Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Easy Turtles (Pretzel Rolo Pecan Candies)

I'm not always a chocolate person, often not a dessert person.  But, I ran across a picture the other day that inspired me to stop at the store for some ingredients.  Behold:

Easy Turtles.  AKA Pretzel Rolo Pecan Candies.  And yes, they're easy.  And delicious.
          (Recipe makes about 112 candies.)
  • 1 nine oz bag of Snyder's Butter Snap pretzels (the ones shaped like window panes)
  • 1 eight oz bag of halved pecans
  • 2 twelve oz bags of Rolo candies (about 56 candies/bag -- the ones I bought had 55 and 57)
Yes, there are only 3 ingredients.  Unless you count an oven.

Directions (per batch - I made mine in 2 batches):
  • Preheat a toaster oven or oven to 375 degrees.
  • Count one bag of Rolo candies (from now on, I'll assume there are 56 - if there are fewer/more, adjust accordingly).
  • Count out 56 pecan halves.
  • Spread the pecans on a pan, bake until they're fragrant and lightly toasted, about 5-7 minutes.  I toasted mine in the toaster oven so that I could keep the "big oven" for the candies.
  • Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 degrees (if you're using the oven for both, this will have to be after the nuts are toasted).
  • Arrange 56 pretzels on a baking pan/jelly roll pan.
  •  Top each with an unwrapped Rolo candy.
  •  Bake in the preheated oven for 2 minutes (until chocolate is shiny and chocolates are slightly softned - you'll know if they're soft enough when you try to assemble the first one).
  •  Place one pecan on top of a pretzel/Rolo.  Press the pecan down to smoosh the Rolo.  Do this with the whole pan.  (I do them 2 handed - its a quick/easy process.)
  • Transfer the candies to a baking rack to cool (so they don't stick to the baking pan in their small amount of chocolate-melt-through).
  •  Allow to cool/allow the chocolate to set.  Enjoy!  (Or eat them while warm - YUM either way!!)
  • Wash the pan and repeat for second batch.

These are better than chocolate covered pretzels because they add the caramel/pecan turtle element.  They're better than turtles because they add the sweet/salty combo.  I'm not a dessert person.  I've had to stop myself from eating these tonight so I have some left to share.  That says a lot to me...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Great Side Dishes

Sometimes the side dish is better than the main dish.  Sometimes its so good that you don't even bother making a main dish...

First off, a combo that sounds bizarre, but once you try it - you'll fall in love!  Liz introduced us to this Tomato and Mango Salad while we lived in Williamsburg.  Here's my version:

Tomato Mango Jalapeno Salad (excellent with fish or as a fresh and light first course or on its own if you had a big lunch...)
Peel and cube one large, ripe mango.  Cube 2 medium super ripe* tomatoes.  Finely chop 1/4 of a red onion.  Finely chop 1 jalapeno (or less, to taste).  Toss with the juice of 1/2 a lime.  Chill and let the flavors 'marry' for at least 30 minutes.  Enjoy!  (I've found that once this salad sits overnight, the jalapenos are actually less spicy.)

Sometimes the simplest sides are the best - in all of these cases, I thought they were better than the main dish!

Super Ripe* Tomatoes with Arugula (topped with balsamic vinegar)
Here, served with rockfish cooked in parchment with herbs, onions, and lemons.

  Spaghetti Squash
Cook the spaghetti squash according to label directions.  (They're always some variation of this:  Poke several holes in the squash.  Microwave 2 minutes.  Cut in half.  Remove seeds. Microwave in a glass dish, face down, until tender - usually 5 to 10 minutes.)  Using forks, pull the squash apart into spaghetti.  Drizzle lightly with good EVOO (quality shows when there's nothing masking the flavor) and fresh squeezed lemon.  Top with fresh ground pepper.  Serve.  (Here it was served with white wine poached tilapia, topped with butter toasted breadcrumbs and capers.)

Sliced Tomatoes
So simple, but so incredible.  Sliced super ripe* tomatoes, drizzled with good EVOO (once again, quality matters), a pinch of sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper.

Sauteed Artichoke Hearts AND Spinach Salad
If you read my post about artichokes, you know how much I love them!  I still stand by my word that whole artichokes are the best way to go, but frozen artichoke hearts are pretty amazing too!  Not every store has them - I originally discovered them because my college roommate Emily would buy them at Trader Joe's.  Unfortunately, Colorado does not have TJs.  I think I found them at Sprouts this time.  Simple preparation:  saute thawed artichoke hearts in a small amount of EVOO.  In another pan, toast butter, breadcrumbs, and fresh ground black pepper.  Squeeze a tiny bit of lemon on the artichoke hearts and top with toasted topping.

Whenever I use a pomegranate for any recipe, I have a ton of the yummy seeds leftover.  They're fun to add to a variety of foods!  They dance beautifully when dropped into champagne, they make an exciting oatmeal topping, they are a tart counterpoint to cake, they're fun on ice cream/sorbet, and they're perfect on salads.  This salad was simply baby spinach, sliced mushrooms, and pomegranate seeds.  Topped with sweet and sour dressing.  This is a simplified version of my family's annual "Christmas Salad" but still delicious.  I've also made the same salad with warm sauteed mushrooms instead.  Yum!

Both sides were great!  They both also out-shined the lemon-white wine steamed tilapia with capers.

Last but not least, is one that the side was fun to make (but I can't claim it was better than the main dish - I love steak too much to claim that!)

Twice Baked Potatoes
I microwave baked my Idaho potatoes, then scooped them out.  I added (per potato) 1 Tb sour cream, a generous amount of black pepper, 1/2 Tb of melted butter, and a large pinch of shredded cheddar then mixed.  I divided the filling between the potato skins, then baked them in a 375 degree oven until golden brown on top.

Here, served with pan-seared steak (seared in melted butter in a cast iron skillet).  BTW - such an easy way to cook a steak and incredibly delicious (if you don't have a charcoal grill)!

*In most cases, the tomatoes at the grocery store are anything but ripe.  Options:  1)  Grow your own tomatoes (we can't do that - we live in an apartment that doesn't get enough sun on the patio).  2)  Buy your tomatoes from a farmer's market (delicious, but they're not always in season).  3)  My most common tactic:  buy the on the vine tomatoes at the grocery - allow them to ripen at home until they're so ripe that they're almost mushy/you're afraid they might start molding at the stem.  This sometimes works to make plum tomatoes palatable as well.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Salad - Its What's for Dinner.

I am very fortunate to not only have married a non-picky-eater, but also a man who LOVES vegetables.  If I'm at a loss for what to make for dinner and ask Joe what I should cook, I undoubtedly get the same answer:  "Can you make dinner salads?"

We probably eat dinner salads once a week.  Usually, its just a combination of whatever produce/protein I have in the fridge, but sometimes I plan ahead and come up with something worth remembering.

Some recent salads (that I remembered to photograph before we chowed down)...  BTW - I left my favorite for last.

(All recipes serve 2 unless specified.)

Locally-Grown Spinach with Grilled Sweet Potatoes, Grilled Brussels Sprouts, Avocado and Grilled Salmon

Sweet potatoes:  I scrubbed one and sliced it on my mandolin, then brushed with EVOO, grilled the slices, and diced.
Brussels Sprouts:  I halved them, skewered them, and drizzled them with melted butter and lemon juice then grilled/cut.
Salmon:  rubbed with dijon and topped with generous black pepper than grilled on oiled foil.
Served with Gorgonzola-Balsamic Vinaigrette (store-bought).

Shrimp Caesar Salad (adapted from an everyday Food recipe)
Skewers:   I tossed about ~16 thawed peeled/devained medium shrimp with 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 TB EVOO, the zest of 1/2 a lemon, and fresh pepper.  Then I tossed ~20 1 inch French bread cubes (I used 4 French Rolls) with 1 TB EVOO and pepper.  I skewered them and then cooked them on a baking sheet in a 450 degree oven for about 7 minutes (until shrimp was cooked).
Caesar:  I mixed 1 clove crushed garlic, 2 TB fresh lemon juice, 2 TB EVOO, 1 tsp Dijon, and 1 small squeeze anchovy paste (<1/4 tsp) in a salad bowl, whisked, added ~ 4 cups romaine lettuce and tossed.

 Romaine Salad with Shrimp, Mango, Avocado, and Cucumbers
Topped with sliced almonds.  Served with balsamic vinaigrette.  The avocado and mango go amazingly well together!

Salad with Red Veggies
Romaine with tomatoes, pickled beets, radishes, and herbed Feta.  Served with EVOO and red wine vinegar.

Pickled Beets - scrub the beets, peel, and slice.  Boil until tender.  Marinate in red wine vinegar and sugar.  Its also possible to boil the beets whole and then rub the skins off (with rubber gloves on).

And last but not least, my FAVORITE salad of the summer (and of course, its from everyday Food magazine...small changes from the original though)!  Pictures of a few steps included...

Arugula, Chicken and Rice Salad (serves 4)
Cook 4 servings of Jasmine rice according to the directions (I found brown Jasmine - yum!).
Marinate and grill 2 chicken breasts.  Chop.
Slice 1 pint of Heirloom cherry tomatoes in half (or regular cherry tomatoes - the Heirloom were on sale at the store and they're sooo pretty!).  Slice a small bunch of green onions.  Toss with the tomatoes.  (I often keep a few onions to the side to garnish the salad with.)  Add to the chopped chicken.  Add cooked rice.
Blend 3 cups of fresh herbs (I used basil, parsley, and sage leaves) with 3 Tb white balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar) and 2 Tb EVOO.  Gradually add about 1/4 cup of cold water.  Blend as you go.  The goal is to get a smooth, pourable dressing (use water if needed).  Season with black pepper.
Toss 1 clamshell (typically 5 oz) of arugula with 1/2 of the dressing.  Add the remaining dressing to the rice/chicken mixture.  Toss.  Divide arugula among the plates.  Top with generous scoops of the chicken and rice salad.  Top with remaining green onions.  Enjoy!

If you're only serving 2 people at a time, only dress half of the arugula at a time.  Store remaining arugula and dressing separately until time to serve.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Evolution of a Recipe

I am so lucky to have grown up in a family where my mother cooked dinner regularly, and we ALWAYS sat down as a family to eat (whether it was a new recipe, an old favorite, "must-go" night - AKA leftovers, or at a restaurant).  Dinner time with my family is something that I'll never take for granted.  People have asked where my love of cooking has come from, and I can say without a doubt its from growing up with parents who appreciated food, pushed us to help cook dinner, and encouraged us to try new foods.  Because of my parents, I've been helping in the kitchen for as long as I remember.

I've been asked how I "make up" recipes, how I know what to add to make something taste better, how I know what will taste good together, etc.  Experience over time and practice are the only keys.  There is no magic list that tells you what to add, but knowing the basics of flavors that go well together and seeing what other people combine in recipes helps you perpetually add to your mental cooking encyclopedia.

Sometimes I start from scratch when I'm making something up, but often I start with a recipe I know that I love.

For example, recently, I started out with my Chicken Marsala.  (A recipe that I cook 3-4 times/year, which is a lot for any recipe for me.)  Keep in mind that this recipe (like any recipe) is just a basis for me - if I don't have shallots, I'll sub onions.  Sometimes I use prosciutto, if I don't have it I add some extra smoked paprika.  Etc.

Chicken Marsala
Mix about 1/2 cup of flour with the following spices (to taste):  smoked paprika (~1 Tb), garlic powder (~1 tsp), black pepper (~1 Tb), cayenne pepper (pinch), dried oregano (~4 shakes), dried thyme (~2 shakes).  Pound 1-1.5 lbs of chicken tenders to 1/4" (between sheets of plastic wrap).  Heat enough EVOO to coat the bottom of a large skillet over medium-high heat (on my electric stove, that's about 1 tick below medium - I hate electric stoves...).  Dredge the chicken in flour mixture.  Slip into pan and fry on each side until golden brown (~3 min/side).  Do not crowd the chicken - cook in batches.  Remove chicken to a platter in a single layer.  Lower heat to medium heat (for me, approx halfway below low and medium on the dial).  Add 3Tb unsalted butter, 1 diced medium shallot, and 2 oz of thinly sliced/ribbon-ed prosciutto and saute for 2 minutes.  Add 3 cups of sliced crimini mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are slightly brown on the edges and have given off their liquid.  Add 1 cup of sweet Marsala, bring to a boil, and scrape brown bits off the bottom.  Reduce the Marsala by half.  Add 1 cup of chicken stock and cook 3 minutes.  Lower to medium, return chicken to pan, and cook about 5 more minutes until chicken is cooked through and hot.  Serve over pasta (bowtie is my favorite).


While grocery shopping, I saw a package of frozen portobello mushroom ravioli.  Immediately I thought about making a Ravioli Marsala.

First try:
I followed my Chicken Marsala recipe almost to a T (with 4 servings of ravioli).  Obviously, there was no chicken to dredge in flour, so I dusted my onions in about a Tb of flour and small amounts of the spices.  I also had no prosciutto.  The result?  It was ok.  Not terrible but not something I'd want to identically duplicate.  There wasn't enough sauce, and the sauce that was there was very thin.

It wasn't great - but I wasn't giving up.  This happens a lot - good idea but mediocre result.  I generally don't stop trying though until I've tried a few more times.

Luckily, this was an "easy" one - the second try was YUMMY!

Mushroom Ravioli Marsala
This time, I didn't take out my recipe and instead cooked by what looked/felt right and what was in my fridge at the time.  It helped that I've cooked my Marsala on many occasions, so I knew the basic steps.

Finely chop 2 medium red onions.  In a bowl, toss with ~6 Tb of flour, 1 tsp of smoked paprika, 2 hefty shake of garlic powder,  1/2 tsp black pepper, 1-2 shakes of cayenne pepper, 1 pinch of ground cloves, 2 shakes of dried oregano, 2 shake of dried thyme.  Heat enough EVOO to cover the bottom of a large skillet over 'high' heat (on my electric stove, that's medium).  Add the onions.  Cook for ~2 minutes.  Add ~4 ounces of diced prosciutto.  Add ~4 cups of sliced crimini mushrooms and 2 Tbs of butter.  Reduce heat to med-hi and stir occasionally until mushrooms are golden brown around the edges.  <Meanwhile, bring your ravioli water to a boil.>  Add a can of beef broth (to the sauce, not the water).  Simmer for 4 minutes.  Add enough Marsala to make a generous amount of sauce (~1 cups).  By now your water should be boiling.  Add 4 servings of ravioli (32ish) to the water and cook according to package (mine take 3 minutes).  Remove the ravioli to the pan of sauce.  Ladel one spoon of sauce into the bottom of the bowl.  Add ravioli.  Top with more sauce.  Enjoy!

I know that next time I make this, my recipe will vary slightly - but thats ok with me!  At least I know I have a place to start from.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"You should put this on your food blog."

Two bites into the meal.  Joe looks up at me, "Did you take pictures of these?  You should put this on your food blog."

My husband, with his on-again off-again relationship with social media recommended that I post pictures of our dinner.  Love it.

You may ask, "What meal deserves this type of praise?"  Two words.  Grilled pizza.

Yes, grilled pizza.  When I owned a charcoal grill, I'm not sure that this would have worked.  Every time I lit the charcoal grill, it was HOT.  No option of medium or low unless I let the charcoal nearly burn itself out - and then it was uneven with hot spots and cold spots.  Now don't get me wrong, I still LOVE charcoal, but my gas grill has introduced me to a whole new world - temperature adjustment!  When we eventually have a yard again, I'm not sure if I'll be able to give up the convenience of a gas grill - but I'll also be excited to have the smoky taste of charcoal again.  Might we end up being a two grill family?  I'm thinking yes.  Or maybe we'll just get one of those fancy grills where half is charcoal and half is gas.

Enough about grilling, on to the pizza.

Since our first grilling, I've made grilled pizza twice.  In about 10 days.  If you know me and how infrequently I repeat recipes, this is a statement in itself.

Pizza dough:  I've found that our local Sprouts sells 1 lb packages of frozen pizza dough.  It can be thawed overnight in the fridge or 2 hours on the counter.  Each ball of dough makes 2 pizzas.  If your store doesn't sell dough, check with your local pizzeria - some are willing to sell you a ball for about 2 bucks.  Or you can make your own...

Note:  If you're making more than one type of pizza, complete the PREP for all types before any cooking commences.


 Caramelized pears, caramelized onions, Gorgonzola, and balsamic reduction.

Preheat your grill to medium-low.  Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F.
Slice an onion.  Cook over low-med/low heat with EVOO and pepper.  Stir occasionally.  Turn heat off once onions are a little bit golden-brown and are soft and sweet.  Feel free to sample liberally throughout the cooking.  There will be too many onions, but you won't be sad you made extra.
Meanwhile, cut a pear into bite-size pieces (skin-on).  Toss with olive oil and black pepper.  Saute over medium heat until the pears are browned slightly and tender (but not mushy).
Pour about 6Tb of balsamic vinegar into a saucepan.  (Don't turn on the heat yet.)
Crumble 2-3 oz of Gorgonzola.
Grate some mozzarella (~1/2 cup).

On a lightly flowered surface, start forming 1/2 lb of pizza dough into a circle.  Once the dough is flattened, pick it up and use gravity to help stretch it into a bigger circle (~9" - the pizza will be bigger later).  Brush the dough generously with EVOO on both sides.  About this time, have your husband (or someone else) scrub the grill grates.  After oiling the dough, when you pick it up it will stretch quite a bit more (leading to my interesting shaped pizzas).  Bring the dough out to the grill and set it on the grate (the dough should have stretched a bunch more while you were carefully bringing it outside).  Grill for about 5 minutes on the first side (until the side facing the grill is firm and has some pretty grill marks).  Remove the dough from the grill and flip it grill marks side up on a baking sheet.

Sprinkle a thin layer of mozzarella on the dough (this will help glue the toppings on).  Top the pizza with the caramelized onions, caramelized pears, and Gorgonzola crumbles.  Turn the burner under the balsamic vinegar to the absolute lowest setting (stir periodically while the pizza is in PHASE 2).

Place the pizza on the grill.  Grill about 5 minutes, until the bottom is firm and grill marks have been made.  Remove the pizza to the baking sheet.  Drizzle with balsamic reduction.  Throw in the oven until the 2nd pizza is done.

 Margarita pizza - tomatoes, mozzerella, and basil.

Open a can of low sodium tomato sauce.
Grate a good amount of mozzarella (1 heaping cup).
Cut about 6 cherry-tomato sized fresh mozzarella (ciliegine, they come in the milky-looking water) in half and drain between paper towels.
Cut one ripe tomato in about 6 slices.
Rinse, dry, and cut up about 6 basil leaves.

Commence COOKING, PHASE 1 (see above).

Spoon about half the can of tomato sauce over the dough and spread evenly (save the other half in Tupperware for another night - you'll want more pizza soon!).  Top generously with shredded mozzarella.  Sprinkle with garlic powder (not garlic salt).  Arrange the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella on top of the pizza.

Complete COOKING, PHASE 2 (see above - one difference:  top with basil post-grilling (not balsamic)).

Slice both pizzas (6 slices each), and ENJOY!!


Margarita pizza
Same as NIGHT ONE, but instead of an additional tomato, add about 1-2 oz of pecorino ramono cheese.  This pizza had a cheese blend that rivaled the best pizza we've ever eaten.  (Modest, right?)

Buffalo chicken, caramelized onions, Gorgonzola

PREP:Caramelize onions (see NIGHT ONE).  You'll have leftovers if you use a whole onion.  They make any other leftovers you have taste 200% better.
Dice about 4 ounces of cooked chicken and coat in Frank's Red Hot (to taste).
Find the other half can of tomato sauce from NIGHT ONE.
Grate some mozzarella (~3/4 cup).
Crumble about 2-3 ounces of Gorgonzola

Pre-grill the first side of the dough.

Spoon the can of tomato sauce over the dough and spread evenly.  Top with shredded mozzarella.  Decorate the pizza with the chicken, onions, and Gorgonzola.


I hope you love grilled pizza as much as we have!  And if you don't have a gas grill, or if putting stretchy raw dough on a non-solid surface scares you, come visit and I'll make you some!

P.S.  If you already have a "pizza problem" like Joe and I do (eating pizza at least once per week), you may not want to try this - it'll make your problem worse.

P.P.S  Has anyone grilled pizza on a charcoal grill?  Is it possible?

P.P.P.S.  Joe insists the first pizza is upside down.  I don't agree...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Best Dinner in a Long Time :-)

I know I've mentioned it in this blog before, but I really like everyday Food magazine.  One of the things I've noticed recently is that the recipes often ignore the American idea that every meal needs a meat, a carb, and maybe a vegetable.  The majority of the dinners are instead light and fresh and leave you feeling satisfied but not heavy/over-full.

Tonight for dinner, I made 2 recipes from the magazine.  I was excited about them when cooking, but also curbed my enthusiasm because sometimes meals aren't as awesome as they look in pictures/sound in recipes.  Luckily, this one was.  This was our favorite dinner that I've made at home for a long time.

Unfortunately, our camera was low on batteries, so I only got one picture of each and didn't get to try a few angles/lighting settings to make them look as awesome as they tasted...  We had two "entrees" and I thought for a while about serving them in sequence, but due to timing, I served them simultaneously instead.  We had:

Green Bean Salad with garbanzo beans, heirloom cherry tomatoes, red onion, and lemon/olive oil dressing.  It was a pretty recipe in the magazine, but subbing a mix of purple/red/yellow/green/orange heirloom cherry tomatoes for the standard red ones made it so visually appealing and also amazingly delicious!

Recipe in brief:  Cook 1-1.5 lbs green beans until "tender-crisp" -- about 4 minutes in boiling water.  Meanwhile, whisk the juice of 1 lemon, about 2/3 of a lemon worth of lemon zest, and 2 Tb EVOO.  Add 1 can of drained/rinsed chick peas, 1/4 of a red onion slivered, and 1 pint quartered/halved cherry tomatoes (heirloom preferred).  Stir.  Plate drained green beans, top with tomato mixture, and sprinkle with Feta cheese.

The magazine advertises the green bean salad as an entree on its own (and it certainly could have been one) but I had some leftover coconut milk in the fridge that I wanted to finish.  I used it in a Coconut Curry Clam recipe (originally mussels, but the store only had clams).  Joe wasn't too excited about it initially when he read the recipe, but we ended up fighting over the last few clams and then eating the broth/sauce like soup!  It was very rich, so we ended up with leftovers that I'll be VERY excited to serve over rice later this week!

Recipe in brief:  Melt 1 Tb of unsalted butter over medium heat.  Add 1 Tb fresh minced ginger and 2 cloves of crushed garlic.  Add 1/2 to 1 can of unsweetened lowfat coconut milk (depending on # of clams) and increase heat to medium high.  Whisk in 2-3 Tb of green curry paste.  Add 2-3 dozen clams (or mussels) cover, and cook til open.  Squeeze the juice of 1 lime over the mixture and top with about 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro.

Such a yummy dinner!  And we're very excited about our leftover Green Bean Salad for lunch tomorrow!  (Yes, me the non-leftover eater, is looking forward to both of these leftovers!!)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Our First Thanksgiving in Colorado

For Thanksgiving this year, it became obvious pretty quickly that we wouldn't be able to travel home.  Joe had just started his new job, I was temping (and any time off was unpaid), tickets were exorbitantly priced, and who really wants to spend the majority of a four day weekend in an airport??  So instead of flying home, we had our first Colorado Thanksgiving.

I do most of the cooking for me and Joe, and was overwhelmed with the thought of cooking an entire Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us.  I knew that my only "cooking day" would have to be Thanksgiving day itself, and I wasn't sure if I could get everything done in 8 hours or less.  But, once we decided flying home wasn't an option, we invited my mom to fly out and join us, and she accepted.  The prospect of a Thanksgiving dinner suddenly became a lot less scary when I knew that I'd have her here to help do the shopping and the prep work while I was at work.

Thanksgiving ended up being a beautiful day (I'm pretty sure we hadn't had snow yet by that time of year, even though upon moving here we were promised that our first snow would be before the end of October).  Our friends from Denver, D and K were also able to come, so instead of a Thanksgiving for 2, we had a Thanksgiving for 5!  Somehow, all the prep happened so quickly and painlessly that it was a relaxing day of alternately cooking and sitting with our feet up.

The menu:
Mom and the bird
We bought a fresh, local turkey and made Alton Brown's Roast Turkey.  I don't think we use cinnamon or apple in the aromatics, I think we use lemon instead (possibly an earlier iteration of the recipe).  The most important part of the recipe though is brining the turkey to make it moist and tender with natural ingredients, rather than a whole bunch of salt and chemicals (like a lot of the "fluid added" frozen turkeys).  Our family has made this turkey recipe for years, and Mom has been known to have a brining turkey travelling with them in the car when she and Dad would come down to W'Burg for Thanksgiving.
Carved turkey and the rest of the "buffet."
Sweet  potatoes!  We pre-bake them and then squeeze them out of their skins, add brown sugar, cayenne, butter and half & half then bake them as a casserole.
Bobby Flay's Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranates and Vanilla-Pecan Butter.  My dad always loved having Brussels sprouts on Thanksgiving, so I wanted to make sure to have some on the menu (Joe and I both also love Brussels sprouts, so it was an easy addition).  This recipe was from Bobby Flay's Thanksgiving Throwdown, and it must have been a popular thing to make, because we had to go to two stores to get enough Brussels sprouts!
D made green bean casserole - one of Joe's favorite side dishes!
And or course stuffing!
Missing from the pictures are the gravy, the mashed potatoes, and the homemade pumpkin and apple pies that Mom made.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Consumer Review: Buitoni Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce

As you may have guessed, I love cooking.  But, love of cooking doesn't mean that I always have the time or energy to prepare a home-cooked meal.  What makes matters difficult is that I am also very sodium-sensitive and find most packaged foods too salty, too boring, too greasy, too yuck.  Even with my frozen food skepticism, I've been intrigued by the Buitoni "restaurant quality" frozen meals that are perpetually splashed across my television screen and decided to give one of them a try.

Buying the meal was no small feat for me.  I have a strange dilemma when it comes to grocery store prices.  If I'm at a restaurant and see something simple like a soup/sandwich combo for $7, I think to myself, "Wow!  Great price!"  But, if I'm at a grocery store and something is $7 I'm outraged - even if it will probably feed more than one person.  This was my biggest barriers with the Buitoni meal.  I had a box in my cart two months ago, but ended up putting it back because I couldn't bring myself to spend $10 on a frozen meal - even though it would feed two people for dinner!  I finally convinced myself to buy a box when I saw it at Target for about $8.  Grocery store anxiety still kicked in, but I convinced myself that if I saw ravioli at a Happy Hour for $4/person, we'd be there every night.

The Appeal:
Once your water comes to a boil, it takes 5 minutes to cook the meal.  They claim it will taste like a restaurant meal.  The commercials and box make it look good (but come on, Big Macs look good on TV).  I love pasta (and so does Joe)!

Dinner is served!
 The Verdict:

The ravioli cooked quickly and was al dente (not slimy/mushy/gummy like many frozen raviolis).  Both the shrimp and the lobster flavors were noticeable in the filling.  The filling was mostly smooth, but has actual chunks of shrimp and lobster in it.  However, its not overflowing with chunks like the box implied.  The garlic butter sauce was creamy, smooth, and rich (not oily/greasy/watery) and had a hint of garlic but was not overpowering.  I could taste the salt in it, but it didn't overwhelm me.  It actually complimented the ravioli very well and went perfectly with the lemon-pepper roasted asparagus that I made on the side (come-on!  you didn't expect me to serve an entirely packaged meal, did you?).  With a little presentation effort, it looked good too!  The meal was very satisfying, and extremely quick and easy to make.  Will I buy it again?  Yes.  If I hadn't roasted the asparagus, the meal would have taken about 12 minutes, including boiling the water.  Also, it tasted good.  Did it taste like a restaurant meal?  It wasn't a 5-star restaurant meal, but it was as good as you could get at a chain Italian restaurant.  And for a third of the price.  Will I make it every week?  No.  Calorie, cholesteral, sodium, and fat wise, it was more of a "splurge" than I'd want to serve weekly.  Looking at the sodium content, I'm still shocked that it didn't taste heavily salted to me.

Overall, good job Buitoni!  You made a frozen/prepared food skeptic enjoy your product!

End note:
Lemon Pepper Asparagus is really easy!  Trim the bottoms off a bunch of asparagus, drizzle with olive oil, pepper to taste, roast on a foil covered pan in a 400 degree oven until asparagus is crisp-tender, top with fresh squeezed lemon juice and more pepper to taste.

End note 2:
Buitoni did not pay me or compensate me in any way to write this review.  But if you work for Buitoni and want to send me coupons for free stuff, YES PLEASE!!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Les Poisson

Remember Little Mermaid?  "Les poisson, les poisson, how I LOVE les poisson!"  From my favorite movie growing up, comes a song about one of my favorite things to cook:  FISH!  So quick to cook, healthy, delicious, and versatile (and perhaps the reason that my "good cholesterol" levels are always very high).  We perpetually have a bag or two of the vacuum packed fish in our freezer and I always examine the seafood counter when I shop, leading us to eat fish A LOT.

When I shop for food, I rarely know what we'll be having for dinner in advance (unless I'm there with a recipe).  Produce-wise, I shop based on what's on sale (which is also usually what's in season).  In the meat and seafood sections, I always look for the "manager's special" stickers first (the ones that they have to sell that day or throw out).  I never worry about it being "bad" because I'll be cooking or freezing it that night, which is still within the expiration.

I was particularly lucky on a recent shopping trip.  New York Strip steak AND fresh shrimp for amazing deals!  This was Joe's self-admitted favorite recent meal.

I cooked the steak in the broiler with a dash of "magic dust" on it to medium rare (recipe for "magic dust" at the end of the post).  I cooked the asparagus in a lidded pan with a small amount of chicken stock that I had in the fridge -- this worked out really well!  For the shrimp, I sauteed some garlic and crushed red pepper in butter and EVOO and then tossed the shrimp in a few minutes before I wanted to serve them.  I served the shrimp and garlic sauce over brown rice.

Next, a frozen fish meal.  The veggie side dish here was a melange of some "must-go" items from the produce drawer (green pepper, carrots, onions, mushrooms) and a can of chick peas, all cooked in chicken stock.  For the salmon, I seared it in a pan with EVOO then glazed it with red pepper jelly and finished it in the oven.  Fresh lemon brought everything together.

And another frozen fish meal!  I made a simple tomato sauce (can of tomatoes, green onions, capers) and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, I seared the swordfish on both sides in EVOO.  I added them to the tomato mixture to finish cooking.  Served atop brown rice with a side of chicken stock steamed asparagus.

 Recipe for Magic Dust (this is a dry rub from a pulled pork recipe -- I've found its good sprikled on other things as well -- green beans, grilled meat, frozen dinner rolls prior to cooking, etc.)

Mix together:  1/2 cup smoked paprika, 1/4 cup fine sea salt, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup powdered mustard, 1/4 cup chili powder, 1/4 cup ground cumin, 2T black pepper, 1/4 cup garlic powder (not garlic salt), 2T cayenne pepper.  I keep mine in a spice shaker.