Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lemon Gnocchi with Spinach and Peas

It's been a pretty crazy week with Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday services, oh, and midterm exams. So when this gnocchi didn't get made for dinner on Wednesday, I ended up making it for lunch on Thursday because I really didn't want the spinach to go bad. This was an incredibly delicious meal full of flavor. I could have eaten much more of it, but I stopped myself.

For Lent, I've chosen to go pescatarian. It's something I've been tending towards more and more, and being mindful of how animals raised for food are often treated, not to mention the meat industry's impact on the environment, I want to keep that in mind and tread lightly on God's creation. So my blog will have many more pescatarian/vegetarian-friendly meals coming soon! It will also be a good challenge for me culinarily as I try to keep both Joe and myself interested and not revert to pasta every night.

Anyway, whether or not you're pesca-/vegetarian, I think you'll love the flavors in this dish. The lemon gives it a light, bright taste, and the cream makes it silky on the tongue. The crushed red pepper gives it a little punch that contrasts nicely and adds some excitement to the dish. Plus, did I mention it's really easy to throw together?

Lemon Gnocchi with Spinach and Peas
adapted: Epicurious

  • 1 cup frozen baby peas (not thawed)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 cups packed baby spinach (3 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • lemon juice from half a medium lemon
  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan

Simmer peas with cream, red-pepper flakes, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a 12-inch heavy skillet, covered, until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add spinach and cook over medium-low heat, uncovered, stirring, until wilted. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and juice.

Meanwhile, cook gnocchi in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 quarts water) until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain gnocchi.

Add gnocchi to sauce with cheese and some of reserved cooking water and stir to coat. Thin with additional cooking water if necessary.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thick Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

My standard breakfast has become oatmeal with raisins and sliced almonds, so I knew I would love these cookies that popped up on Smitten Kitchen in addition to having all the ingredients in my pantry. While my dad loves oatmeal chocolate chip pecan cookies, I'm a big fan of oatmeal raisin cookies. I was baking a cake for a bake sale benefiting Second Harvest Nashville, and when it didn't turn out well, I was a little distraught. I knew I barely had time to make something else, let alone run to the store, when I remembered these cookies.

Sure enough, they turned out wonderfully, and I even kept about a dozen for our own personal consumption. You may remember that I made oatmeal raisin cookies before. These are much better. They're crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. There are plenty of raisins too, and the chilling step makes a big difference. I only had them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, but they turned out beautifully! This will be my go-to recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies from now on. You can also halve the recipe if you don't want so many cookies laying around.

Thick and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
source: Smitten Kitchen
Yields 4-5 dozen tsp sized cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)


Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Stir this into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the oats, raisins and walnuts, if using them.

At this point you can either chill the dough for a bit in the fridge and then scoop it, or scoop the cookies onto a sheet and then chill the whole tray before baking them.

The cookies should be two inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake them for 10 to 12 minutes (your baking time will vary, depending on your oven and how cold the cookies were going in), taking them out when golden at the edges but still a little undercooked-looking on top. Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for five minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Giada's Lasagna Rolls

So this is a picture of the leftovers, which don't look as appealing as the original, so you'll have to use your imagination.
Imagine you're hosting your church supper club, and you spent the afternoon leisurely preparing a double batch of these lasagna rolls while your amazing husband cleaned the house and put together a killer playlist. The candles are lit, and the conversation and the wine are flowing. The timer goes off, and you pull out two trays of delicious lasagna rolls. The bechamel sauce is bubbling, and the cheese on top is perfectly browned.

Then, 10 minutes later, you all tuck into your plates overflowing with lasagna rolls, mixed green salad with feta and blueberries (courtesy of a supper club member), and focaccia. The blend of noodle and stuffing with the marinara and bechamel sauce mingles perfectly. And it looks so elegant, these little mini-lasagnas. Everyone compliments you, and you have plenty of leftovers.

I had these on my to-make list for a little while and was waiting for the perfect opportunity. I'm now convinced that this is the perfect supper club entree. Because everything was prepped before my guests arrived, all I had to do was pop the trays in the oven. And it looks so nice without requiring a ton of effort or fancy ingredients. I omitted the prosciutto because we had a vegetarian in our group, and I honestly didn't miss it. These lasagna rolls are not really a weekday meal because they require quite a few steps, but for a weekend or having company over, they're perfect!

Giada's Lasgna Rolls
source: Food Network

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg

1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1 large egg, beaten to blend
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for salting water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
12 uncooked lasagna noodles
2 cups marinara sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella (about 4 ounces)


To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes.
Whisk in the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk the sauce until it comes to a simmer and is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes.
Whisk the salt, pepper, and nutmeg into the bechamel sauce.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Whisk the ricotta, spinach, 1 cup Parmesan, prosciutto, egg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl

Add a tablespoon or 2 of oil to a large pot of boiling salted water. Boil the noodles until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Arrange the noodles in a single layer on a baking sheet to prevent them from sticking.

Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Pour the bechamel sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish.

Lay out 4 lasagna noodles on a work surface, then spread about 3 tablespoons of ricotta mixture evenly over each noodle.

Starting at 1 end, roll each noodle like a jelly roll.

Lay the lasagna rolls seam side down, without touching, atop the bechamelsauce in the dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles and ricotta mixture.

Spoon 1 cup marinara over rolls and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Cover tightly with foil. Bake until heated through and the sauce bubbles, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top becomes golden, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining marinara sauce in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until hot, and serve alongside.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tomato Basil Soup

Growing up, my parents didn't cook very much, so we had a slew of restaurants that we did take-out from, one of which was La Madeleine, a chain of French bistro-type food. For a long time, I always got a cup of their tomato basil soup and spinach quiche. Their tomato basil soup was pretty famous, and eventually they started selling it in jars at nearby grocery stores, but it was never quite the same as what you got in the actual restaurant.

When I saw this recipe on Liz's Cooking Blog, it reminded me of that La Madeleine tomato basil soup, and I thought it would make a perfect weeknight meal along with some grilled cheese sandwiches (though it would also pair nicely with a quiche!). I thought it was the closest thing to the La Madeleine tomato basil soup that I had tasted in a while. Pureeing it with an immersion blender or carefully in an upright blender would make it more similar.

It was delicious and very quick to make. You can make this healthier by using milk and less butter, though I think the taste would suffer a bit so go ahead and splurge a little. It makes a fair amount, so for two, you could even half the recipe. I used a combination of fresh and dried basil because my basil plant is producing smaller leaves right now.

Tomato Basil Soup
source: Liz's Cooking Blog

  • 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 14 ounces vegetable broth
  • 18 fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • grated or shredded Parmesan, for garnish

In a large saucepan, bring the tomatoes and broth to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add basil and sugar. Reduce heat to low; stir in cream and butter. Cook until butter is melted.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Simple Salmon, Sauteed Spinach, and Smashed Spuds

On Wednesday, we get our grocery store circulars in the mail, and I was pleased to see that fresh salmon fillets were on-sale. Usually fresh fish is a little out of our budget, but I thought I might splurge a little bit. Since I was getting fresh fish, I decided to do a very simple presentation. I rubbed the fillets with olive oil, salt, and pepper and topped them with thin lemon slices. Then I baked them in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes. I served this with sauteed spinach and smashed red potatoes. All in all, I spent under $10 for the two of us, and it was a nice change of pace from our usual dinners.

Flax and Sunflower Seed Bread

I've been on a hunt for a good whole-grain bread ever since the recipe that came with my bread machine proved to be disappointing. One of my favorite sayings is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, which was exactly what I had been doing with the whole wheat bread recipe that came with my bread machine. Then, someone on my cooking board pointed me in this direction. I overcame my fear of flax, bought some sunflower seeds in bulk at the grocery store, and made some bread.

This is exactly the recipe I've been looking for because it reminds me of the kind of bread I used to buy at the grocery store, with a lot of texture. I had to add a little more flour during the second kneading cycle, but it turned out perfectly. I plan on using it for sandwiches later this week, but our first taste of it was as toast with a breakfast of cheesy eggs and turkey bacon on Sunday morning. This will definitely be my go-to bread recipe from now on.

Flax and Sunflower Seed Bread
source: AllRecipes
Yields 1 1.5 lb loaf

  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/3 cups whole wheat bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Put everything except the sunflower seeds in the bread machine in the order specified by the manufacturer. Select basic white cycle, and press start. When the alert sounds for the second kneading cycle, add the sunflower seeds. When finished, let cool 5 minutes in pan and then remove to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chocolate Guinness Cake and Valentine's Day Menu

For the past several years, Joe and I have passed on expensive dinners out on Valentine's Day in lieu of making something nice at home. Last year's Valentine's Day ended at the pet neurologist with a half-paralyzed cat, so we were hoping that this year would be a little better. I planned out a menu but neglected to take pictures of anything except the cake before we polished it off.

Valentine Day's Menu
Pan-seared bay scallops over linguine with a tomato cream sauce
Roasted Asparagus
Garlic Cheddar Biscuits
Becker Vineyards Viognier
Chocolate Guinness Cake

Since I had some Guinness leftover from the Guinness Beef Stew, this cake that popped up on Annie's Eats blog seemed like a natural choice. I had actually been debating between several desserts including a chocolate chunk bread pudding with Kahlua in it, but there is something about a cake that seemed nice for Valentine's Day. It turned out so moist and flavorful. The Guinness-chocolate combination is incredible, and the frosting complemented it nicely.

I had a few minor problems: I don't have a springform pan, so I used a regular 9-inch cake pan, and it overflowed in the oven. Nothing caught fire though. I also took it out a little early, and the center sank a bit, though it was nothing a little frosting couldn't fix!

Chocolate Guinness Cake
source: Annie's Eats

For the cake:
1 cup Guinness beer
10 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 cups superfine sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda

For the frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese (no need to soften)
5 tbsp. butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour the sides of a 9-inch round springform pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. In a small saucepan, combine the Guinness and butter. Heat over medium heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the cocoa powder and sugar.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sour cream, eggs and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the Guinness mixture to the bowl and mix until incorporated. In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of the mixer and mix on low speed until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes back clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Once cooled, remove the sides of the pan.

To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer. Cream on medium-high speed. Add the powdered sugar to the bowl in batches, beating on low until just combined and then on high speed until desired consistency is reached. For a stiffer icing, add more powdered sugar. Frost cooled cake as desired.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Black Bean Tortilla Casserole

This is certainly not the most gorgeous looking meal out there, but it's a quick, delicious one. I've been subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly sneaking more and more vegetarian meals into our weekly menu repertoire, and this was a big hit. The spice from the Ro-Tel (the only kind of canned tomatoes with green chiles for me) and the salsa added a lot to this, and Joe really liked the creaminess from the cream cheese. I would not substitute flour tortillas for the corn tortillas. The corn tortillas really add a lot of flavor and texture. I sprinkled mine with cilantro and served it with half an avocado.

Black Bean Tortilla Casserole
source: Reading, 'Riting, and Recipes via Cooking This and That
Yields: 4 servings


1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 10-ounce can Rotel tomatoes
1 cup picante sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed (I used 1 1/2 cups soaked and cooked dry beans.)
4 ounces cream cheese (I used reduced-fat.)
5 corn tortillas (7-inch), cut in half
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey, Pepper Jack, etc.)

In large skillet sauté onion until soft. Add tomatoes, picante sauce and cumin and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in beans and heat through. Add cream cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat.

Spray bottom of a 8 x 8 baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/3 of bean mixture on bottom of pan, topping with a layer of tortillas (five tortilla halves) and half of cheese. Then another layer of bean mixture, tortillas and bean mixture. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with sour cream, lettuce and guacamole as desired.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tuscan Lentils and Sausage

There seems to be some kind of conspiracy between me and a few other food bloggers because I keep seeing the same dishes pop up that are on my to-make list. Maybe it's just that great minds think alike. More probable, I think it's that we have similar taste in food and try to eat relatively healthy most of the time. Both Cara at Cara's Cravings and Liz at Liz's Cooking Blog are always making delicious food, and it's practically a guarantee that if I make something from their blogs, I'll like it.

This meal was no different. Cara originally made it Tuscan, although she wanted to try it with balsamic vinegar but had run out. Liz then made it with balsamic vinegar. I prefer the Tuscan flavors and had some hot Italian turkey sausage to use up, so I adapted Cara's original recipe. Those yellow things in the picture are yellow lentils, not corn! As expected, this was a great flavorful recipe. I almost always have lentils and spinach in the house because they're so adaptable and cook quickly, so this didn't require too many extra ingredients at all.

Tuscan Lentils and Sausage
adapted from Cara's Cravings


1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of minced garlic
about 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
about 3/4 lb hot Italian turkey sausage
14oz can diced tomatoes
pinch of dried basil
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry lentils
3/4 cup water
5 oz fresh spinach, roughly chopped

Heat a saucepan over medium-low heat and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Squeez the sausage out of its casings and cook, crumbling with a spoon until no longer pink. Add the onions and cook for about 5-8 minutes, until softened. Add garlic, crushed red pepper, basil, salt and pepper and saute 1-2 minutes more. Add the lentils, canned tomatoes, and water, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. Add spinach and cook 10 minutes more, until spinach is wilted and lentils are tender.

Nutritional Info
Servings Per Recipe: 2
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 335.5
Total Fat: 7.1 g
Cholesterol: 97.5 mg
Sodium: 1,600.8 mg
Total Carbs: 37.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 15.4 g
Protein: 37.1 g

Pasta with Asparagus and Mushrooms

Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables, and when I saw it was on-sale last week, I made plans for a meal based around it. Usually, I roast it because that's how Joe likes it best. In fact, roasted asparagus was one of the first vegetables that Joe admitted he liked. However, it isn't usually very cheap, so it seems like a special occasion when I get it.

This pasta is deliciously simple and surprisingly flavorful. It really lets the flavor of the asparagus shine through. You can adjust the amount of red pepper to your liking, and the parmesan cheese is crucial, so use the good stuff. If you wanted to, you could also add grilled chicken, though I might suggest adding more pasta because the vegetable to pasta ratio is pretty high.

Pasta with Asparagus and Mushrooms
source: Cheap Healthy Good


1 to 1-1/2 pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped (I used baby portabellos.)
8 ounces thin spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Salt the water and cook pasta according to package instructions.

2) Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Saute asparagus in the pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add chicken broth and mushroom slices; cook 4 minutes more.

3) Drain pasta, and transfer to a serving dish. Gently toss pasta with asparagus mixture, parm, and crushed red pepper. Flavor with salt and black pepper to taste.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chewy Coconut Cookies

Since I'm trying to use up some of the ingredients in my pantry, including a random bag of coconut, these coconut cookies were ideal. I'm a big fan of coconut in baked goods, and these cookies were the perfect balance of buttery, chewy, light, and crisp. I neglected to read how big they were supposed to be (1 tsp), so mine ended up quite a bit larger. Chances are that you also have most of these ingredients in your kitchen, so they're perfect for whipping up on a whim. I love how the coconut got a little brown and toasted on the top!

Chewy Coconut Cookies
source: Delicious Meliscious

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C.) Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually blend in the flour mixture, then mix in the coconut. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly toasted. Cool on wire racks.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Moroccan Braised Chicken with Garbanzos and Dried Fruit

Whenever I find a slow-cooker recipe that doesn't call for cream of something soup or grape jelly, I get very excited. Lately I've been using my slow-cooker pretty frequently because both Joe's and my schedules have been insane. Even though this recipe took more prep work than most slow-cooker recipes, it's worth it for the fresh, bright flavors. The spice combination is different from what I usually cook with, and I enjoyed it a lot. I also have a real weakness for dried apricots, so I didn't need much of an excuse to buy them for this dinner. You could eat this on its own as a kind of stew, or I served it over couscous. With the couscous, there was enough for three people.

Moroccan Braised Chicken with Garbanzos and Dried Fruit
source: Cara's Cravings

1 small onion, diced
1/2 of a red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup drained, rinsed garbanzo beans
4 dried apricot halves, cut into quarters
2 tbsp golden raisins (I used regular raisins that I had in the pantry.)
1 cup fat free, reduced sodium chicken broth
1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground ginger
pinch of cloves
pinch of cayenne pepper
freshly ground salt, to taste
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into chunks
1 tbsp corn starch
fresh chopped cilantro, for garnish

Place onions, peppers, chickpeas and dried fruits in crockpot. Combine all seasonings and toss with the chicken; add to slow cooker. Pour in the broth and cider vinegar, and stir to combine. Cook on low for 6 hours. Stir together corn starch with about 1 tbsp water, and add to crockpot mixture. Turn heat to high and cook for about 20 minutes more. Serve hot, garnished with cilantro if desired.

Nutritional Info
Servings Per Recipe: 2

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 397.7
Total Fat: 3.6 g
Cholesterol: 131.5 mg
Sodium: 537.0 mg
Total Carbs: 31.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.4 g
Protein: 57.0 g

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Guinness Beef Stew

I'll go ahead and admit that I'm a bit of a lush, and, like Erin, I love adding booze to food. So when I saw this Guinness Beef Stew on Laure's blog, I knew that I had found the beef stew recipe for me. Apparently it's been the coldest winter in a few years around these parts, so there is nothing quite like coming home after walking across campus in the frigid dark sleet and having a warm, comforting dinner ready for me to dig into. This stew is definitely hearty, and the thyme and Guinness give it a great flavor. Stew meat has also been on-sale at my grocery store, so I think I'll stock up until winter is over!

Guinness Beef Stew
source: Vintage Victuals


4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1.5-2 lbs. boneless beef chuck, cut into 1" pieces
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 large or 2 medium onions, roughly sliced
1-2 baking potatoes or 5-6 red potatoes, roughly chopped
3 large carrots, coursely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 16-ounce Guinness
1 tablespoon Worchesterchire
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 15.5-ounce can low-sodium beef broth or stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Clean the beef and pat it dry. In a bowl toss your stew meat with the remainign 2 tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle with flour, salt, and pepper, tossing to coat all pieces. Arrange the meat in a single layer in the heated skillet. Cook just until the pieces are browned on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Note that the meat will still be raw on the inside.

Meanwhile, toss all of your veggies into the crockpot. Pour the Guinness and Worchestershire sauce over the veggies, sprinkle the thyme on top, and drop in the bay leaf. When all your meat is browned, pour it into the crockpot, too. Return the skillet to the stove and pour in the can of beef broth. Stir in the tomato paste, and use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits on the bottom of the pan into the broth. This not only saves you some cleaning time but also ensures that you don't lose any of the flavorful bits left behind in the pan!

Pour the broth mixture over the contents of the crock pot. Season with salt and pepper, and gently stir everything together to mix thoroughly.

Put the lid on the crock pot, and cook on low for 6-10 hours or on high for 4-6 hours. Meat should be very tender (falling apart, melting in your mouth) and veggies should be fork tender (and wonderfully cooked in the broth). Remove bay leaf and adjust the seasoning before serving, adding additional salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with mashed potatoes, rice, egg noodles, or some hearty bread.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Turbo-Charged Brownies with Praline Topping

Oh wow. Look at all that delicious praline topping. Do you say pray-leen or prAH-leen? Joe and I have an argument going on that. I'm from Texas, so I say pray-leen. He went to college in New Orleans, so he says prAH-leen. Anyway, I grew up on pecans (the state tree of Texas!), and we even had a pecan tree in our backyard, so I love anything that calls for pecans. They're even better all mixed in with butter and sugar on top of a delicious fudge-y brownie.

When I first saw this recipe, I knew it would be perfect for two things: 1) using up the pecans and heavy cream I had left and 2) Super Bowl dessert. We went over to our friends' the C's to watch the Super Bowl game and eat chili and drink beer. They have a killer sound system and TV, and Mrs. C and I definitely share foodie interests. I thought these brownies would go over quite well, which they did. They're also kind of addictive, so watch out.

Turbo-Charged Brownies with Praline Topping
as seen on Dinner and Dessert


3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (I used light brown sugar.)
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Praline Topping
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespon vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 9 x 13 inch baking sheet with foil, leaving several inches hanging over the short ends of the pan. Grease the foil with butter or cooking spray.

In a large metal bowl set over a pan filled with 2 inches of simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has completely melted. Stir in both sugars. Add the eggs and vanilla all at once and stir until the batter is smooth and shiny. In a small bowl, combine the espresso powder and the boiling water; stir into the brownie mixture. Stir in the flour and salt.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it evenly. Bake about 30 minutes, or until the brownies have just begun to shrink slightly away from the sides of the pan. Do not overbake; the brownies should be slightly wet inside. Cool completely while making the praline topping, about 1 hour at room temp or 15 minutes in the freezer. Leave the oven at 350.

To make the topping: Arrange the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 5-7 minutes, until golden brown and aromatic. Break the nuts into large pieces.

Combine the cream, brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in a 2 1/2 quart saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until the mixture is smooth and the butter has melted. Bring to a slow boil; boil without stirring about 6 minutes. (If the mixture starts to boil over, you’ve set the heat too high. Turn the burner down a notch.) Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool about 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla and pecans. Pour the topping over the cooled brownies, spreading it with a knife or spatula to cover evenly.

Let the topping cool at least 15 minutes at room temp. Lift the brownies, still in the foil, out of the pan and cut them into pieces.

Pasta with Hot Sausage, Peppers, and Broccoli

Somehow I ended up with a bunch of pasta in my pantry, probably from buying it on-sale, but since we don't eat a lot of pasta, it sort of piled up. I was browsing through Mary Ellen's pasta tag for something that would be quick and flavorful for a solo Friday night dinner, and this caught my eye. I multiplied the original recipe by 1.5 so I could use the whole box of pasta and have some left over for weekend lunch.

I also got to go grocery shopping at the brand-new Publix that opened up near my part of town since I was over that way for an interview. I love their produce, their service, and their meat. This turkey sausage was delicious, and this is the kind of meal where you want to use the best ingredients because there aren't very many of them.

Pasta with Hot Sausage, Peppers and Broccoli
source: Mary Ellen's Cooking Creations

  • 1/2 lb short pasta
  • 1/2 lb hot Italian sausage, casings removed and chopped into 2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 c dry white wine
  • 1 head broccoli, chopped into small florets
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 3/4 c low sodium chicken broth
  • Approximately 1/2 c shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Put water on to boil for the pasta.
  • Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pan
  • Add sausage and start to crumble it with your spoon as it cooks; about 10 minutes.
  • Add onions and garlic, stir
  • Deglaze pan with white wine, scraping up brown bits
  • Add broccoli and red peppers; stir
  • Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and let sit.
  • Add chicken broth and stir; let simmer for about 8 minutes
  • Add some of the cheese
  • Add pasta and the rest of the cheese; toss to coat

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Asian Short Ribs

It's been pretty cold around here lately (though today it's almost 60 degrees!), and there's nothing better for me than coming home late from school, not having to cook, and still enjoying a warm, hearty meal. This winter I have a new appreciation for my slow-cooker since it's my first real winter since I lived in Michigan. I also love how moist it keeps meat. The ribs were falling apart at the touch of a fork, but the carrots weren't mealy or floppy at all.

I didn't use a head of cabbage, but I had some leftover bagged coleslaw, which I used in its place. I ate this meal plain, but you could serve it over a bed of brown rice if you wanted more complex carbohydrates. This is a great slow-cooker meal for those who eschew processed foods but still want the convenience of coming home to a fully-cooked meal.

Asian Short Ribs
source: Real Simple

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 beef short ribs (about 4 pounds)
4 medium carrots, peeled and halved crosswise
1 small green cabbage (about 1 pound), quartered
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced (optional)


In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper. Add the short ribs and carrots and arrange in a single layer. Lay the cabbage on top.

Cook, covered, on high for 5 to 6 hours (or on low for 7 to 8 hours), until the meat is tender and easily pulls away from the bone.

Transfer the cabbage, short ribs, and carrots to plates. With a large spoon or ladle, skim the fat from the cooking liquid and discard.

If the slow cooker is on the low setting, turn it to high. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water until smooth. Whisk into the cooking liquid and cook until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil. Spoon the sauce over the short ribs and vegetables and sprinkle with the scallions (if using).