Tuesday, April 12, 2011

'Baked' Ziti

Have I ever mentioned my love for Rachael Ray?
She taught me how to cook, and for that I am forever grateful.
This is one of the first of her recipes that I made, and years later, it is still one of our favorite go to dinners.

And simple? This one couldn't be simpler.
Look. I'll show ya.

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Mix the cooked pasta and the sauce. (I use fresh basil and oregano when I have it, but dried will do.)

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Then you spoon the bechamel sauce over the pasta. Lookin' good...lookin' good.

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One of my favorite parts is the parmesan cheese.

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And don't get me started on the combination of parmesan and mozzarella. Talk about yum.

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Then you throw it all under the broiler and in a couple minutes...out comes heaven.

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Are ya hungry yet? I am.
Look out... you won't be happy with your local Italian restaurant anymore after this.

Fake-Baked Ziti
Adapted from Rachael Ray

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
2 tsp oregano (fresh or dried)
2 tablespoons dried basil, or a handful of fresh, torn
1 pound penne rigate (or any other tubular pasta with lines)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Fresh ground black pepper
Salt to taste
A pinch of nutmeg
2 cups whole milk
½ cup to 1 cup parmesan cheese
1 to 2 cups shredded mozzarella

Put pasta water on to boil.

Add olive oil and garlic to a medium sauce pot over medium heat. Saute garlic in olive oil for about one minute. Add crushed and diced tomatoes, oregano and basil and let simmer 10 minutes.

Once pasta water reaches a boil, generously salt water and add pasta. Cook pasta to al dente.

To make the bechamel sauce, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a second small sauce pot over low heat. Once butter has melted add flour, stir the two together real well, and cook one minute more. Season flour mixture with salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir to incorporate. Add enough milk to cover the bottom of the pot and gently whisk until flour mixture is incorporated into milk (this will help prevent a lumpy mess to whisk out in the next step). Then add the rest of the milk and simmer on low until it thickens. Once thick, remove from heat.

Once pasta is done, drain and put back into pasta pot. Add tomato sauce to pasta and mix until the sauce and pasta are evenly incorporated. Empty pasta into a lasagna or other large baking dish. Spoon bechamel sauce evenly over top of pasta. Sprinkle parmesan over top of bechamel sauce, and then sprinkle mozzarella over parmesan.

Place pasta under a broiler until cheeses are melted, 3 to 5 minutes. (Be careful!!! I don't know about you, but the broiler and I are not friends.)

Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Vanilla Bean and Blackberry Bundt Cake

I found this in my internet travels recently. It looked simple and delicious. Perfect treat to cap off a crazy weekend.....or any time really.
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I just love bundt cakes. Just enough frills to make the simplest cake look fancy.

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It's "National (*insert your last name here*) Eat What's Already in the Pantry and Freezer Week" at our house. I had frozen blackberries. They called to me from the freezer. I had no choice but to oblige.

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The glaze is best if thick. However, it's a little hard to apply when you're in the middle of a nervous breakdown....don't ask. And thus, this is about all you'll ever see of this particular icing job. It was a mess. Next time, perhaps some deep breathing exercises prior to icing......

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And voila!

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Can you see all the little speckles of vanilla?

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Is your mouth watering yet???

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Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake
adapted from sweetapolita.com

for the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste (or 2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise, or 2 tablespoons vanilla extract)
4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon orange extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 12oz bag blackberries (or berry of your choice)

for the glaze:
1 tablespoon Madagascar Vanilla Bean paste (or 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a bundt pan and dust with flour.

In a bowl, add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix together well.

Mix together butter and sugar in a at medium speed until pale and fluffy(about 5 minutes). Add vanilla bean paste and mix until combined. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add orange extract and mix until combined. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, mixing until just combined. When batter is thoroughly mixed, add berries and gently mix with a spatula until dispersed evenly.

Spoon batter into pan, smoothing and spreading evenly. Gently tap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles.

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until a cake tester can be inserted and removed clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then invert onto a rack and cool completely, about 1 hour more.

While cake is cooling, mix vanilla glaze.
Mix together confectioners sugar, heavy cream and vanilla paste together. Glaze should be slightly thick and not runny. Add either more confectioners sugar or more heavy cream until glaze is the desired consistency.

Once cake is cool, spoon on glaze.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Can I show you one of my favorite things to make on the weekend???
Flatbread. It's from a fantastic book called Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce and words cannot describe how good it is. You'll simply have to try it yourself.

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After all the whole rising process is complete and out of the way, this is what you start with. Roll it out to about 1/4".

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Then I drizzle some olive oil over it and use a brush to cover the whole circle. Then season with salt and pepper and whatever other spices you'd like. I like oregano. Then, into the pan it goes...

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After a couple minutes in the pan, the top side will start to bubble up. That's your sign to flip it.

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Beautiful golden brown....

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Is that perfection or what?

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I couldn't help myself....it was calling me.

You need to make this. Really. It may look difficult, but don't be intimidated. It's simple. I actually find the final act fun. The dough is easy to work with and I love to watch it bubble up. And it's absolutely delicious. More than delicious. Eat it with tzatziki, hummus, Giada's mascarpone chive dip, baba ganoush, parmesan and mozzarella, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, with a salad on the side, or just straight up right out of the pan...the possibilities are endless.

adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

for the dough:
olive oil (for the bowl)
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup spelt flour
(I found spelt flour in the organic section at my grocery store, although some stores have specialty flours these days. I think you could probably sub whole wheat flour, but I haven't tried that yet)
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt

for the big finish:
cornmeal or flour for dusting and rolling out
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
(or any other herb or seasoning you desire)

Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil.

In a separate bowl add 1 packet of yeast to 1 1/2 cups of warm water. Add tablespoon of honey, and wait about 10 or 15 minutes for yeast to bubble up. ( I usually manage to screw this up somehow or another and always end up doing it twice. If there isn't any action from the yeast after about 10 minutes, just throw it all out and try again. My problem is usually that the water is too hot.)

Gently mix the 2 flours and salt together in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Once yeast has bloomed, add it to the flour mixture and gently stir with a wooden spoon until the dough holds together. At this point, I knead it gently for about 5 minutes in the same bowl (to keep the mess down) until the dough is together and soft. It will be slightly sticky and more so the more you knead it. Add a little flour if necessary to ease the kneading.

Once dough is kneaded, I gently shape it into a small ball and set it into the bowl that was oiled earlier. Run a dishcloth under the faucet for a minute, wring it out really well, and place it over the bowl, so top of the bowl is completely covered. Then set the bowl somewhere warm and let dough rise for around 2 hours. It should double in size. (I normally turn my oven up to 350 degrees and set the bowl on the stovetop so it will be warm enough.)

After 2 hours has passed, gently fold the dough over, deflating it and reshaping it back into a ball. Arrange, so that the smooth side is facing up, recover, and let sit again for another 1 1/2 hours.

The rising process takes a long time. If you are not able to make the flatbread when the second rise is completed, just put a lid on the bowl and stick it in the refrigerator to cook up the next day.

When ready, Heat up a 10 inch pan over medium heat. I drizzle the pan with olive oil initially, but only before the first flatbread. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces (roughly the size of a large lemon). On a generously corn-mealed or floured surface, roll the dough out into an irregular circle about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.

Drizzle circle of dough with olive oil and using a brush, gently brush olive oil to cover dough. Then sprinkle salt, pepper and seasoning of your choice onto dough. When seasoning is done, place the dough disc in the pan oil side down. This is when I season the other side of the disc. After a couple minutes the dough will start to bubble up on top. That's your cue that it's about ready to flip. The bottom side should be a light golden brown. Flip that bad boy over and cook the other side for about 2 to 3 minutes more.

I put mine on a plate covered with parchment paper until the entire batch has been finished. When the entire batch is done, I space out all of the flatbreads in as close to a single layer as possible on a cookie cooling rack to cool. This should ensure that the flatbread doesn't get soggy if you aren't going to eat it all the same day.

It will store in a gallon sized ziploc bag or a tightly sealed container with a piece of parchment paper between flatbreads for 2 to 3 days. When you want one, fire up the broiler and warm it up for a couple minutes on each side.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mascarpone Chive Dip

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Mascarpone Chive Dip
from Giada DeLaurentiis

4 whole-wheat pita breads, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, finely chopped
1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Cut each pita half into 4 wedges. Arrange the pita wedges in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush with the oil, then sprinkle with the oregano, salt and pepper. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes until crisp and golden.

In a medium bowl, combine the bacon, mascarpone cheese, sour cream, and chives. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer the dip to a serving bowl.

Arrange the pita chips and dip on a platter and serve.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hermit Cookies

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These are one of my favorite cookies. I tend to prefer the lighter cookies....without chocolate.

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This one has walnuts and dried fruit. I normally use golden raisins, but I goofed and didn't have any when I felt like making these, so I chopped up some dried apricots that I had instead. Worked like a charm.

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If you ask me, the icing is the best part.

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Can you see all the spices???

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Hermit Cookies
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup golden raisins or dried apricots, chopped
1 cup walnuts chopped
1/4 cup milk

for the icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
4-5 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cloves, cinnamon and allspice into a bowl. Mix well and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla. Mix until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add the raisins (or other dried fruit) and walnuts and mix again until just combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the milk. Throw the dough in the refrigerator to chill for an hour or so. (Sometimes I make the dough the day before and then bake it off the following day.)

Scoop the cookie dough in 1 tablespoon portions onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Space them about 1 inch apart. Back for 12 to 15 minutes, or until bottoms are a golden brown. Let cool completely before icing.

While the cookies are cooling, mix up the icing. Whisk the powdered sugar, heavy cream and vanilla together in a bowl. Add more powdered sugar if icing is too 'loose'.... I really like this icing to be a little thick and stay on top of the cookie...but that's just me.

Once cookies have cooled, with either an offset spatula, spoon or knife (whichever works best for you), get to frosting each cookie. Let the cookies sit for about an hour or so until the icing sets.

Then eat them!!! Yum!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chicken Noodle.... my way.

I know it's spring, but April will bring lots of rainy days... days perfect for soup. Chicken Noodle is one of our favorites.

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Roasted garlic...

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I had half a red onion left over from the tabbouleh, so in it went...

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Swiss chard...

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One rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Our local grocery store has one that they call 'Caribbean Lime'. I got that one.

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Doesn't that look good?

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At the end, I threw in some orzo.

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Chicken Noodle Soup
1 head of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus some for drizzling garlic
4 to 5 celery stalks(leaves and all), chopped
4 to 5 carrots, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 bunch swiss chard, destemmed and chopped fairly small
1 can quartered artichokes, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon herbes de provence
1 tablespoon mesquite seasoning (you could use any chicken grill seasoning or McCormicks Montreal Steak Seasoning would work well too)
3 quarts chicken stock (3 boxes)
1 rotisserie chicken, shredded
1 cup orzo or other small pasta

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice one whole garlic head in half. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Wrap halves loosely with aluminum foil and place packet in oven for 30 minutes. Remove garlic from aluminum foil and gently squeeze cloves out of skin and chop.

Add olive oil to a large soup pot at medium heat. Add garlic and veggies to the oil as they are chopped. Once all the veggies have been added to the pot and mixed well, season with salt, pepper and chicken seasoning. Stir veggies and seasonings well to incorporate.

Add chicken stock. While the stock and veggies are heating up, shred the chicken into the pot. Once chicken has been added, let soup simmer for 15 or 20 minutes. Then add orzo. Let soup simmer for another 8 minutes to cook pasta, and then remove from heat and serve.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Greek Tabbouleh Salad



Greek Tabbouleh Salad
adapted from 'The Best American Recipes 2004-2005'
by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens

1 cup medium grain bulgur
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 seedless cucumber, peeled and diced in 1/4" pieces
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/2 red onion, diced
6 ounces feta cheese, diced to match veggie size
6 ounces baby spinach or one bunch of flat leaf parsley

Place the bulgur in a large bowl. Add the boiling water, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes. The bulgur will eventually soak up all the water.

While you're waiting on the bulgur to do it's thing, chop the vegetables and herbs and add to a bowl.

Once the bulgur has soaked up all the water, add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil and stir to coat completely. Then simply add bulgur to vegetables and combine.

Note: I used flat leaf parsley because I goofed and forgot to buy the spinach. It was absolutely delicious. If you do use the spinach, baby spinach is a must, and you may want to give it a rough chop so that the greenery doesn't overwhelm the bulgur, veggies and cheese.