Friday, March 30, 2012

Strawberry Pie

As I've been gaining confidence in my skills and flexing my culinary muscles on a daily basis, I decided it's time to tackle another item on my kitchen creations bucket list (remember when I tackled one here). I've always been a decent baker, starting as just a kid with cut out cookies (a particularly frustrating Christmas with a cookie gun comes to mind), packaged cake mixes and my ever famous chocolate covered pretzel rods (okay, the latter wasn't quite baking, but it was a handmade sweet treat).
 With temperatures soaring here at the beach and the strawberry farm opening this week, I decided to try my hand at a pie--something I've never done before. At 85 degrees and sunny I definitely was suffering from spring summer fever--and this was the perfect cure to beat the heat. I wanted to do the whole thing from scratch--crust and all, but discovered that I'm lacking a few key tools for such things--the most prominent being a pie dish (gifts are welcome!). I cheated a little and opted for a frozen crust, but made the strawberry filling and whipped cream fresh. The results were the perfect balance of sweet and tart and made me want to recreate it with a graham cracker crust next time (I've never been a big pie crust fan. I often find it dry and bland and for as long as I can remember I typically eat all of the filling leaving just a shell of what was once the perfect slice of apple or cherry pie behind). 

I used this recipe as a guide but found a few tricks and tips along the way. 

Strawberry Pie with Fresh Whipped Cream Topping
  • 1qt fresh strawberries (about 3 3/4 cups whole berries, or 24 small-medium berries) trimmed and halved
  • 1 C plus 2 Tbsp white sugar
  • 3/4 C water
  • 3 Tbsp cornstarch
  • one 9-inch pie crust
  • 1 1/2 C Whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Bake off your pie crust to the instructions on the package (or your favorite pie crust recipe--which I hope to have one soon!) Arrange half of the strawberries in the crust. In a medium saucepan add the second half of the strawberries and mash well (potato masher works great here!). Add 2 Tbsp of the water and 1C sugar and heat over medium heat until it comes to a boil, stirring occasionally. 

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine cornstarch with the remaining water until dissolved. When the strawberries come to a boil, slowly stir in the cornstarch mixture, reduce heat and simmer until thickened (about 10-12 minutes)--constantly stirring.  When the mixture thickens, pour it in the pie crust over the halved strawberries. Allow to cool 30 minutes at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill for at least 2-3 hours (over night works best!) until completely cool and set before serving. 

Chill your stand mixer bowl. With the whisk attachment in place, add the whipping cream, 2 Tbsp sugar and vanilla. Whip on medium-high for 5-8 minutes until stiff peaks form. Serve with the pie. (I added the whipped topping to the entire pie, but found it heavy and messy for serving--I'd recommend adding the whipped cream after you serve each slice). 

Share with your friends and neighbors. Bake two--they'll go fast. Eat it for breakfast. Enjoy the fact that you made a delicious pie by hand and smile at the thought that strawberry season has just begun!

Ps. Update your bookmarks because it's easier to find us and share us with your friends.  (the first of many new changes coming this spring/summer!)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

10 Items or Less

After working so many nights the last few weeks and then being away for a long weekend, I was beginning to feel unbalanced from being away from my kitchen for so long. My pots and pans and knives had a thin layer of dust beginning to form and my the contents of my refrigerator was beginning to get so lean I think I could see its rib cage. All of this made me question if I still had it--if I could still so effortlessly throw some things together and create a meal that was as impressive in taste as it was in appearance, budget and ease.

As far as week night dinners go, this one might take the cake in all of those categories above, plus it'll be sure to get you in an out of the grocery store in no time (if you know me, you know what an inefficent grocery outing can do to me). Leave the buggy behind and opt instead for a small handheld basket. You'll qualify for the 10 items or less line (unless you're picking up milk for cereal in the morning) and on your way to having dinner completed in less than 30 minutes from when you walk in the door.

Dinner: Shrimp and Spinnach Scampi Style Pasta Toss with Parmesaen Tomatoes
Dessert: Chocolate covered Strawberries

10 Items or less Grocery & Ingredient List:

1.shrimp (I used less than a pound of 31-40 count for two of us), peeled, devained & tails off spinach (a few handfuls)
3.pasta (8oz short-cut)
4.butter 6-8 Tbsp
5.garlic 8-9 cloves, grated (see this post for shortcut!)
6. tomatoes (I used Roma, 2 per person)
7. parmesan cheese (1/4 c, grated)
8. Italian style breadcrumbs (2 Tbsp)
9.strawberries (I used a dozen)
10. chocolate chips (I used 2/3 c for 12 strawberries)
*optional addition, 3 Tbsp white wine. 
**freebies (salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil)

Parmesean Tomatoes:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Slice the top 1/2 inch of tomato off to expose the "guts" of the tomato, and core the top 25% out with a paring knife. To help your tomatoes stand up, slice a very thin layer from the round portion of the bottom. Place the tomatoes in a small sided oven safe dish (think casserole style pan, or even a loaf pan). In a small bowl combine 2Tbsp breadcrumbs, 1/4c cheese, 1/8 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp black pepper. "Stuff" the tops of the tomatoes and then drizzle with olive oil. Bake for about 15 minutes.

Scampi-Style Shrimp and Spinach pasta toss:
 Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  In a large, deep skillet heat 1Tbsp extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat and melt in 6-8 Tbsp of unsalted butter. (**If you're opting for the wine I'd use closer to 6 Tbsp, if not I'd use closer to 8. You could sub in chicken stock & squirt of lemon in place of the wine as well). Using a handheld grater, grate in your garlic cloves and allow to cook out for about a minute, until fragrant. Add in your shrimp and allow them to cook 1-2 minutes in the garlic butter (add the wine now if you're using it). Cover the shrimp with a few handfuls of spinach and season with 1/4 tsp salt and black pepper. Cover and allow to cook about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and toss the shrimp and spinach until the leaves wilt and the shrimp turns pink--another minute or two. Drain off your pasta (it's great if it's still a little wet with cooking water!) and add it to the skillet. Mix together and serve with tomatoes along side.

Easiest Chocolate Covered strawberries:
Remove the tops from your strawberries. In a microwave safe bowl, add your chocolate chips. Heat for 1 minute and stir. Continue heating for 30 seconds at a time, making sure to stir the chips after each interval until melted and smooth. *Over cooking your chips will cause them to burn, seize or both.* Coat your strawberries in melted chocolate chips and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place the full sheet in the refrigerator for 20 minutes until the chocolate has hardened. This is the easiest dessert ever and perfect for week night entertaining.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Five Ingredient Spicy Shrimp

Happy Monday Readers! I had this post completed, pictures and all, ready to go for Thursday morning but somewhere between blogger and my iPad I lost it all and was unable to recover the original post. I was visiting my family in Jersey for my sister's bridal shower, so Thursday really was Jerz-day and while I didn't cook a whole lot over the weekend there was a lot of eating, dogs, and George Washing-guys.  I couldn't hold out on this recipe so here it is! We can recap the weekend tomorrow.

This one was so quick, easy and impressive that I couldn't stand  holding out any longer. It hits all the same notes as a restaurant  style 'bang bang' or 'firecracker shrimp' but comes together so simply in just minutes. With five main ingredients (and a few pantry freebies) you can prepare this restaurant knockoff and impress your dinner guests any day of the week. For us I think this is going to be our go-to , weeknight, summer entertaining staple. Five ingredient spicy shrimp has just enough kick in its creamy sauce to keep your palate second guessing, but not so hot that any of your guests (even those who don't care for heat) should feel intimidated.

Five Ingredient Spicy Shrimp (serves two, but can easily be adjusted by increasing shrimp count by 9 per person)
  • 18 medium-large (30-41 count) shrimp, peeled and devained
  • 1/2 C mayonnaise 
  • 1/4 C sweet chili sauce
  • 1-3 Tbsp Sriracha Sauce (I used about 2.5...but this depends on personal preference)
  • 1/4 C cornstarch
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
In a small bowl combine mayo, sweet chili sauce,1 Tbsp water,  Sriracha and onion powder. Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine cornstarch, salt and pepper and cayenne pepper. Using paper towels, pat dry the shrimp.  Add the shrimp to the cornstarch and evenly coat using your fingers. 

Heat the oil in  a large wok or deep skillet over medium-high heat. As you coat the shrimp, drop them into the oil one by one in an even layer. Cook about 3 minutes per side until slightly golden on the outside and pink, cooked through inside. In a second medium bowl add the cooked shrimp and mayonnaise sauce and coat evenly.

To fancy these up you can sprinkle thinly sliced scallions on top and serve them over mixed greens as an appetizer. I served them with some onions and zucchini (in an effort to clean out the fridge before we left for the weekend) and brown rice. A quick, homemade fried rice would be super easy and impressive if using this recipe to entertain. The serving possibilities are virtually endless.

I hope you all had an equally indulgent weekend as I did---ironic that I had such a weekend while starting to read the Hunger Games ...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fancy Feet

To give my wardrobe the pop it needs for spring I splurged for a practical style (flats) in a brighter color (aqua) to refresh so many of my wardrobe staples. I purchased these from Nine West and have already worn them with greys and shades of orange, both a burnt orange and navy combo and a super bright tomato orange. I've also been lusting after these pink skinnies to pair with my new bright feet and a slouchy gray top! These are also synthetic so bring it on spring showers! 

Check back this afternoon for super simple ' bang bang shrimp ' recipe that will wow your friends and family !

Monday, March 19, 2012

Four Tiered Birthday

We meet again on Monday morning! I have got to be honest and tell you--this weekend left little time to really dig deep in the kitchen and concoct some news worthy dishes, but I do have an impressive feat from Thursday to add to the scrapbook of 'look how far I've come' and a super simple Friday night seafood dish that came together in minutes. 

One of our favorite couples invited us to see their new place, celebrate a birthday and share a meal together last week. Naturally I saw this as the perfect opportunity to work on my baking skills and bring over a cake worthy of celebrating a quarter century. With a request of "STRAWBERRIES!" and "CREAM CHEESE ICING!" I opted to play with this recipe and a standard cream cheese icing to construct a four layered masterpiece of deliciousness. 

While I wish I had more photos to share in this processes, I do have a few things I learned along the way. Originally I had planned a standard two layer cake--but it just looked so puny and sad in the pan that it looked more like a birthday you would want to forget, not celebrate with good friends--so I had to make a second batch of batter (and later icing) to complete the construction. This added a lot of time on the prep and execution, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

We sat on the urban deck and enjoyed a crispy baked cod, couscous pilaf with red peppers and onion and sauteed zucchini. I also made my first tarter sauce from scratch that I hope to introduce you all to soon (it's worth the wait!) 

Four Layer Strawberry Cake (adapted from here)
1 3/4 C sugar
1 C + 3 Tbsp unsalted butter softened at room temperature.
3 C all purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 C milk16 oz fresh strawberries finely diced.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a mixer with paddle attachment combine the butter and sugar until fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time until combined, then add in the vanilla. On the low setting of the mixer add the flour mixture by thirds, alternating with the milk. (It should go 1/3 flour mixture, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour mixture, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour mixture). Then fold in the strawberries. Fill 4 (or work in 2 batches of 2) 8 inch round pans half way and bake 25-30 minutes.
Allow to cool about 3 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely or over night. 

Simple Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 2 8oz bricks of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 C (1 stick) + 3 Tbsp unsalted butter softened to room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 C powdered sugar
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter with the paddle attachment for about 3 minutes. Add in the vanilla. On low, slowly add in the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time until all combined. 

Add a thin layer of frosting between each layer of cake, starting in the center and leaving a 1" boarder around each layer (add a little extra dalop to the center and it'll squeeze out to the edge. Generously frost the whole cake. I dressed mine up by adding small peaks around the whole thing using the back of a spoon for an organic decoration and a few sliced strawberries on top.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Night In Stuffed Chicken

With weather as beautiful as it was yesterday it's hard to find the motivation to hide out in  kitchen to prepare dinner, especially after soaking in the first heat of the season at the beach enjoying fried pickles and sweet tea. We wore shorts (I need a tan!) and flip flops (I need a pedicure!) and walked along the beach after our lazy lunch. 

I longed all day for my future vegetable garden, grill and patio on which to enjoy the perfect nights that follow such warm days. (And after an hour spent planning for these things, browsing grills and patios,  it was even more difficult to put them aside in my mind for the time being).

I let D help me decide what to make and we decided on a lighter, fresher copycat version of one of our restaurant favorites. We used up the rest of the goat cheese and sauteed some fresh spinach and wished we could run outside to grab just a few fresh herbs (so soon I can hardly stand it!)

Night-in Stuffed Chicken (serves 2)
  • 2 skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 oz goat cheese
  • 1 Roma tomato halved, seeded and sliced thinly.
  • 1 package baby spinach
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/4granulated garlic
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 Tbsp butter*
  • 1/4 tsp dried tarragon *
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the chicken breasts lengthwise creating a pocket (be careful not to cut all the way through--go for 2/3 of the way). Smear in about 1/2 Tbsp goat cheese, stuff in a few spinach leaves (~4-5) and a few slices of tomato (~2-3). Drizzle a baking dish with olive oil and place the chicken in the pan, pressing down on the breast so it is mostly closed. Season the top with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned on the top and cooked through.

*optional topping suggestion: 
When you remove the chicken, top each piece with an additional 1/2 Tbsp pat of goat cheese. In a microwave safe bowl melt the butter. Stir in tarragon leaves and let sit for 1 minute. Spoon tarragon butter over goat cheese & chicken.

In a deep skillet heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Grate in the garlic cloves and cook for about a minute until fragrant. Add in the spinach leaves and toss with garlic and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cover for about 2 minutes. Continue to toss the spinach as it cooks down so the garlic and spinach don't burn. Remove from heat just as the final leaves begin to wilt.

In addition to the chicken and spinach we had some gnocchi seasoned with butter and bread crumbs, but a light pasta on the side or garlic mashed potato would work wonderfully as well.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring Wardrobe Wish List

1. braided skinny belt in white or camel --39.00 Banana Republic
2. jelly flats in a fun color for the beach, pool or rainy days--58.00 J.Crew
3. flat espadrilles in a graphic print -- 125.00 Kate Spade
4. coal shorts (it's hot in the south!) --49.95 Gap
5.oversized fold over clutch in a bright hue (I like this orange or the teal with neon zipper!) -158 Claire Vivier
6.polka dots in a not-too-girly spring pastel --89.90 The Limited
7.stacked brushed or hammered gold bangles--38.00 Nordstrom

So is this the world's most practical list? No, not quite. But half way through my six weeks of not shopping has made me get creative with my wardrobe and see what I can do with just a few simple changes of accessories, shoes or bags. Topping the list right now is a not too bright, colored bottom (or two) to spice things up on days off and to preserve my quickly fading favorite pairs of blue hued jeans. In an effort to slim down my carrying capacity as the weather heats up, and maybe an effort to make recreational shopping a little MORE difficult, an oversized fold over clutch keeps calling my name and begging to be stuffed under my arm for window shopping only.

With temperatures climbing to 80 degrees today I think my best investment would be a pedicure to preserve the world's eyesight from the wintered feet and chipping polish I'm currently sporting. Lunch at the beach requires It would be a good day to have those Kate Spades... 

What are you lusting after this spring?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Light and Sweet

Happy Monday Readers! Forgive me in advance for the light posting this week.  With a very packed schedule and over 70 degrees (and SUN!) forecasted for the week, I can't imagine spending a whole lot of 'free' time slaving exploring, inventing and relaxing in the kitchen (someone tell D to keep the microwave/take out menus on standby...). I'm honestly pretty sad I won't have as much time as I'd like to hang out in my favorite room of the house. I hope to hit you guys with some fashion and other fun things at the very least daily, so definitely see what I've found for you guys to enjoy, maybe even a round up of things to try in the very near future.

I hope your week is a little lighter than mine and filled with equally pleasant weather forecasts.

I'm keeping my eye out for some elephants (or other fun shaped toys in the dollar section) to get started on this incredible DIY. Seriously, it's some spray paint, a plastic elephant and some superglue on a pretty rock. Let's do this. Ready, set, (stand up books, we see you leaning...) go!

image: {Hi Sugarplum via Little Green Notebook}

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Fun

Out with the old and in with the new would imply that I actually got rid of something in exchange for something new...only half of this is true and relevant about this next tidbit but I'm so excited to be posting from my new iPad. I like to think D caved because he's proud of me and this reality I think he's excited for a larger version of angry birds and mobile Netflix for our travels this year. Either way she's perfect in her bright green jacket just in time for spring and I hope having her will make this a place more accessible and worthwhile for everyone.

Due to this new addition...(and an unhealthy interest obsession with The Walking Dead) the kitchen remained fairly untouched yesterday (along with the laundry, bathrooms, carpets and everything else that was put aside for new toys and catching up on the zombie drama and some hot bods). 

I did round up a few things I enjoyed around the web and thought you guys would love too...

A great March reading list for your beside table (I want to read this one)

Minted Magazine's Spring Issue Launches in 3 days--catch up on winter here!
I want to make these for our new kitchen windowsill (hmm is this a hint for spring changes?)

..and I've been craving this southern snack for over a week now...

I hope you dolls have a fabulous weekend filled with sunnier skies then we have here.


image: Maddie on Things  (via A Cup of Jo) (via Swissmiss)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kitchen Clean Up Gourmet Pizza

 I know what you're thinking...this girl makes some great stuff but has a few odd ball ingredients that I'm not quite sure what to do with. Worry no more about wasting that good stuff. For over two years now D and I have been making pizza at home instead of ordering out and this one might just be our favorite. It mirrors similar flavors that we've been cooking up around here, so it's the perfect way to use up the rest of some of those ingredients. 

There's something to be said about spending that thirty minutes or less together in the kitchen, sipping wine and making your own pizza then silently waiting for the doorbell to deliver a box whose contents question the driving skills of America's future. The cost comes in around $10 or less, depending on what ingredients you regularly have on hand, and the taste makes any at home date night seem like a fine(er) dining experience. 

Save a napkin blotting needed.

Eggplant & Roasted Red Pepper Goat Cheese Pizza
  • 1/2 eggplant chopped (small) --(I used the half from this)
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, blotted and cut into thin strips
  • 8-10 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped up
  • 1 16oz ball of pizza dough* -keep refrigerated until last minute.
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 4-5 oz goat cheese
  • 2 Tbsp flour 
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
*I cheated a bit here and used a store bought fresh ball of wheat pizza dough. While I'm all about 'make your own', this is one of those time savers (and dough can get tricky) that $2 is worth the simplicity for me*

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. In a large skillet heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat and add in eggplant. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes until softened. 

Meanwhile, dust your dough with the flour and stretch until desired size and thickness. (I use a 12 inch deep dish round because that's all that I have, but a pizza stone would work great for this too!.) This pan allows the dough to have a little bit of a crunch and a chewiness on the inside. Spray your pan with cooking spray and fit the dough inside to the edges. Drizzle with the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with granulated garlic. Bake for about 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven, reduce heat to 450 and add eggplant to the dough. Place red peppers on top of the eggplant. Crumble the goat cheese over the pizza to your desired cheesiness (*note: goat cheese won't spread and melt like other cheeses so its best to get a thin, fine crumbled layer) Bake another 7 minutes. Remove again and add on the sun-dried tomatoes. Return to the oven and bake another 3-5 minutes, careful not to burn the sun-dried tomatoes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool a few minutes and the cheese to set a little bit so you don't loose all your toppings (*this is the hardest part!)

Best enjoyed on the couch with your favorite date night movie or tv show (we're obsessed with The Walking Dead right now...)!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dessert Worthy Applesauce

This little number I whipped up in the kitchen doesn't sound all that interesting, but let me tell you---there's a reason people say to not judge a book by its cover--or in this case...a side/snack/dessert/almost condiment by its name. I never thought much about applesauce, except for the fact that we always had it with a pork loin dinner or for the base of mixed in antibiotics when we were sick as kids. I think the latter scenario never made me really indulge past the age of 10.  With a surplus of apples on hand (shocking that we would have an absurd amount of produce), I decided to try my hand at making my own applesauce.

The ingredients are simple and fresh and the results are a far cry from a Mott's jar. When hot it could pass for a lighter version of apple pie filling with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of crushed graham crackers and cold it could still satisfy a sweet tooth or be a great afternoon (or lunchbox!) snack.

Apple Pie Applesauce (makes ~16oz depending on size of apples)
  • 8-10 small-medium apples (I used 5 macintosh, 3 rome) 
  • 2 Tbsp white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 3/4 c water
  • 1/2-1 tsp cinnamon (according to personal taste--I used 1/2 tsp)
(This recipe is so simple it'll make you wonder why you ever bought applesauce in a jar). Peel, core and chop all of the apples. Put the apples in a sauce pan and add the sugar, water and cinnamon. Cook the apples covered over medium heat about 20-25 minutes until soft. Mash the apples with a potato masher until desired consistency (I left it a little chunky).  *If you don't have a potato masher, go get one...just kidding, use a fork--but you might have to cook your apples just a little bit longer.

Let the apple sauce cool at room temperature before refrigerating. 

As you lazily eat spoonful after spoonful wonder why you ever paid for jarred apple sauce.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What Ranger Ate...

I had a whole different post planned for today, but thought it was an appropriate time to take a step out of the kitchen (and move a whopping 10 feet to the living room) to introduce you a little bit more to someone else very special around here.  I am fully aware that this puts me in the running for 'old lady you never want to be stuck next to at the bingo hall or grocery line or anywhere else that she can corner you and show you countless pictures of her children, grandchildren and cats'--but I'm pretty sure the post on finger knitting should have given you an indication at just how cool I really am. 

 Never one to be camera shy and always willing to be my number one (only when ingredients are safe for him) taste tester, I present to you Ranger...and what he ate (or thought very hard about eating) --according to the photos on my phone...

At two years old and 25 pounds I've got my hands full with this jack-a-bee (that's a  suspected jack russell terrier and lemon beagle mix). Sometimes he acts like a dog, but most of the time it's more of a cat/monkey/lemur/toddler mix.  I'm pretty sure he's convinced if he touches the carpet for more than a mode of transportation, he will melt into hot lava. Spoiled? Yes. Manipulative? Kind of. Worth every second of his antics? Absolutely.

he eats apples straight from the core...
and likes organic orange sorbet
and was so excited to sing happy birthday to D
and take a lazy afternoon nap.

If you're looking for food inspiration today check out Dressing on the Side, featured on Port City Foodies Monday Food Porn post. 

And Minted Magazine has some pretty pictures and a quick Tuesday go-to for their Foodie Tuesdays post (ps. you should follow these girls on facebook, they post the best stuff!)

*Coming soon--new photo layouts, new recipes, a little bit more fashion, and some DIYs [wedding favors, and home projects] as we approach big changes this spring around here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Baked Eggplant Parm (perfect for a meatless Monday)

super simple ingredients

 Happy Monday Everyone! I hope you guys had a great weekend, and those of you on the east coast--didn't see too much rain or snow (or wind or any other crazy weather). I spent much of the weekend working, catching up on Gossip Girl, hosting two nights of UFC fighting and making favors for my sister's upcoming bridal shower.

Growing up during those six weeks between Mardi Gras and Easter we always followed the tradition of not eating meat on Fridays. Sure, the easy options would be pasta or pizza--but let's get real, there's tons of great meatless dishes waiting to be made with a little bit of plan ahead and a smidgen of confidence. Plus, going meatless at least a day or two a week has proven to be a great way to save money and calories--which is why I think I want us to adopt this tradition year 'round--perhaps a "meatless Monday" tradition to kick off the weeks a little bit lighter.

This baked version of the Italian classic has all the flavor of a pan fried eggplant parm without all of the oil and time spent standing over the pan. I even cheated and used 1/2 C jarred tomato sauce (in lieu of homemade) and to keep things delicious--added fresh mozzerella cheese. 

Eggplant Parm Towers (makes 4 towers)
  • 1/2 medium-large eggplant mostly peeled, and sliced crosswise into 8 discs ~ 1/4"-1/2" thick
  • 1/2 c marinara sauce (jarred, fresh--whatever you've got will work)
  • 3-4oz fresh mozzarella (about 1/2 of a ball) sliced into 8 slices (plus more for snacking)
  • 1c Italian style bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp water
  • 1c flour
  • 2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set up an assembly line starting with a shallow dish or plate of flour, followed by a bowl of the beaten egg, then a shallow dish or plate of breadcrumbs and ending with a non-stick sheet pan.

One by one, coat the eggplant in flour (shake off the excess), then dip in the egg mixture and coat with breadcrumbs and place the disc on the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the eggplant and arrange in one layer on the baking sheet. 

Bake about 10 minutes, flip the discs over, and bake about another 8-10 minutes. Remove them from the oven and top each disc with a thin layer of sauce, light sprinkle of parmesan cheese and a thin slice of mozzarella. Bake another 3-5 minutes until cheese begins to melt. Stack two discs to make 4 "towers" and serve with a vegetable or pasta. You could also put these babies on a bun for a sandwich version--YUM!

(We had ours with steamed broccoli and gnocci dressed with butter and breadcrumbs!)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cut it Out

I LOVE these cutting boards from this fabulous Etsy shop! At $40 each they would make a great wedding gift or house warming gift for someone to remember where they came from or where they've just moved to.  I'm in the market for some new cutting boards but now I can't figure out which to choose...

the North Carolina one, for where we met, were married & now live....

or the Jersey one...where I grew up (I'm leaning toward the garden state, since the heart is placed right over my hometown)...

Which do you think I should choose?

ps. there's also an option to add a second heart on whatever board you choose!


Standing patiently in line and looking through the low glass windows of the ice cream parlor deciding what flavor to choose (until recently I always thought you had to pick just one--who knew you could split up a single scoop?)  I can't remember a time choosing chocolate ice cream, opting instead for mint chocolate chip or a standard vanilla. In fact, I remember sitting on my grandmother's porch with a scoop of neopolitan ice cream, always favoring the strawberry and vanilla stripe over the one of malted chocolate.

Things have changed since then and I decided there was only one respectable way to celebrate the first of March that reached 80 degrees--by indulging in some rich, creamy, no-churn homemade chocolate ice cream. Joanna at A Cup of Jo posted the recipe last week and I've been dreaming of giving it a try as soon as I got the chance.

We replaced the bittersweet chocolate with semi-sweet chocolate chips which made the frozen concoction even more dense and rich and creamy. The best part was that this ice cream recipe required no special machines or ingredients--just some patience (which we know can run short around here for me).

That being said it was rich and creamy and chocolately delicious with a hint of coffee from the espresso powder.  To give this one another go-round in the kitchen we'll follow exactly the recipe and use the bitter sweet chocolate to eliminate the extra milk from the semi sweet chips. 

I'd definitely give this one a second try, maybe even freeze in some mix ins like cookies or candies or dried cherries or nuts...the possibilities are endless. All I need now is a waffle cone recipe!

(Taken directly from A Cup of Jo)
Recipe: The Best Chocolate Ice Cream You'll Ever Have
Inspired by Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer

Makes almost a quart

You'll need:
1 can (14-ounce/400 grams) sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup (180 grams) whole milk
3/4 cup (175 grams) heavy cream
6 ounces (170 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
1/4 cup (25 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (or two tablespoons freshly-brewed espresso)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A pinch of fine sea salt
5 teaspoons (12 grams) cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water

In a heavy-bottomed large pan, whisk sweetened condensed milk, whole milk and heavy cream until combined. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

Take off heat and add the finely-chopped chocolate, cocoa powder, instant espresso powder, vanilla extract and salt. Whisk until the chocolate melts and the cocoa powder is completely dissolved.

Mix cornstarch and cold water in a bowl with a fork until completely dissolved, and add to the ice cream base. Whisk until combined.

Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, whisking constantly, scraping the sides and the bottom of the pan to prevent burning, until thickened, for 8-10 minutes.

Transfer to a heatproof bowl and set aside, uncovered, to cool for half an hour. Don't worry if a skin forms on top. When the bowl is cool enough to handle, cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly--preferably overnight--in the refrigerator.

Before transferring the chilled ice cream to the freezer, stir or whisk to dissolve the skin on top and scrape into a container. Cover with plastic, this time pressing the wrap against the ice cream to create an airtight seal; put the lid on (or cover with an additional layer of plastic wrap) and freeze until firm enough to scoop.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mediterranean Veggie Subs

I love a great roasted vegetable sandwich. Pair it with a creamy cheese, crusty bread and tangy dressing and you've met my best friend in the lunching world. This version came about with a few odds and ends on hand and little desire to even order take-out, let alone make a whole dinner. The flavors are bold, textures are interesting and substantial enough for a full fledged dinner without any additional sides.  Even the worst cooks could make this one happen.

Mediterranean Vegetable Subs (for 2 or 4, depending on how much you want to share)
  • 1 french (or other favorite) baguette
  • 2 oz goat cheese, room temperature (I take it out of the fridge before I start on the zucchini)
  • 8 sundried tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 medium-large zucchini
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus a little extra for drizzling)
  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
Slice the sundried tomatoes and place in a small bowl. Combine olive oil and balsamic and marinate the tomatoes while you prepare the rest of the sandwich.

Slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch steaks. I usually cut the ends off of the zucchini first, then slice the whole thing in half cross-wise and make the steaks from those halves (I find it easier to work with half the length of a full zucchini.) You should get about 8-10 pieces of zucchini. Place the zucchini in a griddle pan in a single layer over medium heat and season with salt & pepper for about 5 minutes (this depends on the thickness of your zucchini). Once starting to caramelize on one side,  flip the zucchini (if you want, now is a good time to lightly drizzle with some olive oil), season again with salt & pepper and cook for about another 5 minutes until caramelized and tender. Remove from the pan. 

While you're cooking the zucchini drain a roasted red pepper on some sheets of paper towel to remove the extra oil. Slice open your baguette and smear the goat cheese along the whole length of the bread on one side (I usually do the top portion). On the opposite side (obviously, I use the bottom) spread the sundried tomato and balsamic mixture. Place the zucchini on the side with the goat cheese end to end (usually ends up being a double layer of zucchini). Lastly slice the red pepper and position it between the zucchini and 
sundried tomato layer.

 Close the sandwich, cut in half crosswise and hoard the bigger half for yourself.