Thursday, August 29, 2013

Moroccan Carrot Salad


I've got another veggie in the line-up for you today. I wasn't joking when I said I'm on a mission to eat more vegetables! Veggie sides can just be so boring. It's nice to switch things up now and then to help get things all health-ified. The best part of this dish is that it is super quick, coming in under 10 minutes, very little of which involves any hands on time. This makes it incredibly easy to throw together as a side dish to any meal. The dressing has some bold Moroccan flavors which provides a zesty punch to the carrots. This dish can be served either hot or cold which makes it great for transportable summer picnic foods, or a warm-you-up winter meal at home. Did I mention it is also totally healthy? Say goodbye to boring carrots, and hello to this bold, flavorful bunch!


Ingredients

1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped


Instructions

1. Fill a medium-sized saucepan with 3/4 full of water. Bring to a boil. Add in carrots and boil for 7 minutes.

2. Prepare the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, lemon juice, and spices in a small bowl. Pour of the cooked carrots and stir in cilantro. Serve hot or cold. 




Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Indonesian Curried Green Beans


Can you really have green beans as a main dish? That was my big question going into this recipe. It's not just a veggie main dish, it's a green veggie main dish. Whoa. I wasn't the only skeptical one in my household.

I went into it full of inspiration and enthusiasm. I was not disappointed. It was easy to make and had a ton of flavor to it. Seriously, this is like a 15 minute meal! I finished the veggies before my rice was cooked. The flavor combination is inspired by Indonesian curries. What? There's no curry listed in the ingredients? Curry is just a combination of spices. Curries are eaten by millions if not billions of people. Asia, Africa, India and beyond. There are entire sections of the world that eat vegetarian diets, too, and curries are a part of their food culture. A curry veggie dish is perfect. It's delicious, it is healthy, and, oh my goodness, it is even vegan! I know, right? I don't plan on going vegan anytime soon, but I appreciate their ability to put out really healthy stuff. So go ahead, eat veggies as your main dish and love it!


Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped in half
1 onion, cut into quarters
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
2 inches lemon grass (optional)
2 roma tomatoes, diced


Instructions

1. Place the green beans in a steamer, makeshift steamer, or steam them in a pan. Cook until desired done-ness is reached (tender crisp, or tender). See cooking lesson below for more steaming info.

2. Meanwhile, in a food processor (or blender) combine the onion, garlic cloves, cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt, and red pepper flakes. Puree into a paste. 

3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in the onion spice paste and roast for about a minute. Add in the vegetable stock and lemon grass (optional) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. 

4. Add in the tomatoes and cooked green beans. Stir to combine. 

Serve over rice.







How to steam vegetables:

Steaming vegetables is a healthy way to cook vegetables. It requires no additional fats and the steaming process helps the vegetable itself to retain more nutrients and flavor.  There are a few different methods you can use.

1. Steamer

There is an actual specialized kitchen appliance you can buy called a steamer. It has a base, a steaming basket, and a lid. You just fill the base with a couple inches of water, put the veggies in the basket that fits over the base, put the lid on, heat the water to simmering, and steam away. 

2. Makeshift Steamer

A makeshift steamer can be made using a pot, a colander, and a lid that at least somewhat fits. You'd put an inch or two of water in the pot and then put the colander over it. The colander should be able to fit over the pot without touching the water in the base. Then cover it with a lid. It doesn't have to be a prefect fit. Just as long as it traps most of the steam inside. 

3. Pan

The pan method isn't perfect, but it does work. Pick a saucepan that is big enough to fit all your veggies in it. Put a half inch of water in the bottom and bring it to a boil. Add in your veggies, put the lid on, and reduce the heat to low so it just simmers. The water will create enough steam to cook the vegetables, but the veggies that actually touch the water might get a little soggy or overcooked. 

4. Microwave

Use a microwave safe bowl and just put a little bit of water in to cover the bottom of it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and poke a couple holes in it to allow some steam to escape. Microwave until desired done-ness is reached. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tikel Gomen : Ethiopian Cabbage Dish


I have several notebooks around the house filled with scribbled lists of ingredients, notes, and lots of smudges and things scratched out. These are my personal recipe books. I don't know that many people would be able to make anything based on these notebooks! I came across this gem with the note that indicated it was fantastic. Why have I not made it in several years?

The best part is it is completely vegetarian and vegan! Whoa. Is this a main dish consisting of veggies? Yes, yes it is. Look at that picture? Half the plate is veggies!

Need a recipe for Injera flatbread to go with this? I've got a recipe for that too! And it even has a video!


I didn't even take second helpings of rice or flat bread. I definitely served up more veggies though. Okay, maybe the flat bread too. Don't be deceived by the bland yellow coloring. It bursts with flavor! This is a recipe that I'm not going to forget about again. Definitely give it a try. Don't let it scare you because it is Ethiopian. You are sure to love it. There's a reason Ethiopian food is all the rage these days! It is a one pot meal, easy to make, and full of veggies. You know you have to try it now!


Ingredients

1/3 cup olive oil
4 carrots, sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 head cabbage, sliced
5 red potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces


Instructions

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat.

2. Toss in the carrots and onion and saute them in the oil for about 5 minutes. 

3. Stir in the seasonings (salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric, ginger) and toast for a minute. 

4. Add in the cabbage, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. 

5. Toss in the potatoes and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook until the potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. (actual time will depend on how big you cut your potatoes). 




Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cooking Fails: When Cooking Turns Disasterous

I've had two cooking fails in the same week.

Ughhhh!

I'm choosing to share them to show that not everything comes out beautiful and tasty in my kitchen. I only post the best of the best recipes. If it was just okay, it doesn't get shared. I make a minimum of 7 new dishes each week to account for the "so-so" dishes that aren't worthy of the blog. 

And then there are the complete disasters. I can brush off having a cooking disaster, but two in the same week? It was a blow to my cooking self-esteem. I know it shouldn't, but it does. It is mostly just frustrating. I try to push myself, be creative with new recipes, and grow as a chef, but the failures still hurt. 

But, have you ever watched Top Chef or Top Chef Masters? They fail, too! Sometimes rather miserably. These are people that are highly trained or experienced, and with the Masters they are at the top of their field with very successful restaurants. Even they have their bad days.

So, when you make something that doesn't turn out right, or even so turns out awful, just remember that even the best chefs have their bad days and it is okay. You can stick with the same old recipes day after day, week after week and probably master them. Or, you can branch out and try new things. With exploration comes the possibility of failure. And that is okay. You can't get many places in life without falling flat on your face first.


And so I present to you my cooking fails of the week:


First up we have what we ended up calling "baby poop."

I tried making a spicy cauliflower puree. I wanted to give some full and interesting flavor. The first mistake was adding turmeric. Turmeric turns everything yellow and I was hoping for a bright yellow dish. Instead it looked exactly like baby poop. I tried adding in a bunch of paprika to turn it orange and ended up with this:


And guess what? It didn't even taste good at all. In fact, it tasted bad. I didn't make anyone eat it. Straight to the trash can. And it dyed part of my food processor bright yellow so I get a constant reminder. Nice.


The next fail happened at the absolute worst time. I threw a birthday party for my son on Friday afternoon. He was having a shark party. I don't do fondant cakes or anything involving intricate details and decorating. It's just not my style. Instead I convinced him that I could do a roll cake (like a giant Little Debbie's Swiss Cake Roll) and the cream filling would look like a wave. I'd cover it in chocolate and stick gummy sharks to the top to make it look like they were swimming over the waves. Sounds cool right?

Well, my cake was a bit sticky so I generously dusted both sides with cocoa powder. It absolutely prevented the sticking. Once I rolled it up I realized that it would also prevent the chocolate ganache from sticking. I dusted off as much excess powdered sugar as I could and decided to still give it a go and at least try and get some of the ganache to stick. What was I thinking? Maybe it would just end up being a drippy looking cake. There was one small crack on top of the roll. The ganache went into the crack and tore up the cake from the inside out.

AHHHH! Party disaster! I was on the verge of tears.

If you've ever read my "about me" section then you know I have a disability autoimmune disease which leaves my body incapable of dealing with stress. With a cake disaster on hand and a party looming, my stress levels were peaking and my body was crumbling. I headed to Costco, cursed my pride for not getting a handicap placard, and stumbled my way across the parking lot, all the way to the back of the store, and picked up their 7 pound chocolate cake. I threw the gummy sharks on top and had them swim in a circle around a lego man.


The redemption was that this cake still tastes delicious. It is almost gone, while the Costco cake is only half eaten. I doubt any adults in the house will eat another slice of the Costco version. It pales in comparison to the decadent chocolate cake they are accustomed to. 


What was your latest fail in the kitchen?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Caprese Hand Pie Pastry


I found a great deal on phyllo dough and bought some thinking I'd make something delicious with it. It sat in my freezer for a month until I ran into some gorgeous and well-priced heirloom tomatoes. That is when inspiration struck. What if I turned traditional caprese into a spanikopita-like handpie? I warned my husband that I was experimenting for dinner. Yes, sometimes I fail and I was worried on this one. Some quick googling warned me that it isn't a common thing to do. I ventured off into the somewhat unknown and played around with combining phyllo and caprese. The result was a delightful little hand pie with those clean flavors of bold tomato,creamy mozzarella, and sweet basil. Drizzled or dipped into a little balsamic vinegar for that bright acidic element and you have yourself one tasty little caprese pastry. Simple. Delicious. 


Ingredients

1 package phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 cup melted butter
3 large tomatoes, sliced
1 large fresh mozzarella ball, sliced
Large handful fresh basil leaves
Salt and Pepper
Balsamic Vinegar


Instructions

1. First off, read the instructions that come on the package of phyllo dough. Know how to prevent your dough from drying out. 

2. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. 

3. Working with about 4 sheets at a time, lay out the sheets so that the longest side of the rectangle is parallel to the edge of the counter. Brush the top with a little melted butter.  Use a sharp knife to cut it down the middle in half.

4. Lay out 3 slices of tomato and 2 or 3 slices of mozzarella in the center of each half. Season with salt and pepper and toss a few basil leaves on there. Fold in the sides over the filling, brush with melted butter, then fold the top and bottoms halves in brushing them with melted butter as well. Turn over to place the folds down on the bottom of the prepared baking sheet. Brush the top with melted butter so that all of the exposed phyllo dough has been buttered. 

5. Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets and filling ingredients.

6. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, until tops begin to brown. Remove from oven and serve hot drizzled with balsamic vinegar.




Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Garlic Bread" Roasted Potatoes


We had some friends visit us a couple of weeks ago. I made garlic bread as an accompaniment to one of our meals. The kids at the meal couldn't stop raving about the garlic bread. They absolutely gobbled it up. Fast forward and I was at Trader Joe's and bought a bag of medley potatoes. Yukon Gold, Red, and Purple. We actually don't eat potatoes very often in our house. My parents live in Idaho (land of the potato) so it seems a bit ironic that we don't eat them very often and my kids don't even recognize them. When we do eat potatoes it is usually these colorful varieties since they have a bit more nutritional value. While I originally had a different idea in mind for these potatoes, I went to make them and had a hankering for garlic bread instead. What if I just take what I usually put on my garlic bread and turn it into a potato dish? Genius! These potatoes are full of buttery, garlicky goodness. Mmmmm, roasted garlic bread on a spud.  My Idaho parents will be proud.


Ingredients


8 medium-sized potatoes (yokon gold and red work well)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
5 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 cup shredded fresh parmesan cheese



Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes clean and cut them into bite-sized chunks. 

2. Spread the potatoes out on a baking sheet. Drizzle them with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.

3. Prepare a garlic butter compound by combining the butter, garlic cloves, basil, and oregano in a food processor until everything is pureed and a bit whipped.

4. After 30 minutes of roasting, remove the potatoes from the oven and top with the butter compound. Stir so that they all get coated. Put them back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

5. Check on them and if they are done, top them with the parmesan cheese and put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes to let the cheese melt a bit. Your actual cooking time will depend on your potato variety and how big of pieces you cut them into. Serve hot. 




Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Moroccan Chicken Thighs


I'm taking a small break from my veggie quest to bring you a meat dish. After all,  I'm only semi-vegetarian!

My chicken thigh obsession continues with Moroccan chicken thighs. Oh baby these are addicting! I know my meat and potato friends assume they won't like something "exotic" like Moroccan food, but let me tell you... you'd clean your plate and lick your fingers. Look at the ingredient list. They are probably all spices you have in your cupboard. These flavors are familiar. It's just a combination you may not have tried before. Put that seasoning on a chicken thigh? Oh baby! You get that crispy skin that there is just never enough of. I love the tangy zip that the lemon brings. Confession: I eat the roasted lemons too. They are just so dang tasty! And lemons are fruit right? Totally healthy. This chicken recipe can brighten up any plate with its vibrant colors and even more vibrant flavors. 


Ingredients

8 large chicken thighs
2 lemons
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
3 tablespoons butter




Instructions

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9x11 glass pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Cut one of the lemons into thin slices. Cut the other into wedges. Places the slices on the bottom of of the glass pan.

3. Mix the spices together in a small bowl. Rub down each of the chicken thighs with the spice mixture getting both beneath the skin and on top of the skin. Place the chicken thighs in the glass pan on top of the lemon slices.

4. Squeeze the lemon wedges over the the chicken. Toss the wedges in between the chicken thighs. 

5. Cut the butter into 8 little clumps. Place 1 clump on top of each chicken thigh.

6. Bake for about 45 minutes.





Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Zippy Cucumber and Red Pepper Salad



I'm on a mission. I want to eat more vegetables.

I'm continuing my veggie journey today with this light, refreshing, zippy cucumber dish. I headed off to the far reaches of North Africa today with this Algerian inspired vegetable dish. Ya, I had to look at a map to find Algeria. It's cool if you didn't know either. Algerian cuisine is a fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods. With the state of current events in that region I don't plan on visiting anytime soon. I'll take their flavors and enjoy them in the safety of my own home. The recipe calls for cayenne pepper which might lead you to believe that it is spicy, however, I didn't find the dish to be spicy at all. The cayenne was balanced by the vinegar and resulted in a fresh, flavorful dressing with only the most mild of heat. I served it up with some Moroccan spiced chicken thighs (dangit, I love chicken thighs!) which seemed very appropriate seeing has how Morocco is a neighbor to Algeria. Ya, bet you didn't expect to visit a cooking blog and learn geography! Honestly, you'd probably never even realize this dish came inspired from such a distant land. The flavors all seem familiar and provide such refreshing summer flavors. Clean, bright, and zippy!


Ingredients

1 large cucumber
1 red bell pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro



Instructions

1. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise. Cut each length lengthwise once again so you have 4 long strips. Cut each strip every 1/4 inch to form bite-sized pieces.

2. Stand your red bell pepper upright, holding it by the stem. Place your knife at the top and slice down so that the bell pepper sides come off into 4 or 5 pieces. Discard the core and seeds. Cut each pepper slice into strips and then cut the strips into thirds so that you end up with bite-sized pieces. 

3. Place the cucumbers and red bell pepper into a bowl. Season with salt and cayenne pepper then stir in the olive oil, vinegar, and cilantro. Stir thoroughly and put it in the fridge until ready to eat. Stir again before serving. 





Monday, August 19, 2013

Lemon-Garlic Baby Bok Choy


I am on a mission. I want to eat more vegetables.

Now, this may sound funny to those of you who know me because I already eat more vegetables than your average American. I'm what I like to call a semi-vegetarian. Meat is much more of an after thought in my normal meals. 

But you know what? Vegetables are where most of the goodness is. I want to have my plate so full of veggies that I can't fit the starches and meat. The problem, as I see it, is that typical American vegetables are kind of...bland. They are not exciting enough for me to fill my plate with them. Sometimes...maybe, but that doesn't happen often. The rest of the world seems to have a pretty good handle on veggies. There are entire sections of the world that eat a vegetarian diet. So, I've been busy researching various world cuisines in search of better veggies. I hope you enjoy the journey with me.

I'm starting out today with something small. I purchased some baby bok choy on a whim. I cooked it in a seasoned broth with a little garlic followed by a nice squirt of lemon. It was incredibly easy, really fast, and ultimately a tasty side dish. You may think, "Bok choy, that's an Asian ingredient so I'd have to pair that with Asian food." Not so. We ate it as a side dish to spaghetti. And know what? It totally fit in. It was kind of like having this dainty little cooked salad on the side with a lemon-garlic dressing. 

The verdict: I should have bought way more baby bok choy because this was delicious! I could have easily filled half my plate with it.



Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
6 Baby Bok Choy
Salt and Pepper
1/2 lemon


Instructions

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in the minced garlic and saute for about a minute. 

2. Add in the chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

3. Put the baby bok choy into the simmering liquid. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cover the pan so that the bok choy steams. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer and steam for 5-6 minutes. At this point the baby bok choy will be tender crisp.

4. Squeeze the lemon over the top of the cooked baby bok choy and serve hot. 







Saturday, August 17, 2013

Italian Pastries: Just to Make You Drool

Italian Pastries from Dolce Italia

I have a new restaurant addiction. It's a little Italian pastry shop called Dolce Italia. Oh my heavens. I can't help myself! They sell all sorts of little Italian pastries and cakes as well as gelato. I have a goal to walk in one day and just order one of everything. We went out for a quick date the other night and grabbed these 6 beauties on our way home. I had to pull out my camera for a quick photo shoot before running off to a meeting. 

Chocolate Mint Cake Bite Size Dessert

 Are you totally drooling? 

Cream Filled Pastry

I got all inspired for about a minute as to building up my pastry skills to make my own at home and give you the recipes. Who am I kidding? I am no pastry chef. These beauties are so detailed they must take hours and hours to create. Mostly they take patience and I've been lacking that my whole life. 


Small Cannoli

I'll stick to purchasing my Italian pastries at little shops like Dolce Italia. Someday I'll even venture off to visit Italy and spend hours devouring pastries in between bites of pizza and pasta. 


Chocolate Raspberry Mini Tart


Did you know that my husband lived in Italy two different times growing up? He has had his share of good Italian food in his life. For the record, he refuses to eat at American Italian food chain restaurants (that shall not be named) because "they are not Italian food." But with this place? The verdict is in: authentic. 

He convinced me to try this Ricotta Cheesecake. I had to make sure those black dots weren't raisins first. Raisins ruin everything. Luckily they were chocolate chips so I humored him. Oh boy am I glad I did! This was my favorite things on the plate. Well, it tied with the Nutella box. I mean seriously, I'm a Nutella addict and I'm willing to admit it. 


Ricotta Cheesecake with Chocolate Chips

Speaking of Nutella, they had the largest jar of Nutella I've ever seen on display. It has caused me to search one out for myself. That's right, I've got my eye on an 11 lb jar of Nutella. Do I need a reason?

I'm trying to figure out how I could ask Santa for one as a stocking stuffer. Could I find a stocking big enough to fit it?


Nutella Filled Chocolate Hazelnut Dessert
In all reality, I'm pretty sure I'd just be embarrassed by how long an 11 lb jar of Nutella lasts me (or doesn't last me). 


Do you have a fabulous little Italian pastry shop or restaurant in your area? Do share! You never know, I might end up in your city and get a massive craving for a sweet Italian bite!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Whipped Cream: Where Did I Go Wrong? Common mistakes when making your own whipped cream



I was making dinner at a family reunion when one of my cousins approached the kitchen with a cooking question.

"So I was making whipped cream..."

I already knew where he was going with it. He couldn't get it to whip. Since there are a few common mistakes I went ahead and started my line of questioning.


1. What kind of cream did you try to whip? What did it say on the label?

Heavy Cream is your best bet for whipping. It whips easier and holds its whipped form better. Whipping Cream is only slightly misleading in its title. It contains slightly less fat content, but will still whip. It just doesn't hold its shape as well as Heavy Cream. Get anything else and it probably won't whip.


2. Had it been frozen and thawed?

Despite the many claims, tips, and tricks I've read, cream that has been previously frozen will not whip.


3. What kind of bowl did you use?

Glass or metal bowls are preferred when whipping cream. Copper bowls and plastic bowls can create problem with the chemical reaction. Crazy, huh? It's not impossible to whip cream in a plastic bowl, but it can be harder.


4. How old was the cream?

Fresh cream is easier to whip. I bought some fresh cream and it whipped in about 30 seconds. It was amazing! 



Whipping cream really is easy. Don't let a one-time failure deter you from whipping your own cream in the future. Take out that hand mixer, or put it in a stand mixer and go to town. If you really want an arm workout, do it with a whisk. Now that'll put some cooking chops on you!

There is no comparison to freshly whipped cream. It puts the cans and other imitations to shame. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fire Roasted Spaghetti Sauce From Scratch (Slow Cooker/Crockpot)



It's that time of year when you can get great deals on roma tomatoes. My family looks forward to these sales because they know it means I will replenish our supply of homemade spaghetti sauce. I found organic roma tomatoes for a steal of a deal so I knew it was tomato time. I utilize my slow cooker to make spaghetti sauce so that I don't have to leave a pot simmering for hours on my gas stove. Open flames + 2 crazy kids = nightmares for mom. Slow cooker seems to be used synonymously with fast/easy/not-a-lot-of-work. Don't let that fool you here, because if you want fire roasted spaghetti sauce then you are going to have to roast your tomatoes over a flame. You can't do that part in a slow cooker. What the slow cooker is great for is giving the sauce time to develop flavor. Now, don't let that scare you away because homemade spaghetti sauce is awesome. This recipe makes a huge batch. I'm talking you could probably sauce 8-10 lbs of pasta. Freeze it, can it, do whatever suits you for preserving this stuff and enjoy it for months. Soon your family will anxiously await those summer tomato sales so their own supplies can be replenished. 


Ingredients

10 lbs roma tomatoes 
1/4 cup olive oil
3 onions, diced
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon salt
3 tsp sugar
1 bunch fresh basil (about 25 leaves), chopped
1 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves


Instructions

1. Preheat an outdoor gas grill to high heat. Roast the tomatoes on the grill until skins begin to blacken and burst, turning so that each side gets cooked. Remove the tomatoes and set aside on a tray or baking sheet to cool a bit. Remove the peels and any inedible parts. 

2. In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat the olive oil and then saute the onion for about 5 minutes. Add in the minced garlic and saute for 1 minute more.

3. Transfer the onion mixture to a slow cooker/crockpot. Add in the peeled tomatoes, salt, sugar, basil, and pepper. Use an immersion blender to puree everything together until fairly smooth. (If you don't have an immersion blender then put everything into a blender or food processor in batches and transfer it all into the slow cooker). 

4. Add in the bay leaves and cook on low for 4-6 hours. Store in jars in the fridge if you will be using it within then next 1-2 weeks, or freeze it in quart sized freezer bags. Alternately, you can can it following proper canning procedures. 




Monday, August 12, 2013

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup


If you are looking for the best recipe for tomato soup, well then, you've found it. If you are looking for a quick tomato soup that you can just throw together, this isn't it. This soup is made with love. Each ingredient is treated with respect to bring out its best flavors. In the end, it's not that hard, but it sure isn't a soup you can throw together. The tomatoes that make up the soup are roasted whole, peeled, and pureed. The garlic is roasted. Chunks of diced tomato are roasted and caramelized. Fresh basil and whole cream are used. This is a recipe made with love, and the results are a tomato soup in its purest, most flavorful form. 

I have loved tomatoes since I was a little girl. We lived in a tiny 2 bedroom apartment in Anaheim, California. Our "backyard" was just a small patio that we somehow crammed a swing set into. I'm not joking, it was actually kind of funny. The swing set barely fit and you couldn't swing very high otherwise you'd hit the walls, but we loved it. It was a swing set of our own! Who cares if it had some inconveniences and challenges  My mom grew tomatoes in pots on that porch, cramming them in along the edges and corners. I remember eating tomatoes straight off those plants and falling in love. I must have been 4 years old. My parents started calling me the tomato queen, gobbling up tomatoes as fast as they would grow. To me, tomato soup is the crowning glory of the tomato. Everything about it accentuates that pure tomato flavor. It is my comfort food. It brings me back to being 4 years old, playing on a swing set where my feet hit the walls, unaware of the inconveniences and challenges of life, and loving every minute of it. I take my grilled cheese in one hand, my spoon in the other, and everything is right in the world once again. 


Ingredients

13 Roma Tomatoes
1 head garlic
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1/2 onion, diced
1 cup chicken broth
12 large fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream


Instructions

1. Take 8 of the roma tomatoes and put them on a baking sheet. Roast on an outdoor grill, or under a broiler until the skins are browning and bursting, turning them occasionally so that all sides get that way. Remove from the oven, let cool a little bit, and remove the peels.

2. Take the head of garlic and chop off the tips (that's the pointy side of the garlic bulb) exposing all the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil so that a little bit gets down into each clove. Wrap in aluminum foil and roast in a 450 degree oven for about 30 minutes. 

3. Meanwhile, take your remaining 5 roma tomatoes and dice them. Spread them out on a baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put them in the oven with the garlic and roast them for about 15-20 minutes until they start to caramelize. Remove them from the oven once done and set aside. 

4. While things are finishing roasting in the oven, put about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add in the diced onion and season with a little salt. Saute the onions for about 5 minutes until they become soft and translucent. Add in the chicken broth and skinned tomatoes. Bring it to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add in 6 of the roasted garlic cloves when they finish. Save the rest of the roasted bulb for something else tasty like some garlic bread. 

5. Remove from heat. Add in the fresh basil leaves, Use a handheld immersion blender to puree until smooth (or transfer to a blender to puree and return to the pot). Stir in the heavy cream and roasted diced tomatoes, taste, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve hot. 





Friday, August 9, 2013

Liquid Cinnamon Roll Syrup



I am about to share one of my very favorite recipes. We call it "liquid cinnamon roll." We use it on pancakes, waffles, french toast, and sometimes even as an ice cream topping. I'm sitting here thinking I need to make cinnamon rolls just so I can dip them into this syrup and then watch my head explode.  It tastes exactly like a decadent cinnamon roll fresh from the oven, lathered with a cream cheese frosting. It's easy to make and you can just store it in the fridge. But be careful, because you will never be able to look at that plain old maple syrup from the store the same way ever again. If you have ever wanted to try and make your own syrup, now is the time my friends. This stuff is ridiculously good!


Ingredients

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda


Instructions

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Use a much larger saucepan than you think you need because this mixture gets crazy when you add the baking soda. Whisk in the sugar, buttermilk, vanilla, corn syrup and cinnamon into the melted butter and bring to a boil. 

2. Once it reaches a boil, simmer for 2 minutes, whisking constantly.

3. Whisk in baking soda, and cook for 30 seconds before removing from heat. It'll foam up like crazy which is fun for kids to watch. The foam will go away after a few minutes. 

4. Let it cool, or serve it warm. It will thicken as it cools. Store it in a jar in the fridge.





Thursday, August 8, 2013

Freezable French Toast Using Challah Bread


If you haven't made french toast using challah bread then you have been missing out in life. I grew up eating french toast made from regular old sliced bread and thought it was fine. Hi mom! But then I grew up and had french toast made out of challah bread and I was blown away. Suddenly french toast wasn't just fine, it was amazing! And then I discovered how easy it was to make a ton of it at once and freeze it so I can just pop a couple pieces in the toaster or even microwave them in the morning and have gourmet french toast on the busiest of mornings. You will make this and wonder where it has been all your life. Even my husband, who was convinced that he didn't even like french toast, gobbles this stuff up and looks forward to eating it day after day. Give it a try, you'll be hooked!



Challah Recipe

Makes 2 Loaves

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups warm water 
1 tablespoon yeast
1/2 cup honey
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs 
1 tablespoon salt
8-9 cups flour
1 egg + 1 T water (egg wash)



Instructions

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm water, yeast, honey, vegetable oil, eggs, and salt. Add in the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing on a low speed in between. Mix until well combined and the dough is smooth and elastic. Add a little more flour if it is still sticking to the side of the bowl. The dough will be slightly sticky (you don't want a stiff dough), but it should be able to form a ball in the mixer. 

***You know how bread recipes call for a range of flour? For instance, this recipe calls for 8-9 cups. How do you know how much to do? And why can't they just tell you exactly what to put it in? Well, the actual amount you need depends on a variety of factors including the weather and humidity in your house. One day I may only need 8 cups while the next I may need 9. Crazy, huh? Always start out on the low end and add a little more if you find your dough to be too sticky so that it can't form a ball.***

2. Place the dough into a bowl that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Let rise for 1 1/2 hours.

3. Divide the dough into two loaves. For each loaf, divide the dough into 4 balls and roll into strands about 12 inches long (or 3 if you want to do a normal braid). Pinch the strands together at one end and braid doing a under 2 over 1 method of braiding. Once you reach the end of the strands pinch them together. Repeat with the other loaf. 

4. Place the braided loaves on a baking sheet covered with nonstick cooking spray. Let rise 1 hour. 

5. In a small bowl whisk together the 1 egg + 1 tablespoon water. Brush it over the loaves. This is called an egg wash. 

6. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes. Cool before slicing. 



French Toast Recipe


Ingredients

1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
7 eggs
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 Challah loaves, sliced thick


Instructions

1. Measure flour into a large mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in the milk. Whisk in the salt, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla extract and sugar until smooth.

2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat.

3. Soak bread slices in mixture until saturated. Cook bread on each side until golden brown. 






How to Freeze French Toast


Now that you've made your French Toast, let the slices cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Lay them in a single layer on a baking tray lined with wax paper. Freeze for a few hours and transfer them to a freezer quality bag. 

Reheat the French Toast by microwaving for 30-60 seconds (watch it carefully) or put it in a toaster. 



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