Monday, April 27, 2009

Sausage Fest '09

I know I said in an earlier post that we would be cooking a "challenging" dish with our friends Timm and Faith once a month, but when there is sausage to be made, who am I to argue? Timm and Faith have made sausage previously, but this was a first for Matt and I. Timm and Matt were brainstorming at the grocery store when shopping for ingredients when they thought of a grand idea!! Why not stuff these casings with themed meat goodies? Thus, the ideas started flowing. We made the following sausages:
  1. Shepherd's Pie (ground chuck, carrots, leeks, celery, onion, garlic, potatoes, salt, and pepper)
  2. Buffalo Chicken (ground chicken, fat, celery, Frank's Red Hot, bleu cheese, salt, and pepper)
  3. Sweet and Savory Chicken (ground chicken, fat, apple, bacon, salt, and pepper)
  4. Triple P (ground pork, pineapple, pepper-green and red, salt, and pepper)
  5. Plain (ground pork, mace, salt, and pepper)

My only question is: Why haven't we done this sooner!? The sausages were delicious, and we all felt good about the fact that all the ingredients were fresh and we had complete control over the flavors. It was nice to know there were no artificial additives, and you could certainly tell the difference. We had good success with all the sausages except the Triple P. Unfortunately, the casing began to break down when they were chilling in the refrigerator and even when they were transferred to the hot part of the grill, they completely fell apart. We think this was due to the moisture of the pineapple and peppers, but since none of us had ever used those ingredients in sausage, we can't be sure. All in all, it was a great experience, and I have already priced the food grinder attachment for the Kitchen Aid! In addition to the sausage, Timm requested that I make my mom's recipe for Confetti Coleslaw. You can see the picture below, but you should check out her adorable blog for the recipe and just to poke around:)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Oreo Fudge Bars

Although I could gorge myself on dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Matt is not the biggest fan. When I stumbled upon these Oreo Fudge Bars, he actually had a fairly enthusiastic response, so that was my green light. This recipe comes from Baking Blonde's Weblog, and we definately will keep this in our arsenal!
1 16oz. package of Oreo cookies
1 stick butter, melted
1/4 tsp salt
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)

Preheat the oven to 325.
Line a 9×13 pan with foil and lightly spray with PAM.
Set aside 6 Oreo cookies for the topping.
In a food processor grind the rest of the cookies. If you don’t have a food processor, just pound with a rolling pin until the cookies are fine crumbs. Add the salt to the crumbs and stir to combine. Melt butter and gently stir together with the cookie crumb mixture.
Press firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Coarsely chop the remaining cookies into chunks and set aside. Over a double boiler or in the microwave, melt 3/4 cup semi-sweet and 1/2 cup milk chocoalte chips together with the condensed milk and vanilla. Stir frequently until smooth. Spread evenly over the prepared cookie crust. Sprinkle the mini chocolate chips and the Oreo cookies chunks over the top of the filling. Press down gently into the chocolate topping.
Bake for 20-22 minutes . Allow to cool on counter for 1 hour. Chill in fridge until completely cold and set before cutting into bars or it will make a big mess.
*These are not too great hot from the oven but are great after chilling and the filling has set.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Savoir Faire (eez everywhere)

Well, I for one am tipping my beret to Kathy of All Food Considered for selecting the Croque Monsieur as the Barefoot Blogger challenge for this week. Not that they are remotely similar, but I really enjoyed this dish so much more than the Chinese Chicken Salad. I did make a couple of modifications to Ina's recipe, but to good results! I did not cut the crust off the bread, as we find it to have a nice crunch and loads of flavor. Also, I made Matt's Croque with the dijon, but since I despise it as a sandwich spread, I slathered on some cherry preserves. After my raves, Matt even went back to get some to use as a dip. The bread I used was a homemade Amish White Bread that I had in the freezer and because of its dense texture, it held up to all the cheesy goodness. I think this would be a crowd pleaser and I am already thinking of the many variations that could be used. We will definately be revisiting this sandwich!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chicken For Dinner, Baby

I have been meaning to get this post up for about two weeks, so here goes.
After hatching a plan with my good friend Timm, we decided to get together at least once a month to tackle a dish that in some way we were reluctant to make on our own. The first installment happened to be the French classic Coq Au Vin. We were guided in our journey by hottie chef Eric Ripert and his cozy winter dinner menu. We loosely followed his interpretation and rather than serving it with egg noodles, we made an updated version of the aforementioned No-Knead Bread. Let me just say that it was a home run. We paired the dish with a beautiful salad of baby greens topped with a meyer lemon-based viniagrette, goat cheese, and pears. We were really ambitious at the beginning of the day and were going to throw together a chocolate souffle, but laziness and a lack of semi-sweet chocolate took over and we ended up making a Dorie Greenspan version of blondies. It wasn't exactly frenchy, but they were tasty.
A note on the coq au vin: if you decide to give this a try, we suggest that you add the breasts to the dutch oven after the dark meat cuts, because the breasts were slightly overcooked. Oh, and for those of you who were former Buddy Rhubarb fans, Bubba is out of retirement!!! I don't know if it was the rooster, the Dr. Love blaring from the amps, or the fine atmosphere of the Pompeii Bar, but I am still waiting for an encore. Maybe next time Faith will be on the mic??

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers Chinese Chicken Salad

I recently joined the Barefoot Bloggers group and the first Ina recipe I was to make was her Chinese Chicken Salad. We have made many of her recipes, so this group seemed like the perfect excuse for us to have an Ina meal every other week. Most often, we don't have to buy out of the ordinary (for us) ingredients for one of Ina's recipes, but we did not have sesame oil or seeds, so it was off to the local asian market. We were really thankful to have them since we were able to pick up the udon noodles we would use for the side dish we were making. The chicken salad went together without a hitch, and I definately recommend roasting the bone-in chicken breasts as opposed to the boneless, skinless variety. There is a moistness you just can't acheive otherwise. One thing I would like to mention is that Ina's recipe calls for salt in addition to the soy sauce. After reading many reviews on the Food Network site, I opted not to add the salt in order to have a little more control over the taste of the dish. It was certainly a good choice to make. I love salt, but even without the amount called for in the recipe, I was happy with the results and didn't need to add a bit. The vegetables were crisp, the chicken was moist, and the flavor of the dressing was spot-on. Since we were having company, I thought I better make a side dish to go along with the chicken salad. I stumbled upon a recipe for Peanut Butter Noodles over at All Recipes, and it did not disappoint. If you haven't tried udon noodles, it would be worth your time. The texture is interesting and mixed with the peanut butter sauce, quite delicious. The added crunch of the chopped peanuts and scallions gave a nice contrast to the noodles, and we will certainly make this again. A word to the wise: watch how much chile paste you add, as it can turn the heat up very quickly!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

PBJ Bars

We had some company tonight and we all know you can't have company without dessert. Ina's PBJ Bars looked simple, and who doesn't like the combo? They did go together easily; smooshing the topping on was the most labor intensive part. My only complaint was that they were a bit dry, but if you dug milk you would be in business--make mine chocolate!! Oh, and don't you just love it when your company brings along a lovely bunch of flowers?
And in other news: Made a second loaf of no-knead today, and was even happier with the results. I added an additional pinch of salt and let the first rise go for 15 hours. It seemed to make a difference, but the added salt was where I really picked up the flavor. I could totally see myself making this bread weekly and beginning to experiment with some additions such as cheese, garlic, and the likes.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Jim Lahey=Genius!

So maybe I am about three years behind the times, but I just found a really exciting way to make bread. I mean bread that you might actually buy in a store and now you can master it at home! Take note Timm, this post is for you.
The bread I speak of is the brainchild of famed NYC baker Jim Lahey. A few years back Mark Bittman (of NY Times fame) did his weekly Minimalist column with said baker, and the movement began. If you google no-knead bread recipe, you can peruse the internet for hours looking at variations and reviews of this recipe. I suggest you head on over to You Tube (like you don't want to look at silly animal videos, anyway!) and watch the video of Lahey and Bittman making the bread. I use the word making loosely, since there isn't much making involved. It is more like waiting...lots of waiting.
I am so excited about the results and only have a couple of things to add in case you decide to bake your own. First, I would definately add a little more salt. Not a lot, but I think some would surely add a little more flavor. Second, if you don't have a dutch oven, it is OK! You don't need to run out and buy one, because if you have a covered casserole-type pot you will be fine. I used a smashing red Emile Henry number my cha and bro got me a few years back and was really happy with the results. So happy, I am going to start a second loaf tonight.
Since I had this wonderful, crusty bread, I thought it the perfect time to try a recipe I found in the April issue of Southern Living magazine. The cover is devoted to rubbing it in that strawberries are in season as we speak, but hey I have some chives peeking up through the snow-so there! At any rate, the Strawberry Turkey Brie Panini featured on page 126 caught my attention. Instead of buying a jar of red pepper jelly, I simply used some leftover Rhubarb Sauce from last night's meal and since we don't have a panini press, we threw them on the George Foreman. A few minutes later, dinner was served!

Pork with Rhubarb Chipotle Sauce

I have perused many a Williams Sonoma catalog with drool coming off my chin, but I have not previously paid much attention to their website. It is a great tool to find all the cooking gear you lust after and can't afford, but I have also found it to be a good resource for all the tasty recipes they print on the pages of their glossy catalog. That said, I have had some rhubarb in my freezer for some time and found a recipe on the WS that inspired this dish. M picked up some pork loin the other day and we had some bacon in the fridge, so I figured that more pork is always a better, tastier option. I simply seasoned the loin with salt and pepper, wrapped it in bacon, and drizzled with maple syrup. I have learned that with pork, if you remove from the oven a few degrees prior to doneness, cover with foil, and let rest, you have a juicier piece of meat. The rhubarb sauce was quite a good addition to the pork, but I really deviated from the recipe with this. I started with some sauteed onions, added the rhubarb, a little apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and finished it off with a heaping helping of adobo sauce. The adobo added a smoky bite with just the right amount of heat on the finish.
You'll notice that we have been eating a bit of starch with our meats, and last night was no exception. I gained inspiration for the potatoes at the WS site, as well. I often have an aversion to measuring when I am cooking (not baking!!), so I was very loose with the ingredients. I used the Idaho's I had on hand, mashed them with the half-n-half, and added the cheese, butter, and chives. In addition, I threw in a little sour cream and seasoned them with salt and pepper. Into the oven alongside the pork for the last 15 minutes and we had a great meal that finally used up some of the ingredients sitting in our freezer!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Steak and Potatoes

I have watched Giada numerous times on the Food Network, but I have never tried one of her recipes. Typically when the weekly ad for our grocery store debuts, I check the ingredients that are on sale and then search for recipes that feature said ingredients. This past week steak and potatoes were on sale, and since I love red meat, I knew I had to find a new way to prepare steak. Giada's recipe for Filet Mignon with Balsamic Syrup and Goat Cheese came up in my search engine, and those flavors immediately grabbed my attention. No we didn't have the filet, but the less expensive cut of beef we used worked well for the recipe. I also didn't have the full amount of balsamic, so I improvised with raspberry vinegar...also a decent substitution. For a steak cooked on the stove and finished under the broiler, I was impressed. Normally we would only use the grill when beef is involved, but this was a nice alternative on a snowy April night.
As for the potatoes, I simply cut some Idaho's in chunks and layered them-skin side up-on a bed of melted butter, fresh grated parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. I drizzled a little olive oil and a bit more parm on top and baked at 400 degrees until tender. Mmmm! Crispy goodness sprinkled with fresh chives.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Easter Egg Cake Pops

After months of spying on Bakerella's site and drooling over her super-cute cake pops, I decided it was my turn. With Easter coming up, I thought I would give the Easter egg pops a try, and for the most part I was really happy with the way they turned out. Bakerella has detailed instructions on her site, so I won't rehash here, but I will share a couple tips in case you have a go at them.

1. Cake should be chilled until firm, but not frigid! The few I dipped when they were straight out of the freezer caused the candy coating to crack. I guess I could have pretended they were real eggs and appreciated the crack for what it was, but I'm too anal for that.

2. Make sure the candy coating meets the sucker stick and you see no cake. If you see cake, you may just have eggs that look like they are dripping cake, because the candy coating forces it to come out the bottom and ruin all your hard work.

The possibilities with these pops are truly endless, and that darn Bakerella just keeps cranking out one idea after the next. If you haven't ventured over to her site, now is the time!

Friday, April 3, 2009


Problem: Once again, we here in Michigan have been fooled by Mother Nature. Yesterday she brought us temps in the mid 60's and today we are back to the frigid, windy garbage we have lived with all Winter.

Solution: Fix Emeril's cabbage roll recipe to warm your tummy and transport you back to Grandma's kitchen when you were but knee-high to a grasshopper. OK, so my Grandma isn't polish, but maybe yours is??

The only change I made was to puree the sauce slightly with my stick blender since Matt isn't big on tomato chunks. Although it is a very time consuming recipe with lots of prep work, the result is a hearty dish that is very satisfying on a cold day. And you know what I say to that? BAM!

*Note: If you want a tangy compliment to the cabbage rolls, serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Yummy, Yummy, Yummy I Have Cake In My Tummy

In case you haven't noticed, I surf the internet for recipes often. I stumbled upon a gem for a flourless chocolate cake and after reading the description, I was compelled to make it as soon as I possibly could. I actually started it last night and let it set up without the ganache overnight. This morning I got to work on the topping and threw it into the fridge to set up. The ganache sets up quickly and as you can see, I put a piece on top so you could the the interior. That piece was promptly eaten and let me tell you, if this cake was a song, it would be named You Make My Dreams (Come True). Hall and Oates weren't talking about just any 80's hussy. No, they were speaking of this smooth piece of dark chocolate that makes makes your mouth water and come back for more. And, thanks to Tish Boyle my dreams have come true!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Not Your Mom's Spaghetti!

We love goat cheese. I mean even our cat loves goat cheese. So, in trying to find a clever way to use it in a main dish, I stumbled upon an idea on the internet that used mushrooms, caramelized onions, goat cheese, and basil. Sounded like a tasty way to pull a pasta dish together, and boy was it ever! We used our favorite baby bella mushrooms to add a nice woody flavor and we got some brightness out of the fresh basil. As for the caramelized onions, you just can't go wrong when serving them. If you have never tried to fix them, you should. It is a simple preparation that yields fantastic results. Throw said ingredients together, season with salt and pepper, and you've got a meal to be proud of!

1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 T. sugar
2 T. butter
3 T. olive oil
12 oz. pasta (we used spaghetti--we had it on hand)
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
2 T. fresh chopped basil
4 oz. goat cheese
4 T. grated parmesan cheese (more if you like)
salt and pepper to taste

Melt 1 T. butter and 1T. oil and stir in the sugar and some salt to taste. Add onions and cook over medium heat until they are a nice brown color. This will take quite some time, so be patient. After onions are done, remove from pan and use the same pan to saute the mushrooms with remaining butter and oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
In the meantime, cook pasta according to package, drain and add mushroom mixture along with the caramelized onions, basil, parmesan, and goat cheese. Toss to combine and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lemon Scones

Although we are having leftovers for dinner tonight, I thought lemon scones would be a nice compliment to the meal. I had all the ingredients on hand, so that was a bonus. The result was a light, tart scone that was moist...even for a scone. I have tried my hand at scones in the past, and I think I have finally, through lots of trial and error, figured out that the less you handle the dough, the better.
Lemon Cream Scones
adapted from Morning Menus Inn Style
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. baking powder
2 c. flour
3 T. fresh grated lemon zest
1 1/4 c. whipping cream
1 egg white mixed with 1 T. water

Mix together all dry ingredients, including lemon zest. Add cream, stirring quickly to moisten dry ingredients. Dough should be soft. Sometimes and extra tablespoon or two of cream needs to be added. Knead on a lightly floured surface 6-8 times, until dough is smooth. Divide dough and pat into three circles about an inch thick and then cut into quarters. Brush with egg white mixture and bake at 425 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown.

**Note: I made a powdered sugar glaze to drizzle over the top of the warm scones.