Friday, April 30, 2010

Good Reads

I, like many of you I'm sure, have a very extensive cookbook collection. I have over 30 cookbooks, and I should go through and give some away, because I have more than I need. And yet, I still continue to buy more...

I love looking through them, especially ones with beautiful, glossy photos. They are so much fun for me, I'm sure you understand. I'm sure many of you have the same weakness. Cooking blogs have, in many ways, replaced cookbooks for me; it is so easy to search for exactly what you are looking for. But cookbooks are fun because they are tangible. I hope they never go away.

Even though I have over 30, there are some I turn to a lot and others, not so much. Here are my top three.
  1. Favorites (by the Ivory family, published for the Make a Wish Foundation). This one, since it was for a charitable foundation and not for profit, is something of a Utah phenomenon. Most of the contributors are residents of Salt Lake City and are friends of the Ivory family. Since it's not a professional cookbook by any means, some recipes are fantastic while others are...less so. Some fit in with my cooking style (from scratch, homestyle), and others are written more with shortcuts in mind (such as using onion soup mix as seasoning and bottled salad dressing as marinades). Still, since it's a compilation of family favorite recipes, there are some gems. By the way, there's nothing wrong with using shortcuts. They have a place and I use them regularly when the situation calls for it. But it seems odd that recipes like that would be included in a cookbook.
  2. Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten (actually, all the Barefoot Contessa books, except for Parties, which I don't have). I love Ina's style: good food that relies on fresh ingredients. I do a lot more cooking from her cookbooks during the summer when produce is at its peak.
  3. The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. Yes, one of my top three is dedicated to ice cream. David has a way with sweet things. I would love to buy some of his other dessert books, but I'm afraid that would really be detrimental to my waistline, which has thus far survived my addiction to his ice creams.
What are your favorites?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Homemade Thin Mints

I saw some photos of homemade thin mints over at Lisa Is Cooking, and have been meaning to make them since. Problem is, Lisa has a great policy and refuses to publish already-published-recipes unless she actually changes them enough to justify it. Kudos, to Lisa, for making sure she's being legal. (By the way, I feel confident that I am posting recipes within legal bounds). But, that made it harder for me. I didn't have a great way of tracking down the recipe she used! So I put it off.

Then on Friday, it was my neighbor's ten-year-old daughter's birthday. We're good friends, so I wanted to make sure we did something for her. But what do you do for a ten-year-old? Really. Then, as I brainstormed all kinds of fun treats she would appreciate, it hit me. The other day, she had been BEGGING her mom for some thin mints. Her mom said I figured it would be a perfect treat to make her some thin mints! (Consequently, I forgot until I was in the midst of dipping them, that my friend had told her no not because they didn't have any, but because she didn't want to open them. They are like Pringles, after all--betcha can't eat just one!)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Chicken With Asparagus and Roasted Red Peppers Over Rice

Asparagus has got to be one of my favorite vegetables. But, it's generally pretty expensive, so I don't get to buy it very often. But when it goes on sale...I love it.

I don't have a lot of recipes that call for asparagus because, as mentioned, I don't buy it very often. But this is one I love. I found it in an American Heart Association cookbook, one written for low cholesterol diets. No, I'm not concerned about my cholesterol...but it always pays to eat healthy food at least sometimes! I enjoy the American Heart Association cookbooks. I first discovered them at the library in Los Angeles where I used to live. They have great recipes, some designed as healthy alternatives, and others designed just as tasty, healthy food. My only complaint: they don't have pictures. I have a hard time visualizing things without pictures.

This one, though, was easy to visualize. Who hasn't had chicken ala king before? That's basically what this is, only better. And healthier. Yum!

Chicken With Asparagus and Roasted Red Peppers Over Rice
Adapted from American Heart Association Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook (4th edition)
Printable Recipe

1 1/2 cups asparagus cut into 2-inch pieces (about 1/2 pound)

2 1/2 cups chicken broth, low sodium if possible
1 teaspoon Provencal herbs (or thyme or tarragon)
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper
1 1/2 cups fat free evaporated milk (or regular skim milk--evaporated milk makes the sauce yellowish-orange)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 red pepper, roasted, peeled, and sliced into 2 inch pieces
2 cups cooked, cubed chicken
cooked rice, about 2/3-3/4 cup cooked rice per person

In a large skillet, stir together the broth, asparagus, herbs, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce and simmer, covered, for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the milk and cornstarch. Stir into the broth. Cook for about 10 minutes, until it has thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chicken and roasted pepper. Continue cooking just until the chicken and pepper are heated through. Serve with rice.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chicken, Broccoli, and Tomato Pasta

I made my first "skillet meal" a couple of months ago, and I was instantly hooked. It doesn't sound cool and it's certainly not fancy or showy, but it's a perfect meal when you don't have a ton of time. It's basically well-rounded, it's filling, and it usually involves pasta. And we all know how I feel about pasta!

The first skillet meal recipe I made came from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. And I have made several since. They have all been utterly delicious. If you haven't been over to Mel's, you should check it out. She posts a lot of recipes and has a similar cooking style to me. Plus, she just revamped her website and it's a lot easier to search.

Last night, I had no idea what to make for dinner. I didn't have much in the refrigerator...a couple bunches of broccoli, some carrots...and a tomato that really needed to be eaten. I left the carrots alone because I found this recipe on Mel's and ended my recipe search immediately.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chocolate-Cinnamon Ice Cream

A couple weeks ago, whipping cream was on sale. When it's on sale, I can't help but pick up a couple; if I don't make ice cream with it, I could make alfredo. If I don't make alfredo, I could make any number of other things, or just whip it up and eat it over a nice, chocolatey brownie. I'm a fan of cream. Even though it's horribly awful for your health...

Then, I forgot about that cream I bought. For about a week and a half. Oops! The use by date was only a day away, and I needed to use the cream. I fretted for a little while, trying to figure out what to make with it, and determined the only thing that made sense was ice cream. But what flavor? I flipped through my copy of Perfect Scoop feverishly, looking for just the right recipe, that, oh yeah, I had all the ingredients for. There were not that many recipes, that's for sure...but, I decided it was between chocolate (always a phenomenal stand-by) and cinnamon (a yummy flavor you can't buy at the store). I asked Jeff and his vote was for cinnamon, and then it hit me. Why not make a combination? Why decide at all? I looked over the recipes and figured out what I would do, and promptly called my neighbor to see if she had any extra semi-sweet baking chocolate because I only had 3 ounces and needed 5. I promised homemade ice cream in exchange for it, and she was naturally happy to oblige.

And then I set forth to make chocolate-cinnamon ice cream.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Beef With Broccoli, with a twist

I love beef with broccoli. I really enjoy Asian food because you feel like you are eating healthy food: it has so many vegetables, and you can stir fry things in minimal oil. As a general rule, though, I don't enjoy Chinese restaurants. Too many of them use poor-quality meat and I end up chewing on a piece of gristle. Yuck. So, we are limited to PF Changs and an upscale Chinese restaurant a few cities away.

People will tell me that they know of a great Chinese restaurant that has excellent quality food. And inevitably, when I believe them, the first bite I take has a big, chewy piece of gristle. I must just have terrible luck; Jeff has never had this problem. But I always do, and when my mouth feels that gristle, my body involuntarily shudders in disgust. I find it both disappointing and offensive. I would never serve meat like that at my table, and when I pay to eat out, I expect to be fed something better than what I could make at home. Maybe my expectations are too high. But I'm not sorry if they are; I like eating good food, and if that means I have to make it, so be it.

Anyway, that is neither here nor there. I enjoy beef with broccoli, despite all the poor experiences I have ever had. And I would love to recreate it at home. I tried a recipe a while back that promised to be just like your favorite take out. Unfortunately, I don't know if it was just because I knew it was there and I couldn't get my mind past it, or if I used a low-quality ingredient, but the fish sauce the recipe called for overwhelmed the recipe. I know many call for oyster sauce, but I don't know if I could get over the fish sauce experience. I'm not sure why I haven't thrown out that bottle, which continues to sit in my refrigerator; I know I'll never use it because the after-taste was way too much for me.

So, when I saw this recipe, for a pumped up version of beef with broccoli, and it did not have fish or oyster sauce in it, I leapt for joy!

Friday, April 16, 2010


It's that time of year again...time to think about the garden! Are you gardening this year? I am really new to gardening. We bought a house just two years ago when we moved to Utah from Los Angeles (anyone who can afford a house in LA gets all my respect) and our backyard had some raised garden beds with soaker hoses already prepared. So that first year, I threw caution to the wind and dove right in. I didn't have any real experience and hoped for good luck. What else can you do when you don't know what you're doing?

That first year ended up going really well, and I think it was due to the dirt I used. I bought Miracle Grow Organic Garden soil from Lowes, and boy did it grow stuff. I had tons of tomatoes, which was awesome. Last year, I decided to get cheaper dirt from the local transfer station, and actually bought my seedlings and seeds from a local nursery that everyone raves about. And I had mediocre luck. It's all about the soil, people!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Penzey's Spices

I just got my first order from Penzey's and I'm so excited to try them. I have resisted ordering spices online because I figured my palate was not that discerning and that it really couldn't matter that much. But, then I ran out of Herbes de Provence, which I bought in Provence when I was there a couple of years ago, and I cannot survive without my Provencal herbs. I use them several times a week. And it's not exactly an herb you can pick up on your way home, at least around where I live. But, it is available through online spice merchants. I checked out Spice House and Penzey's, and Penzey's was cheaper AFTER shipping, which I thought was interesting. So, that's where I ordered from. And it came today! When I opened the box, I was hit in the face with the lovely scent of herbs and pepper. It was intoxicating. I will never doubt the importance of high quality spices and herbs again.

I am SO excited. In addition to Herbes de Provence, I ordered some European peppercorns, medium chili powder, cayenne pepper, and taco seasoning (I had to make it worth paying for shipping, right?). They also sent me a sample jar of mild chili powder, and I would have been more excited for a different sample, since I ordered a chili powder anyway, but what can you do? I wasn't expecting the little sample jar anyway, so it was a nice surprise. Thank you, Penzey's!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip

Wondering what to do with the rest of that frozen spinach from the stuffed pasta shells earlier this week? I always wonder. How many recipes call for more than a half a box of frozen spinach? And, you have to thaw it to take out half and the box specifically says not to refreeze. Argh! I never know what to do with the other half and it usually goes in the garbage two weeks later, after I have forgotten about it. I hate wasting food.

Well, you can wonder no longer! Make spinach artichoke dip! Hot and bubbly, not to mention can't get much better than that. Unless you could...I found a recipe on Tasty Kitchen for a low-fat version of this cheesy mess, and it worked out really well. I had to fudge it a little, because my can of artichokes was in fact a small jar, and my half-box of spinach was only 5 ounces, but it worked out great just the same. I'm sure it would be great if you followed the original recipe and used as much spinach and artichokes as the recipe said.

Now, I have a confession to make.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Stuffed Pasta Shells

Like I've said earlier, we love pasta here at our house. We have several staples we go through on a pretty regular basis, and I always have plenty of dry pasta stashed away in the pantry; I stock up when it goes on sale. I don't think there's anything worse than a pantry without pasta in it. It can be such an easy and quick meal when you've had a hectic day. I know it's a big no-no for the carb-conscious, but I don't care. It's delicious.

One of our favorite staples is stuffed shells. I love stuffed pastas, and one of the challenges I will (eventually) do here will be to make ravioli from scratch. But for now, I'm going to satisfy myself with these stuffed shells with spinach and ricotta. I originally tried a recipe for stuffed shells from the Favorites cookbook by the Ivory Family, but I was sorely disappointed. I think the recipe must have had a typo because the spinach to ricotta cheese ratio was backwards: if I remember correctly, it called for 2 boxes of chopped spinach and only 1 carton of ricotta. I like spinach as much as the next gal, but that was WAY too much. Since, I've tried basing recipes off the recipes on the back of the pasta boxes and have had much better luck. But, I haven't looked at a box in a long time, so I have no idea how much my recipe resembles those recipes and I usually just improvise and throw stuff in the bowl. I kept track this time, for the recipe, and below is basically what I do every time, give or take here or there.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mexican Chicken Pasta

Like many of you, I read Pioneer Woman daily. I love her wit and her photos, and I love her recipes. I admire the woman; she seems to come up with recipes so easily. Is it any wonder she has thousands and thousands of hits every day?

Back in February, she posted a recipe for Cajun Chicken Pasta. Like everything else, it looked delicious and I had to try it--we are into pasta here at our house. But, I was not so sure about the Cajun part. I've never really been exposed to much Cajun cooking, so I'm unfamiliar with the flavors (blasphemy! I know) and I don't have any of the spices. But, after reading the recipe, I decided it would be easy enough to alter it to become Mexican Chicken Pasta, which is exactly what I did. And it was delicious. Obviously this pasta has no real affiliation with Mexican cooking in any way; but I never said I cooked authentic Mexican food, so I don't think it matters. Plus, the most important part is that it tastes good. Which it does.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Samoa Ice Cream

Shortly after I started this blog, I had a dream. A glorious dream. Okay, it wasn't really a dream, I was definitely awake. But this dream kept me lying awake in bed, when I should have been sleeping. I could not get it out of my head.

The idea was Samoa ice cream. Girl Scout Cookies had just been delivered. And naturally, like many of you I'm sure, my passion for Girl Scout Cookies had just been remembered.

Samoas, in my opinion, are the best (and naturally one of the most-loved) of the Girl Scout Cookies. Thin Mints are nice, and certainly deserve their place in cookie fame, but Samoas. Mmm. Little can beat a Samoa, in my opinion.

Now, Trusty Dishwasher Jeff does not agree. When he tried a Samoa, he said, "well, they're good," and lost himself the privilege of eating any more. If you only think they're good, that's not good enough. At 50 cents a cookie and available for only about a month every year, you better love them.

However, the problem remained. How to capture the essence of Samoas in an ice cream. Coconut ice cream with fudge and caramel ripples? Too busy. Chocolate ice cream with caramel ripple and sprinkled with coconut? Meh. And what to do with the cookie. Obviously, it was a shortbread, but it wasn't overly buttery. Mix it in? Jeff prefers his ice cream exceptionally smooth, so that was out.

Monday, April 5, 2010


We often collaborate on dinner with our neighbors. It's wonderful; it motivates both of us to cook, we make great dinners, we get to hang out together, and everyone wins! I often bring breadsticks because I have a great recipe, and they are almost always the first thing to go. Her oldest daughter loves them and would eat them all if we would let her. We also use them to bribe her second daughter, a picky eater, to eat her dinner. Last time I made them, I tried something a little different. First, I divided the dough and then let them rise a second time so they would look more uniform (in the past, they've always been misshapen because I am terrible at rolling them out!). Second, I baked them on the pizza stone instead of a baking pan. What a difference! I am using my stone more and more often because I love the results. Crusts are crisper and have a better color, and the interiors are soft and delicious. If you don't have a pizza stone, I seriously recommend getting one; it is definitely for more than just pizza!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Porcupine Meatballs

I know I said I cook everything from scratch...and that's (mostly) true. But, I haven't figured out how to replace the tomato soup in this recipe, and I don't know if I really want to. See, this is a recipe from my mom, and I love it. It was something she made a lot when I was growing up and it was one of my favorite meals. I remember fighting over the meatballs with my siblings, and I remember thinking we left some in the bowl beneath all the deliciously thick sauce for my dad, who often worked late, only to find out there wasn't anything actually there...So, it's sentimental, as well as delicious. Now that I'm grown, I add more chili powder and often add chili powder to the meatballs. And I like the kick of adding red pepper flakes. If you don't, leave them out.

As a side note, does anyone know how to replace tomato soup in recipes? I'd love to know.

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Kitchen Wish List

There are endless kitchen tools to buy. Some very handy, others...not so much. Does anyone really need onion goggles? I don't think so...and I (personally) believe that there is something to be said for an uncluttered kitchen.  Some things are indispensable, though, and warrant the space. Like the two sets of measuring cups and spoons I have. Because, don't you know that whenever I go to cook, my 1 teaspoon is inevitably in the dishwasher. And while I do a lot of measuring with my palm, sometimes you need precision.

So, getting back on track, there are lots of cool things. Here's my kitchen wish list.
  1. Microplane Zester
  2. A Really Nice Knife
  3. Mandolin
  4. Digital Kitchen Scale
  5. Le Creuset French Oven
These are things I think would be highly useful (and I've seen other food bloggers RAVE about them...) but I have gotten by without them for so long...and when Christmas rolls around, well, I forget. So, Trusty Dishwasher Jeff, here's a go-to gift list. You know what? Mother's Day is coming...

What kitchen items are you dying to have?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Orange Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

What a mouthful! Years ago, I was a leader for a girls' church group. I had just 4 girls, ages 8 to 11. I was always trying to think of activities to do with them, and many of them centered around food. What can I say? I have always been a sucker for treats. In order to make it more service-oriented, I decided to help them make cookies in a jar as gifts that they could give to people they appreciated. Naturally, most of them chose their moms...but, through that activity, I inadvertently found a cookie recipe I have made over and over. (Just not as jar cookies)

After I moved, I lost the recipe. I was pretty bummed. Periodically, I would scour my pathetic and disorganized recipe file, always hoping I had somehow overlooked it, but I never found it. About a week ago, I decided to Google it; I had initially found the recipe online anyway, I should be able to find it again, right? Right!