Saturday, May 30, 2009

Graduation Cakes

OK, definitely not my best photography work here, but I wanted to get these pics up without having to move the cakes around a great deal. I made these for a friend whose son is graduating from high school and will be attending MSU this fall. I used the Sprinkles Vanilla Buttercream recipe and liked the taste much better than any other I have made to date. There is no Crisco, so it has a better texture and the clean up is a breeze. Maybe not the best to have outdoors on a blistering summer day, but certainly a winner in the taste category.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Briney Chicken

Usually Matt does the grilling around here, but I thought it was high time I tried my hand with some bone-in chicken. Although we do use boneless-skinless most of the time, we feel you just can't beat the flavor and moistness the bone-in variety offers.
I set out to find a good recipe for the chicken and had to look no further than Cooks Illustrated. They suggested a brine of salt and water to get the chicken started, and thinking back to the way my Dad cooks his Thanksgiving turkey, I knew it would be the way to go. The breasts were submerged in the mixture and rested in the fridge for an hour before I fired up the grill. Mainly, CI suggests that you hit the breasts with high heat and then cook them low-n-slow until you hit it with the glaze.
In the meantime, I was looking for a tasty glaze to add near the end of the grilling process. I happened to find a recipe for Amazing Jerked Honey Rum Glaze, and one airplane bottle of dark rum later, I was in business. I'm no expert, but I believe the honey really helped form a nice crust on the skin, while all the spices in the jerk seasoning provided the spiciness needed to counteract the sweetness of the honey and rum.
From now on, I will most certainly brine the meat to achieve a flavorful chicken with plenty of texture to boot.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Crispy Tacos Picadillo & Fresh Salsa

Although I really enjoy looking through the glossy pages of the Martha Stewart Living magazine, I have to admit it is rare that I make one of her dishes. I have had good success with a few of them over the years, but sometimes the daunting list of ingredients forces me in a different direction.
However, in the recent issue, I was drawn to the Crispy Tacos Picadillo. This recipe called for homemade taco shells, so we decided to give it a go. I normally am not at all interested in frying in the kitchen, but I threw caution to the wind and despite the fact that I need another shower because of my oily stench, I was happy we went through with it. Since the package of corn tortillas had many more than we would use, we decided some chips would be the perfect solution. I must say the chips turned out fabulously. Matt did most of the frying and he just added a sprinkle of kosher salt after he transferred them to the paper towel to drain. The taco shells were a different story all together. For the amount of work that went into the shells, the result was mediocre in our opinion. I will say neither one of us has much frying experience under our belts, but the shells were too greasy and limp in no time flat. Because of this, we decided that next time around we will fry the chips and make nachos. Crisis averted!
We scoured the internet for a good tomato salsa recipe and thanks to Cha and T, we found it with our new online subscription to Cooks Illustrated. I can't post a link to the recipe because you need to be a member, but I will give a list of the ingredients:
vine-ripe tomatoes
red onion
lime juice

This, for me, was the highlight of the meal. It had a little kick of heat, but not so much that it overpowered the salsa. It was a fresh accompaniment to the tacos and delicious along with the homemade tortilla chips.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lemony Snickets!!

It has been such a beautiful weekend! The sun was shining, the wind was warm, and the breeze smelled like the summer was coming. What a wonderful time to make something springy and fresh! That is why I picked the Baked Lemon Pasta from Pioneer Woman. It looked like the perfect dish for the nice warm spring day that we had today.
Although pasta dishes are very filling, this dish seemed to to be "lighter" than the normal spaghetti and meatballs or fettuccine alfredo plate. The lemon seemed to compliment not only the thin spaghetti, but also worked well with the parmesan cheese. It gave you the feeling that you were having a nice brisk lunch in the cafe down the street in late spring.
We had some zucchini left over and decided to slice it up thin and put it in the dish. The best part is that your imagination can run wild and come up with a dozen different ideas to perk this up to your own taste and more than likely, all of them would be wonderful. My husband, who has the idea that pasta without a sauce or dressing on it is going to taste bland, was pleasantly surprised with this dish. He went back for seconds and said that he was looking forward to his leftover lunch tomorrow. When Bubba heads back for a second helping, you know something went right.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

There's a Fungus Among us!

After many, many hours of foraging in the woods in several different towns, we had come up short of finding any morels this year. We really thought we knew just where to look, but again and again we emerged defeated. Then, on a brief hiatus from rock band, our good friends Timm and Faith came down for a visit. When they arrived we again lamented how the precious fungus had foiled us and unless we wanted to shuck out 40 dollars for a measly pound, we should simply throw in the towel until next year. It was around this time that Timm mentioned he had brought along some treats that we could use for our culinary ventures over the weekend. He pulled a small cotainer (that's for you , Timm) out of the fridge and you can imagine my look of surprise when I saw those elusive suckers hiding beneath the lid. It just so happened that Timm's Aunt had them growing in her yard of all places and she was generous enough to share a few with him, and in turn, us.

We had all decided that pork was on the menu for the night and after a few stops at local stores, we decided on a 4 lb loin. The morels went into a sauce with salt, pepper, butter and cream and made for a delicious topping of the pig.

I imagined every bite of the morel sauce as it were my last on earth. Seeing as how the morel has such a short(and elusive) season, you almost have to relish every last morsel. If we had the funds, we would have these mushrooms flown in from all over the earth to have them on top of our steaks, our pork, our chicken, our pasta, our asparagus, well, I think you get the picture. But with a price tag of $40-$50/lb, we will remember the woody and wild flavor until next year when we are lucky enough to stumble across a patch under a dead elm tree, or have friends who are willing to share. Either way, we are happy that we had the chance to dine on these beautiful specimens and will wait patiently until next year when we can don our hip boots and walk through the muck searching for this tasty treat.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Traverse City Chicken

As previously mentioned, my sister and BFF Cha, was generous enough to share this recipe with us. Although she has strayed a bit from her Southwest roots with this dish, I am sure it will not disappoint. Maybe in the near future my rad brother-in-law will share his famous cheesecake with us. Until then, thanks for sharing, Cha!

My recipe for Cherry Chicken comes from the Record Eagle newspaper, but it originated with a friend of my parents named Judy LaCross. She is the wife of a local cherry farmer and apparently she is also quite a cook. Cherry Chicken is easy to throw together, but somehow it seems more special than your standard chicken breast. While I have only made it for my husband and I, I could totally envision serving this to guests with rave reviews. As you can see from my picture below, we enjoyed the Cherry Chicken on a bed of wild rice accompanied by a spinach salad with fresh strawberries, goat cheese, slivered almonds, and a vinaigrette. Props go to Stone House bread for the delicious North Country 2-grain sourdough bread that rounded out the meal.

So, if you've never been to the cherry capital, I'd encourage you to do so. There is so much to offer from the breathtaking natural beauty to the up-and-coming foodie scene (amazing restaurants and wineries) to the thriving local arts communities. It truly is a year around playground and I'm proud to call it home. And did I mention the cherries?! :)

Cherry Chicken

2 lbs chicken breasts
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
3 tbsp cherry jam
4 tbsp white wine or cherry vinegar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup dried cherries

Melt butter in a skillet. Cook chicken breasts on each side to brown. Add onion and cook 10-15 minutes or until chicken is tender and cooked through. Be careful not to scorch! Remove chicken from skillet and keep warm.

Add jam and vinegar to skillet. Cook slowly and stir. Boil 1-2 minutes. Slowly add cream, stirring constantly on medium heat until hot but not boiling. Add dried cherries.

Serve with wild rice, salad, and bread (or whatever tickles your fancy!).

Sooo Meaty!

Knees blurred...concentration disrupted. No, I'm not swooning over my poster of Captain Jack Sparrow, I just devoured Marlboro Man's Favorite Sandwich, courtesy of The Pioneer Woman. I have honestly never had a sandwich quite like it. From the buttery bun to the perfectly seasoned meat and onion concoction, this recipe is to sandwiches what Stevie Ray Vaughn is to guitar lovers. Seriously...if you do one thing for the meat loving man in your life, make him this sandwich! He will fall to his knees and sing your praises, or at least do the dishes for you:)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sistah Sausage

Don't you just love and easy, delicious dish that you can throw together in no time? Tonight's dinner was Sausage Pasta and it certainly fit that criteria. We have only had this dish a handful of times, but I was reminded tonight that it needs to go in the regular rotation. My sister happened to give us this recipe and if I'm not mistaken it came from an old issue of Everyday Food. I did try to search their website for it to give credit, but to no avail. I guess I just have Cha to thank for this one! Speaking of her, readers can look forward to her guest blog on Wednesday. She will expertly be whipping up some Cherry Chicken to share with us. An homage to Northern Michigan and The Answer Man, I'm sure.

Sausage Pasta

1 lb. Italian sausage
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 lb. bow tie pasta, cooked
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 c. plus 2 T. olive oil
Heat 2 T. olive oil in a large pan. Add sausage and cook until done. Add bell pepper and cook 3-4 minutes. Add cooked pasta and the rest of the ingredients and stir.

*Note: I added the garlic with the red pepper since we are not big fans of raw-ish garlic.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I'm Officially Smitten

That is, with the blog Smitten Kitchen. I stalk visit the website on a regular basis and I am consistently amazed by Deb's ability to not only cook and bake, but also photograph her food in such a beautiful way. Until yesterday I had not actually tried one of her recipes, but now I am so glad I did! Those pictures had been teasing me long enough.
We have recently been trying to be better about not wasting food and since we had some squash in the freezer and it was quite cool, we thought the Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette would fit the bill.
Unfortunately, (or so I thought) I only had mashed squash on hand, but I figured I could roll with it baby. I proceeded to make the pastry dough without any modifications, but after that, I strayed quite a bit.
My version of the squash filling consisted of the following:
*note: Someday I will get my act together and actually write down measurements:)

-mashed squash (souped up with brown sugar, butter, salt, and pepper)
-caramelized onions
-goat cheese
-grated parmesan reggiano
-toasted pecans
We both loved this dish and served it with some fresh mesclun greens tossed in a lemon balsamic vinaigrette. We will definately be stalking visiting Deb's site for fabulous recipes in the future.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mother Week Wrap-Up

The last installment of Mother Week happens to be a delicious zucchini chocolate chip cookie from my Grandma Arlene. As I mentioned earlier, I was fortunate enough to live in the same town as both sets of Grandparents, and actually right next door to Grandma Arlene and Grandpa Sid. Grandma and Grandpa were both well known cooks, but Grandma Arlene always had a special knack for baking. From her homemade white bread to her delicious cookies, you could always count on Grandma to warm your soul with her sweet treats. When deciding on what to make out of Grandma's arsenal of baked goods, I remembered back in the day when my sister and I would wait until Grandma and Grandpa pulled out of their driveway so we could run over to their house and sneak these cookies out of her big Tupperware cookie bin. As I stood in the kitchen and smelled the first batch as they began to brown, I was taken back to Grandma's house where I not only remembered the special times with my Grandparent's but all the scheming that we used to do on Sunset Drive.

Grandma Arlene's Zucchini Cookies

1 cup grated zucchini
1 tsp soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Mix the zucchini, soda, sugar, shortening and egg until light and fluffy. Sift the flour, cinnamon, cloves, and salt; add to the zucchini mixture. Add nuts and chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoons on greased pan. Bake at 375 degrees until they start to brown, 12-15 minutes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers Backtracking

*Please note: the last installment of Mother Week will be posted tomorrow*

It's time for another Barefoot recipe, but Matt and I were not looking forward to the Tuna Salad. We have tried tuna and had it prepared many different ways, but unless it comes out of the Starkist pouch, we are not interested. And then, like angels singing a sweet chorus, Tara announced the Barefoot Backtracking feature and the California Grilled Pizzas were a done deal. I have been pizza dough from scratch previously, but never achieved a result I was happy with until today. Ina's dough was easy with the help of my trusty Kitchen Aid, and unlike other dough I have made, went together and was ready to use in no time. We ended up using three of the dough balls for dinner and the remaining three went straight to the freezer. Since we used three, I chose toppings for one, Matt for the next, and both of us decided on the third. Here is the breakdown:
C's Pizza
-roasted garlic
-goat cheese
-arugula tossed with a lemon/balsamic viniagrette

M's Pizza
-red sauce
-red pepper
-sharp cheddar

-red sauce
-green pepper
-sharp cheddar

Ok, so we didn't really choose 8 of Ina's toppings, but this worked for the ingredients we had on hand. For once we didn't even have to make a run to the store, for which I'm sure Matt was thankful! I have poo-pooed homemade pizza for years, and until my friend Timm showed me the way and I found this dough recipe from Ina, my choices for pizza consisted of the Hut, and the occassional taste treat from our local brewery. However, now that my eyes have been opened, the possibilities are truly endless and I am sure the dough will be thawing in no time!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mother Week Continued--The Corner Cafe

The fourth installment of Mother Week features a favorite recipe from my Grandma Sis, a.k.a. Sissy. I debated for some time over what recipe to use, but ultimately decided that her decadent Heath Bars would fit the bill. Sissy has been making them for years and they are a no fail treat that I always request when she has us for a meal--that and boiled dinner, but somehow that didn't seem like a good thing to make post St. Patrick's Day. As a child I spent a great deal of time with all of my grandparents since we all lived within a 3 mile radius. I am forever grateful for that time and can't imagine how different my life would be without having the impact of their love and kindness within such a short distance. When I think of the memories I made and continue to make with my Sissy, I immediately am reminded of what an amazing woman she is. Growing up with three brothers, Sissy grew a thick skin and is one of the strongest ladies I know. I watched her, with grace, care for my grandfather throughout his battle with Alzheimer's and was touched by her selfless example of love. And now, in her 89th year, I still watch in amazement at how active she is. We are so lucky to have you!! So Sissy, thank you for everything from taking me to the "city", to having sleepovers, to letting me play with your arms in church. The memories you have given me make me smile every day!

**I will post a picture once the bars have set up**

Heath Bars

1 c. Imperial margarine
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. chopped pecans
1 package graham crackers
1 bag milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil. Meanwhile, line a 9 x 13 glass pan with graham crackers. Once mixture comes to a boil, pour over graham crackers and bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Allow to melt and then spread gently.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Mother of a Week Continued

Another night guest blogging and I find myself reminiscing about the old days of summer. Both of these recipes were dishes that I would not touch with a ten foot pole when I was a child. When it came to food, I was more into the simple things in life. Hamburgers, chicken cheese nuggets, Banquet pot pies, you know, the things that a normal 12 year old boy loves to eat. I would sit at the dining room table on Sunday afternoon in the summer months and both the baked beans and the potato salad would normally be on the menu. When my grandparents or my sister or dad would pass the corning ware dishes my way for a helping, I would turn my nose and politely pass them on to the next person. My parents and grandparents would always shake their heads and say that I was missing out on the good things in life.

Eventually, my tastes grew up and I found that there were few things in life that I did not like. From baked beans to potato salad to calf sweetbreads, there was nothing that I wouldn't try and more than often nothing that I didn't like. The beans and the potato salad were staples for our family during the summer months on a lazy summer day. I did my best to recreate the recipes although I still don't think I did them justice.

A funny anecdote about the beans: My mother and father have been married for over 43 years and started dating when they were in their early teens. When my father first started coming around to my mom's family home, my grandma would occasionally serve the baked beans. My dad, always the polite one, would say, "No thank you," and pass the dish to the right. My grandma would always ask my dad, "If you've never had these beans before, how do you know you don't like them? Just take a spoonful Mike." My dad would and over time he grew to love these beans . These days, he is taking two helpings of these beans.

My mom has jazzed these beans up a bit over time but they continue to be a very simplistic recipe. They are as follows:

Baked Beans

2 C navy beans
Sort through navy beans then cover with cold water and let soak overnight.
Next morning rinse beans well and put into slow cooker and add:
1 medium sized onion - chopped fine
3/4 - 1 C brown sugar
1 tsp dry mustard
Salt - probably 1 good tsp full
Cover with water - probably 1-1/2" above bean mixture.
Turn cooker on high and let cook all day. Beans are done when you can easily mush bean with a fork.
Put cooked beans into a greased casserole dish and place a couple of slices of bacon on top. Bake the beans at 325 - 350 for a couple of hours. You can double the recipe and freeze the cooked beans to bake later.

Potato Salad

Not much of a real recipe to this one. Start with 4 potatoes and 8 eggs. Boil tater until starting to get soft but not cooked through the whole way. Boil the eggs until done. Chop both the eggs and taters into fine pieces. Chop 1 medium onion fine and add to bowl with taters and eggs. In a separate bowl add 1 cup of Miracle Whip and add milk until the consistency of the mix is easily pourable. Add to potato, egg, and onion mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.

These recipes are both continued works that change each time we make them. Depending on the feel of the day or the group of people we have over, the dishes can be different works of art every time. I must say that my mom has these dishes down better than anyone. No matter how many times I attempt to recreate these, they are never the same. I guess there is something to be said about a mothers touch. My mother has always been a special part of my life and she has always been there for me. I hope that I can be as good a cook as her someday. I love you mom!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Grandma's Muffins

**For installment number two of Mother Week, I turn the blog over to my husband Matt so he can share a special recipe from Grandma Grieta.

As the guest blogger this week, my first post will be on Grandma Elenbaas' oatmeal muffins. These were a favorite of grandma's later in life when she was living on her own at the Pine Villa apartments. Grandma, who had always cooked for a crowd, now found herself cooking for 1 and this recipe allowed her to make some delicious muffins that she could enjoy for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. She became quite famous for these treats at the apartment complex where she lived and they became quite a requested favorite of her friends who came to play cards and visit. She also made these a few times for a bakesale and always seemed to sell out quite early. This was a hard pick for me because I have so many wonderful memories of food and my grandmother. From the cheese sandwiches I would have for lunch as a child to the "onionless" meatloaf my grandma would make especially for her fussy eating grandson, the recipes would be endless. Grandma would be proud to see her muffin recipe on the blog.

Grandma's Oatmeal Muffins
*yields 12 muffins

1 c. quick cooking oatmeal
1 c. buttermilk plus 1 T.
1/3 stick of margarine, softened
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg, beaten with a fork
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
dash salt
1 c. flour
3/4 c. raisins (we used dried cherries)
chopped nuts if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine oatmeal and buttermilk and set aside while preparing the rest of the mixture. Cream the margarine, sugar, and egg. Sift together baking powder, soda, salt, and flour and add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the oatmeal mixture until combined and add the raisins and nuts. Scoop into muffin cups and bake for 10 minutes.

One Mother of a Week

I want to take a moment to thank the mothers and grandmothers that have touched my life, so what better way to do that than to have a week full of recipes that remind me of them?!
The first installment of this series belongs to my mom. She is truly the inspiration behind my love of all things food. Growing up with a mother like her taught me the passion, attention to detail, patience, and creativity required for success in the kitchen. There are so many recipes I could have chosen, but her chicken salad happened to be the first that came to mind. The base recipe was originally used at my mom's wedding shower by Gert, a special family friend. Over the years my mom made it her own with the addition of whipping cream and several of the fruits and veggies. Not only does this salad scream Spring to me, it also fills me with warm memories of my mom in her little yellow kitchen up to her elbows in tasty creations for the latest coffee hour at church or a special delivery for an elderly friend who needed a pick-me-up. So, thank you mom, for showing me that by making a homemade treat for someone you care about you not only lift their spirits, but also give yourself a good feeling by sharing your talent with them. Hats off to you mom, the world is a better place with you in it!

Mom's Chicken Salad
**There is no real recipe for this, but the whipping cream is a must! I have only listed ingredients, amounts are always evolving:)

macaroni elbows
sweet pickles
green onion
slivered almonds
hard boiled eggs
whipped cream
Hellmann's real mayonnaise
candied sliced almonds

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cumin Chicken Salad

Several years ago my mom and I went to visit an aunt to learn how to make her amazing oatmeal bread. Although I haven't made it since, I did come away from that day with another recipe that has stayed in our menu rotation. Ever the hostess, my aunt threw together this salad even though we weren't expecting to stay for lunch, and I am glad she did! The recipe originally came from Cooking Light magazine, but I can't give you the exact issue since a recipe card is all I have to follow. This is certainly a healthy version of chicken salad that could have many variations. We always use kidney beans, but black beans would give a nice color contrast. I also add a bit more hot sauce and a pinch more salt for our taste.

Cumin Chicken Salad
Cooking Light via Aunt Margaret
2 c. cooked pasta (1 c. uncooked)
1 1/2 c. cooked chicken
1 c. red pepper
1 c. shredded yellow squash
1/2 c. carrots
1/2 c. green onion
1/2 c. corn (I don't cook it, just cut it right off the cob)
1/2 c. green peas, thawed
15 oz. beans, drained

Combine the above ingredients and set aside.

For the dressing:
1/4 c. rice vinegar
3 T. olive oil
2 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. hot sauce (I use Tabasco)

Whisk together above ingredients and toss with salad mixture.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Kabob-less Kabobs

While we were at the market the other day, we were inspired by all the fresh (and some local) produce. This means lots of fruits and veggies this week! Tonight as Matt was throwing some chicken and veggies together for kabobs he realized we didn't have any skewers. Since we really didn't want to run to the store, we decided to cook the meat and veggies on a foil "pan" on the grill and they turned out really well. They were also easier to eat and took less time to prepare as a result. I did roast the asparagus in the oven with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper, and it was amazing. This is the first Michigan asparagus we have had this year and we can't wait to make more!!
As Matt was slaving over the grill, I stirred together a really tasty rice dish that I believe would be a real crowd pleaser. I found it over at Our Best Bites and I followed it nearly to a tee. The only thing I did differently was to add less cilantro than recommended and use fresh chopped pineapple instead of the canned. We both agree that cilantro can be a little overpowering, so I think I only added about 1/4 c. when it was said and done.

Lime-Cilantro Rice with Pineapple

Like I said, you really can just make this to taste, but here’s the basics.

1 cup dry white rice, cooked
2 T real butter
Juice from 1 large lime, or two smaller ones (taste as you go, I add a lot!)
1 C pineapple tidbits, drained
½ - ¾ C chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook rice. As soon as it’s done, toss in the butter and stir to melt. Add lime juice, pineapple, and cilantro. Stir to combine, and then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

* You’ll want to serve this right away, if you don’t, the flavors tend to mellow a bit and you’ll probably need to add more lime juice because the rice kind of sucks it up. If you’re not quite ready to eat when your rice finishes cooking, just toss in the butter and keep a lid on it so it stays warm. Then right before you serve it, toss it all together.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

We love any excuse to eat Mexican food, so we figured that Cinco de Mayo would be a great day to pull out our favorite fish taco recipe. We were going to use tilapia, but settled on cod since the store didn't have any available. Matt took care of marinating the fish and I went to work on the chipotle lime cilantro sauce. Neither one of us measured a thing, and I frankly don't remember if they were even the same ingredients we used last time, but these babies were tasty. It doesn't hurt that our local farmer market had lots of the ingredients on sale, either!

Before we started on dinner, I was finishing up a little project for a friend who just announce she was pregnant. I have been wanting to use the sugar cookie recipe from Ashlee, and now was my chance. They were delicious and are now my go-to recipe when I need to make iced sugar cookies. I used a simple royal icing and although it was not the Wilton one I have previously used, the results were great and I think I liked the taste better.