Monday, December 12, 2011

Katie's First Birthday Invite!

Big One Pink Birthday Invitation
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Beef and Two Bean Chili

My husband has recently decided that he likes chili. A lot. All his life he's been a pretty picky eater but that's mostly been by choice. Because I love food and think that it's fun to experiment and try new things I've always encouraged him to be open-minded about food. At first, he resisted and hated trying new things, convinced that the reason he didn't like something was because he actually didn't like it, rather than he had just never tried it. Over time, he quit fighting me and started willing trying new things because he'd been able to find so many new foods that he really loved. We've been together since high school and I can't tell you how many things he has tried and fell in love with. Chinese food. Mexican food. Sushi. And, lately? Chili.

So he's been asking for me to make some kind of soup or chili for weeks now but it's just been too hot for me to think chili sounded good. Plus I hadn't found "the recipe." Over the last couple weeks here in Florida the weather has cooled off significantly (as in, it goes into the 60s on occasion) and I started thinking in earnest about trying my hand at chili. But I still couldn't find a recipe that spoke to me. So I took the things I liked about a few different recipes and adapted them to a recipe that suited our tastes.

Success!! I served this with cheese and sour cream for a garnish and biscuits as a side. Brad loved it and gushed all night long about how great it was! I really loved it too! Plus, it's a one-pot meal (read: easy clean-up) and makes a ton, which will probably serve us for a few more dinners and lunches. (I really love leftovers. Home-cooked meal without the work? Yes, please!) I subbed in green pepper for the more traditional celery (since neither of us are big celery fans) and the onion, garlic and green pepper made for a great vegetable flavor combo. The spices worked great together and the cornmeal gave the chili a great thickness without sopping up all the juices. One bowl is very filling and satisfying on a chili (pun intended) fall night. So here is the recipe. Hope you enjoy!

Beef and Two Bean Chili
(Original recipe by Layne)

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 16-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 cups beef stock
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
3 Tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
¼ cup cornmeal

In a large stockpot over medium-low heat, saute chopped onion, garlic and green pepper until soft. Crumble in ground beef and cook until brown. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, stock, beans, spices and cornmeal to the stockpot and stir together. Cover and cook on low for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring frequently. Serve with cheese and sour cream.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Who isn't looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe? And if you aren't, you should be. Of course, there is no one winner. Everyone has different opinions on what a chocolate chip cookie should be. And while sometimes we have different tastes and preferences, Brad and I definitely agree on this! Here's our take:

Chocolate chip cookies should be chewy, on the softer side and have a not-so-subtle brown sugar vibe about them. We also both tend to agree that the cookie part is better than the chocolate chip part. I definitely don't want an overdose of chocolate chips to drown out the wonderful brown sugar and buttery goodness of the cookies that they are suspended in. And, as far as Brad is concerned, the softer they are and the more they taste like cookie dough, the better.

So I decided I wanted to try to make not just good chocolate chip cookies, but GREAT chocolate chip cookies. I had two recipes in mind that held great promise: Alton Brown's "The Chewy" and Baking Illustrated's "Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies," which has been featured on zillions of food and baking blogs. They are both very similar and ended up I deciding on the Baking Illustrated version, mostly because of all the rave reviews.

I must say that these were amazing and did not disappoint. I'm convinced that they are my new go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe. They are chewy, with a great texture, and have a wonderful brown sugar flavor. Like all cookies, they are beyond phenomonal straight out of the oven but still hold onto their chewiness and flavor for a couple of days in a well-sealed container. Not much more to say other than we loved them!

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Recipe from Baking Illustrated, page 434)

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2-1 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chips to taste.

3. Roll a scant 1/4 cup of the dough into a ball. (This batch should make about 18 large cookies.) Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

4. Bake until the cookies are light golden gro
wn and the outer edges start to harden yet the centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets with a metal spatula.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Grandmother's Spaghetti

I grew up eating this spaghetti and thoroughly believing that THIS is what spaghetti should be. It was my grandmother's recipe but my grandfather made a mean batch too. I loved it and I would happily slurp it down whenever it was up for dinner. (Over to the right, that would be me - and my side-pony tail - along with my wonderful grandparents on picture day in grade school. Gotta love the 80's.)

Truthfully, I had a very hard time eating pasta of any other kind. Alfredo sauce tended to be much too creamy and rich. Traditional spaghetti sauce (you know, the meatless, tomato-saucy, chunk-less kind) just seemed so boring and thin. And, at the time, ricotta and I hadn't made friends so I wasn't a fan of most filled pastas.

Of course, over the years, I've turned into a huge foodie and now there aren't too many pastas that I don't love and ricotta and I get along very nicely. But as much as I love all the incarnations that pasta, sauces and Italian food can take, there is something about this version. It's just so comforting, so homey, so satisfying and hearty.

The following are some notes on the recipe: Now that I know more about food, I realize that it's not very traditional spaghetti sauce. First of all, it's a meat sauce and there are no huge chunks of stewed tomatoes . . . thank GOD. It also includes onions (fairly traditional) and green peppers (not so much) as the base vegetables. If you are a green pepper hater, no worries. My husband is too but I make sure to dice them up very small and cook until very tender and he doesn't even know they are in there.

There is also Worcestershire sauce, which may be a strange ingredient to some. But I am convinced that it is what makes the sauce. It adds SUCH a richness and depth of flavor. YUM. There is also quite a bit of garlic but keep in mind this recipe makes a TON of sauce. My grandparents used to add the cloves in whole, simmer them forever in the sauce and then remove them. But I LOVE garlic, so I decided to mince the cloves, saute them with the veggies and let them impart all their garlic-y goodness. Feel free to cut back if you're scared.


Grandma's Spaghetti Sauce
(Original Recipe by Layne)
serves 8-10, generously

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 lb ground beef
29 oz. tomato sauce (or 2 15 oz. cans)
12 oz. tomato paste
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Dice onion and green pepper and mince the garlic. Add olive oil to a large stock pot and place over medium-high heat. Saute onion, garlic and green pepper in oil until tender and fragrant, stir frequently to prevent sticking and over-browning. Crumble ground beef into pot and cook until beef is browned and cooked through.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add tomato sauce and tomato paste and water. Mix well. Add black pepper and Worcestershire sauce and stir to combine. Allow sauce to simmer for at least an hour to allow flavors to meld. Serve over spaghetti (we prefer whole wheat), perhaps with a side of garlic bread, and enjoy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mushroom and Fresh Basil Pizza

Brad has always been a cheese-only-pizza kinda guy. Every now and then he'll try a new topping but, for the most part, he tends to stick with what he knows. Meanwhile, I LOVE veggies on my pizza and fresh herbs. YUM! So it's pizza-by-the-slice for us since we can't agree.

Until, last month sometime, when we were at our favorite pizza/Italian place. We were discussing what looked good and we both had pizza on the brain. I decided that mushroom and fresh basil sounded yummy (although as far as I'm concerned there should be fresh basil on every pizza) and was surprised when Brad said that sounded good to him too! So we ended up getting an entire pizza and sharing it. We both loved it and that has been "our pizza" ever since.

Well, a couple weeks later at the farmer's market, we spied some great-looking baby portobello mushrooms and decided to do "our pizza" up home-style! I even had a new baking stone that I wanted to christen for the occasion.

Mushroom and Fresh Basil Pizza
(Original recipe by Layne, Pizza Dough adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence)

Favorite jarred pizza sauce
Mushrooms, to taste (LOTS!!)
Basil, to taste (LOTS!!)
Pizza dough (half of recipe below)

Pizza Dough:
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water; stir gently to dissolve. Let the mixture stand until the yeast comes alive and starts to foam, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Turn the mixer on low and add the salt and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing at the lowest speed until all the flour has been incorporated. When the dough starts to come together, increase the speed to medium; stop the machine periodically to scrape the dough off the hook. Get a feel for the dough by squeezing a small amount together: if it's crumbly, add more water; if it's sticky, add more flour - 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix until the dough gathers into a ball, this should take about 5 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over itself a few times; kneading until it's smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a round and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn it over to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it rise in a warm spot (i.e. over a gas pilot light) until doubled in size, about 1 hour. This is a good time to stick a pizza stone in the oven and preheat them to 500 degrees F.

Once the dough is domed and spongy, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter. Roll and stretch the dough into a cylinder and divide into 3 equal pieces. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes so it will be easier to roll out.

Roll or pat out a piece of dough into a 12 inch circle, about 1/8-inch thick. Dust a pizza paddle with flour and slide it under the pizza dough. Brush the crust with a thin layer of olive oil, and top with your favorite flavors. Slide the pizza onto the hot stone in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and crisp. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cheesy Grits Bread

Okay, so recently I've become obsessed with yeast breads. I never thought I could be patient enough to enjoy baking, let alone enjoy baking with yeast! But something in me had to try it and after a few flops I've become quite good at baking bread! Who knew? I've made some wonderful boules lately and Brad has loved them! I've also tried my hand at some homemade honey, yeasty dinner rolls and they have been to. die. for. I would have shared them sooner but they tend to disappear quite fast. I'll be sure to share them soon, though. Promise.

But before the yeast craze, I was trying my hand at quick bread in hopes to avoid having to work with yeast. (Little did I know what I was missing!) Most were unimpressive. Dry. Heavy. Just yuck. Then I stumbled upon this recipe. Still like a quick bread but with a little yeast to give it rise and lighten it up. For some reason, it seemed less intimidating to me than most yeast breads. Like a gateway yeast bread. . . . Alright, I'm done now.

Anyway, this bread was awesome. Light and airy from the yeast, cheesy from the cheddar and slightly grainy from the grits. Like a more bread-y version of cornbread. Maybe that doesn't sound like a good description but it was delish!

Cheesy Grits Bread
(Recipe loosely adapted from Fake Ginger, Originally from Southern Living)

1 cup milk
6 tablespoons quick cooking grits
1 teaspoon salt
5 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese (I just grated a big ol' pile and threw it in because, in my opinion, you can never have too much cheese!)
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 (1/4 oz) packet yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp if you buy yeast in jars)
2 1/2 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose and it was fine)

Bring milk to a boil over medium heat; stir in grits and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; add salt and cheese, stirring until cheese is melted. Let stand for 25 minutes to cool, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, combine water, sugar, and yeast in a mixing bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Add grits mixture beating until well blended.

Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Dough will be slightly sticky. Shape into a ball and place into a well-greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Punch dough down and shape into a loaf. Place in lightly greased 9 x 5 loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until golden. Let bread cool on wire racks for 10 minutes before removing.

Note: Like I said above, this was my first real foray into bread-making with yeast and it was a huge success. This is a very forgiving recipe and easy for beginners. The flavor of this bread was wonderful and the texture was spot on. I served it sliced with butter and I think it would be great for brunches or even as an accompaniment to one of my favorite kinds of meals: breakfast for dinner!


Friday, April 23, 2010

Redo! Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

So, I know I've already posted a recipe for Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Muffins. In fact, I've even already posted this one! But to be honest, they weren't that great the first time around. They were pretty dry and the peanut flavor was not very pronounced.

I was jonesing for these muffins again a while back. Well, not those muffins but the muffins I wanted them to be. So I decided to give it another try and really put my all into it. I also decided to make a half-batch because if I failed, I didn't want 11 dry, boring muffins crowding my kitchen.

Oh, but I did not fail. These muffins were glorious! Moist, with a great peanut butter flavor. They were just what I had been looking for and hit just the right spot. To accomplish this I added a little more peanut butter and a couple tablespoons more of brown sugar, both to add moisture and sweetness. I also subbed in whole wheat flour for about half of the all-purpose and added a couple of tablespoons of wheat germ for nutrition. I didn't notice that these had much of a negative impact on flavor but I know that they made these muffins more healthful . . . which made me feel better about eating them.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins
(Recipe adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from Baking Bites)

Makes 6 large muffins

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp wheat germ
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup,
plus 2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup peanut butter (I used crunchy but smooth is fine)
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk (low fat or skim is fine)
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts, chopped for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with paper liners. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, wheat germ, baking powder, salt and brown sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, peanut butter, eggs and milk until smooth. Pour into flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide batter into your paper-lined muffin tin. Each cup should be filled to the top to ensure you get a nice dome on the muffin. Optional: sprinkle on some chopped peanuts for garnish. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the top of the muffin springs back when lightly pressed. Cool on a wire rack.