Monthly Archives: April, 2012

Paprika Oven Fries

French fries are just great comfort food. They can be a great accompaniment, snack, or even a dinner depending on your mood (I like mine dipped in a Frosty when I do them as a “meal”). Part of what makes them so good is that they’re fried – how can anyone deny that fried food tastes great?! It’s just not so great for your waistline.

At home, I make oven-baked fries all the time. They’re a lot cheaper than buying the frozen ones, taste better, and in general healthier.

My husband is not a big French fry fan – he’ll eat them, but usually only to help fill him up if his main course didn’t satisfy him. These, however, he will make sure are completely scarfed down! No leftovers whatsoever!

In this recipe, I leave the potato skin on, but if that’s not how you like your fries, there’s no harm in peeling the potatoes!

Hands on time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45-55 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Russet potatoes
  • Cooking spray (something like Pam)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Like a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
  3. Wash and cut potatoes in long slices no thicker than 1/4 inch.
  4. Place potatoes on prepared baking sheet.
  5. Spray potato slices with Pam.
  6. Sprinkle potatoes with salt and paprika.
  7. Bake for about 35-45 minutes.

Chicken and Tomato Pasta Pesto

If you have ever met my husband and I, you would know that we are kind of an odd couple – he’s tall, I’m short, he served in the military while I served in the Peace Corps. This extended into food – I was the foodie and cook and he was the one that really didn’t care so long as his stomach stopped growling.

One evening, not long after we got married, I was working late and asked him if he could fix dinner – chicken with pesto pasta. He was a little nervous, but had watched me cook it before and said “Sure thing! But I’m not taking responsibility on how it comes out”. I told him I’m sure it would be great. I gave him directions over the phone and by the time I got home, dinner was cooked and looked wonderful. He was beaming with how well he did and I was so excited for him.

Today, my husband knows his way around the kitchen really well and even likes to help me fix dinner! We go back and forth though if it was this dish or me putting blind faith in him that boosted his cooking confidence (I say the meal!).

Ingredients:

  • Salt
  • 1 lb rotini pasta
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of pesto

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, put in enough water to fully cover all the pasta.
  2. Add in salt so that the water tastes like the ocean.
  3. Bring the water to a boil and boil the pasta for 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is al dente (soft but not soggy).
  4. Meanwhile, season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Grill them until done – about 10 minutes.
  5. When pasta is done cooking, drain and place pasta back in the large pot or a bowl.
  6. Add pesto and thoroughly coat the pasta.
  7. When chicken is done, cube chicken into bite sized pieces.
  8. Add chicken and tomato halves to the pasta and mix throughout the pasta.

Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onion and Ham Pizza

Pizza is such a great comfort food. In my household we usually eat the frozen ones as a backup meal on days where we are just too tired to even think about cooking. However, the other day I thought I would treat my family to a really good, homemade pizza.
The best part of doing a homemade pizza is that you get to pick whatever toppings you want to have – allowing you more variety than what you can get in the grocery store or restaurant. This evening’s pizza comprised of caramelized onions, goat cheese, and ham. I used the pizza dough recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, but you can use any pizza dough recipe or use a store-bought dough (my family really likes the ones Trader Joe’s makes if you want my two cents).

This particular pizza turned out so well that my husband confessed that he’s not a fan of goat cheese on pizza, but this time he really enjoyed it! So much so that when I tried to save my daughter a slice of the pizza to try the next day for her lunch or dinner, he said it was too bad she was already in bed and he swiped it! Poor girl is just going to have to wait until the next time we fix this recipe – but now I know I have to do it for lunch to make sure she gets some!

Hands on time: 20 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe of pizza dough or store-bought pizza dough
  • Corn meal
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced into half rings
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 3-4 oz of plain goat cheese, crumbled
  • 4 oz of ham or Canadian bacon, cut into bit size pieces
  • 6 or so thin slices of mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to specified temperature for your recipe or store-bought pizza dough.
  2. On medium-low heat, heat a small skillet or frying pan with the olive oil.
  3. Add onions and salt and stir every so often until the onions become tender and turn a caramel color – about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, roll out the pizza do on a surface dusted with cornmeal. Once it’s to the size you like, carefully transfer the dough to a baking sheet.
  5. Place the marinara sauce in the center of the dough and spread around the pizza.
  6. Add the ham, onions, and goat cheese. Then add the slices of fresh mozzarella.
  7. Bake pizza for approximately 8-10 minutes.

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

The other week was my daughter’s first birthday. I agonized over what flavor cupcake I would want her to have – lemon or carrot. I decided to go with carrot cake for her actual birthday and do lemon for Easter when her cousins came to visit. And wow – did I get a good lesson! I should have switched my choices as I now know that lemon seems like it might me too adult a flavor for kidlets (unless you’re my daughter, who loves just about everything!). Things you learn as you become a more experienced parent I suppose!

This is the first time I used another blog’s recipe. I found this one on My Baking Addition. To be honest, I thought the cupcakes turned out just ‘ok’ in my opinion. The flavor was great – fresh, lemony, and not too sweet or tangy. However, the cream cheese frosting could have used a dash more lemon flavor, perhaps adding some lemon zest to the frosting would have done trick.

The texture of the cupcake was what made my overall opinion of this recipe just ok. The cupcakes reminded me of the essence of a lemon flavored angel food cake, but with a lot more density – think a dry pound cake consistency. They just weren’t as light or airy as my family likes. I am kind of wondering if it might be due to only using egg whites versus the whole egg – but that wouldn’t make sense considering that angel food cake is very light and airy.

Even though I know baking is a science and precise measurements are needed, I still made a couple of variations to this recipe. I may be a relatively new baker, but I don’t believe my variations should have changed the texture of the cupcake. I’ve notated those minor changes in the recipe below.

So to those more experienced bakers, what is your trick to guarantee a light and airy cupcake?

Hands on time: 45-60 minutes (includes decorating cupcakes)

Total time: 2 hours (includes cooling time for cupcakes).

Makes: 24 cupcakes and a lot of left over cream cheese frosting!

Ingredients for Cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk (I made sour milk – 1 1/4 cup milk, 1 Tbsp and 1 tsp (or 4 bottle-cap fulls) white vinegar and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • lemon zest from two lemons
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract (I used the juice of the two lemons I zested instead)

Directions:

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees.
  2. Place cupcake liners in the cupcake tray (sometimes I double them up so the outer wrapper looks pretty).
  3. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk and egg whites.
  5. In mixer bowl, put the sugar and lemon zest and rub the ingredients together with your fingers until sugar is moist and fragrant.
  6. Slice/break apart butter and add  it to the lemon sugar.
  7. Using the the paddle attachment, beat sugar and butter together at medium speed for 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
  8. Beat in the lemon juice and add one-third of the flour mixture. Beat mixture together on medium speed.
  9. Add half of the milk-egg mixture and half of the remaining dry ingredients until combined.
  10. Beat in the rest of the milk and eggs until thoroughly combined.
  11. Add the last of the dry ingredients.
  12. Replace the paddle attachment with the whisk attachment and mix the batter for 2-minute beating to ensure that it is well mixed.
  13. Place the batter into the cupcake tins.
  14. Bake for about 20 minutes – a toothpick placed in the center of the cupcakes should come out clean.
  15. Take tins out, and let cool for about 10 minutes or until the metal is cool enough to handle with bare hands.
  16. Remove each cupcake and allow them to cool on a wire rack.

Ingredients for Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 2 (8) ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 2 lbs. confectioners’ (powdered) sugar (I only used 1 lb or about 2 cups – plenty sweet for us!)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • juice of one lemon

Directions:

  1. Using a hand mixer on medium speed, blend the butter and cream cheese together.
  2. Place about 1/2 to 1 cup of powdered sugar to the mixture and combine (start on low and gradually work the speed up to medium).
  3. Mix in vanilla and lemon juice.
  4. Repeat step 2 until the icing is as sweet to your taste (for my family, this equates to about 2 cups or 1/2 a bag of powdered sugar)

Quick Tip – Buying Cheese

Perhaps the most undervalued piece of advice about cooking is to start with quality ingredients. By getting really good ingredients, you tend to get more flavor and freshness making your meals taste a look better. But you don’t want to break the budget either by buying nothing but gourmet items.

Cheese is one of those items that can go back and forth – depending on the way the cheese is marketed it can seem really affordable or have that gourmet price tag. The problem is with the word “marketed”.

When I started cooking, I didn’t realize how much a cheeses’ flavor and quality can change depending on the way I bought my cheese. I would know that I needed to have some shredded or grated cheese for a dish I was cooking and saw that there was a bag of pre-shredded or grated cheese on sale for a few dollars – a lot more reasonable sounding than the $8.00 for the 1-2 lb cheese block, right? Plus it had the added benefit of having that work done for me.

What I later found out doing research and price comparison is that my “convenience” cost me more money per ounce of the pre-prepared stuff and sacrificed a lot of the cheese taste. If you can take the extra two minutes to prepare your own cheese from a wedge or a block, it will be cheaper and really help make your dish sing!

Thai Style Stir Fry

When I was still in high school, my parents allowed me to leave for a year to study abroad in Thailand. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences.

My host family was from the northern part of Thailand in the village of Chae Son, located just outside the city of Lampang. The village is way off the beaten path – an agricultural area where the Hmong people live and is home to the Chae Son National Park which has waterfalls and hot springs. I truly felt I lived in paradise.

My family was the local pork butchers. While my host parents were at the market selling pork, my host sisters would teach me some fantastic Thai dishes. Over time, we started to have a friendly rivalry go on with how spicy we could eat – and we would always try to out-do each other.

One time when we all sat down for dinner, we heard my host mother give a small shrike! When we asked her what was wrong she told us that we took our spice competition too far and that she couldn’t eat what we cooked – oops! When that story made its way around the village, I became known as the foreigner that could eat better than Thai spicy, and it helped me gain a little more acceptance as another resident and not just that strange visitor from America.

My time in Thailand is one that I look back to fondly. I love that I was able to learn from my host sisters how to cook authentic Thai food or at least recreate the flavors.

This stir fry doesn’t contain all the typical vegetables that you would normally find in Thailand, but it has the essence and flavors that remind me of my time in Chae Son. The best part is that you can add or take out just about anything in this dish so long as you keep the flavor enhancers in here like the fish sauce, soy sauce, basil, onion, garlic, and lime. You can also make it as spicy (or not) as you like it!

Hands on time: 30 minutes

Total cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Jasmine rice (any white rice will do, but Jasmine is the best for Thai cooking)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 3 eggs
  • Fish sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 lb broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can bamboo shoots
  • 1 can water chestnuts (if whole, quarter them)
  • 3-4 Thai chili peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 large bunch of basil
  • Juice of 1 lime

Directions:

  1. Poor the rice into the pot or rice cooker. Rinse rice until the water is clear. Add about another cup or so of water to the pot (water should be double the rice – or if the rice hits my finger’s first knuckle, water will reach my finger’s second knuckle).
  2. Turn on rice cooker or place pot on high heat until the water boils, then turn down heat so water simmers. Cover the rice and cook for about 20-25 minutes until rice is tender and there is no more water.
  3. Place vegetable oil in a large skillet or frying pan. Heat on medium eat.
  4. Add onions and sauté until tender (about 3-4 minutes).
  5. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
  6. Add meat and cook until browned.
  7. Add all the eggs, some fish sauce and soy sauce (about a tablespoon each). Scramble the eggs until cooked and throughout the dish.
  8. Add the broccoli and red bell peppers, thoroughly combine with meat and cook until tender.
  9. Add bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and Thai chilies. Saute until heated through and thoroughly mixed into the dish.
  10. While the last of the vegetables are cooking, chiffonade the basil (do this last so the basil doesn’t bruise and look ugly).
  11. Add basil and lime juice, mix throughout.
  12. Serve pork stir fry on top of rice.

Salmon in Puff Pastry

One of my husband’s favorite types of fish is salmon. I usually bake it in tin foil with some salt, pepper, olive oil, capers, and onions – or some version there of. After a while, I got bored with this “standard” and wanted to jazz up the fish. So I came up with this version of Salmon in Puff Pastry.

When my husband tried it for the first time, he loved it! Now, when he sees salmon or puff pastry in the grocery bags, he always asks if we’re going to have this dish for dinner.

In my opinion, the best part about this dish is that it looks impressive and difficult but is actually very fast and easy. You can make it during the week or serve it to guests if you want an “awe” factor.

Hands on time: 10 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup crème fresh
  • 1 Tbsp of fresh chives
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 sheet of puff pastry (thawed)
  • 2 salmon filets (about 6 oz each)
  • 1 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare a baking sheet with either tin foil and some cooking spray or parchment paper.
  3. In a small bowl, combine crème fresh, chives, and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. On a floured surface, with a rolling-pin, roll out the puff pastry until you can wrap each filet in the pastry.
  5. Cut the pastry in half.
  6. Place each salmon filet about 1/2 an inch away from the edge of the puff pastry.
  7. Drizzle each filet with olive oil and season with some salt and pepper.
  8. Spread a layer of the crème fresh mixture on each filet.
  9. Pull the opposite edge of the pastry over the salmon to “wrap” it. Press down to seal each seam.
  10. Trim to remove any excess pastry (make sure to leave at least 1/4 inch of the seams) to make all the sides even.
  11. [Recommended] For decoration, press a fork down around the seams.
  12. Brush the egg on the top of the pastry
  13. Gently lift each salmon pocket off the floured surface and onto the prepared baking sheet.
  14. Place the salmon in the oven for about 30 minutes or until crust is flaky and salmon is fully cooked.

Cilantro Pesto

As someone who cooks with a lot of herbs, I always have extra in the house! To avoid throwing away herbs that may spoil, I make pesto. The oil helps to preserve the herbs and the sauce freezes nicely if I don’t want to use it any time soon.

One of my favorite pesto sauces is made out of cilantro, which happens to be one of my daughters favorite flavors as well! Typically, pesto is made from basil, but I love the twist that cilantro provides to this classic sauce. It’s also quick and easy sauce to put together, which is a bonus for all busy parents!

This sauce can be used in a multitude of ways – use it on pasta, as a marinade, or as an alternative to marinara sauce on pizza! Pesto highlights the herb rather than having it as a background note, making it a great way to enhance just about any meal.

What’s your favorite way to have pesto?

Note: As this sauce contains nuts, make sure you know your child is not allergic before serving a dish that has pesto.

Hands on time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 cups of fresh cilantro (give or take)
  • 2 garlic cloves quartered
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2/3 cup walnuts
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon

Directions:

  1. Wash the cilantro thoroughly – it’s best grown in sandy conditions, so be sure to rinse all the dirt and sand off well.
  2. Place cilantro, garlic, Parmesan cheese, walnuts, some salt, and some pepper into a food processor. Pulse several times until everything is finely chopped (about 7 or so pulses).
  3. Turn the food processor on and drizzle in the olive oil
  4. Stop and taste the pesto. Adjust salt and pepper to your taste and add lemon juice.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

I am one of those whose food preferences changes with the season – I love hearty warm dishes during Winter, but I crave things that are light and crisp during the Summer. In the Spring, it’s often hard to predict what would “feel” right as there are warm days but warnings of frost in the morning for the DC area.

One of my family’s (yes baby too!) favorite dishes to make during those fickle days and nights are stuffed bell peppers. You get the best of both worlds: the fresh vegetables with the heartiness of a meatball with marinara.  It’s a fast dish to put together and the meat mixture easy to adjust to particular palates. The meat seasoning is also how you like it. We prefer things to be very herby with only a minimal amount of salt. But you can adjust the seasoning to please your palate best! Before you bake the peppers, just cook up a little of the meat in a fry pan to see if you like it’s flavor.

This is truly one of those great in-between seasonal type of dishes. We usually serve our stuffed peppers with either some dinner rolls or a baked potato.


Hands on time: 10 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 cloves garlic minced or crushed
  • 1 small onion grated
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp of Italian seasoning
  • 1-2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 3 bell peppers (any color)
  • 2 cups of marinara sauce
  • 6 1/4 inch slices of fresh mozzarella

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine the beef, egg, bread crumbs, garlic, onion, basil, oregano, parsley, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper in a medium-sized bowl.
  3. Spray a 13 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray
  4. Half, de-stem, and deseed the bell peppers.
  5. Stuff each bell pepper with about 1/6 of the meat mixture
  6. Pour the marinara sauce over the stuffed peppers
  7. Place one slice of mozzarella on each pepper.
  8. Bake for about 50 minutes or until the inside of the meat reaches 165 degrees.
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