Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Macaroni et Cheeze

Guilty Junk Food Confession #2: I really love Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. I know, I know it's filled to the hilt with ingredients that sound like they belong in science class. I know that a homemade mac 'n cheese recipe that starts off with a nice 'n creamy bechamel sauce is infinitely better- but I guess I have a taste for processed cheese product. Call it Patriotism.
Tonight's offering to the Table godlers is the better-for-you version of homemade mac 'n cheese. But it still has that sharp 'n cheezey appeal. I snuck in some wholewheat elbow macaroni, and used wholegrain breadcrumbs for it's finale. They love it, I do too, honestly I do.

Macaroni et Cheeze
Boil up one lb. (or a box) of elbow macaroni. In the meantime over med. high heat boil 1 c. milk (I used 2%), once boiling add 8oz. of cream cheese (I used reduced fat cream cheese) cut into cubes. Stir until melted into milk, lower heat to med. add between 3-4 c. of shredded cheddar, adding one handful at a time and mixing until melting after each addition. You should have a thick and cheesey sauce after all this stirring, mix in 1 tsp. ground mustard seed and 1 tsp. garlic & herb type seasoning mix (or garlic powder if you prefer). Stir sauce into prepared drained macaroni until macaroni is completely bathed in the cheddar sauce. Place into a baking dish. Combine in a small bowl 1/2 c. breadcrumbs and 2 tbsp. melted butter, and sprinkle top of macaroni and cheese. Bake in a 350F oven for about 15-20 mins.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Munch's Creamed Spinach

Time really flies when you're busy living your normal life. Weeks zoom by filled with a zillion everyday chores and regular activities. But then sometimes it seems as though the day is so long, like there's a lifetime between the breakfast dishes and dinner's left-overs. I guess that's the paradox of family life- days crawl by in the blink of the eye.
This morning I woke up and realized that baby kiddle AKA "Munch" (as in munchkin) is turning one year old in a couple of weeks. How is that possible? How is it that he's starting to walk and talk and display signs of a strong personality already? Less than one year ago he was a drowsy pink newborn who only knew how to cry, poop, suck, and sleep - and now he is a little person who loves mischief and loud wailing and being in the water and playing outside and shaking his head "no". This little gent also has definite ideas about what he will or will not eat. He will spit out any jarred baby food, and much prefers things he can pick up between his stubby little fingers and feed to himself- especially Cheerios. This afternoon I tried out a batch of homemade creamed spinach on him , he took a fair few spoonfuls which made me very happy, but soon returned to his Cheerios. No worries though, Hubbabubba loves spinach and will be only too pleased to have some with his dinner.

Munch's Creamed Spinach
Heat 2 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. sesame oil (oilve oil is fine), saute 1 large chopped shallot and 2 chopped garlic cloves (more if you like it garlicky) until golden brown and fragrant. Add 1 lb. of rinsed spinach leaves, and heat until it wilts. Add 1/4-1/2 c. heavy cream, mix. Pour into a food processor and let it whirl until it reaches your favored consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hey! You Got Your Smoked Salmon In My Pizza...

Big boy kiddle recently declared: "I like anything with smoked salmon". Kiddlette decreed that every night should be Pizza Night. This afternoon when I was thinking about dinner and their specific requests I started to recall one of my all time fave classic TV commercials- the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups "Hey! You got your chocolate in my Peanut Butter.....". Taking inspiration from this golden oldie I decided on a smoked salmon pizza for dinner tonight. Stay tuned for "I'm a pepper, you're a pepper, he's a pepper..." Stuffed Peppers. There's an idea that's perfect for Slacker X-ers turned home chefs, a cookbook ironically inspired by the TV commercials of our youth.

Smoked Salmon Pizza
Since I'm somewhat of a Slacker X-er when it come's to pizza dough, I rolled out my purchased pizza dough onto a baking sheet and baked until golden. Mix 1 c. sour cream with 1-2 tbsp. of lemon juice (or half a lemon) and 1 tbsp. chopped chives. Spread sour cream mixture over pizza crust, then open 2 x 4oz. packages of sliced smoked salmon and cover entire surface of "pizza". Sprinkle capers over smoked salmon.
Possible additions: fresh dill in sour cream mixture, red onions, black olives, diced tomatoes, caramelized onions as toppings...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chopped Chicken Salad with PB Vinaigrette

It's pretty darn hot 'round these parts during this time of year. Hot in a way that is totally different than the hot I grew up with in California and Australia. Over there it's more of a dry heat, you feel like you're scorching, rather than sweltering. Over here it's like a warm wet blanket has been placed over the atmosphere, the air is so heavy and dull, nothing will mitigate it other than a cleansing summer storm. Living in this weather feels a lot like spending your summer in a sauna. The positive side to it: What I crave is simple, light, crispy summer salads- anything that comes out of an oven or off a stove just feels too heavy and unappetizing. I throw a whole bunch of fresh veggies into a big bowl, include some leftover proteins (in tonight's salad it was grilled chicken) and come up with an interesting dressing.

Chopped Chicken Salad with PB Vinaigrette
Chop and place in large bowl a head of lettuce (romaine or iceberg are particularly refreshing), 1 red pepper, 1 cuke. Slice bunch of scallions. Add 1 c. peas. Cut grilled chicken breasts into strips, add to salad bowl along with 2-3 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds. Toss with Peanut Butter Vinaigrette.
PBV: In a food processor or blender puree 4 tbsp. smooth peanut butter, juice of 1 lime, 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar, 1 tbsp. soy sauce, 2 tbsp. sesame oil, several splashes of tabasco sauce, 2 tbsp. water, 1/4 tsp. salt. Add more sesame oil if necessary.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Summer Strawberry Shortcake Trifle

Sometimes you get an itch you can't scratch, a word you can't remember, a craving you can't identify. Lately, I've been wanting something sweet and dessert-like but I was stumped as to what exactly it was. I knew what it wasn't; it wasn't chocolatey, it wasn't frozen, it wasn't crunchy. For a few days I was walking around, living my life, functioning as usual- craving some elusive flavor and taste.
Yesterday I deconstructed this craving down to it's bare elements. I wanted something cool, creamy and vanilla, crumbly and cakey, and fresh and juicy and sweet and fruity. I then came up with a stawberry shortcake trifle. I had my "aha!" moment after the first spoonful. I love the way the cake absorbs the homemade whipped cream and the strawberries impart their ripe juiciness...I just loved this dessert. Next time I'll include some ripe juicy peaches. It's the gorgeous taste of summer.

Strawberry Shortcake Trifle
golden butter cake:Preheat oven to 350F. Combine 1 c. butter, 1 tsp. orange rind, 3 eggs, 1 1/2 c. sugar, 1 tbsp. vanilla extract, 1 1/2 c. self rising flour. Mix well. Pour batter into a well greased pan. Bake for about 45 mins, or until toothpick comes out clean. Set aside and cool.
whipped cream: beat 1 1/2 c. whipping cream, 3 tbsp powdered sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla extract until whipping cream becomes whipped cream.
Slice 2 c. strawberries into bite sized pieces.
Assemble the trifle by cutting cake into 1"-2" cubes, in a trifle bowl place layer of cake cubes, a few generous dollops of whipped cream so that cake cubes are submerged, place strawberry slices on top of whipped cream, repeat until you have no more cake, whipped cream, or strawberries. Place in the fridge long enough to let the cake soak up the whipped cream.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Judeo American Paella

I'm having chocolate for dinner tonight, but for everyone else there'll be paella. My version of paella is completely inauthentic. I don't have the special pan that gives this Spanish dish it's name. I don't use shrimp or any shellfish for that matter. However my recipe does use saffron and paprika, so I guess it's not totally divorced from the Spanish standard. It's the Judeo-American version, complete with southwestern spiced chicken sausages and diced tomatoes from a can. It's good in that real food kind of way- but my three course chocolate dinner will be better in that junk food kind of way (chocolate squares as a starter, chocolate ice cream for the main, and then as a finale some chocolate cake), but no one has to know that- other than you of course....

In a wide shallow saute pan heat 2 tbsp. olive oil. Add chicken sausages sliced into 1 " pieces to pan. Cook until sausages begin to brown. Add 1 chopped onion and 1 finely chopped red, yellow, or orange pepper, cook stirring often until onion is translucent 4-5 mins. Add 3 minced garlic cloves and 1 1/2 c. long grain rice, cook, stirring to coat, for about 2-3 mins. Mix in 1/2 tsp. saffron and 1/2 tsp. paprika, 1 can of diced tomatoes, and 2 1/2 c. chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and then cook until rice is tender and most of liquid is absorbed - about 20 mins. Stir in 1 cup of thawed frozen peas. Cook an extra minute. Add a few dashes of hot sauce. Serve.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Step Right Up Chipwiches

I'm not the kind of Mom who will get down on the ground with her kids and imitate barnyard critters. I don't enjoy playing "Chutes & Ladders", never did, even when I was a kid myself. I don't get the point of throwing a ball around-despite the fact that through my early years I lived in the same house as 3 basketball nuts, and now a baseball enthusiast. Hubbabubba claims that if I was Native American my name would be "She Who Does Not Play". Growing up I was a bit of a bookworm, and I never really got into group activities. Perhaps that explains my interest in cooking, baking, and writing?
One of my reasons for having multiple children was so that I wouldn't have to be the one totally responsible for the kid's playlife. Having a sibling/s is so great for so many reasons, the best one being that when you're bored there's always someone to "play" with. Nothing like wiling away a long summer day by enjoying a few rounds of purple nerple, indian burns, and, is it beer or is it pee? Or playing seek and destroy with your older sis' long hoarded chocolate stash.
Today the kiddles wanted me to help them put on a circus. Great idea. So cute. I totally encourage their creativity, but I decided that my contribution to the greatest show on earth would be the chipwiches. Together we made chocolate chip cookies from scratch. And then in order to make the whole process easier, I thawed a carton of french vanilla ice cream until it was soft but not completely runny. Put it in a large ziploc bag, flattened it out until it was about 2 inches thick. Put it back in the freezer to firm up while the cookies cooled and the kiddles practiced their shtick. Once the cookies were cool I cut open the freezer bag and with the rim of a drinking glass, cut out perfect circles and placed them between two cookies.
I thoroughly enjoyed their show. And they thoroughly enjoyed their chipwiches. I didn't have to put on the bozo nose - Everyone's a winner.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ring-a-DING Barbecue Meatballs

Today is not a good day. I backed my car smack into another car. My car has a nice sized dent in it, her car has a smaller dent-but a dent all the same. I am absolutely dreading telling Hubbabubba. It wouldn't be so bad if this hardly ever happened before- but, shamefully, it has happened a few times. I need to come up with a plan. Anyway you look at it, Hubbabubba will be downright pissed, especially since he spends a good amount of his life instructing me to always check my blindspot, my rear view mirror, as well as looking over my shoulder when pulling out. Yep, I'm in hot water.
Tonight's dinner will have to be good. It will have to involve some sort of animal protein. I don't think I can get away with telling him this latest bit of news over a tofu casserole or soy crumble lasagna. There will have to be meat and some sort of fried side. Before he gets home I'll actually put on some lipstick and dab some perfume behind my ears. Then with a sweet smile I'll serve him hearty meatballs in barbecue sauce with some fried onion rings on the side. I'll ask him how his day was, and listen to his response. I won't complain about anything. He'll enjoy his dinner and then I'll tell him. The best I can hope for is a frustrated Ricky Ricardo "Ohhh Lucy!" response. The worse part of it is that it was actually his car I was borrowing, it was his car I dinged. Maybe I can slip something into the meatballs? I think I have some percocet left over from my last c-section. That might make everything softer and duller. Truth is Hubbbabubba's a good guy and he really loves a good hearty meal so he might just chuckle and retire to the couch thinking: "Oh that Rachel! What a goofy gal..." Probably not- but maybe....

Meatballs in Barbecue Sauce
Place 2 lbs. ground beef in large bowl, add 1 slightly beaten egg, 1 envelope onion soup mix. Mix all ingredients together (I put ziploc bags on my hands, and get manual with my beef), until everything is incorporated. Heat 3 tbsp. vegetable oil in frying pan, roll meat mixture into 2" meatballs. Brown meatball in batches. Place on paper towels to absorb some of the oil.
In a med. sized pot saute 1/2 c. of finely chopped onion in 1 tbsp. veg. oil. When onion is tender add 2 cans of tomato sauce, 2 tbsp. worcestshire sauce, 3 tbsp. cider vinegar, 1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard, salt, and pepper. Add seasonings to taste. Drop browned meatballs in sauce, cover and simmer for 25-30m mins.

Monday, July 7, 2008

To Die For Tomato Brie Salad

You say tomato, and I say tomato brie salad. I'm aware of the recent hullabaloo surrounding li'l red termaters, but sometimes you just gotta walk on the wild side. Especially when that walk lands you directly in Yumsville. It's a damn shame that we can't eat produce nowadays without fearing some sort of scary poisoning. A lot about the state of the world is pretty gut churning and depressing. So I say- just live your life, live it to the hilt. Enjoy what you love- suck out all it's juice as if it was a ripe tomato. You never really know when your number's up, so you might as well overdo it in the meantime. I love a great book, a great meal, good chocolate, good music, New York City, most fresh baked goods, my always entertaining family, a nice day in the country, a beautiful pair of shoes, my time in the kitchen, planning parties, paging through my glossy mags, and writing. This is my short list in no particular order.
This evening's offering is a celebration of some of life's great (and now, most dangerous) pleasures: ripe summer tomatoes, ripe creamy brie, and crisp greens. The bonus is that this is a dish that keeps on giving. Should there be any leftovers, place the brie, and herb and garlic marinated tomatoes between two slices of your most favorite bread- whip out the skillet, and voila! Another of life's great culinary pleasures- Grilled Cheese.

Brie & Tomato Salad
Cut 2 ripe tomatoes into 1/2" inch slices. Place tomato slices in a shallow dish or platter, add 2 tbsp. olive oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, a splash or two of red wine vinegar, 2 chopped basil leaves and a tsp. fresh oregano (use the fresh herbs you prefer). Let marinate for at least two hours.
Place lettuce greens on a large serving platter, lay out brie cut into bite sized slices between marinated tomato slices. Garnish with cured olives, if you wish. Serve with lightly toasted sliced crusty bread of choice.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hooray! Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps

I think that my foray to the Fancy Food Show had it's intended effect- I'm back in the kitchen. Giddy Up! A few weeks ago I had these amazing vegetarian lettuce wraps at a restaurant called Stir Crazy, and since then I've been craving this dish. The lettuce wraps I made last night for dinner were a combination of a bunch of recipes I found on the internet, along with a few personal improvisations. The reviews from the peanut gallery were favorable, so I'll certainly be making these again. I made a dipping sauce to go along with the wraps but you can probably do better with a purchased hoisin sauce or another of the myriad asian flavored sauces available at the market. Yeehaw! Life is spicy and tasty once again!

Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps
sauce: 2 tsp. soy sauce, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 tsp. rice vinegar, a few dashes hot sauce. ( as with recipe in general, Increase/decrease measurements to taste)
In 2 tsp. sesame oil fry 1 container of cubed firm tofu until golden. Place tofu on paper towels and let cool. Meanwhile finely chop 4-5 green onions, mince 2 large garlic cloves and 1 tsp fresh ginger. Chop to pea size: 8 oz. mushrooms, 1/2 c. water chestnuts, 1 c. shredded carrots, 1 c. shredded cabbage. When tofu has cooled somewhat chop tofu to pea sized pieces. Add some more sesame oil to frying pan, place all of the veggies and tofu in and mix together. Pour sauce over and fold everything together and cook until vegetables are sufficiently heated through. Separate and wash individual leaves of an iceberg lettuce and spoon tofu veggie mixture into the center, fold over (like you would a burrito), enjoy!