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 One of my favorite hobbies is to cook, must be part of my Italian background because I love to see people eat. Mangia, Mangia, as my grandmother would say. It was never much of a problem with four men in the house – there was always someone happy to eat. Now, there are two of us in the house and the cooking presents a bit more of challenge, you see I am used to cooking…a lot (again, the Italian coming through). It’s difficult to figure out how to just make dinner for two, day after day.

We have had our share of good meals and our share of popcorn or PBJ for dinner when neither of us could seem to decide what we should do about that meal. I think, however, that I am coming around. Over the weekend, we felt like carrot cake, knowing full well that we couldn’t eat a whole carrot cake even if we spaced it out over days (carrot cake day #1 is great, day #2 is good, day #3 really, carrot cake again?) so I figured out that I would make a small carrot cake. I searched around and I found a recipe for a small carrot cake but it required a 6 inch cake pan. I searched around in the hopes that I could find something that I could use but not 6 inch cake pan or anything close to it. So I figured I would work with what I had, ramekins and make little carrot cakes – two of them.

They came out resembling little muffins, I cut off the raised tops to flatten them to look more like cakes, then cut each cake in half so there were two layers. The recipe called for a maple cream cheese frosting which was spread on top of one “layer” and then iced on the whole cake–it was delicious! Two little individual carrot cakes for dinner earlier this week.

The recipe was adapted from Betty Crocker’s website. I omitted raisins and walnuts which could certainly be added as you desire.

Carrot Cake

1/4    all-purpose flour
 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
Pinch ground ginger
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
1 egg white
2 tbs packed light brown sugar
2 tbs canola oil
 1 1/2 tps milk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup packed grated carrot ( 1 carrot)

Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting

2 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tbs unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tps maple syrup 

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Spray 2 (6-oz) ramekins with cooking spray.
  •  In small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside. In medium bowl, beat egg white, brown sugar, oil, milk and vanilla with wire whisk until blended. Stir in flour mixture until combined; stir in carrots.
  • Divide batter evenly between ramekins. Set ramekins on baking sheet and place in oven.  Bake 17  minutes or until cakes are set and spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool in ramekins 5 minutes; remove from ramekins to cooling rack. Cool completely.  Level cake layers with a serrated knife.
  • For frosting, in small bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until blended. Beat in powdered sugar and maple syrup until smooth.
  • Fill and frost layers with maple-cream cheese frosting.

For those who asked, here is my go-to recipe for the battered onion rings that we put on our salads.

  • 2 parts masa harina (corn flour)
  • 1 part all purpose flour
  • Creole seasoning 1 tbsp
  • Jerk seasoning 1 tbsp
  • Black pepper 1 tsp
  • Salt (when they are cooked to taste)
  • Water (enough to thin batter to desired consistency)
  • 2 medium onions thinly sliced and separated into rings
  • Canola oil for frying

I take two onions and thinly slice and separate into rings. In a small bowl I combine the masa harina (usually 1 cup) with all purpose flour (1/2 cup) and the seasonings. Add enough water to make a batter that is not runny. Add onion rings to batter and mix to coat. Heat canola oil and place onion rings into hot oil. Cook until golden on one side and flip – do the same with the other side. Remove from oil onto tray with paper towel to absorb excess oil. Salt to taste.

Most often, I do more than I need for the salads since many of these guys never make it past the cooling tray. :)

Today was a very un-January-like January day. The weather here has been less than winter-like and reminiscent of spring. Thank you (NOT) El Nino. Winter is supposed to be snowy and cold. Most of the day was rainy and damp with the actual temperatures well into the high 40s. What is left of the snow is either a lot of slush or a sheet of ice, not much in between.

On this lazy Sunday, a gumbo was simmering away on the stove. Tonight we had that gumbo made with North Country andouille sausage, chicken and okra that was flourishing in the garden a few months ago. Served with a loaf of bread, not mine but from the farmers’ market yesterday and some roasted hot peppers.

 

Last night I undertook a new challenge. I made homemade pierogies. The other night we had chicken and mashed potatoes so I had some leftover mashed potatoes and decided that I should give this a try. I made my own pierogi dough which was amazingly quite simple. Then I took those leftover mashed potatoes, heated them a few minutes in the microwave and stirred in some grated cheddar cheese and seasoned them with salt, pepper and onion powder. I started the whole process at 4:15 and by 6:15 we were eating some pretty decent pierogies. I am sure that mine pale in comparison to those made by those with some Polish blood coursing through their veins but I am pretty satisfied with my first time outcome.

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I am personally not a stew fan. The guys all love stew and I’ll make it, but I would just as soon make something else for myself rather than eat the stew. It’s nothing personal, I’m told I make good stew, but it just doesn’t hold a whole lot of appeal to me. There are things that are just so much more appetizing. That being said, since yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and since Irish blood does course through these veins and since we don’t eat corned beef and cabbage, I thought I’d make an Irish stew. I looked online for some Irish stew recipes and decided to go with a hybrid of sorts. A total lamb stew, I’m not sure how that would have gone over since we are not super big lamb eaters. An all beef stew, well, I already stated my opinion on that one. So I mixed them together, threw in some stout beer. I bought a single bottle of chocolate stout from a local brewing company since I couldn’t get a single Guinness (and since we don’t drink beer, I refuse to take up refrigerator space with any) and a bottle of red wine. I started this stew at 4 and we ate at 7. So, it really didn’t take very long at all and came out tasting quite good and coming from a non-stew lover, this is really, really high praise.

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Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs lamb stew meat cut into bite size pieces

1 1/2 lbs beef chuck stew meat cut into bite size pieces

2 T. tomato paste

1 t. sugar

1 t. Worcestershire sauce

1 bottle chocolate stout beer of your choice

1 c. red wine (I used Shiraz)

4 c. beef broth (I used 1 T beef base with 4 cups water)

3 T. butter

6-7 carrots cut into bite size pieces

6-7 Yukon gold potatoes cut into bite size pieces

1 large onion cut into bite size pieces

2 bay leaves

olive oil for searing

salt and pepper to taste

Process:

1. I took the cut up beef and lamb and browned it in the olive oil in my dutch oven. I did the lamb first and then the beef. Removed it to a bowl when each was done.

2. I put the cooked meat back into the pan and added my onion, sauteed for a few minutes.

3. Add stout, red wine, beef broth, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, tomato paste and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cover.

4. In a separate pan, add butter and saute carrots for about 15 minutes. Turn off and leave in pan.

5. Allow meat to simmer, covered, for one hour. Then add potatoes and carrots, season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Allow to cook uncovered at a medium heat  for approximately 40 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are cooked through.

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Dinner last night was homemade French Onion soup with homemade baguettes. It was delicious and well worth the effort of making it from scratch. While I was at it, I made some more sandwich rolls for lunches.

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Lunch rolls all ready for tomorrow.

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The onions, about 8 cups of them, thinly sliced sauteed for a nice long time to get a beautiful golden brown and form the base of the soup.

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The baguettes right from the oven. These were thinly sliced and popped into the toaster to crisp them up to use as the croutons. Of course, had I prepared better, I could have made the bread a day or two earlier and let the slices crisp up without the use of the toaster. Alas, I am not that prepared.

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The soup bowls are getting assembled and prepped for some broiling.

 

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The finished product …. was …. delicious.

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We had about 30 inches of snow on the ground before the weather got warm the other day. Then, things melted and it rained and as predicted, it got cold again and everything froze. Our driveway is crunchy and icy and challenging to say the least.

When the snow was falling though the other day, it was time to bake some rolls. These are my new favorites, and the boys’ favorites, too. Quick and easy to make, they bake up quite nicely. I got this recipe from The Kitchen Whisperer and while, my rolls and her rolls looks different, (which I haven’t quite figured out why yet) they are absolutely a great sandwich rolls.

 

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Today I made some ciabatta bread and rolls. Although the bread I usually make is a sourdough ciabatta recipe, this is a traditional ciabatta using a biga. This is the first time that I used a biga, since my other recipe just uses sourdough starter and no biga. I made the biga last night and let it sit as directed overnight. Mixed the dough this morning and decided to try both a loaf and rolls from the recipe which calls for either two loaves or 16 rolls.

Here is the recipe adapted from The Kitchn.com.


Biga

  • 4 ounce (1/2 cup) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon active-dry yeast
  • 5 ounce (1 cup) all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and stir to form a thick, gloppy paste. Stir approximately 50 times to activate gluten. Cover and let sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight.

Ciabatta

  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 t. yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour (I added 4 1/2 cups since my dough was not binding together as indicated below)
  • 2 t. kosher salt

Dissolve the yeast in the water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add biga and stir to break up the large glob it has become.

Add the flour and the salt. Stir and let this rest for 10-20 minutes.

Using a dough hook, knead at medium speed for 15-18 minutes. Keep a close eye on your mixer as it has a tendency to “walk” on the counter at this speed.
The dough will

The dough will start off sticking to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Around halfway through the mixing time, the dough should slightly pull away from the sides of the bowl, and regularly slap the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, turn the mixer speed up a notch. (This is where I noticed that it was still real soupy and not binding together at all and I added another 1/2 cup of flour a little at a time. The dough is still very wet compared to bread dough you might be used to — this is okay and what it is supposed to be doing.

Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until tripled in bulk.

Dust your work surface heavily with flour. Prepare two baking sheets each with a sheet of parchment. Scrape the dough out on the floured surface and dust the top with more flour. Use a pastry cutter to divide the dough into two if you are making loaves or 16 pieces if you are making rolls. I did half and half — did one loaf and 8 rolls.

Brush your hands with flour. Working gently but swiftly, scoop the the loaves (or the rolls) one at a time from the work surface to the parchment. Press your fingertips about halfway into the dough to dimple the surface and slightly flatten. Let the loaves (or rolls) rise, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes. When ready to bake, they should look pillowy with many big bubbles just beneath the surface.

Preheat the oven to 475°F while the loaves are rising. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven now.

When ready to bake, slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto a pizza stone if you have one. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Rolls will most likely cook faster than the loaves if you made both like I did. Slip the parchment out from under the loaves or flip them over and cool completely before eating.

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Ciabatta rolls just before they went in the oven.


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Finished ciabatta rolls — fresh from the oven.

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Tonight, we were supposed to be going out for dinner. However, the wood stove was too warm and comfortable and the company was good. We were cozy and Mother Nature wasn’t making leaving the nest too desirable even for an anticipated night out. Not having planned on making dinner tonight, this was a throw-together. Sometimes, honestly, I think the “open the pantry and empty the fridge” meals somehow turn out to be the best meals of all.

The ingredients on hand:

  • leftover boiled chicken breast
  • fresh basil
  • garlic
  • broccoli crowns
  • red bell pepper
  • chili garlic sauce
  • olive oil
  • potato gnocchi

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I sauteed the vegetables together, added the shredded chicken and a very little olive oil (the special one that Tim brought back from Spain) seasoned it with a little kosher salt and a teaspoon of chili-garlic sauce. Added the gnocchi when it was cooked (which didn’t take long at all) and topped it with a couple grinds of shredded asiago cheese. Served it with some warm homemade bread. We enjoyed it by the fire with some great music playing in the background. Very delicious, indeed.

 

 

 

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The other day I found this recipe for chocolate banana bread. I tried it, it was a hit at our house, even among those that didn’t like banana bread.

Personally, I think the chocolate did the trick. How can anyone not like chocolate?

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If you’re interested here is the link to the recipe, which can be found at www.cookinglight.com

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I made these peach preserves over the weekend with fresh peaches. Oh my goodness, are they good. I found the recipe here at Natasha’s Kitchen and I suggest that you hop on over there to check it out. I adapted it a bit to add a touch of vanilla (about 1 teaspoon) to the peaches before I jarred them. I had my doubts since the recipe takes a couple days to complete, but it seems that it is well worth the wait.

 

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Tim and I went blueberry picking and I may go again today since one of the blueberry pick-your-own places indicated on FB that today is the last day of picking for the season. We came home with two bags full of blueberries and I made a blueberry muffin cake. The original recipe is from Fine Cooking but I tweaked it just a bit to add a streusel topping, the same as on the blueberry muffins that I make. It definitely took the cake, which was delicious without the topping to a different level.

For those of you that asked, here is the recipe:

Blueberry Muffin Cake (adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine recipe)

Cake:

  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly; more for the pan
  • 9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 lb. (2 cups) fresh blueberries

 

Topping:

  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 t. cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar

Procedure:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Butter or spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round springform pan.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla. Using a silicone spatula, stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Fold in the berries. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Tap the pan on the counter once or twice to break any air bubbles.

Mix together the topping ingredients which should make crumbles. Spread the crumbled streusel topping over the cake batter.

Bake until golden-brown and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  The original recipe says the cooking time is 45-55 minutes which is what worked without the streusel. With the streusel topping, add an extra 15-20 minutes, check occasionally until a tester comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake and remove the side of the pan. Transfer the cake to a serving plate and serve warm or at room temperature. Ours didn’t make it to the cooling phase. It was steaming still when we removed it from the pan to eat with a cup of tea the other night for dessert.

 

Enjoy.

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