One woman's foray into cooking for herself, for her family, and for her friends. It's not always picture-perfect, sometimes a little messy,
but it's always delicious. Join me in exploring new recipes, savoring the "résultats" and learning from the "erreurs".

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weekend Blog Showcase: Revisiting Vanilla Panna Cotta with Pomegranate Arils and Drizzled Honey

Weekend Blog Showcase is upon us once again - Week 5.  Ann (Thibeault's Table) and I appreciate your visits and look forward to more participation in our weekly homage to the wonderful foodie blogs around the internet!

Work this week has been overwhelming so I decided to reach back into my 'archives' and revisit a recipe I've made from a wonderful blog called Tribeca Yummy Mummy.  When I saw this recipe for Vanilla Panna Cotta on Cate's blog, I knew I would have to make it.  It's so simple.  It's so DELICIOUS!  With pomegranate season upon us, it's the perfect time to whip up this beautiful dessert.  Thank you once again, Cate - I love this!

I've seen and heard of many ways to rid a pomegranate of its their arils/ seeds.  Many suggest taking the fruit apart under water, letting the inedible sections float to the top and then scooping up the seeds.  I say leave the watering for the garden!  I simply cut the pomegranate in half, hold the half over a bowl (rind side up) and thwack the rind side with a wooden spoon, letting the the little jewel-like arils drop.  No muss, no fuss!

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Pomegranate Arils and Drizzled Honey

2 tablespoons water
1-1/2 teaspoons gelatin
2 cups heavy cream
1-3/4 cups yogurt, whole milk preferably
pinch of salt
1/3 cup honey, or more to taste (plus additional for drizzling
2 t. vanilla
1 teaspoon orange flower water
the arils (seeds) of one fresh pomegranate

Measure the water into a small liquid measuring cup. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and set it aside for the time being.

While the water sets, whisk together the yogurt, pinch of salt, honey, vanilla, and orange flower water together in a large bowl (a pouring lip is helpful for this recipe) is or very large liquid measure. Set this aside, too.

Pour the cream into a medium saucepan.

Bring the cream to a boil over medium heat, whisking a bit. As soon as the cream comes to a boil, remove it from the heat.

Pour the gelatin mixture into the cream and whisk them together well for a full minute to make certain that they are properly combined. Pour the cream mixture into the yogurt mixture.

Whisk the two mixtures together.

Pour the panna cotta into little sake cups or ramekins. Let the cups cool to room temperature. Place the little cups onto a rimmed baking sheet or tray. Cover the whole business with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to serve your panna cotta, take them out of the fridge, sprinkle them with the pomegranate arils and drizzle on a bit more honey.

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Please join Ann and me for Weekend Blog Showcase.  To participate, make a recipe from a blog other than your own and post about it, giving credit to the blog you've borrowed the recipe from.  Put the WBS logo on your post and sign in to Mr. Linky. That's all there is to it!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Creamy Polenta and Mushrooms

When I saw Ann's (Thibeault's Table) mushrooms over polenta a few weeks ago, I knew that was something I would love.  I have had sauteed mushrooms before, and I have had polenta before but never combined as a main course.  Following Ann's techniques, I ended up with a meal that left me sighing over its memory for hours after.

For the creamy polenta, I used a ratio of 4:1 liquid to fine cornmeal.  Wanting the flavor of the polenta to still shine through, I used a base of half chicken stock, half water.  The liquid was brought to a simmer, lightly salted, and the cornmeal was whisked in in a steady stream.  Added too quickly, the polenta will clump up.  Once the polenta had thickened up, I whisked in a nob of butter.  The consistency was perfect.

To top the polenta, I used a mixture of baby Bellas and button mushrooms, sliced thickly and sauteed in butter.  Once in the pan, I left the mushrooms alone - no stirring for several minutes - to let them saute and caramelize.  At that point, I stirred them, seasoning with salt and pepper and finely sliced sage leaves.  To create a sauce, I added Marsala to the pan (about 1/4 cup), let that reduce to an almost syrup-y state, then stirred in about 1/4 cup of chicken stock and let that reduce a bit until it was nice and thick.  The sauce was also finished off with a small nob of butter.

This would make an excellent side dish to a roast beef or even a roasted chicken.  But it also made for an amazing meatless main dish.  Of course, for it to be truly vegetarian, a vegetable stock could be substituted for the chicken stock.  So delicious!  Thank you for the inspiration, Ann!

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Thank you once again to Michael for hosting Foodie Friday! Please join me in drooling over the dishes of all the other participants!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Butternut Squash and Cannellini Bean Soup with Bacon

I came across this soup on, one of my very favorite places!   I love butternut squash and was happy to find another soup recipe using one of my favorite ingredients.  While the recipe directions have you dicing the squash and boiling it in the stock, many of the reviewers indicated that they had roasted the squash first before adding it to the soup.  I decided to halve the squash, drizzle the halves with extra virgin olive oil and seasoning with salt & pepper, then roasting in a 450 F. oven for 1/2 hour.  I then scooped out the roasted squash flesh into the stock.  I also decided to puree the soup save for 1 of the cans of cannellini beans, which I added back to the pureed soup and cooking long enough to heat them through.  By the way, I also rinsed all the cannellini beans - adding all that starchy, sodium-ridden liquid was not all that appealing to me.  I was very happy with the result.  Delicious!  Here is my version of this soup:

Butternut Squash and Cannellini Bean Soup with Bacon

2 thick bacon slices, chopped
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 butternut squash (about 1-3/4 pounds)
3 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney beans), drained & rinsed,divided
14-1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, drained
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Halve the butternut squash lengthwise.  Place skin-side down on baking sheet.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt & pepper.  Roast for 30 minutes, or until squash starts to take on some caramelization.  Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Sauté bacon in heavy large pot over medium heat until crisp, about 4 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Add chopped onion and garlic to drippings in pot; sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth; bring to boil.

Separate roasted butternut squash from skin and transfer to soup pot.  Add 2 cans cannellini, drained tomatoes, and fresh rosemary. Cover and simmer until flavors blend, about 10 minutes. Puree soup with stick blender (or, alternatively, puree in blender in batches.  Return to soup pot.)  Add remaining can of drained cannellini beans.  Season soup with salt and pepper. (Bacon and soup can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap and chill bacon. Chill soup uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm bacon and soup separately before serving.)

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with chopped bacon and serve.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Poached Eggs on Toasted Baguette with Goat Cheese and Black-Pepper Vinaigrette

I'm loving Bobby Flay's new show, Brunch at Bobby's.  My weekday breakfast is pretty routine - oatmeal at my desk with a cup of coffee.  So, when the weekend rolls around, if I have time, I like to treat myself to something a little more special.  And if I have weekend guests, I love to serve a really nice breakfast at least once during their stay.  It might mean a coffee cake or danish, maybe pecan waffles, or a really special egg dish.  This is a very special egg dish!

When I watched this episode, Chef Flay actually prepared a 'goat cheese vinaigrette', mixing the soft, fresh goat cheese with the rest of the vinaigrette ingredients, which is slightly different than the recipe I found online.  I opted to follow his on-air recommendation.

I used French Bread I had just made for the base.  The flavors are really amazing together.  I admittedly did not have heirloom tomatoes on hand, nor the micro greens recommended for garnish.  A nice end-of-season beefsteak tomato filled in nicely, and some minced spring greens served as my garnish.  It was a wonderful weekend treat!

Poached Eggs on Toasted Baguette with Goat Cheese and Black-Pepper Vinaigrette

Baguette, sliced lengthwise*
Olive oil, to brush
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 thinly sliced heirloom tomatoes
4 large eggs, poached
1 cup micro arugula
Black Pepper-Tarragon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Fresh chervil leaves, to garnish
*Cook's Note: Not the super skinny kind of baguette
    Goat Cheese/Black Pepper-Tarragon Vinaigrette
    3 ounces fresh goat cheese 
    1/4 cup white wine vinegar
    1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    1 teaspoon honey
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    Heat a grill pan and broiler.
    Brush the halved baguette with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Put the bread onto a hot grill pan and grill cut-side down over high heat. Remove the grilled bread and spread the top of the bread with the goat cheese. Place the bread under the broiler and broil until the cheese is lightly golden brown. 
    Top each slice of bread with a few slices of tomato and a poached egg. Garnish with the micro greens.

    Whisk together the goat cheese, vinegar, mustard, tarragon, and salt in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil, until emulsified. Whisk in the honey and black pepper.

    Source:  Brunch at Bobby's

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Weekend Blog Showcase - Creamsicle Cookies

    We're into Week 4 of Weekend Blog Showcase.  Thank you to Ann (Thibeault's Table) for hosting this week.

    This week I'm showcasing a blog that is evidently the envy of many a blogger!  Christy at The Girl Who Ate Everything has a wonderful blog FULL of great-looking and and great-sounding recipes.  (I want Christy's secret to staying beautiful and thin and STILL eating everything!!)  When I saw her Creamsicle Cookies, I knew I had to try them.  As a young girl, the tinkling of the ice cream truck bells meant a Creamsicle was in my very near future.  That creamy, orange-y/vanilla flavor was heavenly, so these cookies went directly to my "Short List".

    Now look at Christy's cookies.  Go ahead.  I'll wait...

    Now look at my cookies.  Quick:  what's missing in my cookies??  If you said specks of orange zest, you would be absolutely right. (And very observant.  I'm impressed.)  I violated one of the basic rules of cooking/baking:  make sure you have all the ingredients before you start making your recipe.  I was positive that I had oranges on hand.  Now that I think about it, they would be rather difficult to miss, so I'm not sure what I was thinking.  So, as I got to that part of the recipe, I tried to think on my feet (a challenge even at my best...).  What could I substitute?  Orange extract?  I found a rather antique-looking package of orange extract in my pantry.  As I tried to gingerly pour in a few drops, I carefully tilted the bottle ever so slightly, then tilted it a little more, then turned it upside down.  Whatever was in there at sometime in my distant past had long since evaporated.  Hrmph.  Back to the pantry I went. I found an unopened jar of orange marmalade.  That has rind in it, right?  So I put in a good tablespoon of orange rind filled marmalade.  In retrospect, a little Grand Marnier might have done well here, but I thought of that well after baking was underway.  Unfortunately, the marmalade, while a good idea in theory, didn't exude the "oranginess" I was looking for. Ultimately, I ended up with delicious vanilla cookies.  But this was such an easy recipe to put together, I will definitely make them again!  And I can see a lime version down the road, too.  Yum! Thank you, Christy!

    Creamsicle Cookies

    2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
    3/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 firmly packed brown sugar
    1 large egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 tablespoons orange zest
    2 cups white chocolate chips

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

    In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

    In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add flour mixture until combined. Stir in orange zest and chips.

    Drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Do not flatten cookies; it will make them dry. Bake 8 - 10 minutes or until golden brown around edges. Do not overcook! Cookies will be plump. Cool for several minutes on cookie sheets before transferring to rack to cool completely. Store in airtight container.

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    Join Ann and me for Weekend Blog Showcase.  To participate, make a recipe from a blog other than your own, post about the dish, referencing the originating blog in your post, placing the Weekend Blog Showcase logo on your post as well.  Then sign into Mr. Linky (over at Ann's this week).  That's it!  Hope to see you there!

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Jalapeno Popper Dip

    I'm a football fan, (though my beloved Dallas Cowboys are trying very hard to change that this season...), and so I'm always on the lookout for different and interesting and tasty (!) snacks to munch on while watching the game.  Almost 30 years ago, when I first moved to the Dallas area from New York, many of my friends were eating poppers - jalapenos filled with cream cheese, or Cheddar cheese, or even tuna salad (trust me, it's better than it sounds).  When I saw Kevin's (Closet Cooking) Jalapeno Popper Dip, I knew it would be something I'd love.

    Now, to be absolutely honest, I have dumbed down this recipe quite a bit.  I knew I would love the cream cheese element, as well as the jalapeno part, of course, but I wasn't sold on the Cheddar and parmesan part.  I realize I'm odd in that I don't like cheese in EVERYTHING (my girlfriend, Donna, thinks I'm crazy).  So, I mixed the cream cheese, mayo, and jalapenos, and gave it a little squeeze of lime.  The panko topping was good - gave the whole thing a nice texture.  And Kevin's suggestion to serve this dip with lime-seasoned tortilla chips was genius.  Easily, a little of this goes a long way - my jalapeno tolerance is not what it was when I was 20.  But it was a great addition to my football-watching-snacks repertoire!  Thanks, Kevin!

    Jalapeno Popper Dip
    1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
    1/2 cup mayonnaise
    juice of 1 lime
    1 (4 ounce) can sliced jalapenos (pickled)
    1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

    Mix the cream cheese, mayonnaise, lime juice and jalapenos in a bowl and pour into a baking dish. Sprinkle the panko bread crumbs over the dip. Bake in a 375F oven until bubbling on the sides and golden brown on top, about 10-20 minutes.

    Serve with lime-seasoned tortilla chips.

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    Click on Foodie Friday logo to visit Designs by Gollum
    Please visit Michael's site, Designs by Gollum, to see the rest of the Foodie Friday's creations.  Thank you once again to Michael for hosting!

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Plum Crumble

    I had a couple of plums sitting on my kitchen counter I needed to use and thought I would look for something different to do with them.  One of my favorite desserts is Apple Crisp, and I wondered if I could do the same with plums.  Well you can.  :-D  I found a Plum Crumble recipe at  As I often do, I pared the recipe down and created 2 individual servings.  One of the things I found interesting about this recipe was that it called for egg mixed with the flour and sugar topping.  Once the topping is crumbled over the fruit,  you drizzle it with melted butter, then bake until golden.  I think it was the egg that made the difference - it created more of a cookie atop the fruit.  It was an interesting change of pace.  In contrast to apple which tends to keep some shape even when cooked, the plums took on an almost "jammy" texture - really good.  I confess that this will never take the place of my favorite Apple Crisp, but it was still delicious!

    Plum Crumble

    3 pounds fresh plums, pitted, quartered, about 5 cups
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
    1 cup granulated sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1 large egg, beaten
    1/2 cup butter, melted

    Combine plums and brown sugar, stirring well to blend. Pour into a buttered 11-1/2x7-1/2 inch baking dish. Sift together the flour, granulated sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Add the beaten egg, stirring lightly with fork until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the plums then drizzle with the melted butter. Bake plum crumble at 375° for 40 to 45 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm with whipped topping or ice cream.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Getting to know me, getting to know all about me...

    When Liz at That Skinny Chick Can Bake! sent me a list of questions to answer, I couldn't help but think of that scene in The King and I: Anna, surrounded by all the king's children, singing in unison, "Getting to know you, getting to know all about you..."  In case you would like to know a little bit more about me, check out this interesting little interrogation - it made me have to think (I hate that part...)

    So settle in with a cup of tea and a cookie.  Here goes:

    1. Who taught you to cook?
    My mom is a great cook.  When I was growing up, she was often trying new recipes, which is a great way to broaden your kids' exposure to new foods.  She didn't use much in the way of mixes - always fresh, always good quality.  She bought her meat from the best butcher in town and had fresh eggs delivered to the house every week.  My mom's mother worked in a bakery.  It was an old fashioned place where I worked a couple of times when I would visit her in the summers.  I started by washing dishes and pots & pans, then got to fill the jelly doughnuts, then got to work the front - the big, antique cash register.  I have wonderful memories of that little place.  The carryover is now, when I'm down for some reason, the first thing I usually turn to is cooking and/or baking.  When my grandmother passed away several years ago, I spent the whole next day in the kitchen, baking and cooking like crazy.  It's a release for me, I guess.  I never realized that about myself until that day.

    2. Do you prefer cooking or baking?
    I don't know that I prefer one over the other.  I like the 'prettiness' of baked goods, but cooking has more 'soul'.  I like both.  I won't choose.  I won't.  And you can't make me...

    3. What is your favorite meal to cook for company?
    I often cook Italian food for company:  lasagna, homemade manicotti, homemade pizza.  It's easy to make a lot of  and how can you beat the aroma of a pot of sauce simmering away on the stove??

    4. Are there any foods you will not eat?
    I think offal is... awful.  Sorry.  I guess I'll never be an Iron Chef.

    5. Who is your favorite TV chef?
    There are a few I enjoy watching.  Bobby Flay has an easy-going personality and an easy way about his cooking that I really like.  I like the verbal artistry of Nigella Lawson (nothing is just red - it's ruby red...that kind of thing).  I really appreciate Jamie Oliver's passion. And I could watch re-runs of Julia Child's shows over and over and over...

    6. What famous person/people would you love to dine with (dead or alive)?
    I'd like to have a burger with August Escoffier.

    Okay.  Just kidding.

    I've been a Barbra Streisand fan forever.  I understand she appreciates a good meal.  I wouldn't mind sharing a nosh or two with her.  And, honestly, I would like to ask Julia Child just how much butter she actually consumed in her lifetime...

    7. Was your favorite meal ever eaten at a restaurant or someone's home? Tell us about it.
    I had a wonderful meal at Spago's in Las Vegas once.  Our daughter had just gotten married a few weeks before, and it was a time to de-stress from the wedding preparations.  I remember I started with the best gazpacho I've ever had.  I had scallops for my entree, and then THE BEST creme brulee I've ever tasted in my life (and I've tasted a lot of creme brulee in my life).  *sigh*  It was wonderful.

    8. What dish are you still trying to master?
    I think sugar work is intriguing.  Blowing sugar, pulling sugar.  It's an amazing art form.  I'd love to try it sometime.

    Well, that's a little bit about me.  How about you?  Care to share?

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Weekend Blog Showcase - Rosemary Tomato Tarts

    It's the third edition of Weekend Blog Showcase -- moving right along!  Please join Ann (Thibeault's Table) and me in showcasing recipes from around the food blog world. Please see the text at the end of this post to learn more about the Weekend Blog Showcase and how you can participate, too!

    The recipe I decided on for this weekend comes from DandySugar.  Lisa's photography is stunning (I'm always so in awe of great photography - check out her photos for her Cherry Peach Almond Crisps!), as are her wonderful recipes.  Lisa says she was introduced to cooking via a hand-me-down aqua-colored Easy Bake Oven... I had that same oven, only mine was brand new (showing my age!), and experienced the same  spark.  Ah - a kindred spirit!

    I've had Lisa's recipe for her Rosemary Tomato Tarts bookmarked for quite some time now, and since I had everything on hand, this was my chosen recipe for this week's Showcase.  And am I ever glad I finally made these.  So easy, so utterly delicious.

    I ended up making four 4-inch tarts using tart pans with removable bottoms.  After realizing I hadn't eaten all day, I easily downed two of these babies for dinner!  I will be making these again and again.  The filling was delicious, the crust extremely flaky.  Thank you, Lisa, for a wonderful recipe I will happily add to my own repertoire!!

    Rosemary Tomato Tarts
    For three 5-inch tarts or one 9-inch (I made four 4-inch tarts)

    Savory Tart Crust
    1-1/4 cups of all purpose flour
    1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter (very, very cold and cubed) (I used frozen butter and cut it into little pieces with a heavy chef's knife)
    1/4 teaspoon palm sugar (I didn't have palm sugar so used regular granulated sugar)
    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
    1-3 tablespoons ice cold water (I ended up using 5 tablespoons)

    In a food processor, combine flour, salt, sugar and rosemary. Pulse 1 - 2 times until just incorporated. Add the butter cubes and pulse until mixture resembles course meal about the size of a pea. Add water a tablespoon at a time and pulse only until mixture just comes together. Test by squeezing a pinch of dough. If it sticks together it’s done.

    Place dough on a lightly floured surface. Form into a disk shapes, flour all sides, and wrap well with plastic. (If making small tarts, separate dough into thirds or fourths and wrap each individually.) Refrigerate for at least 1 hour up to 24 hours. When you are ready to roll out, make sure to let dough come to room temperature for about 10-15 minutes before rolling out.

    Preheat oven to 350 when you are ready to make your tarts.

    Rosemary Tomato Filling
    3 - 4 tomatoes (I used one large beefsteak tomato)
    2 tablespoon olive oil
    1 onion, sliced into thin strips
    2 cloves of garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
    goat cheese
    juice of 1/2 lemon

    Heat olive oil in a skillet. Saute onions for about 5 minutes until they are translucent. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the rosemary and stir. Add the lemon juice and stir. Remove from heat.

    Roll out your dough into rounds and place each round into a tart shell. Carefully press dough into shell and cut off excess to use for another tart if necessary. Poke holes in the bottom of shells and evenly distribute the onion mixture in each shell, following with a sprinkling of goat cheese. Arrange tomato slices on top. Add a very light drizzle of olive oil and top with chopped fresh rosemary.

    Bake for 25-30 minutes depending on your oven. Let cool for 10 minutes.  (I sprinkled a little coarse sea salt on the tarts before serving - perfect!)

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    Please join Ann and me for Weekend Blog Showcase.  To participate, make a recipe from a blog other than your own and post about it, giving credit to the blog you've borrowed the recipe from.  Put the WBS logo on your post and sign in to Mr. Linky. That's all there is to it!

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Blondie Sundaes

    This is an easy dessert.  Really.  It is.  Blondies.  Super simple.  We've made them here before. The ice cream was store-bought...(but it was very good quality store-bought... :-D )  And the sauce?  It's the sauce from the Apple Cake with Caramel Sauce recipe, only I used half dark brown sugar and half light brown sugar for a more intense flavor.  Well, to be totally honest, I used half dark and half light because I was almost out of light brown sugar.  So I substituted.  BUT the sauce really was a little more intensely-flavored, which was great over the ice cream.  Really great.  My guests were happy.  I was happy.  And there was very little cleanup. Isn't that easy?!


    1/2 cup unsalted butter
    2 cups brown sugar
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    2 cups (scant) all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt

    Preheat oven to 350 F.

    In a 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Remove pan from heat and stir in brown sugar. Add eggs, beating well after the addition of each one. Stir in vanilla.

    Add dry ingredients; mix thoroughly. Spread in greased 13-inch x 9-inch baking pan. Bake 25 minutes. Cut in bars while warm; remove from pan when almost cool.

    Source: Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

    Caramel Sauce

    1/2 cup light brown sugar
    1/2 cup dark brown sugar
    1/2 cup butter
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/4 cup cream or evaporated milk

    Over low heat (or in double-boiler), melt brown sugar and butter. Stir in vanilla and cream, cook until thick, stirring occasionally.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Weekend Blog Showcase - Cheese Crackers

    Welcome to the second week of Weekend Blog Showcase.  A big Thank You to Ann (Thibeault's Table) for hosting this week.

    This week, my nod goes to The Thin Chef and her Homemade Cheez-Its post.  I love those little cheese crackers but never considered making them at home.  I will from now on!  They were easy and delicious - a nice little nibble with a glass of wine.  Katie's recipe was an easy read - I love those kinds of posts!  A quick scan of her blog turned up beautiful photos and delicious-looking and -sounding recipes.  I'll be visiting The Thin Chef often.  Thank you, Katie, for this wonderful little snack!

    Homemade Cheese Crackers
    makes about 40 crackers
    Adapted from this Country Living recipe

    1 cup all-purpose flour
    4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    1 (7-ounce) bag grated extra-sharp 2% reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (I grated up an 8-ounce block of Colby-Jack as that was what I had on hand)
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, but recommended) (I used 1/4 teaspoon and found it to be enough since I plan on sharing these crackers with my 3 year old grandson!)
    5 tablespoons cold water

    Combine flour, butter, cheese, salt, and cayenne in the work bowl of your food processor. Pulse until crumbly. Pulse in water, a tablespoon at a time, until dough comes together. (You may not use all the water.)
    Wrap dough in plastic wrap, press into a disc, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight. (I chilled the dough for about an hour. The dough was easy to work with and not overly sticky.)

    Preheat oven to 350º. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick silicone mats. Set aside.

    Place dough between two pieces of parchment paper. (It’s sticky!) Roll to 1/8-inch thickness. Carefully flip dough in parchment over, and gently peel off the top layer. Using a pizza cutter, trim dough into a rectangle, then cut into 2-inch squares. Carefully transfer squares onto baking sheets, using a spatula if needed.
    Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until crackers are just slightly turning light brown, and are crisp. Quickly cool and taste one for crispness. If they are not crisp, bake just a few minutes longer. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days (if they last that long!). If crackers are soggy after storing, re-crisp them in a preheated 400º oven for 3 to 5 minutes.

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    Thank you for joining me for the Weekend Blog Showcase.  To participate, add the WBS logo to your post of another blog's recipe and sign in at Thibeault's Table's Weekend Blog Showcase post.  The more the merrier!

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Pasta Pomodoro with Artichoke Hearts

    I was hungry.  And I wanted something quick.  Really quick.  And satisfying.  And then I remembered.  Bless Her Heart had a great-looking pasta dish that was sure to fill the bill. And I was right.  It was good.  And satisfying.  And I was able to put it together in no time flat. 

    Pantry limitations forced me to make a couple of tweaks.  I'm not a huge angel hair pasta fan, but I usually have spaghetti. So spaghetti it was.  No fresh tomatoes on hand, so I turned to sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil.  Definitely a different taste - more intensely tomato-y.  And unfortunately I didn't have any canned artichokes (though now that I think of it, there may have been some in the freezer... ), but after a little scrounging around the pantry, I came upon a jar of marinated artichokes.  Not the ideal substitute, I have to say, though I did rinse them very well before adding them to the dish.  Actually, they worked j  One other slight alteration to the recipe was the addition of some pine nuts. I sauteed them with the garlic, so they were soft yet toasty-flavored, so they were not really crunchy.  Really good.  (I love adding pine nuts to pasta aglio e olio, too.)

    Thank you again to Bless Her Heart!

    Capellini Pomodoro with Artichoke Hearts
    Serves 4-6

    1 pound Capellini or Angel Hair Pasta
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    5-7 cloves of fresh garlic, sliced
    1 large tomato, diced (about 2 cups)
    1 handful fresh basil leaves, chopped (1/2-3/4 cup)
    1 3.5 oz jar of capers, drained
    1 can of artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
    salt and pepper to taste
    grated parmesan for garnish

    Set a large pot of water to boil for the Capellini.  While you wait for the water to boil, go ahead and start the sauce.

    In a medium saucepan heat the olive oil on medium heat.  Add the garlic slices.  Cook for a couple of minutes, until the garlic is tender and aromatic.  Add the tomatoes, capers and artichoke hearts. Salt and Pepper to taste. Cook for 3-5 minutes to warm the sauce.  Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.  Cook the capellini according the instructions on the package.  Capellini is such a fine pasta that it will take no longer than 3 minutes or so.  Drain and put the pasta back in the pot.  Add the basil to the sauce and stir to wilt, then add the sauce to the capellini and toss to coat the pasta.  Serve garnished with parmesan.

    Source:  Bless Her Heart

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    French Bread

    It's been awhile since I've made bread.  I have a hard time getting in the mood for a bread-baking session when it's 105 F. outside.  But the temperatures here have finally become less oppressive, to the tune of 68 F. and I'm motivated to get my hands in flour, yeast, and water.

    I've posted about this bread before.  I got the recipe from Ann (Thibeault's Table) a few years ago, and it's the simplest bread recipe I use.  The food processor does all the work, a nice respite from the hand mixing and kneading necessary for our grandmothers.

    It's easy to doctor up this bread dough.  Add some cheese and jalapenos, or cheese and roasted garlic, or whatever your imagination dreams up.  But today was just pure, unadulterated French bread.  It's great sandwich bread, even better toast!  To store, wrap the cooled loaf in paper towelling, then into a plastic freezer bag.  When ready to re-use, thaw, still fully wrapped, on the counter.  To reheat, I heat the oven up to 500 F, then turn it off and place the loaf directly on the baking stone or rack for 5 - 10 minutes.  The bread comes out wonderfully.

    Many people are intimidated by yeast doughs... don't be!  Follow the recipe as written and you'll be enjoying a loaf of your own creation in no time!

    Ann's French Baguette

    1 package dry active yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
    3-1/2 cups unbleached flour (bread flour)
    2-1/4 tsp salt
    1-1/3 cups cold water plus 1/3 or so additional water

    Place the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of the food process. Pulse to mix. Add 1 1/3 cups of water and process until the dough comes together. If the dough doesn't form a ball, add a little of the extra water. Process for about 60 seconds, turn off machine and let dough rest for 5 minutes.

    Turn on the machine again and rotate the dough about 30 times under the cover, and then remove it to a lightly floured work surface. it should be fairly smooth and quite firm.

    Let the dough rest for 2 minutes and then knead roughly and vigourously. The final dough should not stick to your hands as you knead (although it will stick if you pinch and hold a piece); it should be smooth and elastic and, when you hold it up between your hands and stretch it down, it should hold together smoothly.

    Preliminary rise - 40 to 60 minutes at around 75°F. Place the dough into a clean dry bowl, (do not grease the bowl), cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place free from drafts. (note the French do not grease the bowl because they believe the dough needs a seat to push up from). This first rise is sufficient when the dough has definitely started to rise and is about 1-1/2 times its original volume.

    Deflating:  Turn the dough onto your lightly floured work surface roughly and firmly pat and push it out into a 14 inch rectangle. Fold one of the long sides over toward the middle, and the other long side over to cover it, making a 3 layer cushion. Repeat the operation. This important step redistributes the yeast throughout the dough, for a strong second rise. Return the dough smooth side up the bowl; cover with plastic wrap and again set to rise.

    Final rise in the bowl - about 1 to 1-1/2 hours or longer. The bread should be 2-1/2 to 3 times its original bulk. It is the amount of rise that is important here, not the timing.

    To Shape,
    Cut the dough in half. Set one piece aside and cover with a towel.

    On a lightly floured work surface pat the dough into a 14 inch rectangle, squaring it up as evenly as you can.

    Fold the rectangle of dough in half lengthwise and using the heel of your hand, firmly press the edges together where they meet. Seal well. Pound the dough flat. Now repeat - patting the dough out again and folding it over and sealing the edges. Pinch the edges well and Rotate the dough so that the sealed edge in on the bottom.

    Repeat with second piece of dough.

    Cover with plastic wrap or loosely with a towel and let rise to more than double again at about 75°f.

    Place stone in oven and Preheat oven to 500 F.  Slash three long cuts into the loaves and place on the hot stone. Immediately toss a number of ice cubes on to the bottom on the oven to create steam. Bake until bread is golden and has an interior temp of 200°F. Takes about 20 - 30 minutes.

    Makes 2 loaves

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    Weekend Blog Showcase: Cauliflower Soup with Spiced Apple Chips

    Welcome to the first edition of the Weekend Blog Showcase.  The purpose of the WBS is to show a little love to our fellow bloggers and the dishes they so generously share with us on their blogs.  Guidelines to participate in WBS can be found at the bottom of this post. Ann (Thibeault's Table) and I will take turns each week hosting and welcome all of you as we look forward to being introduced to some new blogs as well as revisiting old favorites!

    My first Weekend Blog Showcase bow is actually to someone many of you are already well acquainted with, I'm sure!  Monique is a beautiful soul whose talented photography, beautiful posts, and love for her family and friends is brilliantly displayed on her blog, La Table De Nana. It is always a joy to visit her blog everyday, a calming moment I look forward to each morning.  While Monique has many, many wonderful recipes to choose from, one that I had bookmarked for several months now, is her Cauliflower Soup with Spiced Pear Chips.

    Monique mentions a couple of alterations she made to the recipe at the end of her post.  I had a whole head of cauliflower and decided to go ahead and follow the recipe as written.  However, one little tweak I did make to the recipe was to make Spiced Apple Chips as I have a Lodi (I think) apple tree in my backyard, currently overrun with ripe fruit.  So apple chips it was.  Instead of slicing them vertically, I sliced them horizontally, hoping to get a glimpse of the little 'star' shape in the middle.  The chips were easy to slice on my Japanese-style plastic mandoline, and their spicy scent was heady as they were baking.

    The soup itself was extremely easy to make and not at all out of the ordinary... until just before serving.  A bit of orange zest and some fresh orange juice really added a freshness to the soup while still maintaining it's 'comfort' quality.  Delicious!  I'm having a hard time stopping at my SECOND bowlful!  Thank you, Monique!

    Cauliflower Soup with Spiced Pear Chips
    "Dressed up with a touch of orange and snappy, spiced pear chips, cauliflower becomes fit for company in this easy soup. Make it a day or two ahead of time and you only need to reheat and finish it with a fresh burst of orange just before serving. The pear chips can be made days ahead of time and stored in a cookie tin but you might need to hide them so they don’t disappear before it’s time to serve the soup."

    2 tablespoons (25 mL) butter or vegetable oil
    1 onion, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, chopped
    1 bay leaf
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    1 all-purpose potato, peeled and diced
    4 cups (1 L) vegetable or chicken stock (approximately)
    2 cups (500 mL) water
    7 cups (1.75 L) chopped cauliflower (approximately 1 head)
    1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) grated orange zest
    1 tablespoon (15 mL) freshly squeezed orange juice

    1 firm ripe Bartlett or Bosc pear
    1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) sweet paprika
    1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) cinnamon
    Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

    For soup, melt butter over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion and sauté for about 5 minutes until softened but not browned. Add garlic, bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt and 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) pepper and sauté for 1 minute or until garlic is softened and fragrant.

    Add potato, stock and water; bring to a boil, scraping up bits stuck to pot. Stir in cauliflower. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and boil gently for about 15 minutes or until cauliflower and potatoes are soft. Remove from heat.

    Discard bay leaf. Using an immersion blender in pot or, transferring soup in batches to an upright blender, purée soup until very smooth. Soup can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

    For spiced pear chips, preheat oven to 275°F (140° C).

    Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut pear lengthwise into paper-thin slices. Combine paprika, cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste. Lightly sprinkle over both sides of pear slices. Place on baking sheet in a single layer. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top and set another baking sheet on top of paper to keep pears flat.

    Bake for 45 minutes or until pears are very soft and starting to dry around the edges. Remove top baking sheet and carefully peel off top piece of parchment. Bake for 15 to 30 minutes longer, checking often, until pears are dry and firm. They will crisp more upon cooling. Carefully peel pears from parchment while still warm and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

    To serve, return soup to pot if necessary and reheat over medium heat until steaming, stirring often. Stir in orange zest and juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into warmed bowls and float a pear chip on top of each. Serve extra pear chips on the side.

    *I made apple chips, slicing the apple horizontally.  Continue with recipe as written.

    Serves 8

    Source:  Holiday 2008 Food And Drink Magazine/LCBO via Monique/La Table De Nana

    * * * * * * * * * *

    To participate in Weekend Blog Showcase:

    1. Make a recipe from a fellow blogger's website and share the recipe on your blog with a link back to the blog where you found the recipe. (It's always a nice touch to comment on the blog recipe you've borrowed from.)
    2. Add the Weekend Blog Showcase logo to your post.
    3. Link your post to Mr. Linky.
    That's it.  Leave a comment if you'd like.  We always love comments!  Thanks for joining in on the fun!

      Friday, October 1, 2010

      Can you hear it?

      "Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content."
      ~ Helen Keller

      Well, my friends, the masses (all 94 of them...) have spoken, and  the vast majority has advised that while music may soothe the savage breast, silence does indeed seem to be golden.  Here's how the numbers ultimately stacked up:

      No to the music - 65 (69%)
      Yes to the music - 20 (21%)
      Indifferent to the music -  9 (9%)

      Clearly, the "Nos" have it.  Thanks to each and every one of you for opining on the subject - I appreciate all the comments left, pro and con.  The music is now gone.  Feel free to visit All That Splatters in peace and quiet.    

      Now, on to the cooking!
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