Thursday, August 30, 2012

I'm Guest Hosting Today!

Hello Everyone!

Today I have the honor of guest hosting at Dishin with Didi. To find my recipe for this sinfully delicious Butterfinger Dessert, just pop over to Didi's site by clicking on this LINK. And while you're there, enjoy my friend, Didi's terrific website and be sure to check out her treasure trove of recipes! You won't be disappointed, I promise.

Butterfinger Dessert


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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blue Ribbon Challenge: Granita!

Anna at Crunchy Creamy Sweet has impeccable timing! It's been 100 degrees F here in Sioux Falls for the past few days and the temperatures aren't expected to cool off for a few more. This Blue Ribbon Challenge couldn't come at a better time!

I was excited to see this challenge for another reason, as well. I am currently touring Italy - via food - and granita or granita siciliana is very closely related to "Italian Ice". These delightfully refreshing desserts are traditionally coffee flavored, but come in array of flavor combinations today and are often served in the same fashion as sorbet - between the courses to cleanse the palate.

I chose the traditional route and created a Cappuccino Granita for you today. The flavor was outstanding and you won't believe how easy this treat is to make! I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Cappuccino Granita

Serves:  6 (1 cup servings)

1/2 cup sugar

2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa

3 cups hot espresso (may substitute very strong coffee, if you don't have espresso)

1/2 cup milk (do not use skim milk)

1/2 cup water

Place a 9 x 13 metal pan in the freezer.

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk well to blend. Set aside and let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Once cooled, pour the mixture into the chilled pan and place it back into the freezer. Make sure it's on a level surface. Check the mixture every 30 minutes and, once ice crystals begin to form, stir the mixture with a fork to just break it up. Continue checking and stirring the mixture with a fork every 30 minutes until it is completely frozen. This may take 2 - 3 hours. The granita should resemble shaved ice.

Before serving, place the serving dishes in the freezer to chill. To serve, scoop the granita into the chilled servings dishes and garnish, if you like.


This post is linked to Crunchy Creamy Sweet and Gooseberry Patch Recipe Round-Up.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Panino - My Way

What's the difference between a panino and a panini?  Well, usually just the number. From what I can tell, a panino is a grilled Italian sandwich. One Italian sandwich. And a panini (as it's commonly known in the U.S.) is the plural of panino. More than one Italian sandwich.

These sandwiches are usually thinner than a traditional grilled American sandwich because they are pressed together when grilled. This method fuses all the ingredients together creating wonderful flavor combinations and textures. These Italian sandwiches generally have ridges in them, too, from being cooked on a panini press or grill pan.

This is my very first time making a panino - or panini, to be more specific (I ate more than one). Mine were not thinner, nor did they have ridges because, sadly, I do not {yet} have a panini press. But my little grilled delicacies were bursting with flavor and I am now hooked! I've now been ruined for the basic grilled cheese sandwich . . . .

Panino/Panini (You decide!)

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/4 cup fresh basil, loosely packed & cut or torn into very small pieces

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

12 oz. sliced deli ham

12 Italian bread slices

butter, softened

In a bowl, combine the cheese, basil, olive oil and mustard. Mix until smooth and spreadable. I used a hand mixer. A food processor will also work well.

Lay the bread slices out on a work surface and spread one side of each slice with the cheese mixture. Arrange the sliced ham on half of the bread slices and top with the remaining bread slices. Butter each side of the sandwiches with the softened butter.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the sandwiches (grilled cheese-style) until golden brown on each side and heated through. Transfer to a serving plate and keep warm under a foil tent while cooking the other sandwiches. Serve immediately.

Just like the American-style grilled cheese sandwich, these Italian sandwiches are great with a simple salad, a bowl of soup or just by themselves.


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Monday, August 27, 2012

Crusty Italian Bread Using a Bread Machine

I have some exciting and delicious recipes to share with you on my food tour of Italy - starting with how to make crusty Italian bread! We'll be using at least one of the loaves in a recipe I'll be sharing with you tomorrow.

I'm using a recipe I found HERE. But, I made a big change to Drew's recipe. I didn't mix it by hand. I used a bread machine instead.

As some of you may know, I've decided to continue on and get a 4-year degree in psychology and classes start today. I don't have an aversion to making bread by hand. It can be quite relaxing, in fact. But I'm finding myself a little short on time at the beginning of a new school year and a new school.

The ingredient measurements in this recipe for Crusty Italian Bread are perfect. I didn't have to adjust anything. I followed the instructions exactly as written, but instead of mixing in a bowl by hand, I used a machine. You can certainly mix by hand, if you prefer. Here are the steps I took using a bread machine:

Crusty Italian Bread

  1. visit the site above to get the bread recipe!
  2. mix the yeast with 1/4 cup warm water; let stand until bubbly - about 10 minutes
  3. add the remaining water to the yeast mixture and pour into the pan of the bread machine
  4. add the sugar and salt to the yeast/water mixture
  5. add all of the flour - I used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour
  6. set the machine cycle to "dough" and started the bread machine
  7. once the flour has been incorporated into the water, add the olive oil
  8. double-check the consistency of the dough - you want it to be slightly tacky, but not sticky or dry
  9. leave the machine to continue through the cycle
  10. remove the dough from the pan and shape according to the instructions shown HERE (scroll down); I placed the loaves on a parchment-lined baking sheet instead of using the peel method
  11. cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes
  12. place a small pan (cake pan) on the bottom rack of oven; preheat oven to 425° F
  13. cut each loaf down the middle with a very sharp blade just before baking
  14. pour a cup of hot water into the pan on the bottom rack taking care to avoid the steam; bake for 10 minutes at 425° F, reduce temperature to 400° F and bake for another 25-30 minutes (the loaves should sound hollow when tapped)

Enjoy the bread with some flavored dipping oil. You can find a really good recipe HERE. Be sure to save at least one loaf for tomorrow's recipe!


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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Meatless Monday: Let the Italian Tour Begin!

Remember back in May, when I was touring France via food? I had so much fun trying recipes and eating all the wonderfully delicious French food. So much fun - in fact - that I've decided to take another little "trip" through Italy - via food, of course!

For the month of September (with the exception of a couple of posts), I will be featuring recipes for Italian dishes. I'm so excited to take this trip, I'm starting a couple of days early! And who would blame me after seeing the recipe I'll be sharing with you today?

Pasta has been a part of Italian cuisine forever. No other culture knows as much about pasta as the Italians. Did you know Italy averages approximately 60 pounds of pasta per year for every man, woman and child? Needless to say, I had to begin my journey with pasta!

I saw a post from Hot Eats and Cool Reads on Facebook, complete with a beautiful photo, earlier this week and knew I not only HAD to try it, but also include it in my tour of Italy. Sheena from Hot Eats and Cool Reads, very kindly and generously, is letting me share her recipe for Pasta with Tomato, Basil and Mushroom Alfredo with all of you. Please take a minute and pop over to see Sheena at Hot Eats and Cool Reads. She has so many fantastic recipes at her site, along with delightful book reviews AND a giveaway!

This pasta, in addition to being a feast for the eyes, is also full of flavor and textures. All without meat, which makes it a great Meatless Monday meal.

I followed Sheena's recipe exactly and used store bought Alfredo sauce. It was very good and convenient, but we prefer homemade Alfredo sauce. I've included a really easy Alfredo recipe at the end of this post, if you'd like to use a homemade sauce.

Pasta with Tomato, Basil and Mushroom Alfredo

Serves:  4 - 6

1 box (16 oz.) pasta

olive oil

1/2 cup onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced

1 jar (15 oz.) Alfredo sauce (or 2 cups homemade Alfredo sauce)

3 tbsp. white wine or chicken broth

2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced

1/2 cup fresh basil (loosely packed), chopped

Parmesan cheese, shaved or shredded

salt & pepper

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. Remember to generously salt the pasta water. It's the first chance you have to add flavor to the dish! While the pasta is cooking, prepare the Alfredo sauce.  

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the skillet with olive oil, about two to three turns of the pan. Add the onion to the skillet and saute until the onion becomes tender and translucent. Add the garlic to the onion and cook for a minute before adding the mushrooms. Continue cooking until the mushrooms release their juices and become soft and very fragrant, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low-medium. Pour the Alfredo sauce over the mushrooms, onions and garlic. Add the wine (or broth) to the jar (if using the store-bought sauce) and shake well. Add the wine to the sauce and mushrooms. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes or until heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.

To serve, scoop some pasta on to a plate and spoon the sauce, tomatoes and mushrooms over the pasta. Sprinkle with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese, to taste.

Thank you, again to Sheena at Hot Eats and Cool Reads for sharing her recipe!

Buon appetito!

Super Easy Alfredo Sauce

Makes:  about 2 cups

1 cup butter

1 cup cream

1 - 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

Heat the butter and cream in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir frequently, until butter melts and the mixture starts to bubble. Turn the heat to low and simmer for approximately 6 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the cheese, salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Use immediately.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Meatless Monday: You wont' believe it's not meat!

I felt a little adventurous for our second official meatless meal and decided to try a "meatless" meat recipe. I found what looked to be a pretty good recipe online and, even though the recipe received high marks, I went into it with low expectations. We are true meat lovers in this house.

I was completely wrong!

The meatless meatballs were not only moist and delicious, they felt like meat, they looked like meat and they tasted like meat. Amazing! I told my son the meatballs were meatless before the meal, but he later told me if he hadn't know that going in, he would've never guessed there wasn't any meat in them.

I used the recipe found HERE. I followed the recipe exactly as it was written and I wouldn't change a thing - except to make more and freeze them. I might even see if it'll fry up like ground meat. I'll let you know how that goes.

Don't the meatballs look amazing? Seriously, you won't believe they're not made of meat!

As you can see from the photos above, I used the meatballs in a classic Spaghetti & Meatballs dinner. I used a canned spaghetti sauce tonight and simmered the meatballs in the sauce while the pasta cooked.


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Friday, August 17, 2012

A Cupcake a Day HAS to Keep Something Away!

Have you ever had a day where it seems like nothing goes right? I was feeling just a little bit (OK - a lot) sorry for myself and decided a cupcake might would make things better. Of course, you never have a cupcake handy when you need one, so I made some. Just to prove what a horrible day I was having, I over-beat the first batch and ended up throwing them out because they fell when they came out of the oven. And by fell, I mean craters in the middle of every single cupcake. Mercifully, the second batch turned out much better.

Cupcakes won't solve the world's problems, but these wonderful cupcakes sure put me in a better mood. I hope you enjoy them as much as am did!

Bakery-Style Yellow Cupcakes

2  3/4 cup flour

2 tsp. baking powder 

1/2 tsp. salt 

1/2 c. butter

1/2 c. shortening

2 c. sugar

2 eggs

1 c. milk

1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl; run a whisk through it to quickly sift the dry ingredients. Set aside.

Cream the butter and shortening with the sugar until light and fluffy - about 2 minutes. Take care not to over-beat the sugar-butter-shortening mixture.

I used a hand mixer to blend the butter, shortening and sugar, but switched to hand mixing, at this point so I would be sure not to over-mix the cupcake batter.

Add the eggs, one-at-a-time. Mix well to blend. Add the dry ingredients (in thirds), alternating with the milk and vanilla. Stir just enough to combine.

Place liners in a muffin/cupcake pan and fill half full. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Carefully, remove the cupcakes from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack. Frost.

I used a Chocolate Buttercream to frost the cupcakes. You can find the recipe I used here. I did make a couple of changes to Alice's excellent recipe:  I used half butter and half shortening (a 1/2 cup of each) and I also used a blend of vanilla and almond extract (1 tsp. of each). She's right, almond extract does enhance the chocolate flavor in the frosting.


Don't forget about the giveaway for the Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender! You can enter here!

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

My P-interesting Popcorn!

Bet you didn't think popcorn could be p-interesting, did you?

I don't usually make a night out of watching TV, but I made an exception tonight. Ovation had a little mini-marathon going of "Pride & Prejudice" - the series starring Colin Firth. Not only am I a HUGE Jane Austen fan, I'm also a fan of anything with Colin Firth in it.

Popcorn seemed very fitting for my night of TV viewing and, as I started to pull out my air popper, I remembered a method for making popcorn I pinned a few weeks ago on Pinterest. It used just a brown paper bag in the microwave. I had a paper bag, so I thought "why not?" If it didn't work out, I'd delete the pin and make popcorn the way I usually did - in the air popper.

Unbelievable! It worked beautifully!! No muss, no fuss. One brown paper bag, a half a cup of your favorite popcorn and a microwave. All together, it took less than four minutes for me to have the bowlful of popcorn shown in the photo below. A little melted butter and salt and I was ready to watch Mr. Firth in all six episodes.

If you'd like to try making your own microwave popcorn, just click on the link shown below and follow the instructions shown. I initially set my microwave for three minutes, as directed, but added 30 seconds more because the popcorn was still popping at a pretty good rate.

Thank you to Kerry at Squawkfox for sharing this brilliant microwave method for making popcorn!



Tuesday, August 14, 2012

(Much) Cooler Weather Means . . . .

It's time for soup! And not just any soup - homemade bean soup!

The weather here has (finally) cooled to the low 80s and what a relief! After weeks of temperatures in the high 90s, it feels a little bit like fall. And it's put me in the mood for soup.

Remember the ham I made a few weeks ago? I froze the ham bone just for this soup. I knew sooner or later I'd be able to make it and use the ham bone!

Homemade Bean Soup

Serves:  6-8

16 oz. (2 cups) Great Northern (or Navy) beans

1 ham bone

1 small onion, diced

1 garlic clove, peeled & finely minced

1 tbsp. sugar

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

3-4 carrots, peeled & sliced

2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled & diced

The night before:  sort through the beans and sort out any bad ones. Put the beans in a large pot or bowl and cover them with water. Soak the beans overnight (or at least 8 hours). Drain the beans in the morning and discard the soaking water.

Place the bone, onion and garlic in a large pot and cover with enough water to completely cover the bone. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat and cook on medium-low heat for at least one hour.

Add the beans, sugar, salt, pepper and enough water to completely cover all the ingredients in the pan. Bring to a boil again, then reduce the heat to medium-high. Cover the pan and cook for 1-2 hours or until beans are soft and a broth begins to form.

Stir in the carrots and potatoes, cover and continue cooking for another 1-2 hours or until the carrots and potatoes are cooked through. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.


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Monday, August 13, 2012

My Greatest Influence

No recipes today, but I do have a question for you:

When it comes to cooking and/or baking, who influenced you the most?

My Grandma Anderson was, without a doubt, my greatest cooking and baking influence. She was my earliest teacher and, to this day, I use much of what I learned from her. She was the kind of cook who could make bread, water and toothpicks taste good. I have many memories of her in the kitchen preparing the noon meal for Grandpa, my uncle and the hired men. I remember making cutout Christmas cookies with her, my sisters and cousins, helping her in the garden, canning with her and having her delicious vegetable beef soup (that I'm still not able to duplicate). But my favorite memory is when she taught my sister and me how to make homemade bread. I don't think I ever ate a meal at Grandma's that didn't include homemade bread.

She didn't have a special bread recipe. Her bread was made from a very basic white bread recipe. What made her bread so special was the presentation. She almost always shaped her bread into a large, round flat bread about an inch or two thick and baked to a dark brown, chewy crust. We ate it in long, thin slices with butter. I never asked her why she always shaped her bread like that, but it's what I remember most about my Grandma.

Today would have been my Grandma Anderson's 84th birthday. She passed away - much,much too young - of cancer in her 60s. I think of her often, sometimes more than others and I wish I'd had more time with her.

Of all my memories, these always come to mind right away whenever I think about my Grandma Anderson:

I grew up in town and my grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousins lived on farms not too far away. I sometimes rode the bus after school to my grandparent's house with my cousins. My favorite part of the bus trip was when we were about a mile away from my grandparent's driveway and the bus would go down what was known by all as "the Anderson tickle-y hill". It wasn't really a hill - just a part of the road that dropped sharply, almost like a roller coaster. Going down it made you gasp out loud and feel a wonderful fluttering in your stomach. We loved it!

There was a period of time in the 80s, when she was in her mid-50s, that we all got to see her adventurous side. My grandma, like many of her contemporaries, had her children when she was very young and didn't have the opportunity to try some of things she dreamed of when she was little. So, when she was a little older  and her children were all grown, she decided to cross an item off her wish list:  learning how to operate a motorcycle. She went out and bought a big street bike. I don't remember what kind or exactly how big it was, but it was big - especially for a woman who'd never, ever driven one. It take long for her to realize it might be a little too big, so she bought a dirt bike, too, thinking she could learn on the dirt bike and move up to the street bike. As it turns out, the dirt bike was a bit much, as well. Not to be deterred, she bought a Mo-Ped (remember those?) and that's what she learned to master first. We all thought she was crazy. She might've been a little crazy. Who knows? But she DID finally master the street bike and passed her licensing test. I smile every time I think about it and I'm laughing now as I share this story.

Grandma & me, late 1965

And, again on August 22, 1983

If you like, I'd love it if you shared your special memories of who influenced you in a comment below.

And - don't forget - there's still time to enter the giveaway for a Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender! Just click here.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

Meatless Monday: A Hint of Tapas

I made a decision during my vacation:  we are going meatless one day a week. Prior to the decision to go meatless, we had the occasional meatless meal - usually because I was in a hurry or feeling lazy or both. But not because of a conscious decision, if I'm being completely honest. And, if I'm being more honest, I'll admit that we are bona fide meat lovers and somewhat unmotivated to give-up meat - even for one meal.

There are many health-related reasons to go meatless at least one day a week. Among those reasons are a lowered risk of certain types of cancer, a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes and curbing obesity. All good reasons.

Meatless meals also have environmental benefits. Going meatless helps to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce fossil fuel usage and minimize water usage. More good reasons.

But these weren't what motivated me to make a meatless decision.

What motivated me to go meatless were the countless news reports I watched during my time away about how world food prices rose 6% in the month of July (after months of decline) and what the drought is expected to do to food prices later this year and into 2013. Food prices are expected to be driven up - most notably in milk, beef, chicken and pork - an estimated 3-4% in 2012 and another 3-4% in 2013.

At first, an increase of 3-4% didn't sound so bad until I took a minute to figure out what that would mean for our household budget. It's time to make some changes. Going meatless one day a week is just one of the changes we'll be making in our home.

I researched Meatless Mondays and discovered how many fantastic meal ideas are out there! Instead of mourning the menu change in our home, we are embracing the wide variety of entrées and side dishes we might have passed on, like the ones I'm sharing with you today.

Tapas-Style Potatoes, Eggs & Garlic Toast

Servings:  4 - 6

olive oil

1 1/2 lbs. potatoes (about 4 medium sized potatoes - russet are best), peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes

1 - 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes, drained

5 garlic cloves, finely minced

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

10 dashes Tabasco (or similar)

salt & pepper

lemon juice (fresh is best, but bottled is OK)

cilantro (fresh chopped is best, but dried is also fine)

eggs (I figure 2 per person, but you can use the number that works best for you)

baguette slices (you can use the bread of your choice - I figured 3 - 4 slices per person using a baguette)

1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half

Preheat oven to 350° F. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet. Brush both sides of each slice with a little olive oil and then rub each slice with a piece of garlic clove. Set aside.

Heat olive oil (about 2 turns of the pan) in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Fry the potatoes in a single layer until browned and partially cooked through - about 10-15 minutes. Try not to turn or stir the potatoes more than a couple of times because they caramelize and brown better when left alone.

While the potatoes brown, combine the tomatoes, garlic, cumin, sugar, red pepper flakes and Tabasco in a bowl. Set aside.

After the potatoes have browned, add the tomato mixture and stir to coat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook another 8-10 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through. Stir often to prevent scorching. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

While the potatoes finish cooking, make the eggs to suit your taste. These potatoes go very well with either fried or scrambled eggs. There are several methods for making scrambled eggs - all work well - so use the method/recipe that works best for you. If you don't have your own method/recipe for scrambled eggs, you can find a good one here. And, if you'd prefer fried eggs, you can find a good technique here.

Bake the bread slices for 5-10 minutes or until crispy.

To serve, transfer the potatoes and eggs to serving platters. Lightly drizzle the potatoes with lemon juice and sprinkle with a little cilantro. Serve warm with the garlic toast.


Don't forget about the GIVEAWAY for a Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender! If haven't entered yet, just click here!

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