Thursday, February 28, 2008

I've Been Tagged, plus a Hero Sandwich

Hero Sandwiches are on tap for dinner tonight...we needed something easy after my birthday celebration yesterday which was packed with cooking, singing, and opening gifts. I love cooking for special occasions but I always try to make something uncomplicated after a day of trying out new recipes and new flavors.

I loosely followed two different recipes from epicurious and they both turned out terrific. The first one for the actual meatballs was nice and easy. Mix everything together, roll the meatballs, and then bake in the oven. I usually pan fry this was an easy alternative.

The second recipe was for the marinara sauce. I substituted my own canned tomatoes for the store bought variety and added extra veggies. I also used my immersion blender to make it a little less chunky. I still left a good bit of texture...but I didn't want big hunks of pepper and mushroom in the finished sauce.

Shayne over at Fruitcake or Nuts recently tagged me. So, I've tried to think of a few interesting things to share with you. Here we go...

1.) I'm currently pregnant with our second child. We are not finding out whether it is a little girl or boy this time...the suspense is killing me!! This little one is due to arrive at the end of May and I'm so looking forward to a spring baby. We had our first child, Gabe, two years ago December and we had a major snowstorm the day we came home. He looked so tiny and lost in the huge bunting and layers of clothing we had him in.

2.) I was raised on a farm in Michigan. My childhood was spent running through the forest, building my own playhouse out of old logs and branches, climbing trees, and raising all manner of animals. Just to name a few, we raised a crow, raccoons, deer, ducks, goats, sheep, pigs, horses, cows, turkeys, and a million pheasants.

3.) I owe much of my interest in all things domestic to 4-H. I loved 4-H growing up and I was a part of everything. I entered myself in woodworking, cooking, sewing, crocheting, basket weaving, wildflowers, photography, gardening, and more.

4.) I married my high school sweetheart. Joseph and I were actually on the same baseball team when we were in grade school. We started dating when we were 16 and we somehow always knew we were right for each other. He has always been my best friend and I really can't imagine being married to anyone else.

5.) I love to travel and did quite a bit before getting married. I've been all over China, Japan, Taiwan, Scotland, France, Spain, Italy, and Bermuda. Once the new baby is old enough we are going to start up again-I've had the itch for awhile now.

6.) I'm a certified Elementary School Teacher. I spent 4+ years teaching elementary school before I had Gabe and decided to stay home with him.

7.) I've taken up guitar this year. I've become proficient at strumming and changing chords...but I'm not exactly a natural. I love playing and practicing - at home...but I do look forward to the day when I become comfortable enough to play at get togethers.

Meatballs for Hero Sandwiches
adapted from Bon Appetit February 95 - found on epicurious
1 lb ground beef

1/2 lb ground pork

1/2 c Parmesan cheese

1 1/2 t dried parsley

2 t dried oregano

1 T minced garlic

1 egg

1/4 c crushed chex cereal or cornflakes

salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Using wet hands, form into 1 1/2 inch balls. Place on a large baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees, or until cooked through.

adapted from Bon Appetit December 92-found on epicurious
1 T olive oil

1/2 diced onion

1/2 c diced green pepper

1/4 c red pepper

1/2 c chopped mushrooms

1 T minced garlic

1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes

1 quart crushed tomato

1 T tomato paste

1 t - 1 T sugar (depends on your tomato sauce)

1 1/2 t dried basil

3/4 t dried oregano

salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and peppers. Saute until slightly tender 5-6 minutes. Add in garlic and mushrooms, cook an additional 3-4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes.

At this point I used the immersion blender and whirled it around a bit, I still left it a little chunky. Also, add in the meatballs and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Easy Bread Pudding with Almond Streusel

We love our french bread and baguettes around here, but I always end up with a third of a loaf leftover. That leftover bread dries out so quickly that we just don't make use of it and I feel awful everytime I pitch the remains in the garbage. I normally don't like bread I don't know what possessed me to make this yesterday but I'm glad I did. I think I might be reformed. I love this bread pudding. It wasn't overly soggy or wet and the streusel topping is a must, in my opinion!

(I winged it, so here is the basic idea.)
Bread Pudding with Almond Streusel Topping

1/3 loaf french bread, cubed (about 3-4 cups total)
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar (I used slightly less)
1/4 cup raisins, soaked in water for 5 minutes (next time I'll bake them on the bottom as I don't like the shriveled dry ones that were on top.)
1 t cinnamon

3 T butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 T flour
1-2 t cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/4 c slivered or sliced almonds

Place bread in a buttered baking dish. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over. Gently toss to coat. While the bread soaks, combine topping ingredients with a fork. Sprinkle over bread mixture. Bake 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Seafood and a Trio of Desserts

I really do like Valentine's Day. I like the idea of it, not so much for the cards or the flowers, but just the idea that I can spend the whole day creating things for 1 person. It is a calm holiday without guests or gifts or much hoopla at all. It actually creeps up out of nowhere and is gone in a flash.
Each year I spend the better part of the day preparing special dishes that will excite our taste buds but ooze romance as well. This year I decided to focus on seafood simply because it is out of the ordinary. I should say fish is out of the ordinary. Shrimp makes a regular appearance at our house. I love shrimp in all forms and I think it has been a staple at every holiday event I've hosted for as long as I can remember. I thought Joseph would see that I decided to play a little switch-a-roo on him. This year I went with big succulent scallops and a cod dish. We've eaten cod before, but I had never cooked any so I knew he would never guess it was coming. The salad course came from epicurious and I must say it was a huge hit. I was totally thrilled with it all around. First of all, it came together in just a couple of minutes, I got to try cooking escarole-I'd never actually put lettuce in a hot pan before, and the prosciutto chips were so so tasty.
The cod on chowder dish was terrific as well. I was able to make the chowder an hour or so in advance and simply sear off the cod right before serving which made it pretty easy as well. I wouldn't mind eating the chowder on it's own...or the cod for that matter. It was just a super tasty dish. So good, in fact, that I didn't end up making the mushroom ravioli I had planned(my back up plan in case the other two went up in flames) and we went straight to the desserts. I made three tiny desserts, two of which were terrific, and the third was just okay. There was a texture issue with the lemon time I will be replacing it with lemon cheesecake. The chocolate mousse was terrific though. It totally made up in the texture department where the other was lacking. Gabe loved the mousse, he kept licking his spoon saying "ice cream," we just nodded and smiled as he enjoyed his "ice cream." Finally, the third was delightful as well. It actually reminded us of strawberry shortcake - even with it's blackberry cream.

Warm Escarole Salad with Seared Scallops
adapted from

2 paper-thin slices prosciutto
2 T olive oil, divided
1 head escarole

4 sea scallops
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t grated lemon peel
First, brush each side of the prosciutto olive oil. Slice each piece of prosciutto into 3 strips. Heat a heavy medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add slices of prosciutto. Cook until bottom is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn prosciutto over and cook until bottom is browned, flattening with spatula, about 1 minute longer. Using tongs, transfer prosciutto to paper towels to crisp. Reserve skillet.
Slice head of escarole into quarters. Drizzle two of the quarters with olive oil. Place in a large skillet over high heat. Cook until slightly wilted on edges and warmed. Remove and roughly chop.

Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper. Heat remaining oil in reserved skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallops and cook until brown and just opaque in center, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to plate. Add lemon juice, lemon peel, and a touch more olive oil to drippings in skillet. Bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Pour pan juices over greens and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide salad among 2 plates and top with scallops. Garnish with prosciutto chips and serve.

Roast Cod with a New Engliand Chowder Sauce
adapted from Alfred Portale's Simple Pleasures
2 oz slab bacon, diced
1 cup clam juice
1 T oil
1/2 c diced onion
1/2 c diced leek
1 t finely chopped garlic
2 medium white potatoes, diced
2/3 c heavy cream
1/3 c milk
salt pepper
4 skin-on cod fillets (4 oz each)
2 T olive oil
green onion or parsley to garnish

(I took a shortcut and used clam juice and skipped the first step of steaming 16 littleneck clams. If you happen to like eating those little rubbery guys do as suggested and steam the clams and serve the dish with the clams as well.)
Heat a large pot with 1 tablsepoon of oil and add bacon. Cook until fat has been rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove bacon.
Add the onions ot the pot of rendered fat and saute until soft, but not brown, about 4 minutes. Add the leeks and the garlic to this and cook an additional 2 minutes. Return half of the bacon to the pot along with the potatoes, cream, and clam juice. Season with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to high, bringing to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
In a large saute pan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Season cod with salt and pepper on both sides and then place skin side down in the pan. Cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook through...roughly 3 minutes depending on how thick of a but you have.
Serve cod atop chowder. Garnish with reserved bacon and green onions or parsley.

Check out Bea's blog for the chocolate mousse/custard:
(Here I changed out bittersweet for semi-sweet, personal preference)
She also inspired the lemon custard dessert:
The strawberry dessert, again roughly inspired by Bea:

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Healthier Flours

Everyone knows that eating too much white flour is a bad thing. White bread on the supermarket shelf is now outnumbered by the variety of whole wheat, whole grain, 7, 9, and 12 grain breads, flax seed, honey wheat, and on and on. In our house we jump from variety to variety weekly. I've tried most of the options out there but we still eat too much white flour. It seems like all of my baking in the past was done with plain old all-purpose flour. This combined with the fact that my son prefers pancakes, waffles, and scones for breakfast nearly everyday makes for quite a flour situation. Awhile back I started adding some bran to our pancakes to make myself feel a little better about eating them...but lately I feel like that is just not enough. So, I've finally branched out and started trying a few other flour alternatives. The latest is flax seed. After trying a loaf of flaxseed bread, I picked up a box of milled flax seed "flour" and gave it a try. I was so thrilled with the results that I started adding it to things like waffles, cookies, and muffins.
Flax seed is hailed as having "Nature's richest plant source of OMEGA 3-oils. It totals 2600 mg of OMEGA 3, 15% of your daily fiber in 2 Tablespoons, and 3 grams of protein. So, I can feel even better about eating all of those pancakes.
I usually replace a quarter to a third of the white flour with flaxseed, as I find more than that makes the bread/cake too crumbly. Give it a try and see what works best for you.

Buttermilk and Flaxseed Pancakes

2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup flaxseed (Start with 1/4 cup and work up to what ratio you like)
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 Tbs. unslated butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a bowl combine all ingredients and mix until smooth, 2-3 minutes. Preheat pan or griddle over medium-low heat. Grease griddle/pan and add batter 1/3 cup at a time. Flip when pancakes appear bubbly and slightly dry on the edges. Serve with honey or syrup.

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