I am soooo backed up on my posting. I have two test kitchen recipes and sets of photos to share from back in October and I just haven’t found the time to post them. But I swear it’s not my fault.

It’s all her fault!!


That’s right. We got a puppy! Life was just too peaceful so we had to go and stir things up again. Meet Ginger. By now, she is almost 12 weeks old and she is a cross between a beagle and a lab. She was named for her ginger brown colors and, as a nice coincidence, Matt’s favorite soda, Ginger Ale. She has taken all my attention for the past three weeks. She’s currently a little under the weather, having just spent her first overnight at the vet for an upset belly, among other things. But she is home now and doing well. We just created a penned in area for her around the kitchen so she can hang out with us while we cook. Although, for a scent hound, I’m sure that can be torturous. Too many smells and no way to climb over the gate to investigate them. I pray she doesn’t get taller too quickly for I know she will be able to clear that gate with one jump in no time.

What you’ve been missing

Here’s a couple that I’ve been meaning to post. Between the puppy drama and Matt and I both coming down with the flu, there was just no time or energy for writing. Hopefully the worst is getting behind us and life will return to normal.

Southwestern Shepherd’s Pie

Okay, so it doesn’t photograph well, but mushy mish mashy comfort food recipes like this rarely do. It’s the taste and combination of flavors that’s important. I found this one on epicurious.com when looking for menu items for our comfort food-themed housewarming party. It’s easy, delicious and very flexible for adding your own modifications.

Our changes: We nixed the jalapenos and since Dad doesn’t care for sweet potatoes, we made it with Yukon Gold mashed instead. We also added the entire 6 oz can of corn, instead of just a 1/2 cup and almost the entire can of black beans. For a big finish, we sprinkled the top of the mashed potatoes with shredded Mexican Cheese and upped the oven to broil during the last few minutes to get it nice and melty.


What we’d do different: Perhaps the jalapenos would have added just a little more needed heat. Everything blended together really well, but tasted even better after a sprinkle of black pepper.

Pizza Bianca
with Chicken, Caramelized Onions and Fontina

Who doesn’t love pizza, but sometimes you need a detour from the norm. This recipe is the answer. A white pie topped with tons of sweet onions and chicken. Again another very flexible recipe to suit your own tastes and what you happen have in the kitchen at the time. The recipe calls for a ready-made store bought crust, but we used a refrigerated dough and rolled it out ourselves. We also used some leftover chicken breast that Dad had in the fridge instead of buying a rotisserie chicken (though I’m sure it would have been good that way, too.) We used dried thyme instead of fresh, but I would warn here to go easy with it. Just a pinch was very pungent and ran the risk of overpowering the flavor.

The key here is the onions. Make sure that you slice them thin enough and cook them long enough so that they are soft. Finally, we threw in a few chopped pieces of red and green pepper, just for color.

I suppose you could use mozzarella cheese for this white pie instead of spending the money on a block of fontina, but there’s something about the way that particular cheese melts with the softened onions that goes so great together.

Up close and personal with the meltiness.

Here’s the recipe, scanned from a past issue of Relish Magazine. I included the link above but sometimes the web site goes on the fritz. Enjoy!

Holy Humongous Danish!

It has occurred to me that we’ve been doing a lot of baking in the past few test kitchens and after this week’s bout with Danish, I’ll be glad when we head back to savory cooking next week. Baking has never been one of my favorites. It takes too much patience and exact measuring. But it usually yields great rewards and sweet treats so I do my best to muster up my patience and dive in.

With the danish, it could have been the measuring or the waiting (or both) that led to the struggle. We started out with this recipe from allrecipes.com, which was supposed to yield 36 danishes. I had originally suggested we half the recipe thinking that we certainly did not need that many danishes hanging around the house. But Dad has adopted the familiar battle cry from both Matt and his brother Bob, “Go Big or Go Home!”

In the end, it was good that we didn’t half the recipe. Something happened along the way between the rising and the baking of the dough, but these suckers wouldn’t stop growing. Perhaps we added in too much yeast but I measured it twice to be sure. Anyway, what was supposed to be 36 ended up being about 12, with a few being some of THE most enormous danishes I had ever seen.

They started out like this:


And ended up like this!
(I could only fit about three on a standard sized dinner plate)

We filled them with apple or raspberry pie filling, but because of all the butter mixed inside the dough, some of them were too slippery to pinch closed. Many of them busted open inside the oven, exposing the filling.

The saving grace was drizzling them with a quick icing made from milk and confectioner’s sugar. Everything can be saved with icing. Matt worked from home that day and was around to help us with the taste testing. Albeit a little funny-looking, they were sweet and flaky. Not a total flop, but I’m still ready for next week: A white pizza pie with caramelized onions and chicken!

HAPPY 30TH RECIPE!

Boy, did that sneak up on us! After the moving drama and attempts at settling in, I didn’t realize til this moment that our daring stab at making the Ultimate Cinnamon Bun would also be our 30th recipe. Wheww! Where did all those calories go?

Inspired by another episode of America’s Test Kitchen, Dad was enraptured with their Ultimate Cinnamon Buns described as “unapologetically large.” The pursuit of the recipe for these sinful treats proved a bit of a challenge. In the past, Dad has been able to find any of the ATK recipes he saw on TV on their web site. But this recipe, could only be located on the super secret “members only” (fork over $14.95) section of the web site. Oh yes, it’s that good that they’re lockin’ that stuff up tight! So after signing up and entering in his credit card number, then realizing he signed up for the wrong membership, emailing the company to cancel his order, locating the right web page and joining the correct membership, Dad finally retrieved the coveted recipe.

They start out this big…


…and end up this BIG!


Being that he had to pay to get this recipe, I’m sure that means that the ATK people would be more than slightly miffed if I posted it here for all to get for free, so unfortunately, to protect the innocent I cannot post the recipe we used. (But if you happen bump into me in the grocery store and we get to chatting about any sweet baked goods and I just happen to mention some ingredients and maybe a few steps and you just happen to figure it out on your own… )

But who likes to read anyway! Let’s just spend the rest of the this post staring at the pics or, as my friend Lisa puts it, trying not to lick the screen.

A guard dog hard at work.
K.C. may be blind, but the nose knows when something’s in the oven.


This week marked the christening of our very own kitchen in our new home. That’s right! No more tiny 600 square foot apartment for us. We now have over 1900 square feet to spread our junk around in. (And I’m sure if you ask our wonderful friends who helped us move, they would attest to our amazing ability to cram so much stuff into such a small apartment. Although they might use less pretty words. We love you, we thank you and we’re sorry!)

After the stress of the move was over, Matt, like he always does after big events in our life, came down with a cold. As late September brought in the chilly signs of fall, I decided we needed some warm comfort food. That morning I spent a few minutes looking up Pasta Fagioli recipes online and sent three that looked interesting over to Dad. Among them were two from allrecipes.com and one from foodnetwork.com by Giada De Laurentiis. Without hesitation, Dad’s choice was clear.

Dad: “Ooo.. Giada. Let’s do that one!”

Me: “Yeah, she’s the one from Food Network with all the teeth.” (I swear, that woman has about 87 teeth in her mouth. It’s unnatural.)

Dad: “That’s not all she’s got.”

Good Lord. Clearly my Dad is taken in easily by the eye candy.

Still sore from helping us move, Dad hobbled over to our new house and we got started on a double recipe of Pasta Fagioli. We did a few things differently than the original recipe. I wanted to use ditalini pasta instead of elbow macaroni. It’s has a little more of a traditional look based on other soups I’ve had in Italian restaurants. We also did not have a cheesecloth to make a sachet of the herbs, so Dad crushed up the rosemary as fine as he could, we used a little ground thyme and I tossed in the bay leaves loose, making sure to fish them out with a slotted spoon before serving. I also like white cannellini beans in my soup, so we got a little creative and split the ingredients, using two cans of white and two cans of red.

There was an Italian take-out place that used to sell the best Pasta Fagioli. Back before my freelance days, I spent many late nights in the office with a cup of that great soup to keep me company. There was something about the broth that was so good, sorta creamy and full of flavor, but I just couldn’t put my finger how to get it that way. This recipe may have revealed the secret. Half way through the cooking process, you remove 2 cups of the bean and broth mixture, puree it in a blender, and return it to the pot to mix with the soup. In another slight variation, we also added one can of diced tomatoes to the blender, to add a little color and a slight tomato flavor. This extra step thickened the broth just enough, somewhere between watery broth and thick chowder. I use cannellini beans when I make tomato sauce from scratch and I think I may try this blending method to see what happens.

For me, it’s rare for a recipe to come out so close to a good old memory. Your imagination always tastes better than real life. This is an automatic favorite and comfort food keeper.


Here’s our recipe with the variations we did. For the original Giada recipe, see here.

Pasta Fagioli
Based On a Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
Makes about 12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of ground thyme
  • 1 teaspoon of ground rosemary
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 6 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (About 6 cloves)
  • 11.5 cups low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth (About 96 oz.)
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can of diced tomatoes
  • 12 oz of ditalini pasta (A little less the a whole box)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions:

1. Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil and butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, pancetta, and garlic and saute until the onion is tender, about 3 minutes. Add the broth, beans, and herbs.

2. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves with a slotted soup.

3. Puree 2 cups of the bean mixture in a blender until smooth*. Before putting the puree back into the soup, add the dry pasta and boil with the lid on until it is tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes.

4. Return the puree to the remaining soup in the saucepan and stir well. Season the soup with ground black pepper and red pepper flakes.

5. Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with some fresh grated Parmesan just before serving.

*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

After last week’s foray into bread making, a little brainstorming lead us to google in search of a pretzel recipe. Dad loves pretzels and I’m huge fan of all snacks salty, so I was really excited about this one. I was also relieved to find that after spending 4.5 hours baking Challah last week, the pretzel recipe we found was only going to take about 2.5.


In the interest of brevity, I’ll get to the highlights and so you can spend more time drooling over the pictures.

Verdict: AWESOME and so much fun! If you like warm, soft baked pretzels, I highly recommend you try this recipe. The recipe makes 12 pretzels, but we doubled it to make 24. If you’ve never done this before, I’d go with more because you’ll need the practice when it comes to rolling out and forming the pretzel shapes. The biggest challenge is boiling the formed pretzel doughs just before baking. Although only in the water for a minute each, they tend to get a little slippery when you’re trying to get them out.

We made three different kinds: Traditional kosher salt, sprinkled Parmesan cheese and a few with a dusting of cinnamon sugar. The cheese on the pretzels came out great and fused the little holes together making a pretzel roll. After they were all done, we picked the biggest ones, sliced them on the horizontal and made a couple of turkey club sandwiches for our lunch.


Only one low point: The oven temp was way to high for the cinnamon sugar pretzels and, though they smelled delicious, the sugar caramelized leaving very little flavor behind. Dad suggested that next time we try baking them plain, painting them with a thin glaze and dusting them with the cinnamon after they come out of the oven.

We will definitely make these again. As with most baked goods, they’re served best hot and fresh out of the oven, but if you have some left over, a quick nuking or short stay in the toaster will bring them back to life. I also learned the hard way to not store them in plastic bags, particularly when they’re still warm. They start to sweat in the bag and can get a little soggy.


This week, Dad decided that we should take another crack at a previously unsuccessful attempt to make Challah bread. Realizing his mistake from the last go around, hopefully, would help us avert tragedy. There’s a step in the recipe where you have to cover the bowl of dough with a towel and place in a warm place to rise. Dad has one of those fancy glass flat top stoves, complete with a warming burner, so he had placed the dough on that spot to rise. Unfortunately the spot was a little too warm and dough got a little cooked in the process. But this time we would know better and as they say,”Knowing is half the battle.” (And eating is the other and better half!)

So onward in the long journey to make Challah. The time from start to finish: 4.5 hours (with only 30 minutes of active time. Everything else is just waiting). I love how the CT Post calls this recipe an “easy” Challah. 4.5 HOURS!!! How long does the difficult Challah recipe take to make?! A week?! Or perhaps it’s simply that the harder recipe is written in the original Hebrew, thereby making the translation a little more challenging.

My friend Jena has shared with me many tales of holiday dinners with family, who apparently become insulted if you don’t eat enough. You might think that when the top button pops off your jeans that you’ve reached your limit for the evening. You’d be wrong. Way wrong. Through these stories, I have learned that the power of Jewish guilt exceeds the power of Catholic guilt mostly because the former’s flair for the dramatic. Jena accounts scenes of long dinners at two different family houses, eating a full meal at each stop, pushing away from her plate just in time to hear the cries of, “You didn’t eat anything! You didn’t like it?!” After spending over four hours with the Challah, I think I finally understand where some of that guilt comes from. If your Jewish mama is going to slave for that many hours in the kitchen, she wants to make sure that EVERYTHING gets eaten.


For Irish/German Catholics, our Challah came out pretty good. Dad and I shared a few slices with Mom when she got home from school, schmeared with just a tad of butter. For dinner, I made some Challah French Toast, something that Matt has been talking about forever. It was awesome! Definitely the best way to have french toast. Not sure I’d go through the 4.5 hour journey to make it, but next time we’re out for breakfast at the diner, I’ll keep my eye out for it.


Later that night, I sent pictures of the Challah to Jena. She seemed pretty impressed with our little experiment. “That looks great! Although, I haven’t made Challah in years. It takes forever!”

Easy Challah (Connecticut Post Newspaper)

Ingredients:
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water, about 110° F
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (1/4 oz package)
1/4 cup of honey
3 large whole eggs, divided
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for bowl
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 tablespoon whole milk (or water)


1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, water and yeast. Mix until the yeast is dissolved. Let sit until foam develops on the surface of the water, about five minutes.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, two of the whole eggs, three egg yolks and the oil. Add to the yeast mixture.

3. Add the salt and flour, then using the mixer’s dough hook attachment, mix on low until combined, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes.

4. Lightly coat a large bowl with oil, then transfer the dough into it, turning the dough once to completely coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set in a warm place until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

5. Transfer the dough to a dry work surface and punch down lightly to remove air that has gathered inside the dough. Reshape the dough into a ball, return to the oiled bowl, cover with towel and set back in the warm place until the dough doubles in size again, about another hour.

6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray lightly with cooking spray.

7. Divide the dough in two pieces. Divide each piece of dough into three equal parts. Roll each portion into 12″ strands about 1″ wide.

8. Gather three strands together at one end and pinch together, then braid the dough, by alternately crossing one strand over the other until you reach the other end. Pinch the other ends together so the braid does not unravel. Repeat process with second half of dough.

9. Carefully transfer the braided loaves to the prepared baking sheet.

10. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining egg and the milk or water. Using a pastry brush, coat the surface of each loaf with the egg mixture. Reserve the excess mixture in the refrigerator.

11. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm place for another hour or until the loaves have doubled in volume. Preheat oven to 350°.

12. Lightly brush loaves with the remaining egg mixture. Bake until the loaves have risen and are deep golden brown, about 45-50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before slicing.


I made this AWESOME Chocolate Eclair Cake for our family’s Labor Day picnic last weekend. Many thanks to Miss Beth for passing on the recipe. It’s so easy and so yummy, I highly reco that you stock up on the ingredients on your next shopping trip. It got rave reviews from all and produced great sadness once it was all gone.

You can find the recipe on allrecipes.com. I healthified my version a little by using low-fat cinnamon graham crackers, lite cool whip, Simply Smart’s Fat-Free milk, and reduced sugar chocolate frosting. Beth’s suggestion was key for spreading the frosting on top: Put the can of frosting in the microwave for about 40 seconds. That way, you can easily pour it out onto the cake. Just don’t forget to remove all of the aluminum foil seal before nuking.


With the leftover pieces, I decided to play around with my shooting and styling skills. I don’t have many good shots of cakes as it’s sometimes hard to make a good slice, and extricate it from it’s dish without making a mess. Remembering a tip from the food stylists I’ve worked with over the years, I carefully sliced a small square of cake, placed it on its dish and popped it in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

After removing it from the freezer, I took a thin, sharp knife and carefully trimmed each side of the cake to create smooth, clean edges. Once I could clearly see the cross section of the cake, I realized that I didn’t exactly split the pudding batter evenly between the first and second layer. No problem! I may be an amateur cook, a budding photographer and student of styling…


…but I definitely know my way around Photoshop. Ta-da! Perfectly proportioned cake! Much better.