Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tuscany Bread - a husband favorite...I think...

So, my mom has been in town since Christmas Day and unfortunately for our waistlines, her trip has revolved almost entirely around eating at delicious Madison restaurants followed by napping on my comfy couch. Needless to say, my husband and I are FULL. Dinner tonight, after dropping my mom off at the airport, needed to be something light, small and easy. Enter Tuscany Bread.
This recipe is our version of Pizzeria Uno's Tuscany Bread appetizer...My husband actually introduced this appetizer to me at Pizzeria Uno's long ago when we first started dating. We've been replicating the recipe for years.

  • 1 small French baguette
  • Fresh pesto
  • A couple handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
  • 4 - 8 Meunster cheese slices - just enough to cover the baguettes
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • A few lemon wedges
  1. If your baguette isn't crusty already, brown in a 375 degree oven for 5-8 minutes or until the outside is crusty. I've found that even if your bread is crusty already, that warming it up in the oven makes the pesto soak right into the bread, and speeds up the wilting of the spinach leaves (rather than leaving it up to the broiler to do all the work).
  2. Halve the baguette lengthwise and spread pesto on the cut sides. Add as much or as little pesto as you like
  3. Top bread with spinach leaves, a few tomatoes, then the cheese. Sprinkle a few more tomatoes on top of the cheese. As a side note, I often only need a few handfuls of spinach leaves so I just buy spinach from the salad bar rather than buying a huge bag.
  4. Place bread under a broiler on the high setting until cheese is melted and starting to brown.
  5. Remove from oven and cut into pieces, serve with lemon wedges.

Beef Tenderloin Roast, and No-Knead Bread...again!

We didn't travel anywhere for Christmas this year, but I wanted to make sure that we had some 'traditional' Christmas food to top our lazy day off. Plus, my mom was flying into town and I thought she'd enjoy a delicious beef tenderloin, her world famous scalloped potatoes and some other delicious food to end her afternoon of travel. I started by making the New York Time's No-Knead bread again, but in doing so I learned that I was actually using the wrong yeast to make the bread! I was using Active Dry and the recipe calls for Instant - apparently they're different! Well, the bread still turned out VERY yummy, and beautiful. I've bought some instant yeast now and I am dying to give the recipe a try with the correct yeast!
The centerpiece of my Christmas meal was a 2lb beef tenderloin:

Here's what I did to prepare the roast:
1. Bring roast up to room temperature - let it sit covered on the counter for about a half an hour or so.
2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. I used a convection roast setting on my oven.
3. Salt the roast generously on all sides using Kosher salt.
4. Sear/brown the roast on all sides until a nice carmel color forms.
5. Sprinkle freshly cracked pepper on the roast.
6. Transfer roast to a roasting dish or baking pan. I used a 13x9 glass pyrex dish. Worked just fine!
7. Cook roast to an internal temperature of 150 degrees for a medium roast. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Roast will continue to cook as it sits.
The beef tenderloin came out perfectly cooked, well seasoned and very tasty. I served it with salad, steamed carrots & broccoli, and scalloped potatoes. Clearly my dog was hoping for the leftovers...

Dinner was topped off by this decadent chocolate cake, courtesy of Betty Crocker. I have to admit, Betty does a better job at baking cakes than I do from scratch, so she won the competition for completing my Christmas dinner.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Peppermint Bark

I've had peppermint bark on my "to-make" list for about 2 or 3 weeks now. I finally got around to trying it, mostly because the idea of licking the melted chocolate off the back of my spatula sounded tasty. Anyway, the recipe is very simple and is something that you could easily set out at a holiday party or bring to work.

12oz White Chocolate
1tsp of peppermint extract
4-5 Candy canes, crushed

Melt chocolate on the melt setting on the microwave. My microwave used the melt setting for about 5 minutes. I pulled the chocolalte out and stirred a few times.
When chocolate is 95% melted, add the peppermint and stir thoroughly
Pour into a foil lined dish with a rim at least 1/4" thick.
Sprinkle the crushed candy canes over the top of the chocolate and gently press into the chocolate using a spoon or spatula.
Pop into the fridge to harden - about 10 minutes.
Break into irregular shapes!

Some variations you could do:
- After pouring on to foil-lined sheet, dot the surface with red food coloring and use a toothpick or fork to swirl through the chocolate.
- Use Andes mint pieces in addition to or in place of the candy canes
- Melt milk chocolate and pour over the foil lined surface. Let harden. Then pour the white chocolate on top of the milk chocolate to make a two-toned bark.
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Friday, December 19, 2008

New York Times' No Knead Bread

This was stupidly easy. Frankly, I can't believe I haven't heard about this recipe sooner! The recipe was published in the New York Times a couple of years ago and calls for the most basic ingredients; Flour, Yeast, Salt & Water. I almost didn't make it because I didn't have a cast iron, enamel, pyrex or ceramic dish that's required for baking. Also, I have ZERO experience with using yeast. It scares me. But, I bit the bullet and bought an enameled cast iron pot that I've been wanting for a long time anyway. And, since the recipe didn't call for 'blooming' the yeast before adding it in, I figured I'd give it a whirl.
Here's the recipe from the NYT website
  • 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed
  1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
  2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
  3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
  4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

I started step #1 at about 9:45 on Thursday night. By 10pm I was done mixing the dough. Covered it with plastic wrap, and let it sit until 3pm on Friday. Super simple.

The results: A super crusty, beautifully browned loaf of artisan bread. YUM YUM. I suggest trying this one.

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Broccoli Red Pepper and Cheddar Chowder

This is one of my favorite soup recipes for all year. It's comes together quickly, doesn't make a super huge batch (which is good when you're just a two-person household), and the ingredients are pretty common and inexpensive. This recipes comes out of the Gourmet Magazine cookbook and can also be found here:

1 small head broccoli (1/2 pound)
1 large boiling potato (1/2 pound)
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
l large garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 oz sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)

Discard tough lower third of broccoli stem. Peel remaining stem and finely chop. Cut remaining broccoli into very small (1-inch) florets. Cook florets in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking, then drain. Reserve 3 cups cooking water for chowder.

Peel potato and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Cook potato, onion, bell pepper, broccoli stems, and garlic in butter in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add cumin, salt, pepper, and mustard and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add reserved cooking water and simmer (partially covered), stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream and cheese and cook, stirring, until cheese is melted, then season with salt and pepper.

Purée about 2 cups of chowder in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids) and return to pot. Add florets and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 2 minutes.

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Oreo Truffles

These were SO easy to make. I made a half a batch of them to start... here's the recipe for half a batch, adapted from Kraft Foods' recipe:

1/2 package of Oreos (about 22-23)
4oz cream cheese, softened
4-6oz Milk Chocolate

1. Crush Oreos in a food processor or blender, or mash with rolling pin. Go for a fine grain, it will look like potting soil when you're done.
2. Mix Oreos and cream cheese together, form into 1inch balls
3. Refrigerated Oreo balls for about an hour
4. Melt the chocolate, roll the Oreo balls in the chocolate, set on wax paper or other non-stick surface. Top with crushed Oreos before the chocolate sets!

Store in air tight container in the refrigerator.

I think you could easily substitute other cookie types for the Oreos - I'm thinking the golden oreos could be one to try. Also, Keebler's Grasshopper cookies would probably be delicious! The texture of these truffles is somewhat similar to the red velvet cake balls I made earlier.
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Chili

Come September, I think I make this chili at LEAST once a week. It is great as leftovers, can be frozen and is so easy to make. There's a lot of "eyeballing" amounts here, so take my measurements with a grain of salt.

1.3 - 1.5lbs of ground chuck - using ground chuck is important in my opinion. It stays moist and tender when you brown it.
1 med. yellow onion, diced
1 can hot chili beans
1 can of chili ready diced tomatoes (I like using Red Gold)
1 small can of tomato paste (to thicken)
1 bottle of tomato juice
1-3 Tbsp Chili Powder (depending on spice level)
1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper, or to taste (optional)
1/2 Tbsp. Brown sugar (optional)

1. Brown ground beef in stock pot. When 95% done, drain off fat. Set ground beef aside.
2. Add diced yellow onion to the pot, sauteeing until nearly translucent/soft. Taking this step helps to prevent biting into crunchy onions in your chili. If you like crunchy onions in your chili, you don't have to sautee as long.
3. Add ground beef back to pot.
4. Add beans, diced tomatoes, and half can of tomato paste.
5. Add tomato juice; reserve a couple of cups of the juice. If you over-season or over-thicken the chili, you can use this left-over juice to de-spice or thin it out.
6. Add chili powder, cayenne pepper. I always add about a tablespoon to tablespoon and a half of Chili powder to start, kind of eyeballing the powder. I like to see little flecks of the spices in the chili. I add more as I taste and go along. Cayenne pepper is added to taste. Add brown sugar at this point. The brown sugar gives it a little bit more round flavor, but I don't think it's necessary. Most times, I leave it out.
7. Let it simmer!
8. If the chili looks to thin for your taste, you can add more tomato paste.

The picture here, my chili is served on a bed of Fritos Scoops and a dollop of sour cream.

Some notes on this:

  • Chili powder adds a nice smokieness and a bit of heat to the chili. To make the chili spicier (rather than smokier), add the cayenne pepper.
  • I usually end up using about 1/2 to 3/4 of a small can of tomato paste to thicken my chili. Kind of depends on how thick I want it.
  • This recipe can be stretched with macaroni noodles. I'd cook the noodles until al dente separately, then drain, add to chili and let them simmer in the chili. If you do this, I'd keep the chili thinner by adding less tomato paste.
  • Similarly, I sometimes boil spaghetti noodles separately, then when finished cooking, drain the noodles, add chili to the spaghetti pot and saute the noodles with the chili!
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Bakerella's Red Velvet Cake Truffles: Super easy, and so good....

1 box red velvet cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake) Or, use a german food or devils food cake, and add 1 tube of red food coloring. I used Duncan Hines' Red Velvet cake and it produced a nice red cake.
1 can cream cheese frosting (16 oz.)
1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)
wax paper or foil (something that you can sit the drizzled truffles on to dry

1. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl. Use a LARGE bowl. I crumbled half the cake and the large Pyrex bowl I was using was full.
2. Mix thoroughly with 1 can cream cheese frosting.
3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet. (Should make 45-50. In making just half the cake, I got 28 truffles.)
4. Chill for several hours. (You can speed this up by putting in the freezer.)
5. Melt chocolate in microwave per directions on package. Melt functions on microwaves would work here.
6. Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper or foil until firm. I used a fork to get the extra coating off.

For an added touch, I used the left over coating in the bowl to drizzle over the top of the truffles. Fill a ziploc baggie with the melted chocolate. Cut the corner off (very very small cut) and drizzle.

AND, here's what became of the other half of the cake - equally delicious!!:

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hershey's Peanut Butter Blossoms

I wanted to make this prior to Thanksgiving, but ran short of time before having to leave town. So, Sunday after Thanksgiving the itch to make these hit...The recipe says it makes 48, but somehow it only managed to make about 40 for me.
Here is the recipe, courtesy of Hershey's.

48 HERSHEY'S KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Granulated sugar

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.
2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.
3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.
4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.
About 4 dozen cookies.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Chicken Club Sandwiches...sort of, AND fries

Ingredients (for two sandwiches):
4 Slices Oscar Mayer Center Cut Bacon
1 Chicken Breast, flattened
4 pieces of Bibb Lettuce
1 Vine Ripe Tomato, Sliced
2 Ciabatta Rolls
1 Baking Potato, cut into 1/2 inch fries
Vegetable Oil for frying

Heat oil in saucepan. Do not overfill the pan, and do not over-heat the oil! To test oil temp, drop one fry into the oil. When it starts to bubble, its ready. Monitor the pot closely so it doesn't boil over. Be careful!
Drop small batches of the potatoes (about half the fries) into oil, cook until golden brown
Remove to a paper towel
Season immediately with salt

Pound chicken breast until flatted, about a 1/2 inch thick. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 T. of oil in skillet, add chicken. Saute 4 mins each side until chicken is cooked through.
Set aside to cool.
Cook 4 slices of Bacon in microwave
Slice Ciabatta rolls and toast
Slice chicken in half
Assemble sandwich with Mayo, Lettuce, Tomato, Bacon and Chicken.
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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Chicken Milano

This is the Chicken Milano recipe on

Only modifications made were to add parmesan to the cream mixture, and also cut up the chicken after sauteeing and let simmer with the cream. Additionally, I used fresh fettucine noodles from RP's Pasta (, a local pasta maker in Madison, WI. The flavor of the noodles (egg-iness) was pretty prominent but still quite tasty! The strength of the sauce combined with the strong flavor of the noodles made for a very rich dish. I might try this with their linguine next time.

I could also see making this sauce into a vegetarian friendly dish using portobello mushrooms and vegetable broth.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Chicken Fried Chicken - Comfort food!

This is the Chicken Fried Chicken Recipe from
It's super easy. I flatten my chicken before dredging in egg and cracker mix. Can be easily made without the potato flakes, but the flakes do add a little something extra. I serve with Mashed Potatoes and Corn spiced with red pepper flakes.
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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Apple Crisp - sort of...

My craving for apple pie has been partially solved this evening! I had some granny smith apples calling my name so I decided to make the filling and topping for this apple pie recipe on

Instead of baking in a 9-inch pie crust, I buttered a small casserole dish, dumped in the apples, and baked them for 20mins before putting the topping on. Once I put the topping on I baked it for another 25 minutes. Then broiled for about 2mins to crisp up the top a little bit more. Probably wasn't necessary!
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Monday, October 27, 2008

Vegetarian Biscuits and Gravy

I had a major craving for biscuits and gravy this weekend, despite not being a fan of sausage. I don't think I've had the stuff for years and I'm really only familiar with my grandma's. Well, a trip to the grocery store and a sighting of Gimme Lean sausage inspired me to attempt a vegetarian version of biscuits and gravy for "brinner" tonight. I am by no means a vegetarian, (as evidenced by my OM bacon on the right), but I like Gimme Lean because I can get the sausage flavors that I like, while avoiding the sausage texture that I can't handle.

Here's what I did;
Put a little oil in a saute pan.
Saute about 3-4 inches of the Gimme Lean, and break it up in the pan. Cook until golden brown. Set aside.
Add 1.5T of butter in the pan, add 2T. of flour to form a roux. Cook for 1 min.
Add 1.5C. of milk, whisking frequently to avoid lumps.
Once mixture begins to thicken, add sausage to gravy.
Add pepper to taste (LOTS usually)
I added cayenne for an extra kick.

Pretty tasty! I think my sausage could have handled being sauteed a little longer, it was a little mushy and needed to be firmer. Next time!
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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Buttermilk Waffles (Gourmet Cookbook)

These waffles are fantastic. And, they freeze really well - just pop into toaster!

3 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 Tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 1/4 cups well shaken buttermilk
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat waffle iron

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt in large bowl
Add buttermilk, eggs, butter and stir until smooth; batter will be thick.
Scoop 1/3 cup of batter mix into waffle iron, cook until golden brown

To freeze - let waffles cool completely on cooling rack. Transfer to a freezer-grade ziploc bag. Toast in toaster on medium-high toast setting.

Chicken Bacon Avocado Club Sandwiches

Avocado, bacon, chicken, lettuce, mayo, and tomatoes on fantastic toasted bread. Need I say more?

Chicken Tikka Masala

Overall it was good, but it was a LOT of work! I added some curry to my sauce.

"Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies"

Ashley's Spicy Penne a la vodka

1/2 lb of Penne
1T. Olive Oil
1T. Butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1c. Vodka
1c. Chicken stock
1 (small) can of crushed tomatoes
1/4c. heavy cream
Parmesan cheese
Spinach leaves (optional)
Boil water and cook the penne. Meanwhile, melt butter in olive oil on med. heat. Saute garlic and shallots in the oil/butter mix. Add vodka and reduce by half. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, simmer until your noodles are done. When noodles are done, drain & set aside. Add cream. Add sauce to noodles and warm up, tossing in parmesan and spinach leaves if desired.

Blackberry Slump a la mode