Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Middle Eastern Treat!

Sure, I have not posted in 943 years. Yes, I have cooked about 943 things in the interim. Remember when I said that I was going to write about all of my cooking endeavors? I lied. It is amazing how daunting it is to post about your dinner every night. It is one thing to keep up with my family blog, but a whole other task to take on two blogs, one of which requires actually remembering to take a picture of your food before you eat it. I have made a ton of delicious stuff, and I would even begin chanting to myself, "take a picture, take a picture, take a picture" only to be sidetracked by one fiasco or another involving a two year old. So what, you ask, prompted me to actually get out of my rut and remember to write? Hold on to your socks, my friends!

Tonight, I made Mujadara. It is Lebanese, which we are all about right now. We are suckers for great Greek/Lebanese/Mediterranean cuisine around here. I stumbled on the recipe during my standard trip to the Tasty Kitchen blog. It took me all of two seconds to decide it was going to be dinner. I have never in my life cooked lentils and I am also very new to cooking with middle eastern flavors. Let me tell you, this was absolutely fantastic. I can't express how much we loved this. It is super easy, very inexpensive and healthy (while tasting like a decadent treat!). I made hummus and toasted pita bread to go with it. I use my hummus recipe (which I will include below). NEVER buy hummus. It is so cheap and easy to make and tastes a thousand times better than the stuff in the grocery store. We piled hummus and the mujadara on the pitas and it was absolute heaven. You must make this. Trust me. :-)

Mujadara (Rice, Lentils and Caramelized Onions) *slightly altered by yours truly

1 cup Lentils
4 whole Yellow Onions
3-½ cups Water
1 cup White Rice
1 teaspoon Cumin
1 teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoons Pepper
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil and/or butter

Preparation Instructions

Slice the onions. The onions should be sliced long and not diced.
Heat a pot on medium heat. Add 1 table­spoon of butter (or oil) and half an onion. Cook until onion is caramelized.
Add lentils, water, salt and pep­per. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and sim­mer for 20 minutes.
After 20 min­utes, add rice and cumin. Cover and sim­mer for addi­tional 20 minutes.

While all of this is happening, heat a fry­ing pan over medium heat. Add the remain­ing 1 table­spoon of veg­etable oil, a couple of pats of butter and the remain­ing onions. Cook until fully caramelized and dark golden brown. Stir into the lentil mixture or spoon on top of each plate.

*caramelizing the onions is KEY. Low and slow is always the way to go and I think that using butter to do it makes them much sweeter than using oil. That is my own personal preference and it does not take too much butter at all. I move the heat down to about 3 or 4 and cook the onions for 45 minutes. I kid you not. This is what makes them turn into sweet bits of heaven. For the first part of the dish (the half onion that goes into the mix), I only did about 20 minutes, but next time I will remember to get them on the stove earlier. I cooked the big batch at the end for the full 45 minutes like I normally do and they really made the dish. It was a heavenly combination!!


2 garlic cloves
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained, some liquid reserved
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
2 tablespoons liquid from the chickpeas (probably a bit more)
olive oil

Turn on the food processor fitted with the steel blade and drop the garlic down the feed tube; process until it's minced. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and process until the hummus is pureed. As far as the olive oil, I add this to the food processor last and eyeball it. I probably use about a 1/2 cup. I add a little at a time and keep tasting it and checking the consistency. The same with the lemon...I add the juice of one and then keep tasting it as I add more. Also, make sure that you note kosher salt...if you add a full teaspoon of the fine table salt, it will be WAY too salty. If you don't have the large kosher salt, really knock the salt down until you taste it.

Cut your pita bread into quarters and toast...the perfect snack with hummus. And the perfect accompaniment to the dinner!! Are you proud that I even remembered to take a picture?! :-)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tomato Sauce

I have been battling a migraine this weekend, so I needed a quick fix for dinner last night. After doing much reading, I found that lots and LOTS of food bloggers are in love with a very simple recipe for tomato sauce that involves simply simmering a 28 oz can of whole tomatoes with butter and a whole onion for 45 minutes. This sounded too good to be true, but HOW EASY?!? I figured that I should give it a try...after all it is "famous" and "delicate" and "magical" just to quote a few of the effervescent reviews of this apparent Italian staple. I followed all of the instructions and was beside myself to taste it. I was in for a big disappointment. As it turns out, the secret to this sauce is not only the butter and whole onion that the tomatoes are stewed in, but I think it is also the tomatoes themselves. All of the chefs wax poetic about the jar of "San Marzano" whole tomatoes. Of course, I was at Wal-Mart yesterday, not Central Market. The only jar I could get was Hunts. Yep, you guessed it...not the same thing. Did you know that San Marzano tomatoes are grown at the base of a volcano in Italy?? Yeah, me either. But I digress. The sauce was rather...shall we say, blah. No magic for me. I was excited to use my immersion blender because I love it and look for reasons to bust it out (Colin, do you want me to puree those Cheerios?), so that part was fun. :-) Once I tasted it, I started to fix it. I added salt, lots of pepper, garlic powder, and probably 1/4 a cup of heavy cream that was left over in the fridge. (not much! just a little! see, I am healthy!) I will say that with only that little bit extra, the sauce turned into heaven. It was absolutely fantastic! Colin ate a giant plate of it, as did Jer and I. I am making this again ASAP! It was very easy and it turned out to be one of my all-time favorite tomato sauces that I have ever tasted! Who knew?! I will also be finding a can of those awesome little San Marzano tomatoes VERY soon and trying this again. I have a feeling that with better quality tomatoes, it would not have needed the additional salt. But I do think that everything in the world is better with garlic, pepper and a smidge of cream. I'm just saying. :-)
VERY important. This does NOT make very much sauce. If I was just serving two helpings of pasta, this size would be fine. However, if you are like me and enjoy a lot of sauce on your pasta, have big eaters in your family, and enjoy having leftovers for lunch the next day, then double this! I will for SURE be doing that next time!
Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions

28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes from a can (San Marzano, if you can find them)
*5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
1/4 cup(ish) heavy cream
Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder

Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (I used my small dutch oven) over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. (I used my immersion blender after cooking was complete) Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste and then stir in the cream. Next time I will probably add the salt, pepper and garlic powder at the beginning since I usually like spices to simmer while cooking. This time, it was after the fact because I did not like the original as it was. It was still fantastic even though the spices were an afterthought!

I served it with rotini pasta (because Colin loves to eat those) and good parmesan that I grate myself over the dishes.
I will be reporting on this again when I try the San Marzano tomatoes. :-)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Peach Crunch Cake

You need to make this. NOW. Peach Crunch Cake. GOOD. FANTASTIC. EASY. :-) I found this on one of my latest favorite food blogs, Bakerella. The recipe is here. I was prompted to make this for a plethora of reasons, one being that I will give anything a try that requires absolutely no work. Sometimes you just need something hot and sweet and baking is just not an option. This cake is perfect for those moments. The other reason is because I have a major weakness for anything made with fruit and a crispy topping. I think the problem can be traced back to childhood when my mama made apple crisp. This was one of her signature desserts and one of my strongest memories from being little is the taste of that apple crisp. Don't tell anyone, but I would always choose a "fruity pastry" kind of dessert over a chocolate one any day. Don't get me wrong...I love chocolate...but if you offer me a crisp of any variety, I am all over it. So I stumbled onto Bakerella a few days ago and the peach cake was front and center. It turned out to be very decadent, very sweet, and very crispy on top. LOVE it. I did have a couple of problems that I will correct next time. I don't think that I will be adding quite so much brown sugar because spots of it got a bit burned and too hard. I also think that I will eyeball it better because I got some spots uneven, so the corners of the cake (for example) were overdone and the middle was just right. I think if you take a little more time than I did spreading out the ingredients and cut down the brown sugar, you will be in heaven. As it stands, we ate most of it and left the edges. Oh, that reminds should really grease the pan. It is not in the instructions, but this is sugar we are talking about and I am going to have a hard time washing this dish when we are done with it! Next time, I will give it a quick spray beforehand. Anyway, we all loved this and it is seriously delicious. Granted, it is not good for you, but it is just a fantastic treat. Hey, at least there is fruit. OH and that reminds me of something ELSE...I think I am going to try using more peaches next time. I will probably use the big 28 oz can again and then add just the fruit out of a second small can. I LOVE the peaches in this and I think that more would make it even more fabulous. go make this! :-)

I am pretty proud of my picture. At least it has real sunlight in it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tuna Nicoise Bread Salad

This is one of my new favorite dishes to make and has gone into frequent rotation...tuna bread salad. I got this dish from Melissa D'Arabian, the current "Food Network Star". Now, I will admit that Melissa is not the most entertaining person to watch and she is still getting the hang of being on television. But I have made almost everything she has put on the air and it is always simple, easy and surprisingly delicious. She has four very young children, and I can tell by her recipes! I always look to her when I need something super easy and she has yet to let me down. I was VERY surprised by this one...I am not a giant tuna fan and never think to cook with it. This dish is not beautiful to look at, but I was blown away by how yummy it turned out! This dish is very cheap, very filling and involves NO cooking. It tastes like something you would get at a restaurant! A couple of things; first of all, I double this recipe. One whole can of the beans works great (I drain and rinse them before adding to the salad), one pint of cherry tomatoes, the whole get the picture. Doubling it makes the perfect amount for a main course and then to have lunch the following day for both me and Jer. This recipe is even yummier the next day after being in the fridge, the perfect cold salad. The flavors just get better! Also, I toast the bread pieces first with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. The bread holds up better with a slight crunch to it and does not turn into mush. I don't know about you, but I never have stale bread sitting around...toasting it works much better! :-) Here is the recipe, but this is the single version...don't forget to double it! (unless you are very skinny folks or something insane like that) hehehe!

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cooked great Northern white beans
1 (5 to 6-ounce) can white tuna, packed in oil, drained
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sliced pitted kalamata olives
1/2 long baguette, cut into cubes (toasted)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil leaves (or oregano)

In medium serving bowl, add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Let sit for 10 minutes before adding the beans, tuna, shallots and olives. Just before serving, mix in the bread cubes and combine gently. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar and salt and pepper, to taste. Drizzle in the oil, whisking to blend. Pour over the salad just before serving. Add the basil and toss. Taste for seasoning before serving.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

One of my all time favorite things in the world is tomato basil soup. I am frankly a bit obsessed with it and I generally order it at any restaurant where I find it on the menu. It MUST be of the creamy variety. I started making this myself and have come to the point of having my own recipe. I can whip this soup up in a different way every time, depending on what is hiding in my pantry when the hankering starts. This is what I generally do:

Saute three or even four chopped shallots and a couple of chopped garlic cloves in a dutch oven with half a stick of butter. When the shallots are clear and starting to brown, mix in one 6 oz can of tomato paste. Follow that with two cups of chicken stock, one can of tomato soup and one large 28 oz can of whole tomatoes. I then use my immersion blender to make it smooth. I add a bit of brown sugar (probably a couple of teaspoons) and lots of pepper. Season with salt, dried basil (a good bit!), oregano, rosemary and a smidgen of cayenne pepper. Then stir in one pint of heavy cream and let simmer for about 30 minutes. This stuff is to die for and so easy!! Be easy with that cayenne gets spicier as it simmers and if you have kiddos eating it, you need to be careful. I made it last night and got it a bit too heavy on the spicy, although when I tasted it as I was adding the pepper, it was not nearly as hot as it turned out. So make a note! You could easily skip it, but I like the little undercurrent of heat.

This recipe gets a lot of modifications when I make it. I will use two 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes instead of whole if that is what I have at the time. Another trick that is awesome is to chop up two slices of standard wheat sandwich bread and put them in before you puree. If you do this, you must let the bread simmer for about 10 minutes or so before you puree so that the bread begins to break down. This trick is surprisingly awesome and makes for a much thicker soup, although you would never guess there was bread in there! I also tend to go with three cups of stock instead of two if I am adding the bread. It is delish and really just changes the consistency and not the taste. It is a good trick if you are in the mood for thicker soup. I also use a whole onion frequently if I don't have shallots on hand. I think the shallots are the best, but the onion also makes for great soup. I also love to use fresh basil if I have makes for the BEST taste. However, there are lots of times when I want the soup but don't feel like going out for basil and the dried still makes for great soup. I serve it up with my garlic bread toast sticks and it is a quick and easy meal.

It works especially well for the nights that you abandon your husband and son to go watch "The Bachelor" with your girlfriends. ;-)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tres Leches Cake

This cake. OH THIS CAKE! I have had some good ideas in my life and this is one of them! WOW! We eat a lot of mexican food in this house and Tres Leches Cake is one of my favorite things IF it is cooked correctly. I have had it when it was very runny (yuck) and also a bit too dry (double yuck!). I never thought to make this myself because I imagined it being a lot of work and easy to mess up. After attempting to order it last week during lunch and being told that they were sold out (at noon!), I decided the time had come to give it a go. I had seen Pioneer Woman post her recipe recently and decided to try that one. It should be noted that you will hear a LOT about Pioneer Woman on this blog...I am in love with her. LOVE. I LOVE HER. I make a lot of her food and a lot of food that I find on her other website, Tasty Kitchen. Her name is Ree and I will refer to her frequently by name as if we are best friends. Because we are. She doesn't know that, but still. Anyway, back to the cake. You will find the recipe here.

I followed this recipe exactly, taking extra special care to gently stir and gently fold. I usually have trouble with anything that requires a light hand, so I was VERY careful. This is not a quick cake to make but it was worth every bit of the time. It is really important to follow her instructions about lightly folding in the egg edge of my cake was slightly lower than the middle, so I could see that the key to "fluffy" was the light hand. I had almost stirred mine too much. I also let it stand for the entire 30 minutes after I poured the milk mixture over the cake and this was key. It soaked up every single bit of the liquid and the cake turned into pure heaven without ANY liquid running out. It literally turned out PERFECT and was the best tres leches cake that I have ever had. Also, go the extra mile and make your own whipped NOT use Cool Whip!! It is SO easy with your mixer and the fresh hand whipped cream was TO DIE FOR and was the perfect topper. In my opinion, if you work so hard on a homemade cake, you should whip your own cream! Go all the way! :-)

We loved this cake from the first moment we served it, but it actually got even better after sitting in the fridge overnight. It was the perfect cold cake and the flavors got even deeper. It was so good that this will for sure be my go-to special occasion cake for all birthdays and events. And random Tuesdays. Or now. Bottom line? MAKE THIS CAKE!!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

A couple of weeks ago, my wonderful husband Jeremy bought me a present...a hand immersion blender. It has proven to be the perfect gift and I have been absolutely obsessed with soup ever since. Jer asked for potato leek soup and I set out on a mission to find the most delicious version possible. After digging around, I found two recipes that were very different and decided that each version deserved a try. The first round went to Ina Garten's version found here. First of all, I make a LOT of Barefoot Contessa recipes. They are always yummy and I find that I rarely have to make changes to her stuff, which I love. If I choose her recipe, I usually always enjoy the results the first time, rather than having to try it again with modifications. For this recipe, I did make some changes right off the bat and I am glad that I did. First of all, I did not use the arugula. There was none to be found at my sad grocery store around the corner (you will probably hear that a lot on this blog) and so I just omitted it. Second of all, I did research on the creme fraiche (because lord knows I was not finding that either!). It is WONDERFUL stuff to cook with because it is not as acidic as sour cream and also does not curdle at high heat. It is also pricey and hard to find. Through my studies, I found out that Crema Mexicana is the exact same thing! It is sold in a tall-ish jar right around the cream cheese in the grocery store. Here in Texas, it is sold EVERYWHERE (even Wal-Mart!) and you have probably passed it a million times without paying attention. I used that instead of creme fraiche and it was absolutely fantastic. Crema Mexicana is now a staple in my fridge. Back to the recipe; I also only used 5 cups of stock in the entire dish and that includes the cup of stock used after roasting. If I had added the amount Ina suggests, it would have been WAY too runny for us. I wanted a bit of substance to the soup and that was the right decision. It turned out very creamy and thin, but not TOO thin. Don't forget that you are also adding the cream, so there is plenty of liquid! I did not make the crispy shallots because of time, but I did fry some bacon to crumble on top, which was delish! I cut up a fresh loaf of french bread and made garlic parmesan bread, which I do a lot. I simply melt some butter, olive oil and minced garlic in a small dish in the microwave. I brush it on the cut bread and then sprinkle freshly grated parmesan on top. Broil for a couple of minutes and you have the perfect bread for dipping!

I recommend this recipe to everyone, but I think it is pretty important that you not add too much stock. I also don't think the arugula is necessary, but if you try it, let me know! Also, be liberal with the salt and pepper. I think the roasting of the potatoes and leeks made for a very rich soup with LOTS of flavor. Fantastic!! I did try the second recipe that I found that did not roast the potatoes and leeks and the flavor was not even close to Ina's. Next time I will try to make those shallots if at all possible...they sound SO GREAT! Overall, this one is staying in rotation!! Perfect for cold winter nights!!