Saturday, February 19, 2011

I know it's mid-winter, but I still want a S'more!

Time for cleaning out the cupboards, and I am not surprised that I have not one, not two, but THREE boxes of Betty Crocker Super Moist Chocolate Fudge cake mix.  I think I planned on making something for someone during the holidays.  Or maybe something for the teachers for Valentine's Day.  Whatever the reason, I didn't make 'em for what I had intended, but found myself this week with half a kitchen and a certain favorite elementary school Cake Walk in need of some baked goods.  And I had s'mores on my mind.  So, what does that spell?  S'mores Cupcakes, of course!
I kinda made these up this Fall, so I am not even 100% sure about all of the measurements, but here goes.  And trust me, these are insanely delicious.  Be prepared to share them with a crowd, or you will be tempted to eat them all by yourself!
S'mores Cupcakes
8- 10 graham cracker sheets, crushed and divided
3 T sugar
1/2 stick butter, melted
Crush graham crackers and put into bowl.  Set aside 2 T for sprinkling later.  Add sugar to graham crackers.  Melt butter and pour over mixture.  Mix well.  Divide equally between  30 cupcake liners, pressing into bottom to form a "crust".  Each cupcake should have about a 1/8 inch crust on the bottom.  Set aside while making your cake batter:
1 box devil's food or chocolate fudge cake mix
4 eggs
1-1/3 cup buttermilk (substitute for water)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup mini bittersweet chocolate chips
Follow package directions, mix for 30 seconds and scrape down bowl, then turn to medium -high and beat for two minutes.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Divide evenly between your 30 cupcakes.  Bake as directed on box.  Option 1:  Bake for 15 minutes, then pull from oven.  Put a large marshmallow on top of each cupcake and return to oven to bake for 2 to 3 more minutes.  When you pull the cupcakes from oven, press the marshmallows down a bit to make sure they spread over the top of the cupcake, then sprinkle each cupcake with some of the reserved graham cracker crumbs.  Option 2:  Bake as directed on box, remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting with Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting:
Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1- 7.5 oz jar marshmallow cream
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Beat butter on high speed until creamy.  Add in marshmallow cream and beat until fully incorporated.  Reduce speed and add vanilla and confectioner's sugar.  Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy.  Spread or pipe onto cupcakes and sprinkle with remaining graham cracker crumbs.

I really would have loved to have included a picture of these divine little cupcakes, but I ate 'em all!  Actually, I donated most of them to the Cake Walk, and ended up with four leftover.  Gave three away and ate the other.  I promise a picture the next time!  

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Lazy Girl and the Crock Pot

One thing I can say about January:  Great time for eating beef.  I guess with all of the New Year's diet makeovers, poor old beef gets poo-pooed in favor of lighter, leaner fare like fish and chicken.  Well, good thing I don't make New Year's resolutions, because I got some great deals on beef last month and went nuts.  Maybe a little too nuts, since I ended up with a freezer full of beef and a Lazy Girl can only eat so much Beef Stew.  So, with getting the house ready to put on the market, a gal needs something quick and easy and healthy and family-friendly if she's going to be able to put dinner on the table at all.  Since I am no longer able to luxuriate in the chopping of fresh vegetables and stirring them lovingly into a stock pot or tending to a beautiful roast beast as it slowly cooks to perfection in my oven, my crock pot came to mind:  It was time for some quick and dirty cookin' and the crock pot is PERFECT for those meals.
So, the first recipe was inspired by a friend's Facebook post.  Something about making "Flank Steak Fajitas" in the crock pot on a snow day.  Well, she sent me the recipe, and I promptly lost it, so I googled the title of the recipe and got some ideas.  BUT... you know how I am about spicy Mexican-inspired food:  I don't stick to the recipe.  First of all, I had a London Broil, not a Flank Steak and secondly, I had a bunch of those small sweet yellow, orange and red peppers and not a big old bell pepper.  And I didn't have fajita seasoning.  But I still ended up with a delicious meal:
Lazy Girl Somekindabeef Crock Pot Fajitas
1 big old London Broil
1 pack of taco seasoning (or your favorite combo of chili seasonings which should include coriander, cumin, oregano, etc.  Also, this can be low-sodium if you' like.  This had plenty of flavor)
1 large sliced sweet bell pepper 
1 medium sliced onion
1 can Rotel tomatoes with green chilis
2 cloves garlic minced
Gently lay the beef in the bottom of the crock pot.  Or throw it in.  I had blood spatter, so I tend to go easy.  Sprinkle with half the packet of taco seasoning.  Pour the can of Rotel over the beef, then add the peppers, onions and garlic.  Sprinkle with the other half of the seasoning packet.  
Cook on high for at least 5 or 6 hours or until the beef has been cooked into submission and falls apart when threatened with a fork.  
Serve with flour tortillas, sour cream, guacamole, and fresh salsa with some refried beans and Mexican rice on the side.  My family went NUTS over this.  It was sooo delicious, more like a lowbrow Carne Asada than Fajitas, but soooo deeelish.  Great as leftovers too!

So the cold weather continued and there was STILL a lot of beef left in my chest freezer.  One night, I pulled out two porterhouse steaks that I'd forgotten about and a big old chuck roast that I had intended for beef stew.   I really wasn't sure what to do, but in the morning, when the beef was mostly thawed, I started the kitchen sink approach with miraculous results:
Crazy-rich and Delicious [Crock] Pot Roast
Big old pile of beef (like I said, I used two porterhouse steaks and a chuck roast, but I really think any good beef would do)
As many sliced mushrooms as you can stand (I used a pint, but I wish I'd have used a quart)
1 sliced yellow onion
1 packet Pioneer Brown Gravy mix (or any brown gravy mix that makes 2 cups of gravy)
1 cup red wine (I used the rest of a bottle of merlot that I found in the fridge)
1/2 cup cooking sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp Italian seasoning
Lay the beef in the bottom of your crock pot.  (Notice that I never brown my beef first.  I just don't.  It doesn't seem to mind not being browned and I don't have to wash a pan.)  Sprinkle the brown gravy mix over the beef.  Pile the mushrooms and onions on top.  Pour the red wine and cooking sherry over all of that.  Sprinkle with Italian seasoning.  Cover and cook on high for at least 5 or 6 hours or until the beef is super-tender.
OMG.  This was insanely delicious.  I wish I'd used a huge thing of mushrooms, as they were delightful; they took up all of the flavors and were just so indescribably good!  I served this with a thing of Uncle Ben's Original Wild Rice Pilaf and some boiled Fresh French Green Beans and it was such a rich, warming and strangely elegant meal.  I will say that for this recipe, make sure you trim fat if you're using a fattier cut of beef.  I think this would actually be perfect with a London Broil or Flank Steak because the mushrooms and gravy are so rich, the additional fat makes it super-rich.  I also think you could use or make a more simply-flavored rice pilaf or plain brown rice and this would be great.  There was almost too much flavor with the Uncle Ben's, but it was languishing in my pantry and needed to be used up.
So, both of these meals were gobbled up by my family, but what's really amazing is that both of these took about five minutes to prepare in the morning, and then I went about my business as they cooked themselves into greatness throughout the day.  As you can tell by my serving suggestions, the final meal was also very simple:  For both meals, I simply put the rice on to cook about a half-hour before dinner and then pulled everything else out (or cooked the grean beans) about five minutes before the meal.  Easy, simple, delicious!
So now we are in full-on kitchen remodel and I have no cooktop, so I need more crock pot recipes!  Send me some, Gentle Readers, and I'll report back and even give you props on the blog!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Drive-by Post: Holiday Menus

Ok, so I realize that I've missed a week or two, so I think it's time that I share something helpful to get your through the holidays before you mutiny.
So, this week, I give you The Holiday Menu.  No, not the Holiday Menu From Hell, but, rather, some easy suggestions for holiday menus that will keep you from sitting in the kitchen for hours and hours while your guests drink all of your booze and wonder where you are.

Holiday Menu #1:  Buffet for a Small Casual Gathering
Cranberry-Feta Salad
Your Favorite Spiral Ham 
Assorted dinner rolls and small sandwich rolls (if you REALLY want to, you can serve these yummy-o-licious yeast rolls, but I think you should just buy some good ones to keep from pulling your hair out)
Cream of Wild Rice Soup (or another cream soup of your choice, like Creamy Potato or Corn Chowder), but here is the recipe.  DO NOT judge when you see the ingredients.  This soup has absolutely NO trait of any other type of food I make, but it is delicious and super-rich and everyone LOVES it.  Just make it and trust me on this one:  You will enjoy it!
1 pkg Uncle Ben's Original Wild Rice Pilaf Mix
1 lb bacon, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
3-3/4 cups Half and Half (can use fat-free)
2 cans (10-3/4 oz) Cream of Potato soup
1 8-oz loaf of Velveeta (can be reduced fat), cubed
3 cups chicken stock
Cook wild rice mix according to package instructions, OMITTING the seasoning packet.  Set aside.
Cook bacon in Dutch oven until crips, remove and drain, reserving 2 T drippings.
Saute onion and mushrooms in the drippings until tender
Stir in rice, Cream of Potato soup, and Velveeta until cheese is melted.  (At this point, you can refrigerate this "base" until you are ready to serve)
To serve, return base to pot over medium heat and add Half and Half, chicken stock, seasoning packet and bacon until thoroughly heated through, but do not boil.  You might need to add a little more stock, depending on how thick or thin you want this soup.

Holiday Menu #2:  Dinner for a Crowd
Tomato and Romaine Salad:  Chop two hearts of romaine lettuce and spread on platter or shallow serving bowl.  Cut 1 cup cherry tomotoes in half and arrange over lettuce.  Chop 2 green onions (white and green) and sprinkle over tomatoes.  For dressing:  3 T red wine vinegar, 6 T olive oil, 1 t oregano, 1 t salt, 1/2 t pepper, 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes and 1 - 2 cloves of minced garlic.  Drizzle over salad just before serving and toss well.
Lazy Girl Lasagna and/or Pasta e Fagioli
Loaves of crusty, yummy Pane Paisano

Holiday Menu #3:  Mediterranean Cocktail Buffet
Hummus, Pita Wedges and Crudite with Olives and Chunks of Feta Cheese
Spanakopita Triangles:  You can buy these frozen, or you can make 'em.  
Lemon Chicken Skewers:  Marinate chunks of chicken breasts in olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper and lemon zest.  Skewer and grill until cooked, cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Add 2 T water to the pan, keep covered and heat in oven at 350 degrees until hot.  Remove chicken from skewers and arrange on tray; squeeze fresh lemon juice over the chicken.
You can always add a bowl of Cocktail Meatballs with your favorite red sauce or pesto, served hot, for the diehard meat-eaters.
Tray of Baklava

Holiday Menu #4:  New Year's Day
Hoppin' John:  On a bed of white rice, pile some black-eyed peas and then top with shredded sharp white cheddar cheese and chopped tomatoes and green onions.
Collard Greens
Slow-roasted Pork:  I simply layer boneless country-style pork ribs and loin chops with lots of minced garlic, salt, pepper and a little bit of crushed red pepper in a baking dish, cover it and roast for 4 to 5 hours at 300 degrees, or until it falls apart.
Honey Wheat Cornbread

All of these salads hold up well to being made ahead and dressed just before serving, while pretty much everything else can be made ahead and frozen or refrigerated.  The entire New Year's Day meal can be made ahead and reheated and will actually taste better on Day 2.   For dessert, I always set out a tray of assorted holiday treats and sweets, unless you have some traditional holiday dessert you just have to make.  
For beverages, keep apple cider and mulling spices on hand:  I keep a percolator of mulled cider going throughout the holidays for pop-in visitors and dinner guests alike.  If you like serving a punch, make it ahead of time and freeze the base.  My favorite is a Sparkling Cranberry Punch, which has a base of cranberry juice, pineapple juice, sugar and almond extract, which I make in a big batch and freeze in 2-cup tubs.  I then pull out a frozen base, let it mostly thaw in the fridge and pour ginger ale over it just before guests arrive.  My sweet mother even gave me her lovely pressed glass punch bowl from when she got married, and it has become part of my holiday decor, it's so very pretty and yummy!  And, of course:  It's cold out, so keep beer and white wine, as well as mixers, on the back porch, chilled and ready to serve!  
Okay, now I am starting to sound like a total '50's housewife, so I am going to stop here.  I wish you all the best during this holiday season and hope that each meal is relaxing and fun as you visit with friends and family, because that is, afterall, what the holidays are all about.  I am looking forward to Menu #5:  Our holiday brunch on Sunday with old friends from medical school.  I'll share that menu with you when I finish figuring it out!  
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Yummy-o-licious Yeast Rolls (Or, My Thighs' Lament)

Ok, I've mentioned these on my FB status twice and promised the recipe, but I am going to apologize to your thighs in advance:  These yeast rolls are insanely delicious and easy to make.  I think I've eaten a half-pan by myself and I have absolutely no remorse.  Or shame.  I am going to grab another right now to enjoy with my morning tea!  (It was delicious with blackberry jam!)
So, Maggie and I have decided to learn about working with yeast doughs.  We make plenty of quick breads and cakes and such, but other than pizza dough, we are not big yeast users.  I purchased (at Nice Price Books in Durham.  LOVE that place!) The Book of Bread last week, a complete guide to creating yummy varieties of breads with rich histories included.  However, with the holidays upon us, and my sister-in-law's insistence that Migliareses, who don't actually need the carbs or the feast for that matter, simply MUST have a piece of bread with their already-carb-loaded meal.
So for Thanksgiving, I made these yeast rolls.  I found the recipe at Divas Can Cook a fun home-style food blog, and adapted the recipe to my tastes.  What I like most about Diva is that she includes a technique video that is very helpful. My rolls were perfect, so even though I didn't follow her recipe exactly, I did use her technique and these are deeeelish.
Yeast Rolls of Insanity
1/4 cups white flour, divided
1 cup whole wheat flour, divided
1 packet of dry active yeast (use RapidRise if you're in a hurry)
1 1/4 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup of butter flavored shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt

melted butter as needed
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine shortening, sugar and milk.  Heat slowly to melt shortening, but do not boil.  
In the bowl of your KitchenAid mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, stir together yeast packet, 1 cup of white flour and 1/4 cup wheat flour.
Pour the shortening and milk mixture into the flour mixture and mix well.  Add your egg and incorporate completely.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and turn your mixer up to med-high speed and whip for 3 minutes.
Remove the whisk attachment and add the rest or your flour (1-1/4 cup white flour and 3/4 cup wheat flour) and salt.  Fold it into the yeast mixture until fully incorporated, using your hands if the dough becomes too stiff to work with a spatula.
Grease a bowl with vegetable oil and turn your dough into the bowl.  Cover and chill for at least an hour, though for Thanksgiving I chilled it overnight.
When you're ready to shape your rolls, rub some melted butter in the bottom of your 9 x 13 baking pan.  
Punch down the dough and cut into small pieces to shape into rolls, greasing your hands with butter to cover the rolls.  
Place the rolls into the baking dish and drizzle with whatever melted butter you have left.  Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and set the pan somewhere warm to let the rolls rise.  (They can hang out for quite some time, but DO allow yourself at least an hour for the rise.)
When you're ready to bake 'em, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Remove towel and bake the rolls for 10 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.  
Try not to devour these on your way to the table.

I am making a batch right now, so pictures are coming soon!

Holiday Treats!

My favorite part of the holidays:  Baking treats for teachers, friends and family.  Every year, some other parents and I host a cookie swap for our grade-level teachers.  We bring in a ton of yummy homemade goodness, tins or tubs for the teachers to take the treats home, and mulled cider for our teachers a day or two before winter break and spoil them a little for all the hard work they do for our children.  This is a fun and yummy way to say thanks to our teachers.  I am already looking forward to the cookie swap and thinking about what I'll make this year.
I shared some recipes last year, but in the holiday rush, didn't have time to post pictures.  So, while I am mulling over what to make, here are some pics of some of my favorite holiday treats:
 Pizzelles, Homemade Marshmallows and the cutest ever Chocolate-Drizzled Homemade Marshmallow Pops!

 My favorite Hershey's Hugs Pretzels and deeeee-licious Hazelnut Cocoa Coins, which are chocolatey AND buttery.  What could be better!?!?

 These were so pretty, I had to take a lot of pictures.  Maggie and I made so many marshmallows last year and we are looking forward to trying some new flavors.  Last year, we made vanilla and peppermint flavors, but this year, I want to try toasted coconut marshmallows.  

 And there is no holiday without pizzelles and biscotti, which are beautiful cookies to me at every stage of  production.  Perhaps it's the nostalgia:  I loved watching my mother and grandmother making these, and love that my daughters and I make them together now.  Even in their doughy forms, these cookies make me smile!
I am REALLY hoping to make my holiday baking menu soon so that I can get the recipes in for you as soon as possible.  I am also hoping that if all I have to do is add pictures, it might actually come together a little more effectively this year.   I wonder if it's time to put out a call for favorite cookies recipes from friends and family for some inspiration!?!?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pasta! REAL homemade pasta!!!

Today is my first full day home since Thanksgiving, and I have a lot of housework to catch up on, as well as errands to run and general stuff to do around the house and yard.  So, instead of doing any of that, I decided to take advantage of my mother's generous spirit and make homemade pasta using the pasta roller and chitarra I borrowed from her while I was home for Thanksgiving.
Of course, I totally spaced on asking my mother for her pasta recipe, so I found one online and decided to try a half-batch of it to start:
Fresh Semolina and Egg Pasta
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semolina flour
pinch of salt
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup water
To start, sift together the semolina flour, white flour and salt onto a clean surface in your kitchen.  Make a mountain out of the flour mixture, then make a deep well in the center.  
Break the eggs into the well and add the olive oil.  
Whisk eggs gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well.  When the mixture becomes too thick to work with a fork, begin kneading with your hands.  (I had to drizzle a little bit of water in at this point, because things were not looking so hot.)
 Knead dough for 8 to 12 minutes, until it is smooth and supple.  (It will still be VERY firm.)  
 Dust dough as needed with either flour to keep it from becoming too sticky. 
Shape dough into a ball and wrap in plastic.  Allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
After the rest period, roll out dough with a pasta machine or a rolling pin to desired thickness.  
This will require a few trips through your pasta roller, making the dough thinner with each pass.
Now here is where I got sooooo very lucky!  My mother loaned me her pasta chitarra, which is a beautiful instrument for making pasta like spaghetti and linguini.  You simply lay the rolled pasta dough on the top of the strings and use a rolling pin to press it through the wire strings.  

We had to do a little coaxing to get the pasta to release, but we ended up with this lovely pile of pasta in the chitarra!
If your mouth isn't watering, it should be!  Isn't this beautiful?!?!?
Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add several teaspoons salt.  Cook pasta until tender but not mushy, 2 to 8 minutes in boiling water, depending on how thick your pasta is.
Drain immediately and serve with your favorite sauce. DO NOT USE A JAR OF SAUCE or I will be forced to hunt you down and punish you.  

I tossed it with some garlic- and herb- infused olive oil (that I made during the rest period) and freshly-grated Parmagiano Reggiano:

I chose to use the chitarra, but you can cut this into your favorite shape or fill it and make some ravioli, which is our next project!  Whatever you do, let me assure you:  Keep EVERYTHING dusted with flour from the rolling to the cutting and setting aside, or you'll have a big stuck-together mess instead of lovely pasta.
And it is lovely.  YUM.

    S'mores Cupcakes

    For some reason, I've been obsessed with the graham cracker-chocolate-marshmallow combo of s'mores pretty much all summer.  Since we can no longer stand outside in front of our fireplace or the grill and roast marshmallows, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and come up with another way to enjoy this delightful combination throughout the winter, as well as make it a bit less messy.  Et voila:  My friend who makes yummy yummy cupcakes posted a s'mores cupcake on her blog.  Well, she posted a PICTURE of her s'mores cupcake on her blog.  NO RECIPE.  So, I figured this one out on my own, with the help of another friend who makes yummy yummy cakes and cupcakes who was happy to share a baking secret or two.
    So, to figure this recipe out, I laid out the required components of the s'more:  marshmallow, chocolate and graham crackers.
    So, starting from the bottom of a cupcake liner, I mixed up about 1-1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, old-school.  (That means I put some graham crackers in a baggie and used a rolling pin to crush 'em.)  I added 2 tablespoons of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of sugar and mixed it all up.  And I tried really, really hard not to sample it, but that didn't work.  Set this aside for later.
    The next step was a little trickier:  Not only do s'mores need chocolate, they need dark, deep, rich chocolate, so the cake had to be super-duper chocolatey.  I asked around about very chocolatey cakes and my sweet friend, Nikki, was happy to share one of her secrets:  To get a very chocolatey cake that is rich, use a Devil's Food box mix (or something chocolatey-er, like what I used:  Chocolate Fudge) that uses oil instead of butter with the mix.  Substitute buttermilk for the water and use 4 eggs.  Otherwise, prepare cake batter according to directions.
    Finally, I decided that this wasn't even chocolatey enough, so I also added a bag of mini chocolate morsels to the batter.  
    Now, time to put it together:
    I used the foil baking cups in my cupcake pans.  Put about a tablespoon of your butter and graham cracker mixture in the bottom of each cupcake liner and press it down.  
    Being careful to get some chocolate chips in each scoop, spoon cake batter on top of crust, filling the liner about 3/4 full.
    Bake per the cake mix directions.
    While the cupcakes were baking, I made some marshmallow buttercream frosting:
    1 cup of butter, softened
    1 7-oz jar of marshmallow cream
    1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
    2 cups of powdered sugar (or to taste, I was travelling with these, so I wanted the frosting more stiff)
    In a bowl, whip the softened butter on high speed until light and fluffy.  Add in the marshmallow cream and whip it until completely incorporated.  (I used the whisk attachment on my KitchenAid.)  Reduce the speed to low and beat in the confectioner's sugar and vanilla.  Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy.
    When the cupcakes were cooled completely, I piped (using a large round tip) the icing on top in a swirl, then sprinkled a little bit of plain graham cracker crumbs on top.  
    These were DELICIOUS.  And I totally forgot to take some pictures before travelling to Virginia with them, so the only pictures I have look like a cupcake post-apocolypse.  But really, these are divine, so try them.

    P. S. I wanted to make these as mini-cupcakes, but ran out of mini liners, so I just made the regular cupcakes.  I plan to try these as minis and promise to report back.  However, if YOU try these as minis, let me know how they turn out.  Thanks!