I miss my family an awful lot (they reside in California), and today I needed something to give me the comfort of home. So, I thought, spaghetti and meatballs it is. There are three things I do differently than my mother to give this dish my own special flare. One, I create my own pasta sauce (instead of using Ragu in a jar that my mother was so fond of using). The recipe of my sauce is one that I've learned from an old Italian friend, of which I choose to keep a secret. Secondly, instead of just using standard beef, I've decided to use ground pork and ground beef. While it may have a bit more fat that my mother's meatballs, the pork gives it a more rustic taste with lots of flavor. Thirdly, in addition to spicing the meat with bread crumbs, eggs, and ketchup as my mother does, I also give it some additional flavor with dried thyme, grated onions, parmasean cheese, salt/pepper and some minced garlic.
One thing that I MUST have with spaghetti and meatballs is a green salad with tomatoes and cucumbers. And one thing I do give my mom "kudos" for is her salad dressing. She is known for her dressing, and whenever she brings a dish to a potluck, that is her specialty. It's a very basic dressing with oil (olive or vegetable), red wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Simply delicious!
Later in the evening....Well, the meal was a success and I feel pleasantly full and satisfied. One thing I realized after using both ground pork and beef was that there was WAY too much meat for two people. So with about one third of the meat mixture, I made really small meatballs that I will serve at the Superbowl gathering that I am hosting this Sunday (in addition to other appetizers--stay tuned for what those will be).
I dedicate this meal to my mom:
I came across a couple of challenges. One, I was low on Hershey's Cocoa Mix and I supplemented the specified cup and a half with individual packets of fat free cocoa mix. To make sure it was "chocolately" enough, I used a tip that was mentioned in the reviews and added some chocolate chips as well.
The second challenge was that the bake time took longer than expected. After reading the reviews (this is great to do when first trying a new recipe--you can read how other people felt about the recipe and learn from their mistakes), some people said they had the same problems and had to cook it longer than asked in the recipe. Others said DO NOT OVERCOOK. This posed a dilemma, but I had no choice because after 40 minutes of baking, I put a toothpick in the center and the cake was still in semi-liquid form. So I baked it for about 55 minutes.
The cake looked great, but being that this was my first time making a bundt cake, I felt hesistant about giving it to someone without actually tasting it and making sure it was OK. So, I decided to use this cake as a tester, and try a piece of it. It's a good thing I decided to do that because after the cake came out, I read another tip in the reviews about taking the cake out of the pan before it cools so that it doesn't stick to the bottom. Well, the cake had already been sitting on a wire rack for an hour before I read that, so I took the cake out and part of the top did indeed stick to the bottom, even though it was sprayed and floured.
Still, the cake was very tastey and perfectly moist. The chocolate factor was just right. Another advantage to making this cake a tester was that I was able to give my friend a piece (whose birthday was today in fact). She LOVED the cake, and said it came out just right. Now, I feel confident that the next time I make it, it will taste right and hopefully look a little better than the first one did.
Here is a piece of my first bundt cake:
During my "hiatus" these past few days, I also dedicated my time to researching various cookbooks at the library. I checked out The Martha Stewart Cookbook, as well as Jaime Oliver's cookbook entitled The Naked Chef Takes Off (I also purchased a Paula Deen cookbook and The Bon Appetite Cookbook). Now, I realize that any reference to Martha Stewart these days is loaded with baggage and will inevitably lead to an ethical dilemma of whether to demonize this one-time domestic diva or not. But I am one to overlook people's flaws (because god knows we've all made some mistakes at one point or another) and recognize their talents. And Martha Stewart, convict or not, is indeed an amazing chef and artist.
So today, as I try to do every Sunday, I aimed to try one of Martha's recipes, particularly a soup because it has been FRIGID here in the Green Mountain state. But my husband, one who I also like to make happy with my cooking, said he was in a beef stew sort of mood. I was certain that we could reach a compromise, and low and behold, as I was flipping through Martha's cookbook, I came across a recipe for MUSHROOM BEEF BARLEY SOUP. It had a lot of similar components and ingredients as beef stew, but it also posed a challenge for me because I have never cooked with barley before. My husband was pleased, and thus, Martha Stewart Saved The Day!!
I won't go into detail about HOW to make the soup, but I will give you a list of the ingredients so you have a general idea of what it consists of: onion, mushroom, carrots, celery, parsnips, olive oil, beef stock, 1 bottle of beer, 1 lb beef chuck, thyme, barley, salt, and pepper. I pretty much kept on par with Martha's recipe except I subsituted celery for dill (my husband and I hate dill) and I only bought 2 quarts of beef stock instead of 3, so I added a little water to make up for the shortage of stock. I also used a bottle of Magic Hat's Seasonal Ale instead of a dark beer that was recommended, but it came out just fine.
The final product came out incredibly good, if I do say so myself. It was earthy, simple, and warmed out bellies...We have enough to last all week, which is my idea of the perfect Sunday meal. Here is a picture of today's recipe:
Hope you all have a great end to your weekends!
This morning, I assembled the first batch by scooping pieces with a mini-baller, and then rolled them into balls. I skewered them, and put them in the freezer to set. After a few hours, I dipped the balls in melted chocolate and rolled a them in chopped walnuts. I put them back in the fridge and, when it was time to meet my friend, I realized that they hadn't finished hardening. So, I took the skewers out and kept them as Cheesecake Bon-Bons. They tasted delicious all the same, and my friend LOVED them!
After my visit, I worked on the second and third batches. Instead of rolling them into balls, I cut them into slices and used shorter skewers (cutting the sticks in thirds). I let them freeze, and then dipped them in chocolate. This time, however, instead of putting them in the fridge to set, I returned them to the freezer. I also used chopped almonds this time, as well as graham cracker crumbs for toppings. I must say, the final product looked even better this time around.
So no real baking for me today ... just assembly. And hopefully my husband will be able to pawn some of these sinful treats off onto his unsuspecting co-workers!
As I perused the produce section, I recalled an episode of Barefoot Contessa, where Ina Garten put together all sorts of winter vegetables in a roasting pan, dressed it basically with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and just let them sit in the oven for an hour. It looked simple, hearty, and nutritious--just what I was craving.
So, I picked out some of my favorite vegetables to roast: carrots, onions, potatoes, eggplant, and brussel sprouts. Believe it or not, brussel sprouts are quite tasty when roasted and browned. (Note: I also used a suggestion that Alton Brown recommended when roasting an eggplant. He says to slice up the eggplant and pour a good amount of salt on them to drain any excess water. This way, when you roast them, they don't turn all mushy and soft. All my hours of watching the food network is paying off!)
I needed a protein to go along with my veggies. There were slim picking at the store I was at, but I settled on a rib eye beef round (cut specifically for oven roasting). To prepare the meat, I brown it on both sides. Then, I made a quick marinade of chopped garlic, dried thyme, salt, pepper, and olive oil. After it was browned, I brushed the marinade on the round, and stuck a thermometer in the middle. I cooked the meat in a roasting pan, along side the veggies at 400 degrees.
I must say that this meal definitely hit the spot. All the vegetables tasted so good together and the meat was cooked to my liking (I prefer rare, but I'm French so that's my excuse). As my subject heading says, nothing like a good meal to brighten my day.
The highlight of my day:
Today, I decided to make homemade pizza. Of course, that required making homemade tomato sauce. I have a pasta sauce recipe that I've used for years (at this point, I am going to keep this recipe under wraps). It basically consists of onions, green pepper, crushed tomatoes and some other top secret ingredients. In the case of pizza, I made my pasta sauce, but also added some fresh herbs and spices. After all, pizza needs some "pizzaz."
Making the dough was incredibly easy, especially with the Cuisinart doing most of the labor. First, I added 1 packet of active dry yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar to 1 and 1/4 cup of warm water. I let it sit and dissolve for a few minutes. Then, I added 3 and 1/3 cups of unbleached flour, 1 1/2 tsp. of kosher salt, and 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the working bowl of the Cuisinart. After I pulsed it a few times, I added the yeast mixture and processed it on the "dough" speed. It actually kneeded the dough into a ball. It was amazing to see it all come together with so little effort.
I heated up the oven to 170 degrees, and the turned it off, giving the dough a warm place to rise. I covered the ball of dough evenly with 2 tsp. of olive oil and put it inside a covered bowl. The dough sat in the warm oven for 45 minutes, and doubled in size. I then split the ball of dough in half, punched it out, and let the two pieces rest for another 10 minutes. Then, I rolled out the dough into a 12-inch pie, poured some of my homemade sauce and spread it around, leaving about an inch for the crust (I also brushed the crust with some olive oil.) I chose to add cheese to my pizza, while my husband decided to go sans-cheese (he wanted to enjoy the taste of my sauce he claims). I baked each pie on a baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal for 10 minutes in an oven heated at 500 degrees (I rotated the pan half way through, so it baked evenly) and voila--homemade pizza. It tasted wonderful, not too doughy, not too tough, just right.
Truly, if I knew pizza was so easy to make, I would have forgone the cheap stuff we ordered last week. Perhaps this is something I can make for Superbowl Sunday. Next time, I'll be sure to go crazy with some gourmet toppings and possibly splurge on a new pizza cutter and pizza stone.
Here is my first homemade pizza:
Believe it or not, I still found time to bake while I was staying with my in-laws. I baked a sweet potato and apple bread (they did not have walnuts, so I threw in some cut up apple pieces and it added a nice texture). It tasted a lot like pumpkin bread, but not as sweet. I found a new use for the sweet potato! Woohoo! I will definitely have to make it again, especially since I did not remember to take a photo of it.
In light of the funeral we attended, it made me want to reach out to my own grandmothers. My paternal grandmother, in particular, has had some serious health issues of her own. I've baked some things recently for her (she is a hard one to please, but I continue to try). Today, I asked what she thought of the banana bread I sent to her, and she said, "It was too rich, chocolate is more my thing." *Spoken in a thick New York accent* So today, I was determined to bake something with chocolate, yet at the same time, something not too rich.
So, I went with the two simplest, yet satisfying chocolate recipes I could think of 1) brownies and 2) chocolate chip cookies. I found a link to a recipe on www.cookiemadness.net called Katherine Hepurn Brownies (actually, this link was set to another link to epicurious.com which is one of my all-time favorite food websites). I figured if the recipe was named after someone from my grandma's time, perhaps she might like it more.
As for the chocolate chip cookies, I went with the standard Tollhouse recipe, which never has failed me before. The only thing differently I did was cut the recipe in half, since I didn't need 5 dozen cookies lying around. Both recipes were a success, but I have a feeling that my grandma might find the brownies too rich. Who knows...It's the thought that counts.
After being on the road for almost a week, I also made it a goal to cook a nutritious meal for my husband and myself. I went with a favorite Vietnamese dish of ours, one that I learned from a college roommate: sliced boneless pork chops marinated in soy sauce, garlic, pepper, sesame oil, green onion, and tomatoes. I cooked it up in a hot wok, and let it simmer for a few minutes. At the same time, I had some rice cooking in the rice cooker, and some broccoli cuts heated up with some soy sauce, sesame oil, red pepper, black pepper, and garlic powder. The meal hit the spot, and as Rachael Ray would say (albeit cheesy). "Yumm-o!"
Here are some pics of what I made today:
Katherine Hepburn Brownies:
Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies:
Vietnamese Dish of Pork, Green Onions, and Tomatoes:
But not today! After my morning baby yoga class (yes, it's true--a yoga class tailored for babies and their mommies), I was chilled to the bone due to all the snow I accumulated on my clothes during my trek to and from the class. I was starving, and after feeding my boy his delicious apricot and mixed fruit entree, I decided it was time to attempt making a semi-healthy, warm, comforting lunch.
So I opened up my fridge and what do my eyes spy? A SWEET POTATO! I'm not sure where you live, but right now in Vermont, sweet potatoes are a major trend. In lieu of just regular french fries, it is common to see sweet potato fries as the side dish to many meals at several local restaurants. And, as my blogger profile says, I never met a sweet potato I didn't like. Sweet potatoes after all are more nutritious, more colorful, and tastier than a plain old brown potato.
Thus, I cut up the sweet potato into small pieces, salted them, and quickly sauteed them in some vegetable oil until browned, and then finished cooking it in the oven at 400 degrees. Then, with the pan I used to saute the sweet potato, I cooked up some sunny-side-up eggs. And voila! A warm, tasty, 15 minute meal to brighten up my day.
On a rather sad note, I am sorry to inform you all that Annette Pockriss, Andy's grandmother whom we lovingly called Nettie, passed away this morning. She was an incredible woman who made lemonade out of lemons, and always had love to give to anyone she met. She will be sorely missed.
My family and I are leaving for Phili tomorrow, and I do not foresee any cooking until we return. So until then my loyal readers, have a great week and weekend!
I did a little research about the etiquette of funerals and appropriate foods to bring and this is what I found about Jewish traditions per http://entertaining.about.com:
"Jewish tradition believes in burying the body as soon after the death as possible, as a mark of respect. After the funeral, a seven-day period of mourning, known as sitting Shiva, is held at the home of the mourners. Friends and community members bring prayers, condolences and support. All normal activities are suspended in order for the mourners to fully concentrate on their grief, so that they will be better prepared to re-enter life at the end of this period.
The first meal upon returning from the cemetery is called the seudat havrach, which is prepared by friends and neighbors for the mourners. Traditionally, the foods include eggs and other round objects, symbolic of life, hope and the full circle of life to death.
Throughout the period of Shiva, friends and relatives bring food to the mourners to eliminate the need for them to think about preparing meals. Those closest to the family will organize dinner preparations for the mourners. Friends and acquaintances will often bring cookies, cakes, fruit and other food."
Granted, I doubt there will be a lack of food present at Andy's parents' home, I still feel the need to cook. After all, it's what I do to comfort both myself and my family during difficult times.
So today, my goal is to bake, bake, bake. I have thought of a couple staple recipes that I know people love: snickerdoodles, banana nut bread, and perhaps an apple cake. I'll update you at the end of the day and see what I actually end of doing (of course, this depends on my son, and how much time I will have to bake during his naps, etc).
Til then, Happy Eating!
Later that day...As it turned out, I picked a great day to bake because it snowed 6 inches here in Vermont, and I was unable to go anywhere with my 8-month-old son (thank goodness for baking or else I would have gone a little nutty). In between doing many loads of laundry, keeping my son entertained, and doing all the little things that most stay at home moms do, I was able to bake snickerdoodles and banana bread--both culinary staples in my household as mentioned before.
Yet, to mix things up, I tried a new recipe that I found on http://www.cookiemadness.net (thank you Sara for recommending this site!) called Chattanooga Chew Chews. I was drawn to this recipe not only because the picture of this dessert looked incredible, but also because I had all the ingredients in my pantry and did not have to go to the store (something you learn to take advantage of when you live in snowy weather). At first, I thought this recipe was for a certain type of cookie. Then as I was making it, I realized it was more like a fudge. I did substitute walnuts for pecans (we didn't have any pecans, and I tend to like walnuts better anyway with chocolate) and instead of using semi-sweet chocolate chips, I used a high quality chocolate (by See's Candy) for the topping.
Let me just say that the only thing Andy could say after the chocolate finally cooled was "You witch!" He did not say this because he really thinks I am a witch. But this treat was so rich and so unbelievably sinful, that I am beginning to wonder if it's appropriate to bring to a funeral...I'll have to sleep on it.
Here is a picture of the Chattanooga Chew Chews:
Today, I decided it was time to get over my fear of roasting chickens. I found a very easy recipe in Ina Garten's cookbook (AKA The Barefoot Contessa) and picked up the necessary ingredients to put it together. In addition, I also spoke to my grandmother (whom I call "Nanny") and asked her opinion on how she roasts a chicken. Aside from a few discrepancies between the two women, I figured it would be best to stick to Ina Garten's recipe, since it sounded much easier and quite frankly, tastier. Don't get me wrong--I LOVE my Nanny's cooking. Yet, I tend to refer to some modern and updated techniques that I learned from professional chefs.
So, first I cleaned out the chicken, and took out the giblets and took off any excess fat. I stuffed the chicken with a fresh cut lemon, a halved head of garlic, some salt/pepper, fresh parsley, and some dried thyme (since they didn't have any fresh thyme at the store, and anyway, it would have been costly to use fresh herbs anyway). Then, I buttered the outside, sprinkled the exterior with more salt/pepper, tied the legs together, and cut up an onion to put around the chicken. I put the chicken (see below for pictures) in an oven that was preheated to 425 degrees and VOILA! Just need to roast it for an hour and a half, carve it, and perhaps make the gravy that Ina Garten recommended...and we have one delicious roasted chicken (well, from the way it smells now and the sound of the sizzling, it certainly appears to be going well). I'll post another pic of the finished product later together.
Another goal that I accomplished today was to improve the vegetable soup recipe. For years, I have made this particular soup the same way using the same vegetables, and the same bouillon cubes to flavor the soup. Yet something really bothered me about the bouillon cubes--even though it was a very small part of the ingredients, it did have some partially hydrogenated oil in it. And in the back of my mind, I felt that it really destroyed the intent of what I wanted with the soup--to have a fresh, wholesome, and perfectly organic meal that I could always rely on and comfort me during sickness, cold weather, or just to feel good.
Sooo, I went on a mission today. While my baby was taking his morning nap, I hurried off to the store in the middle of a snow fall (as Daddy stayed home to watch the boy). I did some research at the store, and came across a product in the organic isle called "Better than Bouillon." It's basically a vegetable paste made from stewed vegetables, and has only organic and TRANS-FAT FREE ingredients. I prepped the soup exactly as I would, and then used this new discovery instead. Believe it or not, the soup came out pretty much the same, and perhaps even better. And aside from tasting great, I can now feel proud of this soup and feel good about serving it to my family.
Update: The finished product!
Now, in my experience as a relatively amateur baker, I've always followed recipes when it comes to baking things (cooking is another story, I LOVE to mix up recipes and rarely make the same thing exactly the same way except for my vegetable soup and pasta sauce). Yet since I just wanted something small, easy to make, and semi-low fat, I decided to venture off into the unknown and compile something that could be considered a crumble.
So I start peeling the apples--I decided only to use 2 since leaving no apples in our refrigerator is considered a SIN in my family--and came across a few challenges.
1) My baby woke up just as I was peeling the apples (RESOLUTION: lemon juice. Always keep a lemon or a small faux bottle of lemon juice in your refrigerator. It keeps produce fresh, and especially with unpredictable road blocks such as a crying child, it's good to have around).
2) At one point, I did refer to an old recipe for apple crumble. Granted, this was a much larger recipe and called for 6 apples. But at least it gave me some structure to follow. (REMEMBER: Have fun and experiment! Cut recipes in half, add ingredients you like or don't use them. Just remember that fear of failure leads to no action.)
3) Since I was attempting to make it a recipe for two, I tried using a dish that could hold a small amount of ingredients. As a result, I had to keep a constant eye on the bake time. I also had to add a little butter, since it was not browning as I would like. These are two lessons I've learned in my experience: you can always add more, but can't take away; and the first time for making anything is always a bit of a risk, yet it helps you build knowledge to build upon for future cooking adventures.
Following recipes can be a good way to self-teach. But you don't always have to do it a certain way. Research different recipes for the same meal or baked good, and see how different people do it. Read reviews for how it came out. Have fun with it, and don't be afraid to mess up. All cooks have had disasters in the kitchen from one time to another (one time I'll tell you about my "Grec- Mex experience"), but that's the easiest way to get better and learn.
Until my next cooking challenge...possibly pizza dough, and maybe I'll try some making some different types of soups....
The Mad Baker
After being a stay-at-home mom for the past few months, and dealing with ALL sorts of eating challenges such as the lack of time, lack of sleep, lack of appetite, and lack of options, I rediscovered my passion for cooking and baking food. I've always loved to cook, and have my grandmother to thank for providing me with the basic fundentals of tasty cooking (in addition, I've watched many hours of the Food Network, read several cookbooks and recipes online, and have experimented with all sorts of ingredients). Yet, there is something about being a mom that motivates you to carefully watch what you and your family are eating. At the same time, it brings a mother great joy to make foods that make your significant other and your kids go "Mmmmm."
So, over the past few months (after I started sleeping regularly again) I got back in the kitchen and continued my tradition of making healthy, hearty meals on Sunday nights--meals that could last all week. I realized that I was drawn to comfort foods that brought me back to my youth...My Nanny's vegetable soup, lasagna, mashed potatoes, etc. And then the holidays came, and I was called the "Mad Baker." And I went crazy in the kitchen making all sorts of cookies (black and whites, snickerdoodles, oatmeal raisin, rugula), cheesecakes, pies, bread (challah, banana, apple, pumpkin), soft pretzels, the works. And truth be told, I FELT INVIGORATED. I loved making people happy with my food. And, while I love being at home with my son, it gave something outside of "babyland" to think about.
We all have challenges whether it be a difficult work day, screaming kids, a sickness, aging parents, dietary restrictions, etc. I started thinking, "How amazing would it be if I provided families with homecooked meal or snacks--including foods that are nutritious, affordable, comforting, and pleasing to the appetite?" I would be doing a service by cooking and baking to individuals families that need some warmth at the end of their day.
So I sat down the other day, and wrote up a business plan. Below are some objectives that I came up with:
*To personally cater meals to individuals based on their specific tastes and dietary needs.
*To create meals that include all 4 food groups, with as little processed ingredients as possible,
*To make life easier on those who cannot help themselves or do not have the time to make healthy, home-made meals for themselves or their families.
*To make comfort foods that are affordable, nutritious, and good for the soul.
*To provide meal and snack options for all types of individuals such as picky children, pregnant women, those who are "on the run," those who have certain dietary needs, those who have a poor appetite yet still need to eat...
*To have these meals delivered to your home for your convenience.
Since I started thinking about this small business plan, the ideas have been flowing left and right. I've been researching recipes, reviewing notes from past cooking experiments, and brain storming on healthy foods for all occasions. I will, of course, let you know what these ideas are in the near future. Yet for now...I am going to continue to brain storm and take this one day at a time.
Fixing up some latkes for my family.
My New Years Eve Spread: brisket with carrots and my homemade tomato sauce, creamy mashed potatoes, and savory green beans with toasted almonds.