Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Baked! Pear Custard Pie

Yes, I know I bake bread every week. But bread baking doesn't really seem like baking to me, when I think of baking, I think of desserts. Baking desserts scares me, there just seems like there can be so much can go wrong. But when I saw this recipe for Pear Custard Pie from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast, I knew that I had to try it. It seemed so simple that even someone who was dessert challenged like me, could do it.

Pear Custard Pie
Serves 6

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pie dish
3 ripe pears, peeled, halved, and cored
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350; butter a 9-inch pie plate. Slice the pears 1/4 inch thick (the thinner the better) lengthwise. Arrange the slices, overlapping slightly, in the dish.

In a blender, process the melted butter, granulated sugar, flour, vanilla extract, eggs, milk, and salt until smooth.

Pour the batter over the pears; bake until golden and firm to the touch, 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm or a room temperature, dusted with confectioners' sugar.

Do you believe how easy that was?? The hardest part for me was arranging the pears. I never got them to look all that pretty like the picture in the book. Also, my pears did not overlap slightly, they overlapped a lot. I had about 3 layers of pears as you can see in the pie picture before the custard was added. So, if you really want a single layer of pears, probably two pears would work just fine. That is what I will try next time.

So, yes, I baked. Expect more to come in the future.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Why You Should Make Yogurt

Have you seen this video of Alton Brown on the David Letterman show? In this video Alton shows David how to make yogurt using a heating pad and a trash can. He tells Letterman that after you mix up your ingredients, wrap it in the heating pad, place it in a trash can, you can have yogurt in 12 hours. Letterman, of course, finds it ridiculous that you would want to wait 12 hours to get yogurt, when you can simply run to the corner store and have it in 5 minutes. Well, yes, but that's not the point. The point is, is that with minimal effort, you can have lots of fresh homemade yogurt from a little store bought yogurt. That's the point, David.

Making your own yogurt is really easy. There are lots of ways to do it, but for under $20 dollars, I purchased this Salton YM9 1-Quart Yogurt Maker and have been happily making yogurt ever since. It's really nothing more than an incubator with a steady temperature. It came with some cheap plastic container for inside it, with a lid that would never stay on, but a quart wide-mouthed canning jar fits perfectly and is what I use instead.

Homemade Yogurt

3 cups milk (lowfat, nonfat, or whole, your choice)
1/2 cup yogurt (again, lowfat, nonfat, or whole, your choice)
1/2 cup dried powdered milk

In a mixing bowl with a spout, mix the yogurt and dried milk into the milk and stir until the powdered milk dissolves and there are no more big lumps of yogurt. Pour into glass canning jar and place in the yogurt maker. Plug in. Come back in 10-12 hours and eat some fresh, homemade yogurt!

If you like yogurt, and I know there are some of you that do, you really owe it to yourself to make your own. It tastes wonderfully fresh, well, as fresh as something that sort of tastes like soured milk can taste. The beauty of this is that you can turn an 8 oz container of yogurt into 2 quarts of yogurt! You may have seen instructions that call for you to heat the milk first, and I've tried it both ways, heating and non heating, and I haven't noticed any difference, so I just eliminated that step. Ahhh...the power. Also, some instructions tell you that you can just keep using a 1/2 cup of yogurt from the yogurt you made, sort of like a sourdough starter. I've done that and have gotten about 4-5 batches of yogurt before I had to buy new yogurt, but usually I forget, eat all the yogurt, and then go buy more to make more. You can experiment with different milks (2%, lowfat, 1%, etc) and different yogurts, though I'm sure that I don't have to tell you that whole milk with full fat yogurt makes an incredibly sublime yogurt.

One of my favorite ways to eat yogurt is as a dessert with a little honey and some nuts sprinkled on top. The sad picture above depicts my attempts at showing you how yummy honey and yogurt is. Don't believe me, do you? Well, go here to Closet Cooking, where Kevin (who can make even eggplant look good, the man is a genius, I tell you), shows you how honey and yogurt should look. Now, you want to make some, don't you?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

WHB - Chicken Tortilla Soup

This weeks weekend herb blogging celebrates one of my favorite herbs - cilantro. Every week when I go grocery shopping I buy parsley and cilantro, whether I need it or not. I know that sometime through the week I'll use it in something. I keep it in a vacuum sealed cannister (love my foodsaver) and it stays very fresh. I've tried to grow cilantro before and it just goes to seed on me after I harvest...oh maybe...three leaves! I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong, or maybe cilantro just doesn't like Tennessee, I have a hard time with thyme too..a hard time with thyme..ha ha..I crack myself up sometimes.

So, this weeks recipe is Chicken Tortilla Soup. I made mine in the crockpot (my new best friend), but it could easily be made on the stove. I found several recipes on the internet here and here and this one from Tyler Florence sounds particularly tasty. I sort of adapted one from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker by Beth Hensperger.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Serves 4 to 5

28 oz can whole tomatoes
10 oz can green enchilada sauce
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 oz can green chilies chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (I used the stems and saved the leaves for the garnish)
4 cups of chicken broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of fresh black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 lbs of chicken pieces (I used a combination of thighs and drumsticks)
1 cup of corn kernels (I used frozen)
cooking spray

for serving:
finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
sour cream or yogurt (I didn't use this)
diced avocado
fresh cilantro

Combine first 14 ingredients (through chicken) in the slow cooker. Turn to low and set to cook for 8-10 hours. Go to work. Or if it's the weekend, go hiking or go shopping or whatever floats your boat. When you get home, and there is about an hour left on the timer (if your slow cooker is fancy and has a timer) remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and set it aside to cool a bit. Stir in the frozen corn. When the chicken is cool enough, pull the meat from the bones and stir back into the soup.

While the chicken is cooling. You can make your tortilla strips by preheating the oven to 400. Spraying the tortillas with cooking spray, cutting them into strips, placing them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and baking for about 8-10 minutes. Or you can simply open a bag of tortilla chips.

To serve the soup: ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the cheese, sour cream, avocado and cilantro. You can artfully arrange the tortilla strips dunked in the soup, or served on the side, or you can break them up in the bowl first, where they sort of turn into dumpling like noodles.

This was really good. I have definitely learned that a fresh garnish makes all the difference in the world. It really elevates a dish and adds a great freshness. My daughter raved about this the whole time she was eating it. Of course, she has been eating college dorm food since August, so you have to take that into consideration.

This weeks Weekend Herb Blogging is being hosted by Nami Nami.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pasta with sausage, mushrooms, basil and red peppers

I could never write a cookbook, I'm terrible at coming up with names for recipes. All I can ever think to call something is just to list the ingredients (only those with major starring roles). Hence, the title of this post, Pasta with Sausage, Mushrooms, Basil, and Red Peppers. Well, at least you don't have to worry what's in it!

I love, love, love pasta dishes for quick and easy dinners. They are usually one pot meals, well two, if you count the pot you boil the pasta water in. But they come together so easily if you follow a basic format. My basic format for pasta dishes: a meat (or cheese), a couple of vegetables, an herb of choice, liquid, and a pasta. With this, you can create an untold number of pasta dishes.

Pasta with Sausage, Mushrooms, Basil, and Red Peppers
Serves 4

1 1b tubular pasta
1 lb sweet italian (or hot) sausage
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
a handful of fresh basil, chopped
1 cup of beef broth
salt and pepper
olive oil

Start salted water boiling for pasta.

In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil (more if you sausage is lean) over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion, mushrooms, and red bell pepper, season with salt and pepper. Saute for about 2 minutes, until the pepper softens and the onions begin to get translucent. Add the garlic, and saute for about 30 seconds, or until it becomes fragrant. Add sausage, removed from casings, brown and break apart into crumbles with a wooden spoon. When most of the pinkness is gone from the sausage, stir in the beef broth and scrape off the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cover and simmer on low for about 5 minutes (or longer if you need to).

Cook and drain pasta, and toss with sausage mixture. Add more salt and pepper if necessary, and serve with a fresh grating of parmesan cheese.

If you look at my picture, the amount of vegetables seems kind of skimpy and that's because I just used what I had in the fridge. I actually only had 1/2 a red bell pepper, and a few mushrooms. I think it would have been better with the larger amounts of vegetables, so I upped the amounts when I typed up the recipe.

To me, this is what cooking is all about, being able to open your fridge, see bits of things here and there, and within 30 minutes, having a lovely meal on the table.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tiramisu Ice Cream

I finally got around to purchasing Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz. Yes, I know it's fall and summer is over, but that has nothing what-so-ever to do with eating ice cream. We have been known to put on an extra sweatshirt, while sitting in the dining room shivering while we eat ice cream. And that was for just so-so ice cream, not the miracles of flavor and sublime taste that I am anticipating from this book.

The hardest part of making ice cream (and by ice cream, I mean anything frozen like sorbets or granitas), is deciding what to make. Practically everything sounds fabulous. Seriously there are maybe 1 one or 2 that don't interest me that much. When was the last time you could say that about a cookbook that you purchased?

But choose I must, and so I went with Tiramisu, simply because my store actually had mascarpone this week. Mascarpone is so hit-or-miss with my grocery store that I pretty much buy it anytime I see it.

Tiramisu Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

2 cups mascarpone
1 cup half-and-half
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup coffee flavored liqueur, such as Kahlua
3 tablespoons brandy or dark rum
Mocha Ripple (recipe below)

Puree the mascarpone, half-and-half, sugar, salt, liqueur, and brandy together in a blender (can use a food processor), until smooth. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze in your ice cream maker, following it's instructions. I used my kitchen-aid ice cream bowl attachment. As you scoop your ice cream into your storage container, alternate layers of the mocha ripple.

Mocha Ripple

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup strongly brewed espresso
6 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together the sugar, corn syrup, water, and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly until it just starts to bubble around the edges. Continue to whisk as it comes to a low boil. Keep whisking and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla and chill thoroughly.

Do I really need to tell you how amazing this was? I do have to say that the alcohol flavor really comes through, it's pretty strong. So, if you don't like a strong alcohol flavor, you might want to reduce the amount. Also, the alcohol kept it from freezing very firm, so it stayed a soft serve consistency. Because of that, when I tried to mix in the mocha ripple, it just sank to the bottom. So, I wasn't able to make layers. When I tried to swirl it, it just mixed together, and I ended up with the chocolate all mixed in with the ice cream, not separated. Perhaps I wasn't supposed to use the whole ripple recipe, it did seem like a lot of ripple for the amount of ice cream. But I don't believe that there is such a thing as too much chocolate, so I was fine with the amount. Excellent! So, now....what to make next?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Caught in the Act!

You might think he is having a mug of milk or maybe some cream...nope it's just water. This is Mickey and he loves water! I mean really, seriously, loves water. It is like a gift from heaven to him. When he is outside and he hears the faucet being turned on, he comes running. While you shower, he lies waiting outside the tub, for you to hurry up and finish. Before you can even dry off, he is in the tub licking up the small pools of water left behind. Every morning, while I eat my granola, he sits on the arm of the couch, watching and waiting. For when I am finished, I leave a little of the milk in the bowl and fill it with water...ahh nectar from the cat gods. If we leave any dishes soaking in or near the sink, he is constantly checking them to see if there is any water.

Silly old cat.

Oh and in case you were wondering. It only looks like there is a cat is on my kitchen counter. My cats know they are not allowed on the counters. And they would never, ever dream of doing anything they are not allowed to do.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

WHB - I love Larb!

This week, for weekend herb blogging, I decided to post one of my favorite thai foods - larb. Larb is so simple and yet so incredibly flavorful. According to Wikipedia - larb is a type of Lao meat salad. It is made with chicken, beef, duck, turkey, pork or even fish. The minced meat can either be raw or cooked, flavored with fish sauce and lime, and mixed with cilli and mint.

I googled larb and found several recipes, here and here are just a couple. All of the recipes are pretty similar. The main difference is that some seem to call toasted rice and some don't. I have never tried that, but I'm going to the next time I try it. My recipe is adapted from a cooking light recipe.

Serves 4

4 teaspoons grated lime rind
2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped serrano chile
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 teaspoons vegetable oil (I use peanut oil)
2 lbs ground turkey breast
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
1/2 to 1 head of cabbage, cored, quartered, and seperated into leaves

Remember to grate you lemon rind before squeezing out the fresh juice (it's much easier that way). Combine the first 8 ingredients, and whisk until the sugar has disolved.

Heat oil in a large skillet (non-stick makes for easier clean up) over medium-high heat. Add turkey and shallots and saute until the turkey is cooked through. Break apart the turkey and crumble it as it cooks (a wooden spoon works great for this). Drizzle with the juice mixture, stirring to get all of the turkey coated. Sprinkle with the mint. Serve with the cabbage leaves and eat by scooping a little of the turkey into the leaf and rolling up and eating like a wrap.

If you have never made larb, you have to try this. It is hard to believe something so simple can be so good.

This weeks weekend herb blogging is being hosted by Susan at The Well Seasoned Cook, so be sure and stop by on Monday to see the recap. If you'd like to enter your blog entry the rules and information can be found at Kalyn's Kitchen.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ham & Beans and a Trip Down Memory Lane

Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we, while I tell you of my love for ham and beans. All through grade school and most of my teenage years, my best friend was Robyn Redford. She had all of the Nancy Drew books and every summer we would reread them together. Sometime when we were early teenagers, she decided that she wanted to be a candy striper at the local hospital. Then, and now, I hate hospitals. Everything about them. From the hospital smell, the soft squish of the nurses shoes, the swish of doors opening and closing, the rattling of cart wheels. But Robyn was a leader and I was a follower, and I kind of liked the cute little striped outfit that we got to wear.

So, we became candy stripers. From the beginning, she excelled and I was worthless. I made mistake after mistake. I remember some older man, gamely chewing the chicken that I had cut up for him, when the nurse came charging in, saying that he had no teeth and was on a liquid diet! Once, I accidentally walked in on an enema being given to someone who looked like he was about 105 years old. That scene is forever burned on my retinas and in my memory.

But the one thing this hospital had was ham & beans. Yep, every Thursday the cafeteria served ham & beans. I know that this is also called Senate Bean Soup because it is served in the cafeteria of the Senate. I don't know how good it is at the Senate cafeteria (and probably never will), but at St. John's Mercy Medical Center, it was good, very good. I tried to make sure that I volunteered every Thursday. I held out as long as I could, I would like to say because of the gratification of volunteering, but it was this soup, and only this soup that kept me going (well, and the cute outfit).

One of the greatest joys of being an adult is knowing that I can have this soup whenever I want it. I don't have to volunteer at a **shudder** hospital, or only have it on Thursdays. So, anytime I have ham, this is what happens to the ham bone. Always.

Ham & Bean Soup
Serves 8 (unless one of them is me and then all bets are off)

1 meaty ham bone
1 onion, chopped
1 lb great northern beans (some prefer navy beans, but I like great northern)
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 stalks of celery chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced (optional)
8 cups of water

I do my ham and beans in the crockpot, but they can also be made on the stove.

Soak beans in water over night, sort and place in pot. Add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on low on the crockpot for 10-12 hours. Before serving, remove the ham bone, shred the meat and return to the pot. If you are cooking it on the stove, start checking your beans after about 2 hours.

Serve with cornbread, preferably!

Cooked with lots of butter!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Sandwich You Must Try!

If you are one of my readers in the U.S. you are probably scratching your head and looking at your calendar again. Yes it is October. And yes, I have gone on-and-on about it being fall, and how much I love fall. And well..this picture looks like July doesn't it? Hah! You're wrong, it was actually August!

Why has this picture been languishing in my "to-be-blogged" picture file? Well...look at it...it's a sandwich and some grilled corn. Not much to look at, not much to blog about. But I felt compelled because lurking in this simple meal is a combination that can not, should not, be missed.

And that combination is...drumroll please...roasted red peppers and goat cheese. Yep, that's it. If you want to always be prepared to have one of the best tasting, simplest sandwiches that you could ever make, keep a jar of roasted red peppers in your pantry and some goat cheese in your fridge. It's that good. And if you are so inclined you can roast the red peppers yourself and make some goat's milk cheese. Wait, I have to stop, I'm becoming lightheaded, I can't even imagine the goodness of that.

That's it folks, smear some goat cheese on a slice of bread, top with some roasted red peppers, add top slice of bread, toast or grill, and eat. You could probably add some fresh herbs, a bit of olive tapenade, or something else to jazz it up if you'd like, but you don't really have to. The combination of the tangy goat's milk cheese and the sweet red peppers can stand on it's own.

So, tell me people, what's your favorite easy sandwich?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What's in Your Freezer??

You either find the above picture admirable, astonishing and amazing, or you find it alarming, daunting, and formidable. Well, which is it? Are you one of us, those people who make lists, who like to categorize and keep track of their stuff..like books, or movies, or everything in your freezer?

Really, I am not normally so obsessed (well maybe a little), but it comes from discovering one day that I had 27 chicken thighs in my freezer! And the sad thing is that I was getting ready to buy more, which is the only reason I counted them.

And if you are wondering what kind of freezer can hold all of this, it's not that pathetic excuse for a freezer that shares space with my refrigerator, it's a gloriously big chest freezer that I picked up for a song at a garage sale. My husband wondered what I would do with such a big freezer. Why, fill it up, and make a list, of course.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chicken and Pear Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette

One of my favorite quick and easy dinners is some sort of salad topped with a grilled (or sauteed chicken breast). This salad is an adaptation from a Weight Watchers recipe.

Chicken and Pear Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette
Serves 4

4 boned, skinned chicken breasts
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 pears, cored and cut into bite size pieces
mixed salad greens

4 (or more) slices bacon, chopped
1/2 cup fat-free chicken broth
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat a tiny bit of olive oil (if your bacon is lean) in a skillet over medium heat. Fry the bacon until crispy (about 8 minutes). Remove the bacon and let drain on a paper towel. Salt and pepper chicken breasts. Leaving skillet on medium-high heat, brown chicken on one side for about 2 minutes, turn and brown on other side for about 2 minutes, or until chicken is nice and golden. Cover and reduce heat to medium low, cook for 8 minutes or until chicken is done. When chicken is done, set it out on a cutting board to rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.

While chicken is cooking, mix dressing ingredients in small bowl. Toss salad greens, pears and dressing in a large bowl. Distribute salad among 4 dinner plates and place sliced chicken on top.

I really love this salad. It's wonderful in fall, when pears are ripe and flavorful. Dried cranberries also go lovely in it and add a pretty color. Also, I was hungry and impatient and didn't really brown the chicken as well as I should. Even so, it was yummy, you pretty much can't go wrong with chicken browned in bacon fat!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day - Do What You Can

I just found out about Blog Action Day today! What a great idea, every blogger posting about the environment. Since I just found out about this, this is going to be completely off-the-cuff. But I thought that I could post about what things I do, to try and do my part. Because really, if each and every one of us, did one little thing, that would all add up. And if each and every one of us did 2 or more little things...wow!

Recycle - it's the big one. We keep 5 tubs in our garage (no cars, just junk and tubs). They hold cans, glass, plastic, regular paper and newspaper. Once every couple of weeks my husband carts it off to the recycle center. I know it makes a difference because when I drive down my street on trash days, ours is one of the few trash cans that has the lid completely closed, most everyone has cans overflowing with trash.

Compost - If you're reading this blog, you probably like to cook. And if you like to cook, you generate lots of vegetable waste. I keep a little stainless steel trash can (it might even be made just for composting), by the sink. It is so easy to throw all of my vegetable scraps in it. It has a plastic bucket inside, and every evening or so we take it out and dump it on the compost. With little effort, we are left with fabulous compost for our garden.

Avoid processed packaged foods - processed packaged food has everything against it. It is filled with chemical things I can't even pronounce (none of which sound like food), it's wrapped in packaging that creates waste and it's expensive. I avoid packaged food and try and stay in the outer aisles of the grocery store.

Clean green - I have started paying attention to the chemicals that I use for cleaning. It cost a little more to buy greener products, but I feel much better knowing that I am not using harsh chemicals. As a bonus, I've found that vinegar and water clean my floors better than any other floor product ever has!

There are lots of other little things we do that are escaping me right now. I think that it's all about awareness. Stop and think about what you are doing and ask yourself what could you do differently.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Basil in February - I Hope So!

I mentioned here that it is starting to feel more like fall here in TN. My herbs are starting to have that fall look to them. I read at Kalyn's Kitchen about freezing fresh herbs to use throughout the winter. I have never tried that before, always opting instead to spend a small fortune on those little tiny plastic packages of fresh herbs from the grocery store. What was really frustrating was that, more often than not, when I opened the packages I would find them moldy! After reading about how to freeze herbs, I thought that I would give it a try here. I make lots of soups and curries in the winter and tossing in some fresh herbs will really make a difference.

I read Kaylyn's post about this several weeks ago, and I didn't go back and look at it again before I started the process, so I used a blender instead of a food processor. I don't know that it really makes a difference, but I think a food processor might be better. I had to keep shoving the basil leaves down in the blender and it ended up that those on the bottom were almost liquid, while those on the top hadn't even been touched. Since I use basil in a lot of Mediterranean dishes, I used olive oil to keep the basil moist. I'm going to also try this with my Thai basil, and I'll probably use a more neutral oil for that.

This was so quick and easy to do, the hardest part was trying to find our old ice cube trays! We've had a refrigerator with an ice maker for so long, I had no idea where the trays were. I didn't do any canning this year, or last year, or the year before that, so it feels good to have put away something for the winter. I feel so like Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. That is...if Laura had a blender, a refrigerator and a freezer!

Also, thanks to Katie from Thyme for Cooking for letting me know that my blogger feed has not been updating since July 31!!! I think that was right around when I signed up for Feedburner. Which was really stupid, because I don't have any idea what feedburner is, or why I even wanted it. But part of the process involved my typing in my feedburner url, or some such thing, and I type it in wrong. So, I think that is what has happened to my feed. I'm not really sure how to get it back, since I barely know how I lost it. I'm hoping that by erasing the incorrect name, deleting all possible feedburner feeds, that I am back to square one. If anyone else subscribes to me, and thank you from the bottom of my blogger heart, please let me know if you start receiving an updated feed.

Friday, October 12, 2007

R.I.P. Reading Challenge Completed

Back here on September 3rd, I decided to enter the R.I.P. reading challenge in honor of Halloween and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night. I chose Peril the first, which was just to read 4 scary books between then and Halloween. How easy was that? Well, it was pretty darn easy. I've actually read 5 books and have started on my 6th, but I am only going to post about my original 4. Why? Well, because I am a terrible book reviewer. A really horrible, bad, terrible, no-good book reviewer. The whole controversy of amateur book reviewers impacting real life book critics, does not apply here! All you professional book critics have nothing to worry about when it comes to me, believe me. As a matter of fact, I am so bad that I am going to review all 4 books in one post, you can thank me later.

The first book I read was Kim Harrison's The Good, The Bad and the Undead. The back states: "It's a tough life for witch Rachel Morgan, sexy, independent bounty hunter, prowling the darkest shadows of downtown Cincinnati for criminal creatures of the night. She can handle the leather-clad vamps and even tangle with a cunning deomon or two. But a serial killer who feeds on the experts in the most dangerous kind of black magic is definitely pressing the limits." This book reminds me a lot of Laurell K. Hamilton, vampire hunter series. Tough female bounty hunter, hunting the supernatural bad guys. I didn't really think it was anything special, but on Amazon, it has 107 reviews and 4.5 stars, so don't take my word for it.

The next three books, I'm going to review all together..again..you can thank me later for not subjecting you to several paragraphs about each book. I read Dead as Doornail, Dead Until Dark, and Living Dead in Dallas, all by Charlaine Harris. Now, these I enjoyed! They kind of reminded me of Janet Evanovich's style, only with a vampire spin. They are humorous and charming.

There that wasn't too painful, now was it? I don't think I'll be getting any advanced copies of any books to review anytime soon! Be sure and check out the other R.I.P. challenge reveiws from people way more talented than I.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

WHB - Basil Tomato Pizza

I am so excited to be participating in Weekend Herb Blogging this weekend. It is a special weekend, the 2 year anniversary. Kalyn, from Kalyn's Kitchen began the whole thing here. Don't you just love her?! She didn't have a cat or a dog for the traditional weekend cat or dog blogging so she took a photo of her bucket of basil, and thus from such humble beginnings started Weekend Herb Blogging. You can click on the image above to learn more about it.

This weekends blog was to include an herb and a vegetable. While trying to decide what to cook and post, the weather man came to my rescue. He is calling for lows in the 40's here this week, and that has triggered a frantic freeze or use-up my herbs before-they-are-all-gone activity. I know my rosemary will keep going for most of the winter, but basil is pretty touchy and I need to use it up now. Looking in the fridge, I saw a couple of roma tomatoes and some cheese. Hmm...let's see basil, tomatoes and cheese, while I could make a traditional basil, tomato, and mozzarella salad, my cheese was fontina, and it says right on the label, perfect for melting. What better place to melt cheese than on a pizza!

Let me just say, that this was amazing. I don't believe that I have ever used fontina cheese for pizza before, but it is great! It melts beautifully, doesn't get as stringy as mozzarella, and has a more complex flavor than most pizza cheeses.

For this pizza, I kept it simple. Rolled out my dough, brushed it with some olive oil, which had 2 cloves of minced garlic in it. Sort of crumbled and smooched up the cheese into little globs, spread the sliced tomatoes over that, liberally salted and peppered it all and popped it into the oven on my pizza stone that I had preheating at 500 degrees. After about 10 minutes (it could have browned a little more, but I couldn't wait), took it out and sprinkled some fresh chopped basil on top. The heat from the pizza perfectly softened and cooked the basil.

This pizza is a basic take on the pizza that was created for Queen Margherita in 1889. It contained basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella, the colors of the Italian flag. The pizza was dubbed Pizza Margherita and set the standards for pizza. I have to say, that I think I like mine with fontina cheese better!

If you want to see all of the Weekend Herb Blogging posts, be sure and stop by Kalyn's Kitchen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cookbooks Entered on LibraryThing!

Well, I've done it! I've entered all of my cookbooks on LibraryThing! I feel such a sense of accomplishment. Of course, I still have 8 more bookcases of regular books!

But, here's the rub. If you check out my catalog, you'll notice that I have 94 cookbooks! Think about that... Now, I hope you know where I'm going with this...c'mon...think about it...94. See, while 94 is good and all that, it's not really all that special, it just sounds like a lot. Now, 100, that's special, that's a nice, even, round number, with a couple of zeros. I'm liking the sound of 100. So, I guess I just have to, have to I tell you, find 6 cookbooks that I'm interested in. And then I can stop, never to purchase another cookbook again. Because once you get over 100, when you get to 101 or 102, well, that's a slippery slope.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Spaghetti with Lime and Rocket

You know, Donna Hay cookbooks really spoil you. I own 5 of her cookbooks, and I never tire of looking at them. Sometimes, I just sit and look at the pictures. They are always inspiring. So much so, that I almost hate to buy any cookbook that is not filled with luscious looking pictures. Besides her gorgeous pictures, her recipes are usually very simple and quick to prepare. I tend to go through Donna Hay phases, because I pick up one of her books and immediately find 5 or 6 things that I want to try, or I want to make again. This time, I searched for recipes because I had some arugula. I couldn't specifically remember any other books that had recipes using arugula, but I knew that she had several. Arugula is called rocket in Australia.

Spaghetti with Lime and Rocket
from Donna Hay Flavors

Serves 4

14 oz spaghetti
2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon shredded lime rind
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed
8 slices proscuitto, chopped (you can substitute bacon)
5 oz rocket shredded
3 tablespoons lime juice
5oz soft marinated fetta in oil
cracked black pepper

Place the spaghetti in a large saucepan of rapidly boiling slated water and cook until al dente. Drain. While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the lime rind, garlic, chilli and capers and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the proscuitto and cook, sitrring, for 2 minutes or unti crisp. Add the spaghetti to the pan and toss to coat and heat through.
To serve, toss the rocket and lime juice through the pasta and pile into bowls. Top with the marinated fetta, a little of it's oil and pepper.

This was good, it wasn't amazingly good, or even outstanding, but it was a good, quick simple dish. The only marinated feta that I could find was in little cubes, so it looks a little weird, and I probably should have shredded the arugula finer for more even flavor. But if you are looking for a quick weeknight dinner, this is a pretty good option.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

WHB - Roasted Tomato Risotto with Pesto

I have been so scattered with my entries for Weekend Herb Blogging. That darn work (school) keeps getting in the way! But this weekend begins fall break, and I am hoping to get all caught up and organized.

This recipe was inspired by a recipe I found in Donna Hay's Modern Classics (Book 1)
Roasted Tomato Risotto with Pesto
Serves 3-4
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon roasted tomato oil or olive oil
3 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups of chicken stock
12 oz arborio rice
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup roasted tomatoes, chopped (homemade preferred)
Pesto for serving
Begin heating the chicken stock in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer.
Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook the shallots and garlic for about 5 minutes until the shallots have softened. Add the rice and stir until it becomes translucent with tiny white dots in the center about 3-4 minutes. Add the stock, a ladle full at a time. Stirring until each cup of stock is absorbed. Cook until rice is al dente, I like mine with a little bite. It should take about 25-30 minutes. Stir through the roasted tomatoes and Parmesan cheese, taste and adjust seasonings.
Spoon into bowls, top with a little fresh pesto, and if you want (and you will want) a fresh drizzle of olive oil or some more of the roasted tomato oil.
This was so yummy and comforting! Risotto is really the perfect weeknight dinner. It's quick, homey, and really doesn't require that much work, depending on what you put in it. To be honest, I think I should have put in some more roasted tomatoes. But my tomatoes are so good, that I've been hoarding them. I want to dole them out in tiny portions and make them last longer, which is silly really, because I can just make some more!
This will be my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, which is hosted this week at Cook Almost Anything at Least Once. If you'd like to learn more about Weekend Herb Blogging, click on the picture at the beginning of this post.

Friday, October 5, 2007

I've Never Met a Cookbook I Didn't Like

Up until this point, the title of this post was true. No matter how slim, obscure, complicated, easy, gorgeous, or ugly a cookbook was, I always found something in them that I liked, and usually loved. But I'm afraid that my most recent cookbook purchase has been a major disappointment. What makes it even more of a disappointment is that I am trying to limit my cookbook purchasing. My cookbook bookcase is all filled, plus I have more recipes marked to try than there are days left in my life!

But when I bought my new slow cooker, I purchased "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook" by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. Even though, I had found over 6,000 recipes on the internet, I thought it would be easier to have a book filled with recipes that I could turn to again and again. Instead of feeling the desire to turn to this book, I am feeling the desire to turn away. I have tried 3 recipes from it and all of them have been disappointing.

The first recipe I tried was a basic ham and beans, commonly called "Congressional or Senate Bean Soup". I have been making ham and beans for years and years and I've tried different versions along the way, and have pretty much liked them all, until now. This recipe was not awful, but it had a weird component. Some kind of off flavor. This recipe called for potatoes, which I didn't use, but I did use the 2 onions and 6 ribs of celery. That was a lot of onions and alot of celery. Most recipes that I've used in the past called for one onion a rib or two of celery and usually a bay leaf.

The next recipe I tried was for a basic pot of beans. The beans called for a pound of dried beans, 1 clove of garlic, 1 onion, 1/2 a bay leaf (!), 1 teaspoon of dried oregano (or marjoram or savory), pinch of ground cumin and a pinch of ground coriander, and then water and chicken broth. These were okay, they were not very flavorful. One clove of garlic is not much for a big pot of beans, plus, why just 1/2 a bay leaf. Would one whole bay leaf overpower the flavor of the beans?

The last recipe I tried was for a "White Bean and Kale Tomato Soup". It wasn't until I was assembling the ingredients and looking at the instructions, that I realized that this also looked like it was not going to have much flavor. It tells you to cook vegetable broth, tomato puree, canned beans, rice, an onion, dried basil and salt and pepper, all day. Then 30 minutes before serving, you add cooked sausage and kale. I really don't understand this recipe. Why not at least use dried beans, so you could get some flavor from the beans? Why add the sausage last, when it doesn't have time to add much flavor? The rice thickened up and the soup had almost the consistency of tapioca with very little flavor. I compared it with a another recipe that I found on the internet that called for dried beans, zucchini, red wine, and the sausage added at the beginning. That one sounds like it would be pretty good and I will try it next.

I am not giving up on this book, I have 2 more recipes marked to try this week. This is so disappointing because this is my third book by this author, I also have her bread machine cookbook and her rice cooker cookbook, both of which I love. So, I'm not giving up yet, but I have don't have a good feeling about this!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Not Quite a Cuban Midnight Sandwich

As I mentioned before, now that my youngest daughter is off to college, and it's just me and the husband, we have lots more leftovers. Besides the fact that we had one more mouth to feed at dinner, Kate and I always took leftovers for lunch, so that pretty much did not leave any leftovers for another dinner. But now that it's just 2 of us, there is plenty for leftovers.

Tonight's dinner was quick and easy. The leftover macaroni and cheese paired with a ham sandwich. I used an old George Foreman grilling machine (or whatever they are called). It doesn't seem to heat up as evenly as it used to, so I am looking to get something new. Maybe a paninni maker, any suggestions? This sandwich was basically my take on a Cuban Midnight Sandwich, and after looking at some of the authentic recipes, I realize that it was sorely lacking.
My sandwich was only ham, sliced dill pickles, Swiss cheese and mayo. It says right on Wikipedia that the roast pork is the essential ingredient. So...my sandwich was missing the essential ingredient. Oh well, it was still good. Though this does make me really, really, really want to make the real thing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ham and Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese

There are certain foods that one has only at certain times of the year. Turkey is one that comes readily to mind. Another food that is relegated to holidays is ham. I usually have ham on Easter and Christmas. Why...I don't know. I know why we have turkey on Thanksgiving, but really why do I make a ham every Christmas and every Easter? Actually this Christmas I would like to try a goose, but I'm digressing here. My point is...and I do have one....I promise...is that I felt like having a ham this week. It's not a major Christian holiday and I felt like having a ham, kind of like when I sometimes want a turkey in April.

What I love about ham, besides it's pork goodness, is that it really is easy super easy. Pop it in the oven, come up with a glaze, cook, slice and serve. Done. Plus after that, unless you've invited everyone you know over, you have plenty of leftovers. That's a hint, expect more leftover ham posts to follow this post.

For the ham, I simply trimmed off the excess fat. Carved the obligatory diamonds, but left out the also obligatory whole cloves stuck in the intersections. Placed in a rack, poured water in the pan (I'll say it was to keep the ham moist, but it was to keep my pan from getting dirty), and popped it in the oven at 325 for about 2-3 hours. About 30 minutes before it was finished, I searched for a very quick and lazy glaze. I found a jar of pineapple preserves in my fridge, obviously left over from some other recipe, spooned it on the ham. Not bad.

Since, I was craving a home-y feeling meal, I served it with smoked gouda macaroni and cheese from Cooking Light

Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese
from Cooking Light
1 (1-ounce) slice whole wheat bread
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups fat-free milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded smoked Gouda cheese
1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
5 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach
4 cups hot cooked elbow macaroni (about 2 cups uncooked)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.
Place bread in a food processor, and pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1/2 cup.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic; cook 1 minute. Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk, salt, and pepper, stirring constantly with a whisk until blended. Bring to a boil; cook until thick (about 2 minutes). Add cheeses; stir until melted.
Add spinach and macaroni to cheese sauce, stirring until well blended. Spoon mixture into a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until bubbly.
4 servings (serving size: 1 1/4 cups)

Library Thing - 61 books entered so far!