Friday, March 29, 2013

Birthday Bash with Light Appetizers and Lace Cookies

Every Wednesday night we have an awesome group of ladies that gets together and quilts or crafts (some knitting, some cross-stitch, some random sewing) and we call ourselves Sisters in Stitches. We like to refer to Wednesday night as "Craft Night". Mike calls it "Bitch 'n' Stitch". Whatever. Same diff. In any case, this last Wednesday we had a little birthday party mixed in with our crafting. Both Gwen and Chana had celebrated birthdays, so we did some light appetizers and wine. Of course.

We had some fresh veggies with homemade hummus (but you will have to hit Kristi up for that recipe!), some cupcakes, and then I made lace cookies (Chana's special request), caprese sticks, and Prosciutto, Brie and Fig Fillo Cups (Kristi's special request). Needless to say, we ate well. So I figured I would share these with you so that you can eat well, too!

Prosciutto, Fig and Brie Cups

This appetizer is very quick and easy to make, and very customizable. I start with the pre-made pastry cups that you can find in the frozen desserts section. I lined a baking tray with foil (for easy clean-up) and spaced the pastry cups.

I took a package of prosciutto and cut up the meat into 1-inch slices and stacked them in the cups. I used 1 per cup.

Then I chopped some dried figs into quarters and put a quarter in each pastry cup.

Seriously... doesn't that look good?

Then I cut some brie cheese into small chunks and put a chunk into each pastry cup.

Then I put them under the broiler for about 3-4 minutes, just until the cheese gets gooey. The cups get a little golden brown, but they stay light and crispy.

There are all sorts of ways to customize this. You can use caramelized onions instead of the prosciutto, green apples instead of the figs, and phyllo sheets instead of the cups. If you use the sheets, or even puff pastry sheets, you will need to bake it for around 10 minutes or so at about 350 degrees, instead of under the broiler.

Caprese Sticks

Okay, these appetizers I just love because they are easy to assemble and look really pretty!

See?  Oh so pretty!

To make these, I use cherry or grape tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella fresca (those little pre-formed mozzarella balls you can buy in the cheese section), balsamic vinegar, and toothpicks, or short skewers.

Each toothpick gets half a tomato, a fresh basil leaf, and then half a ball of mozzarella, sandwiched together.

Once they are all assembled and plated, I drizzle with a touch of balsamic vinegar and they are ready to go!

And last, but not least, the recipe for the Lace Cookies.

Lace Cookies

2 Eggs, lightly beaten
3 Sticks of Butter
3 Cups of Oats (not instant!)
1 1/2 Tbsp. Flour
1 3/4 Cups Sugar
Dash of Salt
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. Almond Extract

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. While the butter is melting, lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl and then set aside.

Once the butter is melted, mix in the oatmeal, flour, sugar, salt, vanilla and almond. Once they are fully incorporated and the melted butter has cooled a bit, stir in the beaten eggs.

Drop the batter by Tbsp. onto a baking sheet. I LOVE my Silpat for these cookies, but if you do not have one, I recommend using parchment paper on a baking sheet. Once you have placed them on the sheet, use the back of the spoon to shape them into circles.

Bake them in a 325 degree oven for about 13-15 minutes, until they are a little firm and lightly golden around the edges. Let them cool for about 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Then transfer them to a plate. They are very fragile and lacy (hence the name!), so they don't travel well, but they are amazingly delicious.

I hope you enjoy! I know I did...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Curried Mango Chicken Soup

I had a new kitchen experiment the other day. I love all things curry, and I had seen a recipe for Curried Mango Chicken Soup that I just had to try. I was somewhat skeptical about the mango, though. I have eaten raw mango before (although I have never actually purchased mangoes at a grocery store before), and Mike has made it rather clear to me that he does not eat cooked fruit, so this could possibly be a big bad in his book... but I decided that I had to try it anyway. This could possibly be due to that stubborn streak I have heard people refer to, but I will leave the self-reflection for another time.

I had to solve one little dilemma before I could start cooking the soup. I had no idea how to go about purchasing mangoes. How do you know when they are ripe? What makes a good mango? I know most people would go to google for this, but I actually have a far more reliable source that I like to hit up for questions about fruit. I called my sister. She answered the phone "Hey, what's up?" I said "Hey cheese," (I like to call her cheese - it is one of my favorite things, you know). Anyway, I said "Hey cheese, how do I know if a mango is ripe?" She replies "It feels like a pear, not like an apple. And it has a definite mango smell." See... way better than google.

So I go to the store, I get my mangoes, and I head home to cook. It should be noted that the stores don't carry too many actually ripe mangoes. Most people buy them a little early and take them home to ripen. Most people plan better than I do. So I asked the grocer if they had some that were already ripe, and he magically produced them for me. I guess it never hurts to ask, right? And Brigitta was spot on... felt a little soft, like a ripe pear. I could definitely pick out the mango scent, too.

I peeled and chopped the mangoes, which can be a bit of an adventure if you haven't done this before. I would recommend calling my sister for all you newbies out there. Once they are peeled and chopped, put the flesh into the blender with about 1 cup of chicken broth.

First things first, peel and chop the mangoes.
 Then I peeled and diced an onion. While I was dicing it, I heated a splash of olive oil in the bottom of my 6 qt dutch oven. Totally overkill for this recipe, but I do love my dutch oven!

Curry powder and cinnamon - an amazing combination!
 When the oil was hot, I added the curry powder and cinnamon and stirred it around for about 30 seconds, until it was very fragrant! Then I added the onion and  cooked this, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, until the onion was translucent and I was just about drooling from the smell.

The blended concoction of mango, cooked onion, and chicken broth.
I added the onions and spice mixture to the blender and pureed it all together until smooth. Then I set this aside until I was done with my chicken. I cubed the chicken breast and put it in the dutch oven with another splash of olive oil and browned it.

My cubed chicken, cooking away!
 After the chicken was browned, I added the rest of the broth and brought it to a simmer. Then I stirred in the mango puree and brought it back to a simmer. Then for the finishing touches: I squeezed the juice from half a lime into the pot, and added a dollop of creme fraiche. Mixed it all together, and it was ready to eat!
So yummy!

 I ate it "straight-up", no changes. Mike actually added some cooked broccoli, carrots and cauliflower to his, with a bit of sriracha (rooster) sauce. He loved it.

You can garnish with more creme fraiche and some fresh cilantro, but I couldn't wait to eat it!
I think this recipe is really flexible - you could easily substitute shrimp or tofu for the chicken, you could add veggies... lots you can do. And you can probably substitute greek yogurt for the creme fraiche if you prefer. In any case, I hope you try this one because it is AWESOME.

  Curried Mango Chicken Soup


3 Tbsp Olive Oil, divided
1 tsp Curry Powder
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1 large sweet onion, diced
3 mangoes, peeled, pitted and finely chopped
2 1/2 cups Chicken Broth, divided
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1/2 cup creme fraiche, plus extra for garnish
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt and black pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro for garnish


1. In a large saucepan over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the curry powder and cinnamon, then heat for 30 seconds. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the onion as well as any oil and seasonings in the pan to a blender. Add the mango and 1 cup of the broth to the blender, then purée until smooth. Set aside.

2. Return the empty saucepan to medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and saute until browned and cooked through. Add the remaining broth and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any stuck bits and seasonings. Bring to a simmer.

3. Pour the mango purée back into the saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in the creme fraiche and lime juice, then season with salt and pepper. Garnish each serving with cilantro and an extra dollop of creme fraiche (if desired).

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 359 calories; 129 calories from fat (36 percent of total calories); 14 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 69 mg cholesterol; 30 g carbohydrate; 28 g protein; 3 g fiber; 722 mg sodium.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pesto Chicken Pasta Bake

Happy weekend, everyone! I meant to get this post out last night, but I must confess that I got seriously distracted by Pinterest. I don't know if that has ever happened to any of you, but it is a truly delightful way to spend what was meant to be about 15 minutes but somehow became about 2 hours!

So this morning I got up, rarin' to go, and I am going to share this really great recipe with you before I get sidetracked by something else!

I found a recipe that sounded really good on Picky Palate (one of the umpteen blogs I follow... and yes... "umpteen" is a real number) for a Cheesy Chicken and Pesto Pasta Bake, but I discovered that Pesto is one of those things that is not normally stocked in my house. I have no idea why... I am a big fan, and even though it is green, Mike seems to be okay with it too. In any case, the pesto had to be made before the rest of it. And I figured, if I am making basil pesto, I might as well throw some of that fresh spinach that I have in there, too!

So I put about a cup of spinach leaves in with around 2 cups of basil leaves (stems removed), a handful of shredded parmesan, 4 cloves of garlic (I really love garlic) and one lemon, zested and juiced, into a food processor. I pulsed it until it started to look "pesto-y", and then drizzled in about 1/2 cup of olive oil until I found the consistency that I like. Then I put in a little salt and pepper until it tasted JUST RIGHT. Very scientific, I know, but that is mostly how I cook.

Next thing I noticed was that the recipe called for shredded chicken. I didn't have shredded chicken. But I did have some frozen chicken breasts, so I poached those and then shredded them. I don't know if you have ever shredded your own chicken, but there are many theories on this. Most people say to use a food processor, but I find that my chicken gets "gummy" and sticks together, so I do it the old-fashioned way: two forks and a lot of patience.

Once the chicken was shredded and the pesto made, we were ready to rock! I cooked up a package of spaghetti, drained it, and mixed in the pesto, some garlic salt, milk, a little more salt and pepper, and the shredded chicken.

Then I put half the chicken and pasta mixture in a lightly greased 9x13 pan, then layered fresh mozzarella in, and topped with the remainder of the pasta. Then some shredded mozzarella cheese on top (because there is no such thing as too much cheese), and baked it at 350 for about 25 minutes.

Super-tasty, and many thanks to Picky Palate for the recipe! It is shared below, as it appears on their site:

Save this recipe to ZipList

Cheesy Pesto Chicken Spaghetti Bake
Makes 8 servings
  • 1 pound dry spaghetti
  • 1 cup prepared pesto
  • 1 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken breast
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups mozzarella balls (ciliegine)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and lightly spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and run under cold water. Place noodles back into pot. Add pesto, milk, chicken, salt, garlic salt, and pepper, stirring to combine. Transfer half of the spaghetti to baking dish then add mozzarella balls. Add remaining spaghetti then top with shredded mozzarella. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is melted.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

No-Name Turkey Yumminess

You know how some days just start out following Murphy's Law (what can go wrong will), and then sort of morph over to Newton's First Law of Motion (an object in motion stays in motion), and then just throw all sort of sense and order out the window and whirl you down a path that leads inevitably towards cheesecake? Yeah... today is one of those days.

There has been a bright spot in this day so far, though: my southwestern omelet that I just polished off. I raided the refrigerator this morning for something to eat, trying to avoid the standard one egg over easy on toast, or the reliable fallback frozen breakfast burrito (sad but true), and what did I discover? Leftovers. That's right. Leftover onion braised in tomato juice, leftover avocado, leftover cilantro, and leftover shredded pepper jack cheese. Oh yeah... one southwestern omelet to start my day!

So now that we have that out of the way, I would like to share another recipe with you. I made this one for dinner last night, and although I have NO IDEA what to call it, it is tasty. Ground turkey, curry powder, red onion, garlic powder, peas, tomato sauce and lite coconut milk combine to make a really yummy something. I wanted to call it chili, but Mike told me it cannot be chili because it has no beans (okay... that sort of makes sense), but my friend Chris says it can't be chili because it has no chili powder, and I am forced to bow down to that irrefutable logic. So... here is some really healthy turkey yumminess that has no name.


1.5 lbs ground turkey
Olive Oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 lb green peas
1 1/2 Tbsp. Curry Powder
1 1/2 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
1 can (28 oz) Tomato Sauce
1 can Lite Coconut Milk

Heat a splash of olive oil in a medium stock pot (I used my dutch oven because I LOVE my dutch oven) and brown the turkey. While the turkey is browning, chop the red onion.

When the turkey is browned, mix in the red onion, peas, curry powder, garlic powder, tomato sauce and lite coconut milk. The lite coconut will often separate in the can, so shake well before opening, and I like to stir it back together before incorporating it into the mixture. Stir well and then let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until you are ready to eat.

Mike and I liked the flavor of this as-is, but if you are looking for some additional heat you could easily add some sriracha sauce (or "rooster sauce", as it is known in my house).

I hope you enjoy, and if you come up with a name for this one, please let me know!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Homemade Meatballs and Polenta

I could start this post by saying that Italian food is one of my favorites, but let's face it, ALL food is "one of my favorites", so we can just skip right past that and get to the awesomeness of this recipe.
Homemade Italian Meatballs with Polenta

The list of ingredients is a little long, and the cook time is a little long, but don't be intimidated... it is worth every second this. These are definitely some of the best meatballs I have ever had!

Combine the meatball ingredients in a large bowl.

This recipe makes 24 good sized meatballs. With 3 per serving, this will feed 8 people!

 When mixing the ingredients together it is best done with your hands. I know a lot of people who don't like to get their hands in their food, but that is the best way to make sure that it is well combined, and let's face it, you have to put your hands in there to roll the 24 meatballs anyway!

The meatballs go into an oiled roasting pan, and bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.

After the first 30 minutes of baking they will be nicely browned.
After the first round of baking, the temperature of the oven is lowered and the meatballs are covered with tomato sauce and baked for another 2 hours.

 I served mine with fresh basil on top and a side of polenta with marinara sauce... so good!

I really like polenta, but Mike is not a fan, so if any of you have good polenta recipes out there that might persuade Mike to change his mind, please send them my way!

Serves 8
Total time ~ 3 hours

1/2 lb sliced white bread, crusts removed and cut into 1/2-inch dice (4 cups)
1 1/2 lbs lean ground pork
3 oz thickly sliced pancetta, minced
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup ricotta cheese (5 oz)
1/4 cup Parsley, chopped
1 tsp. dried Oregano
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, chopped
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 28 oz cans peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed
Ground Pepper
2 Tbsp. Shredded Basil
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese, freshly grated

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the bread to coarse crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a large bowl and add the pork, pancetta, eggs, ricotta, parsley, oregano, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and 1 1/2 tsp. of kosher salt. Mix well. Shape into 24 meatballs, using about 3 rounded tablespoons of the mixture for each. Transfer the meatballs to an oiled medium roasting pan.
Roast the meatballs in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until firm and just beginning to brown. Using a spatula, loosen the meatballs from the bottom of the pan. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and cook uncovered for about 2 hours, or until the sauce is very thick and the meatballs are very tender; turn the meatballs once or twice during cooking.
Transfer the meatballs and tomato sauce to a large platter. Garnish with the basil and Pecorino and serve hot.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Green Food for St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone! In celebration of the day, here is an obscure piece of trivia for you: St. Patrick's Day includes the shamrock because St. Patrick used the 3-leaf clover to explain the holy trinity to the Irish. As to the color green and lots of beer? Who knows, but I like it!

The most traditional meal for St. Patrick's day is Corned Beef and Cabbage, but since Mike doesn't like corned beef OR cabbage, we did a little something different. We stuck with the green theme, though, because who doesn't love green food? And because I love everything (and I do mean everything) about macaroni and cheese, we had Southwest Green Mac and Cheese for lunch!
That's right... GREEN mac and cheese!

Some macaroni, pepperjack cheese, garlic, cilantro, and avocado!
 While the pasta is cooking, you make the green sauce: avocado, lime juice, salt, and cilantro in the blender (or a food processor works too) and blend until creamy. Then set it aside.



The cheesy part...
 The cheese sauce is made with butter, flour, milk and pepperjack cheese. And some red pepper flakes because I like it SPICY!

Shredded pepperjack cheese... yummy!

When the pasta is done cooking, drain and then mix in the green sauce until well combined, then pour the cheesy sauce over the top and mix well.

Then eat!

Makes 4-6 servings

10 oz dry elbow macaroni
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 avocados, peeled and pitted
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 1/2 cups shredded Pepper Jack cheese
Fresh avocado chunks and cilantro, for garnish, if desired

Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente, around 8-10 minutes, in salted water. Drain and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, put the garlic, avocados, lime juice, cilantro and salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and mix until creamy. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. When fully melted, whisk in the flour until a paste is formed. Slowly add the milk, whisking until completely combined. Add the shredded cheese, a little at a time while stirring in a figure eight pattern until the cheese is melted. Remove from heat and let thicken.

Mix the creamy green sauce in with the pasta noodles until well combined. Then pour the cheese sauce over the top and mix well. Garnish with fresh chunks of avocado and cilantro leaves. Then eat.

This would be good with some tortilla strips as garnish, too. And maybe some tomato. Lots of ways to spice this up - have fun with it!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Works in Progress

 Anyone who engages in any type of DIY effort knows that everywhere we look, in every nook and cranny of our lives, are works in progress. I don't know any DIY-ers that have one project at a time. Most of us have half-finished projects stashed in every open place we can find! My house is a really good example of this. We have:
  • bathroom tiles stacked in the closet (for when we decide to do the tub-surround in the master bath),
  • beer bottles stacked under my ironing board (for the next batch of home-brew), 
  • flooring planks stacked next to the table saw (to finish that last row of transition pieces), 
  • hand-written genealogy charts and family photo albums stacked next to my desk (working on family histories for 3 branches of the family), 
  • a cross-stitch project of an eagle in it's tote bag next to the couch (for me to work on while watching football, basketball, soccer, tennis... whatever sport is on TV),
  • What it looks like now...
    What it will eventually look like
  • a half-finished hand-stitched Hawaiian quilt block that will someday be a pillow covering, whenever I finally finish it, 
I still need to finish stitching down the design in the upper left corner, then I need to do the Hawaiian quilting on it.
  • a partially cut-out red, black and white purse that I will finish eventually (love the fabric, hate the directions!),

  • and stacks of 1.5"x1.5" red squares next to 2"x12" strips on my quilting table (for the sashing on the red and white quilt I am working on).
6x6 squares cut into triangles.

The pieced quilt blocks using the triangles.
12x2 strips for the sashing.
Adding the little 1.5"x1.5" squares to the sashing. Lots more to go here, can you tell?

What it is supposed to look like when I am done!
And my computer isn't much better, let me tell you! I have half-finished blog posts, recipes to try, and almost-finished projects for clients stashed in folders all over this machine!

Here is an example of one such a project: a website for a local artist that specializes in glass tile and custom glass art commissions. If you have a kitchen or bath remodel coming up, if you want a feature wall with glass tiles, or if you are looking to commission some custom glass art for signage or a decorative piece (like fused glass bowls or artwork), I definitely recommend looking at Hal's work. It will give you some great ideas, and you can contact him from the website to get quotes and ideas. He is making me a fused glass bowl and some matching plates - I will post pics as soon as I have them!
So if you wonder where I have been lately and why you haven't seen many posts... it is most likely because I am buried in my WIPs (Works in Progress)! I will try and keep you updated on the progress of these (as well as any new ones I start).