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.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Herb Garden

I have been very productive lately!! I have been wanting an herb garden ever since we moved into this house but I haven't gotten off my butt. Well, for some reason a couple of weekends ago, I was bitten by the bug and Sunday morning I woke up and asked Brad if we could go out and get all the things we needed for the herb garden. And so we spent the rest of the day at Lowe's and in the yard!

I decided to try and find (and plant) my favorite herbs and then the ones I use most often. (Like parsley, don't love the taste but it's great in everything for some freshness.) The front row (closest to the walk) has three herbs. Flat-leaf Parsley is the one that is farthest away, oregano is in the middle and basil is the closest, in the corner. In the back, near the house is dill (farthest away) and cilantro.

As you can see from the picture, Raina likes to be outside with us while I'm working in the garden. She loves to explore! Luckily she has she no interest in my herbs. Those are for the grown-ups!

I can't even tell you how happy I am about this herb garden. I'm scared to death that I'll kill it but so far I have prevailed. The first couple days I was afraid of drowning it so I avoided watering. I was told to be sparing on the water for the first few days!! But by day 3, they were looking wimpy, puny and all-around droopy. And I was convinced I had killed them. I read up and found out that after they are established they should be watered about every other day, about when the soil starts looking dry. So I dashed out and watered them right away. What do you know? The next day they bounced right back, must have just been dehydrated! I've taken to watering them about every other day and almost 2 weeks later they are doing great. Look at the "after" photo!!

Well, I do have one that is lagging behind! I had the worst time finding all the herbs I wanted. There were a few I was hoping for that I just couldn't find, or what I found was in pretty bad shape. Like the cilantro. It's tied with basil as my favorite herb. I just LOVE the stuff. (Oregano is Brad's favorite herb, btw). So I was beyond disappointed when after trips to 2 different places I couldn't find any decent cilantro. But I loved it so much I bought the only two plants they had that still looked half-alive. (For reference, I bought four of each of all the other herbs.) I planted them hoping that a little TLC would bring them back.

One shriveled up and died in about 2 days. Two weeks later, the other little plant is still hanging on! And it's starting to look pretty good! But it just can't quite grow and expand like the others are. Brad and I are planning a trip to the farmer's market this Sunday and I'm going to see if I can find any more cilantro buddies for the one I have that is growing lonely in my back yard!

I never thought I would have so much fun and interest in gardening. But as much as I love to cook (especially with fresh herbs) this garden really suits me. There is nothing like snipping a few fresh herbs and then making dinner with what you grew in your own backyard! I've already made salsa and some yummy pasta (to be posted soon) with my new herbs. Can't wait to use them again! Yum!


Friday, April 16, 2010

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Tacos

After stumbling upon the recipe for the best salsa ever the other day I knew that I had to change my dinner plans so that I had an excuse to eat more and so Brad (my husband) could indulge also. I had a pork roast in the fridge and I was planning on making my much-loved Crock Pot Pulled Pork. We had some leftover sandwich buns in the house that needed to be used and we hadn't had pork in a while so that was the plan for dinner. (Argh! Ever notice how much waste is created when you are cooking for 2? I don't need 8 hamburger buns for one dinner?!? Ugh, rant over.)

Anyway, I still wanted to use the pork for dinner but wanted to use it in a way that would allow us to also have the salsa with it. I immediately thought of Moe's. Brad and I love, love, love Moe's. It is an unfortunate obsession. In college, we easily ate there 2-3 times a week. The food was great and so cheap and the queso was to die for! When we started going, Moe's was still relatively small and didn't have a huge selection for their proteins, just chicken, steak and tofu. But they have added more meats (much to Brad's delight) and he likes to experiment. In the last year or so, Brad he really gotten into their pulled pork tacos and gets at least one every time he goes.

So I thought pulled pork tacos sounded perfect and immediately set about Googling for a recipe. I wanted to prepare the pork on the simpler side so that we could used the leftovers for different applications without the flavors clashing. I found a great recipe where I could do that and use salsa that I had just made. Perfect!

The verdict? Super easy and very tasty. Brad and I were both very pleased by the texture of the pork. It was so tender and just fell apart. There was no gnawing on the taco to get the pork to come with it. Nope, just one easy bite! Hurray! Another win for the slow cooker!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Tacos
(Recipe adapted from Real Simple)

2 cups salsa (I used homemade but you could easily use store-bought)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 2 1/2-pound boneless pork butt or shoulder, trimmed of excess fat

In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the salsa, chili powder, oregano, cocoa, and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the pork and turn to coat. Cook, covered, until the meat is tender and pulls apart easily, on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours. When the pork is done cooking, lift it carefully out of the slow cooker and place it on a large cutting-board. Shred the pork by pulling it apart with 2 forks. If you would like to add moisture, spoon some of the cooking liquid over the pork and toss.

Serve over the tortillas and add whatever taco fixings you desire. For me it was cilantro, sour cream, lime, shredded cheddar cheese and, of course, extra salsa.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Best. Salsa. Ever.

I love, love, love Mexican food. Or maybe I should be more clear. I love, love, LOVE chips and salsa. Which is funny because growing up I never really was a fan. Probably because the jarred salsa was so pervasive. At parties, holidays, BBQs. It was jarred salsa and Tostitos. Don't get me wrong I like Tostitos, salty and crunchy? What's not to like? But once I tasted real salsa and real corn chips, the kind you get at a quality mom-and-pop Mexican place. . . I was hooked. And weirdly enough, I hardly ever get cravings for "Mexican food." When I'm jonesing to go out to my favorite Mexican place it's always because I'm craving their chips and salsa. For me, salsa is a Mexican place's claim to fame . . if it's not good, I don't go back.

A couple things about salsa. First, if you know the name of this blog, you know that I'm NOT a raw tomato fan. I can do cooked tomatoes but NOT big chunks of them. So chunky salsa (which most jarred salsas are) is not my thing. Second, the salsas I get at my favorite Mexican places have that awesome fresh taste where you can really taste the herbiness of the cilantro, the bite of the onion and the tang of the lime juice. Like everything that was in it had just been yanked out of the ground and thrown in the blender and given right to me! Yummmm.

Recently I made one of my famous cheese quesadillas for lunch. It had been a while since I'd had the old cheddar and cilantro favorite (a new quesadilla had stolen my attention) so I was looking forward to it, when I noticed that the dregs of my salsa (yes, I caved and bought the only non-chunky jarred salsa I could find for home use) had started to go bad. Well, I had recently had a party where I served caprese skewers of raw cherry tomatoes, basil leaves and fresh mozzerella and I had leftover cherry tomatoes in my fridge! I also had an onion, some cilantro and some lime juice so I tried making my own salsa from what I had. Blech!! The raw tomato flavor was way too prominent and the salsa just didn't have the right kick to it.

Later, I search my Google reader for homemade salsa, determined to do it right. I found a very promising recipe on PW's site and her description of ideal salsa matched mine to a tee. Yesterday, I whipped it up, hoping to have found something good and Oh. My. Good. Gravy. This salsa was so amazing, I changed called Brad to let him know that I was changing our dinner plans so I had an excuse to eat more of this stuff. Yes, it's that good.

Best. Salsa. Ever.
(Recipe adapted from Pioneer Woman)

1 can (28 Ounce) Whole Tomatoes With Juice
2 cans (10 Ounce) Rotel (I used 2 cans of "mild" because I'm a weanie when it comes to spicy foods)
¼ cups Chopped Onion
1 clove Garlic, Minced
1 whole Jalapeno, Quartered And Sliced Thin (I omitted this. Again, I'm a wuss.)
¼ teaspoons Sugar
¼ teaspoons Salt
¼ teaspoons Ground Cumin
½ -1 cups Cilantro (more to taste!)
½ whole Lime Juice

Combine whole tomatoes, Rotel, onion, jalapeno, garlic, sugar, salt, cumin, lime juice, and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Pulse until you get the salsa to the consistency you’d like—I do about 10 to 15 pulses. Test seasonings with a tortilla chip and adjust as needed.

Refrigerate salsa for at least an hour. Serve with tortilla chips or cheese nachos.

Notes: I made a few changes to the quantities in my salsa. First, I used a whole onion since the one I had was tiny and it probably gave me more like 3/4 cups. Also, I used more like a full cup of cilantro because I adore the stuff. I thought it was perfect but the hubs thought the cilantro flavor could have been dialed back a bit. Adjust this based on your tastes. Also, I did need to add a couple pinches more of salt to bring out all the flavors, the 1/4 tsp just didn't do it for me. But every canned product has different amounts of sodium, so make sure you taste your salsa before adding more salt.

I thought the final product was wonderful. I was worried that all the canned tomatoes would be too much for me but it turns out that canned tomatoes are cooked ever so slightly before they are canned. I guess it's enough to get rid of that raw tomato flavor becuase I loved this stuff! And the spice is just right for me, a little kick but nothing that knocks you over. So fresh tasting, tangy. Just awesome. Brad loved it too, saying he really liked that it was a great consistency and not too chunky. (Thank-you-very-much). Good thing too, because this recipe makes a ton of salsa. Too bad we've already gone through a third of it in one day!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Ham and Brie Quesadilla

I'm a quesadilla kinda girl. I have one at least twice a week for lunch and I love them. What's not to love? The crunchy tortilla? The melty cheese inside? Combined with a fresh salsa and some cool sour cream? Freaking. Awesome. Plus they are ridiculously easy to make. Pair them with some baked chips for lunch and they aren't too shabby in the health department either!

Usually I just do it up cheddar style. Throw some extra sharp cheddar and cilantro in a tortilla and saute until crispy and brown. Again, awesome. But I had some brie on had a while back and wanted to try something different. I love ham and brie together (the salty of the ham paired with the creamy of the brie just does things to me) so I decided to give it a try in my lunch time quesadilla. And, boy, was it a winner!

The next time I made this I decided to add another fave of mine, balsamic vinegar. We had some great balsamic vinegar in the house so I threw a few tablespoons into a saute pan and waited for it to reduce until it was the consistency of syrup. I drizzled a little of over the quesadilla and it was love at first bite. The salty. The tangy. The creamy. Nirvana. If you are looking for a quick, easy lunch that is tasty and will take no time, give this a try. It's sure to please.

Ham and Brie Quesadilla with Balsamic Reduction
(Original recipe)

1 whole wheat tortilla
2 oz thin sliced smoked deli ham
1 oz sliced brie

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Place tortilla in nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add ham and brie to one side of tortilla and heat for 2 minutes. Fold tortilla and continue to heat one side until golden brown and crisp. Then fold and crisp the other side. Place quesadilla on plate and slice into 4 equal wedges.

While cooking quesadillla, in a separate small saucepan, heat balsamic vinegar over medium-high heat until bubbling gently. Tilt pan side to side to keep balsamic moving while it boils. Once the it has reduced down to a syrup-y consistency (about half the original volume), remove from heat and drizzle over quesadilla and serve!


Friday, April 9, 2010

PW Mac N Cheese

I realize that this is NOT a very appetizing picture of this mac and cheese but let me tell you that despite that, this is one tasty dish. It won't be confused with light fare and I suggest a dinner salad with this and maybe some bread because it's very rich and is almost a meal unto itself. This mac and cheese is rich and decadent, creamy and tangy, just how I like it.

I have a habit of always adding powdered mustard to my cheese sauces because it gives them a great sharp tang. PW doesn't fail me here and I love her for it. Also, I have never been a fan of a breaded mac and cheese. I don't think the bread crumbs add anything in the way of flavor and they certainly take away from the velvety texture of this dish. Instead, I prefer the crispy, melted cheese topped variety. In short, this hits all the right notes for me. Try it and I'm sure you'll agree.

Pioneer Woman's Baked Macaroni 'N Cheese
(Recipe from Pioneer Woman Cooks)

4 cups uncooked macaroni
4 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 egg, beaten
1 lb. cheese, grated (I used all cheddar, but I’m sure a combination would be great too)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/2-1 tsp. ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cook macaroni according to package directions until slightly firm. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook the mixture for five minutes, whisking constantly and being careful not to burn. Add the milk to the pot, stir in the dry mustard, and whisk until smooth. Cook the mixture for five minutes until very thick. Reduce the heat to low.

Add the beaten egg to a small bowl. Take 1/4 cup of the warm sauce and slowly pour it into the beaten egg, whisking constantly to avoid scrambling the egg. Whisk until smooth. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the sauce, whisking constantly. Stir until smooth. Mix in the cheese, reserving a handful for topping, and stir until completely melted. Add in salt and other seasonings. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly. Add the drained cooked macaroni to the pot and mix well.

Pour the mixture into a baking dish, top with reserved cheese, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and bubbly on top.