Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Oven Fried Chicken Breast

This has a somewhat significant crust, but it's made from the end pieces of leftover whole grain bread that I ran through the food processor.  Everytime I (almost) finish a loaf, I grind up the last pieces and add them to my crumb bag kept in the freezer.  Read on, then add this to your dinner menu one night soon!

2 skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 egg white
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups whole wheat breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon butter

Pound chicken breasts, not to flatten, just to get them an even thickness.  Lightly beat the egg white in a small casserole dish (or quart size ziploc), add chicken and coat both sides.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Add flour, garlic powder and cayenne pepper.  Massage dry ingredients well onto chicken... get it nice and coated.  Add buttermilk and put in fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight. 
Preheat oven to 350.  Preheat a cast iron skillet on the stove top over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon butter. Remove chicken from buttermilk and coat with breadcrumbs.  Add chicken to hot skillet and cook about 2-3 minutes.  When lightly browned and crispy, turn chicken over and put skillet in the oven.  Bake about 30-35 minutes or until no longer pink inside.  Chicken will be beautifully brown and crispy.

Serve with: buttermilk biscuits, steamed green beans with a light misting of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt.

Buttermilk Biscuits

This is the first time I've made buttermilk biscuits from scratch.  We're just not biscuit eaters; on the rare times we have bread, it's generally a nice french loaf.  Since these oh-so-delicious biscuits are the result of having some leftover buttermilk, I may just have to keep a carton in the fridge all the time!  They were crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside.  Oh, and there's no reason to have a fancy biscuit cutter, a drinking glass works just fine. 

2 cups flour (one cup whole wheat pastry flour, one cup all-purpose flour)
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cold butter, cubed
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425.  Put dry ingredients into a food processor fitted with the plastic dough blade.  Pulse just to mix.  Add cold cubed butter and pulse until it looks crumbly.  Remove to a bowl and add cheddar, incorporate.  Add buttermilk and mix until combined.  You can start with a spatula, but soon you'll just need to get your hands in there.  Once the dough is held together, turn it onto a floured surface and knead about 1 minute.  Pat down (or roll) between 1/2" - 1" thickness.  Use a glass to cut out biscuits.  Re-flatten dough and keep cutting until all (or most) dough is used.  Bake on a lightly buttered cast iron pan for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown.  Lightly brush butter over tops and serve warm. 

NOTE: You can make the dough ahead, cut out the biscuits and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.  Just put the dough circles on a plate lined with parchment or wax paper... and if you need to stack them, place parchment or wax paper between the layers.  Keep them in the fridge while you are preheating the oven, take them out when you are ready to start baking. 


Recipe from Kimberly Nuttall

Monday, February 20, 2012

Make Your Own Pizza

In my case, I make pizza for both of us.  The beauty of this dinner is that it's quick and simple, and they are individual sized pies since we each like ours with different toppings.  This is a great weeknight meal, fun family activity and everyone will love it! 

  1. Tandoori Naan, usually sold in the fresh bread area of the store.
  2. Simple marinara, reduced to pizza sauce thickness
  3. 80/10/10 shredded cheese (mozzarella, provolone, cheddar).
  4. Toppings of your choice.  Mine are: diced onion, diced bell pepper, italian sausage, pepperoni and chopped fresh basil.  My husband likes italian sausage, pepperoni, crushed red pepper and/or fresh sliced jalapeno, chopped fresh basil.
Broil on a preheated cast iron pizza pan.  Takes about 5 minutes, depending on how close to the element you place it.  Right when it comes out of the oven use a microplane to shave parmesan lightly over the top.  Let cool a few minutes so the cheese will set before cutting.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Beach Blanket - Quilt #2

I promised to write about the good and bad of my experiences.  This blanket has both, but I learned some new things and in the end I like the outcome quite a bit.  In this post I'll include my mistakes, accomplishments and the cutting/piecing directions.  This quilt is made up of 72 inside squares, 2 inner borders, an outer border and the binding.  It measures 47" x 50".

Good: I'm getting much better at lining up my pieces.  Almost all of the squares are on point!

Bad: This was supposed to be a four patch... but I got started cutting and stopped reading the directions.  Oh well, I moved forward and starting making it up as I went along.  That's the beauty of quilting - it's flexible and forgiving.

Bad: Originally I had 3 sets of squares.  The focus fabric, the browns (which I did use), and squares made of the 2 inner border fabrics.  I just couldn't find a placement where I liked that last set of squares so I put them in my scrap pile and made more of the browns.

Bad: Once the inside was built I found that the material had stretched in places so it didn't lay really smooth.  Not a deal breaker, but I knew it would be challenging to do the batting and backing.

Lesson: I don't usually pre-wash my materials, but I told Judi I was planning to use flannel as the backing and she said I would need to wash both the quilt top and the backing since they will shrink differently.  Something I didn't know at the time - if you wash a quilt top before it's put together with the batting and backing - the seams fray pretty bad, and even came apart in 2 places, so I had to repair it.  From now on, I will pre-wash my fabrics before I start cutting and piecing!

Lesson: When using a focus fabric that is single directional and is intended for both the inside design and a border - make sure you have enough fabric to keep that direction by cutting the pieces both length of grain and cross grain.  Fortunately, I did.  Or, piece your inner design in different directions so it doesn't matter which direction your border is going. 

Lesson: Starch your fabrics well before cutting.  This will eliminate having to press as often during the building process and the fabrics won't stretch as much.  My new process starts with washing the fabrics, then I steam press the fabrics.  Next I apply a good amount of starch to the whole thing, turn it over and press.  Repeat for the other side.

Ok, now to the good stuff -
Materials list:
Up to 7 fabrics (I used 5)
36 - Seashell buttons
1 - DMC Perle #5 yarn

Cutting measurements are assuming 42" wide fabric and include a 1/4" seam allowance.
Fabric # Strips Width # yards
1 (part of square) 4 2.5" 3/8
2 (part of square) 4 2.5" 3/8
3 (focus fabric) 4 4.5" 5/8
4 (inner border 1) 4 3.5" 1/2
5 (inner border 2) 4 1.5" 1/4
6 (outer border) 5 * 4.5" 1
7 (binding) 5 2.5" 3/8
8 (batting) 1 50" x 53"
9 (backing) 1 50" x 53"
In my quilt, Fabric 3, 6 and 7 are the same.
* Alternate cutting option if you are using single directional fabric and you want it oriented correctly (and you have enough fabric): 2 strips, 4.5" wide (going length of grain) and 2 strips 53" long (going cross grain).
  • Sew Fabric 1 and 2 strips together to make four 4.5" strips.
  • Cut strips into 4.5" squares - you need 36 of them.
  • Cut Fabric 3 strips into 4.5" squares - you need 36 of them.
  • Lay out squares as shown (or arrange squares however you like) and sew them together by rows.
  • Sew the rows together.
  • You now have the inside built.
  • Attach Fabric 4 left/right sides first, then trim and do the top/bottom pieces.
  • Attach Fabric 5 the same as 4.
  • Sew together Fabric 6 pieces for the left/right sides so they are long enough (skip this step if you are using the alternate cutting option).
  • Attach Fabric 6 top/bottom sides first, then trim and do the left/right sides.
  • Your quilt top is now finished!
  • Cut your batting and backing, you want it larger than the top.
  • Attach quilt top to the batting.  Smooth it starting from the middle and work your way out, pinning as you go.  When you've got it as smooth as possible, replace straight pins with safety pins (makes it easier for attaching buttons).
  • Using DMC Perle #5, hand sew buttons to quilt top and batting.
  • Attach top and batting to backing, smoothing the same as above.
  • Stitch in the ditch around a few squares in the middle, and around at least one of the inner borders.  (This ensures your backing stays put during washing and heavy use.)
  • Make your binding by stitching the strips together and pressing it in half. 
  • Attach to the front of the quilt, raw edges together.
  • Flip the folded edge over the raw edge and press (just makes it easier for hand sewing).
  • Use a slipstitch to attach the folded edge to the backing.
You're done!  Congratulations!

Homemade Pasta

This is pretty simple, in fact, I find homemade pasta much easier and less stressful than pie dough.  Ugh, pie dough, I still need to work on that.  Anyway, it's a little bit time consuming, but still possible to do on a week night if you get home a little early.  I use the recipe that came with my Atlas pasta machine (with one small addition). 

5 eggs
500 grams of flour
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Take the eggs out of the fridge a 1/2 hour before you will start making the pasta, you don't want fridge cold eggs.
  • Measure out your flour.  I use 250 grams of Semolina flour and 250 grams of whole wheat pastry flour.  The wheat flour I sift so it's smoother, but it's not necessary.  The wheat flour is a little lighter, so the measurements come out to approx. 1 cup semolina and 1.5 cups wheat.  I highly recommend measuring via a scale.
  • Make a well of the flour, gently wisk the eggs just until the yolks are broken up, and pour into flour.  Add EVOO
  • Mix with a fork until combined, then get your hands in there and start kneading to finish combining. 
  • Lightly flour the counter and continue to knead until the dough ball is smooth - about 3 minutes.
  • Put the dough ball back in the bowl and cover it with a damp paper towel so it doesn't dry out.  Let sit about 10 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, get the pasta machine out and set up.
  • Break off a small handful, about the size of a golf ball, knead about 15-30 seconds.

Flatten the dough ball into a thick disc so it will fit between the rollers.  Start with the machine on 0 and run it through each number until your desired thickness.  I usually stop at 6, but will sometimes go to 7.  Trim the pasta sheets down to a usable size, about 8-10".   Repeat until all dough is used.  You can start with larger dough balls, but your sheets of pasta will quickly become really long and tough to manage for one person.

Often this makes more pasta than I need for one meal, but I like having some leftover.  I very lightly spray olive oil on wax (or parchment) paper and put one sheet of pasta per layer.  You can do it without the olive oil, but the pasta will stick a little and when you pull it off later it will stretch.  I refrigerate the pasta until I'm ready to use it.  Use or freeze within 3-5 days.  You can use these sheets to make lasagna, ravioli, cannelloni (not cannoli), or cut into strands for tagliatelle (fettucini), spaghetti, etc.

Cook fresh pasta in salted boiling water.  Depending on how you are cooking it, and for what purpose, it's done in 30 seconds (lasagna) up to 3-5 minutes (ravioli).

If you don't have a pasta machine, you can use a rolling pin and pizza wheel, or any other kind of cutter.
If your dough is too dry, it will fall apart as it goes through the rollers.
If you dough is too wet, it will stick to the rollers.
~ Enjoy ~

Friday, February 17, 2012

1st table runners

When my friend Judi suggested I try quilting, and I was a little intimidated I might add, she had me start with the flying geese pattern.  It's pretty simple, just putting together a bunch of triangles. You know me by now, I didn't follow the directions because I wanted it as diamonds.  I also added some length so it would hang over the intended table.  This one took me a year to finish; the bug hadn't quite bitten yet. 

A few months later Judi suggested I try another table runner and brought me some patterns.  Since I have another table in view of the first runner I thought it would be good to make something out of the same fabric, and I had plenty left over.  I can't quite tell you why, or what happened, but all of a sudden it hit me.  I LOVE quilting.  I couldn't get enough.  Maybe it's being at the store, surrounded by so many great fabrics with ideas popping.  Maybe it's the joy of giving something homemade, with so much time, thought and care put into the gift, to someone else.  It could be the girl time spent with friends sewing together.  Might be seeing the finished project come together and look amazing.  Maybe it's adding a cool, custom decoration and everytime you walk by being able to say 'I did that, and I love it!'  Whatever it is, I'm unstoppable now.  :)

For the "square times" runner I used a light/medium/dark combination instead of a light/dark as the instructions say to do.  I would have preferred to use the medium fabric on the inside squares and the dark for the outside and ending triangles, but I didn't have enough of it left, and I couldn't find it anymore. 

These are the runners I use when I don't have holiday ones to display.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Be My Valentine Chocolate Cake

My husband loves chocolate, and I love him!  So, for Valentine's Day I made a chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling and chocolate buttercream frosting.  I topped that with shaved bittersweet chocolate.

In order to be sneaky and have it as a surprise I baked the cakes before he got home on the 13th and then baked cookies to cover the smell.  Valentine's morning before work I made the mousse and when I got home I did the frosting.  Whew!  It was worth it in the end.  So next time you have a craving for something so good you'd want it as dessert for your last meal, give this a try.

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (I use whole wheat pastry flour instead)
3/4 cup cocoa or dutch processed (I use dutch processed)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

1. Heat oven to 350, grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes.  Stir in water.  (Batter will be thin.)  Pour batter evenly into prepared pans.
3. Bake 30-35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks and cool completely.
4. Wrap the cakes in foil or plastic wrap and freeze for a day (frozen cakes are much easier to frost and they thaw out really well). 

Chocolate Mousse
8 ounces dark chocolate chips (or you can use the 1 oz squares of bakers semi sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup water, divided
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cups whipping cream

In a double boiler melt the chips, butter and 1/4 cup water.  If you don't have a double boiler, place a heat safe bowl over a pan with 1" boiling water.  Remove and cool for 10 minutes.  In a saucepan over med-low heat whisk the egg yolks, sugar and remaining water.  Cook about 1 minute, stir into chocolate mixture.  Set over ice and stir frequently until mixture is cool.  Meanwhile, in a stand mixer, beat whipping cream until very stiff.  Go longer than you would for normal whipping cream.  It needs to be an almost whipped butter like consistency.  Fold into the chocolate mixture. 

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter, softened
2-3 cups powdered sugar (more or less to your taste)
3/4 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put butter in mixer bowl, beat on medium to high speed.  Slowly add powdered sugar, cocoa powder and milk alternating between additions until everything is well mixed and the frosting is a nice whipped consistency.  Add more sugar or cocoa, if needed, to your taste.

Remove the cakes from the freezer, put the completely cooled mousse between the layers and frost.  Using the small holes on a grater, shave 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate over the top of the cake.  Refrigerate 6 hours or overnight before serving to let the mousse set up.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Red Pepper Pesto & Chicken

Happy Valentine's Day!  On this special day, I made my husband's favorite meal.  It's my own creation and I almost hate giving this recipe out; it took me quite a long time to perfect, but since I'm food blogging, I have to write about all of it.  I've never written down amounts, but I've got it dialed in pretty good.  So, here we go!

Start by roasting the red bell pepper and garlic:
5-8 red bell peppers (I get them from Costco, way cheaper than the grocery store)
light olive oil
salt and pepper
whole head of garlic

Preheat oven to 400.  Place the peppers on a cookie sheet (might want to line with foil if you don't want to scrub), drizzle with light olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  The head of garlic goes in the tin foil with a drizzle of light olive oil.   Cook about 20-30 minutes and flip.  Cook about 10-15 minutes more.  Note: you can also do this under the broiler (will cook less time and blackening of the skin is ok).  In the summer I do this on the grill.  When using the grill the garlic goes on the upper rack.
This is when I start the brown rice since it takes about an hour.  Take the peppers out of the oven (or off the grill), put them in a bowl and cover tightly for about 10-15 minutes.  This lets them steam so it's easier to pull the skins off.  At this point, I open the foil on the garlic and put it in the fridge until I'm ready to use it.  Remove the cover from the peppers, start sliding the skin off when they are cool enough to handle. 

While the peppers are roasting I start adding the other ingredients to the food processor.
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted in a small skillet.
  • About 1 cup fresh basil leaves (a little more or less depending on your taste)
  • 5-10 olives - this kind specifically (secret ingredient) - I buy them at Costco, they only carry them about twice per year so I stock up. If you can't find, or don't have this brand, leave the olives out.
  • About 1/4 cup balsamic vingear
  • About 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Add bell peppers after skinned
  • Squeeze in all of the roasted garlic
Pulse about 10-15 seconds, then taste for seasoning
Pulse another 10-15 seconds
Put the pesto in a skillet, warm on low heat while the chicken cooks.

For the chicken:
2-4 boneless skinless chicken breast
Light olive oil
salt and pepper

Season chicken breast with oil, salt and pepper - grill until cooked through, about 10 minutes.  Serve topped with grated parmesan

Notes: some of the oil in this recipe is light olive oil, since extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has a lower smoke point it burns easily which is why I use the light oil in higher heat situations such as grilling and broiling. 
For my vegetarian friends, this is really good without the chicken.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Oatmeal Raisin Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

The title alone probably got your attention.  These cookies have developed their own little cult following.  I can pretty much get whatever I want, as long as I show up with a bag of these bad boys.  Enough said... here's the recipe:

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks) - room temperature
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups old fashioned oatmeal (quick cook works also, but I always use old fashioned)
1/2 cup raisins (or a little more)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (or a little more)
1/2 cup chopped walnut or pecan (optional)
1/2 teaspoon medium or coarse grind sea salt

Heat oven to 350
Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and 1/2 tsp salt, set aside
Beat butter and sugars until creamy 
Add eggs and vanilla, mix well
Add combined flour mixture, mix well
Stir in oats, raisins, chocolate chips and nuts (if using)

Use a 3 tablespoon scoop and drop onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Leave dough as a mound.  Sprinkle a small pinch of sea salt on top of cookie.  Bake about 13 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown.  Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack.  Cool completely before putting in a bag.  Eat within 2-3 days.

Make sure your butter is room temperature.  Using a microwave to soften the butter often makes it slightly melted & your cookies will spread and flatten out more.  I like a good puffy cookie so I make sure to take my butter out a day before I will make them.  I let the mixer do the work with creaming the butter, and it usually takes at least a few minutes.


Recipe adaped from: Quaker oatmeal 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Gwen's blanket

I've been posting mostly recipes, so I'm due for something about sewing.  Since my current project is still a few days away from completion, I'll show my first baby quilt.  A friend in Arizona has a three year old and I've wanted to send her something for awhile... but it had to be meaningful.  Now that I've learned how to quilt, a little blanket seemed the perfect thing.  My friend (and mentor) Judi suggested a rail fence design to start off with.  My friend Dionne and I went shopping for materials and she's amazing at putting fabrics together.  Between the two of us we came up with some great ideas.  I was so excited to see it put together, I worked feverishly to get it done - even through power outages!  (My husband hooked up a deep cycle battery and power inverter.)

Little Gwen's room is done in fuschia, brown, dark aqua and dark lime green.  The picture just doesn't do this quilt justice - it is so much cuter in person - the colors aren't quite right in the photo either.  The pink border has little polka dots, the inner dark color is actually brown, even though it looks black from here.  Click the pictures to see them larger...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

General Tso Chicken

I don't make Asian food often, but I need to.  What's not to love about meat (chicken), fresh veggies and a light sauce all served over rice?  Last week I teased my husband by saying I'd make this dish, forgetting I didn't have any fresh broccoli or ginger.  So, tonight I was able to make this (for the 1st time) and oh boy it's good.  I originally saw this on The Chew, an ABC daytime cooking show.  Of course I made a few very minor changes.  Below is the recipe in order of the steps I took to make it....

2 chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces, set aside

1 (very) large carrot, cut into bite size chunks
1 pound broccoli florets

I steamed the carrot and broccoli (separately) until crisp tender, then set aside. 

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup cold chicken stock
4 garlic cloves, diced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, diced/minced
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (I actually used 1 tsp this time, but could have gone with 2), use more or less to your taste

Mix together corn starch and chicken stock until smooth.  Add garlic, ginger, honey, soy sauce and red pepper flakes.  Set aside.

Add 2 tablespoons light olive oil to a large skillet.  Mix 3 tablespoons flour with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Coat chicken, shake off excess and place in the hot skillet, cooking 4-6 minutes.  Add the sauce and cook about 1-2 minutes until it just starts to thicken.  Add the veggies and cook an additional 2-5 minutes until warmed through and coated with the sauce.  Serve over a bed of rice.

Recipe adapted from: Clinton Kelly's General Tso's Chicken, The Chew


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chicken Chili

After a few days in the mid 60's with abundant sunshine, the clouds and rain reappeared.  Tonight was perfect for a quick, healthy chili.  The original recipe calls for canned tomatillos, and while I would love to use fresh, the ingredients in this recipe are typically in my pantry so I can whip this up on a cool night.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14oz) can chicken broth, divided
1 (16oz) jar salsa verde
2 (15oz) cans petite diced tomatoes
1 (7oz) can diced green chiles
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2-3 teaspoons chili powder
1-2 cups corn
1 rotisserie chicken, meat pulled and shredded
2 (15oz) cans white beans (great northern or cannellini work well)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a stock pot or dutch oven and cook onion and garlic until soft.

Stir most of the broth (reserving 1/4 cup for a roux), salsa verde, tomatoes, chiles, and spices.  Bring to a boil, then let simmer about 30 minutes.  While simmering, made a roux* from the remaining stock with 1 tablespoon flour and a little 1/2 and 1/2 (or milk).  Add the roux to the simmering pot. Add chicken, corn and beans.  Continue to cook until heated through or lower heat until ready to serve.

Garnish ideas: sour cream (I use plain greek yogurt), crushed tortilla chips, shredded cheese, cornbread, fresh cilantro

* Heat the roux in a small saucepan to cook out the raw flour taste before adding it to the chili

Recipe adapted from: White Bean Chicken Chili

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sausage Ravioli

Warning: This is nothing like the canned ravioli you might have eaten as a kid.  It's so good, it just may remind you of the "O" word.  I tend to be a creature of habit and when I find something I really like I don't mix it up and try other variations.  I will experiment in the future and share it with you when I do.  Homemade ravioli is a bit time consuming, but they freeze really well - so make up a big batch. 

Start with fresh pasta sheets.  If you don't make it yourself, you might find it in the grocery store.  I will dedicate a future post to homemade pasta.

For the filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb ground italian sausage (sweet, mild or hot).  If it's in the casings, remove it.
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (more or less to taste)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
handful fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup shredded cheese (I prefer an 80/10/10 mix of mozzarella/provolone/cheddar)

In a skillet add the olive oil, crushed red pepper and sausage.  Brown the sausage, about halfway add the onion.  The last minute or so of browning add the garlic.  When sausage is cooked through, onion is soft and the wonderful smell of garlic hits your nose turn off the heat.  Add the basil, stir and let sit about 5 minutes to cool slightly.  Put the mixture in a food processor and add the shredded cheese.  Pulse until it's minced. 

For the ravioli:
Lay out 2 pasta sheets on parchment paper; you'll need a bottom and top.  Using a small scoop (approx. 1-2 teaspoons, but will depend on how large you are making the ravioli) mound the filling in clumps on the bottom sheet of pasta leaving enough space all around to seal the ravioli.  Add the top sheet.  Seal by using a ravioli stamp or pressing with your fingers all around the filling and then cut with a pizza wheel.  Set aside as you continue to make the ravioli until all the filling is gone.  Do Not Stack The Ravioli!  They will stick together... place them on another sheet of parchment paper.  Keep going until you've used all of your pasta or the filling.  At this point you can cook, refrigerate or freeze the ravioli.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the ravioli  5-10 at a time, depending on how large your pot is.  You don't want to crowd them too much and you don't want to lower the temperature of the water too much.  If you are cooking them from fresh or refrigerated, they are done in about 3-4 minutes.  If they are frozen, cook for about 5-8 minutes.  I prefer using a spider strainer to remove from the water.  If you dump them into a sink strainer, they could break.

Plate your ravioli and top with your favorite sauce.  Mine is a simple marinara.  You don't need a lot of sauce, just enough to accent the ravioli  since they are delicious plain.  Top with freshly grated parmesan, (I use a microplane rasp grater) and fresh chopped basil.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Simple Marinara

I use this sauce in a lot of things, so you will see it come up in future recipes or meals that I write about.  When I create something I don't usually measure, but for the purpose of this blog I have approximate amounts.  Keeping the title in mind it's designed to be a quick sauce for weeknight meals, hence the use of canned tomatoes, though you most certainly can use fresh. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 med onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (more or less to taste)
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1-2 teaspoons italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon sugar

In a skillet saute the onion with crushed red pepper in olive oil until onion is soft, about 3-5 minutes.  During last minute, add garlic.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer/reduce until sauce has thickened.  Amount of reducing will depend on what you are using the sauce for. 

Photo 1: the sauce right after all ingredients are added; Photo 2: reduced to the right amount for my ravioli topping; Photo 3: the sauce after being blended.

Once your sauce has reduced, put it in a blender and pulse to desired consistency.  Again, depending on your use you might want it chunky, smooth or somewhere in between.  The longer the sauce has cooked the less time in the blender it will need.  If the sauce isn't thick enough after blending, put it back in the skillet to reduce a little longer.  Caution: Do not completely seal the lid on the top of the blender as the heat build up could cause the top to blow off.  I leave the center cap out and cover it lightly with a paper towel to catch any splatter.

Some final notes:
1. The onion is optional.  I use it when I have it.
2. The garlic should only be sauteed for about a minute, otherwise it will overcook and become bitter - keep this in mind if you skip the onion step.
3. Sometimes I'll add 1 - 2 teaspoons of Amore Tomato Paste just to pump up the flavor.
4. If you have fresh italian herbs, use those in the last 5 (or so) minutes of cooking and omit the dried italian seasoning.
5. Your garlic/onion/herbs only need to be rough chopped since you'll be running the sauce through the blender.
6. I use this for topping pasta/ravioli, as a pizza sauce and for meatball subs. 
7. Some of the higher quality canned tomatoes from Italy don't have salt added.  If you are using those, you may have to add a little salt to the sauce for flavor.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Valentine Table Runners

Sew Square
Sewing for me started a few years ago when a friend of mine introduced me to it while I was helping her make aprons.  She taught me the basics of cutting patterns, piecing fabrics together, etc and it wasn't long before I was hooked and wanted in on the action.  I bought myself a Brother machine from Costco.  I was looking for something simple and inexpensive to start with.  Then I started a new job and shortly after a new world of sewing opened up to me from the gals at work.  Quilting.  I'm in love. 

Sassy Strips
In 2010 my friend Judi wanted to get a few of us started so she suggested a Valentine's table runner using the flying geese pattern.  Dionne and I went to the fabric store during lunch to pick our fabrics.  I ended up with choices that were less Valentine and more to the style of my house.   

Since my first runner didn't end up being very 'Valentine', I decided to try again.  This time I bought fabrics specifically for the holiday.  I have 2 tables in view of each other, so I had to make 2 runners.  I like the idea of using the same fabrics but changing the pattern.  I think the runners turned out pretty striking, especially with the Batik.  The novelty print was my focus fabric when I was in the store, but the pink is the one that catches my eye now.  What do you think?

The Sew Square runner I made as directed ... and I didn't find this one easy.  In fact, while I was putting it together I started to doubt my choices and didn't like it very much.  When it was done though - I loved it.  For Sassy Strips I made 2 minor changes, just like cooking - I rarely stick with the 'recipe'.  The dark fabric was supposed to be 4 strips and the light 3... I reversed it because that Batik is so amazing and I wanted more of it.  I also added two panels to stretch it for the longer table.  Since there was a lot of pink on the Sassy Strips runner I used black binding, which ended up being a great choice.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Barbacoa Beef Burrito

It's the first food post of my new blog.  I've spent the last week sick with a cold and stomach bug so I haven't eaten a real meal in awhile.  Now that I'm feeling better I was anxious for a good dinner.  I should start by saying that I rarely make a recipe as written.  Sometimes I make pretty minor changes and other times I change so much you could call it my very own.  Anytime I use someone's recipe I'll either link to the original or give credit and then talk about what I did different.  In this case, I'm using a recipe from (which is a great cooking blog). 

This recipe calls for brisket... I went to the butcher and told them what I was making and they suggested I use a nice select beef roast instead... so I had them cut me a 5 pounder.  The first thing I did was slice it in half, then sear each piece on both sides in a skillet.  While it was searing, I put together the sauce.  I combined the chipotles (and sauce), onion, garlic, cloves, cilantro, salt, lime juice, and cider vinegar in the food processor.  I pulsed it until combined, added it to the crock pot and put the meat on top, then added 4 cups of beef broth.  I let it cook for 8 hours on low then shredded the meat.

Here's a little side note: I knew I was making pico de gallo and didn't buy enough limes for it, so before squeezing the juice from the limes for the barbacoa, I zested a few of them for use later in the pico.

A few hours before the meat was done I started on the pico.  I used equal parts tomato, white onion, and cilantro.  I added half of the fresh zest then some lime juice from one of those squeezer bottles.  Since I also forgot to buy jalapenos, I added a half diced red bell pepper.  For a little heat I added a few drops of Spontaneous Combustion hot sauce.  The pico was finished off with a bit of sea salt and oh my it was delicious!

Earlier in the day, I was cleaning out the garden beds - getting ready for spring planting.  I ended up pulling 10 pounds of carrots (and there's still more out there!).  As a snack while waiting for the main event, my husband suggested a carrot salsa... so here's what we came up with:

4 medium to large carrots, diced (we had 3 different colors)
4 roma tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped (could use more, but it's all I had left)
1/2 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced/minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 to 1 teaspoon lime zest
juice from one lime (or equivalent from a squeeze bottle)
couple drops Spontaneous Combustion (or 2 jalapenos)
Salt, to taste

For the burritos: Flour tortilla, plain greek yogurt (instead of sour cream), shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, barbacoa meat, pico.  It was FABULOUS!

Changes I would make: next time I will use a little less ground clove and less broth.  I will stick with the roast instead of brisket and 5 chipotle peppers instead of 4.