Monday, March 29, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake

A few weeks ago, while foodgawking, I happened across a gorgeous picture of a strawberry shortcake. Being that Spring is in the air and many people are beginning to showcase strawberry desserts, there have actually been several strawberry shortcakes on foodgawker, but this one stood out to me. So much so that I have actually had a browser instance open since finding it with the link open. And every time I log in, I look at the recipe and drool a little. Not literally, but it wouldn't be a far stretch.

Today I decided to just go for it and make it. For no other reason than I didn't want to wait any longer.

To check out the recipe, and understand why I couldn't wait to try it, take a look here.

The first thing I did was make the biscuits. These came together so easily - there are only seven ingredients, and one of them is a whole stick of butter. Yum. And awesome, because it is one that little miss can totally, well, for the most part, do. Aside from her normal measuring, whisking and mixing duties, she got to do some of her favorite baking tasks - rolling and cutting. The dough is rolled a little thicker than, say, cookie dough, so we didn't use cookie cutters to cut our circles. Much to little miss's delight, we used a drinking glass. I should have floured the rim of the glass between each cut, because there were a few that didn't want to pop out, but it worked really well. And yes, those were our craft projects for the day in the background, so little miss was pretty busy today!

Anyway, the recipe says to cook these for 10-12 minutes, so I set the timer for 10 minutes and kept my eye on them. After 10 minutes, they weren't quite golden on top, so I set the timer for another minute. Little miss loved letting me know every time the timer beeped. Which was good, because I had to keep doing that a few times. They probably wound up baking for 14 minutes total, but when they came out, they looked (and smelled) beautiful. So good, in fact, that we barely waited for them to cool all the way to sample one... I didn't even make us wait until our regular snack time!

Anyway, since I wanted to serve these as dessert from dinner, I actually waited to complete the rest of the process, so we played, ran some errands, did some more crafts... then, once our meatloaf went into the oven, we sliced up about a pound of strawberries, sprinkled them with sugar and a splash of lemon juice and let them sit. And put the whish attatchment for my KitchenAid mixer into the freezer. I would have put the bowl in there, too, but there is no way I could make it fit. Once dinner was done, I was ready to whip the cream and assemble the shortcakes.

These were delicious. The only negative was that I used too much lemon juice on the strawberries, but that was totally me, nothing to do with the recipe. I will definitely be making these again, especially once strawberry season really starts. And I'll probably make them with peaches in peach season and blueberries during blueberry season... Yeah, they're that good.

Strawberry Shortcake
(from Miri Leigh)

For the strawberries and whipped cream:
2 pints fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced lengthwise
2/3 cup granulated sugar (divided)
Juice of one lemon
1 cup heavy cream

Combine the sliced strawberries, 1/3 cup granulated sugar and lemon juice in a bowl. Toss gently and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or with a handheld mixer), beat the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar with the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the biscuits.

For the shortcake biscuits:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks.=
3/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Whisk the dry ingredients in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or two knives (or even your fingertips) until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the cream and incorporate using a wooden spoon until the dough is thoroughly moistened. Be careful not to overwork the dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a 1/2 inch thick disk using a floured rolling pin. Cut the dough into three-inch rounds using a cookie cutter, drinking glass, biscuit cutter or empty tin can, gently re-rolling dough as necessary. (you should wind up with 6-8 biscuits) Transfer the rounds to a cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.
Allow to cool

To assemble the shortcakes:
Cut each cooled biscuit in half horizontally. Place the bottom half on a plate and spoon the strawberries and whipped cream over it. Place the top half of the biscuit on top of the berries and whipped cream. If desired, garnish with additional whipped cream and strawberries.
Serve immediately.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

March Daring Bakers Challenge - Orange Tian

This is going to be a long, picture-heavy post, so grab a seat and enjoy!

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

When this month's challenge was revealed, it was certainly a challenge for me. I had never heard of "tian," and it looked like there were many different components involved for the completion of the dessert. But the description was intriguing, the pictures included for reference appetizing, and, hey, it involves fruit! How bad could it be?

Orange tian is a layered dessert with a cookie base and whipped cream layer, topped with segmented oranges. Oh, and drizzled with caramel. According to the recipe, these are made in ring molds to be individual sized desserts, and according to the challenge, we could be creative and use any citrus fruit we wanted.

All in all, there are five components to this dessert - orange marmalade, which is used to coat the cookie base as well as flavor the whipped cream, pate sablee, which is the cookie base, stabilized whipped cream, orange segments, cut to ensure there is no pith, and caramel sauce.

Man, that is one involved dessert. I guess that is why it is called a challenge!

I knew that I wanted to make a variety of flavors, including the original recipe of orange. Being that it was the challenge for March, the month encompassing St. Patrick's Day, I thought lime might be fun, since it is green. And since it is also the beginning of Spring and strawberries are beginning to go on sale everywhere, well, I wanted to do strawberry, too!

The first step was making the marmalade, something I had never tasted before, much less made. The challenge recipe for orange marmalade called for using the whole orange - rind, pith - everything. Sliced as thinly as possible, the oranges are blanched, which involves them being covered in cold water, which is then brought up to simmer for 10 minutes. The water is then drained and the process is repeated two more times, for a total of three times. This process helps remove the bitterness from the rind and pith. As much as it seems like it would also remove much of the orange flavor, what with the repeated draining of the water, it actually doesn't, and you are left with nearly-bitter-free orange slices. Once cooled, the slices are chopped as finely as possible. Technically, you can use a food processor to accomplish this, but, well, as I have said once or twice before, I don't have a food processor, so I chopped by hand. The chopped oranges are then mixed with sugar, fresh squeezed orange juice and a little bit of fruit pectin and cooked until it all comes together to form a beautiful jam, or, well, marmalade. Little miss helped me squeeze the oranges for the juice, but otherwise, I had to do most of the work on this one, what with the boiling, chopping and cooking.

For the strawberry variety, I made regular strawberry jam, with the recipe found in the box of low-sugar pectin. You can read about that adventure here.

For the lime, I used the exact process as used for the orange, just substituting limes and, well, halving the recipe, since I don't really have much use for lime marmalade outside of this recipe. It was definitely a fun exercise, but I definitely should have used WAY more sugar in the lime marmalade to compensate for the tartness of the limes. The other funny thing about the lime marmalade was that the color did not turn out anything like I'd expected. I'd hoped for, well, lime green. My finished product came out looking more like pickle relish... But it was definitely fun to make the three varieties of jam, and I will definitely be making more jams this year once fruit-picking season starts, so that just might be one of the biggest bonuses of this challenge.

Marmalades complete, the next component that I decided to tackle was the pate sablee. Pate sablee is a pastry, and, at least in my experience with it, is similar to a slightly-more-crumbly sugar cookie. The recipe calls for the dough to be made using a food processor, but you know what I am going to say about that... so I enlisted the help of my ever-ready helper, and then, the help of my KitchenAid mixer. My dough, when prepared using the measurements given in the recipe, was very crumbly, which the recipe said was a possibility. I started adding water slowly, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough just came together. The dough was then refrigerated until it was time for little miss's favorite part - time for the rolling pin and cookie cutters.

Let me back up for a second here. As I mentioned before, the recipe is intended to be made single-serving sized in ring molds or high-sided cookie cutters. Neither of which I had. So I decided to make mine in a cupcake tin. Though the sides are slightly slanted, I thought that would work pretty well. Plus I have a circle cookie cutter that is just about the same size as the top of the cupcake well, so I figured it was a good choice.

Okay, back to the process - rolling and cutting the dough. There was more than enough dough to make the six circles needed for my six-well cupcake tin, so little miss chose to make hearts, also.

The pate sablee baked up beautifully. Like slightly-textured sugar cookies. Of course little miss and I had to taste them once they were cooled, and they were delicious.

The next two components of the dessert, the orange segments and the caramel, were prepared the day before I wanted the dessert to be served. Segmenting the oranges (and limes, and cutting the strawberries) was a pretty straightforward task. While my segments weren't as pretty as the ones done in the demonstration video, I was really pleased by the effort, since I managed to cut them pretty evenly, removing all of the pith and rind. The caramel was a little tricky, and it is always scary to put a pot of sugar on the stove and NOT stir it... but I think it turned out decently, and I was able to store the fruit segments (and slices, for the strawberries) in the caramel overnight to infuse them with the extra sweetness.

The next morning, all that was left to do was to make the whipped cream and assemble the desserts. I was excited to see it all come together. But man, I have to tell you, that day was probably the worst kitchen day in the history of me. I made just about every mistake you can imagine. The first was misreading the recipe for the stabilized whipped cream. I have whipped cream before, many times, and have never had any trouble. But this recipe called for using gelatin to stabilize the whipped cream, something I had never done before. To do so, you dissolve a teaspoon of unflavored gelatin in three tablespoons of hot water, then whip that liquid to the whipped cream to incorporate it. Sounds easy enough, right? Unless you mis-read "teaspoon" as "tablespoon" as the measurement for the gelatin, thus adding three times more gelatin than those poor three tablespoons of water can dissolve. I didn't think it looked right, since I now had a gel rather than a liquid, but tried to persevere, adding the gel to my whipped cream. Yeah. Not so good. Obviously, it didn't incorporate well. At all. So I kept whipping, hoping it would incorporate. So instead of stabilized whipped cream, I kind of wound up with gelatin-chunked butter. Oops. Luckily, I realized my mistake and started over, this time with much better results.

I then divided the cream into three bowls, since it is supposed to be flavored with a bit of the corresponding marmalade flavor of the dessert.

I now had all of the components prepared and was ready to construct.

The tian are actually constructed upside down, and, when ready to serve, flipped out to be right-side up. To make the flipping-out-of-the-pan part a little easier, I lined my cupcake pan with plastic wrap before putting these together, which wound up being a good idea for more than one reason, but I'll get to that in a minute.

First into each well of the pan went the fruit, then the corresponding flavor of whipped cream, then, finally, a marmalade-coated pate sablee cookie is settled on top. It was a little difficult to judge how much whipped cream was going into each portion, but other than that, these came together really nicely. Now it was time to put them in the freezer, so I covered them in more plastic wrap and made some room on one of the freezer shelves. And that is when disaster struck. My beautiful tray of completed tian fell out of the freezer. Onto the floor. I kid you not, I almost cried. As luck would have it, between the plastic wrap covering them and lining the pan, they really didn't have anywhere to go when they fell, so they were fully protected, with only one cookie popping out of place and onto its neighbor in the pan. But, man - talk about upsetting. I had visions of all of that hard work needing to be mopped off of my kitchen floor. Luckily, they were fine.

Crisis averted, I decided to use the leftover components (I had lots extra of everything) and put together one more, though larger, tian, this one combining strawberry and orange. Since I hadn't planned on making this one, I hadn't made a pate sablee cookie large enough to serve as the base for one this size, but I just used the leftover smaller ones and pieced together a workable base.

The individual tians came out very nicely, and we ate them for dessert that night after dinner. The strawberry was probably everyone's favorite, followed very closely by the orange. The lime was no-one's favorite, though I am still glad I tried it. The larger tian actually rested nicely in the freezer until this week, about two weeks after it was originally made. We pulled it out for dessert this week and it was delicious.
Thank you, Jennifer, for a truly refreshing, not to mention challenging, challenge, and for introducing me to this delicious dessert. This is why I love the Daring Kitchen!

Check out the work of some of the other Daring Bakers here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Same ingredients, different dinner

I seriously wasn't planning on posting tonight, but had an interesting deja vu experience while prepping dinner tonight.

I was sauteeing onions and red peppers, and getting the leftover chicken out of the fridge when it hit me. This was exactly what I was doing 24 hours ago, but for a completely different meal.

Last night I made, for lack of a better name, fajita rice - shredded chicken with sauteed onions and red peppers over rice, topped with salsa, sour cream, fresh-made guacamole and more baked tortilla strips. (I wish I had taken a picture, because it was delicious and pretty!) Tonight I was making a chinese style stir fry, also served over rice.

And if you were to tell me that I had to make a completely different type of meal tomorrow, also using sauteed onions and peppers, even if you said it had to include rice, I could do it. How cool is that?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sides, sides, how to choose?

Last night we had kielbasa for dinner. A delicious change of pace, and super easy to make - just heat and eat!

The "hard" part was picking a side dish. Usually we make pirogies and a veggie when we have kielbasa, but I had no pirogies in the freezer and am not brave enough (yet) to make them from scratch... so instead, I figured I would make something with potatoes. I didn't want oven fries or hash browns, nothing fried (or fried-esque...). I started looking up potato casserole recipes, but none were speaking to me... then I thought of scalloped potatoes. Hmm... Intriguing. So I started looking at recipes. Many were written to make way more than I wanted. Others were written to use canned cream-of-fill-in-the-blank soup. Those weren't going to work. So I decided to wing it.

I peeled and sliced five potatoes as thinly as I could. Then I made a sauce similar to what I make for mac & cheese, adding onions to the butter before adding the flour for the roux. Add some milk, grate some cheese... instant cheese sauce. Not to mention a kinda cool picture... Anyway, layer of potatoes, drowned in cheese sauce, another layer of potatoes, more sauce... And 45 minutes later, out of the oven came an ooey, gooey, bubbly, cheesy, potatoey (is that a word) delicious dish.

But I wasn't done. I kind of felt like something was missing, and wanted some way to make the meal feel... well, a little healthier... Kielbasa and cheese-sauce-smothered potatoes just felt a little heavy to me, even knowing that brocolli was being served with it.

So I picked a fruit side, too.

We still have a bunch of apples, so I sliced two of them up, sauteed them lightly in a pat of butter (not too much - I was going for fresh here!), poured some apple juice over them and covered the pan to let them simmer gently. And, well, of course I sprinkled some cinnamon sugar on them... because it needed it. When I lifted the lid, it looked and smelled delicious, but something still seemed to be missing... it needed some color. A handful of craisins solved that problem beautifully. A few more minutes simmering in the pan and they were done. Everyone had seconds.

All in all, dinner worked out pretty well. A little more work than the usual kielbasa and pirogies, but everything was tasty, and it all went together really well. And was pretty colorful, too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Taco Pasta

Our plan for tonight was to have tacos. Soft tacos, but tacos none the less. Turkey tacos, actually, since ground turkey was on good sale this weekend.

But I didn't make it to Produce Junction yesterday, so I have no lettuce or tomatoes. And what is a taco without lettuce or tomatoes? It just isn't right.

So I gave little miss a choice - taco pasta or taco lasagna. She chose taco pasta, which actually takes a little less time, so she and I played a rousing match of Candyland and then got to work.

Ground turkey doesn't brown and crumble quiet the same way as ground beef does, but, especially when all of the spices are added, it doesn't really make that much of a difference. If I'd had tomatoes, I would have diced some and added them in to the pan at this point, but, well, I guess I already covered that... so all that was left to do was boil some pasta (whole wheat egg noodles) and prepare all the fun accouterments to go along with this dish, including grating some cheddar, cutting an avocado, and setting out sour cream and salsa.

The thing was, I had been planning on soft tacos. Which means tortillas. And I still wanted to use them. So I did. I cut them into strips, sprayed a foil lined baking sheet, and decided to try to make my own taco-chip-strips. I wasn't sure exactly how to go about this, and didn't feel like spending the time to look it up, so I seriously winged it. I set the oven to 400* and, well, waited. I checked them after about seven minutes, flipped them and shook the pan around a bit... put them back in... checked them a few minutes later... and guess what? It worked! Some puffed a little bit, some got a little darker than others, but they were really good, and I will definitely do this again!

All in all, dinner came out really well. Little miss thought that the meat was a little too spicy, which was a little surprising considering that she has had it before, and also that she likes other spicy foods, but that's okay. She is a real trooper and tasted it, so I can't complain.

And, in case you were wondering, she is a little ham and it is becoming a little difficult to take clean food shots with her around... she somehow figured out exactly when to pop her cute little face right into the frame... at just the moment when the camera has focused on the food... Goofy girl.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I'm Irish by marriage, and, well, everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day, so slainte!

We have been celebrating St. Patrick's Day all week here, and will continue to do so at least through tomorrow... From crafts (including a cute leprechaun puppet made out of a paper bag!) to food, we are doing it up.

And of course, what could be more perfect to bake today than a traditional Irish Soda Bread. We use my husband's grandfather's recipe, and I look forward to it all year. Not that you can't have Irish Soda Bread the other 11 months of the year, but I think it tastes better with the St. Paddy's spirit around...

Little miss loves making Irish Soda Bread because she can pretty much do it herself - there are only a few ingredients, no eggs, and you get to knead it with your hands, so that makes for a great pre-schooler recipe.

The only liquid in this bread is buttermilk, and this is the one time of year that I am guaranteed to have actual buttermilk in the house, rather than depending on my usual substitution. Little miss did all of the mixing, most of the measuring and all of the pouring, too. And she was totally in the spirit, too, between the shamrock on her shirt and the one on her cheek... and yes, I had a matching one. A fun time was had by all.

Anyway, her favorite part was kneading the dough. And getting to pick what dried fruit to include. Today she chose craisins. The hardest part for me is making sure the craisins (or raisins) are incorporated evenly through the dough. I always soak them in orange juice before kneading them in so that they don't burn in the oven. The time I forgot to do that, the ones on the outside of the bread were... less than tasty, shall we say. So I try to remember now.

Anyway, this comes together super quick, and then after 40 minutes in the oven, you have a beautiful loaf of this:


Truth be told, this was neither the first nor the last loaf of this that I made this week. I made a loaf yesterday, for which little miss chose raisins (which was why she chose craisins today), which we had with our day-early traditionaly St. Patrick's day dinner of corned beef, cabbage and potatoes. I always add carrots, too, because I like them, and because little miss doesn't like cabbage, but loves carrots. Easy thing to do.

And as for it not being the last? Tomorrow I am going into preschool again with little miss and making another loaf with her class. So the spirit of the Irish will continue on for at least one more day, and the leftovers will be enjoyed for at least that long.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I love to have a little variety in my side dishes. For the most part, in our house, dinner is a meat, a veggie and a starchy side. The regular players in the side-dish role are rice, potatoes and pasta, prepared in any number of ways. But tonight I wasn't in the mood for any of those. I was roasting a chicken and wanted something else... something different.

Enter couscous. Not quite pasta, it makes a great side for almost any meat.

Couscous is prepared similarly to rice - it is added to hot water, the pot is covered, the couscous absorbs the liquid and, well, there you have it.

But I don't do it quite that way. I mean, I do, but I like my couscous a little more complex, with a little more flavor.

Step one? Veggies. Usually I use onion and carrot. Sometimes I add celery. Today I used leek, because I happened to have it. The veggies are chopped pretty small, since the grains of couscous are pretty small. I like a pretty uniform dish. So the veggies are chopped as finely as I can manage by hand. They are then sauteed in a pot until the onions are translucent and the carrots are a bit tender. Considering that this was only the second time I had ever used leeks, I wasn't sure what I was looking for the leeks to do during the sautee process, but that's okay.

Next the couscous is added to the pot and stirred around to be coated with the oil in the pan and mixed in with the veggies. At this point, it is time to add the liquid. The first time I made this, I used water. Then I realized that if I used broth, my finished result would have that much more flavor, so that is was I have used ever since. I use a 2-to-1 ratio of liquid to couscous, just like rice. I have read so many different recipes calling for different ratios, different cook times... it is sometimes hard to figure out what the "right" way is. I just figured out what worked for me and that is what I do. Anyway, broth in, pot covered, heat lowered to low... and 20 minutes later, I had a delicious, fluffy side dish.

Every time I make this, little miss tells me that she doesn't like it and won't eat it. At which point I remind her that she actually likes it a lot and eats it up really well. Then she proceeds to take a bite, look at me and say something along the lines of "Yummy! I like couscous!" and then eat it all up. So it gets the thumbs up all around.

Oh, and for the veggie tonight I made asparagus, which little miss loves. I love that. Aside from asparagus being yummy and healthy, I also kind of think it looks like it could be dragon tails. Or the tail of some silly monster or something. Don't it? Maybe that's just me.

Anyway, dinner tonight was delicious.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

March Daring Cooks Challenge - Risotto

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

I know I have said this about most of the challenges, but it is true each and every time, so here I go again. I was so excited when I saw what this month's challenge was. Risotto has been on my to-try list for a long time. To the point that there has been a box of arborio rice sitting in the pantry just begging me to have the courage to just go for it.

Even more exciting, and possibly more surprising, was that this risotto was to be made using home-made chicken stock, something I have never actually made before. Sure I have made chicken soup, but I have always used store-bought broth - have never made my own. For some reason, I am always most scared by the recipes that are, in all reality, simplest.

So this challenge was perfect - knock two things off of my cooking wish list, AND, well, it's the perfect comfort food for the snowy, cold month that we had!

Chicken stock is a really interesting venture. In order to add extra flavor and texture to the broth, it is best to not only use chicken, but also chicken bones. So I roasted a chicken for dinner the night before I wanted to make this, and saved all of the bones in a zip-top bag in the fridge. Which was actually just a funny thing to do, really - save a bag of bones... But the next morning, little miss helped me chop vegetables (she is really persistent with her toy-knife and can usually get a few good cuts in!), and added them to the pot with the bones, a whole chicken, and a variety of spices. A little boiling and a whole lot of simmering, and the house smelled so homey and delicious. Once the chicken is cooked through, it can be removed, shredded and used for just about anything. After the fact, I learned that the bones can be returned to the pot to continue simmering with the stock. I will definitely do that next time. Not that it detracted from the finished product not to do so this time, but I can only imagine that the flavor and texture will be even more full and rich next time by giving the bones that extra time.

The "hardest" part of making the stock, for me anyway, was straining it. And the only reason it was hard is due to the size of the strainer that I have:

Fits perfectly on the soup container from the Chinese food place (I knew I saved those for a reason!), but, man, it took a while to strain all that soup! Little miss was happy to eat all of the carrots out of the bowl of veggies that were strained out, too. I had been worried, once taking the chicken out of the pot, that I wasn't going to yield that much stock out of this venture, but I was happily mistaken, and wound up with four quarts - plenty not only for risotto, but for a delicious chicken soup, as well.

Stock completed, it was time to get started on the risotto. Yes, I did this all on the same day.

Risotto is actually very straightforward, but requires a bit of attention and a lot of stirring. Risotto is also very versatile, and can be prepared in many different ways, flavored with many different foods, and served an a variety of ways. I had decided to make a mushroom-asparagus risotto, but was a bit thrown off when gathering my ingredients by the fact that... I had no asparagus?? I knew I asked for it at Produce Junction, but between the bags I was juggling and the fact that little miss kept wanting to run off to see the flowers, there was some kind of mishap, and I wound up with no asparagus. Which I didn't notice until the moment I needed it. Uh oh.

After a few minutes staring at the variety of fruits and veggies in the house, I quickly rebounded and chose a totally different flavor combination. Red onion and golden delicious apple. Which, when I put them on the table, looked like two thirds of a smiley face. So I quick grabbed a leek to complete the face. Because I am silly like that. But hey, there is nothing wrong with a little silliness, or with happy risotto.

Anyway, the risotto came together really easily, considering how scared I had been to try it. I had my pot of lightly simmering stock on one burner and my working-pot of risotto on the burner right next to it. As the rice absorbed the liquid, I simply added more and continued stirring. It is amazing how much liquid those little rice grains can hold. I know this picture isn't that great, but the colors were really pretty, between the faint pink of the red onions and the yellow of the apples. The finished dish was creamy and delicious, with a bit more texture than our regular rice. I enjoyed it quite a bit. My husband thought it was good, and, well, little miss prefers regular rice, but ate it pretty well.

I learned so much from my other daring cooks on this challenge, and there were several more things that I had been hoping to try as a second round of this challenge, including fried risotto balls (called arancini) (of which I was going to make a baked version) and a sweet dessert risotto. Unfortunately, I kept eating my leftovers, leaving not enough to try the arancini, and did not wind up having time to make the sweet risotto before today's posting date. Which doesn't mean that I won't be trying these things, merely that I didn't have time to do them prior to the posting date of this challenge. So when you see me post those, you'll know that they were inspired by this challenge.

To see some other creative risotto dishes, check out some of the other Daring Cooks.
Thank you, Eleanor and Jess, for a really great, really tasty, really comforting food challenge. I will definitely be trying more varieties, and really appreciated the opportunity to try something new!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The best popcorn in the world... made by my husband.

I cannot duplicate it, though I have tried. I don't know what his secret is.

He pops it in a big pot, then has his own special blend of spices that he mixes in.
We had family movie night tonight, and he made a batch for us.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Remember that double batch of meatballs I made this week? Tonight's dinner was the reason for making so much extra.

Usually we have meatballs with some kind of Italian-style meal - with some kind of pasta, or as meatball parmesan hoagies... whatever it is, the meal usually includes red sauce of some sort.

Except when we have sweet and sour meatballs.

This is one recipe that most people react to with pretty funny looks. Because these are the two main ingredients:

Chili sauce and grape jelly. Such an odd combination, I know!

As an aside - do you know how hard it is to find either of these ingredients, much less both, without high fructose corn syrup?? Crazy. But I did. *phew*

Anyway, these are super easy to make, and are really tasty. There is a ton of leeway with this recipe, too, which is part of what is so fun about it - everyone can add their own twist, or adjust the recipe based on what is in the pantry on any given day. The way I have been making them the last couple of times has worked for us, so that is what I did tonight. All you have to do is combine your ingredients in a pot, heat over medium until the ingredients start to come together and simmer, add your meatballs, then simmer for as long as you want - either just until the meatballs are heated through, if you are in a hurry, or for a couple of hours, if you want to infuse the meatballs with more of the sweet and sour flavor. The extra time also helps the sauce thicken a little.

In addition to the chili sauce and grape jelly, also add a splash of lemon juice. And if you don't have chili sauce, use cocktail sauce. And if you don't have cocktail sauce, use ketchup. I kid you not. Play with flavors and combinations until you come up with what works for you. I add a dash of teriyaki sauce into ours. Gives it some extra kick. As I said - lots of leeway in this one. And use any meatballs you want - make your own, use frozen - whatever works. Technically, you don't even have to cook the meatballs first, they can actually cook right in the sauce. I just feel that that adds more fat into the sauce than I'd like, so I cook mine first. But do what works for you.

I serve these over rice, though I think they would go really well over egg noodles, also. Rice is just what we have always done. Funny how that happens. I don't make these all that often, but little miss gobbles them up when I do, and it is a great change of pace from meatballs with red sauce.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs (basic recipe)
(Family recipe)

1 jar chili sauce
1 jar grape jam
Juice of one lemon
meatballs, however you like to prepare them (you can use frozen or make your own - whatever works for you!)

In a large pot, combine chili sauce, jam and lemon. Heat this mixture over medium heat until it starts to come together. Add meatballs to the sauce and simmer at least 30 minutes, until meatballs are heated thorough.

You can actually cook the meatballs right in the sauce - I prefer to cook them first, so the sauce doesn't get extra greasy.

You can substitute ketchup or cocktail sauce for the chili sauce. You can also use another flavor of jam, if you are adventurous. Once I added a splash or two of teriyaki sauce. It's very adaptable, and it's been delicious no matter what I've tried. Be creative!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Carrot Muffins

I was looking for some inspiration for something to bake today, so little miss and I did a little bit of foodgawking this morning, and I told her to pick what looked good for us to make. She chose a photo of delicious looking carrot cake bars. Yum. Unfortunately, most of the family has given up dessert for Lent (as I may have mentioned before), so I was worried that a cake might not be the best choice. Not to be deterred, I used her choice as inspiration for what we did choose to make - carrot muffins! See? They're muffins. Totally different from cake. They can be eaten for breakfast. And they count as a veggie serving (just agree with me on that one...). Totally not dessert. Aren't I thoughtful?

Instead of just making the recipe that we found into cupcakes and calling them muffins, I decided to look for an actual muffin recipe, though one that keeps the spirit of, well, carrot cake. I settled on this one, from the joy of baking website. That is the website that provided the delicious bread pudding muffin recipe, so I was pretty sure that it would be a good choice.

We made this in stages today, since it has been nice and warm outside, so we've been wanting to play outside quite a bit. So first we picked the recipe, then we went outside and collected pine cones. Then we came in and measured and mixed the dry ingredients. Then we had a little bit of downtime with our favorite PBS dinosaurs on Dinosaur Train. Then I shredded up five carrots (aren't they pretty?) and two apples, added in the wet ingredients, and got these guys into the oven. Then we played some go-fish.

Then the house started smelling really good. Between the cinnamon and the coconut, I was very much looking forward to tasting these. So was little miss. Anway, after about 24 minutes, the timer beeped. And out came these:


Well, not yet. I mean, they are yummy this way, but we weren't quite done.

How can you make them better? Cream cheese frosting. I mean, what is carrot cake without cream cheese frosting? I mean... muffins...

These were really tasty, and will be breakfasts and snacks for the next couple of days.
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