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Archive for April, 2012

Thanks to an idea I found on Pinterest and my newfound love of using the ice-cream scoop for making cookies, I’ve started using a new method of sharing homemade cookies with friends. There is really not much better than a homemade cookie (especially, it must be said, if it’s this chocolate chip cookie recipe) and fresh-out-of-the-oven homemade cookies are the absolute pinnacle of such pleasures. If I bring cookies over to someone I like them to be quite fresh, made the same day preferably, and that can be challenging to plan around delivery. On the other hand, bringing raw cookie dough still requires some work on their part and if they are truly quite busy, it may not be helpful. Finally, for folks who had a new baby or may otherwise be inundated with lots of food at the same time, they may not need or want extra baked goods at that moment.

The perfect solution to all these problems is to pre-roll the cookies and bring them over frozen!

I spent a couple hours one afternoon making two batches of cookies – chocolate chip and Ina’s wonderful oatmeal raisin cookies (the perfect blend of crunchy and chewy). Since I had all the ingredients and equipment out, it took just a few minutes more to make two instead of one. When the dough was all pulled together, I used the ice cream scoop to make the cookies on the sheet pan and then put the whole pan in the freezer. Once the balls of dough were completely frozen, I took the pan out and let it sit for a couple minutes to release the cookies from the pan a bit, and then plucked those little frozen balls of doughy goodness off the pan and popped them into a freezer bag.

(I thought it would be helpful to include specific directions on how to cook them directly on the bag so that a paper wouldn’t get lost.)

Then, all my friends need to do is turn on their oven, lay as many cookies as they want to cook at that time on the pan, and they’ll have hot gooey buttery homemade cookies in just a few minutes!

Having a supply of these bags in the freezer means that I can easily grab them to run over to someone on a moment’s notice – and if I need them for us or company and don’t have time to bake, they are ready for me to use on demand as well! I’ll be keeping my freezer stocked with cookie dough from now on.

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This may be something that most people already know but for those that don’t…it’s revolutionized the use of jalepenos in my kitchen. It turns out that jalepenos actually have a unique flavor, and not just a spice. If you don’t want to add a lot of spice to your dish, you can still use the jalepenos for their taste. The trick is in cutting them and removing the spicy bits without setting your eyes and nostrils aflame!

The heat is actually from oils that are within the white-ish ribs inside the jalepeno – not the seeds. So if you want to cut down on heat, you’ll need to scrape those out. I like a little bit of their heat so I tend to scrape out about half of it. But again, this is tricky, because you don’t want your fingers getting the oils on them, or everything you touch will start burning. (As a contact lens wearer, I made that mistake ONCE upon removing my contacts, and never again…).

What I do is cut the top off of the jalepeno and then cut it in half. I use a very small measuring spoon, usually the 1/4 teaspoon to remove the seeds and ribs directly into the sink. Then I place the jalepeno shiny-outside up and cut into slivers and then across into a fine dice.

What you definitely should NOT do is try to do this very quickly at someone else’s house with unfamiliar tools when you’re tired, and cut the top of your thumb off. But that is a story for another day…

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Broccoli Cheese Soup

The mom of one of my best friends from high school used to make us the most amazing broccoli cheese soup. I could eat three bowls of that stuff and still want more. It was almost like dessert, it was so good! But I don’t make it very often as it calls for a lot of Velveeta and butter. I’ve often wondered if there was a way to get all the cheesy flavor with different ingredients. The problem was how to recreate the creaminess of the soup, and help the cheese blend in – without an emulsifier of sorts, the cheese might separate from the veggies. I decided to try a can of white beans as the thickening/binding agent…and it worked beautifully! I’ve made this twice to be sure it works, but use your judgment on measurements to suit preference. Also spices could be left out or substituted.

– Saute 1 large onion (diced), 2 large or 3 medium carrots (diced) and 1 cup of diced celery in olive oil til soft and slightly browned.

– Add spices to taste. I added salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic salt.

– Add in 2 large bags of frozen broccoli and can of white beans (cannelini) with their juices. Add a box of chicken stock.

– Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook until vegetables are soft, about an hour.

– Using an immersion blender (like this; if you don’t have one, buy one. It is an amazingly helpful tool, especially for soups – easy to clean and easy to store.) puree the soup til all large chunks are gone.

– Add 2 Tbs of butter, 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese and 3 Tbs grated parmesan cheese. Stir to melt and then EAT! YUMMY!!!

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Roasted Sausages and Grapes

I saw this dish prepared on Barefoot Contessa (by one of her friends from the Italian restaurant she raves about) and thought it looked easy and like it might be surprisingly delicious. I would never have thought to roast grapes, but they were really yummy! The wine and balsamic vinegar gives the sauce some depth and keeps it from being too sweet. I used only hot Italian sausages (chicken sausages, to lighten it up a bit) and the contrast of the heat from the sausage and the sweet from the grape was awesome. I also added half a red onion to the roasting pan, because I love red onions, had one available, and thought it would compliment the flavor. I think it did. Since it was just Michael and I, I halved the recipe. We still had enough left over to make some DELICIOUS sandwiches the next day – sausages, sauce, parmesan, basil and mixed greens on a focaccia roll – YUM!

This was a really fun ‘family style’ meal – you can put the hot roasting pan right on the table and serve people from there, with hearty bread (we had homemade olive bread!) on the side. We also had a very lightly dressed salad with shaved parmesan – something mild that doesn’t fight with the main dish. I would definitely make this again, as I loved the taste, ease, and style of meal. It’s a keeper! I should’ve known Ina wouldn’t steer me wrong…

Although this meal is more hearty and requires a hot oven, I would still consider making it during warmer months. I could definitely see doing an easy light dinner for a group of people during the summer by putting out this dish along with a light salad, selection of meats and cheeses, fresh delicious bread and several bottles of red wine. Those flavors all blend together so nicely and it’s a lovely way to enjoy a leisurely meal with friends on a beautiful evening outside.

 

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This recipe tastes like spring to me. It’s perfect for summer, really, when you can get fresh sweet corn and basil is everywhere, but I usually cheat and make it a little early just because it makes the warm weather feel like it’s here to stay. Because it’s a risotto dish, it is warm and hearty, so it can be really perfect for a rainy or unseasonably chilly day in spring or summer. Risotto does take a bit of time to make, but it’s not hard, and if you’ve got all your ingredients prepped, it’s not usually too demanding to stand and stir for 20 minutes or so while you sip your glass of wine and listen to the news or chat with guests. It’s also my favorite kind of dinner to make – a one-dish meal!

RISOTTO WITH SAUTEED SHRIMP, CORN AND FRESH BASIL

From Cottage Living

INGREDIENTS

1 pound raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined

3 T olive oil, divided

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp pepper

6 basil leaves, cut into thin strips, divided

2 T unsalted butter

1 small onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup diced roasted red pepper

4 to 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice

1/4 cup white wine

1 cup corn kernels

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. In a large mixing bowl, toss shrimp with 1 T olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and 3 basil leaves. Sauté shrimp in 2 batches, if necessary, to prevent overcrowding. Cook about 1 minute per side, and remove from pan; place on a platter, cover loosely, and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium, and heat remaining olive oil and butter in the same pan. Add onion, and sauté, stirring frequently, 2 minutes or until tender and translucent. Add garlic and red pepper, and sauté, stirring constantly, 1 minute more.

Bring broth to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Turn off heat, cover, and keep warm.

Add rice to onion mixture, and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until grains are well coated and the outsides turn translucent. (Do not let rice brown). Add white wine, and cook 30 seconds or until most of it evaporates.

Add 1 cup chicken broth, and stir constantly until mostly absorbed. Add additional broth in 1-cup increments, stirring after each addition until most of the broth is absorbed. Stop adding broth when rice appears to be saturated. (You may not need all 5 cups of broth). Cook, stirring frequently, 20 to 25 minutes or until rice is tender and creamy but not mushy.

Stir in corn, and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until heated through. Stir in shrimp and any collected juices. Reduce heat to low and cook until warm, not more than 1 minute. Add a little more chicken broth if risotto gets too dry. Remove from heat, and stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan and remaining basil. Season with additional sea salt and pepper, if desired.

Top with remaining Parmesan and serve warm.

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