February 26, 2011

Eggs with Cheddar, Apples, and Bacon.

It's breakfast time again. And I love it because I could eat breakfast for every single meal of the day.

I said to M last night as we were going to bed, "why does it feel like we're always going to bed and waking up again?" I thought it was a silly question as it flew from my mouth, but he just nodded and agreed, "Because we are" he said. Perhaps the constant feeling of sleeping and waking it has more to do with how I'm spending my days lately than anything else. But that's another story.

And yet again, it's another morning. It's Saturday. I don't want my usual sweet concoction of yogurt and cereal or even a big bowl of steaming oatmeal. No, this morning I want it all -- salty, crispy, sweet, and smothery. A big crunchy apple is chopped. A couple slices of bacon sizzle and brown in the pan. Extra sharp cheddar is sliced, and eggs are whisked.

Minutes later, as M and I sit in front of our big plates, coffee in hand, and I'm thinking that perhaps there's a lot that's right about the feeling that it's constantly, yet again, another morning.

Ingredients: (serves 2)
4 eggs, scrambled (or a combination of two eggs and four egg whites, as I used above)
2 slices of bacon, cut into 1/4" pieces
1 Gala, Fuji, or other crisp apple, diced into small squares
shredded cheddar, amount as desired
salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat and begin to cook the bacon. When the bacon just starts to cook, add the apple and stir. Continue cooking until the bacon is crispy and apples just soft. Pour in the eggs and pull sides from the pan with a spatula until they are scrambled and slightly wet. Turn the heat off, sprinkle the top with cheddar. Allow to sit, covered, for a minute until the cheese melts. Serve with buttered whole-grain toast.

February 23, 2011

Would you like some pasta with those veggies?

Nature tricked us this week. I think she does this every year, but like the silly humans we are, we forget how this pretend spring weather that rears its head for a couple of days in February is nothing more than an annual cruel joke. I cruised down the river trail on my usual warm weather 7-mile run, in shorts and a t-shirt, practically leaping with happiness at the little streams of melting snow.

And then 22 degrees happened. Quickly. And just like that, as fast as the weather man had marveled over our heat wave sensation, he once again marveled at the frigid air like it hadn't already been there five days earlier.

Anyway. There's lots about winter that makes me feel cozy, warm, and happy, but there is much about winter that also makes me feel like a slug... Loaded down with boredom at the indoors and searching my cabinets for my favorite three C's: chocolate, cereal, and crackers. Warm days get seven mile runs. Cold days get a brief trip to the gym and seven reasons to snack on separate occasions.

Thus, my reasoning for wanting to have a little pasta with my veggies come dinnertime. It simply feels better to load up on the good, healthy, hearty stuff and minimize the heavy, meaty, carb-y stuff. This kale pasta is exactly that proportion: loads of kale is tossed with a slightly less generous serving of pasta, just enough crispy bacon for the "wow, bacon is delicious" factor, and topped with salty and slightly warmed-through light feta cheese.

Now that's enough reason for me to stop wishing for another pretend spring day, but instead fill a big bowl, snuggle up on the couch, and simply give in to February.

Kale & Bacon Pasta (serves 2)

1 T. olive oil
1/2 of a medium Spanish onion, chopped
3 slices of bacon, thinly sliced
1/2 lb. kale, rinsed, left wet, and leaves removed from the stem
1 1/2 cups dried whole grain pasta, cooked in lightly salted water, water reserved
1 t. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
hot red pepper flakes to taste
1/4 cup light feta, crumbled

Directions: In a medium to large pot, preheat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and bacon and cook until the bacon is crisped and the onion is tender. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the kale to the pot and stir. Cook until the kale is soft and tender, stirring occasionally and taking care not to burn. Add water by the T, if necessary. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until just al-dente and drain, reserving the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the kale, bacon, and onion mixture and toss with 1/4 cup cooking liquid at a time. Stir in the garlic powder, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Toss with the feta and allow to warm through, 1 - 2 minutes, adding more cooking liquid if necessary. Serve immediately.

February 20, 2011

Hooray for 'The Help' and Book Club's 1st Birthday: Mississippi Mud Cake

Happy First Birthday, Book Club!

This month we read 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett. Thank you, Ms. Stockett, for writing the best book I have read in quite some time, and what is by far my favorite book club book yet. It was the perfect book for our first birthday.

Every birthday deserves a birthday cake! 
This was not just any cake. Since 'The Help' takes place in Mississippi we just had to have a Mississippi Mud Cake.

First we ate a meal of  incredibly delicious Southern delights that I can't tell you about here or else you would leave this page and go looking for those recipes. So sorry. But seriously. It was an amazing dinner.

Then we dug into our big, dense slices of cake just like Hilly dug into that special chocolate pie Minny made. (ha).

If that was lost on you, please go and read the book. 
I promise it won't disappoint.

Baking this Mississippi monster was almost as fun as discussing the book. 
First, I patted in a moist crumb layer 
of walnut, vanilla wafer, brown sugar, and butter.

Next, I mixed up the chocolate and coconut cake batter. 
It was thick, and there was lots of butter in it. 
I hear they use a lot of butter in the south. Hi, Paula Deen.

While the cake was still hot (and this was crazy), I had to flop that thing right out of its pan and cover it with mini marshmallows

Then those little nuggets of sweet, sticky goodness got squished between the second layer of piping hot cake. To say that I was nervous as I eased that disc of steaming cake down onto the marshmallows is an understatement. But it worked! The cake stayed in one piece. I still can't believe it. 

I shouted, "there is a God!" My neighbors definitely now don't just think I am strange, they know it. Damn thin walls. But have they ever lowered a piping hot cake out of a pan onto a bed of rolling marshmallows? I kind of doubt it.

Then I stuck a bunch of toothpicks through it so the marshmallow layer wouldn't slide around and cooled it in the fridge.

Then I frosted it with a lovely chocolate ganache. 

This cake is for the chocolate lover, the sweet tooth, the dense-crumb addict. Or for other book clubs who are loving 'The Help' and simply can't help but celebrate a wonderful piece of literature with a wonderful piece of cake. 

So, happy birthday, book club! One of these years, we'll have a name, but for now we'll keep the focus where it belongs: 
on adventures through new literature and new recipes, 
discussions (on topic and off, crazy and sane), 
 and lots and lots of laughter.

Mississippi Mud Cake: recipe from the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Desserts
1.5 cups butter, softened
3/4 cups walnuts
3/4 cups vanilla-wafer crumbs (about 18 cookies)
3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cup flaked coconut
1.5 cups mini marshmallows
Chocolate Glaze (see below)

Chocolate Glaze: In a saucepan over low heat, heat 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, 3 T. butter, and 3 T. water, stirring often until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in 1.5 t. vanilla extract. Let it cool to room temp, then add 4 T. confectioners sugar, beating well with a spoon until blended and a thick consistency.

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 and grease two 9" cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a cut round of wax paper. In a saucepan over low heat, melt 1/2 cup of the butter. Meanwhile, process the walnuts and vanilla wafers until finely chopped or in crumb-like form (or chop walnuts and crush cookies). Remove the butter from the heat and stir in the walnuts, vanilla wafer crumbs, and brown sugar. Divide the mixture evenly between the cake pans and pat to cover the bottoms evenly.

In a large bowl with the mixer at low speed, beat the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, vanilla extract, eggs, coconut, and remaining 1 cup of butter until blended. Scrape down the bowl constantly with a rubber spatula. Then, increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute. Spoon the batter into pans, spreading evenly. Bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. While the cake is still hit, loosen edges with a spatula and invert one cake layer, crumb mixture side up, on a cake plate. Top it with marshmallows. Immediately, place the second cake layer, crumb mixture side up, on top of the marshmallows so that the heat will melt them. Insert toothpicks or skewers to keep the layers from sliding, then cool in the fridge completely. Meanwhile, prepare chocolate glaze. Remove the skewers and spread the glaze over the top and sides of cake. Garnish with chocolate chips, curls, or other decorations. Allow the glaze to set before serving.

February 16, 2011

White Lasagna

I am not going to pretend that these pictures do justice to this lasagna.

We were so busy eating the big, beautiful square cuts of it the night it was made that I was forced to put photography aside for an evening for the sake of pure enjoyment. I had to take a picture the next day, when the sloppy leftovers were only testament to the fun we'd had digging in.

I am also not going to pretend that this lasagna is quick to make, although it is definitely easy. If you have a couple of hours and someone in mind to make it for, then it's the perfect meal to make someone feel pretty darn special. The object of this white lasagna's affection was my friend M, who was turning 26. Lasagna is her favorite meal. There are few things that M can make (this is said with utmost love), and lasagna is one of them. So, I did want to cook her her favorite meal, but I didn't want to make her a dish that she could make for herself. Hence, this wonderfully unpredictable silky, cheesy white lasagna.

I layered a robust bechamel with sauteed carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms, but this dish is the perfect canvas for an array of favorite add-ins, such as browned sausage or ground beef. One thing is for certain, when you take your first bite of this lasagna, all the time spent stirring that bechamel will fade fast into the background, replaced by big, happy smiles.


Sliced carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms

7 T. butter, divided
1/2 cup diced white onion
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 1/2 cups 2% milk

2 bay leaves

3/4 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

For the pasta:
1 T. butter for the pan
3/4 lb. part-skim mozzarella, grated
1 package Barilla No-Boil Noodles (Barilla tastes like fresh pasta)
4 T. grated parmesan

In a medium-large saucepan heat 2 T. butter over medium heat until it foams. Add in the vegetables (or meat if using) and cook until tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove all of the vegetables to a dish. Add 5 T. butter and heat until foaming, then add the onions and cook 4-6 minutes, stirring often, until clear in color. Add in the garlic and stir, 1 minute. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1.5 minutes. Do not allow the flour to brown, but cook it just long enough for the raw flour flavor to cook out. Gradually whisk in the milk, bring to a boil over medium heat, and whisk in the bay leaves, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to low and whisk occasionally, about 15 minutes, or until the bechamel is reduced enough to stick to the back of a spoon. Discard bay leaves, stir in parmesan, and cover.

Preheat oven to 425. In a broiler-safe 9x13 pan, coat with butter, then pour 1/2 cup bechamel, then layer 4 lasagna noodles across the pan, slightly overlapping and not touching the sides of the pan (they will expand to meet the sides of the pan). Stir the sauteed vegetables into the remaining bechamel. Spread another layer (about 1/4 of the remaining) of vegetable mixture on top of noodles, then top with 1/4 of the mozzarella. Layer lasagna noodles now again, in the opposite direction as the layer before it. Repeat this process with two more layers of noodles, ending with the remaining bechamel covering the top noodles, the rest of the mozzarella, and 4 T. parmesan.

Cover tightly with tin foil and bake until bubbling, 20 minutes. Covering it is essential to retaining the moisture and avoiding dry lasagna. Remove foil and move the rack to 6 inches from the broiler. Broil 4 minutes or until the top cheese has browned spots over the top. Cool 10 minutes, then cut and serve.

February 9, 2011

Healthy Oat & Fruit Muffins, aka Super Human Muffins

I bought prunes at the store.

You bought what?!

I did. I bought prunes at the store. And I took them home.

I mean, sheesh. Once I saw that prunes were really just dried plums, I thought, I eat every other fruit dried, and plums are yummy, what's wrong with dried plums? Plus they are supposedly very good for you and all that. And I like things that are supposedly very good for me. 

I took a bite of said prune and did not quite know what to think. The verdict was still out on these prunes when I received the loveliest gift in the mail: it was a brand spanking new, shiny cobalt blue Kitchen Aid Artisan Mixer. I laughed, I cried, I fell in love all over again, and then I washed the thing off and immediately took it for a test run.

I wanted to make muffins. But not just any muffin -- a very healthy, wonderfully good for me muffin that I could grab as I run out the door for school in the morning, but that would make me feel strong and super-charged. Every little ingredient in this muffin would be working very hard to do its healthy work. There would be no slackers in this muffin. My morning can't afford slackers.

I wanted high fiber. Less sugar and fat. A nice dose of fruit. And maybe some heart-healthy antioxidants while I'm at it. Done, done, done, and done.

The prunes came back out of their box in the fridge. The bag of whole wheat flour opened. A juicy apple was grated. The flaxseed came out. Oats were poured. Applesauce was substituted for oil. Sugar was reduced to half. Maybe I should call these muffins super human muffins. I think I will. You will, too, once you taste their dense, chewy, hearty goodness for yourself. Maybe you'll even want to throw a handful of chopped walnuts in there or an extra dash of cinnamon. Go wild. It's your muffin. It's your day.

And as for the prunes, well, those little babies got all diced up until they were just squishy little nuggets of power-fruit, then baked into every bite. And what do you know, they're yummy! If prunes aren't your thing (or you simply don't have them around because you haven't been pregnant lately... which,  for that matter, neither have I), chop up some raisins or figs. It's all part of one happy nutritionally-charged family. 

Oh, and have a wonderful superhuman morning!

1 1/3 cup white wheat flour (Trader Joe's makes a nice brand)
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. apple pie spice
1/2 t. cinnamon
3 T. flaxseed
pinch nutmeg
1/4 t. salt
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup applesauce
1 small apple, grated (about 1 cup packed)
1 t. vanilla extract
8-10 prunes, finely chopped
1 t. molasses

Preheat oven to 400 and grease a muffin pan. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet mixture in all at once. Stir until just moistened (batter should be lumpy). Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, filling each about 2/3 full .Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove from cups and serve warm.

February 5, 2011

In Honor of the Super Bowl: Drago Family Chili con Carne

The Super Bowl is a very special holiday to me, as I am sure it is for many of you. Since I have yet to understand the game of football (believe me, I've tried), it's clearly not really about what's going on in the game, but instead, what's coming out of the kitchen. The Super Bowl is a day for awesomely all-American fare... it doesn't get much better than bottomless bowls of chips and dip, spicy wings, and, of course chili. 

My college friends will never let me live down first Super Bowl together. Five of us girls sat piled on those crunchy, vinyl-covered extra-long twin beds with open boxes of calzones spread across the comforter, happy for a reason to avoid the dining hall as we waited for entertainment during the commercial breaks. As we dug in and stared at the tiny 13" TV, I asked, "Is the Super Bowl live?"

Let me tell you, it's been seven years and I am still being made fun of. Deep down, I of course knew the game was live, but since the little square of text on the bottom of the screen that usually says "LIVE" wasn't there, I was just verifying. Jeez. Anyway, I'm careful never to ask questions like that in the years since, and now that I enjoy hosting my own Super Bowl get-togethers, I mainly keep my comments to myself.

Avoiding less-than intelligent questions leaves me more time for digging in to the food, anyway, like this delicious chili recipe from my fiance's family. It is wonderfully comforting, as most chilis are, but it's also fun to eat. The Drago family piles big, piping hot scoops on top of warm egg noodles and top it with lots of cheese (and perhaps a handful of crunchy Fritos, too!) 


·        3Tbs olive oil
·        1 large white onion, chopped
·        1 lb ground beef (or turkey*)
·        1 can (14oz+) diced* (preferable) tomatoes or whole tomatoes
·        1 can Campbell’s Tomato soup
·        Graded cheese – cheddar or Parmesan*
·        1 can corn - drained
·        3 carrots* - peeled and sliced
·        1 can black beans*
·        1 can white beans (Cannellini or Navy)*
·        1 can red kidney beans
·        1 green bell pepper – chopped coarsely
·        1 yellow bell pepper *– chopped coarsely
·        1 red bell pepper*– chopped coarsely
·        1 clove garlic - chopped
·        2 baking potatoes – cubed into bite-sized pieces
·        2 bags of wide egg noodles – cook separately
·        Either a premixed chili seasoning or paprika, cayenne pepper, chili powder, salt, bay leaf

Brown the oil, onion and ground beef together

Add other ingredients:
Do NOT add noodles
Drain corn before adding
Do NOT drain beans

Cook 1 hour with
            1 tsp salt
1 Bay leaf
1 Tbs premix chili seasoning OR
1/2 tsp paprika
            1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
            1 tsp chili powder

Adjust seasonings to taste – chili is done when potatoes are soft
Boil noodles in large pot
Serve chili in bowls with noodles and cheese

Based on a recipe from Edna Morris Smith. Items with a * were added to the original recipe by Joseph Drago, Edna's favorite nephew and my future father in law!

February 2, 2011

Coconut-Banana Cream Pie with Honey Rum Whipped Cream and Butterscotch Topping

One of my best friends (and bridesmaids) recently turned 26. What better way to celebrate than to invite her over for a special birthday dinner and dessert? I asked her to give me her desired menu. She responded that she had been craving, "banana or coconut cream pie." I thought to myself, self, I can do better than that. I will make a banana and coconut cream pie!

So I did. It also didn't hurt that I opened up my Good Housekeeping cook book and there found a coconut-banana cream pie. I had been wondering if the flavors of banana and coconut would compliment or clash, so finding the recipe confirmed that the idea wasn't wacky but delicious. Along the way I tweaked the recipe here and there for a personalized (and slightly more indulgent) end-result.

First, I baked the super-easy press-in coconut and oatmeal crust, with a dash of added cinnamon:

As the crust cooled I simmered that thick, velvety vanilla custard. After I poured the filling generously into the crust, I had an extra cupful left over to eat myself with a spoon.... Mmmm mmm a preview!

I left the pie covered in the fridge overnight since I made it a day early. The next night before dinner I simply topped it with the whipped cream and butterscotch, but you can do the entire pie in one sweep.

Anyway, my whipped cream had brown-sugar honey rum in it for a little birthday fun. Plus, I feel like rum and bananas is always a good combination. It definitely spiced up the flavor a bit.

Then I toasted extra coconut and pressed a nice, crunchy pile of it into the top center. Finally, the entire pie got a generous drizzle of sweet, gooey butterscotch sauce, which had been a homemade Christmas gift from my cousin and fellow blogger, Elena, of Danger Kitten Bakes. Thank you, Elena!!

I think that this pie made for one happy twenty-six year old!

1 1/3 cups flaked sweetened coconut
2/3 cup old-fashioned or quick oats, uncooked
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 t. cinnamon

3 cups milk (I used 2%)
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 t. salt
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1.5 t. vanilla extract
2 - 3 large, ripe (but not overripe) bananas

Whipped Cream:
2 T. powdered sugar
1 cup whipping cream
2 T. honey-rum (if using a non-sweet rum, reduce amount and add in smaller portions)

Toppings of choice: I used butterscotch and toasted coconut, but you can slice more bananas, top with nuts, or even drizzle with chocolate. Have fun with it.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a 9-inch pie place, mix the coconut, oats, cinnamon and 3 t. softened butter with your hands, then pat onto the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Place in the freezer to let the butter set for a few minutes, then bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Cool on rack.

In a 2 quart saucepan, combine all of the filling ingredients up until the vanilla and cook over medium-low heat until it boils and thickens. Boil one minute, then remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Slice the bananas in half the long way, then arrange cut-down on the pie crust. This reduces browning of the fruit. Completely cover the crust with bananas, then pour the custard filling over them. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

In a cold bowl, mix the whipped cream ingredients at high speed until stiff peaks form (make sure it's not too soft), then spread the whipped cream over the pie, leaving about a 1" edge of filling showing. Top with desired ingredients and either keep cool until serving or serve immediately.


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