Sunday, March 29, 2009

March Barefoot Bloggers

Better late than never, right?  It's been a crazy month, so I just got around to making both of these dishes tonight!

This month's recipes were Chicken Piccata, chosen by Lindsey of Noodle Nights and Muffin Mornings, and Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts, chosen by Anne of Anne Strawberry.  Both of their blogs are fabulous, so you should check them out!

First up is the chicken piccata.  I've never made my own at home, so I was excited to try the recipe.  All in all, it was fairly easy to make and tasted good, and will make it into the regular rotation.  The only thing I didn't like was just how lemony it was - it made my face pucker.  But, the sauce was good, so next time I make it, I'll just cut back on the lemon juice.  I also purposely did not wipe out the pan between browning the chicken and making the sauce - those little bits in the pan are too good to waste!  

The second recipe for the month was the Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts.  Let's see... puff pastry, onions, cheese, tomatoes, and basil - what's not to love?  These were divine, and will definitely be a regular side dish or appetizer around here.  I think for Easter dinner, I'll use the mini pastry puff shells and just dice the tomato and onions to make mini-tarts.  The cheese added a creaminess that was lovely, the onions brought some great flavor to the table, and the parmesan, tomato, and basil were reminiscent of bruschetta.  Delicious!

For the recipes, just click on the links above.  Thanks to Lindsey and Anne for a couple of fantastic recipe choices!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Look Ma - No Box!

For the past few months, I've been trying more and more to get away from processed/pre-made foods.  The stuff from scratch just tastes better and is better for you.  That said, I'm nowhere close to being totally free of processed foods, and doubt I'll ever be completely there.  However, I can replace a lot of the things I used to rely on a box for with the real things.

I was craving a chocolate cupcake today (no thanks to Barefoot Contessa's episode this morning), which then led me on a search for a good buttercream frosting.  In the process, I stumbled upon the blog of The Repressed Pastry Chef, and this recipe for Black Magic Cake.  I had everything on hand, and the ganache actually sounded better than buttercream to me today, so I decided to make this.

These cupcakes did not disappoint.  The addition of the coffee really brings out the richness of the chocolate, but it's not overly sweet.    It's the perfect combo of chocolate and sweetness, and I think these may become my go-to chocolate cupcakes/cake.  These were simple to make - so simple, that I have no excuse for pulling out a box again!

I was able to get 12 regular cupcakes, and 12 other little cakes (same size as cupcakes) out of this, and I baked them for 30 minutes.  I think it could easily be cut in half if you only wanted 12 at a time.  And, as mentioned on the original recipe, it makes 2 9-inch cakes or one 13x9x2 rectangular cake.  

On the ganache... well, I need to practice that a bit more.  My chocolate didn't all melt as well as I would have liked, so it wasn't nearly as smooth as it should have been.  I don't think I let the cream get hot enough.  It still tastes fantastic, though!  It is sweet, so if you're just wanting some chocolate, but not too much sweet, I'd just make the cupcakes and sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top, skipping any frosting altogether.    

Since my ganache didn't work so well, I didn't take any pictures, but the ones with the recipe speak for themselves.  Delicious!

For the recipe, go here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Charlotte Rousse

We used to have the most fabulous little lunch spot in town - Cafe de France.  In addition to the delicious sandwiches and salads, they also had the most amazing desserts.  Not only did they taste out of this world, but they looked positively beautiful.

One thing I always ordered was the Charlotte Rousse.  It's basically a strawberry, gelatin, and whipped cream filling inside a ring of ladyfingers.  What's not to love?

I finally found a recipe, and just had to make it.  Guess what?  It's simple as can be.  So simple, in fact, that I might actually make homemade ladyfingers next time I make this.  The recipe is over at Diana's Desserts.

Crusty Italian Bread

I was up late last night, and got the baking bug. Seriously, at like 11:00 PM. I decided to make a waffle batter for this morning, and also figured it would be a great time to whip up a biga (starter) for some bread today. (The first photo below is the biga after about 14 hours.)

I whipped out my handy-dandy King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion to see what sounded good. I landed on the Crusty Italian Bread, the recipe for which also happens to be on their website. As with everything I've tried from them, this was straightforward and fairly idiot-proof. My kind of bread.

I did have to laugh at how it looked when I finished, though. It was my first attempt at a braid, and I realized as I was braiding that all of my strands weren't the same thickness. That's something I'll fix next time. I had also used all of my larger pans for the pirogs earlier in the day, so I had to use a smaller one. The loaf was a little bit too big for the pan, so it ended up somewhat curved. Note to self for next time: make sure a big enough pan is available.

This will become a fixture at our house. As much as I love pretty braided breads, I'll probably just make it into a couple of loaves next time, so that I can freeze one. It was perfectly crusty on the outside, a little chewy (but still soft) on the inside, and just the right amount of salt. I'm not a huge sesame seed fan, either, so I'll leave those off next time I make it. This one's definitely a keeper.


The first Christmas I spent with my husband's family, I kept hearing about these pirog things.  At the time, they sounded positively disgusting to me.  However, I finally tried one, and have loved them ever since.

My mother-in-law got this recipe in 1979 from a friend and neighbor of theirs who had come to the US from Latvia.  Her friend just knew how to make this - no measuring cups, no weighing - she just instinctively knew how to put it together.  My MIL spent a good bit of time with her making this recipe, carefully weighing and measuring ingredients so that she could also make these.  Since then, pirogs have been a Christmas Day tradition at their house.

I finally learned how to make these last year.  We like these so much, we don't just save them for Christmas.  That said, they are time-consuming to make, so I only do this every few months.  A big batch in the freezer will last us a while.  

I'd like to experiment with other fillings, but that might cause a revolt, so I haven't yet. :)


2 packages active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 stick butter or margarine, cut into pieces
1 Tablespoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for workspace
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 medium-large onion, diced (or chopped in food processor)
1 lb bacon, diced (or chopped in food processor)
about 1 lb ham, cooked, diced
Pepper, to taste (the in-laws LOVE pepper... like, we're talking Tablespoons of it)
1 egg, beaten, to brush pierogs before baking

In a cup, combine 2 packets of yeast and 2 teaspoons of sugar.  Add just enough warm water to form a thick paste.  Stir, and set aside.

Scald the milk.  

Put butter, 1 T. salt, and 2 T. sugar into mixing bowl.  Add warm milk and stir to melt butter.  Add 3 cups flour, yeast mixture, and eggs to milk mixture in bowl, and stir to combine.  Add up to 2 more cups of flour, and knead with hand in bowl for 5 minutes, or in stand mixer for about 3 minutes.  The dough should be somewhat thin & sticky.  Cover bowl, and set aside to rise for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

While dough is rising, combine onion, bacon, and ham in a skillet, and cook on high for 5-10 minutes, until bacon is mostly cooked (it will cook more in the oven), stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, and let cool thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

When dough has risen (doubled in size), take out a handful at a time, and form into a 1 1/2 diameter "worm" on a floured surface.  Slice off 1/2 inch pieces.  Work each piece into a circle, and fill with the meat.  Fold over, pinch edge and place pinched side down on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Shape into a crescent.  Place pirogs about 1 inch apart. After sheet is full, let rest for 10 - 20 minutes.  Brush with beaten egg.   Makes about 60 pirogs.  (Sometimes we make them a little larger than this.)*

Bake at 400 degrees for 10-14 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve warm.  These are easily frozen and reheated in foil.

*I like more bread than meat with mine, so I tend to skimp a little on the meat filling.  I usually have enough filling left over to make at least another half batch of dough.  

Searching around the Web, it looks like these can be "pirogs," "pirags," or "piragis."  Not a clue which one is most appropriate.  Anyone else know?

I know.  I really need to get a decent camera.  It's just sad how bad these photos are.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Menu Friday

Schnuck's has a lot of meat on a great sale this week.  So, it's time to stock up again!  Their split chicken breasts, pork butt, and ham are $0.87/lb.  I'm going to get the ham to make pierogs (recipe to be posted later) and to have for lunch meat.  I'll stock up on chicken again to make stock and to have shredded chicken in the freezer.

Here's a great post over at $5 Dinners showing how to use all parts of the split chicken breast.  It's just so cheap to do it this way.

Saturday: Roasted chicken, asparagus, couscous
Sunday: BBQ pork (slow cooker does the work overnight on Saturday), corn, potatoes
Monday: Leftover chicken and veggies
Tuesday: Leftover BBQ, green beans, potatoes
Wednesday: Taco night
Thursday: Fish, peas, broccoli, brown rice
Friday: Spaghetti, leftover peas and broccoli

Looking at this list, it's a pretty boring week.  But, it's a cheap one!  I'm also planning on making cabbage soup for my lunches next week, since cabbage is extra-super-cheap this week with St. Patty's Day coming up.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Berry Muffins

As I was going through the fridge tonight, I realized I had some strawberries and blueberries rapidly approaching the end of their life spans.  What to do?  Make muffins, of course!  (I didn't have enough strawberries for cake, or else that so would have been the plan.)

I found a recipe for basic muffins, and adapted from there.  I've posted the recipe I used below, however, I didn't think they were sweet enough.  Next time I make them, I'll either add a little more sugar, or possibly just more vanilla.  They would also be great with a sugar/cinnamon topping of some sort.  

The source where I got the recipe also suggested some savory fillings/toppings.  I'm definitely going to try some cheesy herb muffins this weekend.  Also, I looked around the other recipes on Diana's Desserts - they look amazing!  If you're looking for a dessert idea, go check this site out. I made a list of all the things I want to try.

Berry Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp baking powder (that looked like a lot, but they were fine)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon, optional
3/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp vanilla
approx 1/3 cup each blueberries and strawberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare a muffin tin.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  To this, add the milk, egg, applesauce, and vanilla.  Stir just until combined (don't want to overmix muffins).  Gently fold in berries. (I wanted blueberry muffins and strawberry muffins separately, so I just split my batter in half, and did blueberries in one and strawberries in the other.)  Transfer to prepared muffin tins.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool, and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Banana Bread

About 6 months ago, I stumbled upon this banana bread recipe over at Simply Recipes.  I loved it because it tasted great and because I didn't have to break out the stand mixer.  We frequently have leftover bananas around here, so I make this at least once every other week, if not more.

The original recipe is fantastic, and I've also adapted it a bit to our tastes and needs.  I have to put some of this in the freezer, or else I'll eat it all in one night.  The kidlet loves it, too! 

Banana Bread

4 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
chopped walnuts to taste, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, mash 4 bananas until most chunks are gone.  Add in the melted butter, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Add in the sugar, and stir until mixed.  Add in the egg, vanilla, and cinnamon, and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, combine the baking soda, salt, and flours.  Add this dry mixture to the banana mixture, and stir until combined.

Transfer batter to a prepared loaf pan or mini-loaf pans, and bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour for one loaf, or 30 - 40 minutes for mini-loaves.  They're done when a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 5-10 minutes.  Remove from pan and finish cooling on a rack.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Quick Chicken and Dumplings

Let me just tell you up front: these are not the chicken and dumplings you remember fondly from your childhood that either your mother or grandmother made. They're not even as good as the ones at a certain famous chain restaurant. They are, however, quick and simple, and will work in a pinch. Such as when one has just gotten back in town after an 8-hour car trip with an unhappy 14 month old and there's not much at all in the pantry.

I threw this together tonight because I wanted some comfort food, but didn't have the time or energy to put into making these from "scratch." If you want the really good ones, they take time to make (but they're so, so worth it!). I had no homemade stock in the freezer, but I did have some shredded chicken and some frozen dumplings, so I was good to go.  Celery is also not a normal ingredient, but I like it, so I added it.

I was pleasantly surprised with these, considering they were made from frozen dumplings and canned stock.  Tasting these definitely made me want to make the good dumplings and stock soon, though!

Easy Chicken and Dumplings

3 quarts canned/carton chicken stock, low sodium
2-3 cups cooked & shredded chicken (rotisserie works well, also)
2 ribs celery, diced
Pepper and other seasonings to taste*

Bring the stock and seasonings to a boil. Add dumplings one at a time and stir frequently to prevent sticking. Let them simmer with the pot covered for 30-45 minutes, or until done. Add in the chicken meat and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes or to desired consistency.

*I used parsley, poultry seasoning, sage, thyme, onion powder, and garlic powder, and of course, didn't measure a bit of it. If I were making the good stuff from scratch, I would have added the parsley, poultry seasoning, sage, thyme, and real onions, garlic, and carrots while making the stock.

Easy Beer Bread

I love quick breads - without all the kneading and rising, they're pretty simple, and you can have a loaf of bread in no time. One of my all-time favorites is beer bread - it's ready to go in under 5 minutes, and there are endless variations.

I tend to like the sweeter version, so I rarely stray from my basic recipe. However, you could cut back on the sugar, and add herbs and/or cheeses for a more savory recipe. Really, this one is up to your imagination. It's also an excellent breakfast toast.

Easy Beer Bread

3 cups self-rising flour*
1/2 cup sugar
1 16 oz bottle of beer of choice (Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan is my current fave)
2 Tbsp melted butter, optional**

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

In a bowl, stir the flour, sugar, and beer until mixed (batter will be thick and lumpy). Transfer to the loaf pan, and pour melted butter over the top. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until top is brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool in pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

*If you don't have self-rising flour, just add 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt for every cup of AP flour. Combine these before adding the other ingredients.

**You can also mix the butter right in with the batter. Or, if you want to skip the butter altogether, you can brush an egg wash on the top of the bread after it's been in the oven for about 30 minutes or so - basically once it has enough of a crust to take the egg wash.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cooking Club - Month 2

We had our second cooking club dinner last night, and it was fabulous! The hostess chose a Tex-Mex theme, so what's not to love? Comforting and filling, the meal was excellent.

Our book for this year is Tables of Content from the Jr. League of Birmingham. Last night, we had an appetizer of Caribbean Salsa (p. 59), followed by Tortilla Soup (p. 164), and then Enchilada Casserole (p. 188), Black Bean Tart (p.254), Tomato Rice (p. 145), Mexican Corn Bread (p.129), Mocha Cake (p. 295), and White Sangria (p. 77).

I completely forgot to take a picture of the main meal or of the beautiful centerpiece. It was a fabulous meal, and all of the dishes are ones I'll make in the future. The soup and the tart were hearty enough to stand alone as lighter meals on their own, and the Caribbean Salsa will probably replace my usual trusty Dixie Caviar. It had a very crisp, clean, and refreshing taste to it. I liked the tomato rice a lot as well, and might even take the same recipe and translate it to couscous.

Next month's theme is Brunch! My favorite meal!

As an aside, the next time you're searching for a new cookbook, don't forget about those published by various Junior Leagues. I've never met a JL cookbook I didn't like, and you can know that proceeds are going towards strengthening that community. It's a win-win!