Sunday, October 26, 2008

my new fave ingredient

i use lots of chicken broth at my house - and it gets expensive. plus, i don't always have it on hand, so i end up trying to substitute a bouillon cube, which is usually too salty and fake tasting.

my friends (LOL - total mccain reference), i have found a product i love and i want to share it with you. if you've already heard of it, you are in BIG TROUBLE because you didn't tell me about it!!

it's called better than bouillon. here's what is totally awesome about it, in no particular order: it's organic; it's relatively inexpensive; it's lower in salt than the bouillon cubes and it's very easy to use. i'll probably never go back to chicken broth, because of how easy this is to use.

i found this at walmart for about $3.89, i believe, but i found it online in several locations, including here's why it's cheaper: it's equal to almost 21 cans of regular chicken broth. now i always buy that on sale, but normal swanson broth is almost $1 a can regular price. i have purchased the cartons of chicken broth, too, as they are much cheaper than the cans, but this is STILL cheaper than those.

it needs to be stored in the fridge after opening, but i am always going to have this on hand. it's one of my must-have pantry items. for you vegetarians, they have a vegetable broth, as well as several other flavors.

keep in mind, this is still a bouillon, so you may need to lower the amount of salt you would normally use. homemade chicken broth is always going to be better than this, but who has time for that? NOT ME. you can also adjust the amount you use to get the flavor "just right," but this stuff is seriously convenient and amazing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

park city oven stew

i have two stepdaughters and they come to stay with us every other weekend. it's my philosophy that families should eat dinner together as often as possible and i know their mom works at night, so they rarely eat with her, especially at home. i try to make dinner a big deal anyway, but even more so when they stay with us. i usually try to get paul to find out what they want to eat when they are at our house so i can have the ingredients on hand.

this past week, i got this same recipe from two different people: debbie- a co-worker of mine, and from one of the other moms on my pta board. debbie calls hers 8-hour stew and the other lady calls hers park city oven stew. i like the park city name as i think it sounds all rich n' fancy, so i'm calling it that here, even though in all reality, it's an 8-hour stew.

not only was this easy to make, but it started to smell fantastic after just one hour in the oven - which made the rest of the day mouthwatering, to say the least. everyone was starving by the time it was ready to eat.

another note: while i love my crock pot, it's my opinion that crock pots should only be used for certain recipes and mostly in the summer. you could certainly make this in a crock pot, but the oven is superior in creating flavor. that's just my opinion.

so..from my kitchen to yours,

park city oven stew

2-3 lbs. stew meat
6-8 potatoes, cubed (i leave the peels on)
4-5 carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks, on the diagonal
3 stalks celery, cut
1 whole onion, peeled and quartered
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
2-3 bay leaves
1 pkg. lipton onion soup mix
1 8-0z. can tomato sauce
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of mushroom OR cream of chicken soup
salt and pepper

optional: 1 box of mushrooms, cleaned

heat oil in a large kettle. put stew meat into a ziplock bag, add 1/4 - 1/2 cup flour. add seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic salt, onion salt, whatever). shake to coat. brown the stew meat in the oil. (you can skip this step to save time if you want.)

preheat your oven to 225 degrees. put all the vegetables and the meat in the bottom of a large oven-proof dish. i just used my pampered chef 9 x 13 baker, but you can use a deeper casserole dish with a lid if you have one. add the bay leaves (these are quickly becoming one of my favorite spices). combine the soups, the tomato sauce and the onion soup mix. pour over the top of the meat and vegetables. since i used a baking dish, i covered the top tightly with foil before i put it in the oven.

if i use the mushrooms (and i do, paul loves them...),i add them after the stew has cooked for about 5-6 hours or when i remember. i leave them whole, but you can do what you want. let the stew cook for at least 6 hours, but it will be even better after 8 hours. serve with wheat bread for dipping - totally yummy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

gorilla bread

man, i wish i could take credit for this recipe. unfortunately, i cannot. it's from paula deen. she kind of bugs me a little bit, because she's always so damn cheery and not a hair is ever out of place, but dammit she loves butter. and i love butter. so i love her. and some of her recipes are just darn good.

have you ever made monkey bread? this is JUST like monkey bread, only better. i always make monkey bread for christmas breakfast, but this is going to take its place this year. another note: i've made the monkey bread with both rhodes rolls and with canned buttermilk biscuits. use the biscuits. they are so much easier and i think they turn out better. with the rhodes, you have to let them defrost and then you have to let them rise. plus, the biscuits are cheaper.

now go. make this bread. you won't be sorry and your family will love you forever.

gorilla bread

*1/2 cup white sugar
*3 tsp cinnamon
*1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
*1 cup packed brown sugar
*1 8-oz pkg. cream cheese
*2 12-oz. cans refrigerated biscuits (10 count)
*1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. mix the white sugar and cinnamon. in a saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar over low heat, stirring well; set aside. cut the cream cheese into 20 equal cubes. cut it into 4 strips lengthwise, then cut each strip into 5 pieces. press the biscuits out with your fingers and sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon sugar. place a cube of cream cheese in the center of each biscuit, wrapping and sealing the dough around the cream cheese. sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nuts into the bottom of the bundt pan. place half of the prepared biscuits in the pan. sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, pour half of the melted butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle on 1/2 cup of nuts. layer the remaining biscuits on top, sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar, pour the remaining butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of nuts. bake for 30 minutes. remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. place a plate on top and invert.

does that sound yummy or what? in my opinion, i think the cream cheese is a bit much, so i use 3 cans of biscuits and i cut the cream cheese into 30 pieces (5 strips lengthwise, and then into 6 pieces). i increase the butter to 1 1/2 sticks and the brown sugar to 1 1/2 cups to accommodate for this. you also might need a little bit more cinnamon/sugar mix, but it all fits into the bundt pan nicely. i also don't worry about the nuts if i don't have any. i've also wanted to try that pre-made cheesecake filling in the center, but i've never gotten around to that.

if you want to just make plain old monkey bread, omit the cream cheese and cut the biscuits into halves before rolling in cinnamon and sugar. it almost as good as this gorilla bread and it's easier. your kids will still think you're the best mom ever.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

dill cottage cheese bread

i told you i'd post about a failure...and this was a failure as far as i'm concerned. i got this recipe from a friend on facebook, and i was uber excited to try it out. bread is kind of scary to make, as yeast can be very tempermental. overmixing the dough can also break down the gluten in the flour so much that your bread turns tough and chewy.

that being said, i'm still going to attempt this recipe again. there are just a couple of things i am going to tweak and see if it doesn't turn out better.

here's the recipe. if you make this, i'd love to know what you think. in fact, i'd like to know if you make any of my recipes and what you think.

dill cottage cheese bread

* 2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
* 2/3 cup cottage cheese
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 3 cups flour
* 1 tablespoon white sugar
* 1 tablespoon dry milk powder
* 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
* 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast

pour yeast into warmed mixing bowl. dissolve sugar into water and pour over yeast. det sit 5 min. mix cottage cheese with softened butter,and dill. mix flour with all remaining dry ingredients. turn mixer to speed 2 and add flour and cottage cheese mixtures. mix for about 3 min. add more flour if needed, but not too much.

let rise in bowl until doubled put in a greased loaf pan and let rise.

bake at 400 for 12-14 min. tent with aluminum foil and bake for 12-14 more minutes at 350.

if you double the recipe, split the dough with a knife, don't pull it apart.

this recipe appealed to me for several reasons: first of all, i love dill. it's one of my favorite herbs. it's a wonderful accompaniment to potatoes and fish, especially. i also love cottage cheese - but not plain. i like it in dips and i thought it would be good in bread. it actually kind of melts in and you don't even realize it's an ingredient in the finished product.

here's why it failed for me: first of all, the finished product wasn't salty enough. i doubled the recipe, but i don't remember if i doubled the salt or not. next time, i'm adding more salt. it was fairly bland, in spite of having the dill and the onion flavor. there just wasn't enough salt.

second: i should have added more flour. the dough wasn't smooth and elastic like bread dough should be. i should have trusted my gut instinct and added more flour, but i had never made this before and i wanted to stick to the recipe as much as possible. the dough was more like a quick bread batter (think banana bread) and less like a yeast dough.

the bread was still pretty good with soup and was decent with butter on it. when i make it again, i'll post an update. again, if this appeals to you, make it and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

roasted tomato soup

on a whim, i tried this recipe over the weekend. it was a FABULOUS hit, and here's the proof: my kids ate it. they had seconds and thirds...and the real kicker? they asked me to MAKE IT AGAIN the NEXT DAY.


because cooking is such a labor of love for me, i get really bummed out if someone doesn't like the food i've spent time and energy and LOVE preparing. this is particularly true for my kids. i try to avoid setting myself up for failure by avoiding things i know they won't touch with a ten foot pole, but they are also not really picky. they eat very well and they always have. i rarely have to fight with them to eat...and to eat healthy.

i had about 18 tomatoes from our garden and i didn't know what i was going to do with them. and then suddenly i remember that my good pal natalie had mentioned that she cans tomato soup. so i thought HEY! i could make homemade tomato soup. i started searching on the internet and this is what i came up with. i combined the ingredients from 2 or 3 recipes, so i'm claiming this one as my own work.

warning: it sounds complicated, but TRUST is not. it really is not. and it's SO WORTH it. did i mention there were zero leftovers? ZERO.

here we go. roasted tomato soup. from my kitchen to yours.

*8 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled, cored and cut into slices or large chunks
*5 large cloves of garlic, peeled
* 3/4 cup olive oil, divided
*1 onion, diced
*3 stalks of celery, sliced
*1-2 carrots, peeled and sliced
*1 32-oz. carton of chicken broth
*1/2 stick of butter (just say no to margarine, remember?)
*1 tsp. dried basil
*2 or 3 bay leaves
*kosher salt and pepper

preheat oven to 450 degrees. remove the skin from the tomatoes by placing the tomatoes in boiling water. the skins will split almost immediately - remove from boiling water, place in cool water to remove the skins. remove the cores and chop into smaller pieces. spread the tomatoes and whole, peeled garlic cloves on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. drizzle with about 1/4 cup olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. roast for about 30 minutes. try not to eat too many of the fresh tomatoes while you are cutting them up.

while the tomatoes roast, heat the remaining olive oil in a large kettle. add the diced onion, the carrot and the celery ( a little secret - if the leaves on the celery are nice and green, i throw them in the pot. they have tons of flavor and you're going to be grinding this all up anyway.), season with kosher salt and pepper. cook for about 8-10 minutes. add the chicken broth, the butter, the bay leaves and the basil (if using dried). cover and simmer while the tomatoes roast. when the tomatoes and garlic are done, remove from the oven. add the tomatoes and the garlic to the kettle, stir well. taste and adjust seasoning. cover and simmer for 30 minutes. remove bay leaves and puree with an immersion blender*. also, if you are using fresh basil, add it after pureeing, not before.

serve with french bread, grilled cheese sandwiches or even store-bought ravioli. this recipe can also be prepared by using canned tomatoes (3 15-oz cans), just drain the juice and reserve before roasting. add the reserved juices to the broth for cooking.

*you don't have to have an immersion blender to make this soup, but it is very handy. mine has different attachments to whip cream or blend drinks - and it was about $20 at wal*mart. you can use a blender or your food processor, OR you could even not puree the soup at all...but it's better all pureed. if you use your blender, remove the center plug in the lid, and cover with a cloth while you puree. that will keep it from exploding all over your kitchen.

Monday, October 13, 2008

spicy shrimp

this is one of paul's favorite recipes. he loves shrimp. i'm putting this under the appetizer category, but it can totally be a main dish, too. it just depends on where you want to serve it. as a main dish, it will serve 2-4 people but as an appetizer, it will serve 10-12.

here's what you need:

*2 lbs of raw, unpeeled shrimp, 21-26 count. (this refers to how many shrimp are in a pound.) you can use larger shrimp, but if you use smaller ones, they get tricky to peel...
*2 lemons (or 3 or 4...)
*1 stick butter (for future note, margarine is a swear word at my house. i almost NEVER use it. if you use margarine in one of my recipes, i might never speak to you again.)
*1/2 cup olive oil (or so...)
*lots of black pepper
*tabasco sauce
*kosher salt (more on this later)
*1/4 to 1/2 cup worchestershire sauce

rinse off the shrimp in a colander. spread on a cookie sheet in a single layer. drizzle the shrimp with the olive oil and then sprinkle generously with black pepper. and then go ahead and shake on some more. it will look like TONS of pepper, but you are going to peel the shrimp before you eat them, so trust me, it will be ok. seriously use a ton.

now let's talk about kosher salt. you really should buy some for cooking. it's very inexpensive and i thought i'd never say this, but there *is* a major difference between kosher salt and regular salt. i use kosher salt ALL OF THE TIME now. real cooks use kosher salt. it rules. sprinkle the shrimp with kosher salt. again, you will be peeling the shrimp, so they will not be overly salty.

roll the lemons on the counter...this releases the juice. cut them in half and squish out the juice all over the shrimp. yummy.

now grab your worchestershire sauce and shake it all over the shrimp. again, the measurement doesn't need to be exact. go for about 1/2 cup. shake tabasco sauce all over the shrimp - as much or as little as you want. i use about 10-20 shakes o' the bottle. depends on how i'm feeling and how my stomach is doing that day.

now take that glorious stick of butter and cut into little pats. if one stick doesn't seem like enough, use more. i've been known to use two. put the butter all over the shrimp. now is a good time to add more salt and pepper if you'd like.

take this pan of shellfish goodness and put it under your broiler for about 10 minutes. you'll know the shrimp are done when they turn pink. IF you overcook them, they will be rubbery, so don't overcook. :)

now here's the fun part. the sauce is AMAZING to dip bread in, so don't throw it away. grab a loaf of crusty french bread and dip away! my house, i make sticky rice and we put the sauce over rice. put down a bunch of newspaper and peel n' eat the shrimp right off the pan. they won't last for long, i promise.

this recipe is not my own - i got it from the pioneer woman. her recipe website is sooo much better than mine, so don't compare me to her, mmmkay? thanks.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

no measurements

one of the most important things i do as a mom is feed my family. i think my family is lucky because i LOVE to cook. my house might be messy and the laundry is never folded, but dammit, something smells good in the kitchen.

i love to read cookbooks. i subscribe to taste of home magazine. i DVR shows on the food network. the day we got HD tv, i said to my husband, "HONEY! we have FOOD NETWORK IN HD!!!" i don't think he fully understood HOW EXCITING that was to me!!

cookbooks make fabulous wedding gifts. a few of my favorites include the better homes and gardens cookbook, the taste of home cookbook, and the fannie farmer cookbook. i often use all three of these books for guidance in the kitchen.

there are a couple of things i want to accomplish with this blog:
1. i want to share my love of cooking and my favorite recipes with you.
2. i want to preserve the recipes i make for my family so that my kids might enjoy them when they are older.
3. i want you to share your recipes with me. i'm always looking for something new to try.

i'm not afraid to try a new recipe - and while i'm disappointed when a recipe fails, (oh and they DO sometimes. miserably...) i'm excited for the challenge to tweak the recipe and see if i can fix it. one thing you should know about cooking is that for the most part, no one will die if you mess something up. **disclaimer** this does not apply to undercooking meat, feeding someone a food they are allergic to, or adding arsenic (or any other poison, for that matter) to your food.** what i'm trying to say is that even if a recipe seems hard, you should try it if you really want to make it. i'm often surprised at the number of people who say they don't know how to cook. how is that possible? if you can read, you can cook. kind of. :)

so. that's why i'm here. comment or not. i'll be posting a recipe success - and a failure - in the next few days.

p.s. while you are here, take my poll.

p.p.s i'm still working out some kinks. i know there are some issues. i'm working on them...