Thursday, April 27, 2017

Megan's Shepherd's Pie

My dad raved over the Shepherd's Pie Megan served him when he visited a while ago, so I had to give it a try. It's definitely a little more involved than our usual "quick" version, but because of that, it's also a bit tastier. You can decide which version you prefer!

This one used beef chunks, instead of ground beef, cooked with fresh onion and garlic and celery before adding some frozen mixed vegetables and a bit of beef gravy to hold it together. Then the freshly made-from-scratch, instead of instant, mashed potatoes were put on top before baking, and a bit of grated Cheddar cheese was added at the very end.

And here's a version that uses lamb instead of beef, with actual measurements!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Baked Potato Soup

It looks prettier with the garnishes, but tastes just as delicious without them if you don't want to bother. This is basically a thick, creamy white sauce with chunks of baked potato added, along with a bit of sour cream. I looked at recipes similar to this and this, and then created my own. Definitely worth making again, but not when you're counting calories.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Baked Spaghetti

We like lasagna, but for some reason I don't really like making it. I think the put off is slimy, squirmy lasagna noodles. So, when I saw this recipe I decided it was worth trying. Of course I had to put my own spin on it, but this is what we tried.

Baked Spaghetti

8 oz spaghetti noodles
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup cottage cheese
1 egg
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
3 cups Spaghetti Sauce (see below)
2 cups Mozarella cheese

Cook spaghetti, then drain and toss with butter. Combine cottage cheese, egg and Parmesan cheese. In a 9x9" pan, layer half the noodles, half the cottage cheese mix, half the sauce, and half the Mozarella cheese. Repeat layers. Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.

Note: Next time I'll probably combine the pasta with the cottage cheese mixture before layering so that it's more evenly distributed. And I'll try not to forget the Mozarella in the layering process as well!

Spaghetti Sauce
1 packet spaghetti seasoning mix (my recipe is here)
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with liquid
1-2 cans (8 oz) tomato sauce
1/2 pound ground beef, cooked (or wheat/meat)
1 cup chopped mushrooms

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Marshmallow Eggs

Earlier this month Wayne mentioned it  had been a while since we'd had marshmallow bunnies for Easter, and that reminded me that many years ago (at least 30!) I attended a Relief Society class where we learned how to make homemade marshmallow eggs. I figured it was time to try again. I couldn't find my old recipe, but Google came to the rescue. Since I usually have success with recipes from Taste of Home, I tried a version I found there first.

However, I should have followed the instructions to double-check my candy thermometer with some boiling water before starting. When the recommended temperature produced burnt sugar caramel, I decided to do so and discovered my thermometer was 40 degrees off. I considered rescuing the result, but in the end just threw it out. I couldn't think of anything that would successfully disguise the taste of burned food, not even chocolate.

Next I tried a version found here. It had the same ingredients, but put them together a bit differently, and didn't require a candy thermometer!

Homemade Marshmallow Eggs

1 tablespoon (1 packet) unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup cold water
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Make a mold by filling a couple of 9x13" pans with flour, then pressing an egg into the flour. I got 11 out of each pan.

In a small pan, sprinkle the gelatin over cold water and let soften. Turn on the burner, stir in the sugar and bring to a boil stirring constantly. Cook until sugar has dissolved, about 3-4 minutes.

Place corn syrup in a large bowl, start beating, and stir in sugar syrup. Keep beating until mixture is stiff, about 10 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Spoon lukewarm gelatin mixture into egg depressions; dust with flour. Let stand for 3-4 hours or until set.

Brush excess flour off marshmallow eggs. Dip each in melted chocolate. Place flat side down on waxed paper. Decorate as desired. Let stand until set.
This is just really cool - and would make a great science experiment.
Note: Sprinkling with colored sugar or candy sprinkles is easy, but we didn't particularly care for the "crunch" so preferred those drizzled with another color of chocolate. Wayne would have even liked double-dipping in the chocolate to get a higher chocolate to marshmallow ratio, but I thought it was perfect as is. In addition, placing the covered eggs on a wire rack is not a good idea; use the waxed paper.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Italian Easter Bread

While pondering a gift to take to the neighbors for Easter, the thought of bread came to mind, and I figured since we're celebrating the Bread of Life that would be quite appropriate. However, I wanted something festive and springtime-y, so I went to Google and discovered many, many people celebrate Easter with a special Italian bread. It looks delicious, so here's my adaptation.

Festive Easter Orange Bread

3/4 cup milk, heated to 110 degrees
zest of one orange (about 1 tablespoon)
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
5 cups flour
1 tablespoon gluten
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
juice of one orange (about 1/4 cup)
egg wash or milk
dyed raw eggs, optional (They will cook while the bread cooks.)
Orange Glaze (powdered sugar and orange juice), if desired

Heat the milk and while it's cooling a bit combine the sugar and orange zest. Add to the milk and stir to dissolve the sugar, then add the yeast and let sit for 10 minutes. Combine 4 cups of flour with the gluten. In another bowl beat the eggs with the salt. Stir the yeast mixture into the flour, then add the butter, orange juice and egg mixture. Add the remaining cup of flour if necessary. Once it's formed a ball, knead on the counter, adding more flour as needed, until it's nice and smooth. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.
Before rising - after rising - forming the rings
Divide dough into 12 pieces and roll each into a log. Twist 2 together, form a circle, pinch the ends together, and place them on a greased baking sheet. Let rise until double.
Carefully brush with egg wash, put on the sprinkles, and gently place an egg in the center if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Drizzle with glaze if desired.
Before and after baking - with and without the egg.
Note: Here are just a few of the sites that I looked at for ideas: Laura in the Kitchen, Brown-Eyed Baker, and The Italian Dish Blog.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lemon Chiffon Cake

I was looking for something for our Easter dinner dessert that was festive, springtime-y, and dairy-free, and this recipe fit the requirements. Preparing it resulted in a mountain of dishes to wash, but the effort was worth it, and maybe we'll have it again for some future celebration.
A lot of dirty dishes!

Lemon Chiffon Cake
from Williams-Sonoma

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola oil
6 eggs, separated
1/2 cup lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
2 teaspoons lemon peel
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat an oven to 325° and have ready an ungreased 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.
Although not used frequently in our kitchen, a zester is a wonderful tool to have on hand when you do need it.
Sift the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt together. In a bowl, combine the oil, egg yolks, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add the water and whisk until well mixed. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour mixture until the batter is smooth.

Egg yolks - Flour mixture - Egg whites - Flour to egg yolks - Combined - Add the whites
In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Using the rubber spatula, gently fold half of the whites into the batter until almost fully incorporated. Add the remaining whites and gently fold in just until combined. The batter should be smooth but foamy. Pour the batter evenly into the tube pan.

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and invert the pan onto a wire rack. Let the cake cool completely, upside down, about 45 minutes.
Before baking - After baking - While cooling - Finished product
Rotate and tap the pan against the countertop until the cake disengages. Using the center tube, pull the cake out of the pan. Invert the cake onto the rack and disengage it gently from the pan bottom. Pull the pan bottom and tube from the cake.

The original recipe said to top with a lemon glaze, but we chose fresh raspberries and lemon whipped cream instead. (Whip 1/2 cup cream with 1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon peel, and double if you want.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Chicken L'Orange

I love having others give me suggestions on what to cook. Cooking is fun; deciding what to do not so much. So, today Wayne requested Chicken L'Orange with wild rice.

We've tried the boxed wild rice before, but I prefer creating our own combination. We like the ratio of one part wild rice to four parts white rice. That goes with eleven parts water and some salt and a bit of butter. Boil the water with the salt and butter, add the wild rice and simmer, 15-20 minutes later add the white rice, and then cook until it's done, about 25 more minutes. So for about four normal servings that would be 1/4 cups wild rice, 1 cup white rice, and 2 3/4 cup water with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon butter. (If it's easier to figure 12 parts and increase the water to 3 cups, that would probably work as well.)

Most Orange Chicken recipes that I looked at used small chunks of chicken and had an Oriental flair. Wayne was thinking more French style, similar to his dinner choice a couple of months ago at The Cheesecake Factory, with a large, pounded chicken breast. I knew he would want a breading/coating on the chicken, and I didn't have any orange marmalade in the pantry. So, this is what we came up with, using Pioneer Woman's recipe as the inspiration.

Chicken L'Orange

4 large chicken breasts
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Dash salt
Dash crushed red pepper
1 clove garlic, pressed
A little grated or minced ginger
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons water

Pound chicken breasts until about 1/4" and cut in half if desired. Combine egg and water in one bowl and 3 tablespoons cornstarch, flour and salt and pepper in another. Dip the chicken in the egg mixture and coat with the cornstarch mixture and set aside. In a saucepan, combine the orange juice with the soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, salt, red pepper, garlic and ginger. Bring to a boil. Combine the 1 tablespoon cornstarch and water, add to the sauce, and cook until thickened. Set aside.

Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook the chicken on both sides until done. Serve with the sauce and rice.

Note: It wasn't quite as "orange-y" tasting as I hope it would be, but it was still delicious. And the sauce worked quite well with simple sauted salmon filets as well.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Brad's Birthday Cake

This year Brad requested a Heath Bar Cake for his birthday, and when he described it I decided he's a pretty smart young man. It sounded delicious! It also seemed like the perfect way to use an opened can of sweetened condensed milk sitting in the refrigerator. (I only used half when making these caramels.) I followed this recipe, scaling it in half, and instead of using a cake mix, used our favorite cake recipe, also scaling it in half. If you want the two-layer cake recipe, you can find it here.

Feathery Fudge Cake

1/2 cup butter or margarine
7/8 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
5/8 cup cold water

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in vanilla and eggs. Combine dry ingredients and mix in with water. Pour into a lightly greased 8" square cake pan. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes.

Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake

1 layer chocolate cake, freshly baked
1/2 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
about 1/2 cup caramel sauce
4 ounces Cool Whip
1/2 cup chocolate toffee bits

As soon as cake comes out of the oven, poke holes in the top with a skewer. Pour sweetened condensed milk and then caramel sauce all over so it can seep down. When cool, spread Cool Whip on top and then sprinkle with chocolate toffee bits. Store in the refrigerator.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Monkey Bread

Someone brought Monkey Bread to the birthday brunch at work and I was very gently chastised for not ever serving such deliciousness to Wayne before. Time to rectify that! However, traditional Monkey Bread recipes are made to serve a crowd, and two is not a crowd. Among the myriad of recipe options, I found some guidelines for a mini version, along with a couple of posts debating the merits of canned biscuits vs. homemade yeast dough, and decided to create my own version. We'll see how it turns out!

It seems most versions have you coat the pieces of dough with dry cinnamon and sugar, and then pour a buttery-caramel sauce over the whole thing before baking; after inverting the cooked product, it's topped with a glaze. I guess the whole point is to make it super gooey! Baking it without the caramel sauce causes the finished product to fall apart. Although it's a bit more tedious, the version I remember is the Rhode's dough one, with dipping the dough pieces in butter, then rolling in the cinnamon-sugar, then baking. You can let me know which version you prefer!

Monkey Bread Minis
2 servings

1 1/2 teaspoons butter, melted
1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon dry milk powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons milk

Melt the butter in a small bowl, add the water and dissolve the yeast in the mixture. Combine the flour, sugar, dry milk and salt in another bowl. Slowly stir in the milk mixture. Knead until smooth, then let rise until doubled.

After the dough has risen, divide it into 16 small pieces. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in one bowl and put the melted butter into another. Grease two small ramekins. Roll each dough piece in the butter, then the cinnamon-sugar, then place 8 pieces in each ramekin. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again for about an hour, or refrigerate overnight.

Bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then invert on a plate. Combine the powdered sugar and milk and drizzle on top. Serve warm.

The Verdict: First, even though I scaled this way down, it still should have served four and not two; it was a hefty 350 calories per serving! However, I liked it and so did Wayne, but he said it wasn't quite like what he had at work. That person probably used the Rhode's dough version which included a caramel glaze. I guess that just means we'll have to try it again sometime.

My resources: 

Pillsbury's Original Monkey Bread
Nieman Marcus' Real Original Monkey Bread
Rhode's Dough Monkey Bread
Pillsbury's Monkey Bread Minis
Pioneer Woman's Monkey Bread
Mel's Kitchen Cafe Monkey Bread

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Chocolate Chip Scones

It's been a while since we've had English scones, but here's the version that we tried over the weekend. Wayne wanted his without chocolate chips (and with jam), and although normally that's my preference as well, this time it wasn't. Just so you know, a single disc of dough divided into eighths is much easier than cutting out individual circles. This recipe is adapted from here.

Mini Chocolate Chip Scones

1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter (see note)
1/4 cup cream
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons mini chocolate chips

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the cold butter, then gently stir in the cream and vanilla. Mix in the chocolate chips. Divide the dough in half and form into two flattened discs on a baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sugar, if desired, and cut into eighths. Bake at 375° for 12-15 minutes.

Note: The author suggested grating frozen butter to help it incorporate better with the flour. I tried grating cold-from-the-fridge butter. Don't try that. Although I succeeded, it was melting a lot faster than I expected it to. Next time I'll follow the instructions better.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sweet Potato Bisque

I found this recipe in the newspaper food section and clipped it because it called for leeks, and I had some that needed to be used. It was also called Curried Sweet Potato Bisque and we like curried dishes. However, there isn't any curry powder in the recipe! So, I left that out of my title. I also forgot to add the butter at the end, but that was probably a good thing. It still has plenty of calories.

Sweet Potato Bisque

3 cups sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup leeks, white parts only, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 cups whole milk (or 4 2/3 cups 1% milk and 1/3 cup cream)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and simmer, stirring regularly to prevent scorching, until sweet potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes. Pull out the bay leaves. Blend until completely smooth. Serve at once, or chill and reheat. 

Note: I used my immersion blender and it did a pretty good job, although it was a bit stringy. I don't know if that was because I used frozen leeks, or if a standard blender would have been better. The soup still tasted good.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Country Ham and Corn Casserole

I'm trying a new bisque recipe, which says to serve it with cornbread, yet there's ham in the refrigerator I need to use up, so I went searching for some possibilities. I considered Ham and Cheese Puffs - here and here - but they don't include corn, so I kept looking. Most of the recipes I found called for a cornbread mix. That's not something I have in the pantry. Finally I found an inspiration recipe. However, it serves 6, and I'm pretty sure it won't be Wayne's favorite, so I divided everything in half, along with making a few more adjustments. That's what makes cooking fun!

Country Ham and Corn Casserole

2 tablespoons butter
3/8 cup buttermilk (or soured milk)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced, cooked ham
1/4 cup chopped onions
1 cup corn (drained canned or thawed frozen)
1/2 cup creamed corn
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Place the butter in an iron skillet and put in a 350° oven to melt. Combine the buttermilk and egg. Remove the skillet, swirl the butter around the bottom, then add to the milk mixture. Combine the cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir in the milk mixture, then the ham, onions (microcook for a few seconds if you don't want them crunchy), and both types of corn. Pour into the hot skillet, then bake for 25 minutes. Top with the cheese and return to the oven for 2-3 minutes.
This is a bit on the dry side, but topping it with some salsa and/or sour cream helps with that problem - see above.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Chocolate Raspberry Torte

Chocolate Raspberry Torte

1 pkg. (8 squares) semi-sweet baking chocolate, divided
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 pkg. (4 serving size) raspberry gelatin
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional
1 tub (8 oz.) cool whip, thawed

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease and flour a 9" round cake pan; line the bottom with wax paper.  Melt 4 squares of chocolate and butter in microwave for 1 1/2 minutes, or until almost melted.  Stir until chocolate is completely melted.  Stir in dry gelatin and sugar.  Stir in flour and pecans until well blended.  Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 40 minutes; do not overbake.  Cool in pan 5 minutes.  Run small knife around side of pan to loosen.  Invert onto serving platter; remove wax paper.  Cool completely.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 4 squares chocolate.  Stir in whipped topping until smooth.  Frost cake.  Garnish with chocolate strips, fresh raspberries, and powdered sugar, if desired.

Mini Dutch Babies

Lately I've been trying to do better at cooking for just two, so that we don't have a fridge filled with leftovers (although that is nice sometimes, especially if I don't feel like cooking). Trying to keep the calorie count low makes it a bit more challenging. However, I think we can finally have Dutch babies more frequently, because this version, adapted from Best Bites, makes the portion control easy.

Heat oven to 400°. Spray a mini muffin pan with Pam. Whisk together 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup milk, 1 egg, dash of salt and 1 tablespoon of melted butter in a measuring cup. Pour batter into the muffin tin and bake for 12-15 minutes. Serve hot with syrup, powdered sugar, and or berries.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Experimenting with Empanadas

Somewhere I noticed that it was National Empanada Day. At first I thought it was today, but it turns out to be tomorrow. Calzones were on the menu, and since I hadn't picked a specific recipe, and since I can fix whatever I want, and since Wayne loves empanadas and I never make them, I figured I'd try them out today. We can have leftovers tomorrow in honor of the holiday.

He learned to love them while serving his mission in Chile, so I'm going to go with this recipe which is supposedly authentic. If these don't taste the way he remembers, I've added a couple more dough options below. If that doesn't work, I guess I'll just have to ask Brad for his recipe. Looking at that post reminds me empanadas would be a great way to use the Picadillo I stuck in the freezer last week.

He likes the plain cheese ones best, so I'm just going to use mozarella cheese inside, and then bake them. I'm trying to decide between 200 degrees for 30 minutes or 400 degress for 8 minutes. Since we're experimenting, maybe I'll try both!

Chilean Empanada Dough

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup melted lard
1/3 cup hot water

Combine flour, salt and paprika. Stir in melted lard and water and mix until the dough is soft and doesn’t stick to your fingers. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. Divide into twelths, roll out into a thin circle, fill with your choice of filling, and crimp the edges. If desired, chill. Bake or fry and serve warm.
I discovered a wonderful new use for my rarely used wonton maker.

Note: The 200 degree oven didn't work. Well, it did eventually cook them, but they're still pale and don't look appetizing. They didn't really brown at 400 degrees either; maybe I should have brushed them with an egg wash. Then I tried frying a batch, and realized it wasn't as much work as I was anticipating. They looked gorgeous, and tasted a little bit better than the baked ones, so frying's my choice for future empanadas.

This dough recipe uses eggs and less shortening:
3 cups flour (plus a little more for kneading)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold water
1 egg
1 egg white
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 tablespoons shortening

This one uses butter instead of lard:
1 1/2 cups flour (plus extra for rolling)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup ice water plus more as needed

Jerk Chicken

I like getting spices as a souvenir from our vacation, because they can continue to bring back memories for a long, long time. This Sunday dinner, in addition to remembering our wonderful Caribbean cruise, we got to remember this past Christmas, when one of my gifts was a grill pan. It worked great for cooking up some chicken breasts, simply sprinkled with a bit of jerk seasoning.

To go along with the jerk flavor, I experimented with a coconut sauce for the rice. It was a beautiful complement and did a great job of toning down the spice.
Unfortunately, now I can't remember how I made the sauce. I think I just mixed some creamed coconut with water until it was the right consistency. However, here are some interesting recipes to try in the future using coconut milk.

Spicy Coconut Salmon - I know I didn't use this recipe because I was trying to cut down on the spiciness. However, if jerk chicken isn't on the menu, this would probably be delicious.

Non-Spicy Coconut Salmon - Just in case you're in the mood for no spice at all.

You can also Google "coconut milk recipes" and come up with a plethora of options for curry.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Strawberry Spinach Salad - Today's Version

I love our normal Strawberry Spinach Salad recipe, but today I felt like trying a new salad dressing instead. I went with this one.

Poppy Seed Dressing

1/2 cup light olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients in a jar with a tight lid and shake vigorously. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Along with the spinach and strawberries, I like the idea of adding toasted pecans and sliced red onions, that I saw here. Maybe sometime I'll follow this person's advice and add blueberries, avocado and bleu cheese as well.

For future reference, (according to some food blogger), 2 bunches of spinach equals 12 ounces of prepped baby spinach, or about 16 cups slightly packed. For a good ratio, toss 8 cups spinach with 2 cups of sliced strawberries.