Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Building a Nest: Roasted Eggplant Dip

I know people can be stumped at ways to use eggplant... I've used it in eggplant parm, roasted for orzo salad and pizza. I haven't made baba ganoush but I plan to soon as I really enjoy eggplant. This recipe is yet another Ina Garten recipe winner. My family absolutely loves this recipe. It's versatile and easy to prepare. If I have extra, I toss it in with pasta or cook it with chicken. It's really delicious!

Roasted Eggplant Dip
Adapted from Ina Garten


1 medium eggplant
2 red bell peppers, seeded
1 red onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used 3)
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or more)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the eggplant, bell pepper, and onion into 1-inch cubes. Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking.

Cool completely (placing hot items in the food processor is not recommended due to BPA chemicals in the food processor bowl).

Place the vegetables in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the tomato paste, balsamic vinegar and red pepper flakes, and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Taste for salt and pepper.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Building a Nest: Artichoke & Red Pepper Bruschetta

I came across this recipe for artichoke & red pepper bruschetta a few years ago and was pretty impressed by it. Firstly, I love all the ingredients in it... and secondly, it's just plain tasty! I've used the leftover topping and mixed it in with pasta and eaten it with crackers. I've made it for several parties and people seem to enjoy it. I over-toasted the bread this time-- doing too many things at once... oops! If you like artichokes and red peppers and olives, I think you'll like this recipe!

Artichoke & Red Pepper Bruschetta
Sunset Magazine

Yield: Makes 3 dozen appetizers

1 red bell pepper (about 1/2 lb.), rinsed, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 red onion (about 6 oz.), peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped pimiento-stuffed Spanish-style green olives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper
36 diagonally cut slices (1/4 in. thick) sourdough baguette (about 1 slender 8-oz. loaf)
1/2 cup grated asiago or parmesan cheese

1. In a 10- to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, frequently stir bell pepper, onion, and garlic in oil until vegetables begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add artichokes, parsley, olives, and lemon juice, mixing well. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If making up to 1 day ahead, cover and chill.

2. Arrange baguette slices in a single layer on a 12- by 15-inch baking sheet. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat until toasted on 1 side, about 1 minute. Remove from oven and turn slices over.

3. Spoon artichoke mixture equally on untoasted side of baguette slices; spread level. Sprinkle with cheese.

4. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat until cheese begins to melt and topping is hot, about 1 minute.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Building a Nest: Grilled Lemon Chicken with Peanut Satay

One of my families favorite dishes is Ina's Grilled Lemon Chicken and Peanut Satay. I chose to use it at the baby shower because I could prepare the sauce ahead of time and the chicken has very little prep time. We grilled the chicken a few hours before the party-- it can be served cold and is still delicious. Needless to say, this recipe is a hit. The ladies at the shower loved it and I heard a few of them profess their love to the satay!

I'd definitely recommend this recipe for a nice summer meal, a party or anytime throughout the year. If you haven't tried it before, add it to your menu for this 4th of July!

Grilled Lemon Chicken with Peanut Satay
Ina Garten

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
3/4 cup good olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (I forgot this)
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, halved and skin removed
Satay Dip, recipe follows


Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Pour over the chicken breasts in a nonreactive bowl. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight.

Heat a charcoal grill. Grill the chicken breasts for 10 minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Cool slightly and cut diagonally in 1/2-inch-thick slices. Skewer with wooden sticks and serve with Satay Dip. (The chicken breasts I used were really thin so skewering didn't happen).

Satay Dip:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
2/3 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Cook the olive oil, sesame oil, red onion, garlic, ginger root, and red pepper flakes in a small, heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat until the onion is transparent, 10 to 15 minutes. Whisk in the vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, peanut butter, ketchup, sherry, and lime juice; cook for 1 more minute. Cool and use as a dip for Grilled Lemon Chicken skewers.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups


Sorry for the blurry photo!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Buiding a Nest: Mini Spinach Quiches

I had a massive internal debate for the week leading up to the baby shower I hosted for my best friend. Do I make quiche with crust or crustless... bite-sized quiches (mini-muffin sized) or mini quiches (standard muffin sized) . What would people like? What would be easier to eat? What would be easier to make? Do people even care?! I finally made an official decision the morning before the shower to make crusted bite-sized quiches... and then I ended up with a lot of extra filling so I used up the rest and made crustless ones as well! I think they're pretty cute and tasty.

Mini Spinach Quiches
crust: Martha Stewart; filling: me

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter; chilled & cut into small pieces (I used frozen butter)
1/4 - 1/2 cup ice water

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

2. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

3. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.
1 package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
3 eggs
1/2-3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1. Beat eggs and combine with spinach, milk & nutmeg.
To assemble:
1. Spray mini-muffin pan.
2. Pinch of a piece of pate brisee (about 1/2 inch ball), press dough flat into a circle about 1 1/2 times the size of the muffin cup. Press into the cup and continue until you've filled all cups. Chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.
3. Blind bake at 400 for about 10 minutes until crusts are puffy and light golden brown. I didn't fill the pastries with weights.
4. Once dough cools, spoon egg mixture into dough crusts (about 1 tablespoon for each).
5. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until egg mixture puffs and is firm to the touch.
I used about half the mixture for one batch of crusts. After those baked, I removed them from the pan, to cool.  To the egg mixture, I added 1 additional egg, about 1/4 cup of milk, a dash more nutmeg and 2 tbsp flour and mixed to combine. Spray the pan again fill each cup about 3/4 full. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until egg mixture puffs and is firm to the touch.
Both can be served at room temperature or warmed up.

Building a Nest: A Baby Shower Recap

I recently hosted my best friend's baby shower at her home in Vermont. My favorite types of food to prepare for a party are appetizers and desserts. I find it's easier to have everything in individual portions or bite sized as opposed to a sit-down meal or buffet type meal. People can take what they want, when they want and it allows people to eat at their own pace. The party turned out very nicely and we had a good time!


The menu included:
Creamy Cucumber Canapes
Artichoke & Red Pepper Bruschetta
Mushroom Polenta Canapes
Mini Spinach Quiches
Egg  Salad Sandwiches & Tuna Salad Sandwiches
Grilled Lemon Chicken with Peanut Satay sauce
Roasted Eggplant Dip
Fruit Salad
Strawberry Shortcake Cake
Samoa Cupcakes
Cookie Dough Truffles
Sugar Cookie Favors
Punch, Mimosas & Spark Berry Lemonade

I'll be blogging about some of these recipes over the next week! In addition to the meal, we opened presents and decorated onesies. I tried to vary up both these activities a bit. In the invitation, I asked everyone to bring a book instead of a card to help start the new family's library. For our onesie decorating activity, I prewashed all the onesies (4 packages; 1 of each size to 12 months) and provided fabric scraps, fabric markers, puffy pants, and iron-on fabric adhesive. I tried to print up some ideas and stencils but their printer wasn't working right.

What I learned was to try this ahead of time so you understand the process... I didn't have time and secretly hoped someone knew how to do it or the iron-on adhesive had clear instructions-- neither were a correct assumption. In the end, the mama-to-be ended up with some really cute onesies.

DSC04056   DSC04059

DSC04058 DSC04057

I made these last two!
DSC04063  DSC04062

After the shower, the mama-to-be wanted pictures of her pretty flowers she had outside. Isn't she an adorable pregnant woman!?


Monday, June 21, 2010

A Maine Lobster Suppah: Blackberry Cobbler

One word: Love... I absolutely loved this dessert. The tartness of the berries paired perfectly with the sweetness of the topping. To be honest, I don't think I've ever had a cobbler... so I wasn't really sure what to expect but I love most fruit pies so I knew it would probably be delicious. This dish is really easy to pull together beforehand and bake while eating dinner and I'd definitely make it again. The original recipe called for blueberries but blackberries were cheaper and in season-- and honestly, made this dish devine.

Blackberry Cobbler
adapted from Cooks Illustrated (March 22, 2007)

30 ounces blackberries, rinsed and picked over
1/4- 1/3 cup sugar (depending on tartness of the berries)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tbsp yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar plus 2 tsp
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the fruit filling ingredients together in a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Place the pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the fruit releases its liquid and is hot and bubbling around the edges, 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl; set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, butter, and vanilla together; set aside. In a third small bowl, mix the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar with the cinnamon; set aside.

3. When the filling is ready, stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined and no pockets of flour remain. Remove the cobbler filling from the oven and stir. Pinch off 8 equal pieces of the biscuit dough and arrange them on top of the hot filling, spaced 1/2 inch apart. Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with the cinnamon sugar.
4. Continue to bake the cobbler until the biscuits are golden brown on top and cooked through and the filling is again hot and bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool the cobbler on a wire rack for 15 minutes before serving.



Friday, June 18, 2010

A Maine Lobster Suppah: Honey Yeast Rolls

I love bread. One of my favorite things about going out to dinner at a restaurant is the bread/ rolls that you get when you're seated. There is just something about fersh bread-- the smell, texture and taste just melts in your mouth. I made these rolls for the first time last summer... and since then, I've definitely come to understand yeast and bread making a little more. For some reason, these haven't been my go-to rolls but I absolutely love them! I sprinkled oats on top and I think that adds a nice dimension to them.... and makes them a little heartier. They paired really well with our lobster supper and I could picture them accompanying a chicken dish as well. Definitely try them yourselves if you haven't already!

Honey Yeast Rolls
adapted from Smells Like Home which was adapted from Annie's Eats and A Cookie A Day

2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (one package) - (RapidRise is instant yeast)
1 cup warm water (105°-115° F)
1/4 cup honey
3 tbsp. canola oil
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder (added this to the all-purpose flour)
vegetable cooking spray
1 tbsp butter, melted
1 tbsp honey
1/3 cup rolled oats

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the yeast and warm water. Add the honey, oil, salt, and egg and mix well. Add 3 cups of the flour and baking powder and mix until the dough comes together in a sticky mass. With the mixer on low speed, add the remaining 1 cup flour and mix until it is incorporated into the dough. Switch to the dough hook, and continue kneading on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 30 seconds. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Punch the dough down and divide into 12- equal portions (I actually get more than 12 out and they make decently large rolls, so you can probably get 18 out of the dough). Shape each portion into a ball and place into a round, lightly greased baking dish, spacing evenly. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 20 minutes. Mix together the melted butter and honey, and brush lightly over the tops of the rolls. Sprinkle oats on the top of each of the rolls. Bake at 400° for 13-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.



Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Maine Lobster Suppah: Grilled Corn on the Cob

Memorial Day Weekend is the official kick-off to summer! Danimal and I packed up our zoo and drove to his parents house in Maine for the weekend. We spent one afternoon at their camp opening it up for the summer and letting the dogs run around and take their first summer swim. Later in the weekend, we had a family suppah of lobstah, steamahs and lots and lots of buttah.

I'm going to highlight a few different recipes this week from our dinner... previews below! Stay tuned for more posts this week to elaborate on our meal!

The center attraction of our suppah:

Some warm honey yeast rolls:

Delicious Blackberry Cobbler:

And our supper table, minus our lobster crackers (much needed as these were the hardest shelled lobsters we'd had in a long time).

Below is my instructions for grilling corn... I love it this way and haven't been able to eat steamed corn since. Grilling the corn in it's husks brings out it's natural sweetness and makes for a delicious side dish to a supper. I'm pretty sure that once you try this, you'll never go back either!

Grilled Corn on the Cob

Soak corn in the husks in water for about 20 minutes. I place a lid on a pot with a weight to keep the corn submerged under water.

Place corn (still in their husks) on a grill at medium temperature. Keep an eye on the husks and rotate when it gets toasted (estimating about every 5 minutes).

It takes about 20 minutes total for the corn to be thoroughly cooked. Let corn cool a little before husking. If you desire, you can pull the husks back, tie it in a knot and use it as a handle to eat the corn or discard husks (preferably outside as it makes a mess).

I eat the corn without butter or any toppings as the grill brings out the natural sweetness.



Monday, June 7, 2010

Cake Decorating Course 2 Recap

Last week, I completed the Wilton Cake Decorating Course 2! I had an incredible experience learning how to decorate flowers and how to make few new borders as well as the basketweave and crosshatch techniques.

The first class of course 2 was an absolute disaster... it was a good thing I had a sense of humor because from start to finish, it was just ridiculous. We were required to make a 2 layer cake, fill it (with either frosting or a filling) and frost it before class using oval pans that came in the course 2 kit.

I baked the cake, rather uneventfully and made a delicious lemon filling. I fill the cake and attempt to frost it. The crumb coating was just painful-- the frosting kept taking the crust of the cake off. I finally gave up and decided to bring it in to class early so my instructor could fix it.

I pack up my things, put the cake in the carrier and carry it to the car. Even before I get to the car, the top layer goes flying off the cake and smushes against the side of the carrier. At class, my instructor ends up scraping the lemon filling out and throwing frosting on the cake. She was able to get enough frosting on the cake to save it... but neither cake nor frosting wanted to cooperate.

We  learned how to make another type of rose and I was having difficulty with that as well... turns out my tip was welded shut and needed to be pried open. After the tip was opened up, it made things so much better! These were the end result of the roses.


Then, we learned how to cross-hatch, and that went ok... and then came the rope border.... and that was not ok. I was 90% of the way around the top of the cake when half the border decided to fall, and take half the side of the cake with it. I was able to fix it... it was all just too comical at this point. At the end of class, I loaded the cake into the car and go to drive away. I look over at it and realize that the top layer has again slid off the bottom and smashed into the side of the carrier. This cake was just not meant to be... Lucky Danimal was able to enjoy this cake without even having to slice it... I handed him the carrier and the fork and let him dig in!

Final product prior to being demolished:

The rest of the classes were uneventful. I finally caved and bought the Wilton Bake Easy Cake Release spray... it really helps to form a nice, even crust on the cake and reduces the crumbs. I didn't believe it until I tried it! We learned how to make daisies, pansies, daffodils, apple blossoms, violets, mums and primroses.

The last class we learned how to make the basketweave stitch. I find that one kind of fascinating! It took me forever to complete but I had fun (and an aching hand by the end). Course 3 starts this Thursday... I'm taking on gum paste and fondant! I can't wait!

Here is my final cake:






Friday, June 4, 2010

Homemade laundry detergent

What kind of laundry detergent do you use? What do you like and dislike about it? I know, that's not really cooking related... but...

I've been meaning to share this recipe with you for a while. I've been making my own laundry detergent for about 6 months now. It works so well, is environmentally friendly and saves us money. I find it does a great job in removing odors and stains from our clothes-- just as much, or better than store bought detergents.

This has been a great success in our household and I encourage you to try it in yours!

Homemade Laundry Detergent

1 bar fels naptha soap (your preference, you could use ivory too), grated   (hand soap aisle)
1 cup washing soda  (laundry aisle)
1 cup baking soda  (baking aisle)
1 cup borax   (laundry aisle)

Grate 1 bar of fels naptha soap into a airtight container.You can grate it using a box grater or a food processor. I didn't want to risk damage to my food processor so I used a box grater. Add in the washing soda, baking soda and borax. Close the lid and shake well. If you desire, you can add a few drops of essential oils to give it a fragrance.

To use:  Place 2 teaspoons of detergent in with your clothes (or in the detergent section of your washing machine). I use a few tablespoons of vinegar as fabric softener. That can be added to either your fabric softener section or in a downey ball and tossed in with  your laundry.

Above in the ingredient list I wrote in parenthesis where I found each item... it may be different for your store, but at least it gives you a destination to look.

Pictures so you can identify them in store (you all know what baking soda looks like so I will skip that):

Grilled Pizza

Have you ever grilled pizza before? Will you ever go back to cooking it in the oven again? I doubt we will! Holy amazingness. Danimal was manning the grill outside and kept saying how amazing it smelled as well as that it smelled like a pizzeria.

Grilling pizza is a quick, great solution for dinner. The only thing that takes some time is prepping the toppings. Most of my ingredients for this pizza needed to be cooked ahead of time so it took a little bit of time. Otherwise, it moves fast and is just incredible.

In absolutely love the toppings I chose for this pizza too. They complimented each other and it was a great treat. We decided on pizza at the last minute, but next time, I'm going to make sure I have homemade dough on hand. The dough I used was pretty good though-- it's from Portland Pizza Co or something. It was easy to work with and had a great flavor.

Danimal wouldn't let me photograph his pizza but he had regular white pizza dough, chicken, artichokes, red peppers and garlic. He thoroughly enjoyed his too! I see this as a regular part of meal during the grilling season!

Grilled Pizza with Chicken, Red Peppers, Eggplant & Carmelized Onions

diced chicken, cooked
carmelized onions
thiny sliced red pepper
sliced, roasted eggplant
1 wheat pizza dough (I used dough from the deli section)
pizza sauce
mozzerella cheese

1) Place dough on the counter to rise and come to room temperature

2) Dice chicken and sautee until cooked

3) Slice onions and sautee on medium-low for 20-30 minutes. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and sautee for another couple of minutes.

4) Slice eggplant in 1/2 inch rounds and roast at 400-425 for 20 minutes. I then sliced each eggplant round in half so they were half-circles.

5) Preheat grill around the medium setting and oil the grates.

6) Roll or stretch the dough out until thin- mine was the size of a cookie sheet

7) Make sure you have all toppings prepared and at the grill as the dough cookes fast. The grill has to be warm enough so that the dough cooks fast and doesn't stick to the grates.

8) Place the dough on the grill, making sure it's stretched out. Close the grill cover and let cook for 1-2 minutes. Flip the dough and add the toppings on to the cooked side.

9) Let the pizza cook for another minute or so in order for the cheese to melt.

10) Remove, slice and enjoy!



Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My First Attempt at Sugar Cookies

Since I discovered the food blog world, I've noticed amazingly decorated sugar cookies everywhere. If given the option, I tend to chose a chocolate chip cookie at a dessert table so I never really admired sugar cookies. I've been taking the Wilton Cake Decorating class Course 2 and working with royal icing. I had a bunch of it left over a few weeks ago so I decided to practice cookie decorating as well. I read several different sugar cookie recipes including a comparison post on 4 different recipes. In the end, I settled on Bake at 350's recipe because her cookies look amazing and there were only minor differences between a few recipes.

For my first attempt, I think they turned out ok! I am excited to try some more shapes and more intricate designs. The cookie recipe was pretty delicious as well!

Vanilla-Almond Sugar Cookies
bake at 350

3 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 c sugar
2 sticks butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine the flour and baking powder, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts and mix. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom.

Roll onto a floured surface and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let sit a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Royal Icing

3 tbsp Meringue Powder
1 lb confectioners sugar, sifted
5-6 tbsp water

Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer).

Watch this video for great instruction on how royal icing is supposed to look.

This video gives a great demonstration on how to thin royal icing for flooding.

Watch this video for a tutorial on basic outlining and flooding for sugar cookies. I can't explain it any better!


Taking pictures with a curious kitten is quite challenging... he usually wants to grab the food and run off. Thankfully, sugar cookies aren't really his thing.