarella. It was almost perfect, but it needed a little something. In pizza parlors they usually put dollops of ricotta on broccoli pizza, but SP said he didn't want to do that for ours. He thought it wasn't necessary. Then as we were eating he turns to me and says, "It definitely needs the ricotta." Guess there's always next time.
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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Beefed Up Biscuits

Sometimes the simplest recipes can really hit the spot. Tonight's dinner was Beefed Up Biscuits:

... which ended up being almost like chili with cornbread. I know it's a winner when we both have seconds. I made the beef mixture last night so that all SP had to do when he got home was preheat the oven, reheat the beef and pile it between the biscuits and then bake it off. Super simple and delicious.

Beefed Up Biscuits

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 small green pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 large can refrigerated flakey biscuits
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream

In a large fry pan brown ground beef, onion, green pepper and garlic. Drain. Stir in tomato sauce, chili powder, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Cut biscuits in half and place bottoms in a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Remove meat mixture from heat and add 1 cup of the cheese. Spoon over dough and arrange remaining biscuits on top. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until biscuits are deep golden brown. Serve with sour cream.
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

French Onion Soup

If there's one thing SP loves almost as much as Swiss cheese and mushrooms it's French Onion Soup. With the cold weather in full swing I decided to try Ina Garten's recipe.

Wow. This is one amazing pot of soup. I halved the recipe since we didn't want leftovers this close to the holidays, but next time I think I'll make the whole recipe. We definitely could have eaten a couple bowlfuls. The onions practically melted in our mouths and the rich broth was incredibly flavorful due to the sherry, brandy and wine. I also made Ina's Parmesan croutons to go with the soup. I let the baguette sit out too long and it was very stale, but once I brushed it with oil and seasoned it with salt, pepper, Parmesan and parsley and gave it a good toasting it wasn't too bad, especially dunked in the soup.

French Onion Soup
Ina Garten

2 1/2 pounds yellow onions, halved, and sliced 1/4-inch thick (8 cups)
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup medium-dry sherry
1/2 cup brandy or Cognac
1 1/2 cups good dry white wine
4 cups beef stock
4 cups veal stock
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan

In a large stockpot on medium-high heat, saute the onions with the butter and bay leaf for 20 minutes, until the onions turn a rich golden brown color. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and brandy and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer uncovered for 15 more minutes.

Add the beef and veal stocks plus salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, taste for salt and pepper, and serve hot with grated Parmesan.
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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cream of Mushroom Casserole

I saw Rachael Ray make this Cream of Mushroom Casserole on 30-Minute Meals last week and thought I'd give it a try since SP loves mushrooms.

Maybe it's because I'm not a fan of Swiss cheese but the dish:

... did absolutely nothing for me. There just wasn't much flavor, either from the mushrooms, the shallot, the wine...even the cheese was pretty bland. It's a shame, too, since I've got almost a whole 9 x 13-inch baking dish full of this stuff. SP will be home in about an hour and if he hasn't eaten I'll serve him some. Since he likes Swiss maybe it'll go over better with him.

UPDATE: SP loved the casserole. I kind of figured he would, considering it contains mushrooms and Swiss cheese, two things he loves almost as much as me. :)
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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Turkey and Spinach Meatballs

Last week I found myself craving the Super-Size Turkey Meatballs with Spinach and Cheese from Everyday with Rachael Ray, so I decided to make them for Sunday dinner.

This dish is a real winner. I love the flecks of spinach, onion and garlic in the meatballs and the cheese sauce is phenomenal. And you can't go wrong with egg noodles.
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Friday, December 15, 2006

Pizza Friday

This week's pizza had onions sauteed in oil with oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes along with the tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. I also added some grated Pecorino. I've been getting a little bored with typical pizza toppings, so next week we're going to do something completely different.
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Panini Lunch

We were going to have paninis for dinner this week, but plans changed so I decided to make one for lunch today.

My panini:

... had roasted red peppers and mozzarella cheese sandwiched between slices of ciabatta. I also made a quick salad of romaine dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper. The results were OK, but the panini needed more flavor. I think next time I'll add basil or make a basil mayo for an added kick.
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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ginger, Garlic and Scallion Shrimp

Since we were on a strict budget leading up to the purchase of our house, shrimp was a luxury we couldn't afford. Now that we've jumped the initial home-buying hurdle, recipes like Rachael Ray's Ginger, Garlic and Scallion Shrimp can rejoin our repertoire.

Tonight's rendition:

... was the best I ever made. Now I know what The Food Pornographer means when she says the shrimp were "bursty."

After marinating the shrimp in the egg white, cornstarch, sugar, salt and pepper mixture, I drained them in a colander to remove the excess egg white. In the past I haven't done this and the extra egg white sticks to the bottom of the pan and prevents the shrimp from getting a nice crust.

I also experimented with my rice recipe and instead of my usual mushy, wet rice I ended up with dry, fluffy rice. I didn't know you should let rice sit with the lid on for 5-10 minutes after it finishes cooking so all the water can be absorbed. Now I know, thanks to the good folks at Chowhound.
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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chicken Paprikash

I'm a big fan of cream sauces. Most of the time I could eat just the sauce and some rice. Good thing SP loves meat. I think that's why Chicken Paprikash is such a hit at our house: he eats most of the meat and I eat the sauce. We make a good team.

For the paprikash chunks of chicken are cooked in a sauce made heady with onions, garlic and smoked paprika. I serve it over rice in order to sop up every last drop of sauce.

Chicken Paprikash
Serves 4

1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 chicken breasts cut into chunks
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup light cream
1/2 cup sour cream

In a large skillet heat oil over medium-high heat and add onions and garlic. Cook until browned slightly then add paprika, bell pepper and broth. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken pieces, recover and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add flour to the light cream and mix well. Add to the chicken mixture, stirring until thick. Remove from heat and add sour cream.
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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Sunday is usually my prep day, but this week's menu didn't involve much prep work. I did, however, cook a proper Sunday dinner tonight - Spaghetti and Meatballs.

I used Lidia's recipe for meatballs, which includes ground beef, pork and veal, breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, Parmesan cheese and an egg all mixed together. I fried the meatballs after dredging them in flour and then finished cooking them in the sauce. I cooked the sauce for about 4 hours, using two cans of whole tomatoes that I pureed, garlic, minced onion, bay leaves, salt, pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Right before I added the meatballs I put in a can of chicken stock because the sauce was already nice and thick.

I also made garlic bread with cheese using ciabatta bread my mom brought over when we moved. A salad completed the meal, which was very satisfying both to eat and to make. While I was cooking SP was assembling my new prep table, so the kitchen is well on its way to being workable.
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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Cold Sesame Noodles

I've been craving cold sesame noodles recently, so I decided to make Rachael Ray's recipe again. The results:

... are getting closer to what I think of as the perfect cold sesame noodle, but we aren't quite there yet. This time I left out the sesame oil completely, although not by choice. It seems I left the oil at the old apartment, so the noodles were missing that slight sesame taste.

SP and I also think that using Frank's hot sauce just isn't working. I'm pretty sure Rachael suggests some kind of variation using cayenne pepper or perhaps I'll try chili oil next time. I also think my soy sauce is just too salty. I'm not using tamari since we always keep regular soy on hand, so next time I'll use less than the recipe calls for.

It's still a work in progress, but I refuse to give up until I find the perfect recipe.
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Friday, December 08, 2006

Pizza Friday

Pizza Friday returns with another Buffalo Chicken pizza:

We're still getting used to our oven. This was a little soggy in some spots and the crust wasn't as cooked on one side. Next time we'll have to rotate the pizza to ensure even cooking.
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And we're back!

We finally have Internet in the new house! I'm so happy I can blog again.

I couldn't find the camera so I wasn't able to take a picture of Monday night's dinner, which was meatloaf made with a Lipton onion and mushroom soup mix, smashed potatoes made with heavy cream, butter and scallions and peas. I was surprised that the meatloaf actually turned out alright since I'm not a fan of those soup mixes. Not as good as Tyler's Ultimate Meatloaf, but good in a pinch.

Tuesday SP finally broke in his grill and made hamburgers, but I forgot to take a picture of them. We also had some fries and salads.

On Wednesday I remembered the camera and got a picture of the Spaghetti all'Amatriciana:

... which is a sauce made with onions, bacon, garlic and tomatoes, with a little red pepper flake thrown in for good measure.

Thursday night we had beef stroganoff:

... a la Rachael Ray, made with ground beef, mushrooms, a little sherry, beef broth and sour cream over egg noodles. It was quite tasty, as always.

I'm slowly getting used to the new kitchen. Once we a new prep table this weekend and actually finish unpacking everything I think it'll be easier. For now, it's hard to really get excited about cooking in there since nothing is in the right spot. All in due time...all in due time.
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