Saturday, October 31, 2009

Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole

I have been meaning to make this Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole for a while. I had to wait for butternut squash season to make it, but I had one in my cabinet (they last a looong time!) so I decided to use it. I adjusted it slightly to match the tastes of my household (aka boyfriend) but it came out pretty yummy.

I skipped the mint and kalamata olives and used probably much more feta than intended (I guess I should knock off the "almost cheeseless" part then...). The yogurt mixture had me worried, but I made sure the pasta/squash/spinach was cool before mixing it in so it didn't curdle. I also left the almonds out of the mix because I had read in some of the comments that they got soggy in there, which is understandable given the large quantity of yogurt. I sprinkled some on top near the end of baking so that they wouldn't burn. They definitely added a nice crunch to the dish and it was good to have that different texture.

One thing I would definitely do differently is cut the spinach smaller. More like in the baked pasta casserole dish that I made a while back (on here... but I just made it the other day also) so that it wasn't so big and weird. I might cut the squash into smaller cubes instead of slices also.

Baby Bran Muffins

I love baking. I have had my eye on the Baby Bran Muffins from 101 Cookbooks for months now. YUM. I bought yogurt today, the only ingredient in the recipe that I didn't already have, and went straight to it.

I used light brown Muscovado sugar instead of the natural cane sugar. I intended to use the full 1/2 cup of honey called for in the recipe, but I only had about 1/4 cup (oops). I topped it off with just under 1/4 cup of agave nectar. I had read in the comments that the muffins were under-sweetened, so I figured it would work out fine (and it did).

The batter was light and fluffy - it was really very interesting. I used my small scoop (Pampered Chef - get one) to put the batter into the mini-muffin tins, which resulted in mostly the perfect size baby muffins. The recipe says it will yield 2 dozen mini muffins, but I ended up with 4 dozen, and batter left over (I ran out of mini muffin tins).

The one, sad problem was that I believe I slightly over-baked them. They were still beautifully crusty on top and moist on the inside, but they stick right to the paper so you almost end up with a mini muffin top instead of a whole muffin. I baked them for 11 minutes. I left them in one minute longer after the toothpick test and I should have followed my instincts and taken them out instead. Next time I might also try them without the muffin papers. I like muffin papers, but not when they stick. I might also try making full-size muffins. The baby muffins were super cute and adorable, but I also ate about 7 straight out of the oven. A full-size one (as long as it doesn't stick to the paper) would be a little more satisfying, I hope.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Apple Walnut Muffins

All day today, I had this terrible urge to bake. I think it had something to do with the fact that my stockpile of frozen muffins is long gone. I had a few things in mind that I wanted to make. Some took too long, others I was missing just one or two ingredients for. Still others were just not what I was looking for (even though I didn't know what I was looking for). I got more and more antsy when I had a sudden breakthrough.

I wanted something that wasn't already spelled out for me on paper. I wanted to make a muffin, and I wanted some ideas of what should go in it. I turned to How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and I found exactly what I needed - an adaptable muffin recipe. Mark Bittman is my hero, for real. I am no scientist, so I can't just go throwing things together in the kitchen and expect them to turn into a muffin. I used his basic muffin recipe and changed it around to satisfy my desires.

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
3 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp melted butter
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Directions: Bake in muffin cups at 400* until you stick in a toothpick and it comes out clean.

The resulting muffin was like a light, delicate cake. If you are looking for a cupcake, look elsewhere. It was almost like a biscuit or a slightly sweet bread. The apple strands were visible, but underrepresented flavor-wise. What a fascinating recipe this was... I can't stop thinking of variations. Different types of flour, different spices, different nuts and maybe fruits. Here, I will stick to some of the variations I would like to make using the apple/walnut flavor profile.
- Mini-muffins = tea cakes!
- Add spices (Pampered Chef Cinnamon Plus spice blend?)
- More/different types of apple
- Grating with the skins on (particularly some deep red ones)
- Brown sugar... muscovado in particular
- Natural sweeteners (honey, agave nectar)
- Rolled oats

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Orzo with Tomato Artichoke Sauce

Tonight I came home wanting a gourmet meal. I didn't want to go to the store, and I shouldn't have to since I constantly have my pantry stocked with deliciousness. I had a Greek salad on my mind which I had no recipe for, so I started googling some ingredients to find recipe inspirations. (Here is one.) I ended up with a very interesting pasta dish instead.

1 small jar grilled marinated artichoke hearts
about 10 kalamata olives, pitted
2 tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup liquid from the artichoke hearts (or a little less of olive oil)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup feta cheese
1/2 box orzo

1. Cook orzo according to package directions.
2. Put artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, tomatoes and garlic in food processor with lemon juice and liquid from artichoke hearts. Process (but not too much) to chop everything up. (Keep it chunky!)
3. Toast sunflower seeds (350* for about 5 minutes).
4. Mix the contents of the food processor with cooked and drained orzo over a tiny bit of heat (just to warm) and mix together.
5. Spoon orzo mixture into bowls and top with sunflower seeds and feta.

Now - I will say a few things. I processed too much (I always do), and it is not too pretty... next time I might use the food chopper instead, or a good knife. This was really intended to be chunky. Also, you may not need all the dressing, or you may need less lemon juice depending on your personal preferences (it was pretty lemony). The tomato was kind of overpowering as well. I did eat a bowl of this, but it wasn't very good in the end. I am posting it anyway because I think it had some potential.

I made this entirely with things I had lying around, so adjust to what you have on hand and your personal preferences. This may actually be better (or at least less tangy) with black olives instead of kalamata olives, or canned artichoke hearts instead of grilled/marinated. I also intended to add red onion to this, but I guess I forgot! There is plenty of room for adjustment here. It made about 4 servings.

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

Andrea came over and we made the Loaded Baked Potato Soup from the Pampered Chef Season's Best book. I had intended to make this for my next show, but good thing I tried it at home first - it's not a recipe well suited to a presentation. In fact, one of my customers who tried to make it actually threw it away before it was finished because it looked so gross! But it is a fun recipe to make using the Deep Covered Baker - and it is done entirely in the microwave. (If you don't have a Deep Covered Baker, order one from me, right now. You might not think you need it, but you do. If you don't believe me now, within a few months you will, when I am making fancy stuff in my microwave, and you are sitting at your computer with your mouth watering over it, about to go make it, when suddenly you remember that you didn't order one when I told you to. Just wait and see.)

Luckily, it tasted good. Ken even said it was better than Panera's soup. Salt and pepper make all the difference, though. I also used mild cheddar because I wanted it to taste like potato, not cheddar. Typically I like extra sharp, but I thought it might overwhelm the soup. I barely tasted it, so this worked. Optional add-ins listed are steamed broccoli florets and bacon. I steamed the broccoli by just wetting it and microwaving it for about 20 seconds. I like my broccoli to be much more crisp than tender, and it was a nice contrast to soup. We didn't use bacon, but that is what is in the Panera baked potato soup, so I would like to try it next time. I am not a big soup person, but I like chunky soups. This would be interesting pureed if that is something that you are interested in.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash with Farro

I bought some butternut squash at the farmers' market because I have never tried it before and I wanted to try something new. I finally got to making this recipe from 101 Cookbooks. I picked this one because it was simple enough to make, and simple enough for me to be able to appreciate the taste of the squash, without it actually being plain.

Although it was pretty good, I would recommend feta instead of goat cheese. The goat cheese was a little too sweet on top of the already sweet butternut squash and red onions. I might also try to make some kind of sauce to go with this as the farro was kind of plain. However, I have never had farro before either, and I really liked it, so I want to try to use it more often. It is somewhat like barley, and Ken thought it tasted kind of like oatmeal.

This recipe made way more than I really needed for 2 people. Too many vegetables can't hurt though, so I would just halve the farro instead, unless you have a need for cooked farro in something else. I liked the squash, so I will definitely be trying some more butternut squash recipes in the next few weeks.

I still can't find my camera charger, but I am in the process of cleaning my house so it should find its way to me soon and I will start posting pictures again. For now I am just catching up on my posts since I am very behind...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mini Carrot Cake Bites

Edited: 10/28/2009. Photo added! :)

This is another one of my Pampered Chef recipes from the Season's Best Fall/Winter 2009. This is one I plan to make for at least one of my upcoming shows. I made these for my birthday the other day to bring in to work, and they were a huge hit - it has been requested that I make them again. (Not requested that I share the recipe... just that I actually make more of them myself and bring them for everyone to eat!)

An important caution: regular cake mix is 18 oz. This recipe calls for 9 oz. That means if you use an entire 18oz box ( your cakes will come out dry and tasting like yellow cake instead of carrot cake. Also, adding extra carrots might sound fun, but it is hard enough to mix so I would stick close to the required amount.

This is another recipe that I would just love to make-over to be more healthy but it's not too easy. Although the Cool Whip in the filling makes me cringe, the recipe has no butter, unlike literally EVERY other cream cheese frosting recipe I found online. Plus, it has carrots in it. So it could be worse!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Peach and Fig Crisp

For my birthday, my mom got me a book called Clean Food. I love reading cookbooks, which is kind of weird. It makes sense to me because I like TV shows but not movies, and I like magazines more than books. I like cookbooks because I can read one recipe at a time if I want. I don't have to remember a plot next time I pick up the book, and I'm not obligated to go back to it later. I also use my cookbooks as a reference when I have something that I have to use (or just really want to use) without any idea what I'm going to do with it.

I had fresh figs from my Nonna and I wanted to make something with them. My mom and sister are perfectly satisfied just eating them right out of the tupperware, but I wanted to MAKE something with them. We were going over Ken's for his birthday and I thought I should bring a dessert. Looking through all my books, I found nothing for fresh figs and I was getting frustrated. I don't like to use the internet for recipes too often, because I can't connect with and develop a trusting relationship with the internet the way I can with a cookbook (and sort of the author). So I finally came across ONE fresh fig recipe in Clean Food. Finally. I was relieved. And lucky for me, it sounded REALLY good - Peach, Fig and Bourbon Crisp.

It turned out not to be too "crisp," but it was tasty. I had a fun time explaining agave nectar to the victims of this experiment (I wouldn't allow it to be counted as a dessert option until I tasted it to make sure it wasn't horrendous) and it turned out to be a pretty big hit. Next time I will try harder to find better peaches (although it is the middle of October, so I shouldn't be looking for peaches at all) but I can't wait to make this again - next year, maybe.

Unfortunately, my camera battery is dead and I cannot find the charger for the life of me, so there is no picture of this little masterpiece. Maybe next year :)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bucatini with Mushrooms

I get Cooking Light every month and a lot of the recipes have meat in them. I just don't care much for meat anymore (but I do love seafood...), and while I am not a vegetarian exactly I don't care for cooking meat either, so I am always on the lookout for vegetarian recipes in there as well as stuff from other cultures. The current issue (probably November 2009) has a whole beautifully photographed section on how to create the perfect noodle bowl from a variety of cultures. I chose a little trip to Italy with Bucatini with Mushrooms.

By now my very few readers are probably familiar with my addiction to the Rutgers Gardens farm market, and I may have mentioned the guy who sells mushrooms. A whole stand dedicated to mushrooms - cremini, portobello, oyster, shiitake... and you can buy a mix of them as well. I immediately thought of this when I read this recipe and I made the plan to make it on a Friday so I would have wonderful fresh mushrooms to use. Of course I picked up the mix and got straight to work.

This recipe was a lot of work so of course I had a little assistance from my sous chef (Ken). In addition to the mushroom mix, the recipe calls for dried porcini mushrooms. According to many (including one of my favorites, Mark Bittman) the dried mushrooms add an extra dimension to the flavor profile of the dish. The 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream was an interesting addition also, but it gave the sauce a creamy texture which happens to go well with mushrooms.

I might make this again, but it was a lot of work. A special occasion might warrant it, but it would be necessary to have access to a mushroom blend like this one. The market is unfortunately only open until the end of October.