Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fact or Fiction?!

So, we have all received email forwards in our life (assuming we have email, unlike my Uncle Bob (61), who still to this day does not have an email address - even though both of my grandmothers (86 and 82 do! =)). One of the most recent ones I got was from Kath. It was filled with all kinds of tips and entitled "DID YOU KNOW?"

Well, I thought these were pretty neat, Martha Stewart-type tips, and want to try them out as I can. The first one that I attempted was the first two on the list...

1. "Peel a banana from the bottom and you won't have to pick the little "stringy things" off of it. That's how the primates do it."
--> I will say Fact. For the most part, 95% of the "stringy things" I didn't have to bother with! The very small thin ones were less successful. Whether or not the primates do it this way, well, I guess I'll have to tune into the Discovery channel and take a look, because I never noticed it with any of the monkeys in the movies - I thought they all peeled their bananas from the top?! And even if they did, do they really care about the "stringy things"?!

2. "Take your bananas apart when you get home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they ripen faster."
--> May be Fiction - so, I attempted this with a bunch of bananas that I got from Costco (btw, one of the cheapest places to get bananas - usually 8 LARGE bananas for $1.30!). I took 4 bananas and broke them apart separately and left 4 bananas connected. Honestly, it seems like they are all ripening at the same speed. Would love to know if anyone has noticed otherwise?!

A few of my own tips not included (passed on by friends, cooking shows, or magazines):

A. When peeling or smashing garlic and you have that wonderful odor (I actually really do like it) on your fingers and soap doesn't remove the smell, rub your fingers up and down a steel blade (on the knife) and it takes away the smell! (I was actually excited, as I was able to tell this to 2 older ladies in a kitchen store! =)

B. Wrap unused celery in aluminum foil, this will keep it longer then just in the crisper drawer alone (I think this came from Heidi and Michelle via their mom?!).

C. Hang ironed/pressed table cloths with a pants hanger (ie. in the coat/hall closet) to avoid them getting wrinkled in a drawer or extra crease lines from being folded.


Celebrations of life and death

I'd first and foremost like to wish Heidi and Mike a very Happy 1st Anniversary! If the first year flew by, Heidi, just wait for the next few to come!

Secondly, a special Happy Birthday to Jacob on his 2nd birthday! Wow, time does fly! (This is also the same birthday as Poppy (my dad's dad).)

Lastly I'd like to wish my Papa (mom's dad) peace for he passed away this past Sunday and was laid to rest today. He was a great man and will be greatly missed. I love you, Papa. (Thanks to my Baking Buddies for all their support and offer of help should anything have been needed.)

Oh, and just so I don't end on a sad note, today was Biz's birthday, so Happy Birthday, Bizzie! =)

January Recipe: Classic French Onion Soup

One of my all time favorite soups is French Onion. I can't tell you when or where I had my first bowl, but I can tell you where to get my favorite soup. There's a little cafe in Cobleskill, NY, called Monks. The door is complete with a painted picture of a monk, but after that, the similarity ends. This little cafe is next to my favorite store, Wal-mart! Makes the trip even better. =) Monks makes a heavenly cup of French Onion soup and I am told one of the reasons it is sooooo good, is because they put Sherry in the soup! Needless-to-say, when Michelle came up with Soup for January's recipe, I knew what I wanted to try to make for myself.

There was an added bonus as I was able to cook the soup in my slow cooker, which meant not having to watch the stove and having a nice warm bowl on a Saturday afternoon. My recipe did not include Sherry, so I added it myself and while it doesn't quite match Monks, it was still a good cup o' soup!

Classic French Onion Soup
From: Easy Home Cooking - All New Slow Cooker cookbook

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
3 large yellow onions, sliced
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup sherry
3 cans (14 oz. each) beef (suggested: low sodium) broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 loaf French bread, sliced and toasted
4 oz. shredded Swiss cheese (or other preferred cheese)

Melt butter in large skillet (I used my LeCrueset dutch oven) over high heat. Add onions; cook and stir 15 minutes or until onions are soft and slightly browned (do not burn!). Stir in wine and sherry.

Combine onion mixture, beef broth, thyme, salt, and Worcestershire in slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW 4-4.5 hours (my Rival crockpot only has LOW for 8 or 10 hours, this works fine as well!). Ladle soup into 4 individual bowls (I got some great french onion mini crocks or soup bowls at Christmas Tree Shops for $1 or $2 each!); top with toasted bread slice and cheese (suggestion: stick in the oven, if bowls are oven proof, or the microwave to ensure cheese melts - sliced cheese works as well). Serve and enjoy!

Review: I really enjoyed this recipe and would definitely make it again. I think I'll also experiment with the other recipes that are out there just trying to find one that is similar to Monks. Hope you enjoy this on a cold Winter day like me! =)

January's Recipes - Soup

I thought it would be nice to have a post with a link to everyone's January recipe for their soups. I am going to try to do this at the end of each month for a review of what we did that month.

Michelle's - Hearty Bean & Barley Soup
Heidi's - Pasta e Fagioli
Jenn's - Classic French Onion Soup
Kathleen's - Beef Stew

Monday, January 28, 2008

Happy Anniversary!!

So we made it!! Yesterday was Mike and I's first wedding anniversary. I can't believe how fast the year went. Of course this morning I was little bummed when I woke up because I was playing the where was I a year ago today game....Oh Yeah.... I was on the plane on my way to Hawaii.

Mike was wondering why we were keeping the top layer of our wedding cake. I told him about the tradition about eating it a year later. He's response was, "Why would we want to do that?" I told him, it tradition, just go with it. So I went down to the freezer to get it out to defrost and dumbfounded. It was gone!! I think I might have started talking to myself...I was like who would take our wedding cake....So when I told Mike it was gone, he remember we had to defrost the freezer this past fall and had given it to his mom to hold at her house. We were going over there for dinner so we told her to take it out. We had it for dessert and it wasn't as bad as I thought. But I had a back up plan just in case it wasn't edible. I had recreated the top layer. Our cake wedding cake was filled with cannoli filling and decorated with black dots. So I tried to recreate it. What I did was took a pound cake, cut it in half, filled it with cannoli filling , frosted it and decorated it. I think it came out cute. Of course the real cake was square and the this one was rectangle. Oh well. Happy Anniversary Mike!!

Daring Bakers January Challange - Lemon Meringue Pie

I was SUPER excited this month when I found out what the DB challenge was going to be Lemon Meringue Pie. It was perfect and at the right time of year for me because my Father-in-law's birthday was coming up and this is his all time favorite kind of pie. We always celebrate someone birthday by going out for dinner and having "cake" afterwards back at the house. Well this year I was able to supply the cake and complete this month's challenge at the same time.

I have made a LMP before and wasn't worried about the pie itself. I was worried about making the pie crust because that was something I never did before. From watching a lot of cooking shows I knew that everything must be cold...even the bowl! I was a little worried at first when my dough didn't seem to come together fast but a little time in the fridge and it came together nicely. I know why people buy already pie crust but now I understand why so many people make their own. It was really easy using the food processor and really doesn't take that much time. I would do it again and might even make a double batch to freeze half for the next time.

The only thing that I had problems with is rolling out the crust and baking it...but I would say that is mostly user error. I only had 9" pie pans and didn't have time to go look/buy a 10" pie pan. Not sure if this was the problem or if I rolled out the dough to thin or didn't leave enough over hanging (which I know I didn't). I ended up with a lot of extra dough and extra filling and meringue. So I just made a mini LMP to give away to my neighbor. I actually probably could have made 2 mini pies but didn't have time. I made the mistake of trying to make the pie during Jacob's nap time. Which was cutting it close to the time when my in-laws were coming over for dinner.

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
¾ cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
⅓ cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
½ cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
¼ cup (60 mL) butter
¾ cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
½ tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

For the Crust: Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of ⅛ inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about ½ inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

For the Filling: Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated.

Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

For the Meringue: Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Review: I got comment from my father-in-law that this LMP is the way the LMP should be...tart and not super sweet like you get at the store. I liked this pie and would make it again for another birthday or any time. I need to get more practise at making my own crust but I like the taste of it and thought it was yummy!

Also I wanted to wish my son a very Happy 2nd Birthday today!

Happy Birthday!!

Today is my son's 2nd Birthday and I really can't believe it has been 2 has gone by so fast. Below is a little video of him practising blowing out his birthday candles....we are going to have a family party on Saturday and I wanted him to be prepared.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Quick and Easy Dinner

During the week it's hard to think of quick and easy dinner to make after a long day at work. One that I like to make often is chicken stir-fry. To make it easy I usually buy Tyson's or Perdue's thin cut chicken tenderloins and a bag of the frozen stir fry veggies. Cook the chicken, throw the veggies in and your favorite sauce and wa-la....dinner. But I made the mistake of buying Perdue's thin sliced chicken breast instead. Well that got the wheels turning on another quick and easy dinner. Stuffed chicken breast!! You can use whatever fillings you want the list is really endless, just think of any combo that works and go with it.

So I decided to make Artichoke, roasted red pepper and feta cheese stuff chicken. You're probably wondering does it taste as good as it sounds. OH YEAH!! I knew I had a keeper when my husband asked me where I got the recipe from and I told him I made it up. His reaction was the best....he was like....really because it's good!!

What you need is 1 package of Perdue thin sliced chicken breast , a can of quartered artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and feta cheese. There are no measurements so you can use as much or as little of the ingredients as you want. I have a Black and Decker Handy Mini chopper, that now has become one of my favorite gadgets. All you need to do is throw everything into it and chop. Spoon the mixture on to the chicken, roll and place seam side down on a baking dish. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Enjoy!

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Day With Chocolate...

Last Sunday I was driving my parents to my Mom's surprise 60th birthday brunch. On the way there I saw a sign for an upcoming event....a chocolate event. With February recipe being chocolate or something red the Chocolate World Expo was a perfect event to try and have all of us attend. I know that Heidi defiantly wants to go and I am in...hopefully all of us go and we can post all about the day...stay tuned!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ice Cream Yum!!

It's that time of year again when the Girl Scout flavor ice cream hits the supermarkets. They are only available January thru April, so you have try them while they last. It's funny depending where you live you either have Edy's or Dreyer's brand ice cream. I think it's the same company just a different name. Not sure why the different name in different regions, but it doesn't matter to me. Here in NY we have Edy's. I have bought my first gallon today, Samoas. My husband's favorite. My favorite is the Thin Mint Cookie flavor. I must say it's the best chocolate mint ice cream flavor EVER!!! I highly recommend it. It's a cure all remedy to whatever is bothering you. Defiantly a must at any girls night gathering.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pretzel Pralines

I have a bunch of blogs I like to look at from time to time. Not Martha is one of them and she had a post about Pretzel Pralines so I followed the link to the blog called, Ideas in Food. It had the recipe for the pretzel pralines. The pictures looked good and the recipe seemed easy so I gave it try it.

Pretzel Pralines

1 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups broken pretzel pieces
2 tablespoons of cold butter cut in small pieces

Place sugar, salt and pretzel pieces in a heavy bottomed pot over a high flame. Stir the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon to thoroughly coat the pretzels with the melting sugar. Once most of the caramel has turned amber, but still looks sandy, lower the heat and add the butter. Stir well to blend and once the butter has been fully absorbed, turn the pretzels out onto a buttered sheet tray or silpat. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before eating.

My Review: It was easy to make, but I made the mistake of making right when I got home from the gym. Since you need to stir it constantly my arms got tired quickly. Also, I think I used to wrong sized pot. I made a mess of the stove. Oh and I forgot to lower the heat when adding the butter so it over cooked a little. This is what happens when I try to make something when I'm tired. It tastes good, not to sweet, but the praline is on the hard size. But I think that's because I over cooked it. I'm going to try to make this again, when I'm more a wake. Plus now I know what to expect and how much time it will take. It reminds me of when I make butter crunch. It usually doesn't come out right the first time.

I made a second batch which came out just as good. Also, do not use a non-stick pot!! It will scratch the pot.

Kath's Jan pic'

I know this isnt a chili or a soup...but its close...I decided to make a yummy beef stew. I got the recipe from Kraft foods, and wow, it was so easy. The prep time was nothing...just cutting up the potato's, veggies and letting the meat marrinade. I didnt have a chance to try it last didnt finish cooking until almost 8:30, but I gave some to my brother and he called and told me it was excellent!! I brought some in for lunch today, so I'll see for myself at lunch time. Heres the recipe:

Prep Time:15 min
Total Time:2 hr 15 min
Makes:8 servings, 1-1/4 cups each
3/4 cup KRAFT Zesty Italian Dressing
2 lb. beef for stew, such as beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch chunks
6 slices OSCAR MAYER Bacon, chopped
3 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped onions (about 1 large)
3 cups sliced carrots (about 6 medium)
1-1/2 lb. potatoes, peeled, cut into large chunks (about 4 cups)
1 can (14-1/2 oz.) stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 can (14-1/2 oz.) beef broth
POUR dressing over meat in large resealable plastic bag. Seal bag; turn to evenly coat meat with dressing. Refrigerate 30 min. to marinate. Meanwhile, cook bacon in large saucepan on medium heat 5 min. or until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon from saucepan; drain drippings.
ADD mushrooms and onions to same saucepan; cook on medium-high heat 10 min. or until tender, stirring occasionally. Remove meat from marinade; discard marinade. Add meat, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, broth and bacon to saucepan; stir.
BRING to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 1 hour 15 min. Uncover; simmer an additional 15 min. or until meat is cooked through and sauce is thickened, stirring occasionally.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Heidi's January Pick - Pasta e Fagioli

I'm so glad this months category was soup or chili. I've been waiting to make some kind of soup for a while. So looking for a recipe and I came across Pasta e Fagioli. I haven't had this in a long time so I decided to give it a try.

Pasta e Fagioli

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (small onion)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 pound seashell pasta

1. Heat oil in 4 quart Dutch oven over medium heat until hot. Add onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes or until onion is tender.

2. Add undrained tomatoes, undrained cannellini beans, chicken broth, basil and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Let boil for approximately 1 minute and then let simmer for 10 minutes, covered.

3. Add pasta to Dutch oven and simmer approximately 10 to 12 minutes or until pasta is tender.

My review: I must say this was a very tasty recipe. It was easy to make and took less the 30 minutes to make. A great quick dinner for those cold winter nights. Filling and mm mm good. The one thing I did different was used diced tomatoes instead of the stewed tomatoes. I also left out the fresh parsley, it didn't need it at all.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Hearty Bean & Barley Soup

I have to say one of the only reason I like the cold weather is the nice warm food you can make to heat yourself up. Of course the day I decide to make soup it is almost 60 degrees outside...and tomorrow it is suppose to be warm.

I was also inspired to make my January recipe after Jenn's party this past weekend. She has our monthly theme calendar printed and hanging on the refrigerator. I think almost everyone asked Jenn what the calendar was all about.

Hearty Bean & Barley Soup
From: Campbell's Kitchen

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Serves: 6

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 large carrots, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, sliced (about 1 cup)
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 1/2 cups Swanson® Vegetable Broth (regular or Certified Organic)
1 can (about 15 ounces) red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes
1/4 cup uncooked pearl barley
2 cups firmly packed chopped fresh spinach leaves
Ground black pepper

1) Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, celery and onion. Cook and stir until the vegetables are tender.

2) Stir in the broth, beans, tomatoes and barley. Heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the barley is done.

3) Stir in the spinach and season to taste with black pepper. Cook until the spinach is tender.

Review: I like this recipe a lot because it has a simple ingredient list and it is a quick meal to put together. I added ABC pasta to it because I didn't feel that there was enough barley in the soup. I couldn't add anymore because it would have taken another 30minutes for the new barley to cook...I was also afraid that additional barley would soak up a lot of the liquid. My husband came home very late from work tonight and heated himself up 2 bowl fulls of the soup. He really liked this recipe and said that I should add this to the list. That it is up there with the Chili that I make a lot. Defiantly plan to make this again and again.

Artichoke-Cheese Braids

Happy New Year, All!

This past weekend, I had a party for my friends and family and decided to make a few new dishes. One of which is the Pillsbury Artichoke-Cheese Braids. I had a ton of food out, but as soon as I took these out of the oven and cut them up, people where already devouring them! And I made 2 batches! So, I figure I have to post the recipe, as it is really easy to make (the directions take a minute or two to understand, at least for me), but after that, it is smooth sailing! Enjoy!

3/4 cup drained finely chopped artichoke hearts (from 14-oz can), patted dry with paper towels
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 can (8 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1 jar (2 oz) diced pimiento, drained, patted dry with paper towels
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat oven to 375°F. In small bowl, mix artichokes, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and the mayonnaise.
2. Unroll dough and separate into 2 long rectangles; place crosswise on opposite ends of ungreased large cookie sheet. Press each into 11x4 1/2-inch rectangle, firmly pressing perforations to seal.
3. Spoon half of artichoke mixture lengthwise down center of each rectangle in 1 1/2-inch-wide strip. Top each evenly with pimiento.
4. On long sides of each rectangle, make 15 cuts about 3/4 inch apart almost to edge of artichoke mixture. For braided appearance, fold strips of dough at an angle halfway across artichoke mixture with ends of strips slightly overlapping, alternating from side to side; pinch to seal.
5. Bring ends of each braid together to form ring; press ends together to seal. Carefully brush tops of rings with egg; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon Parmesan cheese.
6. Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool 5 minutes. Carefully loosen braids from cookie sheet with wide spatula; slide onto serving plate. Cut between strips into thin slices; serve warm.

High Altitude (3500-6500 ft) No change.

1 Serving: Calories 45 (Calories from Fat 20); Total Fat 2g (Saturated Fat 1g); Cholesterol 10mg; Sodium 135mg; Total Carbohydrate 4g (Dietary Fiber 0g, Sugars 1g); Protein 2g Percent Daily Value*: Vitamin A 0%; Vitamin C 0%; Calcium 2%; Iron 0% Exchanges: 1/2 Fat Carbohydrate Choices: 0

Review: Very tasty and easy to make. I used the reduced fat crescent rolls and roasted red pepppers diced up (rather than the pimentos). I also had to cook them at least 20 minutes, just to ensure the dough was completely cooked. Great party dish and they will be gobbled up quickly! Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

This is the late week of my husband's 2 week vacation from a busy year at work. We did a lot of stuff and it will be nice to get back to our "normal" routine.

Wednesday we went with my parents to the NY Botanical Garden to see their annual Holiday Train Show. My parents go every year and couldn't wait to take Jacob with them. They thought he would be too young for it this year but after seeing a train set up at a store (which he kept saying WOW) and that they can get us all in for free...what would it hurt to try it this year.

OH MY GOD it was amazing here is a description of what the show is about:
Wrapped in the glow of twinkling lights, model trains and trolleys zip along over bridges and on winding tracks past scaled replicas of New York landmarks made by award-winning designer Paul Busse. Orange slices, cinnamon sticks, poppy pods, pine cones, and other plant parts make a festive brew as the materials used to create the more than 140 architectural reproductions. Among the favorites are the Empire State Building, Little Red Lighthouse, Brooklyn Bridge, and the borough's own Yankee Stadium. The sights and sounds of locomotives with names such as Holiday Steam Engine and the North Pole and Snowflake Railroad are sure to evoke both magic and merrymaking.


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