Friday, February 13, 2015

"Absence makes the heart grow....forgetful"

So, yea.....I just realized, when searching for a recipe for a friend, that I haven't posted on here in a REALLY long time.  I've moved since the last time I posted, become a grandmother, learned how to grow and butcher our own pigs......and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  But....I still love to cook, although with the schedule my husband is currently doesn't afford me as many opportunities.  Still like to look at recipes and give them a try....and Pinterest has become my new-found love for finding them.

Since tomorrow is "Valentine's Day" I thought I'd post a fun, super-easy recipe for a nice "sweet" for you to make for your "sweetie".  My husband is NOT a sweet lover, but this was REALLY popular when I made it...and I bet it will be when you make it too.  I got this recipe from Pinterest....and if you aren't currently on Pinterest, I'd really recommend checking it out.

Skillet Cookie Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk chocolate M&Ms*
1/2 cup peanut butter chips*
1/2 cup peanut butter-filled chocolate chips*
Ice cream (optional, but highly recommended)
*You can use whatever chips, nuts, etc. that you like. I recommend about 1 1/2 cups total. I also sprinkled a few on top of the cookie before baking so I could easily tell what was inside the cookie.
Begin by placing an oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch ovenproof skillet.
Then, in a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 - 4 minutes. Reduce the speed to low; then add the egg, followed by the egg yolk and vanilla. Beat well. Add the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined.
Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate chips until just combined. Add the batter to the prepared pan and smooth out the top. Add a few more of your chips to the top of the batter, if desired.
Bake until the cookie is lightly browned on the outside, but still slightly under-cooked in the center. This will take about 20 - 22 minutes. Allow the cookie to cool for 10 - 15 minutes before serving.

Food Quote:  "I want to have a good body, but not as much as I want dessert."  Jason Love

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Under the Tuscan....gun

Watching cooking shows is my weakness.  I'll often have it on "in the background" and I can hear the host mention one ingredient....and I have to go in, sit down, and watch.  My TRUE weakness is anything that pertains to Italian food.  I harken back to my childhood....and I'm a goner.

Today I have to go into work at Disney and my husband made me fresh blueberry pancakes (for the second day in a row!) So I wanted something a little "substantial.....but light" (if that makes any sense, LOL) before I had to leave.  I decided to take the fresh basil, fresh strawberries, fresh arugula and some of the mixed greens from a bag in the fridge, and some chunked (is that a WORD?  I think so.) up homemade Italian "toast" I had made ...and make a "salad".  When I got it all together....I had no idea what type of dressing to put on I took about 2-3 tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar, about 1-2 tablespoons of honey, the juice of 1/4 of a lemon and heated it, stirring constantly.  I brought it JUST to a boil....then let it cool slightly after which time I "drizzled" it over my salad.  The result?  HEAVEN.

But then let me tell you about my OTHER "inspiration" this morning!  This week at Publix, they are selling their pre-made Italian pizza doughs at a "BOGO" (buy one, get one free).  I had gotten two while shopping on Thursday and made a fresh pizza for that night but the other one, due to last minute things that came up late yesterday was still in the fridge this morning.  I didn't really want to make an entire pizza and eat it before I hatched a plan.  I rolled it out onto my cutting board into a large rectangle.  I melted 1/4 of a stick of butter and ran a (large) clove of garlic through my garlic press.  I then used my pastry brush to "brush" about 3/4 of the mixture over the surface of the rolled out dough.  Then I sprinkled on chopped fresh rosemary, chopped fresh basil, and some dried oregano and topped all of THAT off with about a scant 1/4 c. of grated Parmesan.  I rolled it and then placed it into a bread pan that I had sprayed with cooking spray and painted the top of it with the remaining butter/garlic mixture.  I had a small amount of the cheese left so I sprinkled that on as well and baked it for about 40 minutes in a 350 oven.  It was delicious.  My only regret was that I felt I should have rolled it tighter, so if you try this....roll tightly.

I can't wait for my husband to wake up (he works nights, but will wake up before I have to leave today) to try the bread.  I only wish he could've had some while it was warm...and that he could have tried the salad (I ate it all...LOL)

I love coming up with great ideas on my own....and hope you do to.  That's what the adventure of cooking is all ABOUT.  I could eat Italian every day.  I love Mexican food (due to 10+ years spent living in Southern California), I love Greek food (due to many years with Greek neighbors and friends) but I LIVE for Italian food.  I don't think there's ANYTHING that smells more beautiful than fresh basil, fresh parmesan cheese, the smell of garlic cooking in really good olive's perfume for the senses....and the soul.

Food quote: "La cucina piccola fal la casa grande." (Translation: "A small kitchen makes the home big")

Buon appetito a tutte

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Viva Italia!! Ciao, bambini!!

Growing up with an Italian aunt was one very bright spot of my childhood.  I loved spending time with her, and would stay with her for the longest possible time that I could manage.  She taught me to cook, she taught me religion, she taught me to speak Italian (something I'm working on getting better at now), and she taught me passion...for people, for food....and for life.  She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I loved everything about her.  When she died, far too soon, I was devastated.  Italian cuisine became my "comfort food" and the smell of fine basil, good oregano, and beautiful mozzeralla or parmesan (or "parmigiano" as she called it) bring her back to me.  Mexican cuisine reminds me of "home" in California...but Italian food reminds me of family....of "famiglia" and my "Zia Caterine")  Ti voglio bene, zia. E mi manchi ogni giorno!

This cake is one that I learned how to make NOT from my aunt...but it is Italian....fully Italian.  I got the recipe from someone from Fiesole, which is a small town near Florence; in the heart of Tuscany.  It is SUPER easy to make, VERY versatile and utilizes a lot of ingredients that I have close at hand; living here in a citrus grove.  Citrus fruits figure very prominently into Italian cuisine.  Give this cake a try, you won't be sorry.

Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina
Butter, for pan (I cannot stress enough the importance of buttering your pan.  It makes removal of the one piece....possible.  You can also dust the pan (after buttering) with a small amount of flour, but don't use too much)
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 T. (yes...tablespoons) baking powder
Zest and juice of one orange
3 large eggs
1/2 c warm WHOLE milk (I've heard you can make it with skim...and I imagine you can make it with other types of milk as's just that the richer the milk....the richer the flavor)
4 T. vegetable oil
Powdered sugar (confectioner's sugar) for topping.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan

Add together the flour, sugar, baking powder, orange zest, orange juice, eggs, milk and oil.  Beat at medium/medium low speed until thoroughly mixed together....about 3-4 minutes

Add the batter to the buttered pan and bake for about 25 minutes.  Test the cake with a toothpick inserted into the center.  If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Let cool for about 30 minutes on the counter; then flip the cake out of the baking pan onto a platter.

You can sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar or you can slice it and sprinkle it over each individual piece.  This cake is simple and rustic, but it is DIVINE served with fresh fruit and freshly made whipping cream.  It reminds me of a pound cake, but the citrus makes it SO much better.  I've even eaten it for breakfast, spread with some orange marmalade...while drinking my coffee.  :)

Tip:  I have, on occasion, removed some of the orange juice and replaced it with 2 T. of Grand Marnier or Amaretto diSaronno.  Just make sure you don't ADD the liqueur TO the orange juice or you might end up with too much liquid.  If you're going to use one of the liqueurs (and they REALLY enhance the flavor!!) take out 2 T. of the orange juice and replace it with the liqueur.

Food quote:  "Hell....a place where no one is waiting, and nothing is cooking"  Old Tuscan Saying.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Grilled Cheese....YES, please!

Family issues have caused me to deactivate my Facebook (it's tough being a parent.....) so I hope that at least the people who follow this blog will know that I am still alive....and still blogging.  It's liberating to cut FB out of your life for a while....although, it seems, I find SO many things that I think..."oh wow...that'd make a GREAT FB status..." then reality hits.  Additionally, being away from FB means my house is clean, my laundry is all done, I'm studying my Italian and practicing my meditation much more regularly....and I'm catching up on my writing and my blogging.  So here goes.

One of my "comfort foods" is a grilled cheese sandwich.  If you give me that AND some cream of tomato soup....I'm yours.  I'm in the palm of your hand.  Usually this sandwich consists of regular old white bread and Kraft individually wrapped cheese (IS it cheese?  I sometimes wonder) slices.  Sometimes I add sliced tomato.  But I ran across a couple ideas that are AWESOME and have become part of my repertoire.  Thank you to Publix for giving me this "tips"  Here goes:

Chicken, Asparagus & Swiss Grilled Cheese
4 slices whole grain bread
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices, deli-shaved chicken breast
8 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and steamed until "crisp/tender" (although, I made it with GRILLED asparagus...and I must say...awesome)
1 T. basil pesto
1 1/2 T butter, softened.

Top each of 2 bread slices with 2 slices of cheese, followed by 2 slices of chicken breast and 4 asparagus spears.  Spread remaining slices of bread with basil pesto; place on top of the asparagus, spread side down. Brush both sides of each sandwich with butter.

Heat a nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat.  Add sandwiches to skillet.  Cook 2 minutes.  Turn over and cook 2 minutes more or until cheese is melted.

Ham & Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese
Nonstick cooking spray
1 medium onion, very thinly slices
1/8 tsp sugar
Dash of salt
2 tsp spicy brown mustard
1/2 T. prepared horseradish
1 tsp honey
4 slices whole wheat bread
6 slices ham
2 ounces Gruyere cheese

Coat a medium skilled with cooking spray and place over medium heat.  Add onion, sugar and salt to skillet; cover.  Cook for 10 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat
Stir together mustard, horseradish and honey.  Spread 2 bread slices evenly with mustard mixture then layer with 3 slices of ham on each piece.  Place about 2 T. of onions on top of the ham, then place 1 ounce of the Gruyere on top of the onions.  Place the remaining bread slice on top, over the cheese.
Coat sandwiches lightly with nonstick cooking spray.  Preheat a covered indoor grill or panini press.  Place sandwiches onto grill or panini press.  Cover and cook about 5 minutes or until golden brown and cheese is melted.  Don't have an indoor grill (George Foreman variety) or a panini press?  Place the sandwiches in a grill pan (they have "ridges" on the bottom) or a skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Turn sandwiches over, weigh them down (use a heavy pan and place a can or even a brick inside it) and cook for 2 minutes more or until golden brown and cheese is melted.

Grilled cheese is one of THE most versatile sandwiches there is.  Experiment!  Try different types of bread....different kinds of cheese....and add anything you LOVE to the mix.  I've made them with gorgonzola, with bleu cheese....even brie.  I've added anything from dried cranberries to sliced mushrooms to sliced boiled eggs.  Have fun, don't be scared.  If you love grilled cheese, you can't EVER really go wrong.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pumpkins on Parade....

So today was the day to cook down the pumpkins and extract the seeds...since I already needed to have the oven on most of the day, anyway...and had purchased the rest of the "supplies" I needed (heavy whipping cream and things to make pie crust).

In a previous blog you will note that I gave instructions on how to prepare and cook pumpkins...well, let me just say that one pumpkin "cleaning" went off without a hitch but the OTHER one....I spent over 20 minutes just trying to cut it OPEN...and ended up with the entire front of my shirt covered in pumpkin and was SERIOUSLY considering going out to the garage to get my husband's ax.  Eventually, everything worked out, but baking/foil steaming pumpkins does take a long time...and a lot of checking.  They are currently cooling so that I can extract the flesh from the rind and then process it.  The seeds have been cleaned, soaked in salt water (that's my addition to the recipe) and are drying on clean paper towels....that's my recipe for to toast pumpkin seeds.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

When you are cleaning the seeds...separating them from the "string-y" parts of the pumpkins's easiest if you first put the seeds into a bowl of water.  They become easier to clean and separate that way.  I then soak mine in water with Kosher salt added for about 30-45 minutes and then drain.  Letting them sit in the colander for a while will help them to dry out, and you can even use a hair blow dryer if you want to!

Once the seeds are nice and dry, preheat your oven to 275 degrees.  Then spread the seeds out on a cookie sheet in a single layer and begin seasoning them.  There are many variations of this, but here are the most popular:

Spread the seeds evenly over a cookie sheet and lightly baste the seeds with melted butter, margarine, or vegetable oil.  There are many variations.  Here are the most popular, in order or popularity:
  1. Savory: 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt and 2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
  2. Lemony:  4 tablespoons melted butter, 1 teaspoon 'Mrs. Dash" or lemon pepper
  3. Halloweeny:  4 tablespoons melted butter, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt,  and 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice.
  4. Spicy: 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  5. Natural: 1 teaspoon sea salt or other salt, 4 tablespoons melted butter.
You can then roast the seeds in the 275 degree oven for 10-20 minutes, until golden brown.  Keep a close eye on them, checking them every few minutes and stirring them about every 5 minutes.  If your oven "runs hot" this process can take as little as 10 minutes, or as long as 30 minutes.  Remove them from the oven when golden brown, sprinkle with salt and let cool.  An alternative method is to fry them in deep oil for a few minutes, then drain and sprinkle with salt.

I know that this sounds like kind of a tedious process but (if you like pumpkin seeds) it is SO worth it.  

Today's food quote:  "When witches go riding, and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers..'tis near Halloween"~~Author Unknown

Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's a Fresh Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!!

One of my favorite holiday specials is, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!".  Those old shows bring back such great memories and are so adorable...and, when it airs, I know for sure that autumn is on the way and Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Canned pumpkin gets rolled out en force during this time of year.  It's so convenient, it's there, on the aisle end looks so "festive" and all you do is grab it, take it home, GLOP it out of the can, maybe add a few spices (unless you've gone a step FURTHER and gotten "Pumpkin Pie Filling") and you're on your way. BUT....pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin roll (never had one?  maybe I'll have to put THAT recipe into my blog!  it's one of our families' FAVORITES!) taste SO much better if you use fresh pumpkin.  And it's not that hard.  So, grab those fresh pumpkins, cook 'em up and you can even freeze this pumpkin for use all year long!  Say "bye-bye" to that "glop" in a can that was processed LAST YEAR (and has chemicals added!!)

You only need a few supplies to get the job done:

1 small pie pumpkin
1 large, sharp, serrated knife
1 ice cream scoop
1 large microwaveable bowl or large pot

A pie pumpkin is much smaller, sweeter, and less "grainy" than the jack-o-lantern types.  Grocery stores and farmers' markets usually carry them from late September into December...but grab then when you can; with the trend towards more "natural" foods...they go quickly.  Look for pumpkins that are firm, have no bruises or soft spots and have a nice, orange color.  You will usually get 2-3 cups of pumpkin puree from one average sized "pie pumpkin"

Step 1:
Wash the pumpkin in cool or slightly warm NOT use soap.
Cut the pumpkin in half..a serrated knife with a "sawing motion" works best.  Remove the stem...using small, short cuts, going around the stem is the easiest and best...don't try to do it all in one cut.

Step 2:
Scoop out the seeds and scrape the insides.  You want to remove ALL of the "stringy" material.  This is where the ice cream scoop comes in...perfect for scooping and scraping!

Save your seeds!!  They can either be used to plant pumpkins next year or toasted to eat (or both!)  Place them in a bowl of water and rub them between your hands.  Then, pick out all of the orange bits, discard, and then drain off the water.  Place the seeds on a clean towel or paper towel for drying.  Once dry, they're ready for next year's planting..or roasting (upcoming blog will have recipe for toasting pumpkin seeds...they are DELICIOUS when you make them fresh!!)

Step 3: 
There are several ways to cook the can use the microwave...a pressure cooker.....steam them on the stovetop or roast them in the oven.  If you are roasting...use foil.  In fact, line the baking dish with foil, then COVER the pumpkin with foil--all the juices will be saved...and the pumpkin will be, in fact, both roasted and steamed. If you're roasting in the oven add water into the foil wrapped "pocket" and bake at 350--testing periodically for "doneness" usually takes about 45 minutes.  The fastest, easiest way is to cut the pumpkin up into several pieces (remember to remove the stem) and place it into a microwaveable bowl--remember, the fewer the number of pieces; the easier it will be to scoop out the cooked pumpkin, so don't make the pieces too small, just small enough to fit all of them into a microwaveable bowl.  Put a couple inches of water into it, cover (with a dish cover/lid or cling wrap) and put into the microwave.

Step 4:
Cook for 15 minutes on HIGH then check to see if the pumpkin flesh is "soft".  If necessary, keep adding small increments of time until the flesh is soft enough to scoop out.  This usually takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, in total, depending upon the size of the pumpkin.

Step 5:
Once is has cooked until it is soft, it's easy to scoop out the flesh with a broad, smooth typed spoon--like a tablespoon.  Use the spoon to gently scoop and lift the flesh away from the should remove easily and smoothly in fairly large chunks if the pumpkin has been cooked long enough.  **Letting it cool first, is a very good idea, and sometimes in fact, at this point, the flesh can be literally pulled away from the rind with your hands.

Step 6:
To get a nice, smooth consistency...use either a food processor (use the "pulse" button) or a hand blender.  This usually takes about 2 or 3 minutes.  Take your time and go slowly.

Your pumpkin is now ready for the pie recipe or anything else you may want to use it for!  They are fine to freeze...but NOT SUITABLE FOR HOME CANNING.  Freeze them into small sandwich type bags or plastic freezer containers.  TIP:  Pumpkin with a VERY SMALL amount of salt and pepper is PERFECT for baby food!  Freeze it into ice cube trays, then "plop" the cubes out into plastic cube = one serving.  TIP FOR PET OWNERS: Pumpkin puree is perfect for dogs with digestive upsets.  Use pumpkin with (again) a VERY SMALL amount of seasoning, salt, pepper, maybe a small amount of garlic (dogs LOVE garlic!!) can be used, but remember..if you're going to use this for a pup with a digestive upset, bland is you may just want to freeze it plain.  You can, once again, freeze them into ice cube trays for use if "Fido" gets a "tummy ache" .

So there you have it!  I'll bet you didn't know making pumpkin "glop" (oops, I mean puree) was this easy!!  And it tastes SOOOO good and the smell it adds to your home while it's baking (both the first time, and when you use it again, in recipes) is AWESOME!!

Food quote of the day:  "There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: politics, religion, and The Great Pumpkin"~~Linus, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!"

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Happy Autumn, Happy Fall!!

I am SO ready for it to be autumn!!  So ready for the cooler mornings, cooler evenings and, hopefully, cooler DAYTIMES as well!  Living in Central Florida I often feel as if we have seasons here...known as "Hot, Hotter, and Holy HELL!!"

But seriously, I begin to get "antsy" around this time of year...because Autumn is my favorite season...readying for favorite holiday.  In visiting the local stores, I feel that Thanksgiving is a "forgotten holiday"...just last night I was in Target, searching the Halloween aisle(s) for my new found love, "Candy Corn M&M's" (seriously...have you TRIED these?!  They're HEAVEN) and noticed that the CHRISTMAS decorations were peeping aisle of the back, behind the Jack-o-lanterns.  A sacrilege, completely and totally.

I did try a Starbucks "Pumpkin Spice Latte" last night (delicious) and that has put me into the mood for all things pumpkin.  Soooo....for the next couple blogs, I'm going to try to get some recipes together that will put a new spin on that lovely, orange, autumnal orb.  Have you ever had a Pumpkin Bagel?  Delicious!  And here's a great topping for one (if you manage to find one!) or for apple wedges, vanilla wafers, or water crackers.

Harvest Pumpkin Dip

1 c. pumpkin
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 c. Cool Whip (or other non-dairy whipped topping)

Combine everything but the Cool Whip--mix well.  Fold in Cool Whip.  Spoon into small serving bowl, top with chopped pecans (this is could also top with some crunchy granola, or even "craisins"!!)  Chill before serving.

Happy First Day of Autumn!  We're still in the "90's" here...but I am ever hopeful that, before too much longer, we'll also feel (at least a LITTLE) "snap" in the air.

Food quote of the day: "Vegetables are a MUST on a diet.  So, I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie"  Jim Davis