Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bran Muffins

 I decided to make bran muffins so my husband would have something reasonably healthy to take to work for breakfast.  Originally I was going to make a recipe from AllRecipes, but there was a recipe on the bag of wheat bran (Bob's Red Mill brand, I found it in the organics section rather than the breakfast or baking section) so I just went with that!  Of course I ended up changing it slightly because I didn't have honey (or at least not honey I was willing to sacrifice to muffins- I do not use the $20 a pound raw local honey from the farmer's market for cooking!) and I left out the raisins but added more salt in an attempt to make a somewhat savory muffin.  Anyway, they turned out GREAT.  I mean, really good.  We just finished the last of them this morning and they were still perfect after spending the past week in the fridge.  They're flavorful, soft, moist, and a tiny bit sweet, but not dessert like.  Bran muffins sound like an odd thing to get excited about, but these are just so good.  They actually remind me of a nice honey wheat bread.  Great spread with a little butter, jam, or apple butter.  We had them for breakfast several days, but I also heated some up to go with dinner a couple of nights, because why not?  Most definitely a repeat!

Bran Muffins

1 1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 C wheat bran
1/2 C brown sugar
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 C raisins (optional- reduce salt to 1/4 t if you use them)
1 egg
2 T vegetable oil
1 1/4 C milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a muffin tin.  Stir together dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  In a small bowl, beat egg lightly.  Stir in oil and milk.  Add mixture to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened.  Batter will be quite thick.  Spoon into prepared muffin tin and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 15 minutes.

Yield: 12 muffins

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Shrimp Scampi

 My husband is completely crazy about shrimp.  He might like it even more than dessert!  His mom likes to tell the story of when they took him to a restaurant as a one year old and he scarfed down more shrimp than everyone else in the family.  Sadly, I don't cook shrimp all that often because I absolutely hate cleaning it, but today we saw easy peel shrimp on sale at the store and I decided to give it a try.  With a pair of rubber gloves to shield me from the horror, pulling off the shells wasn't bad at all!  My husband rejoices since this probably means shrimp more often!

Anyway, when I saw the shrimp I immediately thought of this recipe.  The first time I made Shrimp Scampi was the day after Christmas of 2006 when my husband (then boyfriend) flew down to Washington to meet my family for the first time.  We went snowboarding with my brother and cousin that day, then I made this for dinner since he loves pasta almost as much as he loves shrimp.  It was completely delicious and a great end to a very busy and wonderful day.  This recipe (tweaked from this AllRecipes recipe) is really easy and quick to make, but it always seems really special when I make it.

I should mention that this is not a really strong tasting pasta dish.  The flavors all work together perfectly- the wine, parmesan, shrimp, butter, pepper, and parsley truly turn into something magical- but the flavors are not as bold as those found in some Shrimp Scampis I've had at restaurants.  If you want to punch it up, at the end you could add things like lemon juice, diced fresh tomato, and red pepper flakes.  Mind you, I've never made it that way because we love it as is, but I am certain it would be delicious.

Quick note:  On AllRecipes, a lot of the reviewers complained that the wine in this recipe is overpowering.  I've always made it with the full amount and we've never found the wine overpowering, but if you're sensitive to that kind of thing, you may want to use 3/4 C.  I'd imagine a big part of it is the type of wine used.  So far I've always ended up using an inexpensive white wine (tonight was a cheap pinot grigio) but a good quality wine probably tastes stronger.  Use your own judgment!

Shrimp Scampi

2  8 oz packages fresh linguine (the kind sold in the refrigerated section of the store OR homemade)
6 T butter
1 lb peeled and cleaned shrimp
4 cloves minced garlic
3/4 to 1 C white wine
 salt to taste (I use 1/2 t)
1/4 t pepper (freshly ground is best)
3 oz by weight freshly grated parmesan cheese, 1 oz set aside
3 T minced fresh parsley

Cook linguine in lightly salted water while you make the scampi.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add shrimp and garlic, and cook just until shrimp is pink on both sides.  Add wine and let simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to cook off some of the alcohol.  Stir in salt and pepper.  Add drained linguine and toss thoroughly to coat.  It will look very runny, but don't fear!  Stir in 2 oz of the cheese and all of the parsley.  The melted parmesan will thicken it up perfectly.  Serve with the rest of the parmesan to sprinkle on top.

Yield: 5 servings

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

This is my 100th post on this blog! Just thought I should mention that. In honor of the big milestone, I'm sharing the recipe for Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches, which comes from AllRecipes. Okay, I was going to share the recipe today anyway since it's what I made for dinner and it just happened to be the 100th post. The recipe really IS very good though and totally deserves some sort of accolade. It's super easy to make (3 ingredients plus bread and condiments of your choice!) and is really, really good if you're like us and love buffalo chicken anything. It's great served with fruit like melon or mango and a salad to cool things down a bit. I suppose you could also serve it with celery sticks if you're into that sort of thing (which we most definitely are not). The chicken is fantastic on pizza (post probably coming soon!), and it freezes well so you can toss some leftovers in the freezer for an emergency dinner later on :)

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

3/4 C buffalo wing sauce (I use Frank's Red Hot Wings Sauce, yum yum)
1 packet (1 oz) dry ranch dressing mix
1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
buns of your choice
toppings like ranch or blue cheese dressing or cheese

In the crock of a 2 or 4 quart slow cooker, stir together sauce and ranch mix. Add chicken and stir to coat. Cover and cook on low until chicken is cooked through, about 6 hours (depends on your slow cooker). Shred meat and serve on toasted buns with desired toppings.

Yield: about 8 sandwiches

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Red Velvet Cookie Sandwiches

Red velvet everything seems to be very popular in the food blogging world right now, as do cookie sandwiches/whoopie pies. This recipe is a combination of both those things! But I insist this particular recipe is for cookie sandwiches rather than whoopie pies because the cookie part is definitely cookie-like rather than cake-like, and cake-like cookies seem to be the signature of whoopie pies. Plus I hate the word "whoopie" and refuse to have anything on my blog with that name. It pains me just to type the word out, but I will for the sake of accuracy and not confusing any poor readers.

Also, look, it's another recipe using processed, pre-packaged ingredients! While I do prefer to make things from scratch much of the time, some packaged items do have their place in my kitchen. To paraphrase what Christy from Southern Plate says, the cake mix you bought was just a bag of powder until you mixed it up and baked it into a lovely cake so you can still say it was home made :D In this particular instance, I ended up buying a cake mix, canned frosting, and marshmallow fluff for two reasons: 1) I didn't know I was going to be making this until I saw the box of cake mix at the store and a picture of the recipe (but not the ingredients or directions) on the back and had to guess at what the other ingredients would be, and 2) Last time I made a similar recipe, the cookie part was really gross and blah and dry and tasteless except for the taste of salt. I made those cookies way back in 2003 but still remember how icky the cookie part was. Additionally, red velvet cake is a really hard one to get to taste good if you make it from scratch so I thought I'd hedge my bets and go with the mix I had in my hand rather than face a doubly whammy of nasty cookie-ness.

I think these cookies turned out really well, though I naturally deviated from the original recipe (made the cookies differently and the filling differently). They taste exactly like the type of cookie sandwiches my mom used to buy me occasionally from the Mrs. Fields bakery at the mall when I was a kid. Delicious! The filling is surprisingly good and manages not to taste particularly like canned frosting OR marshmallow fluff (normally I don't really like marshmallows), but it's super creamy and perfect. The cookie part is a little chewy with a hint of chocolate flavor. The textures and flavors of the filling and cookies work together fantastically.

If you feel so inclined, however, there are a couple things you could tinker with. First, you could use a can of cream cheese frosting in the filling mixture instead of vanilla. Had I known I would be making a dessert and had more than 30 seconds to grab my ingredients at the store, I would have probably got the cream cheese frosting since that goes with red velvet cake. Second, if you want to use a somewhat more homemade filling, try the one from this recipe that I mentioned above. Stay far, far away from the cookie recipe, but the filling was really good as I remember. And third, if you want a more cake-like cookie (like in a whoopie pie), you could try to mix up the batter according to the box but leave out some water so you have a very thick batter and drop the batter by small spoonfuls on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Please note that I have NOT done this yet, but I think it would turn out well and next time we have a hankering for these cookies I will try it, then update this post!

Quick note: Don't judge the cookies by how they taste right after you make them into sandwiches. The cookie part will be a little crunchy and the filling part will be really soft and blork out the sides when you take a bite. The flavors won't be perfectly matched and if you're anything like me, you'll be a little disappointed. But don't despair! Make all the sandwiches, put them in a single layer (this is important so the filling in the lower sandwiches doesn't squish out!) in a container, cover, and try them again the next day. The cookies will have magically softened, the filling will have firmed up a bit (to the point you can touch the side without it sticking to your finger and the sandwich will be easier to eat), and the flavors will have mellowed and melded. YUM!

Red Velvet Cookie Sandwiches

1/2 C butter
1 t vanilla extract
1 egg
1 box Duncan Hines Red Velvet Cake Mix (I specify the brand only because brands vary greatly)
about 2 T sugar

1 C canned vanilla frosting
1 C marshmallow fluff

For Cookies: Preheat oven to 350 and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Place butter in a large microwave safe bowl and microwave until melted, about 1 minute. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then stir in vanilla extract and egg until mostly smooth, then stir in cake mix until well combined. Place sugar in a small bowl. Roll a small piece of dough into a ball the size of a cherry, then place the ball in the sugar so only half of it is sugared. Place the ball sugar side up on a baking sheet and press flat with the bottom of a glass to make a 1/3 inch tall disk. The sugar will keep the dough from sticking to the glass. Repeat with remaining dough, placing balls 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake until cookies are just set when you press them, 8 to 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets until they firm up, then allow them to continue cooling on a cooling wrack.

For Filling: Stir together frosting and marshmallow fluff until thoroughly combined. Spread desired amount on the bottom of a cooled cookie, top with another cookie, and repeat until you have lots of little sandwiches. Cookies can be stored in a single layer at room temperature or refrigerated. For best flavor and texture, let the cookies rest for 24 hours before you devour them.

Yield: about 18 cookie sandwiches

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jell-o Fruit Mousse

I'm not a big Jell-o fan and never have been. The wobbly weirdness just doesn't appeal to me. However, I saw this recipe on Our Best Bites on Saturday night and decided it would be the perfect Easter dessert, in part because I already had all the ingredients and in part because I prefer light, fruity desserts for Easter since we generally spend the day loading up on chocolate bunnies and peanut butter eggs. Last year I made a Pavlova topped with fresh fruit and it was wonderful but decided to try this mousse recipe instead :) Good choice because we both really liked it!

If you don't really care for the texture of Jell-o, I suggest trying this recipe because it's not like regular Jell-o at all. It's airy, fluffy, kind of foamy, and fruity. I used pineapple Jell-o but any flavor would work. Next time we want to try raspberry!

You can head on over to Our Best Bites (link above) if you want to see what the fruit mousse looks like. It's really very pretty if you have pretty little individual serving dishes to pour the mixture into, but I don't have those and it's considerably less pretty when scooped out of a big serving bowl and plopped into a little bowl, which is of course how I had to serve it. I did not top the mousse with Cool Whip because I made a double batch and used up all the Cool Whip, and I also didn't make the orange cream topping in the original recipe, but the mousse was great on its own.

Quick note: I doubled the recipe. If you do this, I suggest you blend the hot Jell-o mixture, cream cheese, and cold water in 2 separate batches, combine them in a bowl, and whisk in the Cool Whip. I did manage to fit all of the hot Jell-o mixture, cream cheese, and cold water in my blender, but it came very close to over flowing and I needed to stir in the Cool Whip by hand.

Jell-o Fruit Mousse

1 C boiling water
3 oz box Jell-o
1/2 C cold water
1/2 brick cream cheese (4 oz)
1/2 of an 8 oz tub Cool Whip

Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan and stir in Jell-o until dissolved. Add half the cold water to cool the mixture down a bit. Place cream cheese in blender and pour Jell-o mixture on top. Cover and blend until completely smooth, then add remaining cold water and blend. Add Cool Whip and blend just until completely combined. Pour into individual serving dishes or one larger bowl, cover, and refrigerate until set, about 6 hours. Top with additional Cool Whip if desired.

Yield: Six 1/2 C servings

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Welsh Rabbit

Odd as it sounds, this is the oldest holiday food tradition my husband and I have. Back in 2007 when we were dating, I thought it would be funny to make Welsh Rabbit (also known as Welsh Rarebit) for dinner on Easter since... well, you know. The idea of eating rabbit for Easter. Heh. We have a weird sense of humor! Of course it's not real rabbit, it's just cheese sauce over toast. Seeing as I'm a lifelong bunny lover, rabbit is basically the last meat I would ever be willing to try! Anyway, I've made Welsh Rabbit for dinner on Easter every year since. Several recipes have been tried and tweaked, and this one is definitely the best! It's based on this one from AllRecipes but has been thoroughly tweaked over the past couple of years. That recipe calls for bacon and tomatoes, which are good, but it's also fantastic with just the sauce: creamy, smooth, cheesy, nicely seasoned and spooned over toast. For the toast I baked a loaf of soda bread which is rather sturdy and held up wonderfully against the cheese sauce. If you've never had Welsh Rabbit, I suggest you give it a try, whether for Easter or any other time!

Quick note: The key to a silky smooth cheese sauce is to whisk in the milk a little at a time (in 1/4 C increments) and then to remove the pan from the heat before adding the cheese so it doesn't break and get gritty.

Welsh Rabbit

2 T butter
1 T flour
2/3 C milk
1/4 C beer (can use milk instead but the beer really adds to the flavor and is more authentic)
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t salt
1/4 t dried ground mustard
1/8 t black pepper
1 C grated sharp cheddar (can use pre-grated and it will be fine)

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and whisk for a minute or two, until roux turns very lightly golden. Add milk a little at a time, whisking well after each addition so it's completely smooth before adding more. Whisk in beer. Bring sauce to a simmer and let cook, whisking constantly, for about a minute. Remove from heat and whisk in seasonings, then whisk in cheese until melted. Serve over toast.

Yield: 4 servings

Strawberry Lemonade

I hope everyone is having a great Easter! We aren't religious, but enjoy Easter anyway because it seems like the kick off for spring. Plus we have pet bunnies and they get extra spoiled on Easter :) I love holidays in general and see them as an excuse to make lots of yummy food, but I didn't make a lot today, or cook much in general this past week for a variety of reasons. Last Saturday one of our bunnies died, which is always heartbreaking because we (okay, mostly me) love them and they're part of our family. She died very unexpectedly and this past week was very tense and sad as we waited on lab results that would tell us what exactly she died of and whether our other rabbits were at risk of getting sick as well. Our thermostat also freaked out so it was 92 degrees in our house, and I had a test at school as well as a hugely important interview for my student teaching next year.

Thankfully the lab results came in yesterday and our other bunnies should be fine, it's less hot in here (though the thermostat still isn't fixed), and the test and interview went well, so I'm feeling much more chipper now even though I still miss my bunny a lot.

Saturday night I finally started thinking about what I'd like to make for Easter, and this strawberry lemonade was the first thing I thought of. The recipe is from Southern Plate and I've made it countless times now. It's so fast to make, tastes good, has less sugar than many drinks, and is so incredibly cheery with the strawberries and bright pink-red color. Perfect for Easter and the coming of spring, or the 4th of July, or any other not snowy occasion!

Quick note: This lemonade DOES have strawberry seeds that float on top. Once I tried to strain them out with a fine mesh strainer and even added lots of water to the puree to make it thinner, but it took forever and was totally not worth it. Just consider the seeds to be part of the charm and proof that the lemonade uses real strawberries!

Strawberry Lemonade

1 lb strawberries, fresh or frozen (rinse and hull if fresh, thaw if frozen)
1 packet Pink Lemonade Crystal Light (the packet that makes half a gallon)
cold water

Fill a 1/2 gallon pitcher half full with cold water and stir in Crystal Light packet. Place strawberries in a blender and blend until smooth. You can add some cold water to help blend them. Pour pureed strawberries into pitcher and fill to the top with water. Stir to combine. Done!

Yield: 8 one cup servings

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesdays with Dorie: Pizza Rustica

My second recipe from Tuesdays with Dorie turned out great! It's not a recipe I would have tried normally but I'm so glad I did because it was really unique and really yummy. This time I made Pizza Rustica, an Italian pie that is often served around Easter but can be served other times as an appetizer or light meal. It really isn't similar to pizza at all, if anything it's more like an Italian inspired cheese quiche, but isn't super eggy in flavor or texture. Really quite hard to describe- My husband kept saying, "I don't know what I'm eating!" when we were having dinner. If it had been served to me in a restaurant I would have had no idea what was in it, not even the ham because it was shaved thinly and then cut up really small. The crust is a bit sweet and also nice and sturdy, while the filling is savory and creamy.

I personally LOVED how the flavors and textures went together, but my husband was a little more reserved in his opinion and felt it was kind of bland (though he liked the leftovers better). That's okay! I can definitely see myself making it again for a very occasional treat, or making it as an appetizer. It would make a good brunch dish, too. It should be fun to mess around with the filling ingredients. I'm thinking sun dried tomatoes and kalamata olives, or green chiles and cheddar cheese instead of mozzarella (to appease the husband).

To see the recipe, check out Capital Region Dining. Someone also found this great video of Julia Child making it with Nick Malgieri. I watched it before making my pie and it helped. My only changes were to use shaved ham from the deli because prosciutto is so, so pricy, and parmesan instead of romano. Oh and my ricotta was the skim milk kind because that's all the store had. For ME, those are very minimal changes at least! My crust was a tiny bit hard to work with because the dough was dry and I added 2 teaspoons water but should have added another. Could have certainly been worse though and the finished product was most definitely worth it! I could even see using the crust to make apple pie. Yum!

As you can see, the pie held it's shape very well. This was the first slice removed when the pie was still warm but not hot. You could easily pick it up and eat it with your hands like in the video, though we used forks. I should also note that the Pizza Rustica reheats well and is good cold, room temperature, and hot :)