Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Happy Easter Everyone! Here are two recipes I tried from Pinterest

I love Pinterest but it is a bit addicting and if you're like me you end up in what I call "Pinterest Hell" where you just can't get out and waste a big part of your day.  On a slow day it is not so bad but when you have things to do you wish you just wouldn't have went there.

So with this trip down Pinterest lane I started looking at Champagne Punches and then segued into Easter since I was doing the punch for Easter Brunch and then I headed into party ideas before I was finally able to surface again.

What I ended up making was the Pretzel Flowers.  They were adorable but way more time consuming than I thought, you need to relax, don't rush and breath.  I cursed a few time when I started the process.  The 50 second microwave method didn't work at all.  The white candy disk did not melt enough so that the candies would adhere, so I did another minute, still not enough, then more time until I figured that the pretzels texture was being compromised.  Then I tried melting a few of the chips in a bowl and using it as a paint to stick the candies to each other but this was even more painful and the flowers didn't sit flat (you can kinda see that in the close up pix of the purple flower.  Then I put them in the oven, 6 pretzels at a time for 5 minutes on 200°F.  This was perfect.  You can do more than 6 unless you have help otherwise the white candy begins to harden and the colored candies (In case you don't know, they are M&M's) don't stick.  Also be sure to put the M on the M&M's down so it is a cleaner looking flower.  You will have leftover pretzels and chocolate candy disks unless you want to buy more M&M's but frankly I had had enough so doing more didn't sound fun at all.  The tray here was what one bag of M&M's made, minus a few casualties and a few tastes.  Give it a try as is or change up the colors and do them for another holiday, birthday or shower.  They may look large in the photos but M&M's are small so the flowers are too.


CHOCOLATE PRETZEL FLOWERS
16 oz. bag Snider Butter Snaps (square waffle pretzels)
12 oz. bag white candy melt disks
9.9 oz. bag pastel M&M's

Preheat oven to 200°F.  On a small baking sheet add 6 pretzels, top each pretzel with a white chocolate baking disk.  Place in oven for 5 minutes.  Remove pretzels from baking sheet and lightly place one M&M in center, M side down, and 6 M&M's around center one to make a flower.  Gently press all M&M's so they flatten slightly and press into the melted chocolate but not too hard or the chocolate will ooze out the pretzel.  Makes about 50 flowers with 350 M&M's.

Note:  If you press them all into the chocolate at the same time they will create a more uniform flower. 

The other thing I tried was Peep Pops, another winner and much much easier.  You can make them more uniform by cutting off the sides and squaring them up or by using a pan with straight sides.  I didn't want to eat the extra pieces so I kept them whole so the shape is the shape of my meatloaf pan.  I also could have cut off less and put the stick in the short side so the stripes would go vertically vs. horizontally.  Next time I'll separate the blue and the green, they were too close in color.  To get brighter colors you could add food coloring.

Easter Peep Pops:  Instead of marshmallows use 10 Peeps (2-3 oz. trays) and 1 T. butter, melt in microwave for 45 seconds.  Add 1 C. rice cereal for each color layer.  Layer in a loaf pan, let cool. Slice and make lollipops.  







Thursday, March 5, 2015

New Recipe: Slow Cooker Pizza

This was an interesting method to try but I doubt I will ever do it again.  It added over 2 hours to what should be a simple process, it was a messy to eat pizza and it was costly for 4 small slices. The only benefit was that I could put it together early so when my hubby got home it was done. What is lost in being a crock pot recipe was that it wasn't set and forget.  You had to make or buy the dough.  If you make it you need to make the dough 2 hours before you are ready to use it.  It takes 20 minutes to preheat, an hour and 20 minutes to bake and then you need to add the toppings and bake it yet another hour so you have to be around.

What I learned was don't forget to grease the crock or the dough sticks.  First one had to be chipped out and tossed in the garbage.  You need to make sure the dough is an even thickness, not thicker on the edges like normal pizza and the easiest way to accomplish this is to roll out the dough to about 1/8" thickness.  Then remove the crock insert and press it slightly onto the dough.  You will see an outline of the crock which will allow you to cut out the proper size piece of dough that will fit perfectly in your crock pot.  My crock pot like the original recipe is a 6 quart pot and mine is oval.  I also found that mine took longer than an hour and although it wasn't golden brown it was cooked and that worked fine.

Other than my small changes I followed the recipe but since I didn't have Parmesan I topped it with 4 more slices of mozzarella.  Since the sauce is on top and there isn't an outer crust the top layer of cheese made it easier to eat since you had to touch the top in order to hold it.  Eating it with a knife and fork would have been cleaner but the crust might have been too crisp to cut easily so we didn't try.

Slow Cooker Cooking Method:  Roll out dough ⅛” thick, lightly press slow cooker crock onto dough and cut out shape of crock pot outline.  Turn slow cooker to high and preheat for 20 minutes.  Oil crock pot, place dough in crock pot.  It should reach the sides but not fold over and get thicker on the edge.  Cook on high for 1 hour, flip, cook another 20 minutes.  Shingle slices of mozzarella about 10 slices around edge of crust with about 1” of the cheese on the crock walls and the rest of it on the crust.  Do this all the way around the edge and finish with a final slice in the middle to cover the crust with cheese. Do the same with thinly sliced pepperoni only don't place it on the walls, only on the bottom, top with ¾ C pizza sauce and 4 more slices of mozzarella and again not on sides of crock.  Cook on high for 1 hour.  I also topped it with caramelized onions.  Original recipe came from Food Networks, The Kitchen.

Shown here what happened after I let it rise, then punched it down, wrapped it in plastic wrap.  It expanded into a ball of air.  I didn't expect this so I didn't think it would work out but it was fine.
After I rolled it out, stamped the crock pot shape into the dough, cut it out and placed it in the crock.
Then the cheese was singled on top of the crust.  It was shingled in such a way that there was an inch of cheese lining the side of the crock pot but as soon as I put the cheese down it began melting, which didn't seem to matter and it must be what is expected since you are dealing with a hot crock pot.  The cheese is sliced thin but a little thicker than the pepperoni.
Next I did the same shingling method with the pepperoni.  The pepperoni shingled up the sides stayed and I don't think this the best idea.  Next time I won't single it on the side of the crock pot.  The only benefit was that it might get a little crunchy on the edges where it touches the crock.
On top of the pepperoni I added a cup of sauce because I red the recipe incorrectly.  I tried to scoop out some of the sauce but probably only got out 4 T. or so and since I had already laid 4 slices of mozzarella on top of the sauce I started getting sauce on top of the cheese so I gave up.
 You can see here the finish product, removed from the crock.  See how the pepperoni extends off of the crust so the slightly crispy edge isn't worth the mess.
Final slice, topped with caramelized onions from my cast iron skillet which also didn't work out.  I'll stick to using my non stick fry pan because these were more like crispy vs. caramelized onions.


BASIC PIZZA DOUGH
1 ½ C. warm water (105-110°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast (2 ¼ t.)
1 T. honey
3-4 C. flour
1 ½ t. Kosher salt

In a 2 cup glass measure add water.  Heat in microwave for 1 minute.   Test water with thermometer.  It should be between 105-110°F.  Add yeast to the measuring cup, whisk. Add honey, whisk.  Let sit about 5 minutes till water is cloudy to “bloom the yeast”.  To your electric stand mixer, add 3 C. flour and salt, whisk. When yeast is ready, add your dough hook and the mixture to your flour, mix on #2 speed until the dough comes together.  If needed, scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula to incorporate all flour.  If the dough is too wet add the remaining flour, a little at a time until dough comes together as one mass and starts clinging to the hook.  Once mixed turn out into a lightly oiled bowl and let it “proof”, sit until it has doubled in size.  This should take a few hours.  

Note:  Heating 1 ¾ C. water for 2 minutes was too hot, needed to let it cool.  First time I bloomed the yest in the mixer bowl, mixed the flour and salt in a separate bowl but I’ve changed it to avoid one dirty bowl.

Make Ahead:  Make dough at least 2 hours before you plan on using it.  You can make it in the morning, wrap it in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.  It will expand in the plastic wrap and that is OK.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New "Spring" Recipe: Asparagus Soup for Meatless Monday

I call this Spring Asparagus soup because it was a bit pricey for such a simple soup.  Asparagus was $2.50 a bunch, chicken stock is about $2.50 a box but I had on hand but with just these two items it was $10.  The original recipe called for creme fraiche but that was $6.99 a container bringing the price to $17 and that doesn't include my staples (onion, butter, salt, pepper, lemon zest or lemon juice).  To reduce the cost I used sour cream which was under $2.  You can also make your own creme fraiche with 2 C. heavy cream and 2-3 T. buttermilk so I've read.  I haven't tried it but I did buy some heavy cream to test it out so I'll let you know.

End result was a very good soup that I will make again.  I did forget to add the 2 T. of lemon juice to the soup which I will add next time since I liked the lemon flavor in the sour cream.  The raw tips were OK, more was not better, don't save all the tips for a garnish because it is too much.  Save about 6 T only.  Topping the soup with the tips added a good visual effect and a few of them added a nice crunch but when I added more since I had a lot it was a bit bitter.  Next time I'll either add some to the soup after I puree it and cook it a little longer to soften them or par boil or saute them a bit so they are not totally raw but still crisp and use as a topping.

Original recipe came from Sunday's Times Newspaper.

Served with a roasted brussel sprout salad with feta, dried cherries and a maple vinaigrette.  It was the perfect start to a normal week.




SPRING ASPARAGUS SOUP
3 bunches asparagus (3 lbs.) tough ends removed
2 T. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
6 C. chicken stock
1 T. kosher salt
½ t. coarse ground black pepper
2 T. lemon juice (forgot but will add next time)
Lemon Sour Cream:
½ C. sour cream
1 t. lemon zest
1 t. lemon juice
⅛ t. Kosher salt
⅛ t. coarse black pepper

Peal and chop the onion.  To a large soup pot add the butter to melt and the onions.  Saute till soft, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, remove the tough asparagus ends.  You can determine where to cut if you grab the ends of one piece and bend it.  It will break where the soft part starts which is about 2-3" from tip end.  Discard this tough bottom portion.  Do this for all spears.  Cut an inch off the top of all the spears.  Cut those pieces on the diagonal and set aside.  Cut the rest of the asparagus in ½ inch pieces.  When the onions are soft add the broth, bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the asparagus pieces, minus the tops and cook for 8-10 minutes on a medium simmer or till asparagus is soft.  With an emulsion blender puree the soup till smooth.  Add half the tips back to the pot and simmer another 3 minutes or saute in a pan.

For the topping mix the sour cream, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper.  Put in refrigerator till ready to serve.  To each serving bowl add a sprinkle of the raw tips and a dollop of sour cream.





Monday, March 2, 2015

New Recipes: Spiced Chips and Orange Marmalade Rosemary cocktails

This weekend was my weekend to do nothing but laundry since this week is my first normal week in a month.  It is nice when routines go back to normal.

I tried two new recipes out of my Cuisine at Home magazine, chips and dip along with a cocktail from the newspaper.  Since I used a bag of Ruffles and staples I had at home this was an easy recipe that made bagged chips feel more homemade or special.  They are like my Spicy Pretzel method.  I liked adding a homemade touch to a processed food if I am going to eat one.  With the second half of the bag I added the onion and chili powder.  It was a nice snack with drinks.  Original recipe came from my Cuisine at Home, April 2015, pg. 55 magazine.

My herb garden includes thyme so I like when I can use it since I normally forget.  This uses about 5 sprigs to get to the 2 t.  Make a double batch if you use more than 7 oz. of chips because it is just enough.  This simple dip went well with the Spiced Potato Chips but the original recipe called for lemon zest and since the chips had cumin the second time I used lime zest which had a stronger flavor.  Both were good.  I also used Greek yogurt since I always have that on hand and it is better for you.

The drink I tried made me even happier because I was able to use one of the many many jars of jelly or in this case Orange Marmalade, that I made awhile back and the Rosemary Simple Syrup I had on hand from another cocktail recipe.  I don't tend to eat a lot of jam but I like canning so I need more recipes to use it in vs simply on toast.  Two ounces of the simple syrup was a bit rosemary strong so next time I'll try only 1 oz. and try topping it off with soda water to lighten up the sweetness.  This is a very sweet drink so I was one and done.  Can’t wait to try other jam combinations.  Original recipe came from USA Weekend, Dec 12-14, 2014.

SPICED POTATO CHIPS
7 oz. ridged potato chips
1 ½  t. ground cumin
½ t. smoked paprika
⅛ t. coarse black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place a layer of chips on top and bake 5 minutes to warm chips.  Mix spices in a small bowl.  Remove chips from baking sheet and place in a paper sandwich bag.  Sprinkle spices over top and shake to distribute spices over chips.

Variation:  Add ½ t. onion powder and ½ t. chili powder to spice mixture.

LEMON THYME DIP
½ C. Greek yogurt
2 t. lime zest
2 t. fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, grated
⅛ t. coarse black pepper

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to blend flavors.  Serve with Spiced Potato Chips.

ORANGE ROSEMARY COCKTAIL
2 oz. gin
1 oz. rosemary syrup
2 T. orange marmalade
1 oz. fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker.  Fill with ice.  Shake for 20 seconds.  Pour into a collins glass with ice or a stemless wine glass and make two cocktails.

Note:  If your marmalade is too thick, heat it for 10-30 seconds in the microwave to loosen it up, then add it to the shaker.

Variation:  Top it off with some soda water to lighten it up.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Recipe: Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

This was an excellent dish, a bit indulgent with the cheese yet I also felt good about my veggie intake. Next time I'll make it a bit more healthy by using a low or non fat ricotta and I maybe try Parmesan on top instead. This dish was easy, quick and best of all it can be made a head and baked last minute so it was perfect for that unknown dinner time when hubby is working late.  The original recipe came from RealSimple.  I get emails from them, maybe weekly and this made it worth signing up.   The only change I made was to reduce the cheese to 1 C. vs 2 and I used Jack instead of Mozzarella since it was what I had on hand.  My squash may have been a bit smaller than 3 lb. but not much and it was simply because it was what I could find.  Shoot for as close to 3 as you can get.  I served it with Chicken Piccata which also worked out well because once I browned it I kept it warm in the oven till he showed up and since I had to take it out to heat up the squash I placed it back in for about 10 minutes to warm it as I made the piccata sauce.

Chicken breasts are on sale through Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 at Sprouts for $1.99 lb.  Great deal so stock up.  They were huge breasts so I pounded them all flat, one made three cutlets.  Then I wrapped the others individually in plastic wrap, froze them and then put the frozen breasts in a zip top bag.  Now defrosting will be quicker and the messy part is already done making it easier to make a dish next time that requires me to pound them flat.

SPAGHETTI SQUASH LASAGNA
3 lb. spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise, seeded, roasted
Drizzle EVOO
Kosher salt
Coarse ground black pepper
15 oz. tub ricotta
1 egg
4 C. baby spinach, chopped
1 garlic clove, grated
⅛ t. ground nutmeg
½ t. Kosher salt
¼ t. coarse black pepper
1 C. jack cheese

Heat oven to 400°F.  Cut squash in half, lengthwise.  Drizzle with EVOO and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast, cut side down on a foil lined cookie sheet for 40-50 minutes.  Meanwhile in a large bowl, combine, ricotta, egg, chopped spinach, grated garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Mix.  Let squash cool enough to handle and scrape out squash with a fork, adding to bowl.  Mix gently to combine.  Grease a 8x8" pan, pour mixture into baking dish.  Sprinkle with cheese and bake until browned and bubbling 20 minutes.