You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2008.

Hi All!

I am having networking issues . . . finally identified as a broken router! Off to the computer store, look for my catch up posts tomorrow!

Nicole

Dear Friends,

I have a confession! Before I began to actively plan menus I was a disorganized grocery shopper who bought whatever looked good. The result of my bad habit is the pantry you see above. I have duplicates and some stuff I have no idea why I ever bought it. Some of my violations are 3 bags of short grain brown rice, 11 cans of evaporated milk, 2 jars of creamy peanut butter, and 6 boxes of angel hair pasta. For those of you out there who believe my pantry is simply unkempt and I just need to tidy things up. You are not wrong, cleaning is a great idea! However, I used to, several times a year, clean my pantry. I would organize it and make it look pretty. But not only would it always come back to this, but because I was not menu planning the cycle would never stop. I would always be bursting at the seams with excess pantry items.

Overall I am fairly disgusted with the gluttony of it all. I should not be buying what I don’t need or cannot use. Yes, staples are key to an organized home. Having a selection of canned tomatoes, stocks and other necessities for basic cooking is wise for all home cooks. But clearly I have crossed the line!

So now that I am menu planning and no longer perpetuating this situation, how am going to reduce this disaster to a reasonable amount of staple items? Well that is where my Pantry Mission has come in. Starting now I am committing to at least one meal or recipe a week that is solely from my pantry. I can augment with fresh items, but it must contain at least 2 items that are in my current pantry clutter. I am hoping I will be able to produce more than one meal a week from my overflowing pantry. So stay tuned as I reduce my waste, and embark on my Pantry Mission!! It should lead to some interesting culinary adventures.. .

I was very excited by this recipe choice by Michelle of Bad Girl Baking. Why? Because it gave me an excuse to make granola!! I love making homemade granola because I think the ingredients you like in granola are very personal choice. And there are literally thousands of possible ways of making it. Also many of the store brands are soooo bad for you, loaded with fats and way too much sugar. I personally like simple granola with nuts and typically no dried fruit. I love to eat granola on top of fresh fruit for breakfast, so the dried fruit just gets in my way.

So for this week’s challenge I made Vanilla Scented Almond Granola. Sounds fancy, but really it is a very simple easy recipe that has a large helping of vanilla! And it is delish, my favorite kind. Sweet, crunchy and simple, perfect granola!

So after I baked my granola and let it cool I very quickly assembled the recipe for granola grabbers. It was very quick to make the dough. Instead of the raisins, I substituted dried cranberries and also added in a couple of white chocolate chunks (I am a bad girl!). I reduced the amount of almonds, since my granola was pretty loaded with them already.

These are incredibly tasty . . . a really nice twist on a traditional oatmeal cookie. If I had stuck to the recipe and left out the chocolate, it could have even been a reasonable snack . . . 🙂

Vanilla Scented Almond Granola
4 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tbl sugar
4 tsp vanilla

Preheat to 300 degrees and lightly spray a large baking sheet. Mix first 5 ingredients in large bowl. Combine oil, honey and white sugar in small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Pour hot liquid over oat mixture until well mixed. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown stirring every 10 minutes (unless you want chunks then don’t stir!).

This recipe comes with a warning! Please be prepared if you make this recipe, that it is highly addictive! I have made this for several different brunches, and every time people practically lick the baking dish . . . even my mom, who is not a huge sweets person said that I shouldn’t be making this for people . . . it is so good that it is wrong. And if perhaps you make this for your family’s Sunday brunch this weekend, please be aware that you may find yourself constantly picking at the pan all day, until the leftovers are gone.

Why is it so good, you ask? Oh I don’t know, maybe because it tastes like a cross between a sticky bun and really good french toast. Perhaps it is because it takes 5 minutes to make after dinner and then all you have to do is pop it in the oven the next morning. All I know is that the food that really speaks to me always ends up in a dream . . . and I dream about this recipe a lot! It may not be the prettiest thing on your plate, but it will be the tastiest!!

Caramel Overnight French Toast
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
10 slices of soft french bread (being a SF Bay Area girl, I use sourdough!)
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tbl flour
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 tbl sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Cook first 3 ingredients in a sauce pan for 5 minutes over medium heat until dissolved and bubbly. Pour into a 13×9 baking dish (I often will add a couple of handfuls of toasted, chopped pecans at this point). Arrange bread in a single layer (overlapping is fine). Whisk together milk, flour, vanilla, salt and eggs. Pour over bread. Cover dish and refrigerate overnight or approximately 8 hours. Combine cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over bread. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 50 minutes.

Two firsts for me this week, first I joined the bakers over at TWD, then because I love to cook and Ina Garden (the Barefoot Contessa) has some really delicious recipes I thought why not join in that fun too!! So this is my first Barefoot Blog Post!

Maybe some day I will graduate to a Daring Baker . .. but right now I don’t think I am that daring!!

This week’s recipe was chosen by Melissa of It’s Melissa’s Kitchen. Now I must confess, I am no stranger to the wonders of wonders that is Panzanella. I have made many different versions of this traditional italian salad and I think I have loved each and every one of them. It is basically a salad with giant croutons and no lettuce .. . HELLO . .. that is a pretty perfect combination!

My only issue with making Ina’s recipe is the toasting method and my bread choice. This is a very busy week for me, my boy has a friend over this week so they can attend a morning Lacrosse camp together. So my week has consisted of cooking, cleaning and entertaining two 13 year old boys! The dishes and food alone are a full time job (boy can they eat!). Plus it has been insanely busy at work . . . well that is nothing terribly new, but it has been even busier than normal!!

Anyways, back to bread choice! I knew I would not have time to stop mid-week for fresh bread, so I picked up some parbaked small baguettes at the store this weekend (Beckman’s brand for you fellow Californians). They are fabulous for getting that fresh baked bread thing going on in your house mid-week. Admittedly, I should have baked them off the night before . . . but again 13 year old boys, crazy work. . . it didn’t happen! So I ended up baking them off, letting them cool (mostly) and then trying to toast them in the olive oil. Now they were very tasty, but in terms of holding up to the dressing, I knew it was going to be soggy very quickly. So far my favorite version for making the croutons has been oiling the bread, then pressing them down while they toast on my grill pan, then rubbing them with the split garlic clove before cutting into bite size pieces. This made them quick, flavorful and super crunchy.

Other than my own bread problems, the salad was very tasty! I had never in my previous versions of Panzanella added capers (I usually do nicoise or kalamata olives), but the capers gave a different briny taste that complimented it well. The only other thing that I have added to other versions is either chopped fresh or the mini fresh mozzarella balls. They give a nice mellow creamy bite to the salad, and I think in the Barefoot version, would have balanced out the capers nicely.

Now for those of you out there who have never made or ate Panzanella . . . stop what you are doing and get chopping, whisking and toasting!! You will be glad you did!!! Oh and her is the link to the recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/panzanella-recipe/index.html


This is my first OFFICIAL post since joining the Tuesday’s with Dorie blogging event. For those of you who don’t know, every Tuesday the group bakes/makes a recipe from the great baking book called Baking: From My Home To Yours .

This week’s selection involves a recent obsession of mine . . . ICE CREAM. I have never really been motivated to make my own ice cream until this year. I have always been satisfied with whatever Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Daaz put out. But, like with all things culinary I started to think about different flavor combinations and saw a ton of recipes popping up in Cooking Light and other locations. I have also read along with Cookie Baker Lynn and all of her ice cream adventures with David Lebovitz’s book the Perfect Scoop. So when I was at Costco I noticed a very beautiful ice cream maker from Cuisinart for only $50. I came home immediately and started researching ice cream makers (even if it was only $50 if it was not a good maker, it wasn’t worth the money). But it received great reviews, so I returned later that week and purchased my new toy. I also went out and got a couple of books including Lebovitz’s and immediately set to work mastering ice cream.

The first batch took a couple of days to come together, getting the rhythm for cooking and chilling the custard and the ice cream maker bowl. But the next day I made up several different custards and made a different batch every day that week. This left me with a very full freezer, luckily my co-workers happily enjoyed a little impromptu ice cream party and my freezer returned to manageable size. So I was thrilled with the idea of making ice cream this week for TWD. However, I was a little less than excited about the ingredients. Blueberries are just not my favorite! I enjoy them in the occassional bread or muffin, but the idea of eating pure blueberry ice cream just did not appeal to me!

Boy was I wrong! This is delicious, the sour cream really balances out the berries which I think are a little too sweet for my palate. I think I have always had them in pancakes, pies or compotes and they were too sweet. Also they always tasted a little metallic to me, which leads me to believe people were cooking them in reactive cookware.

So, Dorie, I am a blueberry convert! Thanks for the reminder, that it is not necessarily the ingredient but the preparation that can make or break an ingredient!

For the rest of you go buy the book, an ice cream maker and make this . . . . you will be a very happy person!

I saw on a few other blogs that people will post their weekly menus on Mondays. I do write a weekly menu now, it saves a lot of time and money at the grocery store. I can’t believe I used to walk through the store picking up whatever I thought looked good! I used to end up going out a lot because I would get home with no plan and exhausted from work. Now, I don’t have to think about what I am making . . . it is great! I just come home and start cooking!

Menu 8/9 – 8/15
Sunday – Lemon Garlic Roast Chicken, crash hot potatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes and green beans
Monday – Pork Medallions, parmesan orzo, salad
Tuesday – Grilled California Pizzas
Wednesday – Steak Diane, garlic broccoli, panzanella salad
Thursday – Sloppy buffalo joes, crudite salad with buttermilk dressing
Friday – dinner out

Zucchini seems to be all the rage on food blogs this week. It was also popular in my fridge, as I seemed to have a whole pile of zucchinis without a plan. Sometimes I get a little excited about produce at the grocery store, and end up with a bunch of it and it is really not feasible for us to eat it all as a side dish. I had seen a recipe in some cookbook of mine that had a zucchini loaf with lemon glaze. However, I scoured books and magazines and couldn’t find the recipe. I was fairly certain it was a Cooking Light recipe, but even a search of their site didn’t turn it up. Hmmph!

In the meantime, I got an email from another site with a recipe for zucchini cupcakes with caramel frosting . .. yum!. However, last weekend my friend and I took a little field trip up the California coast to the Mendocino area. In a little town called Point Arena we discovered this amazing little french bakery called Franny’s cup and saucer. Amazing is all I can say! Holla Franny! There I enjoyed the yummiest cashew almond cookie with a thick brown butter frosting. I ate half the cookie the first day, and when I went to finish it the next day it was still moist and fantastic. I know I am going to dreaming about that cookie for a long time and wondering how to make it. . .

So a brown butter frosting was certainly in order for my zucchini cupcakes! Luckily I found one courtesy of Orangette (holla Orangette!) so I was set to make my cupcakes. Then, of course, I was looking in my complete Cooking Light book and wa la .. . there was the recipe! By the way, I have a bone to pick with the Cooking Light folks. I bought my “complete” book a year ago . . . and what is at my Costco right now the “new” complete book and it is in a great binder! Whatever!! They should at least wait a couple of years before releasing a new version . . . hmmph!

But now I have a dilemma, which recipe to make? One was a little bit more of a breakfast treat, the other a dessert . . . what to do, what to do?? I know! Make both and compare . . . aww my first duo!

First up the cupcakes! This is definitely a cakier batter with more eggs and more oil than the bread recipe. I also have some green little cupcake tulip liners . . . emphasizing their fabulous green zucchini flecks. Tasting them pre-frosting they have a good amount of spice and are nice and moist without being really sweet. Which is good, because they are about to get a sweet hat of frosting!


Brown Butter Frosting

Orangette’s recipe is simple and she does a meticulous job straining out the little brown flecks with cheesecloth. I was not that patient . . . although I did run it through the sieve to get out any big chunks. As I was mixing the frosting looked a little lumpy and scary! But I kept mixing and adding milk and sugar until it tasted right and smoothed out.

All I can say is yum! The frosting, to quote my boy, is “intense” but really, really worth it! It definitely complimented the not too sweet zucchini cupcake perfectly. The toasted nut is more than decoration, it is great with the frosting and the cake. I took these to work and everyone was very excited to try them! This is a great way to eat your vegetables!!!

Zucchini Cupcakes with Brown Butter Frosting
Courtesy of Taste of Home
For Brown Butter Frosting click here
Ingredients:
3 eggs
1-1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup orange juice (I substituted buttermilk)
1 teaspoon almond extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1-1/2 cups shredded zucchini

Directions:
In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar, oil, orange juice (buttermilk) and extract. Combine dry ingredients; add to the egg mixture and mix well. Add zucchini and mix well.
Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Zucchini Bread with Lemon Glaze
This was delicious and much more in the tradition of a breakfast bread. The lemon glaze definitely jazzes it up. The cupcakes were much more moist, but also had a lot more oil. For a lighter cake, the Cooking Light version is a great one for the calories!

Lemon Glazed Zucchini Quick Bread
Courtesy of Cooking Light
2 1/3 cups AP Flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup finely shredded zucchini
1/2 cup low fat milk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tbl grated lemon rind
1 large egg
Cooking Spray
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tbl fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350
Whisk together flour and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl, make a well in center of mixture. Combine zucchini, milk, oil, rind, and egg in a bowl, add to flour mixture. Stir just until moist.

Spoon batter into an 8×4 inch loaf pan coated with baking spray. Bake for 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool loaf 10 minutes in pan then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice with a whisk. Drizzle over the loaf. 14 servings