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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Three's a Charm

Sorry, not cooking related! We have 2 cats: Brownie and Little Buddy (AKA Spooky). They are brother and sister and we got them on Valentine's Day 2007, when they were about 6 months old.

Here's Brownie:

She came to us as "Tinkerbell" and was very afraid of us when we got her. We couldn't get near her. She was a scaredy cat for several days, always in hiding, until the day I made a pan of brownies. I took them out of the oven, brought Aaron and myself a brownie with a scoop of ice cream to enjoy on the couch and all of the sudden I had a new best friend, in my lap, trying to eat the brownies. Totally different cat. We renamed her Brownie and she is the Princess.

And then here's Little Buddy:

He came to us as "Chubby". Aaron's favorite holiday is Halloween and he HAD to have a black cat. Since these cats were born around that time of year, he became Spooky. His name is very fitting because he is a big scaredy cat himself. He's afraid of the vacuum, any guests that come to the house, kids, you name it. But, he is very loving and a sweet cat and a good "Little Buddy". Both of our cats are inside/outside cats.

Ok, now that you have some background on our little family. I was standing on our deck the other day and saw the little neighbor kids (probably 2 & 3-4 year olds) petting Little Buddy. I was in shock. I have never seen either of our cats let a kid pet them. They usually run as fast as possible in the opposite direction when they see a child. I couldn't believe my eyes. So, I watched for a few minutes, then noticed a black cat on our deck: Little Buddy! Ok, so now I know this is just another black cat. I go on with the day.

The next day, Aaron goes out to call the kitties to come in. Brownie comes right away, and then so does Little Buddy. But once he got closer, he realized that's not him! It's Imposter Kitty that keeps showing up! So, we let Imposter Kitty inside for a minute, pet her a little bit - she's really friendly, looks exactly like our cat, but a little smaller and has a smoker's voice. (Little Buddy has a high pitched girly voice.) Our cats keep hissing at her and we don't really need a third cat. We put her out for the night expecting her to go back home. But, I felt bad because it was supposed to storm, so I gave her a little food and put her on our porch where she would be dry for the night if she didn't leave. I know, you don't feed a cat and expect it to leave!

Next morning I let our cats out, and Imposter Kitty is right there sleeping on the patio furniture! Long story short, that's been happening for the past 4 days. She comes in and hangs out for a while and leaves, but not for long. Today we both thought we saw her go out the front door (we had it open because we're painting it today). We hadn't seen her in hours and thought for sure she went home...wherever that is. I searched the entire house to be sure she was really out. Since Sunday is laundry day at our house, Aaron went up to get his clothes and found Imposter Kitty sleeping IN the hamper. She must have been there for about 5-6 hours before we found her.

And now she is sleeping on the window bench, making herself right at home, like she has lived here her entire life. I've posted pictures of her on our city's web forum, hoping her owner might see them or be looking for her. In the mean time, I'm calling her Trixie, since we can hardly tell our own Little Buddy from this trickster.

Anyone want a really sweet kitten?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Homemade Soft Pretzels


Homemade pretzels take some effort...but once you have a taste of the warm, chewy, salty flavor - y0u won't care how long it takes! These turned out great and would have been easier if Aaron hadn't been trying to install a new kitchen light at the same time I was making them interrupting every few minutes with... "Can you get me the...(fill in the name of the tool)".
Some advice...the parchment paper in the oven really smoked up the kitchen - a LOT! I went back and read a couple different recipes that don't mention the parchment, so I think I'll skip it next time and hope nothing sticks. I doubled the recipe since it said it makes 8 pretzels. What it doesn't say is that it makes 8 Paul Bunyan size pretzels. So the first 1/2 of the dough, I made 8 super large pretzels, then I made 20 smaller ones with the remaining half of the dough, and that's how I'll make them for the party!
Recipe Summary
Difficulty: Intermediate
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 25 minutes Yield: 8 pretzels

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt

DIRECTIONS:
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.
Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula.

Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Crash Hot Potatoes

From all of the snooping I've been doing, it looks like these potatoes are a requirement to have on a cooking blog. They are from the Pioneer Woman. After making them, I can see why. And now I must add it to my own so I don't forget about them.


Ingredients:
New Potatoes (or other small, round potato)
I used Red potatoes
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Pepper
Any herbs you like. I used caraway seeds because it came with my spice rack and I have never opened the bottle. It turned out great!

Directions:
So, all you do is boil some small potatoes for about 15 minutes. Then, drizzle some oil on a foil lined pan. Place the potatoes on the pan far enough apart that they have room to spread and using a masher or something flat, smoosh them until they are flat, but not TOO flat!

Then, put a little more oil on top of each potato, sprinkle with salt and pepper and your choice of herbs. Oh...I also put a little garlic powder on them because I put that in almost everything. Bake them in the oven at 450 degrees for about 25 minutes. They are crispy and scrumptious.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Reese's Chewy Chocolate Cookies

Flipping through my cookbook, I found the recipe for these chocolate cookies. The real reason I made them was so I could make use of my Tupperware Ice Cream Sandwich Makers - which now come in cooler colors than I got a few years ago :( I had to experiment a little with the baking time because I didn't want them to be overdone since crunchy cookies don't make for good ice cream sandwiches. I ended up baking them for 8.5-9 minutes and they were still pretty soft when I assembled the ice cream sandwiches. Next time I would try leaving them in the oven another minute and I think they would be better. Otherwise, 8.5 minutes was good for a soft cookie.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY®'S Cocoa Powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups REESE'S® Peanut Butter Chips

DIRECTIONS
Heat oven to 350 F. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with mixer until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well. Stir in peanut butter chips. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8 to 9 minutes. (Do not overbake; cookies will be soft. They will puff while baking and flatten while cooling.) Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 4-1/2 dozen cookies.



Ice Cream Sandwiches: Prepare Chewy Chocolate Cookies as directed; cool. Press small scoop of vanilla ice cream between flat sides of cookies. Wrap and freeze.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Homegrown Gourmet #9: PASTA! Cincinnati Style Chili - Chili Spaghetti


I was in college the first time I had Cincinnati style chili at Skyline. Being from northwest Ohio, never having heard of chili on spaghetti (ew!), I really didn't think it was that great and didn't eat it again until I met Aaron, years later. He grew up in Cincinnati and we now have our own home a little North of Cinci. It's his favorite meal and now he has me hooked. We could seriously eat this stuff everyday. Up until now, we've either gotten it from a can at the grocery store, or gone to a restaurant to get this tasty meal. When I read about the Homegrown Gourmet challenge (a challenge in which you make a recipe that fits with the host's theme that in some way represents your area) and saw that this month's challenge was pasta, I knew this was the perfect time to try Cincinnati Chili. Check out the rules for the Homegrown Gourmet Challenge.

So, for a quick little history about Chili Spaghetti...It's a Greek dish that was brought over in the early 1920's by Tom and John Kiradjieff. The recipe began as a modified version of a Macedonian stew and was served over hot dogs or spaghetti noodles. From there, the recipe was modified and copied and Cincinnati Chili started popping up all over the area. The most popular chains for Cincinnati Chili are Skyline and Gold Star. (Skyline's the best!) You can read a more detailed history of the dish at
Wikipedia.

Ok, now you're wondering what makes Cincinnati Chili different than your normal texas-style chili? Chili on spaghetti - it really doesn't SOUND good, but the flavor and consistency is totally different and it's delicious on top of noodles or hot dogs. It's made from ground beef and lots of spices. It's very thin and the beef is very finely ground. You can have Chili Spaghetti a few different "ways":

One-way: Chili only (I don't think anyone does this)
Two-Way: Spaghetti noodles topped with chili.
Three-Way: Spaghetti noodles, chili, finely shredded cheddar cheese (I have yet to find the perfect cheese, nobody can beat Skyline)
Four-Way: Spaghetti, chili, cheese, and red kidney beans OR finely chopped white onions
Five-Way: Spaghetti, chili, cheese, beans AND onion.

Chili spaghetti is always served with oyster crackers. I researched a few recipes and there is some controversy over the actual spices used, so I just picked one and went for it. The recipe I used said this is a Skyline Original. So here goes...


Ingredients:

3 lbs. lean hamburger, don't brown, chop up)
2 qts. water
2 lg. onions, chopped
2 (16 oz.) kidney beans (I omitted, we never eat ours with beans)
29 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
4 tbsp. chili powder or more
2 tbsp. vinegar
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate squares
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 drops Tabasco sauce

Directions:
In an 8 quart kettle combine hamburger, water and onions; simmer for 30 minutes. Then add remaining ingredients. Simmer for 2 or 3 hours, uncovered. Serve with steamed buns, hot dogs, onions and cheese or serve over spaghetti noodles, onions and cheese. Makes 6 pints.

I simmered the pot for 2 hours before Aaron couldn't wait for dinner any longer. And, to get the right consistency, I used my KA food processor and ground up the chili in small batches about 5 quick pulses each. Next time I will simmer the pot for closer to 3 hours instead of 2, just to get it a little thicker and let some of the liquid cook off. Overall, it passed the test and I have a few containers in my freezer for some more quick dinners. YUM :)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stuffed Peaches

Ever since we returned from our vacation, all I've wanted to eat is fruit. So today we went to the farmer's market and I got some peaches. I found this recipe for baked peaches that uses amaretti cookies, which was cool because I had a bunch leftover from the lasagna I made. I didn't want to drag out the food processor, so I just crushed the cookies up a little by hand. I cheated and topped with Fat Free Cool Whip.

1 1/2 ounces amaretti cookies(about 12 small cookies)
3 ripe, firm peaches (about 5 ounces each), halved and pitted
3 teaspoons sugar (1/2 teaspoon per peach half)
3 teaspoons unsalted butter (1/2 teaspoon per peach half)
2 cups fresh whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the bottom of an 8-inch baking dish and set aside.

Using a melon baller, clean out the red flesh from the center of each peach. Arrange the peaches cut side up in the prepared dish. In the bowl of a food processor, add the amaretti cookies and pulse until finely crumbled. Divide the amaretti crumbs between the peaches. Fill the center of each peach with the amaretti cookie crumbs. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of sugar over each. Dot each peach with 1/2 teaspoon of butter.


Bake until the peaches are tender and the filling is crisp on top, about 30 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Big Bird Burger: Jumbo Chicken, Spinach, and Herb Burgers

We threw these burgers on the grill instead of the skillet and I halved the recipe for the two of us. It is a very thick burger, so next time I would make them about half as thick as it says: Too. Much. Food. But - I got to use fresh herbs from my garden - Bonus!

Ingredients:
1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
2 pounds ground chicken breast
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, plus some for slathering on the rolls
10 leaves of fresh basil, shredded or torn
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley (a handful), chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), plus some for drizzling
20 white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
4 slices Swiss cheese, from the deli counter
4 kaiser rolls or sandwich-size sourdough English muffins, split and toasted
4 red or green leaf lettuce leaves
1 vine-ripe tomato, thinly sliced


Directions:
1. Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Arrange the defrosted chopped spinach in the center of a kitchen towel. Wrap the towel around the spinach and squeeze out the excess liquid. Put the spinach in a mixing bowl and combine with the chicken, shallots, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper. Score the meat with the side of your hand to separate into 4 equal portions. Make 4 large patties, 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Drizzle the patties with oil and place them in the hot skillet Cook for 6 to 7 minutes on each side, until the chicken is cooked through.

3. Preheat a second medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons of EVOO, twice around the pan. Add the sliced mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are nice and brown. Season the 'shrooms with salt and pepper. Add the wine or broth and cook until the pan is almost dry, about 2 minutes.

4. Top the big-bird burgers wth the mushroom topping and the Swiss cheese. Fold each slice of cheese in half to fit the burger, if necessary. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Turn off the pan and let the cheese melt, about 2 minutes.

5. Slather the tops of the buns or English muffins with a little mustard. Place the burgers on the bun bottoms and top with lettuce and tomato. Put the bun or muffin tops in place.



Lowfat Ranch Dressing

This dressing is so good. It may be my new favorite ranch. It doesn't have a chemical taste like the bottled, store-bought kind.


1/2 cup light mayo
1/4 cup fat free sour cream
1/4 tsp dried dill weed
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp dried garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
salt & pepper

Mix all ingredients together and chill. Made with above ingredients, dressing has a thicker consistency and is good for dipping. Can be thinned out using buttermilk or skim milk for salads.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Finally, I found time to post this! To use up the rest of the butternut squash, I made this lasagna. I've never made a recipe from Giada, mostly because I can't stand to listen to her talk, so I don't watch her show and have no idea what she makes. Substitutions: I added shredded chicken because I don't think Aaron would eat a meal without some kind of meat. So, I just layered the chicken on top of the squash each time. The night I made it, I have to say I wasn't thrilled, the squash is very sweet. I'd leave out the amaretti cookies next time. But, I had it for lunch the next day and the taste was much better! I'd rate this lasagna about a 7.5. I'm sure this would be great to make ahead and freeze, also.

Cook's Note: The no-boil lasagna noodles can be substituted with fresh spinach lasagna sheets. Look for fresh lasagna sheets in the refrigerated section of specialty markets.
Difficulty: Intermediate
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
3 amaretti
cookies, crumbled
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole
milk
Pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella
cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skillet and then cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly and then transfer the squash to a food processor. Add the amaretti cookies and blend until smooth. Season the squash puree, to taste, with more salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender*. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.

*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Muffalettas

Aaron's new favorite thing to eat - Muffaletta's. I like it because I can make it in 5 minutes. If you haven't had a muffaletta, it's an Italian sandwich that originated in New Orleans. A typical muffuletta is made from muffuletta bread, split horizontally. I can't find Muffaletta bread, so instead of making that myself (I did find plenty of recipes), we bought a loaf of Italian bread. The bread is then covered with a marinated olive salad, then layers of capicola, salami, mortadella, and provolone cheese. It can be served room temperature, or heated through to soften the provolone. I prefer it under the broiler to melt the cheese. Muffulettas are usually large enough to feed more than one person, and then cut down to quarter or half sandwiches.

We found a jar of olive salad and saved some time by not making it myself. We found several varieties at
Jungle Jim's in Fairfield. The olive salad is considered the heart of the sandwich, and is made of olives, along with celery, cauliflower and carrots. The ingredients are combined, seasonings are added, covered in olive oil and allowed to combine for at least 24 hours.

Chocolate Chip Cheeseball

I made this for a get together with the neighbors this weekend. I didn't make it into a cheeseBALL, so I left out the pecans and served in a bowl as dip with nilla wafers and animal crackers. Easy easy easy...



INGREDIENTS
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans


DIRECTIONS
In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in confectioners' sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.


Shape chilled cream cheese mixture into a ball. Wrap with plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Roll the cheese ball in finely chopped pecans before serving.
 
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