grandpappy’s damn good eggnog

eggnogThe crazy work madness is over (allowing me to settle into routine work load) so I’m celebrating with a drink! Actually, this post originated as a Facebook discussion, but this eggnog is just so good, I had to share it with the masses. You know you’re in good hands when it’s a grandpappy’s recipe. Unfortunately, it’s not my grandpappy’s recipe (Something makes me suspect neither of my grandfathers – one Thai and the other, a Christian missionary – were too much into eggnog. But you never know.), it’s someone else’s grandpappy’s recipe that I just happened to Google when my parents asked for eggnog after Thanksgiving dinner. (And by asked, I mean they suggested in wistful tones that it would be lovely to have eggnog and wasn’t it a shame we hadn’t picked some up at the store, and I volunteered to make it with what we had to save us from such despair.) This recipe, which you can find here, looked like the best of what I could find – and man, was it ever! My family is insisting this be a new tradition to include with the rest of the holiday fare.

And by holiday fare, I suspect they mean any meal and/or without a meal on special days that you need such a pick-me-up. Like on days ending in “day”.

So in such holiday spirit, I feel I should share the wealth.

In the spirit of the public good, I should also draw your attention to the fact that there is a very good reason the recipe begins and ends with a disclaimer about “drinking responsibly” and designating someone responsible (read: more sober than you would be should you drink this) to drive your drunk ass home. Or be smart like us: drink this in the comfort of your own home, where the longest, most dangerous commute is from the living room to your bed. Or couch. Or wherever you happen to land.

Because the recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of rum AND one and a half cups of bourbon. Ahem. It’s good stuff.

I made 8 servings, which basically called for:
4 fresh eggs
1/2 c. of sugar (separated into (2) 1/4 cups)
1/2 c. of rum (I used Myer’s dark rum)
1 1/2 c. of milk
1 1/2 c. of bourbon (I used Woodford reserve for about half of it and Chivas for the rest because I didn’t want to use up all the good stuff)
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
and nutmeg to serve (This part is important!)

Easy Instructions:

  1. Separate eggs into yolks and whites in separate bowls.
  2. Beat egg-yolks with 1/2 of sugar, set aside.
  3. Beat egg-whites until stiff, then mix in other 1/2 of sugar.
  4. Pour the yolks into the whites and mix together slowly.
  5. Stir in rum slowly.
  6. Stir in milk slowly.
  7. Stir in whiskey slowly.
  8. Stir in 1/2 of cream slowly
  9. Whip rest (1/2) of cream and fold in carefully.
  10. Serve at room temperature and sprinkle nutmeg on the top.

Cyril K. Collins sure knew what he was doing. This stuff is super rich and creamy (so, not the healthiest drink calorically…but who’s counting? Not me.). If you take care to blend it smoothly, it goes down super nicely. I hate when you can taste the layers of different drinks like in a poorly made Irish coffee. Bleah, no thank you. But this one? Smooth as a baby’s hind-ang.

And alcoholic enough even my hubby stopped at one. And my hubby can pack the alcohol away.

Of course, my mom had two servings in one sitting, so there you go.

But then, I don’t recall whether she did do more than sit after that.

What I really want to do is make some of this again this weekend. And then take some of it and put slices of good bread in it to soak overnight and in the morning, take a fat slab of butter and maybe some cream cheese and jam and fry up the best stuffed French toast ever made on this beloved planet.

Baba Ghanoush!

(Why does that sound, in my head, like Lucille O’Ball crying out “Baba lou!”)
baba_ghanoush

Ok, so I promised that I would give you three taste tests last week and only did two because I am a slacker was swamped with work. So this one is a little late. But it’s yummy! And makes for a great appetizer/hors d’oeuvres dish for parties! Did I mention parties? Because we’re not getting into holiday party season yet are we? Oh yes, we probably are.

And this is a dish we can all pretend is healthy because it involves vegetables. And olive oil. Olive oil is healthy – and good for your skin! (Can you tell I’m going on little sleep here?) Plus, I’m sure you’re looking for a way to use up all those eggplants, right?

Right, so. I got this recipe from Pioneer Woman, because, you know. She’s amazing and we love her.

And I started with these lovely babies.
baba_eggplants

Her recipe called for 3 medium-large eggplants. These babies are from the farmer’s market and were about as big as they came. So I used four of them. I would recommend doing about 4-6 eggplants if they’re on the girth-challenged side. If you get a little too much, it’s okay, ‘cuz a little extra eggplant never hurt anyone.

I pricked them with a fork and stuck them in the broiler. And in case you’re wondering, she isn’t kidding when she says to shrivel and blacken the heck out of those guys. It took nigh on an hour under my crappy-ass sucky stupid little broiler. (And I pricked them good, I promise!! You can see that in the picture, right? I don’t know why I’m getting all insecure about the prickage of my eggplants.)

Then I got a little happy with the tahini sauce, which I don’t recommend because whooo-ee! tahini is strong. (This, incidentally, is why a lot of eggplant is good – just in case you, like me, get tahini-happy). I put about 4 1/2 tablespoons of it in, but remember I had the itty bitty eggplants. Mine also looked more paste-like than hers did, so maybe the type I got was stronger? Moral of the story: add a little first and taste. Don’t go all whole hog (whole tahini?) unless you’re sure. So I had to overcompensate with the lemon to tone it down. I put about 2 whole lemons worth in – which turned out to be fine; just made it nice and tangy.

Plus garlic. Mmmm, lots of garlic. Kosher salt, minced parsely, and olive oil…mmm, can you smell it yet? SO GOOD.

Then I served it up with oven-warmed spinach & garlic pitas from the IV Food Co-op.
baba_plate

Manna from the heavens. It goes well with just about any type of bread, pita or tortilla. Or crudites. Or scooped up with your finger. Whatever. I’m not saying I’d do that…just, you know, if you did, it’d probably taste good. And I wouldn’t judge. I should have chosen a more exciting background for these photos to give the baba ghanoush the attention it deserves, but I couldn’t wait. I was too excited to eat it up to care about such high-minded things as photo backdrops.

Survey says: ♥♥♥ +1/2 It’d be great for either a dinner party, potluck-type thing, or a special multi-course dinner where you want to impress your guests. It would also work well as leftovers when you’re by yourself in front of the TV and are too lazy to cook and all you can think to do is grab the bread and dip it in any thing runnier than bread. At least the meal would have a minimum of two colors in it.

Rating System:

♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

creamy tomato basil soup with homemade breadsticks

tomatosoupbreadsticksWait, don’t go! Are you still here? I promise this is worth it! I’m not a fan of tomato soup, and my husband likes it even less. I’ll at least eat cioppino and bouillabaisse. He’ll only eat the mussels out of the bouillabaisse. But this tomato soup is fantastic! I think the trick is in the creamy bit and the basil bit. Are you also frightened of the homemade breadsticks bit? Don’t be. I don’t make my own bread from scratch either, but this is totally doable.

And soooo worth it on a cold night, when you just want something warm in your belly. Or on fancy nights when you want to impress your guests with a first course of soup.

I got both the creamy tomato basil soup recipe and the breadsticks recipe from one of my favorite recipe websites, Our Best Bites. They also have an amazing corn chowder. You should check it out.

I would start with the bread sticks. Their instructions are pretty easy to follow, but the bread needs time to rise, so it’s good to give yourself plenty of time for this. The only thing that I came across that I would do differently next time is that in their recipe they have you butter and season the bread sticks with garlic and salt, etc. after they’re baked. I’m not sure why they have us do this. When I did it this way, it seemed the seasonings all fell off too easily. Since the baking time is not that long, I would try buttering and seasoning them before putting them in the oven to help the seasonings stick better to the dough. I use garlic powder, kosher or sea salt, parmesean, oregano and a tiny bit of rosemary.

See? I covered the sh*t out of these babies. But here you can see the seasoning all fell off:
breadsticksBut they are soft, hot and delicious.

(I tried the cinnamon and sugar option, but I wasn’t totally convinced. I think for it to work, you would need a bit of icing like the kind you use on cinnamon rolls. YUM. Santa Barbara peeps: Woodstock’s cinnamon pizza anyone??)

For the soup, the recipe calls for 2 cans of diced tomatoes. I used 1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes, and then used the equivalent amount of fresh, chopped tomatoes I got from the Farmer’s Market. These tomatoes are so sweet and flavorful, I think they add a bit of extra yumminess. I followed up the recipe with a healthy dose of cayenne because we like our food with a little kick, and topped it with real, fresh grated Parmesan and basil leaves. (Hint: I used a vegetable peeler to get those nice, thick slices of Parmesan.) SO GOOD.
tomatosoup

The process is a little time consuming, but the results are dynamite! Especially if you use fresh ingredients for the soup.

Survey says?
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal! And by special I mean: dinner party with friends, romantic dinner with hubby, or any time you just need some warm lovely goodness in your belly. In fact, I’ve made this meal twice in the last three weeks – kind of saying something given the time involved.

Happy Hallow’s Eve everyone!

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Rating System:

♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

After trying this baby out, it quickly became a go-to meal.
Over-used Recipes Swap

pumpkin pie brownies

Wanna know how to make these yummy creatures?
pumpkinpiebrownies_doneI’d been getting some complaints that I haven’t been doing any taste tests lately. So this week, you’ll not get just one…you’ll get THREE new taste tests. Starting with this baby. Pumpkin pie brownies.

I came across a website with a recipe for vegan pumpkin pie brownies and I was all over that. I had grand visions of baking a batch and entering it into the bake-off for the IV Co-op’s County Fair yesterday. If you clicked on that link, you’ll see what they were supposed to look like.

This is what they actually looked like:
pumpkinpiebrownies_sploogeFAIL. See that splooge? My brownies ain’t pos’d to have no splooge. They tasted alright…but they were gooey. And messy. And I was grumpy.

And I couldn’t let it go either. I dreamt about them. I tossed and turned over them. And woke up this morning determined to make it right. Because I’m religious when it comes to my cooking and I’m pretty sure pumpkin pie brownies deserve to be discovered properly.

I thought about it, and I really think this is something that should be fairly easy, but there are a couple of key principles one must follow to ensure moist yumminess that is not splooge-ville. When I made the first batch, I thought the pumpkin pie mixture was waaaay too runny. I think the real problem was that the recipe called for far too much milk. So that’s problem number one.  They also took almost double the time to bake compared to what the recipe called for, so that was problem number two. I think that can be fixed by first fixing how wet the mixture was, and then, by knowing what to look for to know when they are done.

I think it can be done properly with just about any brownie recipe and pumpkin pie recipe. So vegans can use the recipe link above, but maybe adjust as I discuss below here. But to emphasize how easy this can be, I went to Trader Joe’s and got a brownie mix and a can of pureed pumpkin. (And some chocolate for drizzling.)
pumpkinpiebrownies_ingredientsAnd basically, I just followed the recipes on the brownie box for the brownie layer and the pumpkin can for the pumpkin pie layer. So even if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s, you can get these items from just about any grocery store and do the same thing. Just keep those principles I mentioned in mind!

Instructions
I preheated my oven to 350 degrees. (The brownie mix called for 350, the pumpkin can called for 375. I chose the lower amount because I wanted to make sure it cooked evenly through and didn’t char the edges too much, even if baking might take longer. Note: I used a square 8 x 8 brownie pan. If you use a rectangular pan, you can get the thinner brownies and maybe even lessen the cooking time.) I lined my pan with wax paper and lightly greased the paper.

Brownie Layer
Following the box instructions, I mixed 2 eggs, 1 stick of butter (melted until creamy – about 1.5 mins. in the microwave), and the brownie mix. I poured it all into the pan, and with a spatula, spread it out into an even layer.

Pumpkin Layer
Following the instructions on the 15 oz. can, I mixed the pumpkin, 2 eggs, 3/4 cup of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a pinch each of: cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. (I added more spices than the can recommended. I like my spices.) I whisked it all up until it was smooth. Now, the can said I should use 1 cup of heavy cream and 1/2 cup of whole milk. Heck no! said I. I had on hand some fat-free half and half (And no, I don’t really understand how you get fat-free half and half. I just nod and smile at the wonders of technology). You could probably use regular half and half, evaporated milk, or whole milk just as well. How much did I use? Just 1/4 of a cup. No way, right? Way. It was just enough to make it thinner than custard, but not liquidy, runny splooge. Don’t want no splooge, remember? This is what the consistency looked like:
pumpkinpiebrownies_thicknessCan you see up in there? If you run your finger along the edge of the mixture (and taste it), you’ll get a nice clean edge. If you pull out the whisk, you’ll form some super soft peaks. Thinner than custard. But not super liquidy. So principle #1: Don’t let the pumpkin mixture get too runny.

Then I poured this very carefully over the brownie layer, enough to cover the brownies as it’s spread out, but still leaving a thin brownie edge around the sides. Like this:
pumpkinpiebrownies_edgeI did not use all the pumpkin mixture. I only used about half. I think if I had used a larger, rectangular pan, I probably would have used just about all of the mixture. That’s probably a good idea if you want them to end up half-brownie, half-pumpkin pie. These end up more like 3/4 brownie, 1/4 pumpkin pie.

Then I popped it into the oven and baked them at 350 for about an hour. I would say, start checking on them around 45 minutes. This is where principle #2 comes in. Be sure to bake them long enough you don’t have any splooge – but of course not too long so you end up with super dry brownies. The pumpkin layer helps keep them moist so they can bake longer than they might normally, but still you want to keep an eye on it. I would say it probably takes between 50 minutes to 65 or 70 minutes, depending on your oven and the thickness of your brownies.

This is how you know they’re done: The pumpkin layer should look firm – doesn’t jiggle a bunch. No belly-dancing pumpkin shimmies here. And when you stick a knife in the center, you can tell the pumpkin is set and the knife comes out fairly cleanly. Don’t get paranoid and over-bake them though because they do set a bit as you let them cool.

When they’re done, just pull them out of the oven and let cool for a couple of hours outside on the counter. (But away from nosy dogs and prying husbands.)

When they’re about done, remember that bar of chocolate I had you get? Pop a few bars of it in the microwave for about a minute to melt. Stir the melted chocolate up with a spoon and carefully (or flamboyantly – whatever) drizzle chocolate over the brownies. Cut ‘em up in bite-size morsels and serve.

pumpkinpiebrownies_tadaTA DA! Look! No splooge. Just moist, rich yummy goodness. When you’ve finished consuming them (with milk, in the bathroom, in the dark, hiding your gluttony from your husband), hop on over to the stair-master because when I say rich, I mean RICH. If only these were currency on Wall Street….

My rating:
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!

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Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Chunky monkey banana cream pie – iced!

cmbcpieAre you not already hooked on this pie? Because if you aren’t, then you should be. Unless you’re allergic to nuts and dairy. And even then, you still might be good friends with this pie (perhaps served with Benadryl because it is that worth it).

It has been a long time since I did a taste test, and to be honest, I hadn’t totally planned to do this one (hence photos of the process are lacking). But this week’s You Capture challenge is food, and so I thought I might as well kill two monkeys with one pie.

For this taste test, I followed Our Best Bites’ recipe for Chunky Monkey banana cream pie, which to me sounds like all kinds of amazing goodness. Peanut butter. Bananas. Cream. Pie. Did I mention peanut butter? Pretty much my go-to favorite comfort food of all time. Plus, they promised easy. What more could a girl ask for? And I consider myself a fair hand at baking…so what could go wrong with a pie that doesn’t even require actual baking?

Well.

So the recipe calls for Jell-o pudding packets. The ones I found in the store specified vanilla pudding and pie filling. Had to be the right ones, right? Mayhaps not. The Best Bites recipe said to mix the pudding with cold water. The package said to mix with boiling water. I went with the recipe because they’ve never steered me wrong yet. I figured, well, maybe it requires different methods for this recipe. (Possibly bad decision here.)

Then, for the chunky monkey varietal, they specified to use Oreo pie crusts. And me, I’m all about the Oreo. Ralphs, where I went shopping? No, apparently they are only fans of the graham cracker. So I had to buy graham cracker crusts – partially because I was too lazy to try another store. But I was quite certain that hint of chocolate flavor was necessary for optimum monkey chunk. So what did I do? I grabbed me some Hershey’s cocoa powder from the cupboard, poured a spoonful on the crust and rubbed it in with my fingers. (Pretty sure this was a good decision.) So my graham cracker crust came with a chocolate layer.

So I followed the recipe. Made lovely peaks with the cream. Blended peanut butter in beautifully with pudding. Allowed to set. But then, as I was folding the pudding mixture in with the cream mixture, I noticed my pudding mixture was distinctly runnier than theirs appeared to be. I was not so much folding it as I was scooping and smooshing…and oh, what the heck, kind of stirring it. Pudding had apparently not gelled as much as it should have. Mild panic began to set in at this point.

But I stubbornly persisted. Ignoring the fact that my pies might be doomed, I continued compiling them as if nothing is wrong and then placed them in the fridge to chill. And then checked on them every 15 minutes thereafter like a deranged mother hen to see how they are progressing. At an hour, they did not look much better. Recipe says they must stay in for several hours. So I continued to ignore the panic and prayed they would gel.

They did not gel. I had stupidly made grandiose promises to friends that I would have a pie for them that evening, and it was quickly time to meet them for dinner. In a last fit of desperation, I stuck it in the freezer, praying I would not be serving our friends chunky monkey banana cream soup, and simultaneously petrified said pie might explode in freezer.

At dinner, however, I warned our friends the pie might end in tears. Such good friends they are, they promised chunky monkey banana cream soup is probably lovely anyway.

We got back home, and I gingerly removed the pie from the freezer, took off the lid…and TA DA! Chunky monkey banana cream pie – ICED! Which translates to: chunky monkey banana cream pie ice cream. Which might possibly be even better than just plain ol’ pie, and is most certainly manna from the heavens.

cmbcpie_slice

Verdict? ♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night! (Except I probably won’t because I do like fitting into my jeans.)

Success! I am definitely having this again. I am so committed to it, I’m going to try it again doing the pudding part the way the package suggests. And even if the pie does turn out perfectly, I shall put it in the freezer because it is just that good cold.

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Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Cinnamon-Nutella and Coconut-Raisin Cookies

I really wanted to make some cookies as a gift for friends, but we’re on a bit of a tight budget lately, so I tried to scrounge around the kitchen for something I could make with just the ingredients I happened to have on hand. What did I come up with?
Coconut, raisins, and nutella. What the heck was I gonna make with that?

I figured coconut and raisins would go well together and nutella could probably stand on its own. So I went to a recipe for cinnamon cookies, which I thought would make a good baseline recipe for my little treat experiments.

I should probably take a minute to explain my style in the kitchen a bit. My mom owns a Thai restaurant and was trained by the chefs for the King of Thailand. So let me just say she knows her stuff. I grew up helping her in the kitchen and she doesn’t go by such silly things as “measurements”. Pshaw. She was taught to know something is right by how it smells. I’m no where near her league, but being her daughter, I learned to cook by sight and smell. So discussing recipes for cooking in terms of precise measurements is a bit difficult for me. My measurement system consists more of scientific terms like: “some”, “a few splashes”, and “until it smells right”.

But when it comes to baking, I’ve always followed recipes religiously because baking does seem to require more precision. Which, funnily enough, is why my mom can’t bake. Her pineapple upside-down cake is only upside-down ‘cuz that’s the only way she can get it out of the pan. With the help of a hammer. And a lot of sweating and a rapid stream of Thai expletives. So the family – in a fit of self-preservation – calls on me at Christmas time to deliver the baked goods. And for that reason, I follow baking recipes down to every last 1/16th of a teaspoon. The fact that I’m experimenting with baking recipes is actually me going out on a serious limb here.

Anyway, back to cooking.

Ingredients:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup sweet butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ brown sugar

Add ins:
about ¼ – ½ cup nutella
½ cup raisins
¼ cup shredded coconut

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Sift flour, salt and cinnamon into a bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, cream butter until soft. Add white sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat eggs and vanilla together, then stir into the butter-sugar mixture. Mix well, then stir in the dry ingredients. Add brown sugar and mix thoroughly.

[Interesting side note: The baseline recipe I used to launch my experiment called for only 2 cups of flour, but this produced a mixture so wet it reminded me of the time I worked at a B&B and was making chocolate chip cookies for a busy weekend. I got distracted by the phone and ended up with only half the flour I was supposed to have, leading to a chocolate-buttery splooge instead of proper cookies. Being busy and not a little panicked, I scooped it up into little bites and sprinkled powdered sugar over it, and smiled nonchalantly as the guests gobbled it up. Goes to show: add enough sugar and butter and you can't go too far wrong with what people will eat. However, for this recipe, there was no way the sticky mess would roll into a decent log, so I doubled the flour and added a little brown sugar and salt for good luck.]

4. Spread out a generous handful of flour on a rolling mat or cutting board. In the bowl, knead the dough into a ball and cut roughly in half. Take one half and roll out into a ¼”-thick rectangle (I think mine was about 9 x 12” in size.) – orienting it with one of the longer sides facing you is probably easiest.

[Another note: a superb rolling pin is a MUST in any baker's kitchen. Anything less is like showing up to the Preakness with a mule.]

Using a butter knife, carefully spread a thin layer of nutella across the dough, trying to get as close up to the edges as possible. Then very carefully, take one of the longer ends and begin to roll the whole piece into a log. The first bit takes a little bit of coaxing, but it goes fairly smoothly if you’re delicate with it. Wrap the log and stick it in the freezer to chill until hard to the touch (about 45 mins – 1 hour).

5.Take the bowl with the other half of the dough and knead in the raisins and coconut.

6.Grease two cookie sheets really well. Scoop spoonfuls of the dough and roll each like a ball between your palms until smooth and round.
Place them at least an inch apart on the cookie sheets and bake about 15 minutes or until the edges just start to turn brown. This will leave them crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

7.When the nutella log is ready, pull it out of the freezer. Unwrap the foil, and with a sharp knife, cut the log into ½”-inch pieces. Like so:
Place them about an inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheets (I just reused the ones from the coconut raisin cookies, without washing them in between because I was lazy to get the perfect amount of grease.).
Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until the edges start to brown. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields about 18-20 coconut raisin cookies…
and 32 cinnamon nutella cookies.

Survey said:
YUM! These make really cute, decorative cookies, and being a little less malleable than regular chocolate chip-style cookies, they’re easier to stack, organize and present. The flavor combinations are really wonderful too, with the coconut raisin cookies more on the spicy side and the nutella cookies on the nuttier side. I’m not usually a fan of the harder, crispier, crunchier cookies, usually erring more on the side of soft and gooshy, but these are super flavorful. In fact, they’re downright deceptive: so easy to pop in your mouth, you don’t even notice you’ve become a glutton until you’ve eaten half the plate. (cough) ‘Cept I would never do a thing like that. Nope. Not me. (cough) All in all, these would be great additions for any party! ♥♥♥

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Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Sandwiches on the Grill


I {heart} summer, and most especially for the plethora of divine fruits and vegetables sprouting cascades of color and earthly delight. For the past week or two, I’ve been enjoying the abundance of zucchini and summer squash by grilling up sandwiches. These are so yummy and filling, I just had to share.

To make them, I slice up about a third to a half of a zucchini, and the same of summer squash. I cut thin slices of a third of a red bell pepper. Then I slice one portobello mushroom and grill them up with a couple of sprays of olive oil. I use a panini press (and every day thank the glorious person who got us this wedding gift) to grill the veggies and then press the whole sandwich, but not everyone has one. So if you don’t have a panini press, go out and buy one now you can just pan-fry the veggies together. Toast two slices of wheat bread (with a spritz of olive oil on each side) and add a little mayo, garlic powder (or a garlic clove, chopped, if you’re feeling feisty), oregano, and salt and pepper. Layer the hot veggies on the bread and add a slice of provolone to melt. Et voila!


And I can definitely give this five hearts: ♥♥♥♥♥ because I have been eating this every day for lunch. (If you have a toaster oven at work, you can make these babies ahead of time and just heat them up in the toaster oven.) It’s mouth-watering tasty, and plus it’s just so pretty with that riot of color! But as difficult as it might be to hold off, you might want to let this one sit for a few minutes before eating “to let the cheese melt”…a.k.a. the veggies will be nuclear and we don’t want to sear the skin off our delicate little mouths. Says the {sad} voice of experience.

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Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Asian Orzo Salad Served Up With Fresh Lemon-Lime-Mint-ade

We’ve been eating out a LOT lately, with heavy and large meals on the menu several days in a row. While it’s great to be social and get out on the town a bit, it does do a number on our digestive systems. So this week, I really just wanted to do something light, healthy and super fresh. My bloodstream was clamoring for a detox, so I delivered.

A friend of mine had once made an Asian Orzo salad, and I remembered how light and crisp it was – perfect for summer eating. So I decided I would try that too. I perused a bunch of recipes online, and they all seemed to be roughly the same (but rather heavy on the oil). I wanted a lighter version, so with the online recipes as a vague guidepost, I came up with this variation to serve two:

Asian Orzo Salad

Ingredients:
1 chicken breast, cooked & shredded
4 oz. dry orzo (or 2 cups cooked)
1 carrot, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
3/4 cup sugar snap peas, steamed
3/4 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 cup canned sliced water chestnuts
1/4 cup diced cucumber
4 tsp. oil
3 tsp. rice vinegar (rice wine vinegar also works)
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. hoisin sauce
salt and pepper

Directions:
1. I first grilled the chicken on a panini press to cook it, but pan frying it would work just as well. While the chicken was grilling, I boiled the orzo until cooked (about 8 minutes), drained the water and set it aside in a large bowl. Then I shredded the cooked chicken and added it to the orzo bowl.

2. Next I steamed the sugar snap peas, and chopped up all the veggies and chestnuts, and added them to the orzo and chicken.

3. Then I mixed the oil, vinegar, soy sauce and hoisin sauce until blended. Then I added it to the salad and tossed until mixed. I added a little salt and pepper to taste for the finish.

4. Chill for at least half an hour before serving.

My thoughts:
The Asian Orzo salad was perfect for what our mood was: it was light, crisp, cool and a great summer eat. I loved that it was heavy on the veggies, with chicken for protein (and of course the chicken can be substituted with tofu for vegetarians, or delete it completely and just use more orzo for balance with the veggies). The orzo was filling, but I didn’t put a lot, so it was decently light on carbs. My husband thought it was great, so I’m happy when he’s a happy camper. For me, as a recipe itself, I would probably give it two hearts: ♥♥. It was pretty good and I would be happy to have it again, but I’m not sure it’ll quite make it into our usual repertoire. I might also experiment a bit more with the sauce. Hoisin sauce is not one I use regularly. I might try substituting it with oyster sauce instead and adding a little sugar or Splenda if it needs extra sweetening.

EDIT: A week later I tried the same dish and added a dash of white pepper and a few splashes of fish sauce and it was perfect! Just the thing the sauce needed for a little kick: a little savory to counter the sweet of the soy and hoisin. I’m pretty sure that officially bumped it up to three hearts ♥♥♥, and I served it to dinner guests with fresh cherries and lychees for dessert and it was a hit. Light but filling. Yup, fish sauce fixes everything.

However, I did serve it up with fresh, home-made lemonade, which I absolutely LOVED. I have a feeling I’ll be making this all summer long.

The Best Lemonade Ever

What makes this the best lemonade is that it is not just lemons. It is lemons plus limes and mint. YUM. I make it with Splenda because I try to avoid too much sugar, but of course it can be made with sugar.

Ingredients:
4 lemons
4 limes
8 sprigs of fresh mint
18 packets of Splenda (or 3/4-1 cup sugar, depending on taste)
1 cup of water to boil
2 cups of cool water to add

Directions:
1. Add Splenda to 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally to dissolve Splenda in the water.

2. Squeeze the lemons and limes (makes about 3/4 cups of lemon-lime juice).

3. Add the Splenda-water to the lemon-lime juice, and add 2 cups cool water. Taste to see if you prefer more lemon-lime juice or more water, but this amount is my personal preference.

4. Muddle and mush the mint sprigs in the bottom of a glass with a spoon (this helps release the menthol). Add to lemonade. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

My thoughts:
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this lemonade. I first stumbled upon it by accident when I only had one lemon available, but a bunch of limes and REALLY wanted lemonade. The limes add just a hint of complexity to the lemons, and the menthol adds a real fun kick. This would also make a great mixer with some good tequila (not Jose Cuervo, but something more along the lines of a Corzo Reposado). I give it: ♥♥♥♥♥ because it is simply amazing.

——————-
Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Pumpkin Pie Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling


Omigod. YUM. Just that name alone makes me drool. Last week, we went to The Palace Grill, which always has these amazing mini muffins (like apricot, or molasses, or jalapeno cheddar…) and I felt inspired to make some yummy muffins for my husband’s birthday, which was yesterday. I was thinking of some of his favorite flavors, maybe something along the lines of maple and pecan, and then it struck me! Pumpkin pie! My husband LOVES pumpkin pie. So I started googling recipes for pumpkin pie muffins.

I found a few that were interesting, but seemed lacking in one sense or the other, and began to think I’d need to patch together several recipes, all the while thinking that a cream cheese filling would be the perfect touch. That’s when I came across this recipe: Bakergirl Creations’ recipe for Pumpkin Pie Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling. OOoooh yeeeaahhh…

So I tried to make the muffins and document the process as I went. I wanted to take a photo of the part where you have to make a well in the muffin, using two spoons, and plop in a teaspoon of the cream cheese filling. But it turns out it takes two hands to make a well with the two spoons, and a third hand to hold the camera. Of which I am lacking. So all I got was a stupid photo:

And a splooged muffin:

But thankfully, when they came out of the oven, they looked like this:

And they were pure sin in a pocket. Filled with pretty much everything decadent you could imagine to put in a muffin, these little babies were so moist and flavorful, you could eat them all day. The cream cheese was a perfect counterpoint to all the myriad spices. They taste rich and sweet, but not sickeningly so. The spices balance the decadence nicely.

My rating
♥♥♥ I would give it 5 hearts because I definitely could eat them all day long, every day. But if I did, I would quickly look like a cream cheese muffin. I think these are perfect additions to a dinner party, where you can spread the love around (as much as you might want to hoard them all to yourself).

——————
Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Bacon Wrapped Dates and Spanish Meatballs with an Almond Sauce

Sorry vegetarians, this week’s taste test constituted a veritable meat orgy. With the July 4th weekend and the requisite BBQ parties fast approaching, I thought I would try a couple of dishes that would make great party platters. And what better way to do party appetizers than Spanish tapas? I suppose Spanish food might not be considered quite appropos on a day celebrating American Independence to those who believe the BBQ should be all-American…but well…hey, at least it’s not British.

These two appetizers are so yummy and flavorful, I guarantee they will be a hit with the guests—at least your carnivorous ones. The first one, the bacon-wrapped dates, are less of an experiment for me this time because I have made them before. However, I did discover them in a restaurant and just had to kind of wing the recipe. And they were so good I served them at our wedding rehearsal dinner and they disappeared before I even finished putting out the rest of the platters.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Honey

1 package bacon (I prefer the maple smoked variety)
1 package dates
Honey
Toothpicks (the thick, flat ones are sturdiest)

Cut the bacon slices in half (not lengthwise), so you have double the number of short pieces. Roll each date up in a bacon slice and spear them with the toothpick. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are crispy. Serve on a platter and drizzle honey over each piece.

My thoughts:
These appetizers are so easy to make and they really are party favorites. The combination of salt and sweet is so perfectly balanced, and it hits everyone’s tastebuds just right.
I give this one: ♥♥♥♥. I think it is “Omigosh so amazing” I could eat it every night, but seeing as how it is bacon, I probably shouldn’t.

Spanish Meatballs in an Almond Sauce

(These proportions served 4 people as part of a larger meal and made about 25 meatballs.)

For the meatballs:
1 slice wheat bread with the crust removed
2 tbsp water
2 c. ground pork (ground beef, lamb, or veal would also be good)
¾ small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tbsp fresh flatleaf parsley
1 egg, beaten
a few sprinkles nutmeg
a few sprinkles cinnamon
dried, crushed red chilies to taste
salt and pepper
all-purpose flour, for coating
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

For the sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 slice white bread, crust removed
½ cup blanched, slivered almonds
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/3 c. dry white wine
dried, crushed red chilies
salt and pepper
1 c. mushroom broth

Directions:

For the meatballs, put the bread in a bowl, add the water and let soak in a bowl for about 5 minutes. Take the bread out and squeeze out the water and place bread back in the bowl. Add the pork, onion, garlic, parsley, egg, and seasonings & spices. Knead the ingredients together well.

Spread some four on a plate. With floured hands, roll the mixture into bite-size meatballs and roll each in the flour until coated.

Using a large, deep skillet for frying, heat the olive oil and fry meatballs in batches for a few minutes per batch. Turn the meatballs to sear each side. Do not cook through, only brown the outsides. Remove the meatballs from the pan.

Heat the olive oil for the sauce in the same skillet. Break the bread into pieces and add the almonds. Stir-fry until golden brown, then add the garlic and the wine. Allow to boil for a couple of minutes and add the seasonings.

Pour the sauce into a blender with the mushroom broth and blend until smooth. Return to the skillet, add the meatballs and simmer for 25 minutes. Season sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve the meatballs on a platter. Add the lemon juice to the sauce and mix until blended in. Pour the sauce on top of the meatballs. Garnish the platter with parsley and serve dish with sliced french or sourdough bread to mop up the sauce.

My thoughts:
These meatballs were super yummy. The sauce was not a combination of flavors I’m really used to, but it was surprisingly good and complimented the meat so well.
We served the two tapas with a feta and balsamic vinegar salad and artichoke-heart couscous and everything went really well together. I will definitely be making the meatballs again. My one caveat is that I personally am not a huge fan of parsley; I much prefer cilantro. So the next time I make this, I will use cilantro instead of the parsley. It took a little over an hour to make (though I do move slowly in the kitchen), but was much easier than I thought it would be. I give this one also: ♥♥♥♥. I could definitely eat it every night; but it does take some time to make, so I think it’ll have to stay in the special meal category.

Happy Eating!

———————————-
Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

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