Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Guess He Found a New Spot

You know how I just posted about our cat loving the closet in the second bedroom? The other night I swore I heard him rustling around in my husband's gym bag, which he left on the floor next to his dresser, but when I looked in the bag I didn't see any obvious cat hair so I didn't think anything of it. Imagine my surprise when I got home today and this is what I saw when I walked into our bedroom:

Do you think he looks comfy? He was so proud of himself that instead of bolting when he saw the camera, he sat there preening and rubbing his face all over the bag. Nice. He left the bag for a quick head pat by yours truly, then hopped right back in. He's in there right now and quite thrilled to be there.
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Buffalo Chicken Tenders with Caramelized Onion and Blue Cheese Orzo

In keeping with my week of trying recipes from Mary Ellen's blog, last night I made Buffalo Chicken Tenders with Caramelized Onion and Blue Cheese Orzo. The orzo was the recipe I got from Mary Ellen and the chicken tenders were a recipe I've made before.

I love these chicken tenders:

... because they're so easy to make and taste fantastic. I even made my own blue cheese dressing by mixing 1/3 cup mayo, 1/3 cup sour cream, blue cheese crumbles, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. It was super creamy and really cut the heat from the tenders. The orzo:

... was the real winner, though. I absoluteley loved this recipe. It was super simple to make and the flavors were great.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chinese Chicken with Peanuts and Vegetables

I was looking through Mary Ellen's blog recently and ended up printing out more than 20 recipes that sounded absolutely fantastic. When I made my menu for the week I decided to try three of her recipes, the first being this one for Chinese Chicken with Peanuts and Vegetables:

I did a lot of prep on Sunday, so this came together in just 30 minutes. I ended up using more veggies (a whole pepper and a whole zucchini) and increased the amount of peanuts since we love them in kung pao chicken, the dish this is based off.

I have to admit, we were a little disappointed in the final result. We liked it well enough, but like all Chinese recipes I've tried to recreate at home the flavors seemed muted. I don't understand how dishes that have soy sauce, garlic, ginger and a ton of other vibrant flavors can be on the bland side. I followed the recipe exactly, but if you look at my picture and Mary Ellen's picture you'll see that her sauce is a lot richer-looking. Mine wasn't even that spicy and I used the full amount of red pepper flakes. I'll have to try again, especially if Mary Ellen reads this and can offer some tips.
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Spaghetti and Meatballs

We wanted a hearty, comforting dinner on Sunday, so we turned to an old favorite, spaghetti and meatballs:

SP was in charge of the sauce and I have to say, this batch was one of the best he's ever made. It certainly surpasses anything I've ever had in a restaurant. It was so good I can't even put it into words. It had just the right consistency, tangy but sweet, not too acidic...just perfect in every way. I made the meatballs using my usual recipe and fried them in a little oil:

... before they finished cooking in the sauce while the pasta cooked:

We also had some crusty bread slathered with butter to sop up all the gorgeous sauce:

The sauce was so good we ate all the slices I cut and SP went back for another. And the best part is I made a huge batch of meatballs so we have enough for 2 more meals in the freezer.

Recipe from Lidia Bastianich

1/2 pound ground pork (I use meatloaf mix)
1/2 pound ground beef (I use meatloaf mix)
1 cup fine bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt, and more to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, and more to taste
Flour (for coating)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil

In a large bowl, crumble the pork and beef (or meatloaf mix). Sprinkle with bread crumbs, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, the parsley, and garlic.

In a small bowl, beat the egg with the 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pour over the meat mixture. With your hands, work the meat until it is evenly blended. Shape the mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. Dredge the meatballs in flour until they are lightly coated.

In a large heavy-bottom skillet, heat the olive and vegetable oils. When the oil is hot, place as many meatballs in the pan as you can without crowding. Fry for about 6 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Remove from the pan to drain on papertowels. Repeat with the remaining meatballs.

Add the browned meatballs to the tomato sauce and cook, stirring gently, for 30 minutes or until they are cooked through.
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Breakfast Sandwich

We had some leftover biscuits from the batch SP made on Saturday so Sunday morning (after a very long but very productive trip to the wholesale club) I made us breakfast sandwiches:

These were like a kicked-up version of a McDonald's biscuit sandwich, with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese (SP had Swiss) and two slices of crispy bacon. These were so good we didn't speak to each other the entire time we were eating.
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Fall Dinner

My parents invited us over for dinner on Saturday and since the weather is decidedly fall these days my mom thought a roast chicken dinner with all the fixings sounded like a great idea. Here are the two beautiful birds she stuffed and roasted:

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We started with some snacks while we had drinks, including sundried tomatoes and mozzarella on little toasts:

I really love these tomatoes and mozzarella.

In addition to the chickens my mom roasted carrots, steamed green beans and sliced some cranberry sauce:

Yes, we like the jellied cranberry sauce from a can. Don't hate us. She also made creamy, buttery mashed potatoes and gravy from the pan drippings:

SP made his amazing, buttery biscuits:

Here's the table all laid out for dinner:

My plate, with a little bit of everything:

This was one fantastic meal! The chicken couldn't have been more tender or juicy and all the sides were delicious. This was a good trial run for Thanksgiving since we have pretty much the same meal on that day as well.

After dinner we played Scrabble (I won, yay!) and then everyone enjoyed the pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting I'd made earlier that day.
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Look what I made:

Yes, it's a cupcake. And I made it from scratch. Even the frosting. Go me! I wonder how long I can claim not to be a baker...

I had a lot of pumpkin leftover from the pumpkin roll I made last weekend, so when my mom asked me to bring dessert for dinner tonight I asked my cooking board for recommendations for pumpking cupcakes. Here they are hot out of the oven:

While the cupcakes cooled I made the cream cheese frosting:

After the cupcakes cooled completely:

... I frosted them with a liberal amount of the cream cheese frosting:

Yum! They smelled fantastic while they were baking, but I haven't tried them yet because I don't want to spoil my dinner.

I ended up combining two of the recipes recommended by my cooking board since I didn't want to buy anything I didn't already have on hand.

Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes
Recipe from Annie's Eats

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 can (15 oz.) solid-packed pumpkin (about 1 ¾ cups)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line muffin tins with decorative cupcake papers.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, granulated sugar, brown sugar and oil. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition.

Add the flour mixture in three additions, stirring with a large wooden spoon until just combined. Fill the muffin tins about three-fourths full. Bake until the cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the tins to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the tins and let cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe from Sherri

4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla
5 cups confectioner's sugar

Cream butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add vanilla and beat. Add sugar one cup at a time and continue to beat an additional 5 minutes.
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Comfy Closet Cat

As any cat owner knows cats love to find new and interesting places to sleep. Recently we couldn't find our cat, until we looked in the closet in the second bedroom. We had left the door slightly open and he'd made himself a little bed using my fleece jacket that had fallen off the hanger. Seeing as the temperature keeps dropping, I needed to reclaim my coat. The other day he was sleeping on our bed, so I swapped the fleece for a large towel I got at my work conference. The cat must not have minded the switch because he was back in the closet this afternoon:

He just looks so cute all snuggled up in there.
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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Orzo with Sausage, Peppers, and Tomatoes

I saw this recipe for Orzo with Sausage, Peppers, and Tomatoes in the Serious Eats Newsletter a few weeks ago. Since we had a pound of sausage in the freezer I figured I'd give it a try.

It was a very, very easy recipe that came together in less than 30 minutes. It had good flavor, but neither of us thought it was craveable. I like sausage, but I've never found myself saying, "Wow, I'm really craving some sausage right now." That being said, this meal was very good. I used spicy Italian sausage and added red pepper flakes as well, so the dish had a nice kick. I've always been a fan of the creaminess of orzo and it didn't disappoint. My only real complaint was that I couldn't quite taste the roasted red peppers or the tomatoes. And I added way more then 2 plum tomatoes. I had about 6 whole peeled tomatoes leftover from a can I opened earlier this week and I used them all, but unfortunately they got lost in the shuffle.
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Fellow Bloggers: I Need Your Help!

One of my goals for this year is to improve my photography skills. I've been using the same camera (a Sony Cybershot) since 2004 and while it works just fine, I know a lot of advances have been made in digital photography since we purchased this camera. I'm hoping to get a new camera for Christmas so this is where you guys come in. There are way, way too many choices in digital cameras and wading through the reviews got overwhelming. Then it dawned on me - why not ask my fellow bloggers what they use. Who better to recommend (or not recommend) a camera then the people who use it every day to do exactly what I do.

I have only a few requirements:

1) Must be less than $300
2) Takes good photos in all types of settings
3) If it had a food photography setting that would be a plus
4) Small enough to fit in a purse so I'm not lugging around a behemoth

If you have a recommendation I would greatly appreciate it. Just leave me a comment!
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rigatoni with Spiced Meat Sauce

The latest issue of Everyday Food had a lot of great recipes, including this one for Rigatoni with Spiced Meat Sauce.

The recipe is really easy and took a little less than 30 minutes to put together, including making the salad. I used beef instead of lamb because we have so much in the freezer and it was fantastic.

I loved the spiciness from the cayenne and the kick from the vinegar. And the cinnamon added a nice flavor in the background. For the salad I thinly sliced some red onion and mushrooms and tossed them with baby arugula:

Simply dressed with red wine vinegar and oil, this was a fantastic weeknight meal.
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Chicken Braised in White Wine

I saw this recipe for Chicken Braised in White Wine over at Good Things Catered and knew it would be a winner. What's not to like about bone-in chicken cooked slowly in a pool of yummy wine? Add in some onions, mushrooms and potatoes and you've got a one-pot meal (which I'm all about these days!) I also steamed some green beans for an added vegetable.

The chicken was a gorgeous golden-brown color from the initial cooking, but once it was covered in delicious sauce it looked even better. I served this family-style on a large platter with the chicken and all the vegetables.

The steamed green beans were crisp-tender and provided a nice color contrast.

My plate:

... with a piece of chicken, potatoes, mushrooms and onions and green beans. It was a delicious meal. Thanks Katie!
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Pumpkin Roll

My cooking board is obsessed with pumpkin these days, so this recipe for pumpkin roll has been floating around for a few weeks now. We all know I'm not much of a baker, but this was so simple I figured I'd give it a shot.

I cut off this end piece to make the edge nice for the photo and just had to give it a try, right?

I absolutely loved this. I cut off another slice for SP and he was also a fan. I was looking forward to having this for breakfast all week. Unfortunately things went a little downhill from there. I wrapped the roll in plastic wrap, as per the recipe, and stuck it in the fridge. The next day when I unwrapped it, I noticed the cake was a little slimy. I asked around and it seems I should have dusted the outside with powdered sugar and loosely covered it instead. I'm going to try to save the cake, but I think this might be something I need to make again.
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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Final Harvest

It's the middle of October and I'm still getting tomatoes. I can't believe how many tomatoes these plants produced. Since they're calling for frost tonight, I decided to pick all the remaining tomatoes off the vines. Look at how many were still on there:

I hope the green ones ripen, but I don't have much faith.

And because it's been awhile since I posted a photo of the cat:

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Anniversary Celebration

Since I was sick last weekend we decided to postpone our anniversary celebration until this weekend. We started the day with breakfast at the scene of the crime, also known as the B&B where we got married. We love seeing the owners every year to catch up on things and it's always fun to revisit where we got married. It's a great tradition we've started. L made her fantastic pumpkin waffles with apple cider syrup and we had baked apples with granola and whipped cream as well.

After a little shopping, we drove into the city to walk around for a few hours. We started at Central Park:

... which was brimming with people taking advantage of the bright, sunny day.

We sat on a bench for awhile people-watching.

... before checking out FAO Schwarz:

Before heading to one of our favorite restaurants for an amazing dinner we passed by Radio City:

It was a great day and a great celebration.
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Since we have so much ground beef in the freezer and because SP loves chili, I decided to make chili on Thursday. I used the recipe SP likes from Emeril:

... and he said it was the best version I've ever made. I'm not a huge fan of chili, but I think it was pretty good:

We had it with tortilla chips, shredded cheddar cheese, green onions and sour cream. I also chopped up some tomatoes and cilantro.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Spicy Coconut Chicken Casserole

Another Everyday Food recipe, this one for Spicy Coconut Chicken Casserole, a one-pot weeknight meal:

Sometimes I find Everyday Food recipes to be a little bland, but this one was excellent. I'm sure it had something to do with the copious amount of Thai red curry paste I added. The only modification I made was to use split chicken breasts instead of chicken legs. The chicken stayed moist during the cooking process, one of the perks of cooking meat still on the bone. The flavors of the coconut milk and curry paste were fantastic and the crunch from the green beans and red peppers was a great contrast to the juicy meat.

Our only complaint was that the rice (I used basmati instead of jasmine since I always have it on hand) got mushy from overcooking, which is one of the drawbacks to cooking everything in the same pot. Still, I am loving the one-pot/one-skillet recipes. Less cleanup and so much easier to deal with on a weeknight. One note - if you make this recipe it's imperative that you squeeze some fresh lemon juice over each serving before eating. The citrus really makes the flavors in the casserole pop. We both agreed it wouldn't have been nearly as good a meal without the lemon.

Spicy Coconut Chicken Casserole
Everyday Food

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 whole chicken legs (about 3 pounds total)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 can (14.5 ounces) light coconut milk
1 1/2 cups canned reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 to 2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
1 cup jasmine rice
2 red bell peppers (ribs and seeds removed), cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces green beans (stem ends removed), cut into 1-inch lengths
1/2 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

In a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in two batches, cook chicken until browned, 6 to 8 minutes; transfer to a plate (chicken will cook more in step 2).

To pot, add coconut milk, broth, 1/2 cup water, and curry paste; bring to a boil, and stir in rice. Add chicken (with any juices), arranging pieces in a single layer. Cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, without stirring, until rice is almost tender, 15 minutes.

Scatter bell peppers and green beans on top of chicken mixture; cover, and cook until vegetables are crisp-tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

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