Monday, February 27, 2012

Oven Puffed Pancake

I asked for a cast iron skillet for Christmas this past year, and Santa delivered! I know a few people that rave about cast iron cookware, and I decided to make an oven puffed pancake in it. I used a recipe similar to this one from Cooking Light. I was quite impressed with how it puffed up, and it wasn't too heavy. I definitely want to make this again.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Super Bowl Ultimate Brownie Fail

I found this recipe for the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie and Oreo Brownie Bars, and I thought I would give them a try for a Super Bowl Party I was going to. Well, mine did not quite turn out like the recipe described. They started out amazing:

You really can't go wrong with chocolate chip cookies using Ghiradelli Chocolate chips:

 Then came the Oreo layer on top:

Baked with the brownie mix on top:
Looking good...but I hadn't cut into them yet and realized they were no good...

Once it was baked and cooled, that was when I realized there was a problem. I decided to sneak a tiny corner to taste test, and I realized the waxed paper that was called for to line the pan wasn't going to come off the sides. I then decided to see if I could salvage everything else but cutting the brownies into squares and throwing away the sides with the waxed paper stuck to them. That's when I realized they didn't cook through:
Fudgy gooiness is normally delicious...but raw gooiness...not so much.
 I had extended the baking time by at least 15 minutes, but the cookie bottom never quite cooked through and the waxed paper wasn't coming off the middle brownies either. I ended up tossing the whole thing. I cried a little inside. I tried one of the cooked sides, and they were kind of overwhelming. I didn't think this would be too much of a good thing, but it was. I think if I did try to make these again, I would bake the cookie bottom first and then add the brownie top after the cookie bottom baked for 15-20 minutes.
Hello unbaked cookie. I couldn't risk people getting sick...
Since I needed to make some sort of dessert for the party I was going to, I decided to make something with puff pastry since I had a box of it in the freezer. Enter fudgy brownie cups:
Not that attractive looking, but still good. At least the one, front/center, looked the way it was supposed to.

I found this particular recipe from, and they were a hit. They were really easy to make-- unsweetened chocolate and butter are melted in the microwave, and then eggs, vanilla, and sugar are added. I need to improve my cutting and measuring skills since I ended up cutting 24 abstract squares instead of 20 perfect squares. They still tasted fine, but they looked a little unfortunate.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Brined and Roasted Chicken

I've made roasted chicken before, but I have never brined a chicken. I found a recipe for a brined and roasted chicken in my new Cooks Illustrated Cookbook. After making this chicken, I don't think I will ever make another roasted chicken that isn't brined--it was so good. This recipe requires the chicken to be rotated 3 times while cooking. This may seem like a pain, but it is worth it. You don't need very many ingredients for this:

1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
1- 3 1b. chicken (discard giblets)
 2 tablespoons softened butter
 1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. To brine the chicken, dissolve the sugar and salt in 2 quarts cold water. I used a large glass bowl, submerged the chicken, and placed a heavy dinner plate on top to keep the chicken submerged. Brine for one hour. After an hour, remove the chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees; and while the oven preheats, place a roasting pan in the oven. The oven rack should be adjusted to the lower middle position.
  3. While the roasting pan and oven preheat, gently loosen the skin covering each breast, and spread the butter under the skin with your fingers directly on the breast meat. Tuck the wings behind the back, and rub the skin with oil. Pepper the chicken.
  4. Place the chicken in the preheated roasting pan on its side. One wing should be facing up. Use wads of foil to keep chicken propped on its side in the pan. You can also use a v-rack to keep the chicken propped on its side. Roast for 15 minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes, rotate chicken to its other side with the opposite wing facing up. Wads of paper towels may be helpful for rotating the chicken. Roast for another 15 minutes.
  6. After the second 15 minutes, rotate chicken so the breast side faces up, and roast the chicken until the breast registers 160 degrees and the thighs register 175 degrees. This should take around 20-30 minutes. 
  7. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from pan and let it rest on a carving board for 10 minutes. This allows the juices to stay in the meat.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Roasted Sausage and Vegetables

I decided to try the chicken, spinach, garlic, and fontina sausage from Trader Joe's, and I slightly adapted this recipe from Skinnytaste. The Trader Joe's sausage ended up being kind of dry, and I realized the secret is uncooked sausage and not pre-cooked sausage. My vegetables were pretty, but needed more oil since there wasn't much grease from the sausage:

 This was from an earlier attempt with onion and uncooked sausage:

 Everything roasts in a 375 degree oven for around 30 minutes. The onions caramelize and become crunchy:
 So good and so easy!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lunch Buddy

Growing up, I had the same cat for almost 17 years. Before I got married, I knew I would become a mama to this pug--Baby Girls Casey:

Don't let her sweet exterior fool you--she can be fierce. Especially when her lips get stuck in her teeth:

And I have her trained to leave me alone when I eat lunch. This is where she decides to sit and watch:

I really should rename this blog "Adventures of a Reluctant Dog Owner." I try to exercise her daily and make the most of her sleep time:

I'm slowly growing attached to her, but I just don't want to admit it yet...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Shrimp and Cheese Grits

I have made this recipe a few times based on a recipe from Martha Stewart Living Magazine, but I think I figured out my own version.

Shrimp and Cheese Grits
1 Large Serving

8-10 medium shrimp de-veined and shells removed
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
2 strips bacon chopped
1 celery rib diced
1/2 large bell pepper diced
1 small onion diced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp flour
juice of one small lemon
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
quick cooking grits

1. Place the shrimp in a bowl, and season with Cajun seasoning. Set aside.

2. Cook the bacon. Once it is crisp, remove from pan and set aside on a paper towel lined plate. Leave 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan.

3. Add the celery, bell pepper, and onion to the pan, and cook in the bacon grease until softened.

4. Once the vegetables are softened, add the shrimp. Cook the shrimp for 1-2 minutes, or until the shrimp start to become pink. Add the the flour, and cook one minute, coating the vegetables and shrimp.

5. Add the chicken broth and lemon juice to the pan. Continue to cook until the shrimp are cooked through, and the mixture becomes bubbly and thickened. Add and salt and pepper to taste.

6. While the shrimp cook, prepare one serving of quick cooking grits according to the package directions. Once the grits are cooked, stir in the cheese.

7. After the shrimp mixture has thickened, pour over the grits and sprinkle the bacon bits on top. Serve.

Note: I use Better than Bouillon reconstituted as the chicken stock. I have found that it is easier to keep the bouillon paste on hand and make stock according to the directions on the jar than keeping cans or containers of chicken stock on hand.

I forgot to sprinkle my bacon bits on top, and I ended up eating them after I polished off this bowl of deliciousness...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reflections on Ugly Food from 2011

Now that it is 2012, I feel the need to look back at my failed attempts at food that I haven't posted about here. These particular food attempts were for food that tasted okay, but looked dreadful. I know I need to work on my plating and photography skills, but my photography skills will probably become only as good as my point and shoot camera will allow them to be.

Ugly Indian Food
My friend had me over for Vindaloo chicken one evening, and I decided to try and make it for myself using the same store bought Vindaloo curry paste she used. I think I did what she did to make the dish, but my version wasn't nearly as flavorful, and it looked kind of ugly:

Vindaloo curry paste and yogurt marinating the chicken.
Fully assembled dish. Not too bad, but kind of ugly looking.
Same process but with shrimp instead...still not exciting.

Failed plating
I realize my ugly food comes from bad plating, and I tried my hand at plating that made the food look more appetizing. My results were somewhat lackluster. For the eggplant Parmesan below, I think I tried to hard to make the dish look fancy.  I had some left over ricotta cheese from another recipe, and I decided to try and use that as the sticky coating for the eggplant Parmesan. It sort of worked, but it didn't have much flavor. Overall, the eggplant tasted fine, but it wasn't anything to call home about.
Balsamic vinegar drizzles in the lower right hand corner = sad excuse for garnish.
Ugly Tagine Stews
I received the breathtaking tagine below for my birthday one year, and I was excited to write about some of the tagine creations I came up with. 
A tagine is a North African Cooking vessel. I was first introduced to the tagine when one of my undergraduate French professors had our class over to her house for dinner. In French, tagine is a masculine word (le tagine), and my professor always felt it should have been a feminine word (la tagine) because it is a feminine shaped object (it looks like a boob). Perfect logic to me :).
One dish started out good--marinated beef and sweet potato, figs, and onion.

But it ended up looking a little unpalatable. The sweet potato turned to mush, and the spice combination wasn't that exciting. I made too many substitutions, which resulted in a strange flavor combination that was edible, but not repeatable.

In another tagine attempt, I had previously made a really delicious beef stew in my tagine, and I tried to recreate it. This particular beef stew below started out okay, but I wasn't a fan of the rutabaga in the stew below:

For me, the beauty of a tagine cooked meal is that everything is in one pot. You can also take tough cuts of meat, cook it in a tagine on low heat, and it becomes tender and delicious. Because of the long cooking times, the accompaniments to the meat have to hold up, which is probably why the sweet potato I used in the beef and fig tagine above turned to mush. I needed to have added the sweet potato after the beef had cooked for awhile. 2012 will be a time to turn over a new leaf for me and my tagine.