August 31, 2012

Honey Wheat Bread

Making homemade bread for my family has been a quest of mine for years.  I've tried lots of recipes, but haven't been satisfied with any of them.  Both my husband and son say they don't care for wheat bread (even though that's all I ever buy in this house), so during hunting season I will either make or buy white bread as a treat for them.

I've collected many recipes for both wheat and white bread over the years, and this one is my latest attempt at finding the perfect homemade wheat bread.  If 4 stars are the best, then I give this one 3 stars.  The taste and texture were perfect, the only thing that bothered me was the "height" of it.  However, that could have been my fault because as I was putting it into the oven I knocked the pan on the side of the oven pretty hard and I could see it deflate a little.  Either that or the altitude is to blame, but either way I would have liked it to be a little taller.  I will give this recipe another try before moving on to another, because all things considered this really was a wonderful tasting wheat bread.  My husband said he thought it was really good, so I think I'm on to something here.   


 Honey Wheat Bread (adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

1 cup + 2 tbsp warm water (105° F - 115° F)
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp honey
1 3/4 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp canola oil
1 1/2 tsp barley malt syrup or malt extract
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine 1/4 cup of the water with the yeast and honey. Let the mixture to set until the yeast is creamy, about 5 minutes.  In a separate bowl, combine both flours and the salt together and set aside.

Fit the mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add the remaining water, oil, barley malt, and about half of the flour mixture to the yeast, and mix on low speed for one minute.  Add the rest of the flour mixture and increase the speed to medium, mixing until the dough comes together. If the dough doesn't come together, add 1 tbsp at a time of white flour until the dough starts to form a ball. Continue to mix at medium speed for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough will still be sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Place it in a large lightly oiled bowl, and rotate the dough to coat it  lightly in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm area until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Spray an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.  Punch down the dough lightly to deflate it and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 9" by 12" rectangle with the short side facing you. Fold the top of the dough 2/3's of the way down then fold again so that the top meets the bottom edge, and seal the seam by pinching. Turn the dough so that the seam is centered, facing up. Tuck the ends of the roll in so the loaf will fit in the pan, and pinch to seal these seams.  Plump and shape the dough with your hands, and place seam side down in the loaf pan. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size again, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375, and place oven rack in center of oven. After the dough has risen, bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown.  An old-fashioned way to see if it's done is to take your knuckles and knock on the top & if sounds hollow, then it's done.  Remove from pans and let cool on a wire rack.

August 30, 2012

Homemade Tomato Sauce

This is for all you out there who have been slaving away, blanching and peeling your tomatoes to make sauce from your garden tomato harvest (or from store bought tomatoes) - STOP!  You don't need to do that anymore.....I have a much easier way to make sauce, and all it takes is this one kitchen gadget that will change your life forever!

In case you don't know already, this is called a food mill.  This tool will do all the hard work for you.  There's no real "recipe" for this, but I will walk you through the steps.  First, you take out a large sauce pan.  Next, cut all your tomatoes up - for large tomatoes, quarter them then cut each quarter in 1/2 (no need to chop) and for cherry tomatoes, just cut them in half (my sauce is always a mixture of all the different tomatoes I grow).  You can fill the pan right up to the very this:

This is a 6 quart sauce pan, so I fill this to the top, then add 2 tsp of salt (which of course you can leave out if you prefer).  Place it on the stove-top and turn the heat on medium-high.  Let it come to a boil, stir, then lower the heat to medium-low.  Now you want to let it simmer (you don't want to let it boil at a high heat for hours because the flavor can become bitter) for at least two hours, but you can definitely let it go as long as you want - make sure to stir about every 1/2 hour.  What you want is for most of the water/moisture to boil off and evaporate.  The longer it simmers, the more moisture will cook off, and the thicker your sauce will be.  If you only let it go for 2 hours, you may need to add some tomato paste later to thicken it up, but this is all a matter of personal preference.  

Once it has cooked down, you want to turn the heat off.  Take the food mill and place it over a deep bowl, then start spooning your tomatoes into the bowl of the food mill.  Keep turning the handle on the food mill until all the tomatoes are processed through and all that is left are the tomato skins and seeds in the bowl of the food mill, or until no more sauce is coming out the bottom (don't forget to reverse direction a few times so it doesn't get clogged up). 

After you put all the tomatoes through the food mill you will be left with just the sauce, no skins and no seeds!  Now you can add all your herbs, onion, garlic and any other things you want in there.  I make about 4-6 batches of sauce every summer and freeze some of it.  I love pulling it out in the dead of winter.....makes me feel good knowing I can have my homemade sauce even when it's snowing outside.  This whole process has made my life easier, and hopefully now yours too!

August 28, 2012

Perfect Biscuits

I have to admit that biscuits aren't my bread of choice.  If I had to choose, I would pick cornbread or a dinner roll over biscuits.  I've never understood the whole biscuits and gravy for breakfast thing either....well, until I tried it at Penny Cluse in Burlington, VT - they make the most AMAZING gravy, definitely the best I've had in my life!  Alas, the only time I make biscuits is when I make chicken and biscuits.
Over the years, I've tried lots of different biscuit recipes.  However I always came back to this one, and unfortunately, I don't know where I got it from.  When I first started to take an interest in cooking I would see recipes that interested me in magazines and I would write them down in a notebook, but I never jotted down the sources.  This one just never fails - it's always fluffy, moist and just plain perfect.  At this point in time, I don't feel the need to try any other biscuit recipes...this is the one for me.....for now......


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425, and spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.  Add the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder to a large bowl and whisk to combine.  Cut in the shortening until crumbs form.  Gently stir in the milk to combine.

Turn out onto floured surface and knead 15-20 times.  Pat dough down to 1 inch thick, then cut biscuits with a biscuit cutter or a glass dipped in flour.  Place biscuits onto cookie sheet and bake for 14 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.  Makes 6 biscuits.

August 26, 2012

Ricotta Crostini with Roasted Grapes

I recently made homemade ricotta, and one thing I was dying to make was grilled peaches topped with ricotta and honey.  However, I forgot to leave out a peach when I made my peach pie the other day.  So, I looked around my kitchen to see what I had on hand.  Since I had lots of grapes, I decided to roast them up to use with my ricotta.

I then toasted up some bread, added some herbs to the ricotta, slathered it on the toasted bread and topped it with the roasted grapes...YUM!  This was a really mild, yet delicious treat, and would be perfect for an appetizer when company is over.  The flavors went really well together, and I actually ended up having it for lunch!  

Ricotta Crostini with Roasted Grapes

1 cup homemade ricotta (click here for recipe)
1tbsp minced scallion
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
loaf of french baguette, sliced and brushed with a little olive oil & toasted until golden brown
4 cups grapes
olive oil

Mix the scallion, salt & pepper into the ricotta and set aside.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and preheat oven to 425.  Place grapes on sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and toss to combine.  Place grapes in oven and cook for about 8 minutes, or until grapes start to burst. 

Take the toasted bread and spread each slice with a good slathering of the ricotta (the amount depends on your preference), and top with the roasted grapes.  Enjoy!

August 24, 2012

Peach Pie


Ahh, peach pie.  My husband has been requesting that I make this pie for a couple of years, and I kept meaning to but peach season would come and go and I just never ended up making it.  I think I was a little intimidated by it because not only had I never made a peach pie before, I don't think I'd ever even tried one!  I've seen them, and I've read many recipes over the years for them.....but, I was never really interested in making them.

I always thought it seemed like a lot of work (you know, trying to blanch and peel the peaches) and then it seems like there is always a guessing game as to how the pie would come out in the end because of the different factors - the type of peach you use, how ripe they are & how many you use in the pie.  Everything impacts the end result, and I don't like it when I can't control the outcome of things.....does that make me a control freak?  

Since Cook's Illustrated nailed the pie dough recipe, I figured I'd try out their peach pie recipe from their Best Recipe cookbook I bought last year.  While blanching and peeling the peaches wasn't that bad, it sure was messy!  My son came in the kitchen when I was almost done putting the pie together and said "Wow, you've made a mess in here!"  Too bad he didn't offer to clean it up.  Needless to say, he wasn't overly excited about peach pie either.  I was worried that the pie would turn out to be a sloppy mess, however, it turned out perfect!  I was so thrilled with how it came out, and even more thrilled at how yummy it was.  Who knew peach pie was so good???  Now I'm kicking myself for waiting so long to make it!  Both my son and husband loved fact, my husband said he liked it better than apple pie.  Now that was shocking because apple pie is his FAVORITE!  I guess peach pie will be making a more regular appearance in my home

Peach Pie (Cook's Illustrated)

1 recipe for double crusted pie dough (click here for recipe)
7 medium ripe peaches
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup sugar, + 1 tbsp
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp minute tapioca

Preheat oven to 500, and bring a large saucepan of water to a boil.  Add all the peaches & boil for 2 minutes, then remove them and immediately plunge them into a large bowl filled with ice water.  Roll out your bottom crust and place it in a shallow pie dish (you don't want to use a deep dish pie plate for this pie).  Peel the peaches, using a pairing knife, then cut them into about 3/8" slices.

Place the sliced peaches into a large bowl and add the tapioca, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Toss to combine, then pour mixture into your dough lined pie plate.  Roll out your top dough and cut into strips to make a lattice topping, and add it to the top of the pie.  Lightly brush or spray the lattice topping with water and sprinkle with sugar.  

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil sprayed with cooking spray, then place your pie on the tray.  Lower oven temperature to 425 and place pie in oven and cook for about 25-30 minutes, or until crust begins to brown.  Rotate the pie and reduce the oven temperature to 375 and continue baking for another 25-30 minute longer, or until crust is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling.  Remove from oven and cool for 2 hours before serving.

August 23, 2012

Homemade Ricotta

I've always had an interest in making my own goat cheese.....mostly because I wanted to get goats as pets and my husband isn't interested, so I thought maybe if they serve a purpose then he'd be good with it.  He's still not interested though - he said making goat cheese is a lot of work.  I'm thinking he just doesn't want me to get a goat!

Anyway, I saw Ina Garten make ricotta cheese on her show a while back and I couldn't believe how simple it was!   I had printed out the recipe and put it in my ever growing pile and forgot about it.  Then this past weekend I had a little time on my hands, so I pulled out that pile of recipes I've been meaning to try and there it was.  Since I had some whole milk needing to be used up I decided it was time to give making homemade ricotta a try.

This turned out to be super easy, and super delicious.  Big difference from store bought ricotta.  This was smoother and creamier, and the overall taste was just better.  Totally worth the effort/time, and from now on I will make my own.  I love when I find things like this that take so little time...just goes to show, homemade is always better!

Homemade Ricotta (Ina Garten)

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

Set a colander over a bowl, and line it with 2 layers of dampened cheesecloth.  Add the milk, cream and salt to a medium sized saucepan.  Bring to a full boil over medium heat, then turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar.  Let the mixture stand for 1 minute, or until it curdles.

Pour into the cheesecloth line colander and allow it to drain into the bowl beneath for about 20-25 minutes.  The longer it drains the thicker the ricotta will be.  Once it's reached your desired thickness, transfer the ricotta to a bowl and discard the cheesecloth and remaining whey/liquid.  Will keep in refrigerator for up to 5 days.  Makes 1 cup.

August 21, 2012

Perfect Pie Dough

Is it bad that it's only Tuesday and I am wishing it was Friday???  This week my son's school decided to hold "pre-season" soccer practices from 6:30AM to 10:30AM EVERYDAY!  Now for those of you city people that may not seem like a big deal, however for those of us that live out in the country it really makes for a ruff morning.  See his school is 20 minutes away (with no traffic and if road conditions are OK) and they have to be there at 6:20am AND I stop to pick up one of his friends on the way....oh wait, I left out the part where I have to get up at 5:20am to hop in the shower!  We leave at 5:45am to pick up his friend, and after I drop them off I have to go all the way back home to get ready for work, THEN drive another half hour to work........ummmmm, I think someone forgot to tell the coaches that a lot of these kids don't drive yet!!!!  Needless to say, please be a little lenient if my posts later in the week are a little short and sweet, or if they have a lot of run-on sentences and lots of mis-spelled words!

OK, I'm done complaining.  Now on to pie dough.  I have to start by saying that I have used the same pie dough recipe for a loooonnng time and it's always been perfect (click here for recipe), and I have never felt the need to look elsewhere.  I have never even been tempted to try a different recipe....until recently.  This past year I got a subscription to Cook's Illustrated magazine, and in it they talk in length about this pie dough recipe where they use Vodka in it.  Intriguing right?  I won't get into all the science behind, but the gist of it is that the Vodka allows you to add more liquid without (making it a more tender dough) while not making it tough when it bakes.  I will admit that I was skeptical that it would be better than my pie dough, but I had to give it a know, to test out their theory.

Well, as much as it pains me to say it, they were right.  The Vodka made a big difference in the dough, and in the end I have to admit it really is better than my recipe.  The dough is perfectly tender and flaky all at the same time, and that is not always an easy thing to accomplish.  So, hats off to Cook's Illustrated for getting this one right....I just might have to use this as my go to pie dough recipe from now on.

Perfect Pie Dough (by Cook's Illustrated)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (they said it should be cold, but I didn't bother chilling mine)
1/4 cup cold Vodka
1/4 cup cold water

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 1 1/2 cups four, salt, and sugar until combined.  Add the butter & shortening and process until clumps that look like cottage cheese start to form, about 15 seconds.  Add remaining flour and pulse 4-6 times, or until mixture has been broken up.  

Place mixture into another bowl and add the Vodka and water.  With a rubber spatula mix by folding the liquid into the dough, pressing down as you go until dough sticks together.  Divide into 2 even disks, and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before using - this is important because this is a pretty wet dough and you will have a hard time rolling it out if you don't refrigerate it first.  Dough can also be frozen for later use.  Makes one 9" double pie crust.

August 19, 2012

Sun Dried Tomato Chicken

My son has been bugging me for weeks to let him have a Facebook page.  He's 14, and of course, all his friends are on Facebook.....he even went so far as to say my not letting him on there was putting a kink in his social life!  LOL!  I had decided years ago that 16 would be the magic number for Facebook, mostly because I just don't want him getting involved in Facebook drama.  So, I've been giving it a lot of thought and have decided to let him do it.  I'm hoping he will be responsible and will handle himself appropriately.  I think I feel a stress headache coming on......

Anyway, my new dish for the week was this sun dried tomato and basil chicken dish.  I came across it on Pinterest, and since I had a jar of sun dried tomatoes needing to be used up I decided to give it a try.  I am not a huge fan of sun dried tomatoes, so I was skeptical and didn't think I'd like all that much.   

Man, I couldn't have been more wrong on this one!  Total surprise for ALL of us - it was delicious and during dinner there were lots of "mmmm's" going on!  Really, really tasty dishYou gotta try this recipe.....I mean it, run to the kitchen and make this immediatelyI promise you won't be disappointed.

Sun Dried Tomato Chicken (serves 6-7)

12 boneless & skinless chicken tenders
2 tbsp flour
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 tsp garlic, minced
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup cream
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
salt & pepper

In a large cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken then add them to the pan.  Cook chicken until done, about 5 minutes on each side.  Remove from pan, cover and set aside.  

Add the butter to the pan along with the onion and garlic, and saute for about 2 minutes.  Add the sun dried tomatoes, and stir well.  Add the flour, and with a whisk stir everything together to for about 2 minutes.  Add the chicken stock & wine, whisking constantly until smooth.  Add cream and continue to whisk for a couple minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken.  Add the basil & stir to combine, then add the chicken back to the pan.  Spoon sauce over chicken, and let it set for a couple of minutes to warm through before serving.  

This can be served over pasta, but for us we just had a side salad with it.  Enjoy!

August 17, 2012

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

My son slept over a friend's house recently, and when he came home he said "You should make zucchini bread with chocolate chips in it.  Aiden's mom did and it was really good."  Hmmm, I was thinking "Thanks for the idea, because we have LOTS of zucchini to use up" so the next day I started in on making it.

I decided at the last minute though to make chocolate zucchini bread.  Mostly because I feel like I throw chocolate chips into lots of things, and I just felt like I wanted to try something different.  I have to say that I am thrilled with this bread.  It tastes like chocolate cake, with a similar texture...not so much like a "quick bread" texture. 

You can't taste any zucchini and it's super moist, which means it's great for kids!  Personally, I prefer my regular zucchini bread, but that's mostly because chocolate isn't my favorite thing in the world.  However, for all you chocolate lovers out there, I think you will really like this bread and your kids will thank you for making it (just tell them it's chocolate bread & I promise they won't even know there's zucchini in it)! 

Chocolate Zucchini Bread (makes 2 loafs, or one regular size loaf + 2 mini loafs)

2 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
4 cups zucchini, shredded/grated
½ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and spray loaf pans with cooking spray.  Place flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl beat oil, white sugar, brown sugar, and eggs until fluffy, 1-2 minutes.  Add vanilla and yogurt and mix until combined.

Gently stir in the zucchini, then add the flour mixture to the batter and stir just until combined. Add chocolate chips and stir to incorporate them throughout the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans.  I have a bottle of cinnamon sugar, so I decided to sprinkle it all over the top of the batter, but you can skip this step if you want.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.  Let it cool on a rack for 10 minutes and then remove from pans.

August 15, 2012

Blueberry Hand Pies

When I was in Maine a few weeks ago visiting my Aunt Judy, she gave me a big bag of fresh picked Maine blueberries to bring back with me.  I've made muffins and a pie, and I still have blueberries left!  Since my son had a friend sleep over this past weekend, I decided I should make them some kind of dessert using more of the blueberries.  I didn't have a lot of time for baking, so I did a once over of what I had on hand and quickly came up with an idea.

I had a package of crescent dough sitting in my fridge that I bought for something else, but then realized I didn't need it after-all, so I decided to use it in my blueberry dessert.  Actually I was going for something like a Blueberry Hand Pie but using the crescent dough as a shortcut.  It worked out pretty well, even though they didn't look pretty (the dough wasn't easy to work with, maybe because it was hot outside)!  They turned out to be really good, especially warm with ice cream and a little drizzle of extra blueberry pie filling.....YUM! 

Quick Blueberry Hand Pies

One recipe of blueberry pie filling (click here to get my blueberry pie filling recipe)
One package of crescent dough
1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.  Unroll each piece of crescent dough and shape them into a square as best as you can.  In center, add the blueberry filling (as much as you can get on there, but still leaving a 1/2 inch around all edges).  Pull one side of the dough up and over to the other side.  Fold and crimp edges with a fork, then gently roll in the sugar to cover both sides.  Place on cookie sheet and bake according to crescent roll package directions.

August 14, 2012

Tomato Sandwich

Ok, so here it is.....the only sandwich I will eat with mayonnaise.  Correction - basil mayonnaise (scroll down to my previous post for recipe).  Yup, it's a tomato sandwich.  It is baffling, even to me, that I like this sandwich.  Mostly because I don't really care for BLT's, so you would think that I wouldn't be interested in this sandwich.  However, after thinking long and hard about it, there is nothing better than a fresh tomato straight from the garden.  So, it just makes sense to make tomato sandwiches...that way the tomato can stay in the spotlight and you can truly enjoy it.

Pair it with fresh, local corn on the cob, and you have a perfect summer dinner.  Mmmm, so good!  Simple.  Delicious.  I realize this sandwich doesn't really require that I post a recipe, so I'll just tell you how I put them together.  If you've never tried a tomato sandwich, now is the time!  I promise you won't be disappointed....just make sure to use the basil mayonnaise - it makes a difference!

To assemble the tomato sandwiches:  Toast your bread, slice the tomatoes into thick slices & sprinkle salt and pepper on them to taste.  Spread the basil mayonnaise (click here for recipe) on the toast, then place tomatoes in between two slices of toast.  YUM!!!

August 12, 2012

Basil Mayonnaise

If you are a regular here, you know all about my aversion to mayonnaise.  I just don't care for it, and there's really not much more I can say about it.  No good explanation as to why...I just don't like it and I never have. There are occasions however, where mayonnaise has it's place - even for me.  There is ONE sandwich (which you will see in a future blog) that I make where I will put mayonnaise on the bread as a condiment, every other sandwich is either eaten dry or with mustard. I know.....I'm weird.

A few years back I was watching Ina Garten on the Food Network and she was making this basil mayonnaise.  Since everyone else in my house enjoys mayonnaise on most of their sandwiches, and since I always have basil growing in my garden, I decided to put this mayonnaise together to have on sandwiches we were going to have that evening for dinner.  It was a hit, especially for my husband.  So now I make this mayonnaise regularly for my family to use.  This is the mayonnaise I use on that ONE sandwich, and I have to say that I actually like it!

Basil Mayonnaise (by Ina Garten)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
8 basil leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic, minced

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

August 10, 2012

Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce

I recently had one of those days where I couldn't think of a single thing to make for dinner. Don't you hate it when that happens?  I knew I wanted to have chicken, but was bored with our usual favorites.  So, I pulled out an old cookbook I've had for years and saw a recipe for chicken with a mustard sauce.  I pondered that for a minute and quickly came up with an idea for my own version.

It needed something to make it more substantial, so I knew right away that mushrooms would do the trick.  For a little more depth of flavor I decided to cook the mushrooms in wine, and the final result of the dish was just delicious!  All three of us enjoyed this dinner, and we all agreed it's a keeper.  Enjoy!

Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce  (serves 4)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp olive oil
1 package mushrooms, sliced (button or portabella)
1/4 cup white wine 
1/2 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 1/4 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp butter 

In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tbsp butter and add the mushrooms.  Cook for 2 minutes then add the white wine, and saute on medium-low heat until wine has evaporated.  Once mushrooms are done, remove from heat and set aside.  

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium-high.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides, then add to skillet.  Saute chicken until cooked through, about 15 minutes, turning one time.  Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm.  Add the chicken broth, cream, oregano, cooked mushrooms and mustard to the pan and whisk to combine.  Cook for about 3 minutes, then pour sauce over chicken and serve immediately. 

August 8, 2012

Sweet Potato Salad

I have a terrible habit of collecting recipes.  I have stacks of ones I've printed off the Internet, piles of cooking magazines, and binders full of them.  That's why my New Year's resolution this year was to cook at least one new recipe a week.  

So, this week I pulled out a recipe I got from the NY Times a couple of years ago.  Since I sometimes have sweet potatoes for lunch (click here for the recipe), I decided to give this recipe a try.  It's roasted sweet potatoes with black beans in a chili dressing, but I find that title to be a little long so I just call it Sweet Potato Salad. 

I was intrigued with all the different ingredients in the recipe, and was very curious how it would taste.  I was surprised to find that it actually was very light, but maybe that's because I didn't use all the dressing.  Either way, I was pleasantly surprised that it was pretty mild because I really thought the chili dressing would be too much.  Overall, I enjoyed this recipe and really didn't make any changes to it.  So now I am sharing it with you - enjoy!

Sweet Potato Salad  (NY Times recipe, serves 2) 

2 sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 of a red onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp jalapeno, chopped
1/2 tsp garlic, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup black beans, rinsed & drained
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400, and line baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Put sweet potatoes and onions on baking sheet and add 1 tbsp of the olive oil, tossing to coat, then spreading out in a single layer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Roast in oven, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, or for about 35-45 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.

Put jalapeno, garlic, lime juice, remaining olive oil and salt & pepper.  Pulse until well combined.

Place potatoes in a large bowl with the beans, yellow pepper, dressing and cilantro.  Mix well, and serve warm or at room temp.  Will keep in refrigerator for up to a day.   

August 7, 2012

Tomato & Spinach Omelet

I make a lot of omelets in this house!  Mostly because we have chickens, and most of the time we have lots of eggs to use up.  Since my husband travels a couple of days a week for work, I will often times cook myself an omelet for dinner.  I love this time of year because I can pick the tomatoes from the garden, and use my own homegrown onions.  Using the eggs from our chickens makes this meal almost completely homemade, which I love!  There's nothing like throwing together a meal without even needing to purchase anything from the store.

This omelet is my favorite, and is the one I make most of the time.  If I don't have spinach I will use broccoli, and of course you can throw any other veggies you want in there, like mushrooms and/or peppers.  Another thing you can substitute is the cheese - if you use goat cheese you will have the most AMAZING omelet ever!!  Unfortunately, I hardly ever have goat cheese on hand but definitely try it if you like it because it's what takes a really good omelet and turns it into the best omelet you've ever had!  If you do use goat cheese, a little sprinkled evenly inside the omelet is all you need - you don't want to add a 1/4 cup because it would just be too much.

Tomato & Spinach Omelet  (serves 1)
2 eggs, beaten together with a tbsp of water
8 cherry tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 frozen spinach, thawed & drained (feel free to use fresh spinach) 
2 tbsp onion, chopped
1/4 tsp garlic, chopped
1/8 cup Montery Jack cheese, shredded
1/8 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tbsp butter

Melt butter on medium-low heat in a medium size skillet.  Add onion and saute until translucent.  Add tomato and spinach and cook for a couple of minutes, or until tomatoes start to wilt.  Add the garlic, and cook for another minute.  Turn the heat down to low and add the eggs, making sure to coat the pan evenly.  Allow to cook until the eggs look mostly cooked thru, then sprinkle your cheese evenly over the eggs.  Cover pan with lid for a couple of minutes until cheese is mostly melted, then fold 1/2 of the omelet over onto the other 1/2.  Turn off the heat & place the lid back on.  Let set for a 1-2 minutes, the remove from pan.  Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.  

August 5, 2012

Zucchini Cakes

Boy is it hot outside!  The boys are in NY today working on the hunting camp, and since I was sick all last week I have enjoyed my alone time just kicking back and relaxing.  Well, by "relaxing" I mean doing the laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc.  You know how it is....but I did get to spend some time trying to figure out how I want to redo my bedroom.  Eight years is way too long to be starring at the same paint color, so I figure it's time for a change.  Besides, I just found out that my husband has always hated the color, so now I have the perfect reason to redo the room!

Anyway, If you have a garden and if you planted zucchini, you are probably like me and are up to your neck with it!  This year our garden has acted like someone slipped it some has produced a crop of vegetables waaayyyy above our expectations!  I am not kidding when I say that the tomato plants are taller than my husband!!  We also have an unbelievable amount of cucumbers this year, so I am excited to try making pickles for the first time. 

Unfortunately, my son isn't as excited about the overabundance of vegetables.  However, lucky for me, he LOVES these zucchini cakes!  This is the only way he actually enjoys eating zucchini, so this year I have a plan.  I am going to make extra batches of these babies and freeze them - that way I can use up some of this zucchini AND we get to enjoy our garden veggies at a later date, so it's a win win situation!

Some people dip zucchini cakes in some kind of dipping sauce, but for us we just don't feel the need for it.  They are simply delicious just the way they are.

Zucchini Cakes (makes 5 cakes)

2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
1/4 cup onion, minced
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning, or you can use Cajun seasoning
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup flour
1/4 vegetable oil
salt to taste

In a bowl add the shredded zucchini, egg, butter, minced onion, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and seasoning and stir well to combine.

Divide into five equal parts and shape into patties.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until hot.  Dredge the patties in flour, then add them to the hot pan.  Cook on each side until golden brown, then remove and place on a wire rackSprinkle with salt and serve immediately.  

*Note - to freeze, allow them to cool completely, then wrap them individually in plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag.*

August 3, 2012

Moist Banana Bread

Who doesn't love banana bread, right?  There are tons of recipes out there claiming to be the best, and I'm sure I've tried most of them.  For me, the most important elements of a good banana bread are that it's moist and that you can actually taste the banana! 

After trying many different recipes, I have settled on my own version.  This recipe creates a super moist bread, and it's just the right amount of sweetness, so it doesn't overpower the banana flavor.  I tend to prefer making a bunch of mini loaves when I make it.  This recipe makes 6 mini loafs (or 2 regular size loafs) , and I usually freeze 3 or 4.  That way I can pull it out whenever I'm in a pinch, and since it's a small loaf it's easier to resist the urge to cut a slice for myself every time I enter the kitchen

The Best Banana Bread

3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 nutmeg
dash of ground ginger
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
6 over ripe bananas, mashed

Preheat oven to 300. Spray two loaf pans with cooking spray (or 6 mini loaf pans).

Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and pecans and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar. Mix in eggs one at a time, then add the bananas. Add dry ingredients and buttermilk, alternating, and stirring until just combined. Bake for one hour or until toothpick comes out clean (reduce cooking time to about 45 minutes if using mini loaf pans).

August 1, 2012

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

I usually make some kind of dessert on the weekends.  One day last summer I asked my husband what he was in the mood for and he said pineapple upside-down cake.  I immediately turned up my nose and said "Really??"  I thought "Who eats pineapple upside-down cake anymore...that's so 70's!!"  I had never made it before, and I'm pretty sure I'd never even eaten it before.  But, I was willing to try.

So, I pulled out one of my Cook's Illustrated cookbooks.  Sure enough they had a recipe for pineapple upside-down cake.  While I was making it, I thought "this will be an easy dessert for me to stay out of" which is not a bad thing!

Well, no one was more shocked than I was at how much I liked this cake!  Let me rephrase that - I LOVED this cake!!!  In fact, I'm pretty sure I ate half of it by myself....I just couldn't stop eating it.  I loved that it tasted soooo good without frosting.  It was so fresh and light compared to frosted cakes.  Add a dollop of fresh whipped cream, and you have a perfect summer dessert!  So, don't turn your nose up at this recipe....give it a try.  I bet you will be surprised at how much you enjoy it

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornmeal
1 stick unsalted butter, softened 
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temp and separated
2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup milk

4 tbsp unsalted butter, + more for pan
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 small fresh pineapple, cored & cut into 3/8" thick slices

Preheat oven to 350 & butter a 9x13 inch round cake pan.  Topping - In a medium saucepan melt the 4 tbsp of butter over medium heat.  Add the brown sugar and cook until mixture is foamy and pale (3-4 minutes), stirring occasionally.  Pour mixture into cake pan and make sure to coat bottom of pan completely.  Arrange the sliced pineapple over the topping and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cornmeal and salt together in a medium bowl.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter.  Slowly add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, or until it's light and fluffy.  Beat in the yolks and vanilla until combined.  Add dry mixture and milk, alternately in 3 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients until batter is smooth.  In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter until well combined.  Add the remaining egg whites and fold into batter until no white streaks remain.  Pour batter evenly into the cake pan, and bake until top is golden brown and cake tester comes out clean (about 60 minutes).

Remove cake from oven and let set for 10 minutes.  Slide a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan.  Place a serving platter face down on top of cake pan, and while holding tightly, flip/invert the cake onto the plate.  Carefully remove the pan.  Serves 8-10.