Saturday, December 5, 2009

roasted pecans

i never really liked pecans growing up. maybe it was my child's palate. maybe it was my disdain for odd things in my baked goods (nuts and raisins are members of the "odd things" family). hard to say why. and even now, a plain pecan is nothing to write home about, much less grab a handful and curl up on the couch for a snack.

but these....ooooooh, these. they are amazing chopped up on a salad. incredible sprinkled over mashed yams. and a tempting, delicious grab-a-handful kind of snack.

and they're really easy!

roasted pecans
original recipe

1 pound raw pecans
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp sugar
salt to taste

preheat oven to 325-degrees. spread pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. bake pecans for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until pecans are browned--be careful not to burn them! during the last round, melt butter and sugar together in the microwave. stir to combine butter and sugar--all the sugar may not dissolve.

put hot pecans in a heat-safe bowl and drizzle with butter/sugar mixture. stir until all pecans are coated. spread pecans back out on the baking sheet and sprinkle with just a little bit of salt. stir to combine. taste. add more salt if needed, but you really need less than a teaspoon total.

let pecans cool. eat as is or chop up and sprinkle wherever you would like.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

how to seed a pomegranate without stains or beatings

hello, allow me to introduce myself. i am your new best friend.

oh beautiful pomegranate tasty, so delicious, soooooo difficult to obtain! whether creating a staining mess or beating the tar out of the peel whilst flinging juice everywhere--is it really worth it? how much stain remover must one buy when one just wants the sweet nectar of a pomegranate?

i tell you, NONE! here, my dear reader, i will reveal the secret to stain-free, beating-free, flinging-free adventure of getting to pomegranate seeds. sorry kids, you'll have to take your aggression out on a different source. hold on to your hats--here we go!

fill a bowl 3/4 full with cool water. be sure to use a bowl big enough to fit the whole pomegranate as well as your two hands.

cut each end off the pomegranate--just need enough off each end to get access.
then, and this is important, score the peel several times by cutting into the peel just enough to break the outer layer, then drag the knife from top to bottom.

now plunge your scored pomegranate along with your two hands into the cool water.
begin peeling back the outer layer, breaking the shell along the score lines.
run your thumb and/or finger across the pomegranate seeds to loosen them from their shell.

see how those lovely, lovely seeds drop to the bottom of the bowl?
and that icky, icky pith floats to the top?
and see how the peel is lacking those seeds it so desperately holds onto?
and notice still how very little juice has leaked out and colored the water?
ah, yes, hang in there. you're almost to the promised land.

keep prying and rubbing until all the seeds are loose.
see how all the seeds are at the bottom, and all that pith is floating?
what's more--see how my little fingers hold no stain?!?!
(they are pink because i used freeeeeeeeezing cold water!!)
and though the water is tinged pink,
no stain, no mess, no beating the tar out of fruit.
it's a beautiful thing!

i put the seeds on a paper towel to dry them a bit before tossing them in a bowl to snack.

elapsed time: 10 minutes.
number of stains: 0
number of tasty, tasty pomegranate seeds: fewer and fewer as i munch away.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

butternut squash w/ italian sausage soup

ah, squash. i used to wrinkle my nose and shake my head as my mom pulled the roasted squash from the oven as part of dinner. now, as an adult, i recognize it's tastiness--and it's healthy too! you just can't beat that.

and though the butternut squash and sausage combo may give you the same reaction i had to squash in childhood, trust me, this is a keeper! now, i have made this with italian sausage or plain, fresh onion or dried minced, fresh garlic or pre-minced, roasted squash or frozen squash, chicken stock or bullion or soup base, heavy cream or milk--any way you shake it, it's still good! below are instructions for how i made it today.

butternut squash w/ italian sausage soup
heavily adapted from emeril

1 pound italian sausage
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 Tbsp dried minced onions
5 Tbsp cold water
2 rounded Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp ground sage
3 ten-ounce packages frozen cooked squash
6 cups water
2 1/2 Tbsp "organic better than bullion reduced sodium chicken base"
1 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

heat olive oil in large skillet. when the oil is not-yet-smokin' hot, add the sausage and brown it. meanwhile, put dried minced onions in a small bowl or mug and add the 5 Tbsp cold water--allow to sit 10 minutes to reconstitute. when sausage is browned, add reconstituted onions to the pan. cook several minutes until the onions begin to brown. add garlic and cook a minute or so, stirring to brown the garlic. add sage and stir.

in a large stock pot, add frozen cooked squash, 6 cups water and chicken soup base. turn the heat on high and allow to warm as you are finish cooking sausage mixture. add sausage mixture to squash mixture in the large stock pot. bring to a boil, stirring occasionally as you break up the frozen squash. once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

in batches, use a blender to pulse-puree the soup, dumping it in a different pot after each blend. REMEMBER: hot liquid spews all over the place!! AND you have to let the steam release--so use the lid, but pull out that middle plug first! in my 6-cup blender, i only put in 2-cups of hot soup at a time and pulse several times until the larger sausage chunks become small sausage chunks.

once pureed, add cider vinegar and cream. stir until blended. serve and enjoy!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

spinach cream sauce

over time, you will notice my obsession with warehouse shopping results in some interesting pantry-cleaning cooking adventures.

such is this recipe. first, if you ever, EVER take fresh spinach (not that i bought the three pound bag for $3 or anything, nooooo) and try to wilt it and freeze it, chop it first before the steaming begins...else you will wind up with long strands of spinachy goodness that may be nutritious, however slurping up your spinach like a spaghetti noodle may be just enough to turn off your eaters.

that said, here's my adventure in spinach cream sauce.

yep, that's a big frozen chunk of (should've been chopped) spinach. feel free to use the 10-oz container you can get in the freezer section. i toss the frozen in the pan on low and allow it to thaw there. yes, it will add extra moisture, but because the sauce eventually simmers and reduces, it's not that big of deal.

once the spinach is warmed, toss in a couple teaspoons of minced garlic. i would love to say that i use fresh garlic all the time, and i used to do exactly that. but this time, it's the jarred stuff. (and yes, there is a larger warehouse-sized container in my fridge--the lil' guy was purchased in a pinch). and the stuff lasts forever!

this is after adding about a cup and a half of chicken broth, then toss in about 2/3 cup of your favorite sour cream (this is fat free stuff here). stir it around and get....

...creamy goodness. as one who find béchamel a bit, well, boring, the sour cream melts into a creamy sauce. now, because there's broth in there, the tang of the sour cream is lessened. let the loveliness simmer a bit then add parmesan.

yep, terrible picture (and sideways to boot), but this amazingly tasty sauce goes great over your favorite pasta. i chose chicken/pancetta whole wheat ravioli. if you want more cream than spinach, add more sour cream and broth. i like my rife with veggies.

spinach cream sauce
original recipe

10-ounces frozen spinach
2 tsp minced garlic
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
salt and pepper to taste (remember, parm is saaaalty!)
favorite pasta, prepared in your favorite way

very veggie tomato sauce

i admit it. i am obsessed with my local warehouse store. my shopping cart and i, flit around, perusing the aisles of way-too-much-for-my-household packages. but i just cannot resist two things: a good deal and great food.

which brings us to my recent purchase. i just couldn't pass up spending less than three dollars for a ginormous (gigantic + enormous = ginormous) can of already crushed tomatoes begging for transformation into yummy goodness.

warning: this is a "hmm, that might be good" kind of recipe. if you're looking for traditional marinara, this is not your gig. but if you're looking for a little different twist on an old classic, you may find this enjoyable. oh yeah, and i have a terrible time getting veggies in my diet, so tossing them in a pot kills two birds with one stone for this girl.

drizzle some olive oil in a pan and bring up the heat. chop, in fairly equal sizes, carrots, celery and onion. i used about 1 cup of each. saute until veggies are tender. add tomatoes and simmer:

oooh, simmery goodness. it will simmer and reduce 45 minutes to an hour. now, if i weren't such an amateur, i would have remembered to take a picture of this after it was done simmering and gently spread over my favorite thin spaghetti--Ronzoni Whole Wheat Pasta Blend--all the health of whole wheat pasta without ANY of that nasty wet-cardboard texture. I have even served it to those who "hate" all things whole wheat and they couldn't tell the difference. Get some. Try it. Tasty, tasty goodness. (Just make sure it is the "blend".)

Very Veggie Tomato Sauce
original recipe

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
1 tsp minced garlic
6 cups crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp sugar (or more if you like a sweet tomato sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp dried parsley

Drizzle olive oil in large pan. When heated, add onion, celery, and carrots. saute until veggies are tender and onions are translucent--depending on the diameter of the pot, this could take 10-15 minutes. Add garlic and saute a couple of minutes (babysit this closely as you do not want the garlic burn.) Add tomatoes, basil, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. simmer 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add parsley and stir again.

Serve over your favorite pasta.

Makes approximately 8 cups of sauce.

Friday, October 9, 2009

14 layer cake

oh, the coveting.
oh, the drooling.

i regularly click in to several different food blogs to see what's cooking in others' kitchens. and oh, did this one catch my eye.

14 layers of vanilla cake,
draped in chocolate ganache.

14 layers!
i had to try it.
i had to go on this quest,
learning the joy (or pain?) of making such a masterpiece.

it was glorious! and so imposing, with its drizzly goodness i had to invite eight people over to help eat it. not only did we all enjoy a healthy slice, everyone got one to-go as well.

oh the humanity! the purchase of individual cakepans saved much hand-washing of my two cake pans between layers--and let's face it, i despise the hand-washing of dishes!

the layers in the foreground represent the moment i realized that four cooling racks for fourteen layers may present a problem. but these layers are so thin, the cooling ones are cooled by the time the resting ones are ready to cool. it worked out great! bakes for 12 minutes, then rests in the pan for a few minutes before being turned out to cool completely.

now, i love a new kitchen gadget as much, or even more, than the next fanatical baker. but grease & flour in a can?!? you've got to be kidding me! i never wanted to "waste" my money on something that was sure to clog the spray and render itself useless. oh my, was i soooo wrong! especially with the crinkly sides of aluminum cake pans, this stuff was priceless! i still use it for things like bundt pans (which are oh-so-tough to really get good and grease/floured). it's kind-of spendy to use for simple things, but it is so worth it when those more intricate pans need a good grease/flour.

ooh. as the last layers were cooling, i began the ganaching process. the cardboard cake round makes this so easy to prop up on a cooking rack in a baking sheet to catch the extra drizzles (which may or may not been swiped by a finger every so often--i'm just saying).

the fully ganached beauty. the cardboard round, cut to just a smidge wider than the cake, made for moving the fully ganached cake from the drizzle-catching set up.... its final presentation spot atop great-grandma josie's cake plate.

and just to remind you of the final, magnificent product:

this recipe was designed for 12 layers, but the previous blogger's 14 looked more manageable (i know, i don't understand why either). the pictures reflect using 14 layers. the pans i used were 8.5" aluminum pans (which i washed and re-use for other things).

by Art Smith

click on recipe title to go to the original recipe.