Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pancakes for princesses

My girls wanted pancakes this morning. And not just any pancakes, but pancakes with pictures. I'm sure most of you cooks out there know how to do this, but I thought I'd post them any way. I start off with a really basic fluffy pancake recipe:

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup of milk
1 egg
1 Tbls. sugar
1/4 cup butter (melted) or oil
1 tsp vanilla

Combine the dry ingredients. Combine the wet ingredients and pour into the dry. Stir well.

To make the designs, you can use a small spoon, but if you have a squeeze bottle it is much easier.

Heat up the pan, make your design with the pancake batter and let it cook for about 10-15 seconds. Then pour more batter over the design to make the rest of the pancake. Flip the pancakes when small bubbles rise to the top.

Remember, if you are making something that is not reversible (like an initial), be sure to make it backwards so it will be the right way when you flip it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Asian Chicken with Green Beans and Noodles

Here is tonight's attempt to do something creative with chicken. I have a TON of sauces, mixes, and seasonings that I am determined to start clearing out. So tonight's victims were an envelope of Stir Fry mix, my last few drops of low-sodium soy sauce, and some TSG Peanut Ginger Sauce.

Asian Chicken with Green Beans and Noodles

3-4 Boneless Chicken Breasts
Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
1 packet Stir Fry Seasoning (used just less than 1/2 packet)
Brown sugar

Pound chicken breasts thin. Sprinkle with soy sauce, stir-fry seasoning and brown sugar (I didn't use a whole lot). Let marinate for 20-30 minutes. Grill until done (very techinical!).

Small serving of pasta, cooked
Handful of fresh Green Beans, cut in 1/2
1/2 Red Bell Pepper, chopped
1 Tbls. Peanut Ginger sauce (or your favorite black bean or Asian-style sauce.
1 tspn. Oil

Saute veggies in oil for 3-4 minutes. Add cooked pasta and sauce. Heat for several minutes until hot.

The chicken was really great - a little sweet, almost like that bourbon chicken you get at the mall. It probably would have been even more carmelized had I cooked it in a pan rather than the grill. Turns out the Peanut Ginger sauce was a little spicy, so it made a great accompaniment to the chicken. Still have a whole bottle of that to use.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Biscuit Kind of Day

While I'm on my homemade bread kick, I thought I'd make some biscuits this morning - I am from the south after all. I just picked a very simple recipe from some recipe site on the internet that went something like this:

  • 2 cups flour (can use 1 cup white, 1 cup whole wheat)
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk or water
  • 1/4 cup oil
Combine the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well. Drop pieces of the dough onto a cookie sheet (rough drop or roll and then flatten) and bake at 425 for about 20 minutes.

Well, it is the 425 part that I missed. I only had my oven at 350 - which explains why they didn't brown on the top. It's OK - they were yummy anyway. My kids didn't like them because they weren't flaky like the kind you get in the can. Whatever. More for me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Homemade French-Style Bread

Yesterday's Chicago Tribune had a big article on kneading and bread making and I just couldn't stop thinking about it. Call it a backlash from the no-carb diet. Plus, just another excuse to use my stand mixer. I've made plenty of beer bread and bread machine bread in my life, but not real, do it yourself, mix it, knead it, watch it rise bread. So I tried out the recipe in the Trib, too, for a Basic French-Style bread from Chef Tom Beckman of the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. The only thing I did different was to brush one loaf with egg whites before baking - which I definitely recommend. It didn't taste bad, either, but maybe a little bland.

Also, my bread seemed to have come out a little deflated, but not bad for a first try. The recipe actually made two loaves, but this one with the egg white wash was much prettier. Tomorrow I'm going to try the recipe that is on the back of the bread flour bag - it has a few more ingredients that should add to the taste.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Shrimp Stuffed Bell Peppers

OK, so this Friday I wanted to really make something meat-free. I did not even realize until this past Tuesday or Wednesday that I put sausage in last Friday's Shrimp and Grits - totally defeating the purpose of eating seafood on Friday. Duh! I just wasn't thinking - but it sure was good.

So determined to make something truly meat free this Friday, I chose Shrimp Stuffed Peppers. I had a recipe as a guideline, but I changed it a lot - the recipe I had even left out one of the listed ingredients. So here's my version:

Shrimp Stuffed Peppers (serves 4 - 6)
1 Tbls Olive Oil

1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/4 onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped
1 lb. raw shrimp (I used small Gulf shrimp), peeled
Cajun seasoning to taste (about 1 Tbls.)
3 Tbls. butter
1 cup rice, cooked
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs, plus extra
1/2 can cream of shrimp soup
(or cream of chicken or celery)
4 large green bell peppers (6 medium), tops removed and cored

Preheat oven to 350. Heat oil in sauce pan. Add chopped celery, onion, and bell pepper. Saute on medium until tender (about 3 - 5 minutes). Add shrimp and cook until shrimp is pink. Add butter, rice, soup, bread crumbs and seasoning. Stir until well mixed. Scoop shrimp mixture into bell peppers. Top shrimp mixture with bread crumbs. Place bell pepper in baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Lessons learned - You could add a more (a cup more) rice if you need this to stretch. I filled three very large bell peppers with a little left over. I'd probably add a few more bread crumbs to the mixture next time and a little more Cajun seasoning. If you use large shrimp, I would probably chop them. Bell peppers were cooked perfectly - tender, but still firm. Overall it was yummy. You could even use the filling to top fish or put in wontons.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Homemade Croutons and Sugar and Spice Pecans

Went to a friend's for dinner last Saturday and wanted to make a really great salad. We were having pizza, so I knew I wouldn't be adding chicken or shrimp. At Trader Joe's I found a really great lettuce mix that included dill and cilantro. I also bought a really great Manchego cheese, that I sliced thinly down the long side, rather than shredding it. But my two favorite items of the salad were homemade croutons and spiced pecans. I had half of a leftover baguette and thought it would be perfect:

Homemade Croutons
1/4 french baguette, sliced into small chunks
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 Tbls. Penzey's Tuscan Sunset Seasoning
Sea Salt to Taste
Ground Pepper To Taste
1 - 2 Tbls. grated Manchego cheese (or any kind)

Toss all in a bowl. Bake in 350 degree oven for 8 - 10 minutes, flipping one time, until light brown and toasty. Be sure to keep an eye out because they will burn fast.

Sugar and Spice Pecans
1/2 cup pecans (not toasted yet)
1 Tbls sugar
2 Tbls sugar
1 Tbls spice rub (I used TSG's Peppery Herb Rub)

Soak first two ingredients in one cup of water for 10 minutes. Drain pecans. Place sugar and spice in small zip top bag. Add pecans and shake until all pecans are covered. Place in 350 degree oven and bake for 8-10 minutes, until sugar is slightly melted. Be very careful because sugar and pecans will burn quickly.

Ummm, and did I mention that both of these will burn quickly. I pretty darn near burned the pecans, and well, you can see the darker spots on the croutons. But both were yummy - crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Two Types of People

I'm not sure what got me thinking about this today, but one thing is for sure . . . if you're not one thing, you're the other. And if you're the other than the one that you're not, the other than what you are can get on your last good nerve. Here's what I mean:

Those who fill the ice cube tray after taking out one cube. - Those who leave one ice cube in the tray

Those who like to fill the dishwasher - Those who like to fill the sink.

Those who clean up as they go along - Those who clean up at the end.

I'm not going to admit which categories I fall into, but mine is the right way! :) :)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Shrimp and Grits, Y'all

I know my posts are getting far and few between. It's been a pretty busy couple of weeks and I've been cooking just the basics and a couple of things I've already posted. Fridays around here during Lent mean no meat, so I've been saving the little seafood I get here in Chicago for Fridays. A friend of mine was down in New Orleans this past week (without me!!) and had shrimp and grits at Nola's and loved it. To be honest, it is not a dish I grew up with, but have had a couple of times in places more "southern" than New Orleans. I just couldn't get it out of my mind and decided to look up some recipes. I came up with a combination between a Paula Deen recipe and another one I found, but don't remember where. Here's my version:

SHRIMP AND CHEESE GRITS (easily feeds 3 or 4)
3/4 cup regular grits, not instant
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbls. butter
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 Tbls. cream cheese

1 Tbls. oil (I used olive oil)
1/2 lb. smoked sausage (or 1 lb. would be even better), chopped
1/2 green bell pepper chopped
1/4 onion, chopped
1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled, no tails
2 Tbls. white wine
1 cup cream
Cajun seasoning and hot sauce to taste.

Make grits as directed on box, except use chicken stock instead of water. At end of cooking time, add butter, cream cheese and cheddar cheese. Stir until melted, recover and remove from heat. Add hot sauce to taste (I added three dashes.)

In a separate pan, saute sausage in oil until browned. Add green pepper and onion and saute until veggies are soft. Season shrimp with Cajun seasonings. /Add shrimp and saute 5 - 7 minutes until shrimp are cooked. Remove shrimp, sausage and veggies from pan. Add the wine to deglaze the pan. Add cream and let reduce for a few minutes. Add shrimp, sausage and veggies back into the pan. Add a little more cajun seasoning.

Place grits in bowl. Top with shrimp mixture. Enjoy.
This was really good - the grits were creamy and not fake cheesy. I only used 1/2 lb. of sausage (skinless smoked sausage), but I would use 1 lb. next time, and something a little spicier, like andouille, if you can find it.

One day, I swear, I'll get back to my low-carb diet!!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Pork Roast Stuffed with Olives & Sundried Tomatoes

OK - back to the low carb dinners. Tonight's dinner was very easy and pretty tasty.

I had a pork roast supreme (both white and dark meat), sliced open a whole in the middle, filled it with chipotle seasoned olives, chopped sundried tomatoes, and fresh grated parmesan cheese. I seasoned the outside with olive oil and Penzey's salt-free Tuscan Sunset seasoning. Pretty simple. No leftovers - Mike ate most of it. :)

Before cooking:
After cooking:

Also today:
Breakfast -none
Lunch - Ham, Cheese and Turkey
Snack - Almonds and a couple of almonds.


Before jumping on the low-carb bandwagon again, I just had to try this recipe I saw for Cake Balls. I actually saw the recipe in the New Orleans Times Picayune and the balls were on a stick. OK - I can't keep calling them balls, but that seems to be what everyone's calling them. I just keep thinking about Alex Baldwin's SNL skit, Schwetty Balls. Anyway, I just saw a place on the web that is selling 6 for $16. WHAT?? I made over 50 with one box of cake mix, one tub of icing and a bag of white chocolate chips - less that $6.

While I would have made chocolate or red velvet, I was making these with my kids and their friends, so we used a yellow cake mix and vanilla icing. The sprinkles even came with the icing.

1 Box Cake Mix

1 Tub Icing

2 Bags white chocolate chips (melting chocolate would be better)

1. Prepare cake mix as directed. Let cool completely.

2. In a large bowl, crumble cake mix and add icing. Stir to combine. (I used my stand mixer.)Icing will soak into crumbs.

3. Optional: Place cake mixture in fridge during next step.

4. Melt chocolate in a double boiler.

5. Remove cake mixture from fridge. Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop cake mix and form into bite-sized balls. (Put balls on lollipop sticks if desired.)

6. Dip balls in chocolate. Decorate with sprinkles. Place in fridge for chocolate to harden.

I made these with my kids, so they are not perfect, but still adorable and delicious. And way better than paying $16 plus shipping for 6.

Before I get started again . . .

I've been procrastinating starting my low-carb diet again. I've been on vacation in New Orleans for a week and JUST HAD TO eat (and drink) all of my favorite things - crawfish fettuccini, fried shrimp, daiquiris, beignets, more daiquiris. So I've officially started again today, but before I start posting low- carb recipes again, let me get all of the "forbidden stuff."

My favorite New Orleans restaurant is R&Os in Bucktown. It is definitely not a tourist stop. It is located on the other side of the levee that broke during Katrina, so the original restaurant still stands. Actually, the very original spot was next door, but they built a bigger location. My favorite was always the shrimp sandwich - their french bread is actually a more Greek style with sesame seeds, lightly toasted. They always have the most beautiful shrimp - which, at least years ago, they used to catch some themselves. I think now my favorite is the shrimp salad. My dad and I usually split a large one. They hand toss each salad - and I'm not just talking about the salad, I mean the dressing, too. There's no gallon jug of salad dressing sitting in the back - the mayo, vinegar and seasonings are all tossed in when the salad is ordered. There's at least a dozen shrimp in there! This pic is after we ate about 1/4 of the salad.

Next on the list is an old favorite that I don't indulge in every time I visit - beignets (ben-yays). They are french-style doughnuts topped with lots of powdered sugar. The most famous location for beignets are the original Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter. I didn't want to face the crowds and lack of parking during Mardi Gras with the girls, so we went out to their Metairie location. And can you believe my girls would not even touch these! Well, I wasn't going to force them to eat dough and sugar, so I just had them all myself!!

And the last (but certainly not least) of my indulgences is pralines. Pralines are creamy blobs of brown sugar and pecans. After sampling many over the years, we love Loretta's Pralines the best. They used to be available right in the French Market, but since the storm and the renovations, you have to go to Loretta's store on Frenchman and Rampart. I've made pralines that taste the same, but I can't get her creaminess. I brought a few back this time to give as gifts. Her store also serves hot lunch during the week, and has other homemade cookies, candies, ice cream and more. Miss Loretta was nice enough to come out and chat with us. She had met my mom about a year ago at the pharmacy and gave my mom her cell phone number so we could get pralines when I visited even if the store was closed. How nice was that? Only in New Orleans.

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