Friday, May 29, 2009

Foodie Fights #4

It occurred to me this afternoon that I should probably tell everyone I've been selected to be in the 4th Foodie Fights competition. Think "Iron Chef" for food bloggers. I opened my invitation email at 6:20 a.m. on Wednesday (5/27), and my very tolerant husband was awakened by me jumping on the bed and whispering, very loudly, that I was one of the six competitors.

The 2 ingredients I have to work with are melon (any variety) and red pepper flakes. I love red pepper flakes, so that was really exciting. The whole thing is exciting, mixed with some crazy, and some scary... :) The deadline for my picture and my blog post is Monday (6/1) at midnight, and I've been hard at work (OK, it's not hard work, I'm loving every minute of it) coming up with some awesome food ideas.

Go check out some of the other bloggers in the competition, and wish me luck!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

For years, maybe even since we were first dating, my husband and I have joked about "strawberry-rhubarb pie". Not like we told jokes about it, but when we would see rhubarb or hear about it, my husband would say, "Mmm...strawberry-rhubarb pie," and I would make a face and say something like, "Blah." I'd never actually had rhubarb, it just looked weird and sounded bad.

Then I came across Cheryl Sternman's recipe for Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler. She confessed to also thinking of rhubarb as a sub-vegetable (or is it a fruit?), and that she didn't eat it. Then, after tasting a rhubarb cobbler during a lunch out with a friend, she came up with this recipe. (According to Cheryl's blog, there was also some goading from another friend involved in her decision.) The picture looked divine, and if she thought it was tasty (the word she used was "killer"), I thought I should give it a try. Afterall, like I'm always telling my 6 year-old, who often sheds tears when she has to try something new, how did I know I didn't like rhubarb if I'd never tried it.

So, my husband's birthday was yesterday, and instead of his usual apple pie, I asked him what he thought of trying the cobbler. I didn't actually expect him to say no, or anything; if it's a dessert he's more than willing to make the sacrifice, especially if it comes with ice cream. Even though it was my idea, I was a little nervous, as was my 12 year-old. My 6 year-old's reaction was a comical mixture of horror, shock, and fear. Lucky for her, I had chocolate cake layers and chocolate frosting in the freezer left-over from a wedding cake I did a couple of months ago.

I became more confident about liking it when I was making the topping: flour, whole wheat flour, dark brown sugar, baking powder, salt, butter, egg. While mixing in the egg the mixture started to really come together and look like...Hey! Wait a minute! This is like a cookie! Ooh..ho..ho..num. The smell from my oven as it cooked was incredible.

The cobbler was gorgeous, and it was a perfect balance of sweet (strawberries) and tart (rhubarb and lemon juice). I did have to substitute flour (1/4 cup) for the cornstarch (2 1/2 TBL) in the fruit part, but that just made the juiciness a little opaque instead of clear. My husband loved it (I know because he didn't say anything as he emptied his bowl), as did everyone else who tried it. Yes, I am now a rhubarb convert, at least as long as it's in this cobbler.

As a note, I think one of the reasons why the flavors of the strawberries and the rhubarb went so well together is that Cheryl says to slice the rhubarb into 1/4-inch slices, instead of the 1/2-inch slices usually called for in recipes. The thinner slices got really soft and almost melted into the rest of the filling.

We ate it room temperature with vanilla ice cream, but I found out this morning that it's also delicious cold, straight out of the fridge, eaten with a spoon, directly out of the baking dish.

Thanks for the fab recipe, Cheryl!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Buttermilk Pancake Mix

I grew up on Bisquick pancakes. When I decided to experiment with homemade pancakes, I wasn't sure I liked them. "They don't taste like Bisquick pancakes," I complained to my husband (who thought the homemade ones were awesome). I have since decided homemade is so much better--better tasting and better for your body. It just took me a while to get used to the real, not-commercially-packaged taste.

I started my experimenting with a recipe for a pancake mix, which I thought was a great idea. You could mix up a bunch of the mix and have it on hand so making pancakes was fast and easy--like Bisquick, just lots better. After several tries and changes I had a really nice homemade pancake mix. I make them plain, with mini-chocolate chips, or frozen blueberries. I usually make at least 2 recipes-worth at a time, and freeze what we don't eat. The pancakes get a little weird in the fridge, but keep really well in the freezer. Simply freeze them on waxed paper in a single layer (or with waxed paper between the layers). Then pop them in your toaster and they are just like new (actually better because they are nice and crisp on the outside). Spread a little schmere of peanut butter on a toasted chocolate chip pancake and it's almost like a peanut-butter cup. Yum.

Buttermilk Pancake Mix

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon coarse (Kosher) salt
1/4 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a lidded container and shake to mix. Shake container before using. Use within 3 months.

Buttermilk Pancakes

2 cups Buttermilk Pancake Mix
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil

1. Heat an electric griddle to 350 deg. (I don't grease my griddle because it's non-stick. You can grease your griddle if you need to, or if it makes you feel better.)

2. Shake the container of mix and measure the mix into a medium bowl. In a separate bowl (I use a 4 cup glass measuring cup), whisk the buttermilk, eggs, and oil together until completely combined. Add mixture to pancake mix and mix with a rubber spatula until the batter is combined but is still a little lumpy.

3. Use a muffin scoop, or measure 1/4 cup batter onto the hot griddle for each pancake. (This batter is thick, and you need to use the back of the scoop to gently spread it out a little.) Cook until bubbles form on the surface of the pancakes and the edges start to look dry, about 3 minutes. Flip the pancakes over and cook until golden brown, about 3 more minutes.

Makes 16 4-4 1/2 inch pancakes

Note: All griddles are not created equal. If you find the 350 deg. setting on your griddle is too hot or not hot enough, adjust your temperature accordingly.

This is a recipe from my book. One of my testers told me the pancakes were just like the ones her mom made for her when she was little. It's one of the nicest comments I've had about one of my recipes.

Enjoy! We do, often!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cilantro-Lime Rice

A few weeks ago I got an email from my older sister. She was hosting her yearly teacher appreciation dinner for her kids' teachers, and needed an idea for a side dish. This year was a Luau theme, and she was serving chicken-pineapple meatball and veggie kabobs, marinated pork loin, fresh pineapple, watermelon, and Hawaiian rolls. She wanted some kind of rice or salad, but not a fruit salad. I did a quick Google search for "Hawaiian rice salad" and all the results were for super sweet rice dishes with ingredients like pineapple, marshmallows, sugar, mayo, rasins...Yuck.

OK, scratch that. What I wanted to give her was a savory rice dish, but nothing fancy; something to compliment the amazing spread she already had planned. Ah...could I copy the rice that is served at Chipolte? The restaurant's rice is a very tasty combination of lime and cilantro, and probably other things. This time I searched for "Cilantro-Lime Rice". Many of the recipes were simply rice with fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro. I wanted simple, so I tried that first.

I won't say the rice was bad, because it wasn't. But it didn't make me say, "Mmmm." I could definitely taste the lime and the cilantro, but the flavors were flat and stood apart from each other. I wanted something with flavors that blended together. I wanted a, "Oh, is that lime? Mmm, what else is in this? This is so gonna eat yours?" type of thing.

A few of the recipes that came up in the search had other ingredients like lime zest, vinegar, water, olive oil, chicken broth. These recipes were more like rice with a lime vinaigrette. Ah, I was on to something. I experimented with a few batches and came up with Basmati rice, olive oil, fresh lime juice, lime zest, rice wine vinegar, salt, fresh garlic, and cilantro. I used my regular blender (because my stick blender is packed) and had to use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the jar several times because the garlic and cilantro kept jumping up onto the sides. It worked fine, but my hand blender will be much easier and faster--as soon as we get moved and I get unpacked.

Cilantro-Lime Rice

4 cups hot, cooked Basmati rice (1 cup dry)


2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (1 to 1 1/2 limes, depending on the size)
1/2 teaspoon lightly packed fresh lime zest (use a rasp; just set it in the measureing spoon and pat it down gently)
1/2 teaspoon coarse (Kosher) salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed first if using a regular blender
1/2 cup medium packed cilantro leaves and tender stems

1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a blender jar. Pulse several times until cilantro is finely chopped and dressing looks emulsified, scraping the sides of the blender jar several times to keep ingredients near the blades.

2. Combine hot rice and dressing in a medium bowl and toss gently until rice is evenly coated.

Makes 4 cups

My sister reported back that the party was a success and the rice was "excellent", and that her two boys, ages 7 and 5, kept asking for more of the "rice with green stuff in it." Awesome :) .

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Homemade pizza sauce in minutes

I first posted this back in 2009 and it's still the only pizza sauce I use. It's so easy that it's my 11-year-old's job to mix it up (my oldest passed the pizza-sauce-making torch recently) I'm updating the original post with a new picture and the actual recipe, so you don't have to click through anymore. Enjoy it...we do all the time!

Homemade Pizza Sauce (very slightly adapted from The Cooking Photographer)
printable recipe

1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 8-oz can tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh cracked pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl or a jar and mix well until combined and smooth.

Makes about 1 3/4 cups sauce

---Original Post from 2009---

My family loves pizza. I love to make it from scratch (I can even "throw" it--I only almost dropped it on my daughter's head once), but pizza sauce has always eluded me. For years, my store-bought pizza sauce of choice has been Boboli; it's thick and very flavorful. But it's also almost $4 a package at my store. I paid the price because it was the only sauce worth buying, but I've really wanted to find a good recipe.

A couple days ago I was poking around on and saw a beautiful picture of pizza sauce with the caption, "Two minute pizza sauce made from pantry ingredients". I clicked on the picture and went to Laura Flowers' blog The Cooking Photographer. I read through the ingredients, and I had just about everything (remember I'm moving, and I've already packed up most of my kitchen). I borrowed some onion powder and paprika from a friend and then set my almost-13 year-old to making the sauce. (She sent me out of the kitchen while she made it. It was very hard to stay away...)

The sauce turned out beautifully...
We were rushing out the door to go work on the new house, so I made some quick individual cheese pizzas on flat bread (our favorite quicky pizza) and took them with us in the car (after taking pictures for the blog, of course). If you're looking for a super fast, easy pizza sauce that will blow all of the store-bought sauces out of the running (even my beloved Boboli), try Laura Flowers' sauce--delish!

The next time I make it this sauce I'm going to make a bunch so I can freeze it in little bags and have it on hand. And I'll use a little less garlic powder, but that's just my personal preference.
Enjoy, and thanks Laura!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Must I have a gas oven?

My family and I are moving to a new house in June. Right now I have an electric, flat-top Maytag Gemini double oven. I love my oven. Love it. The plan was to take my oven to the new house (a whole 8 minutes away from where we are now), get a regular electric range for our townhouse, which we are going to rent out, and sell the gas stove currently at the new house.

Ever notice how the best laid plans change on you?

We were over at the new house a few days ago working on projects, and my sister said to me, "You know there isn't an outlet for an electric range, we (she and her husband) pulled it out to look."

Sure enough, when I looked behind the appliance there was only the gas hook-up. Ech!

OK, fine. I'll have an electrician come out and put in the right kind of outlet.

She and my brother-in-law tell me that it will cost almost as much as getting a new gas stove. Double Ech!

I spent the next 2 days trying to figure out why I was so against a gas stove. I finally decided the two main reasons, anxious about having an appliance with flammable gas coming out of it in the kitchen, and not knowing how to cook on a gas stove (having never done so), were lame reasons that I needed to get over. Besides, I told myself (and anyone else who I could get to listen to my plight), people who are serious about cooking swear by gas...

So my new gas stove is coming, and I hope the learning curve isn't too steep. I hate messing up good food.

For fun, this is what the kitchen looks like now:

Pretty plain. Pretty boring. But I have big plans. I'll post a before and after picture when it's done. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Curious Cook: Book Review

"The Curious Cook" is author Harold McGee's follow-up book to his "On Food and Cooking". "The Curious Cook" is a collection of fascinating information and experiments aimed at helping non-scientific folks understand the sometimes mysterious ways of food and cooking. Fascinating and enjoyable.

Part one starts off by de-bunking the age-old idea that searing meat before cooking seals in it's juices. Wait! Searing meat does seal in the juices...doesn't it? Apparently not. Here's the first paragraph in chapter one, The Searing Truth:

"It's in the best of cookbooks and the worst of cookbooks, the simple and the sophisticated. "Sear the meat to seal in the juice," they say. This catchy phrase is probably the best-known explanation of a cooking method. It originated with an eminent scientist. And it's pure fiction."

Makes you want to read more, doesn't it? The whole book is like that. One thing invites you to read the next, and, as scientific as the information is, McGee makes it totally accessible.

Other chapters include:
Chapter 3: Simmering Down--Cooking tender meats well below the boil
Chapter 10: Fruit Ices, Cold and Calculated--Three dozen fruits, five styles
Chapter 12: Fat and the Heart--Coping with quirky biology
Chapter 14: Minding the Pots and Pans: The Case of Aluminum--No metal surface is inert
Chapter 17: From Raw to Cooked: The Transformation of Flavor--Why does the human animal like cooked foods?

Harold has a website with more great stuff for curious cooks.

I loved this book, and if you're curious about things kitchen and food, you will too.

If you know of a great cooking-related book, send me the info and I'll give it a read and a review!
Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What's in the book?

To get your mouth watering, here's a list of the recipes I'll have in my book. The "BF" next to the recipe name means it was a recipe I submitted to a Pillsbury Bake-Off contest.

4-layer Lemon Dream Bars
Black Bottom Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie (BF)
Blueberry Coconut Bars
Chocolate Raspberry Bars (BF)
Chocolate Sauce
Don’s Apple Pie
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Crazy Bread (BF)
Strawberry Cream Cheese Braid (BF)
Super Easy Strawberry Cream Cheese Crostata (BF)

3-Cheese Spinach Quiche Squares (BF)
Blueberry Crumb Cake (BF)
Buttermilk Pancakes/Biscuits

Coconut Curry Soup
Fisherman’s Stew
Pasta & Bean Soup with Spinach & Balsamic Vinegar (BF)
Potato Corn Chowder
Spicy Chicken & Black Bean Soup (BF)
Tuscan Chicken Soup (BF)

Chicken & Pasta w/Tomatoes & Balsamic Glaze
Chicken, White Beans & Pasta in Tomato Basil Sauce (BF)
Chile Verde
Cold Tuna & Pasta Salad (BF)
Enchilada Style Beef & Black Bean Burritos (BF)
Pasta with Mushroom Sauce

Roasted Mediterranean Pork Tenderloin and Vegetables (BF)
Spicy Black Beans
Vegetable Risotto

Tiffiny’s Dough
Chipotle Chicken Pizza (BF)
Mediterranean Chicken Pizza (BF)
Spicy Peanut Chicken Pizza (BF)

5 Minute Salsa
Indian Style Stewed Zucchini
Italian Style Stewed Zucchini
Roasted Red Bell Pepper Tomato Sauce

Plus lots more fun, interesting information!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Don's Apple Pie

Today is mother's day. As a treat for my special day I made an apple pie. My husband, Don, loves apple pie, and that's what he wants each year for his birthday. I tried several recipes the first few years after we got married, and none of them were really what I wanted in a pie (this one was too runny; that one wasn't apple-y enough; this one didn't have enough spice). I finally made up my own, my husband being a most enthusiastic taste-tester.

This recipe is one of the few in my book that lists a brand-name product in the ingredient list. I can make my own pie crust, but the Pillsbury pie crust is an excellent substitution as far as taste and texture goes (which I can't say for the other Pillsbury products). The results are consistent, and it is very easy to use. So I do.

Don's Apple Pie

1 13.8 oz package Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, softened according to package directions
6 medium apples, about 2 1/4 lbs. (I like half Gala, half Granny Smith)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon coarse (Kosher) salt

1. Adjust oven racks to the two lowest positions; heat oven to 425 deg.

2. Prepare the pie plate as directed on the pie crust package for a 2-crust filled pie.

3. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. In a large bowl, combine the apples and the remaining ingredients; mix well and spoon into prepared crust. Top with the second pie crust, and tuck and crimp the edges. Use a sharp knife to make 6 cuts in the top to let steam escape.

4. Place the pie on the top-most rack and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and apples are crisp-tender. Cover the pie with foil during cooking if the top gets too brown. Cool and it let rest at room temperature for at least 45 minutes before serving.

Makes 8-10 servings

Apple Pie on Foodista

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Let's get this blog started!

Since I’m starting this blog already hip-deep in the book-writing process, let’s catch up.

It’s been just over a year since I started seriously working on my cookbook. The first thing I did was test all the recipes I wanted to include—about half are the recipes I submitted to the contests, the other half are recipes I’ve come up with over the years, just because I love to do it. As I re-tested the recipes, I was surprised by how different some of the contest recipes were from what I remembered. Some of them just needed a little fine-tuning, but a couple were downright bad, like the Black-Bottom Strawberry-Cream Cheese Pie. I didn’t know how I could have been so wrong about that one. I wouldn’t have submitted it to the contest if I didn’t think it was delicious, but when I tested it for this book it was terrible. What a let-down! No wonder it wasn’t a finalist. That recipe has changed the most of all of them. Now it’s awesome.

The next step was having other people test the recipes. I wanted at least three people to test each one; just because I can make them doesn’t mean other people will be able to make them. I recruited everyone I could think of, relatives of every stripe, ladies from church, friends, even friends of friends. My testers have been invaluable. They’ve given praise, advice, suggestions, criticisms, and encouragement, and all of it has made the recipes better. The testing is almost done, and I’m so happy!

This book wouldn’t be happening without my helpers extraordinaire, Emily and Kyla. Emily is my book formatter. Emily and I started talking about the format last summer. Her enthusiasm for my project has kept me going during the times I didn’t think I could pull it off. After months of what-about-this’ing and what-about-that’ing through emails, we’re almost there, and it is super cute. And Kyla is my book editor. Kyla and I have known each other for almost 10 years, and she didn’t hesitate when I asked her if she would help me edit my book. Between the three of us, we are going to put out an awesome cookbook!

Along the way I’ve been learning how to photograph food. Yours truly is taking all the pictures for the book with my little Canon PowerShot G7. It has been quite the learning process; taking pictures of food is not as easy as one might think.

This blog will follow the rest of my adventure, so check back soon! Before we know it, the book will be finished and available! Until then, I’ve got some super cute Bake-Off Flunkie gear for sale on (click on the ad on the left).
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