Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Honor of My Cooking Inspiration

In 2001, I began a scrapbook for my Grandma that included pictures from her life and gave it to her that Christmas.  Each year, I make a few pages for her to add to the book.  This year, I decided to make a page in honor of her talent in the kitchen.  She is truly one reason I love cooking so much.  I love my Maw-Maw!

Cranberry Salsa: A borrowed recipe that turned into the hit of the holidays

This is not one of my original recipes, but as I've mentioned before, I am fond of combining contrasting flavors whether they be salty/ sweet or spicy/ sweet, so I had to give this one a try.  This Cranberry Salsa combines sweet, tart, and spicy plus a salty kick when coupled with tortilla chips.  As it turns out, this salsa was requested so much in my family over the holidays, that I ended up making ten jars to give away as gifts.

You'll need:
1 bag of fresh cranberries (frozen would work as well)
6 small green onions
3 small jalapeno peppers (seeded and chopped)
1 bundle of cilantro
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice from 1 lime

Place your cranberries into the food processor.  Allow them to go through the food processor until they are finely chopped.  Pour them into a separate mixing bowl.

Chop up the green onions, jalapenos, and cilantro.  Finely blend in the food processor.  Add to the bowl of cranberries.
Stir in the sugar, olive oil, and lime juice.  Mix well.
Serve chilled with tortilla chips.  We also used pita chips and they worked great as well.  Each batch will fill two 16 ounce jars.  They made the perfect gift!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Egg Roll Wrappers: My newly discovered best friends in the kitchen

I made a discovery this week that combines the greatness of frugal friendly, health friendly, and of course, taste friendly.  I wouldn't be lying if I said this could quite possibly be some of the best "lasagna" I've ever eaten.  Nick enjoyed it as well, considering he had multiple servings.  Let me introduce to you these babies...
I found these refrigerated egg roll wraps at Tom Thumb for $2.00.
I had planned to make some holiday appetizers, but upon investigating the package discovered the lasagna recipe.  I did not have all of the ingredients on hand, so replaced many of them.  What I did absolutely worked well.

You'll need:
1 package of egg roll wraps (you will only use half of the package for this recipe)
1 roll of Jimmy Dean hot sausage, browned
2 cups Mozarella cheese, shredded
1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce (I used the extra mushroom variety)
1/2 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small can baby bella mushrooms
2 eggs
1 tbsp. garlic salt
1 tbsp. parsley
Dash of pepper

Brown the sausage, onion, garlic, and mushrooms.  Add the marinara sauce and set aside.  In a small bowl, combine the cheese, eggs, parsley, garlic salt.  This combination will replace what would have normally been the ricotta cheese layer.  The eggs allow it to spread onto the wrappers easily and thicken when you bake it.  In a 9 x 9 glass baking dish, pour some of the sausage mixture into the bottom, then top with two of the egg roll wrappers.  They are 9x 9 in size, so will be a perfect fit.  Spread some of the cheese mixture on top, then 2 more egg roll wrappers.  Repeat the layers, ending with two egg roll wrappers.  Top with excess mozzarella cheese.  Bake covered in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Take the foil off of the top and bake for 30 more minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.

Egg Roll Wrapper Lasagna.  This one is a must try!!!
This is not the most appetizing picture, but I promise, you will love the results.

Cranberry Orange Bread + Coffee = Heavenly

I find it funny that when I started the blog, I mentioned that I didn't consider baking a specialty and didn't attempt it often.  However, somehow all the baking recipes have made it on here, partially due to the holiday season.  This one is actually one that I was a little afraid to try since I'm also not too experienced with making bread.  I am so glad I did though, because it turned out to be amazing.  The tart fresh cranberries and citrus coupled with the sweet denseness of the bread make the perfect partner for a cup of coffee.

You will need:
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup of juice from an orange
Orange peel, zested from one orange
2 cups flour, (I used 1 cup white and 1 cup soy flour)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tbsp. hot water
1/3 cup milk

In a mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg.  Add the orange juice, peel, butter, hot water, milk, and vanilla.  Add to the flour mixture, stirring until it is just moistened.  Fold in the cranberries. Spoon into a greased loaf pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick to the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.  This will have a dense texture, much different than a cake.  Next time, I will be adding crushed walnuts or pecans.

Cranberry Orange Bread cooling.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dark Chocolate Bacon Cupcake Challenge

It's no secret that my fiance, Nick and I both share a love of cooking and we're competitive.  So, after taking a trip to Galveston this summer an idea arose.  We visit Galveston every summer, mainly for the food.  A few summers ago we discovered La Kings Confectionery, a cool place with retro candy, fudge, ice cream, and Snickerdoodle coffee, that must be primarily caffeine, because I get a day-long jolt from it.  While there, we discovered chocolate covered potato chips, which we didn't try, but it got our thoughts rolling with the salty/ sweet combo.  We wondered if bacon could take the place of the chips and an idea was born.  Since then, Nick has convinced me that the groom's cake at our wedding must include bacon, so the experimenting began last night.

I decided to try my take on Dark Chocolate Bacon Cupcakes in honor of Nick's birthday.  They turned out amazingly rich, to the point that you only have to eat half to get your fix of dark chocolatey bacon goodness.  The coffee creates a great base that really adds to the flavor of the cake.

For the cake, you will need:

10 slices of bacon  (7 for the cake, 3 to top)
2 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, (I used the Hershey's Special Dark variety)
2 cups white sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup coffee, brewed
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Cook the bacon in a skillet, drain off the fat, then crumble into small bits.  Combine all other ingredients in a large bowl, then stir in about 3/4 of the bacon crumbles.  Like your muffin pan with liners and pour batter into the cups about 3/4 full.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  You'll know they are finished when a toothpick to the center comes out clean.
Batter ready to be poured into the cups.
Dark Chocolate Bacon Cupcakes on the cooling rack waiting to be frosted.
In the meantime, you'll make the perfect chocolate frosting.  Honestly, this frosting is so rich it could pass for fudge itself.

You will need:
1 stick of butter
2/3 cup Hershey's cocoa (I used the Special Dark variety)
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Wait until the cupcakes are completely cool before frosting, otherwise it will become runny.  This was the standard frosting recipe, but I had a lot left over after frosting the 24 cupcakes.  You could probably get away with cutting the recipe depending on how many cupcakes you are making.  Add the extra bacon crumbles to the top of each cupcake.
The finished product

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Southwestern Vegetarian Chayote Bake

Before tonight, I had never cooked with Chayote squash before.  However, you will always find me trying to cook with new ingredients, so after getting a great deal on several chayote squash and learning how easy it is to cook them, I know that I will be using them more frequently in the future.  Chayote squash are green and look very similar to pears.  I can't believe that I had been overlooking them in the store for years.  This recipe contains no meat, but is still the perfect all-in-one meal for a chilly night.

You will need:
3 chayote squash
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
3 teaspoons cajun seasoning (I used Slap Ya Mama)
1 can diced tomatoes and chiles
1 can pinto beans
1 box of Jiffy corn bread mix
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (if desired)

Start by putting the chayotes in a pot of water and bringing them to a boil.  You'll know they are done when they are tender enough for a knife to go through them.

While the chayotes boil, saute the onions, garlic, and jalapeno in a pan over medium high heat.  Turn the heat down and add the bell pepper, tomatoes and chiles, and pinto beans, along with the chili powder, paprika, and cajun seasoning.

Cut the chayotes in half lengthwise and remove the small seed from the enter.  They will be very easy to cut into small pieces.  Add the pieces of chayote to the pan.

Colorful vegetables ready to put into the baking dish.
In a separate bowl, mix the cornbread mix with the ingredients requested on the box.  You can also add a 1/2 cup of shredded cheese to the corn bread mixture if desired.

Pour the vegetables into a large casserole dish and spread the corn bread mixture over the top.

Vegetables topped with corn bread mixture and baked until golden brown.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Finished product.  Spicy, yet sweet.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pear Crisp

Today I got a really good deal on some Bartlett Pears.  Pears, in my opinion, are the perfect fruit to spice up, especially during late fall.  I do use pears year round though and am always looking for different ways to use them.  Tonight I wanted a dessert, but not something with a full crust, so then came the idea for a crisp.  Here are all the ingredients:

5 large pears, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 stick butter, melted

Pretty Bartlett Pears ready for cooking.

You want the pears to be pretty firm since they will soften slightly after cooking.  These Bartlett Pears were perfect for the job.  Peel and core the pears, then chop them into small pieces.  I diced them, but thinly slicing them would work just as well.  Put the pieces in a bowl, along with 1/2 cup of white sugar and 1/4 tsp. salt.  Gently mix with a spoon.

Place pear mixture in a baking dish while mixing up the crumb topping.

Place the pears in a baking dish and in a separate mixing bowl, combine 1 cup all purpose flour, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp. nutmeg.  Melt one stick of butter and slowly drizzle it into the crumb topping mixture.  As you drizzle the butter in, use a fork to combine until it is crumbly.

Pears with crumb topping
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Top the pears in the baking dish with the crumb mixture.  Cook on the bottom rack at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Switch the pan to the top rack and bake for 10 more minutes, or until the topping is golden brown.

Warm, bubbly, crispy goodness

Serve the Pear Crisp while warm.

Next time I make this recipe, I will be adding crushed pecans or walnuts to the topping.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lentils: A Favorite Underrated Dish

When I was a little girl, I remember sorting beans for my dad, making sure there were no rocks in them before he cooked them in a pot all day.  Now that role has been passed on to my younger brother for different reasons... Dad's older age making his once perfect vision very farsighted now.  So, Dylan now gets to dig for rocks, while I have learned to love cooking lentils due to their simplicity.  Here are my top reasons that lentils are one of the most underrated foods that should rank much higher in the kitchen:

1) They are much quicker to cook than other legumes.
2) Lentils are able to be seasoned easily, in a variety of ways.
3) They are available year round and are cheap (about $1.00 for a bag)
4) Lentils are so heart healthy.
5) Lentils are one of the best cold weather foods I have found.

Last winter, my Maw-Maw introduced me to lentils and I have since spent time experimenting with recipes for spicing up the lentils and bringing out the flavor.  Alas, here is my recipe for Spicy Lentil Soup.  The longer you cook it, the more like a stew it becomes.

Spicy Lentil Soup while cooking.  It thickens the longer you leave it on low heat.

Finished product... the perfect dinner for a cold evening.

Spicy Lentil Soup:

2 pieces of bacon, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped finely
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 bunch of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 can peeled and diced tomatoes, with the juice
1 container beef broth
1 bag lentils
Salt and Pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Slap Ya Mama cajun seasoning

Start with two pieces of bacon cut up, three cloves of garlic, and one onion chopped up fine, and diced jalapeno. Let it cook for awhile. Then add one bunch of celery chopped up, 2 carrots, one can of peeled and diced tomatoes (with the juice), a container of beef broth, and the lentils. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Slap Ya Mama seasoning. Let it cook on low for about an hour. Fabulous!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Namesake: When Life Gives You Apples, Make Apple Pie

After many, many requests to start sharing my recipes with people, I figure that the easiest way to do so is through a blog.  This will also give me some sort of a place to save recipes that I would like to use again... and even those that could use some tweaking when I make them again.  If I had to define my cooking style, it would be a girl cooking on a budget, but at the same time focusing on using as many fresh foods as I can.  My shopping cart is always 75% full of produce.  I do occasionally do some baking, mainly for special occasions, but my main focus is on creating a well rounded meal each day of the week, rarely resorting to food from a restaurant.

My first dish to be featured is actually where the namesake of my blog comes from.  Like I mentioned before, baking is not my strength, but my Maw-Maw is, in my opinion, is the most amazing baker I know.  Her pies are to die for, not necessarily because of the filling, but the flaky perfection of the crust.  When I set out to make my very first pie from scratch, I knew that I had to attempt to master the art of the crust.  The key... everything being chilled, including the pie plate.

Below, is a picture of the completed dough ball ready to be put in the refrigerator before rolling it out.  For perfect flaky crust, sift 1 1/3 cups flour and 1 tsp. salt together.  Cut in 1/2 cup cold shortening.  Add iced water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Next peel, core, and chop the apples.  I used 9 gala apples that I paid $3 for... as mentioned, great deals like this one.

For the filling, I was dealing with picky eaters who do not enjoy crisp apples, so I prepared the apples in a pan along with the filling.  If you prefer crisp apples, wait to put them in the crust, pouring the filling on top.  In a pan, start with 1/2 cup unsalted butter, 3 tbsp. flour, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 1 tsp. nutmeg.

Now back to the amazing crust.  I made the mistake of not doubling up on my crust recipe, as I should have done in order to have enough for a full top crust.  However, I improvised by weaving the top crust instead.  Roll the dough ball out and place onto the cold pie plate.

Pour the warm pie filling into the crust.

Weave the crust over the top, or your second batch of dough if you'd rather have a covered pie.  Sprinkle with a little sugar and cinnamon.

Have your oven preheated at 450 degrees F.  Bake the pie on the middle rack for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350, baking for another 30 to 45 minutes.

My first apple pie got great reviews.  However, making it inspired me to use a similar recipe, yet instead of apples, use pears.  Now, I've got the itch to make more crust.