Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Fare

Last year I made an elaborate Christmas meal, only to have all my kids get sick and not be able to enjoy it.

This year I decided to chill out and enjoy the day a bit more, so here is what we had for dinner:

Christmas Eve
My family has a long standing tradition of eating a "Jerusalem Dinner" on Christmas Eve. Depending on the age of the kids, we would sometimes dress up in nativity costumes and we almost always ate by candlelight. Dinner would consist of things that Joseph and Mary might have eaten in their day. This year we ate fish (lightly pan fried in a little EVOO), dried plums and apricots, olives, and pita bread with goat cheese (as well as some other cheeses that the kids would like). I also had some smoked oysters that a friend gave us when he cleaned out his pantry, so I made a cream cheese spread with them to eat on the pita bread. We drank grape juice with the meal. Leah added to the scene by placing nativity characters around the table.

Christmas Brunch
After the excitement of opening presents, we sat down to cinnamon rolls, mango-berry juice, and CranApple Acorn Squash. I was going to serve grapefruit as well, but we really didn't need anything more - it was a perfect snack to keep us going as we tried out our games and toys.

Christmas Dinner
The last thing I wanted was to be stuck in the kitchen all day, so I found this great recipe for Posole which cooked in the slow cooker all day and served up great with a batch of cornbread and a little salad.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Harvest Pound Cake

This recipe is the result of me trying to make a recipe I found online and realizing I was out of many of the ingredients. I liked it so much I figured I should make note of my "recipe" for posterity.

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup pumpkin or sweet potato puree
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour (I used half white/half wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups chopped or grated apples or pears
1 cup dried fruit (I used a dried berry mix)

In a mixing bowl, combine sugar, oil, pumpkin, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; add to egg mixture and mix well. Stir in fresh and dried fruit. Pour into a two 8x4 loaf pans (greased and floured).
Sprinkle with coarse decorating sugar. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bread Pudding

This is one of those great comfort food recipes that has been passed down through generations... my mom remembers eating it as a child and her mom (my grandma) does as well - it goes back at least as far as my great-great grandmother, Johanna Jurk. It was always a special treat for us as children - we loved it warm and fresh from the oven.

2 eggs
2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups dry bread, cubed
nutmeg or cinnamon to taste
1/4 cup raisins

Place bread in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Beat the eggs and mix with milk, sugar and spices. Pour the liquid over the bread and let stand until thoroughly soaked. Add raisins. Bake 20 minutes or until firm in a 350 oven.

Those of you who know me know that I view recipes more as suggestions than as a hard and fast rule - which means my favorite recipes are those that are somewhat flexible in their execution. This is one of those recipes. I recently found a bag of gingerbread waffles in my freezer that had been there too long to taste very good on their own, so I used them to make a gingery bread pudding. I didn't add any extra spices to the liquid and replaced the raisins with chocolate and butterscotch chips - it was scrumptious!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Eggplant Pizza

My brother found some gorgeous eggplant at the Farmer's market this weekend, so I dug around online for a new way to make them and found this...

Slice eggplant into 1/2" rounds. Dip in beaten egg and dredge in mixture of
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp oregano

Meanwhile, heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in skillet. Place eggplant rounds in hot oil and cook until tender and browned on both sides. Remove to paper towel lined plate to drain. You could also spray the rounds with cooking spray and place under broiler if you don't want to fry them.

After the eggplant has cooled a little, place the rounds on a cooking sheet and top with pizza sauce, cheese, and any other toppings you enjoy. Place under broiler for about 5 minutes - until cheese is melted.

We made individual pizza rounds, but I imagine you could also use eggplant to make a large pizza crust by slicing it a bit thinner and overlapping the cooked eggplant to fill your pizza pan. Just be aware that the crust will not be firm enough to eat with your hands - but it will taste wonderful!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Grandma Marynel's Pudding Cookies

These are the cookies that my husband remembers from growing up... you know, the ones they always talk about until you finally get the recipe from your mother in law... I have to admit, they are pretty good - and very versatile!

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 small package chocolate or vanilla Jello instant pudding
3/4 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Mix flour with baking soda and set aside. Combine butter, vanilla, sugars, and pudding in large bowl. Beat until smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by rounded teaspoon onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

This recipe is very easy to change depending to suit the type of pudding you have on hand. This time I had Pumpkin Spice pudding, so I substituted butterscotch chips for the chocolate chips and added pecans - yummy! I've also made them with Pistachio pudding, white chocolate chips and pistachios (of course). The possibilities are endless! If you happen to have the large box of pudding, just double the rest of the recipe and get twice as many cookies!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Velveeta Shells & Cheese Cups

Let me start by saying that I love Velveeta Shells & Cheese - it's just so much creamier than regular mac & cheese and feels more like a comfort food - especially when I don't feel up to making the real deal. In fact, I usually won't eat the regular stuff when I make if for my kids. I recently had a chance to try both Easy Mac and the Velveeta Shells & Cheese Cups and while I can tolerate the Easy Mac because it really doesn't taste that different from the regular stuff, I really think Kraft needs to discontinue the Shells & Cheese Cups.

For starters, the shells don't cook evenly in the microwave so you end up with noodles that are part gooey and part crunchy. Then, the extra water that is left in the noodles dilutes the cheese sauce so you don't get that Velveeta taste. In the end, you are left with a gummy, gluey, yellow mess that hardly even tastes like macaroni & cheese. The convenience really isn't worth it since regular Velveeta Shells only take about 7 minutes to make and only cost about 50 cents more.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Baked Plantains

Plantains are those monster bananas that you often see being sold next to the regular bananas. I love them because they are so versatile. When they are green they can be used like potatoes - boiled in stews or fried to chip form. When they are yellow, they have gained a little sweetness, but are still really firm and lend themselves well to recipes like this one. As they get blacker, they get softer and sweeter and are often used in dessert dishes.
For this recipe, you want to use plantains that are yellow with just a few spots. They are really hard to peel in the traditional way, so you want to score the peel down the length of the plantain with a knife and use the knife to pry it away from the fruit. Slice the plantain into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces and toss in a bag or bowl with olive oil and whatever spices you like. Some good ones to try are garlic powder, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. I like a combination of the four spices - but go easy on the cayenne as it will give them quite a kick! Mix well and spread out on a baking pan lined with crumpled foil (the ridges help keep them from sticking) Bake for about 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Cool and enjoy! The result is a spicy-sweet, chewy banana that is great as a side dish with beans and rice or other Mexican and Caribbean dishes.
I actually let my plantains get too ripe this time, so I just tossed them with olive oil and cinnamon and used them as a topping for arroz con leche (rice pudding). You can make a simple version of this by reheating leftover rice with a little condensed milk or dulce de leche and dash of cinnamon or nutmeg - then top with the plantains and enjoy!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Eggplant Parmesan

My kids love this dish... they call it lasagna, but who cares when they eat it all and ask for more!

1 eggplant (about 1 pound), peeled

1 jar spaghetti sauce

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 tube polenta or 1 cup prepared polenta

Heat oven to 450°. Cut eggplant either lengthwise or into rounds. If you double the recipe and use a 9x13 pan, lengthwise works better - for the small pan, I like the rounds. Coat eggplant slices with cooking spray on both sides. Place on a baking sheet and bake 20 minutes until tender. Reduce oven to 375°. Spread a small amount of spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 9x9 baking dish. Place one layer of eggplant slices and spread with 1 cup spaghetti sauce; sprinkle with 2/3 cup mozzarella and 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Repeat once. Top with polenta slices, remaining sauce and both cheeses. Bake, uncovered, 20 minutes until bubbly and cheese melts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kimbap (aka Korean Sushi)

I first saw this made by Andrew's stepmother who is from Korea. More recently, I learned to make it from a group of international students (or their spouses) who meet for a weekly culture group. You will be amazed at how easy and tasty it is! Most of the ingredients mentioned below can be found in an asian market - some of them may even be available in the ethnic section of your local grocery.

Start by making a batch of sushi rice. One of the best step by step tutorials on how to do this can be found here. One of the major differences between Korean and Japanese sushi (aside from not using raw fish) is the flavor of the rice. While Japanese sushi uses rice vinegar to flavor the rice, Korean sushi uses a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil. Start off small and add to suit your tastes.

Lay one sheet of roasted seaweed (sushinori) shiny side down on a bamboo sushi mat.

Using the back of a spoon (or fingers well oiled with sesame oil) press the sushi rice in an even layer on the seaweed, leaving about 1/2 inch at one end.

Place your ingredients at one end of the sushi roll. We used pickled daikon, pickled burdock (often packaged together at asian groceries), steamed spinach (not pictured), and imitation crab. You can use pretty much anything you like. Some popular combinations can be found here.

Using two hands (when not taking a picture), roll the sushi tightly. Use the mat to get started, then let it fall back and just roll, pressing lightly so the rice will stick to the seaweed as you roll. When you get to the end, use a little bit of water to moisten the seaweed and seal the roll.

Voila! Here is your finished product! Using a sharp knife cut the roll into 1/2 inch slices.

And serve with your favorite dipping sauce - we especially like Bragg's Liquid Aminos.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Roasted Beets

Beets are another one of those vegetables that I wanted to teach myself to like this year - and with the help of my brother, who is a huge fan of beets, I'm happy to say we have succeeded. It turns out that more often than not, the simplest methods of preparation yield the tastiest results when it comes to vegetables.

For beets, simply scrub them really well with a vegetable brush, cut off the tops and ends, and pare away any "hairy" spots where little feeler roots have sprouted (you can peel the whole thing if you want, but it's not really necessary). Cut the beets in wedges and toss with olive oil (and salt and pepper if desired). Spread in a single layer in a glass dish and roast for about 45 minutes at 325. The beets are done when easily pierced with a fork, but not mushy.Here are our beets before roasting. Aren't they pretty? We used a combination of red, golden and Chioggia beets. They won't be quite as vibrant after roasting, but they'll taste wonderful!

Roasting really brings out the sweetness in the beets. For a nice contrast, you can toss them with the following dressing (or just serve it on the side).

Pour 1/2 cup sherry vinegar.
Add sugar, salt, and pepper to taste.

Sorry that's not very exact, but I honestly don't know how much I use. Just start off with a little and add until it suits your tastebuds!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mini Smoker

I got a mini stovetop smoker for my birthday and we decided to try it out the other night.

Our menu consisted of pork tenderloin with sweet turnips and baby carrots smoked over hickory chips. For seasoning, I stuck with a little salt and pepper because I wanted to experience the unadulterated smoked taste. The items being smoked sit on a rack over a drip tray. Under the tray you place about 1 Tbsp of the wood chips, then you place it on a burner set to medium heat. Surprisingly, it only takes about 30-45 minutes of cooking time and a few minutes under the broiler to brown things a little if you want. There was also very little smoke... just a few wisps escaping from time to time - the smell is quite strong though, so it's probably wise to use the oven exhaust fan while you're cooking.
Personally, I found the meat to be a little dry. I can see why they recommend using barbecue sauce for most meats - next time I think I'll just use the drippings to make a nice smoky gravy. The vegetables, however, were divine! They were nice and tender and had a wonderful smoky flavor that just made them stand out - esp. the turnips.

Next time we're going try fish with radishes and fennel smoked over alder chips!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Birthday Brownies

For my birthday, I decided I wanted to have brownies rather than a cake - and I found this recipe that was really intriguing so I decided I'd give it a try. It was the challenge recipe from Wondertime (sort of a my brownies are better than your brownies thing).
I have to say, they were really good. But I don't think I'd really call them brownies - they were more like fudge. I guess I like my brownies to have a bit more cake texture to them while still being fudgy. These are better when chilled but while not overly sweet, they are super rich... so have a glass of cold milk at the ready! They haven't posted the recipe online yet, so I'll print it here and update with the link when they have it ready.

Layered Brownies

1/2 cup unsalted butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla


1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Brownies: Heat oven to 300. Butter a 9x13 pan. Melt the stick of butter and chocolate in a small pan over very low heat or in a double boiler. Remove from heat. While the mixture cools, beat together the sugar, eggs, and salt for 8 minutes. Fold in the chocolate mixture, then the flour and vanilla. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until it pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes. Cool thoroughly, about an hour and a half.
Frosting: After the brownies have cooled for an hour, melt the butter over low heat until it's medium brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat. Immediately beat in the confectioners sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla. Frost the brownies with this mixture while it's still warm. Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
Glaze: While the frosting cools, melt together the butter and unsweetened chocolate in a small pan over very low heat or in a double boiler. Pour over the white icing. (The best way to do this is to pour the chocolate on and tilt the pan back and forth until covered.) When the glaze has hardened - it will take an hour or two - cut the brownies into squares. Chill thoroughly before eating.

The next time I'm craving brownies, I think I'll try the ones my friend Tara has been raving about here...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Comfort Food

There's not much incentive in cooking when everyone in the house is sick... and my stomach is still working it's way toward normal. So lately, I've been craving comfort foods. You know, the food that just makes you feel cozy and warm and taken care of... here's my list of heartwarming, stomach tempting comfort foods:
Tomato Paella
Chicken and Wild Rice
Chicken Corn Chowder
Chicken Tangier
Arroz con Leche (aka Rice Pudding)

What are your favorite comfort foods?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Borscht with Lamb

We've had a bunch of beets languishing in our refrigerator for about a month now and, while they keep very well, I decided it was time to do something with them so I combined a couple of recipes and came up with this slightly Indian version of borscht if there can be such a thing.

olive oil
2 pounds roasted beets, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 pound lamb stew meat, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 quarts beef broth
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 head cabbage, cored and shredded
1 can crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 pint sour cream
chopped dill

Heat oven to 350. Trim beet tops to 1/2 inch, wash, and clip root. Rub with olive oil. Mix coriander, cumin, cloves, turmeric, salt, and pepper and rub mixture onto beets. Place in roasting dish in single layer and cook, stirring once or twice, for 1 1/2 hours. Remove when skins are wrinkled and beets are easy to pierce with a fork. Allow to cool, then cut off top and root, peel away papery skin (it's okay if you don't peel it all off), and dice.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large stockpot until very hot. Add the cubed lamb, and sear until well browned. Stir in the onion, and cook until tender and translucent, about 2 minutes.
Pour in the beef broth, vinegar, and lemon juice; add the cabbage, tomatoes, diced beets, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the lamb is tender, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish the soup bowls with a dollop of sour cream, and a sprinkling of dill after ladling in the soup.

I was actually surprised at how well this turned out - I guess I had in my mind that borscht would be tricky to make. I served it with dilled cornbread and two of my kids really liked it... let me tell you, two out of three ain't bad!

Tomato and Egg Curry

I got the idea for this delicious dish from our budget minded friends at Fun Foods and of course couldn't resist adding a few tweaks of my own. I wish I had remembered to take a picture earlier since our dinner plates looked much yummier than this tupperware that I put together for my hubby's lunch.
This is one of those recipes that relies on your tastebuds rather than measurements, but I'll try to approximate what I used.
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can cannelini beans
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp Indian curry
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric

hard boiled eggs
brown rice

Combine tomatoes, beans, cornstarch and spices in saucepan over medium heat. Adjust spices to suit your tastes. Simmer for 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Serve over brown rice and sprinkle chopped hard-boiled egg over the top.

Once my kids got the first bite of this in their mouths (always something of a challenge), they thought it was great as well. My daughter cleaned her plate while my son couldn't "get past the tomatoes" at first. My brother also sauteed some yummy broccoli greens with ginger and sesame oil to serve alongside and it turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to the flavor of the curry.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Triple Ginger Cookies and Gingerbread

I've been on a bit of a ginger kick lately - sparked partially by the presence of my brother who is, by his own admission, a ginger addict. However, at this time of year, I don't see how anyone can turn away the spicy warmth of ginger. Anything that can warm you from the inside when it's chilly out is a good thing in my book (turmeric and cinnamon are another great warming combo in this recipe). So this weekend I pulled out the lovely spice and made cookies and bread.First up, these Triple Ginger Cookies from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. These delicious cookies use three different kinds of ginger - powdered, crystallized, and fresh. The crystallized ginger is a bit labor intensive as you want to get a really fine mince, so enlist the ginger addict in your house to to that for you - but keep an eye on them so they don't eat too much as they're chopping! We tried several different sizes of these cookies and the best by far were the 1/2 Tbsp size that Heidi talks about in the recipe. They cook up nicely without being too soft in the middle. I used a small cookie scoop and pulled the resulting scoop in two before rolling in the sugar. For the finishing sugar, I used turbinado sugar (or raw sugar) - the crystals aren't too big and the brown color caramelizes nicely on the cookie.

Next, I pulled out my trusty Pillsbury cookbook and made the gingerbread according to the recipe, with one addition - 1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper. It seems to make all the spices just a little more potent and helps emphasize the lemon flavor in the glaze. I should also add that if you are going to go to the trouble of making ginger cookies or gingerbread, you should never use a recipe that calls for less than 4 tsp. of ginger - they will disappoint every time!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cauliflower Soup

Photo courtesy of

In my continuing quest to find ways to enjoy foods that I previously avoided, I found this recipe for Cauliflower Soup posted by my friend the Pioneer Woman. And since I've pretty much enjoyed every recipe of hers that I've tried so far, I decided I would put it to the test.... and I was not disappointed! This soup was creamy deliciousness and I loved every bite! And when I say creamy, I mean CREAMY - we're talking whole milk, half-and-half, and sour cream creaminess. I'm sure you could substitute low-fat versions but I definitely think it would detract from the overall deliciousness that is this soup.

Everyone in our house thought it was great - even the kids! In fact, this would be perfect for a toddler just getting used to textures because the chunks of vegetables are so tender that they just fall apart in your mouth. Really, a very lovely dish.