Wednesday, September 30, 2009

thirty-one days

It's almost here...

Starting tomorrow, our family is taking the month off from going out to eat. No more Saturday morning breakfasts at the local diner. No more fast food for lunch for my husband. No more walks to the frozen custard place up the street. And no more saying we have nothing for dinner and off we head to Osage Beach.

We're doing this mainly to see what kind of effect it will have on our monthly food budget. We'll need to be more creative and definitely more motivated to make it to the grocery store so we always have something on hand. Quite frankly, I'm excited. It's a challenge and I love challenges. I'm hoping to try many new recipes and even come up with some of my own. (I'm thinking of entering recipe contests to see if I can make some extra money.)

So here's to having many great recipes to blog about in October. And hopefully we save a bunch of money too.

Monday, September 28, 2009

an easy salmon recipe

On a date night this summer, my hubby and I went to a seafood restaurant on the lake and I ordered the special. Salmon with spinach, bacon, mushrooms and feta cheese all wrapped up in phyllo dough and baked to perfection. Yummy! And the best part, the salmon didn't taste like fish at all. Just the way I like it.

This weekend we tried a recipe from the newest Food Network star, Melissa d'Arabian. Her Kid-Friendly Salmon was a cinch to make. I threw the marinade together in the morning, let the salmon go for a swim in it all afternoon and put it under the broiler for a few minutes right before dinner. The marinade gave a nice flavor to the salmon, but it was still a little fishy for me. The dipping sauce (reduced marinade) was so pungent that it only took a little to take away any remaining fishy flavor.

I served the salmon over rice and thought I'd include the recipe for it since my husband said it was rice-tastic. (I think we've been watching a few too many episodes of Bathtastic on DIY network lately.) The recipe is adapted from one in the most recent edition of Southern Living magazine.

Citrus Rice-tastic
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice

Stir the chicken broth, butter and orange juice together in a medium saucepan over high heat. Let it come to a boil and then stir in the rice. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes.

The marinade did give the salmon a good flavor, although I'm not sure I'd have called it "kid-friendly." My daughter really likes fish and she only ate took a couple bites before proclaiming, "No like this." I am still on the hunt for a repeatable salmon recipe...maybe one with bacon and feta and...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"worth the effort" hot chocolate

I may have been reaching when I served Giada's Hot Chocolate with our breakfast for dinner menu this summer, but hey, why not. Turns out I'm the only one in our family who is willing to drink a warm beverage while sweating.

After making hot chocolate from scratch a few years ago, I've never went back to the packets. It may be a bit easier, but you really sacrifice in flavor and if I'm going to drink hot chocolate, I want it to be good. To the recipe I added 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. I like the extra flavor this touch gives.

I loved Giada's idea of a Hot Chocolate Bar with a selection of toppings. I think this would be great to serve if you're having a get-together at your home. (Just not in the summer.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

a fun way to have eggs

To go along with the breakfast pizza, I made another entree from Giada's Breakfast in Bed menu, Lemon and Basil Eggs over Foccacia. (We ate ours at the table though. I didn't think it was worth the mess my 2 year old would make eating in bed this time. Although I am getting an idea for an indoor picnic dinner as I write.)

I made no changes to this recipe. It's easy and doesn't take much time to assemble. We all liked it well husband actually went back for seconds which is rare for him. He typically doesn't eat very much. My daughter enjoyed her piece too. It was a fun, out of the ordinary way to serve eggs to her. I thought it was okay, but nothing I would call fantastic and I usually only make things I think are incredible more than once so this probably won't be making it to our dinner table again, but I'm glad I gave it a try once.

Come to think of it, we really don't have meals we have on a regular basis at our home when it comes to dinner. I am always finding new recipes to try so it's almost always something we've never had before. Some things make a repeat appearance the following week or so, and then usually aren't seen again. Maybe through this blog adventure we'll find things we want to bring back again and first thought it the Ultimate Chicken Parmesan. (My husband asked for that again a few days ago. So good.)

So what are your family staple meals? (If there are any readers out there.) :-)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

i challenge you

Not so long ago, in an episode of Good Eats , Alton Brown challenged his viewers to scope out foods in our local grocery stores that we've never cooked with before and try them. Feeling inspired by his challenge, I went searching for something new, well, new to me at least. The ingredient I found...mascarpone cheese. I decided on a breakfast for dinner meal that I saw on Giada de Laurentiis' show, Everyday Italian, and made the Breakfast Pizza which uses my not-so-secret ingredient.

A few notes about this recipe:

1. I didn't have a vanilla bean to add to my cinnamon-sugar mix, but I think it still tasted good without it. I do think the vanilla bean would have added another depth of flavor, but who has those on hand?

2. I used whole milk instead of heavy cream to make the mascarpone cheese creamier and easier to work with because that's what I had on hand. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon, but I used 3-4 tablespoons before I really felt like I could spread the cheese mixture easily over the pizza crust.

3. The recipe says to put the berries on THEN sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon-sugar mix, but doing so makes the berries look dirty. I'd recommend spreading the cheese mixture, then sprinkling with cinnamon-sugar and put the berries on last for a nicer presentation.

We all enjoyed the breakfast pizza. I found it to be a bit heavy with the other things I made from her menu for the meal, but I think it would be nice in a small serving and I may consider making it again someday when there are more people to feed.

So now I want to pass along Alton's challenge to you. Step out of your comfort zone and try a new ingredient. I hope you'll be delighted with your choice.

(And more on the rest of the recipes I tried from that episode of Everyday Italian later this week.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

tips on making an easy trifle

"It was better than I thought it was going to be," says my husband when I asked him what he thought of our dessert from dinner last night. "I liked it."

Knowing he's not a fan of whipped cream, I didn't think he would swoon over my first ever trifle, so I was pleasantly surprised that his comments were positive. He liked the flavor of the whipped cream (I added almond extract to it, around a teaspoon.) Other changes to the recipe: I didn't have the amaretto cookies and demerara sugar for garnish, so I used raspberries instead. I made an angel food cake and tore that up instead of using pound cake and I bought light whipped cream instead of whipping my own to save me a bowl to clean :-) I guess you could say I was more inspired by Giada's Strawberry Trifle than I actually followed it.

I was a little disappointed in the lack of flavor from the strawberries. I thought marinating them in the balsamic vinegar would add a nice kick to the dish, but none of us could taste the vinegar. I drained them before adding to the trifle, and maybe that's where I went wrong. The recipe doesn't specify, but I think I'd recommend adding some of the juices from the marinade into the trifle.

My daughter sure enjoyed it (I think she got a bite from everyone at the table), and she didn't even ask for ketchup for this one.

Now that I have a trifle bowl, does anyone have any good recipes I can try with it?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

in the shape of a...

pumpkin! In celebration of our "decorate for fall" day on Thursday, I made our biscuits in the shape of pumpkins. I wanted to try a from-scratch recipe so I used Ina Garten's Chive Biscuits recipe, even though I didn't want the herbs in them this time. She had mentioned in her show that she uses the base recipe and then flavors them however she wants...fresh herbs, cheeses, whatever you fancy, but I just wanted plain biscuits for our dinner. (If you can even call them "plain" when there's homemade strawberry jam involved. Yum.)

We all gave two thumbs up on the way the biscuits turned out. They were thinner than what we usually think of for a biscuit, but that didn't seem to matter. Taste and texture were nice, and the recipe was easy to throw together for a nice addition to our meal. I could taste little pockets of butter and I think I was able to achieve that from freezing my stick of butter for a few minutes before I added it to the other ingredients to keep it as cold as possible so it wouldn't melt until it got in the oven. I do think at some point I will try out Alton Brown's biscuit recipe and see how they compare. I wouldn't mind having a great fluffier biscuit recipe too.

And, for the record, this was my husband's favorite of the three new recipes I tried for dinner Thursday night. I think I will have to concur.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

lemon-basil potatoes

The second recipe I tried with the Parmesan Chicken was Giada de Laurentiis' Lemon-Basil Potatoes. I followed this recipe to the letter and came up with very different reviews.

My husband didn't care for them. He thought they were way too lemony and he wouldn't ever want to have them again. I, on the other hand, liked the flavors the potatoes soaked up from cooking in the chicken broth and lemon juice. (Usually I cook my potatoes in water, as I'm guessing most of you do too.) The fresh basil was a nice addition to finish them as well. I'm not sure I can say what my daughter thought, because, just like the chicken, they were topped with a big scoop of ketchup. I didn't try them her way, but I'm guessing the ketchup masks just about any flavor she might have otherwise experienced. Come to think of it, maybe I should have served them that way to my husband too.

I know we haven't had great success with the first two dishes from Thursday night's meal, but stick around, I saved the best for last.

Friday, September 18, 2009

he said, she said

Even after making Tyler Florence's Ultimate Chicken Parmigiana and loving it, I still wanted to try Ina Garten's recipe for Parmesan Chicken to see how it compared. In retrospect, it was a silly thing to do. The recipes only offer slight variations so I'm not sure what I was expecting. On the plus side, now you don't have to try both, you can just take my word for it, Tyler's is much tastier. He only adds chopped fresh parsley and garlic powder, but those ingredients must really make a difference. My husband and I thought Ina's recipe was bland. My daughter happily ate it dunked in ketchup, which apparently is how she likes to eat everything right now.

One other note, Tyler's recipe called for the chicken to be cooked on medium-high heat and Ina's said to cook the chicken over a medium-low burner. The time she said it would take for the chicken to cook didn't nearly get the job done. I ended up having to finish it off in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes and I still had the thickest piece undercooked. Even though you have to watch the chicken very carefully to make sure you don't burn the coating in the hotter pan, I think it cooked the chicken much better that way and also helped the coating to stay on the chicken when it was flipped.

We tried two other recipes with this chicken...stay tuned to find out what we had and how our tastebuds reacted...on another installment of Eating Food Network.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A few weeks ago I tried making Mozzarella Pillows for dinner, minus prosciutto and a ravioli cutter. I left out the prosciutto because we're basically cheese pizza kind of people and I don't have a ravioli cutter, not yet at least. All parties involved liked them, but we agreed they'd be better as a snack than a dinner. They were not filling and interesting enough for a main course, but that was more my fault than Giada's. She had made them on an episode entitled Bake Sale, but I don't usually have time to try out recipes that are just going to be snacks (well, if you don't count sweets...hehe). These would be great as a treat for young kids.

and I can't leave this post without saying "Hot Pocket!" in my very best attempt at a Jim Gaffigan impression...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

in the form of a cookie

And this is where my addiction to puff pastry started. Proceed with caution.

You'd think with the name Palmiers that these would be super fancy cookies that took a lot of effort to make, but that's far from the truth. They are super simple and, in my opinion, one of the best uses of puff pastry sheets. I was weary of the salt, but Ina Garten said it really made the cookies great, and she was right. I'm learning, mostly because the Food Network stars mention it all the time, that salt really makes flavors pop, both savory and sweet. I've become a fan of Kosher salt. I really think it makes a difference rather than simple table salt in the impact it has on dishes. I'd recommend making the switch, if you haven't already.

I left my cookies a little underdone (I think they are supposed to come out very crispy) because I like the chewy texture of things with a little crunch on the outside edge. So addicting. They didn't last more than 24 hours in our house and my husband didn't even like them. In my defense, I only made one pastry sheet worth of them, but still, it was a lot of cookies to consume in a short amount of time...I just couldn't stop...and I'm blaming it on the salt.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

orange and nut squares

We had dinner with another family tonight and I was in charge of bringing dessert. Guess who decided to try out a new recipe to take? I don't know why I always try new things when other people other than the 3 of us are involved, but it's one of my bad habits. I'd seen Giada make Orange and Nut Squares on one of her shows a few weeks back and have been wanting to give them a try.

Concerning the recipe, I only cooked the sugar cookie dough for 15 minutes because my first attempt left the cookie too crisp when kept in the oven for the full length of time. Fifteen minutes was still a little much, but better than 25. I chose macadamia nuts because, well, I LOVE them and thought they'd be a good touch with the sugar cookie. Everything else was by the book.

My husband and I were not crazy about the bars. I think my main complaint was the orange and chocolate flavor combination. It didn't leave me wanting more, but if that is a taste you enjoy, these might be worth trying. They are simple to make and have a gourmet look. The kids all enjoyed them, so that was a plus. Maybe someday I'll learn to try things out first when other families are involved...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

go ahead, make your own sauce

With only chicken in the fridge and no inspiration for dinner, I turned on Food Network during my favorite time slot to find Giada to the rescue. She just happened to be making grilled chicken, with a homemade Balsamic BBQ Sauce that looked yummy so we gave it a go for dinner last night.

The bbq sauce was very easy to put together. I only had 1/2 cup of ketchup, but I still decided to keep all the other measurements as called for in the recipe and taste and adjust as it cooked. I was feeling lazy so I used garlic powder instead of mincing the garlic. After the sauce simmered a few minutes, it wasn't quite sweet enough so I added another 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. We probably should have reduced it down a little more, but we were having a late dinner anyways and wanted to get to the football game so we didn't take as much time reducing the sauce as we probably should have, but with that said, the flavor combinations seemed to work.

My husband grilled the chicken and basted it as the recipe recommends and we served the remaining sauce on the side along with corn on the cob. My daughter usually doesn't eat a lot of meat, but she liked this so much she kept asking for more chicken to dip in her sauce. My husband's only complaint was that he would have preferred a thicker sauce and that easily could have been remedied with a little more planning. All in all, not a bad meal for something thrown together at the last minute.

Friday, September 11, 2009

like candy for breakfast

Not exactly the most health-conscious way to start your morning, but for a special treat, maybe even this weekend, check out Gina's Brown Sugar Bacon. This got rave reviews from my daughter, in fact, it was the first time I made something where she said, "Make more, Mommy, make more!" My husband didn't like it and didn't even finish one slice, he thought it was too sweet...but we had no problem eating his portion. It's almost like a candied bacon, chewy in its crispness with a nice kick from the peppers. I cooked it a few minutes longer than the recipe calls for to try to get it as crispy as possible without burning. And for faster cleanup, I line my baking sheet with foil and spray the wire rack with cooking spray. Mmmm, bacon. Not too many better ways to start the day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

the ultimate chicken parmesan

Seriously, Tyler Florence wasn't lying. This is the ultimate chicken parmesan. I was craving a hearty Italian dinner and seeing this on tv one afternoon inspired me to give it a try even though I usually don't have much success when I pan fry chicken. What a hit. My husband's doesn't really enjoy Italian food all that much, but he thought it was awesome and our daughter ate her fair share too.

I left out the olives since our family doesn't like them and I used crushed tomatoes rather than whole since that's what I had in the pantry. I figure it saved me the trouble of crushing them anyways. The only other change I made to the recipe was using shredded mozzarella, again, because that's what I had on hand.

It took a little more time and effort to prepare than I would normally prefer, but it was well worth it. We'll be having this one again.

Eat your heart out Olive Garden.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

spice up your melon

Before the summer fruit season is completely over, I thought I'd share my new favorite way to eat watermelon. Wanting a new way to spice up watermelon, I searched for new preparations and came across this, a lime-honey drizzle courtesy of Bobby Flay. Make sure you give yourself enough time to cool the syrup, otherwise it will run right off the watermelon. My husband doesn't care for the extra flavors, he likes his watermelon exactly the way God created it. And I don't blame him, it stands very well on its own, but my daughter and I enjoy switching things up every now and again. It's sure not a bad use of the leaves off our new pineapple mint plant either.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

a ruined ending

While watching the first Chopped Champions event tonight on Food Network, we got an unwanted sneak peak at the winner of tonight's show a few minutes too early with a commercial showing the winner in a promo for next week's show. Not cool, scheduling people, not cool.

a sweet way to start the day

I have a new favorite breakfast. It's simple, easy and very delicious. My inspiration came from one of Giada's shows on which she was making paninis. I don't have a panini press, so I adapted this recipe a bit. I toast up a couple pieces of bread, spread with Nutella and then layer sliced strawberries on top. My daughter loves this one too. Yum!

Monday, September 7, 2009

what's eating food network?

I've decided to share my adventures in trying recipes I find on, usually inspired by one of the cooking shows I catch during my kids' nap times. I'll let you in on my successes and failures as judged by some of the pickiest critics, my husband and 2 year old daughter...and eventually my son, when he's able to eat solid food. Hopefully I'll be able to help others wondering what's for dinner tonight (or breakfast or lunch) and have fun exploring one of my favorite stress-relievers, cooking.

disclaimer: I have serious addictions to anything made with cocoa powder or puff pastry. Just a fair warning. And don't be surprised if you can't stop until it's all gone either. Oh, and I am in no way affiliated with Food Network. I just happen to be love their programs and trying new recipes.