Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

It's Halloween. And mine will be full of ghosts, goblins and well....fungus.

I have been a lazy cook this week. But not on purpose. Where to begin...sigh. Well, we adopted that sweet kitten I mentioned in a few posts below and named him Darby. He was just too cute to send away. Sadly though, I'm almost wishing I had now.

We took him to the vet and he had a partially clean bill of health with one issue - he may have ringworm. A small crusty (gross, I know) patch on his ear led the vet to this conclusion. She cultured it and said it will take at least 14 days to have concrete results - which is next Thursday. Looks like this Halloween I'm getting tricked because let me tell you, a cat with ringworm is no treat.

So meanwhile, Darby has been living in the garage and hating it. He whines all day practically. I feel so bad for him. The worst part is though, ringworm is extremely contagious to other pets and even humans. And doing research on the internet has turned me into a paranoid freak - I can't sleep, I feel like I itch all the time and I also feel like we're never going to beat this stubborn fungus. I hate this! Darby is super sweet, but ringworm can wreak havoc. And may have already but we won't even know for sure until Thursday. Ugh.

Needless to say, my husband and I spent several hours yesterday evening cleaning and sterilizing the main floor of the house in the hopes that our other cats won't be affected. This morning I cleaned and sterilized the basement. And we still have the upstairs to do. Hopefully we'll make a dent. It is quite overwhelming though considering you have to clean almost daily to get rid of this stubborn fungus. Just exhausting.

On a positive note, we did find time to carve a pumpkin this week, roast pumpkin seeds and watch "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown." So I share with you the treats (and hopefully I won't be sharing the trick with anyone!).

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman's Pepitas

Cut a top in your pumpkin and spoon ou the guts into a bowl. Rinse the seeds in a colander, pulling out the stringy pumpkin pieces and spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Allow them to dry out overnight.
The next day, pour a few tablespoons of olive oil over the seeds and toss them with salt, cumin and chili powder to taste. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees, toast for 45minutes and voila - a healthy snack.
These can really be spiced with whatever you like, sweet, savory or just plain old salt. I like the spicy kick that chili powder has and the smokiness from the cumin gives them a satisfying bite.

And here's my patient and steady-handed husband carving up Mr. Pumpkin.
He did this all freehand!!
No not really. We bought one of those books like everybody else. But it was impressive nonetheless.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Toot Toot Toot

That's me...tooting my own horn. Get it? Haa. Bad joke, I know. But I don't really like to do that often (or ever really even have a reason too), however I was just so excited about this that I figured, what the heck! I recently finished grad school for Graphic Design and am still a little apprehensive about putting my work and ideas out there in public. I think it's that whole fear of rejection. But sometimes you just have to wing it and see what happens.

The blogging group Barefoot Bloggers had a contest seeking an avatar for the group. I figured this was the perfect opportunity to get creative, use my new found skills and even possibly have one more item for my portfolio. To be honest, I was anxious about putting my work out there to be voted on, but it was worth it in the end. One of the avatars I designed was picked as the winning avatar! It will be displayed on each group member's blog as a logo and link to the site.

Here it is (I don't know why the green is so flourescent here, I think it has to do with photobucket, my picture host online):

Along those lines, I'll also use this as an advertisement of sorts. If anyone out there needs an avatar or masthead design for their blog let me know. Perhaps we can come up with something together.

(That's me putting my foot in the door...well, maybe.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A reminder for myself...

I will be making this at some point soon from Hungry Girl's blog, Faux Fried Onion Blossom . If anyone gets to it before I do let me know how it turned out. It looks delicious.

I also have developed a low-fat version of Buffalo Chicken Dip that is ever so tasty. I will be sharing all these goodies soon. I'm looking forward to a night in with my husband, a good movie and some homemade "junk" food - that hopefully isn't so junky.

Friday, October 24, 2008

BB: (Italian) Vegetable (and Sausage) Pot Pie

Ok so I sort of completely revamped this recipe. Why? Well, mostly because I'm really not a huge fan of pot pie. I hate peas. I really hate potato chunks in a stew because I almost ALWAYS burn my mouth on them. Those things are like thermal conductors they hold so much darn heat! I always hated when it was pot pie day at school for lunch. My mother never made pot pie growing up. And now as an adult, the concept of eating a vegetable or meat stew topped with pastry dough just doesn't appeal. To me, pastry dough isn't all that tasty so why waste the calories and carbs on something so incredibly fattening and unhealthy?
So instead of making Ina's recipe verbatim, I made a few omissions and substitions. First of all, I added meat (when I mentioned a Vegetable Pot Pie to my husband he said, "What do you mean? Pot pies have chicken."). I browned up the filling of three Italian turkey sausages and added that to the vegetable stew. Secondly, I added eggplant, mushrooms, a can of chopped tomatoes, white wine, green pepper, celery (instead of the fennel), garlic and finally topped it all off with slices of prepared polenta.
I topped the polenta with grated romano and shoved the bowls in the oven on 375 for about 20 minutes. They came out hot and bubbly and the polenta rounds and cheese had crisped up to a nice golden brown. It was delicious! And much more my style than the traditional pot pie. I also think this version was much healthier, as I only used about two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of olive oil for the whole dish. I think Ina calls for like three sticks of butter, or something crazy like that. Also, prepared polenta has a lot less fat than pastry dough. If I'm going to eat pastry dough it better be attached to a really out of this world pie. But even then, I'm a pie gutter - mainly I eat the insides and leave the crust behind. I know, it's a bit odd, but as I said before to me pastry dough is pretty blah. I can understand that it serves a worthy function in the baking world, but it does not serve a worthy function on my hips.

So here is her recipe, Vegetable Pot Pie . Below is my version:

Italian Vegetable and Sausage Pot Pie
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 celery stalks, sliced
2 large carrots, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup flour
2 portobella mushroom caps, chopped
1 eggplant, cubed
1 can of diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
3 Italian turkey sausages (if you like it in chunks, then keep it in the casings. Sausage casings make me want to puke, sorry, so I remove them and just brown up the insides into sausage crumbles)
a log of prepared polenta
grated romano cheese

In a large stew pot, combine your chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrots and green pepper with the butter and olive oil.
Cook over medium heat until your vegetables begin to soften and the celery and onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to coat all the vegetables.
Cook for about 2 minutes. Next add in your portobella mushrooms and cubed eggplant, as well as your can of tomatoes.
Stir to combine everything and let cook for about 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Then add your chicken stock and wine and turn the heat to bring the mixture to a simmer. Add your spices as well and let the stew cook until the eggplant has softened up a bit.
Meanwhile, in a pan, brown up your sausage. Once your eggplant has softened, add the sausage to the stew and turn the heat down to low.
Now let's turn this into a pot pie! Well, a sort of pot pie. Anyway, slice your polenta log into 1/2 inch thick rounds.
Preheat oven to 375. Ladle your stew into oven-safe bowls, top with three polenta rounds, sprinkle with your grated romano cheese.
Place in the oven for 20 minutes until stew is bubbly hot and your polenta rounds have turned a deep golden yellow. Blow on it LIBERALLY!! Coming out of the oven this baby is going to be hot. Grab a large spoon and dig in. Sprinkle on more cheese if you so desire and enjoy with your loved ones on a cold October evening.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pre"pear" to be amazed...

I certainly was! Not only with my lame pun, but with the dessert I concocted purely from my own devices. Now I'm not saying no one has ever created this flavor combo before or even this exact tart, but I truly came up with this on a whim by looking at what was left in my fridge.
I'm always super-impressed when someone comes up with a baked good all on their own. I have no trouble coming up with savory dishes or combining different flavors when it comes to real food, but with desserts and baking I need a recipe.
Sure I can make small additions or substitutions to it, but I need a recipe as a base. Baking is just different. It requires much more precision than cooking. Too much flour and it's tough. Not enough sugar and it's bland. Too much baking soda and you get an explosion. When it comes to baking, for the most part, you have to be pretty rigid with the measurements. But - I found a loophole!! Tarts.
I used your basic graham cracker crust recipe for the shell and filled it with a mixture of pumpkin puree, cream cheese, spices, and fresh fruit. Voila! Pumpkin Pear Tart.
Don't worry though, I won't let this creation go to my head. But I did have a moment of Betty Crocker-like glory there that I just had to share.

Pumpkin Pear Tart
1 1/4 cups of graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup pumpkin butter
1 8oz package of light cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 pears, skin removed and sliced thin
3 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 tablespoon hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl mix together the graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar until combined. Press the mixture into your tart pan in an even layer. If you have enough to go up the sides great, if not then you can double the measurements to make more crust mixture. Once the crumbs are pressed into the pan evenly place it in your preheated oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes then remove and let cool.
Turn oven to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, combine your pumpkin puree, pumpkin butter, cream cheese, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, your cloves and the pumpkin pie spice in a mixer and beat until combined.
Pour the filling mixture into your cooled graham cracker crust.
Next, layer on your sliced pears in any pattern you like. I chose spiral, as you can see. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.
Finally add the hot water to your apricot preserves and stir to form a glaze. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of your tart with the thinned out preserves. As the tart bakes, this will form a shiny glaze on your pears.
Place the tart in your oven and cook for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on how quickly the pears seem to be cooking.
Remove, let cool and serve.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Cat

Here he is. The sweet baby who has come to visit us every night since showing up early Tuesday morning.
He's so affectionate and playful. I unfortunately found a tick - like an engorged tick - on him last night. I tried to pull it off but he wouldn't have it.
If anyone is looking for a cat let me know! He's obviously a male (huge cajones back there) and I'm pretty sure he's not neutered. I'm going to try to find a shelter or somewhere to bring him to since I think I can get him in a carrier pretty easily. I can't take him in - no matter how much I want to.
I already have 3 cats. The first one, Sawyer, an orange tabby, was found by a co-worker of mine in an alley. She brought him home but couldn't keep him. The minute she brought him into the office trying to find a home for him, I fell in love. And when I brought him home, my husband was equally smitten. He is our little babycat sweetheart, apple of our eye kitty boy.
And a complete ham for the camera.
The second, Mia, a salt and pepper tabby with white paws, we adopted from PetSmart as a companion for Sawyer. She's a sweetie but has always been very skittish - despite the fact that we've had her for over 4 years now! She does have her affectionate moments though but otherwise she's a true cat in every stereotypical way. And not very cooperative when it comes to taking her picture so I have no visuals.
The third, Marley, has only been with us about a little over a year. He, like this sweet kitten below:
was another homeless stray in the neighborhood. Once we became "friends", I decided it was time to take him in. But first, I knew that he needed a vet visit. I wasn't sure if he was neutered and of course there are all the other cat diseases that he could have - although he looked perfectly healthy.
Well I nearly burst out crying when the vet told me that he tested positive for FIV, which is also called Feline Aids. Humans can't contract it from cats, but cats can spread it to other cats through saliva, bite wounds, rough play etc. At first, I didn't know what to do since I couldn't bring him inside with my other cats. So I bought Marley a little wooden weather-proof house online as well as a weather-proof heating pad for his "house" to keep him warm and dry once cold weather hit. But all he would do was meow and cry at the patio door all day long to come in. First I brought him inside the garage but that didn't work. Again, he cried all day long in the garage. All he wanted to do was come inside.
So we brought him in and put him up in our basement. Now I know it sounds cruel, but our basement is pretty big and it's fixed up and it keeps him separated from the other cats, but gives him a loving home. My husband reluctantly replaced the wooden door to the basement with a screen door so Marley can see up stairs and feel like he's part of the rest of the crowd. As far as I can tell, he loves it down there. He never cries, just sits on the top step watching everything that he can. I think he's happy. And despite the fact that he has FIV, he seems very healthy. The vet said when the time comes to put him down, we'll know because once FIV gets bad it happens quickly. But for now all is good.
That said, adding a fourth cat to the mix would drive all of us crazy. Not to mention the fact that people would probably start giving me looks when they asked if we had any pets and I responded, "Yes, 4 cats." But more than that, I just think 4 is too many for us. The hair factor is already out of control. Hopefully I'll find a place for this little guy.
Until then he's welcome on my patio.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A crowd pleaser

You can't please all of the people all of the time, but you can please some of the people (and animals) some of the time. What am I talking about? Well, the other day I really think the universe was trying to send me a message. Perhaps that was what it was, but I'm still not entirely sure. Either way, this salad will please all of the people all of the time:
but we'll get to that a little later. First the story.

On Monday we had a fourth annual charity golf outing that my company sponsors. I organize and run the event, which basically involves several weeks of bugging people to sign up and donate.

Then the day of, myself and a few other volunteers register all the participants and ask them again to donate money toward the cause in the form of raffle tickets and mulligans, ie do-overs, for their golf game. I don't mind hounding people for the money since in the end it goes to help out a great charity, The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Montgomery County,

It's a feel good day - one where you know all day that what you're doing is serving a purpose. And I think on a day like this, you try to do whatever good you can. It becomes addicting, that feeling of helping out.

So that said, one of the gifts we distributed at the outing was a travel mug. Each mug came packaged in it's own cardboard box. We unwrapped about 100 mugs to give out to the players, leaving a stack of cardboard boxes. Thinking of the state of our environment today, I really hate to see all those boxes just be thrown away. I remembered that there is a bin in our office parking lot for cardboard recycling, so I volunteered to take all the disassembled boxes home with me. We got a separate trash bag, broke down all the little boxes, shoved them in the bag and set it aside to put in my car after registration so I could take them to the recycling bin on Tuesday.

I should have put them in my car right away because the maintenance crew at the golf course - simply doing their job - thought that the trash bag was full of, well you guessed it, trash. So when I wasn't paying attention my bag of cardboard boxes got swooped up and hauled away to be put in a regular dumpster. I was truly deflated when I discovered the bag of boxes missing. One of the volunteers put a positive spin on it, "Well, you did try," she said. And I guess at that point that was all I had going for me.

The day moved on and the event came to a successful close - we raised about $20,000 for the charity. I left the country club at around 9 p.m. to head home and while driving down one of the back roads I saw a shadowy figure on the road. At first I thought it was a deer, but upon closer inspection I realized it was a large white dog walking down the middle of the road!! It's pitch black and I'm on a windy back road. But what could I do? I couldn't just keep on driving without trying to help the poor dog?

So I stopped my car in the middle of the street, grabbed some turkey from the "doggie bag" (how appropriate) that I packed for my husband from the leftover buffet food, and started calling him. "Hear puppy, you're such a good boy! You want some turkey?"

And as luck would have it this dog would not come close. The one fortunate thing was that he finally ran out of the street and into a nearby field, where at this point I'm also standing, talking like an idiot and offering slabs of turkey. I finally got the dog to come to me, and he was super sweet but very skittish. He was dirty - mud was caked all over one of his hind legs. I was willing to put him in my car though and shelter him for the night but I had no way of capturing him. After many feeble attempts of trying to get him to follow me, I had to give up. I mean it was pitch black, getting cold and I was in the middle of nowhere. When he finally ran off and kept running I felt seriously defeated. "Stupid dog! You're going to get hit by a car," I yelled. It didn't seem to phase him because he just kept running. I got back in the car and cried, thinking of all the horrible possibilities of what might happen to this dog.

I guess I should have been happy that I was able to do so much good that day for the charity, but all I could think about on the ride home was how every other good deed I tried to do just fell by the wayside. It was discouraging.

I finally made it home and sauntered off to bed. Then at around 5 a.m. I heard a banging on the screen door. I shook my husband and we had the proverbial "did you hear that?" conversation. Our bedroom looks down over the patio so I clandestinely peeked through the blinds and thought I saw an animal.

Curious, I went downstairs and sure enough there on my patio, practically attached to the screen door was a little orange kitten with white paws. "You have got to be kidding me", I thought to myself. What is it with me and homeless pets? I opened the patio door and he let me pet his little head. He was so skinny so I filled a little bowl with food and put it on the patio for him. He ate the whole bowl and by the time I woke back up at 7 a.m. he was gone, only to return again the next night for some attention and some more food.

I just thought it was pretty ironic after so many failed attempts to do good - ie the recycling and the stray dog rescue - that this little homeless kitten practically fell right in my lap. Maybe that was the universe's way of telling me that no matter how hard you try you just can't control what will be. But that sometimes you can make a difference and because you never know when that sometime could be to never stop trying. Or maybe, like my husband said, I'm just overthinking the whole situation. Could be.

Which is why I offer a simple recipe that truly will please all of the people all of the time.

End of Summer Salad
1 large tomato
1 ripe avocado
1 ball of fresh mozzarella packed in water
1 bag of field greens lettuce
1/2 cup pesto
My pesto recipe (these are estimate measurements, I truly just eyeball everything and go by taste):
a large handful of fresh basil leaves
a slightly smaller handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup of pine nuts, toasted or untoasted
1 teaspoon of minced garlic or roasted garlic
1/4 to 1/2 cup of grated romano cheese (add according to taste)
about 1/2 cup olive oil

Slice your tomato, avocado and mozzarella evenly and layer on a bed of field greens.
For the pesto, combine all the ingredients in a food processor, drizzling in the olive oil last. Process until smooth and spoon over your salad.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Squash Risotto

I'm sorry I'm late again! And on top of that, I've changed A LOT of things about this week's BB recipe. Instead of using butternut squash I used about 1 1/2 cups of pumpkin puree. Why? Because I'm a culinary visionary? No. Because I had some leftover from the pumpkin cream cheese muffins below. To me, butternut squash puree and pumpkin puree are pretty similar so I figured what the hey. I also used some leftover bacon slices instead of pancetta - again, because it was there. And thirdly, I had leftover fresh sage leaves from my Platinum Chef Challenge recipes so instead of spending $17 (YES - THAT IS NOT A MISPRINT! 17 )(*#^$&%%@ dollars for four sprigs of saffron at the grocery store. I'm all about the exotic spices and I completely appreciate the crocus's sacrifice but honestly, $17! Really? Not to mention, I am not really a big fan of the taste of saffron. It's a bit mothbally to me, if that makes sense. There is something off about the taste.)
I used tons of chopped fresh sage instead.
I also served my risotto with bacon-wrapped shrimp and garnished it with fried sage leaves.
I was very proud of my plating presentation as well, if I may say so myself. And for that, I will say I am a culinary GENIUS! MUahahahahahhaaaaa (that's my gloating chef laugh). Obviously I'm being completely sarcastic here. Anyway, here's the original recipe below. But give it a try with the substitions. My husband, who has sworn off rice for life since his mother fed it to him with every meal as a child, loved this risotto. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Risotto
1 butternut squash (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.
In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned.
Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes.
Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes.
Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan.
Mix well and serve.

For the bacon-wrapped shrimp I simply wrapped each large shrimp in a half a piece of bacon and then cooked them in a dry skillet until the bacon was crisp.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pumpkin + Cream Cheese = Happy Mouths

It's official. There is no better way to usher in Fall than with some sort of pumpkin treat. And what better way to eat pumpkin than with cream cheese? Yeah slathering cream cheese on a chunk of pumpkin isn't exactly what I mean, but cooked up with sugar, spice and everything nice it's divine. I found these Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins on Annie's Eats Blog .
They just sounded so tempting and the real topper was the topping, no pun intended. Those sugary cinnamony crunchy streusel bits on top are what really made these muffins stand out from the crowd. They were also quite quick and easy to whip up.
The downside: too many of these tempting pumpkin treats and it's going to look like I'm smuggling a pumpkin in the back of my jeans come December...if you catch my drift. In order to avoid eating my weight in pumpkin muffins, I halved the recipe below. Less muffins, less chance of muffin top in the old pantalones.
And I'm instituting a new rule - eat a pumpkin muffin, run 3 miles, eat a pumpkin muffin, run 3 miles. I figure the more I repeat, the more I'll want to do it.

Oh well, meanwhile here's the muffin recipe and some pics to tempt you to start your own little lovable muffin top :)...

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
Yield: 24 muffins
For the muffins:
3 cups flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tbsp. and 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 eggs
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree

For the filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar

For the streusel topping:
½ cup sugar
¼ cup and 1 tsp. flour
4 tbsp. butter, cubed
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon


To prepare the filling, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip until smooth. Form into a log on plastic wrap or foil, making sure that the diameter is small enough to fit into the well of a muffin pan. Wrap the log up tightly and freeze until slightly hardened, 1-2 hours.

To make the muffins, combine the flour, spices, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Mix well and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, sugar and pumpkin puree. Mix until well combined. Add in the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined.

To make the streusel topping, combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix together with a pastry blender or two forks until crumbly.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two muffin pans with paper liners. To assemble the muffins, fill each muffin well halfway with batter. Remove the cream cheese log from the freezer and slice into 24 equal slices. Place a slice in each muffin well. Divide the remaining muffin batter evenly among the muffin cups, on top of the cream cheese. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the top of the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely before serving.

And here's a bad picture of the good cheesy layer running through the muffins.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Platinum Chef Challenge #9 Results!

Well looks like it's about time to wrap this baby up! We had three fabulous submissions for this challenge, not including my creations which are a few posts below (shameless self promotion, I know). I was hoping we'd have a ton of submissions, but I think Fall is just a busy time for everyone. Nonetheless, I had some yummy treats to choose from here from three very talented bloggers and it was definitely a hard decision because I know everyone's dish would be equally delicious. Drum roll please....

The first submission came from Cookie in San Francisco, CA. Her blog,
Workout Then Cook , is great! I wish I was as obsessed with working out as she is. It would make the eating part so much easier. She's definitely an inspiration!

Here are her entries:
Apple Oatmeal Muffins

Ingredients: (6 muffins)

½ c all-purpose flour
½ quick oats
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
1/3 c packed brown sugar
1 tsp dried sage
½ c raisins
½ c yogurt
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 c apple, peeled and shredded (I used a food processor)
½ c raisins


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Lightly grease 6 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
3. Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, sage and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together yogurt, egg and oil. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture just until combined. Fold in apples, raisins and oatmeal.
4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Mushroom Bacon Frittata


4 large eggs, beaten
5 slices bacon
1 c sliced mushrooms
2 shallots, chopped
½ c sour cream
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 c Mexican cheese blend


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon and reserve 1 Tbsp drippings.
3. Sauté mushrooms and shallots in bacon drippings, stirring occasionally, until shallots are tender and mushroom are lightly browned. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. In a medium mixing bowl, combine eggs, sour cream, cheese and seasonings and mix well. Pour egg mixture into small greased baking dish. Stir in onions and mushrooms. Sprinkle evenly with crumbled bacon.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until eggs are completely set.
6. Remove from oven. Allow to cool 5 minutes. Slice in half and serve warm with Apple Oatmeal Muffins.

The second submission came from Stefany of Chicago. Her blog, Proceed With Caution, has always been a favorite of mine. She not only makes beautiful food but takes beautiful pictures as well.
Here's her entry, a dish which used all the ingredients in one fell swoop! Go Stefany!

Apple Pumpkin Chili
1 pound ground turkey or chicken, browned in a skillet
2 cans (15 oz each) white beans, I went for one can northern and one can navy
1.5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, cleaned, and sliced
4 slices bacon, browned and crumbled or chopped
one medium shallot, diced
1 granny smith apple, diced
1/2 can pumpkin puree
2.5 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon dried sage
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon thyme
(optional) equal parts arrowroot or cornstarch and chick broth, for thickening
grated gouda cheese, for topping

Combine all except thickener and cheese in a crockpot. Stir to mix ingredients. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6. Add thickener if desired and heat on high for a few minutes to thicken sauce. Serve, topping with grated gouda.

The final submission came from Amanda in San Jose, CA - with Cookie and Amanda we got California representin' in the Platinum Chef Challenge #9! Love it!
Anyway, her blog, The Missing Ingredient, has some very tasty food in it so be sure to check it out. She also has beautiful presentation with her entrees.

Here are her recipes:

Arugula Fuji Apple Salad

2 Tbs and 1 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 shallot, minced

pinch granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

2 slices turkey bacon

1/2 Tbs. butter

3 large button mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 large fuji apple, thinly sliced cross-wise

Arugula, about 1 cup

Coarsely chopped walnuts

1. Combine first 7 ingredients into a small bowl.

2. Cook bacon on medium-low heat until a small amount of drippings forms in the pan. Push bacon to the side and add butter to the drippings. Once butter has melted, sauce mushrooms until tender, about 4-5 minutes. You may continue to cook bacon until it is crispy if you prefer it crisper.

3. Crumble or chop bacon (depending on if you liked it crispy or soft) and add bacon and mushrooms to the vinaigrette. Save bacon drippings to make Walnut Crusted Pork recipe.

4. Place an apple slice on a plate, top with vinaigrette, then top with arugula. Place an additional apple slice on top of the arugula, followed by vinaigrette and arugula. Top with final apple slice and sprinkle with walnuts. Serve with Walnut Crusted Pork and wild rice.

Walnut Crusted Pork Chops
Adapted from: Cooking Light
4 boneless center-cut pork chops, trimmed

1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1/4 tsp. ground sage

1/3 cup walnuts, finely ground

2 Tbs. bread crumbs

1 shallot, minced

Bacon drippings (from Arugula Fuji salad)

1/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

1. To prepare pork, place chops in a shallow dish; drizzle evenly with Worcestershire. Combine salt, sage, and black pepper in a small bowl. Add walnuts, bread crumbs, and shallots to salt mixture; toss well. Press walnut mixture onto both sides of pork chops. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

2. Using the leftover bacon drippings from the pan in Arugula Fuji salad, add pork chops to drippings in pan; cook 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth to pan. Cover, reduce heat, and cook 6 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with arugula fuji apple salad and wild rice.

And the winner is... Amanda of The Missing Ingredient!! Congratulations Amanda! All the recipes look great, but I really love Amanda's presentation and the combo of the tangy salad and the nutty salty pork just sounds Heavenly. I think it would make a great meal for a special occasion - I'm thinking it may be my and my husband's Valentine meal next year! Great job everyone and please keep an eye on Amanda's blog for the next round of the Platinum Chef Challenge #10!

Barefoot Bloggers: Yes I'm late again...

I know, I know. But sometimes things just get in the way! I will be posting on Friday however. And I'll be making some major changes to the recipe, but still keeping the integrity. So stay tuned...think pumpkin instead of butternut squash, sage instead of saffron and bacon instead of pancetta. It's called using what I have in the fridge rather than going out and spending a fortune on more ingredients. I have so much stuff to use up and I'd rather do that than buy new stuff.
More tomorrow...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

One less egg to more!

For the last three and a half years, nearly four actually, my husband has worked weekends. First, he had the night shift so while he was technically home all day Saturday and Sunday, he was usually sleeping so he could leave at night for work. Then he got switched to day shift, but his days off were still in the middle of the week.

I know couples deal with crazy schedules and time apart all the time, so I'm not saying our experience was any worse than any other or asking for any sympathy here (tiny violins), but it was seriously frustrating to have conflicting days off.

I felt like we never got real quality time together! The only time we saw each other was in the evening after one of us had worked all day. Mostly at that point in the day, you just want to eat, read or watch a little tv, relax and then go to sleep so you can get ready to do it all over again. We never got to take a weekend away together - without someone taking days off of work. We never got to just spend the day lounging around the house. And mostly we really missed waking up together and having breakfast on Sunday morning.

I literally had one less egg to fry every weekend, as the old Burt Bacharach song goes. But not anymore! This past weekend marked the start of a new era - both of us finally have weekends off. And we kicked it off with a bangin' breakfast - complete with enough eggs for two. We even figured out how to work one of our favorite wedding presents - an espresso/coffeemaker machine - with very successful results.
So here's to sleeping late, weekend getaways, long days, late nights, quality time and the first of many Sunday breakfasts...together. :)

Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict with Field Greens Salad
2 english muffins, toasted
1 4 oz. package of smoked salmon
4 eggs
For the Hollandaise Sauce: (adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook - I basically used more lemon juice, it only calls for 1 tablespoon. But I like lemony hollandaise)
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons water
juice of half a lemon
1 stick of butter, cut into chunks
salt and pepper to taste

To poach your eggs:
Grease a high-sided, large skillet with cooking spray and then fill it halfway with water. Set on top of a medium to high flame and allow the water to come to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, turn the water down to a low simmer and start dropping in your eggs one by one, giving each one a good amount of room. To drop your eggs in, crack each one in a cup first and then hold close to the water and lower your eggs in. Allow them to cook until the white has set and the yolk is still soft. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon. To assembly your eggs benedict, first place a piece of salmon on an English muffin, then slide a poached egg on top and then pour Hollandaise Sauce on top of that.
For the Hollandaise Sauce:
Prepare your double boiler, or place a heat-proof bowl over top of a saucepan of boiling water but make sure the bowl is not touching the water. In the bowl, whisk together your four egg yolks, water and lemon juice until smooth. Once whisked, you can add your butter one tablespoon at a time, whisking it in until it has completely melted. As the mixture becomes warmer you can add your butter more quickly. Once you've added all the butter season with salt and pepper and pour over your eggs.

I served this with a simple salad of field greens dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. It was perfect!

Note: I made the sauce first before my eggs were done. I found that when I let the Hollandaise sit while I cooked the eggs, it stiffened up a bit. To reconstitute it all I did was whisk in a little water back over the double boiler and it returned to it's silky, creamy consistency.
Good to the last drop of yolk!! Don't you just love a good breakfast?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Platinum Chef Challenge #9: My recipes

While I'm not officially "in the running", I still couldn't resist coming up with some new recipe ideas for this challenge's secret ingredients that I chose:
We've got some really good entries! If anyone still wants to enter let me know either by a comment or an email. I can extend the deadline one last week since I know a lot of people were still interested but ran out of time. Thanks to all those who got their entries in! They all look so tasty. The original post can be found here (includes the "rules"):
Platinum Chef Challenge #9

My two recipes were:
Apple Shallot Couscous with Sage and Toasted Pine Nuts
Spinach and Mushroom Bake with Bacon

Apple Shallot Couscous with Sage and Toasted Pine Nuts
Couscous, following package directions for 2-4 servings, boil in chicken or beef broth
1 apple, I used red delicious, chopped
2 shallots, sliced thinly
1/2 onion, chopped
6 fresh sage leaves, chiffonaded
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
salt and pepper to your taste
1/2 cup chicken or beef broth
3/4 cup pine nuts

Prepare your couscous according to package directions and then set aside, covered to keep warm. In a medium skillet, place your chopped apple, onion, shallots, sage leaves, olive oil and two tablespoons of butter. Cook until the shallots have softened and the apple starts releasing it's juices. Mix in the spices and stir to coat. Add another tablespoon of butter along with your chicken broth. Let the broth come to a simmer and allow it to thicken to a saucy consistency. In a smaller skillet over medium low heat, toast your pine nuts until brown. Be very careful not to burn them! They can burn very easily. Watch them and toss them in the skillet continuously.
Finally combine your prepared couscous with the apple shallot mixture and toss to coat. Add the final tablespoon of butter. Then stir in your toasted pinenuts, season with salt and pepper if needed and serve!

Spinach Mushroom Bake with Bacon
Adapted from the Costco cookbook's Spinach Bake
1 16-oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained of excess water
3 portobello mushroom caps, sliced
1 small onion, minced
6 slices of bacon, chopped
5 fresh sage leaves, chiffonaded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 cups of swiss cheese, grated
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs
splash of half and half or milk
1 1/2 cups of cream of mushroom soup (this was PERFECT! I used leftovers from this Barefoot Bloggers recipe that I had in the fridge)
paprika for sprinkling on the top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set your spinach aside. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet saute your mushrooms, onions, chopped bacon and sage in olive oil until all elements are slightly cooked. Turn off heat and mix the ingredients with your prepared spinach. Once the mixture has cooled slightly you can then mix in a cup of your grated swiss cheese and a 1/4 cup of your grated parmesan cheese. In a small bowl, whisk together your eggs with a splash of half and half or milk. Pour into your spinach mixture and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Finally mix in your creamy mushroom soup and lay the mixture out into a baking pan. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup of swiss and 1/4 cup of parmesan. Sprinkle lightly with paprika and pop in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes or until cheese is hot and bubbly. Serve.

I served this with grilled tuna topped with a dijon rosemary white wine sauce .
For the sauce I combined the following:
3 shallots, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup beef broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

Saute your shallots in olive oil and about halfway through add your rosemary. Saute until the rosemary begins to soften then deglaze the pan with your beef broth and wine. Bring to a simmer, add the dijon mustard and butter and allow the sauce to thicken a bit. Season with salt and pepper and then pour over your grilled chicken, fish or meat.