Friday, August 29, 2008

Lemon Squares

And to balance out the chocolate, I made some lemon squares. I know not everyone is a chocolate lover, but everyone loves some sweets.

This recipe is from my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook and is very easy. I know I have some first time readers who are looking for easy to make recipes & this is definitely one of them.

Lemon Squares
1 cup Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel, if desired
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 350ºF.
2. Mix flour, butter and powdered sugar. Press in ungreased square pan, 8x8x2 or 9x9x2 inches, building up 1/2-inch edges.
3. Bake crust 20 minutes.
4. Beat granulated sugar, lemon peel, lemon juice, baking powder, salt and eggs with electric mixer on high speed about 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Pour over hot crust.
5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until no indentation remains when touched lightly in center. Cool; dust with powdered sugar. Cut into about 1 1/2-inch squares.

Chocolate Cherry Brownies

I am sure, like everyone else, you recently received your Cooking Light magazine. I look forward to the day it comes in the mail b/c I am usually on a menu/food lull & need some pictures & new recipes to get me into cooking again.

I was having a few friends over on Tuesday evening & need some sweets & snacks to feed them. Thankfully, Cooking Light came in the mail the night before. I had everything but the cherry preserves for this recipe in house, so a quick run to the store & I had a chocolate treat for all.

Dark Chocolate and Cherry Brownies
Cooking spray
3.4 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3/4 cup)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cherry preserves
1/3 cup water
5 tablespoons butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg white
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Powdered sugar (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper; coat with cooking spray.

3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, 1 cup sugar, unsweetened cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Combine cherry preserves, 1/3 cup water, and butter in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Add preserves mixture to flour mixture; stir well. Add egg and egg white; stir until smooth. Stir in semisweet chocolate chips. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool in pan on wire rack. Garnish with powdered sugar, if desired.

This would be an delicious accompaniment to a nice red or dessert wine. They weren't too rich, but rich enough that you didn't want to eat more than one (or two).

Homemade Salsa

The hubs & I are getting to be pretty darn good at making salsa. We are working on batch #3 this long Labor day weekend and I think each time we do it, it gets better and better.

I love that we can go out to the garden & make something almost entirely from it. Since we were out of town for a few days, our garden had a HUGE harvest when we got back. This happens to be good timing, b/c we are on our last container of homemade salsa.

Now I say this is time consuming, but I think it is b/c we make about a gallon of salsa each time we make it. So yes, blanching the tomatoes & getting everything cut up & simmered takes awhile. But the salsa is so good in the end.

I am so happy we planted garden salsa peppers & green onions this year. They really make me feel all organic & stuff.

Here is what you will need:
a whole lotta tomatoes: you can use a variety, we use beefsteak, bonnie & sometimes romas
jalapenos or other salsa pepper: The one in our garden is called "Garden Salsa Pepper"
Onions: any kind, red, white yellow, green
salt & pepper
2-4 Tbsp fresh cilantro
lime juice
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 Tbsp vinegar

We blanch our tomatoes first. Neither one of us are fans of the skin so this is an important step. To do this, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop about 3 to 5 tomatoes in at a time. Let boil for about 3 minutes or until the skin starts to peel away. In another bowl, add cold water & ice. Remove the tomatoes from the boil water & right into the ice bath. Repeat until finished.

Next we peel, deseed, degut the tomatoes. We cut them in half and add them to a large pot.
Dice your peppers & onions. *USE GLOVES ON THE PEPPERS* You can add some of the pepper seed for heat if you'd like.
Then add the rest of the ingredients to taste. Bring to a boil, then let it simmer for at least an hour. We are usually tired by now and end up watching TV for 2-3 hours while it simmers.
Next, depending on how you like your salsa, blend it. The hubs likes his salsa smooth, so we blend the whole pot. If you like your salsa chunky, I would blend half of the pot & mix it all together.
Now you are ready to package it up & put it away until you need some. But you must taste it first, see if it needs anything else. Each time we have done this, we realize it needs salt. I didn't realize how much sodium is added to canned tomatoes until we stopped using them.

Out to Eat: Chicago

I normally do not post much about food when we eat out but I had to make a quick one this time.

The Hubs & I were in Chicago last weekend visiting friends & family. Every time we go we get three things: Portillo's Italian Beef, Vienna Chicago Hot Dogs & Santorini's.
Santorini's is a Greek restaurant in, you guessed it, Greektown.

The hubs was in love when we ordered saganaki. For those that don't know, saganaki is a flaming cheese. Anything that is on fire in front of us us cool to the Hubs.

Anyway, I ordered the Shrimp Santorini. These shrimp were HUGE!!!

If you do get to Chicago sometime, stop by Santorini's. It wont be the healthiest meal, but at least get the flaming cheese!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Garden Fresh: Marinara Sauce

One of my favorite things about having 6 tomato plants is making homemade sauce. I walk out back, pick up a few pounds of tomatoes, grab some green onions from the garden & cut a variety of herbs. It makes me feel so organic & Betty Crocker.

I think people have a misperception that making their own marinara sauce is difficult. Its easy to do with fresh tomatoes & even easier to do with canned tomatoes. I rarely buy any spaghetti sauce in jar anymore.

This batch made 5 containers of sauce. I put them all in the freezer as I wasn't ready to use them. And this time I labeled them. Last year, I had a made tomato basil soup & marinara sauce, only I didn't label the containers. I packed what I thought was tomato basil soup for lunch one day, only to start eating it going "Hum I think this is the marinara sauce". Still tasted good!

You can customize the sauce anyway you like. I make a few different kinds over the summer, this one was my first batch so I did my standard sauce.


Lots of tomatoes. I used romas, beefsteaks & bonnies

Green Onions


Fresh herbs: oregano, basil, sage

Salt & Pepper

*tomato paste (if after cooking for awhile, the sauce does not thicken up for you, add a few Tbsp of tomato paste)

Blanch tomatoes & let cool. Then peel, degut, squeeze & dice the tomatoes.

In a large pot, heat some olive oil & saute the onions & garlic.

Add the tomatoes & remaining ingredients.

Bring to boil, then reduce hit & simmer for at least an hour.

Check the consistency & taste, adjust accordingly.

Cool completely before freezing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I was in the mood for some chocolate chip cookies, but I didn't want to make the ones on the back of the Tollhouse bag. I wanted to try something new.
My friend Stacey is an amazing baker. Every cookie I have ever had of hers is so chewy & very flavorful. So of course I turned to her blog in my search.
I went with the Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I would have to agree that these are so much better than any other cookies I have made at home. I will be using this as my stand by recipe from here on out.

I'd really like to make Stacey's PB Cookie now!

Monday, August 11, 2008

End of Summer Pasta

With the abundance of zucchini & squash, I am trying to find ways to use them up in recipes. My friend Julie sent this "end of summer pasta" recipe for me to try. It was delicious & healthy! The hubs has something against cold pasta salad, so we ate this heated up.

End of Summer Pasta

1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 pounds boned, skinned chicken breast halves, rinsed
1 pound zucchini
2 red bell peppers (12 oz. total)
2 portabella mushroom caps (7 oz. total)
1 red onion (12 oz.)
1 package (1 lb.) dried penne pasta
1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
Salt and fresh-ground pepper
1/2 cup slivered fresh basil leaves

1. In a bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup olive oil, soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, and garlic. Reserve 1/2 cup marinade for basting vegetables; pour remaining into a 1-gallon zip-lock plastic bag. Cut chicken lengthwise into 1-inch-wide strips and add to bag. Seal bag and turn to coat. Chill about 45 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, rinse zucchini, bell peppers, and mushroom caps. Slice zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick strips. Stem and seed bell peppers; quarter lengthwise. Peel onion and slice crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Brush vegetables with reserved marinade.

3. Cooking in batches if necessary, lay vegetables and chicken (discard marinade) on a barbecue grill over a solid bed of hot coals or high heat on a gas grill (you can hold your hand at grill level only 2 to 3 seconds); close lid on gas grill. Cook, turning once, until vegetables are slightly charred and chicken is no longer pink in center of thickest part (cut to test), 6 to 10 minutes total. Let cool a few minutes. Chop vegetables and chicken into 1-inch pieces.

4. Meanwhile, in a 6- to 8-quart pan over high heat, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Add pasta, stir, and cook, uncovered, until barely tender to bite, 9 to 13 minutes. Drain.

5. In a large bowl, mix pasta with remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, parmesan cheese, half the chopped vegetables and chicken, and salt and pepper to taste. Top with remaining vegetables and chicken. Garnish with sliced basil

A few things I changed: I only used one red pepper & one green pepper. I omitted the portabello mushrooms, but only b/c I forgot to buy some at the store. I used 1 lb of zucchini & 1 lb of squash.
This was my first success at grilling the veggies & not having them stick to the grill! Also, this makes a ton of food. So make it on Sunday or Monday & have it for lunch the remainder of the week.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Garlic Swirl Bread

I promised my friend Betsi I would post this for her today! The hubs & I are visiting a friend tonight who recently have birth to a gorgeous baby girl. Being the kind friend I am, we are taking them dinner. On the menu: Fresh Greens salad w/ cherry tomatoes, the hubs deep dish pan of lasagna, garlic swirl bread & lemon raspberry cake.

I will be the first to tell you, I do not have success with yeast bread very often. I will only try it if I promise I will not be upset with myself if it doesn't work. Well, yesterday started out with an all around good day. Got all the errands ran I needed to, so I started on the bread. I truly believe that the reason my yeast bread does not work in my house is b/c its too cold. Yesterday it was a comfortable 75-78 degrees inside & I think this is what helped it along.

I found the garlic swirl bread at Amber's Kitchen. She made it sound so easy, and in fact it was. I will probably use this as a base recipe for future breads (sun dried tomato & parmesan cheese anyone??)
Here it is before I rolled it up:

For the filling, I used my food processor to mix together the ingredients to get a nice whipped butter.

I will say I was very thankful this turned out. My day took a turn right before I was waiting for the second rise, so I was just praying it would work. I don't have any pictures of the swirl so we will have to wait for some feedback from my friend on how it is!

Garden Update!

I know some of my readers love to hear about my garden. I am so very very lucky to have a husband with a green thumb, b/c the garden would be sad if I was in charge of it!

This was last Sunday's harvest.

We pulled out quite a bit of stuff & replanted the following: carrots, radishes, another squash & zucchini plant, and some more green onions. The squash & zucchini plants already have started sprouting!

The tomatoes. yes that is a deep sink full of them. I made some marinara sauce from these, I'll have a follow-up post with that.

We tried carrots this year. They were pretty successful.

I think we planted some of the seeds to closely together. Here are the normal ones, all cleaned up:
And the not so normal ones. I think they look like teeth:

Other than that, we just had a ton of herbs that I froze for the mid-season harvest.

Baby Shower Recipe Follow Up

For the bread in any of the following recipes:
Slice the baguette crosswise into 18 thin round slices. Brush the bread rounds lightly with olive oil on 1 side. Arrange them in rows, oil side up, on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and toast in the oven until lightly browned, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Red Pepper & Feta Bruschetta
Good olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon capers, drained
2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and cook until soft, about 12 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the sugar and continue cooking for 2 more minutes. Stir in the capers and basil, and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to serve. (You can make everything up to this point 2 days in advance) Prior to serving, add feta cheese. Place about 1 Tbsp of mixture on the bread.

Tomato Bruschetta:
4 tomatoes, diced & seeded
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
Fresh basil
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt & pepper

Mix all the ingredients together. Serve atop bruschetta bread. This can also be made up to 2 days in advance.

Shoot! I left the mushroom bruschetta recipe at home!

UPDATE: Mushroom Bruschetta
8 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp butter
3/4 pound of mushrooms, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, 2 minced, 1 smashed
1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper
fresh sage (about 1 Tbsp)
fresh parsley, chopped (about 1 Tbsp)& 1/3 cup of leaves
1/2 cup pitted green olives
1/2 tsp anchovy paste
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

1. In a large frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil & the butter over medium high heat. Add mushrooms, minced garlic, salt, pepper, & the sage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden, about 5-10 minutes. Stir in chopped parsley & remove from heat.
2. In a blender or food processor, put the olives, parsley leaves, smashed garlic, anchovy paste & the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice & some more pepper. Process to a coarse puree.
3. Mix the cooked mushrooms with the olive mixture & serve atop the bread.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Baby Shower!

My friend Cassandra & I threw a shower for another good friend of ours last Saturday. I put together a menu the Tuesday before, yes I know a little last minute, but I was having party planner block.

Veggie Tray w/ ranch dip
Fruit Tray w/cream cheese dip
bacon wrapped jalapeno thingies
Italian white bean dip w/pita crisp
3 Tier Bruschetta: tomato, sweet red pepper w/feta & mushroom
Antipasto snacks
Baked Brie

Diet Coke
White Wine Sangria

Cassandra will be the first to tell you she is not a master chef, so she was in charge of drinks, ordering the cake, the veggie tray & the fruit tray.
I had instilled the help of the hubs the day of the shower as we had a lot of work to do! I did a lot of it the Thursday before, as I knew I would not have time the day of. The shower was at 2pm and we had an hour drive to get there.

On Thursday, I made the white bean dip, this was Giada recipe and I happened to have everything in my house to make it, so it was a last minute "Oh I don't have enough food" addition. I made the pita crisps the day of the shower.

Also premade was the bruschetta. I did a regular tomato one, a mushroom one & a red pepper w/feta. I left this recipes at home so I will post them tomorrow!
We toasted up the bruschetta bread the day of.

The day of, we made up the bacon-wrapped jalapeno thingies. And yes, that is the real name. These went fast. I would have made more only that whole FDA thing with jalapenos made for slim pickings at the store.

I snagged the idea of the antipasto snacks from my friend Leslie. I didn't have time or the patience to look around for medium sized kabob sticks so I used toothpicks.
On one toothpick I put a green olive, pepperoni, basil leaf & fresh mozz, on the other I did a black olive, genoa salami, basil & fresh mozz. There were pretty darn good!

I also made a baked brie, a recipe I snagged from my friend Kim. I did not take pictures of this, as it was running a wee bit behind (wasn't ready until about 2:45) but it is soooo good! I only made one of these.

Baked Brie
Dried pecans, finely chopped
Dried fruit, finely chopped (I use craisins, peaches, etc.)
Brown sugar
2 large Alouette Brie wheels
Puff pastry if not adding details- Pepperidge Farm works the best
Defrost puff pastry to where it can be rolled, but is not soft.
Roll out into more of a circle, using flour underneath and on rolling pin.
Cut brie wheel down the center, so that they are still circles.
1 handful of nuts, 1 handful of fruit, 1 handful of brown sugar on top of first pastry.
Lay coated side of brie wheel down towards fruits/nuts, sticky side up.
1 handful of nuts, 1 handful of fruit, 1 handful of brown sugar.
Put stick side of brie facing down, coated side facing up.
Pull sides of pastry up like pleats; use water to smooth sides and help get rid of air bubbles.
Fold on top, using water to seal the pleats together.
Repeat with second brie.
Saran wrap each brie and wrap in tinfoil, can be frozen.
To cook:
Defrost for at least 5-6 hours before cooking.
375 degrees
Cook in bowl as brie can leak from the sides of the pastry.
20 minutes covered
Uncover and brush with a beaten egg, leave uncovered
Cook for another 20-25 minutes.
Let cool for at least 10 minutes

Overall the shower went very well, we played gift bingo & a match the mother animal to its offspring (who knew an Ape's offspring is also called a baby).
Congratulations to Mom & Dad! We can not wait to meet him/her in September!

The Hubs Made Dinner!

We have so many good looking tomatoes on our windowsill. I was craving a great BLT. It sounded like the best dinner I had had in awhile. However, I can not cook bacon. Just one of those things. It comes out too done, too brown/black, there is smoke in the house. You get the idea.

The hubs can make a mean bacon. As he was cooking it he says "The key to good bacon is to cook it slowly & on a lower heat". So I suppose my lack of 'makin bacon' skills is b/c I am inpatient.

So he made dinner. I sliced up the juicy red big beef tomato from the garden. The sandwich was to die for. Until I realized between the 2 of us, we had eaten an entire package of bacon.

Garden Dinner

I have a lot to catch up on! Sorry for the influx of posts between the next two days. I didn't realize how far behind I had gotten!

First up, I have gone to just about every recipe/cooking website that I could find to compile my list of recipes that required squash and/or zucchini. I have an entire word document w/links & ideas.

I decided to try this one first, Chicken w/Summer Squash from Better Homes & Gardens. They used a purchased roast chicken & I had chicken breasts at the house so I change it it up a bit.

1 2-1/4-lb. purchased roasted chicken, chilled
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 small or 2 medium yellow summer squash, cut in quarters lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup yellow grape or cherry tomatoes
Small fresh arugula leaves

1.Remove string from chicken, if present, and quarter chicken. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken quarters, skin side down, 3 to 4 minutes or until brown. Remove from skillet. Add squash, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper to drippings in skillet. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Return chicken to skillet, skin side up. Cook, covered, over medium heat about 10 minutes or until chicken is heated through and squash is tender, adding the tomatoes the last 2 minutes of cooking. Transfer chicken and squash mixture to platter and sprinkle with arugula. Makes 4 servings.

Since I changed basically everything in the directions here goes.

1) Marinate chicken in some type of Italian marinade, for about 4-6 hours. I used Kraft Tuscan Italian dressing.
2) In a 9x13 dish, coat w/olive oil. Heat oven to 350F. Meanwhile, slice your squash & halve your cherry tomatoes.
3) Place chicken in the dish, then top with the squash & add the tomatoes. You can add more marinade at this time. Cover with foil & cook for about 30-45 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink.
4) Sprinkle w/Parmesan cheese & parsley.

Now I rather enjoyed this, the hubs, not so much. But then again it didn't have a carbohydrate in it & was relatively healthy, so no surprise there.