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Sweet Summer Strawberries

When we moved into our house three summers ago, we were pleasantly surprised to find a small strawberry patch growing in the side yard. Mmmm, strawberries. We harvested a few handfuls of berries that year and thought we were in heavan. Each year though it has only gotten better and better.

This year, I was sure the harvest would be slim because of the cold, rainy spring and early summer we had here in Oregon. I’m sure glad I was wrong! Once it got warm and sunny a few weeks ago, the berries went nuts! Each day for the past couple weeks we’ve been able to go out to patch and pick a few handful – enough for snacking and tasty little after-dinner treat!

Nothing beats a little cup of fresh, sweet strawberries straight out of the garden with a scoop of homemade whip cream. My sister was in town a few weeks ago and questioned why we make whip cream every night when you can just buy a can of it. Why? Are you kidding? Have you ever tasted fresh whip cream? Well, now she has!

Making whip cream is super easy and only takes about 2 minutes. Here’s what I do:

First, I put the metal bowl from my KitchenAid mixer into the freezer for a few minutes to get it nice and cold. It’s important to keep the bowl that you’ll be using super cold – makes the whipping cream stiffer.

After the bowl is cold, I pour 1/2 pint (about a cup) of whipping cream or heavy whipping cream into the bowl. Add about 1/8 cup of powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons of vanilla to the cream. Beat the cream on the highest setting for approximately 1 1/2 minutes until soft peaks form. Done.

If you want to add a little extra flavor, add a little cinnamon to the cream. Mmm, that’s good too!

But alas, I think there’s only a couple more days worth of desserts. I’ll miss you strawberries. See you again next year!

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The Kids Think They’re Fish Sticks

So I’ve been continuing my resolution for trying at least one new recipe a week, and this week’s was really good – Crispy Fish with Lemon-Dill Sauce from Cooking Light magazine.

One word – YUM! My son loved the fish (though he did dip it in soy sauce since that’s his new favorite condiment). It might have helped that I billed it as homemade fish sticks – whatever works, right?! We had sauteed zucchini and couscous as accompaniments with this flavorful, crispy, broiled cod.

Here’s what it is:

  • 2 eggs whites
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 t paprika
  • 3/4 t onion powder
  • 3/4 t garlic powder
  • 4 skinless cod fillets
  • salt and pepper
  • cooking spray
  • 1/4 C mayo
  • 2 T finely chopped dill pickle
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • 1 t chopped fresh dill

Preheat the broiler. Put the egg whites in one shallow dish and the breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika in another. Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides. Dredge the fish in the egg whites and then the breadcrumbs to coat. Place on a broiler pan that has been coated with cooking spray. Broil the fish for about 4 minutes on each side or until they are to your desired doneness.

For the sauce: Combine the mayo, pickle, lemon juice, and dill. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

For the sides: Cut the zucchini into 1/2 inch-ish slices and saute in a skillet with a little olive oil and salt and pepper for about 5 minutes. Cook the couscous according to the packages directions (though I used chicken broth instead of water).

Sometimes I find “light” recipes a little bland, but this was delicious! So if you’re looking to add a some fish to your repertoire, this is a good one!

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Delizioso Neapolitan Pizza

Pizza is always a hit in my house. It’s definitely one of those go-to meals when I can’t figure out what else to make. Plus the kids like to “decorate” their own pizzas, which I like since then they eat more!

I used to use the Pillsbury pizza crust dough from the refrigerated section but found that it didn’t get crispy enough for my liking, and it had a bit of a processed taste.

So one day I was going through my way-too-big collection of recipe books and found this little gem: “The Little Guides: Pizzas” from Fog City Press. The Neapolitan pizza dough recipe was the first one I tried out of the book, and it is definitely my favorite. It takes about an hour and a half for the dough to be ready for baking so it does take a bit of planning, but the hands-on time is only about 15 minutes.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough – This recipe makes two 12-inch-ish pizzas.

Dough Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for kneading
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Put the yeast and warm water in a bowl and let stand for about 10 minutes, until creamy.

After 10 minutes, stir in the cold water and olive oil, and then whisk in the salt and flour, 1/2 cup at a time. It’s difficult to whisk in the last cup of flour so just stir it in a bit and then you can knead it all together.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, about 10 minutes. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into two pieces and knead very briefly. Roll dough into balls and let rest for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, with a pizza stone inside.

When the dough is ready, flour a pizza peel and gently stretch the dough and place on peel. Top with whatever toppings you like.

For the sauce: I like to use a can of diced tomatoes that has the Italians herbs (basil, oregano and garlic) already in it. I strain the tomatoes to get rid of a bit of the watery juice. Then I put them in a mini-food processor, season with salt and pepper, and whirl for a few seconds. Easy peasy. This is my version of Punch Pizza‘s sauce which always tastes so fresh and simple.

For the toppings: We tend to make pepperoni or sausage pizzas. One of our favorites is sausage, usually turkey Italian, with carmelized onions.

No real explanation for pepperoni – just out of the package.

For the sausage: Brown in a pan with a little salt and pepper. For the carmelized onions: Cut thin, half circles of an onion (I use sweet yellow). Heat some olive oil in a pan on medium/high heat and saute the onions for 15 minutes or so until they are brown and very soft. If they start to burn, just turn down the heat.

Cheese: We like to use fresh mozzarella. Just slice it up and put little pieces all over the pizza.

Bake each pizza separately for 10-12 minutes until the crust and cheese are browned up.

Yum!

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I Made Bread – And It Was Good!

Woo hoo, you say. Bread, no big deal. OK, so it’s isn’t like I built the Taj Mahal, but I’ve always thought it would be fun to learn how to make real bread – not just banana bread or the like. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE banana bread, but I don’t want to eat it every day.

I made real artisan, taste-like-you-bought-it-at-the-bakery bread. And it was easy!

One of my “Things to Do in 2010” was learn how to make bread, so I bought the book, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.” Five minutes a day? Really? Yes, it’s really true. I’m always skeptical about the prep time recipes list since it usually takes me longer than what is stated, but the title of this book doesn’t lie.

I started yesterday morning, and it took about 10 minutes to combine the ingredients and put it in the container where it rises and is stored in the refrigerator. And I must note that this 10 minutes included a brief “potty break” as my daughter who is in the midst of potty training had “to go to the potty NOW!” while I was putting flour into the mixer. So 10 minutes is a bit of a lengthened prep time.

After two hours of resting time at room temp, the dough was put into the refrigerator for about 4 hours. You make enough dough to last you about a week – making one loaf a day. After the four hours of chilling, I cut off enough dough to make a loaf and rounded the dough into a French boule shape (that’s the round loaf with slashes on the top), which took only about a minute. After letting it rest for 40 minutes, I popped it into the oven for 25 minutes, and Voila! Bread.

My husband, who is often leery of my new culinary adventures, even loved it. My kids ate it up. We sat and ate it before dinner with some brie. Oh la la. We thought we were French for an evening! I’m gonna make more tonight!

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Roasted Veggie Pasta: A Winter Delight

I don’t usually do New Year’s resolutions, but for some reason, this year I’ve come up with a few. I like to think of my list as more of a “things to do in 2010” than resolutions since it’s not like I’m trying to really change my life – just make my life a little better, more organized and more fun. So get to the point already…I know.

One of my “things to do in 2010” is to try one new recipe a week. We (OK, I) get into a cooking rut sometimes. Most people do, I think. I have several “go to” recipes that seem to make appearances more than what my family would like. So my first new recipe this year was a variation of Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables from Giada De Laurentiis‘ show “Everyday Italian.” I love Giada. Her food makes me happy!

Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables

Here’s how I did it (slightly different than Giada’s but still quite delightful):

1 red pepper, cut into 1-inch wide strips
2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into cubes
A few cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters
1 yellow onion, sliced into 1-inch strips
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 pound (or a little less) penne pasta
3 cups marinara sauce (store bought)
1 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated smoked mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/3 cup for topping

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

On a baking sheet, toss the peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, and onions with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast until tender, about 15 minutes.

While the veggies are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for about 6 minutes. Since you will be cooking the pasta a second time in the oven, you want to make sure the inside is still hard. Drain in a colander.

In a large bowl, toss the drained pasta with the roasted vegetables, marinara sauce, cheeses, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Using a wooden spoon, gently mix, until all the pasta is coated with the sauce and the ingredients are combined.

Pour the pasta into a greased 9 by 13-inch pan. Top with the remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan. Bake until top is golden and cheese melts, about 20 minutes.

I wasn’t sure about using a jarred marinara sauce because so many of them taste really sweet to me, but since I wasn’t feeling up to making a homemade sauce, so jarred sauce won. To my amazement the sauce tasted great. I attribute that to the roasted vegetables – and the loads of cheesy goodness. The roasted veggies brought a smoky flavor to the sauce that made it taste great.

It’s a relatively easy recipe. I hope you love it too!

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Yummy Autumn Soup

I love autumn…the leaves start to change into brilliant shades of yellow, red and orange, skies are bright blue but there is a chill in the air, and you can start to eat yummy soups and chili for dinner again.

Luckily, my kids (6 and 2) are pretty agreeable to eating chunky soups – at least most of the time. We’ve conditioned them to like all kinds of beans, so when we throw in beans and sometimes small pastas, they never seem to notice the sneaky vegetables hiding in the soup. Hee hee. I’ve done a lot of experimenting to see what I can get the kids to eat without fussing.

Here is one of the recipes for kid-friendly pasta fagioli that I’ve come up with. The original recipe is from a Rachael Ray, but I’ve tweaked it a bit.

Pasta Fagioli

4-5 slices of bacon, chopped

1 small (or 1/2 large) yellow onion

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped (chop same size as carrot and onion)

1 bay leaf

1 clove of garlic (optional)

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoon tomato paste

4 cups of chicken stock

2 cups of water

1 can (15 oz) of cannellini beans (or white beans or black-eye peas, whatever you have on hand)

1 cup small pasta (like orzo or small salad pasta, again whatever you have on hand)

Heat a large saucepot (I use a dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Add bacon to the pan and cook until crispy. Add the bay leaf, garlic, onion, celery and carrot to the pan and cook until veggies are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, stir into mixture and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, water and beans to the pot and bring liquids up to bubble. Cook for about 10 minutes and then bring up to a boil. Add pasta to the liquid and cook until tender (cook time according to package directions).

Once pasta is done, serve.

I sometimes make crunchy croutons to put on top. If I don’t have the time or inclination to make croutons then I serve it with bread for dipping in soup. Hope you like it as much as we do!

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