Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie

Lately, my four-year-old has been giving me fits. He won't eat his food and he tries to snack all day long. All conversations end octaves higher than they began, with the accusing statement flung in my face, "You're mad at me, aren't you?" And sobbing ensues. It's getting out of hand. He has MEGA middle child syndrome, and for good reason. He has an older brother that gets special attention because he needs extra help with speech and hyperactivity. He has a younger brother with a rare condition and special doctor visits and therapies. Max, on the other hand, needs no special attention except the usual special attention that a four-year-old needs. And he reminds me every day that he needs it. Either with tantrums or other ways of acting out,

Monday, August 27, 2012

Baci di Ricotta- The Recipe for Happiness

I am one of those people that seriously hates it when other people are on a diet. Seriously. It always goes down the same way. We are all out, having fun, when someone suggests we go somewhere and get some dessert. We all laughingly agree, and then there is that one killjoy in the crowd, “I am on a diet.” She says, with that little toss of her head that tells the rest of us she feels superior. You run through the list of excuses, “You’re not fat…” “You could just get coffee.” “Maybe they have something you can eat…” “You could just have a few bites….right?” To no avail. She purses her lips and sets her jaw. Nothing will persuade her. The night is ruined and we all go home grumpy.
Dieting not only makes your friends unhappy, but it also makes you unhappy. Whenever I am sticking to a strict eating plan I sink into an unhappy quagmire of despair. I snap at people,  randomly, and take little or no pleasure in cooking, which is one of my favorite sports. I look longingly at recipe books, coveting a bite of bread and butter or a rich dessert. Slow braised meats and rich, hearty stews call to me, beckoning with their siren’s song to have just one bite. Vegetables, a usual favorite, quickly lose their luster when they are consumed in ungodly quantities. Even fish and chicken start getting on your nerves, their pale, white flesh mocking the lack of red meat in your diet. For food is one of the simplest, yet most pleasurable things we can enjoy in life.
This is why, when I watch a skeletal food TV personality, who might be on crack, frying up an appetizer that consists only of bacon and honey, I glare. I know she doesn’t eat like that. As a matter of fact, I would guess that a piece of bacon hasn’t crossed her lips since she gave birth to her child, until, of course, somebody behind the camera insists she takes a bite. I watch, carefully, to see if she swallows, or chews until the camera pans away and then perhaps spits it out. If you can’t enjoy eating, and enjoy food, maybe a food show isn’t right for you. Nobody wants to watch the skeleton queen cooking. I like watching real, chubby people cook. Just kidding, but I do think we need to stop feeling guilty about eating dessert, enjoy the food we make, and realize that after we have kids there is no getting back the body you had in college. Eat healthy, engage in physical activity, and enjoy indulging. That’s the recipe for happiness.

Another recipe for happiness are these baci di ricotta. They are just amazing, little, fluffy Italian doughnuts that you can sprinkle powdered sugar on and enjoy as they come out of the hot grease, searing your lips in the process (I would advise that you wait a minute before shoving them in your mouth). I would assume you could use yogurt instead, without sacrificing too much of the flavor or texture, or even cottage cheese, if you were so inclined. I just happen to have a pound of homemade ricotta in my fridge, waiting for my designs. 

Baci di Ricotta

1 cup ricotta
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

vegetable oil for frying
powdered sugar for dusting

Put the ricotta, eggs, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl and whisk to blend. Heat 3/4 inch of oil in a deep pot and heat until it is shimmering, and a small drop of batter sizzles when dropped in.
Drop the batter in by teaspoonfuls (it will puff up) and cook until light brown on one side and flip over. Prepare a plate with paper towels and transfer dumplings to the plate when they are brown on both sides. Dust with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cheesy Star Crackers-DIY Goldfish Crackers

There are those treats, you know the ones I am talking about, that are fast, and easy, and oh-so-rewarding. They make us run in the kitchen for a late night snack, or even a late afternoon snack ;). If you like little square cheese crackers, or little fish-shaped crackers you will really, really like these. I made them for my son's sixth birthday part, a DIY Mario party seen here. They were a hit, but of course you don't need to have a party to have these crackers.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ricotta- Let Me Count the Ways

Let me start by saying this I don't like ricotta. I don't like it in lasagna, I don't like it in cheese ravioli. It's dry, and powdery, and shouldn't even be allowed to call itself cheese. Let me come back to that.
About a month ago, I saw on another blogger's site something about cheese-making. I was intrigued. I clicked, and followed, and clicked and followed, and found that there was this thing called Cheesepalooza. It was starting this year, and it was a world-wide cheese-making class that would take place over the internet. Each month a new cheese would be attempted by the participants. I told my mom right away. About four years ago she bought me a cheese-making book, but I was so daunted by the lengthy list of special ingredients, I never pursued it. I make buttermilk at home. That's about it. And sometimes my 2-year-old makes homemade cheese in his cup when he throws it under the hutch.
So, after reading the details about this 'Cheesepalooza', and with some encouragement from a kind lady in Canada, I decided to join. Several experienced cheese-makers would be helping us, guiding us along the way. For the first month, the challenge was ricotta. Nobody in the house likes ricotta. I don't even like cottage cheese, and that's what people use in place of ricotta. There are few things I don't like. 1. Cottage cheese. 2. Cauliflower 3. Canned tomato soup. 4. Ricotta. That's about it. Anything else...oh wait, add foi gras to that list. It could have been the preparation, but at this point I am going to say I don't like it. I will eat just about anything (oh, and those shrimps with the eyes....can't get past that) Anyway, I decided I would make the ricotta anyway, because more often than not when you make something at home it is a completely different creature than what you get at the store. Also, I know I would like ricotta gnocci, so worst case scenario I could whip up a batch of that, or baci di ricotta, these little ricotta doughnuts (need I say more) that are deep fried (still not convinced) dusted with powdered sugar, and devoured before they are cool enough to be handled.
So, I had a few options up my sleeves. I finally got around to making it, after countless delays, and something wasn't right.  It didn't separate, there were little baby curds floating in a milky substance. I called for help. Now, this is exactly why I wanted cheese-making friends. I thought I had done something wrong, but what, I had no idea.Turns out, it wasn't my fault. You can add a bit more citric acid, or even vinegar to help it along. If I had tried again I would have done the same thing again, which probably would have yielded the same results. I would have, more that likely, given up.
Instead, this story had a different ending. I called for help and my cheese-making friends encouraged me to try again, giving ideas for what went wrong. I tried again. What I have now is about two pounds of soft ricotta (I didn't let mine get too dry) that is just amazing. My husband and I tried it in a bowl with honey. Wow. So smooth and creamy, it is like cream cheese but not as tangy and much softer. As I was eating it, I thought about olives, a little bit of orange zest and some crostini. I couldn't wait to do some experiments.
My two older boys both wanted some, so I spread a bit of plain ricotta on a piece of whole wheat pita. The middle son took a little bite and said, "Wow, Mom, that's really good! It tastes like butter!" He ate more of it, and then today he was asking for more of that cheese that I made. It's a pretty good feeling. I have included two recipes for crostini, and I am sure I will make the baci di ricotta, if not tonight tomorrow night, because that's how we roll.

Homemade Ricotta
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid
1 gallon whole milk
2 teaspoons salt, divided

Heat heavy cream, citric acid, whole milk, and 1 teaspoon of salt over medium heat to 185 degrees in a large pot. Occasionally scrape the pot with a rubber spatula.

Meanwhile, rig up your cheese draining apparatus. I used a bowl, a sieve, and some muslin. Muslin takes a while to drain (like 4 hours), so you might want to use cheesecloth. I would expect that would drastically cut the draining time.

Watch for the separation of curds. It will look like this. Cover with a lid and allow to sit for ten minutes.
 Ladle the curds into your muslin or cheesecloth. Once it has drained, tie it up and hang it over something to finish dripping. I hung it in the shower, but make sure you rinse that whey down because its pretty slippery. Store in a container.

  • Appearance: tiny, grainy curds
  • Nose (aroma): almost none, just milky
  • Overall Taste: like rich cream cheese, but not as tangy
  • Sweet to Salty: sweet
  • Mild (mellow) to Robust to Pungent (stinky): very mild
  • Mouth Feel: (gritty, sandy, chewy, greasy, gummy, etc.): smooth and creamy

 These two uses for ricotta are very similar, and yet so different. They showcase the fresh cheese's texture and taste.

The first I made with fresh tomatoes from my garden, cracked black pepper, a mixture of olives, a bit of the olive brine drizzled on top, and grated orange zest.  A salty bite, with the fresh tomatoes and cool ricotta, was just perfect.

The second I made with peaches, fresh basil from my garden, some crumbled pecans and a drizzle of honey. The flavors were so fresh and delicious, it was like dessert but without the guilt.

Friday, August 17, 2012

DIY Pickled Vegetables

I have been just crazy about these pickled vegetables. I was making a Latin-themed dinner, with carnitas tacos, rice and beans, and my husband's favorite; crispy corn tortilla shells dusted with Parmesan cheese. I was looking at the carrots and jalapenos that I had picked from the garden, and I was thinking about one of my favorite condiments at Mexican food restaurants; pickled cabbage. I love the stuff. I eat it like its a side dish, and everybody else just passes it over to me because none of them care for it that much. I quickly looked up a recipe for pickling vegetables, and got to work. These are just amazing, and I have been putting them on everything, and I just can't get enough-they are spicy and sweet, with the perfect amount of acid. Try it. You will be an addict.

DIY Pickled Vegetables

For the pickling liquid/brine:
1 1/4 cups distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes

3 whole cloves garlic
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup  carrots, peeled and cut into pieces no larger than 1/2-inch in diameter
2 jalapenos, sliced lengthwise and seeded
Bring pickling-liquid ingredients to a boil in a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. 
Meanwhile, pack garlic, cabbage, carrots, and jalapenos into a 2-quart canning jar. Pour hot liquid into jar. Allow to cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge, or process for longer keeping.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chicken with Asian Peanut Sauce

On the heels of my DIY peanut butter post I thought it would be highly appropriate to include a recipe that uses peanut butter! I know there is not a lack of recipes using peanut butter, but this one is so delicious, so easy, and just, plain, different, that I wanted to share it. This is one of the best kept Asian secrets ever. I don't know why its not more popular, and when you take one taste, you will see what I am saying. You might think to yourself, at first, that you are not sure if you should try an Asian peanut butter sauce. TRUST ME. This passes Everybody's Preference Test (also know as EPT-the test all foods must pass to be fed to the family) with flying colors. You could use it with beef or tofu, or even just vegetables. You could also toss it with Asian noodles, or use it on a cabbage salad for an Asian inspired cole slaw. It adds a wonderful dimension to your same old-same old Asian cooking. You will like having this one in your back pocket.

Chicken with Asian Peanut Sauce

For the chicken;
1 lb chicken, cut into bite size pieces
1 Tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the sauce:
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (homemade works great, if you have it)
1/3 cup water
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (I always buy this brand from the refrigerator section at the grocery store-delicious fresh flavor)
1 medium clove of garlic, minced
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
pinch of cayenne pepper or dash of chili sauce

4 cups steamed broccoli (or vegetable of your choice)
4 cups steamed white rice

thinly sliced green onions for serving

Allow the chicken to marinate for 10-20 minutes, or up to overnight. Quickly fry in a hot saucepan for 3-4 minutes, or until cooked through. Combine sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor. Toss chicken with a little bit of the sauce. Place rice and broccoli on a plate, top with chicken more sauce, and green onions. This can also be served satay style, by skewering the chicken and grilling it, brushing it with the sauce periodically.

Monday, August 13, 2012

DIY Peanut Butter

Do you love peanut butter? I know, what kind of question is that? But there are, actually, believe it or not, some people who don't like it. And there are, of course people who are allergic, but they can't help that. I come from a family where peanut butter is worshiped for the creamy, flavor-boosting, majestic spread that it is. I could eat it every day, by the spoonful. I love it in smoothies, on toast, with apples, in my desserts, you name it, I want it. My husband isn't crazy about it, so, of course, we stare at him, wondering if this insanity is contagious.
My kids also love it. If I leave the peanut butter out on the counter they make themselves peanut butter 'spoons'. AKA dip the biggest spoon you can find in the jar and eat until you put yourself into a blissfully deep sleep where visions of Mr. Peanut dance in your head. (Hopefully he will be wearing more than a top hat and monocle).
I honestly have never thought of making peanut butter myself. I don't know why. I think of everything else, wondering how much better it would taste when made at home. I just always thought it might mess something up. It won't be smooth and creamy, it will taste bland, or oily like the natural one from the grocery store. Then, I saw something about making it. Honestly, I can't even remember where, now, but it stuck in my head. I couldn't get it out. That and Mr. Peanut. Seriously, at the least somebody could get that guy some pants.
A few weeks later, I decided to try it. I bought some peanuts, whizzed them in the food processor, added salt, sugar, and oil. It was pretty good. Next time, a few changes, and this last time a few more. I added honey instead of sugar, because the sugar left a grainy texture. I processed them longer so they would be creamier. All said and done, if you have five minutes you can make yourself some peanut butter. With only four ingredients, not fifteen that you can't pronounce. Interested?

DIY Peanut Butter
2 cups peanuts
1 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Combine ingredients in a food processor.





Don't burn out the motor on your food processor.

Store in the refrigerator.

Friday, August 10, 2012

No Complaints- Chicken and Dumplings

I know making meals that please the whole family, and are healthy, that don't take up your whole evening are sometimes difficult to come up with. Trust me. I know. My husband likes spicy, my dad doesn't. I love trying new things, my mom doesn't. Middle son doesn't like potatoes, my sister doesn't like condiments, fresh tomatoes, or anything out of the ordinary. My oldest son doesn't really care for fresh veggies, or large pieces of cooked veggies. I try to cook low calorie, our youngest son needs high calorie foods. On top of all the preferences, we are very busy. My husband has two jobs, I teach music lessons part time and home school our two oldest children. Gasp. I know. It wasn't my plan, but our youngest son has special needs and we end up traveling several times a month for appointments. Add to that his therapy sessions and it seemed best for everyone if I home schooled. For now.
For those of you who don't know, our youngest son was diagnosed with William's Syndrome about two years ago, when he was eight months old.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cooking School-Fried Eggs

I learned to make fried eggs for my dad. He's a tough critic, and if anything is less than perfect he lets you know. The same is true with his eggs. He will poke at it with his fork to test for doneness. If there is that perfect, gentle movement that a good fried egg has he will say, "That looks good". If he pokes it and it does not sway gently away, he clenches his teeth, presses his lips together and narrows his eyes suspiciously. He cuts into it with his fork, and if that golden center doesn't ooze out just right he practically throws a tantrum. Just kidding. But he's not happy. I have tried several different methods. One, he insisted I try, was basting. The way he explained it (I have no idea if this is technical or not) was you fry the eggs, put a bit of water in there and flick it up over the egg so the top gets cooked without flipping it. We all know what happens when you flip fried eggs. Half of them break. Then they are ruined. So, I tried it. They turned out pretty good. Then, when I was playing my Wii Food Network Game, you know, the one where Ted Allan teaches you how to cook, I made the eggs the way they said. And I've been making them that way ever since. Isn't that sad? A video game teaches you how to make eggs? Not really. I actually think that is definitely my new favorite way to learn....

Fried Eggs

2 cold eggs (room temp eggs don't seem to make nice whites)
1 Tablespoon butter
salt and pepper

1.Place a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the butter.

2. When the butter has melted, add the eggs, one at a time.
3. Quickly sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. Cover the pan with a lid, and reduce the heat to medium.

5. Wait about three minutes, and you have perfect, sunny side up eggs!

A few notes:
  • If you like your egg a bit more done, feel free to flip them to cook the whites on both sides. This would also be considered an 'over-medium' egg. 
  • Also, everybody's appliances are different, and you may find you need to leave your eggs a little bit longer on medium heat. 
  • I prefer the flavor of butter, but by all means use cooking spray if you are watching calories. Or, on the other hand, you could use a bit of grease from the bacon you cooked that morning ;)

Monday, August 6, 2012

DIY Simple Iced Coffee

I know there is a lot of hubbub right now about iced coffee. I just read a SUPER long article about it in Bon Appetit, and Starbucks (as much as I love them) has been shoving VIA down people's throats for the last few years. But in all honesty, iced coffee really isn't that big of a deal. I mean it is a big deal, but its not a big deal to make. You don't need any fancy machines (unless you really want one) and you don't need to pay $1 for a single serving of a name brand iced coffee. All you need are a few simple ingredients. You don't even really need to plan ahead, although that helps.
The first job I ever had was at a coffee shop. I had just turned sixteen, and if the owner had really read her insurance policy she never would have hired me. But my love of coffee had started before that. It had started back when I was twelve or thirteen, and I had gone to stay with my aunt and uncle who lived in Arkansas. Yes, I said it,

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Panko and Coconut Crusted Steelhead

We love fish around here. Anything that comes from the ocean makes us happy, even the littlest of the crew. When we were first married, we were staying with my parents in between apartments, and our money was tight. It was so tight I was selling stuff out of the closet and wondering how we would get ourselves out of the mess we were in. I had told my husband not to spend a penny on anything. I found something in the freezer to make for dinner. Fish sticks. The corn dog of the sea. I felt some nostalgia about the, we ate them on a fairly regular basis growing up. My mom had a little stash so I threw them in the oven and made a side. On his way home, my husband asked what was for dinner. I almost didn't tell him, because I thought he might turn up his nose, but I told him anyway.
At dinner he didn't quite finish all his food, telling me that he wasn't feeling that good. I thought it was a little odd, but I had other things to be worried about. He got in the shower and I started a load of laundry. While emptying his pockets, I found a receipt for gas station food. I felt my blood pressure rising, and it all came down. I just could not believe that I told him we had no money, and he went and bought food at the gas station when there was dinner at home! I don't remember exactly what happened, probably because I blacked out from lack of oxygen to my brain.
Needless to say I have never made fish sticks again. But, that doesn't mean baked fish is off the menu. This crunchy panko and coconut crusted steelhead is a new family favorite. It's like coconut shrimp with this dipping sauce that goes along side, but a lot more bang for your buck. And nobody is throwing this baby in the trash.
 You can make this without coconut, for those who don't like it, or put the whole thing on chicken, for those who don't like fish (we have a little bit of all of that living in the same house right now)
Panko and Coconut Crusted Steelhead with Tangy Citrus Dipping Sauce

1 1/2 lbs steelhead, any skin removed, cut into 1-inch wide pieces
1 cup coconut sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup panko
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 eggs

Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1 Tablespoon stone ground mustard
1/4 cup honey
3 dashes hot sauce (such as Tabasco)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 450. Prepare a tray with foil or parchment paper. Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the fish. Crack eggs into a bowl and scramble with a fork. Combine coconut and panko in a bowl. Dip fish into egg, then coconut panko mixture. Press mixture into the fish pieces. Place on baking sheet and put into the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until fish is done.

Combine all of the dipping sauce ingredients into a small saucepan on the stove. Heat over medium heat until simmering.

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