Monday, February 28, 2011

Dorm Room Dinner: Meaty Calzones

Since John and I have pizza most Fridays, I was anxious to switch it up a bit.  K inspired me a few weeks ago when she talked about her and E making calzones.  This week seemed like the perfect time since we've been together all week!  We got beautiful hot italian sausage from Whole Foods that were delicious.  It was the perfect thing to put in the calzones. 

Of course once we got started, John had a hard time stopping!  Then the calzones got pepperoni, two types of cheeses, etc. etc.  But, you could make them as simplistic or interesting as you wanted!  I threw a handful of mushroom slices in mine that was delicious. 

Mine was so delicious I ate the whole thing!  Probably not the best tactic if we're trying to be healthy!  But, once in a while a treat never hurt anyone.  I used a homemade dough, but to make these perfect for a dorm room, you can use a premade pizza dough, like K did.  The homemade dough was delicious (of course, it was from Emeril!), although took about an hour to let it rise, etc.  Being impatient like I am, I didn't let the balls of dough sit like Emeril suggests.  Instead, I just rolled them out.  It worked just fine.
Meaty Calzones
Serves: 2 calzones (2 people)
1 1/8 teaspoons yeast (1/2 package)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups flour
1 cup pizza sauce
1 1/2 cups mozzerella cheese
1 pre-cooked hot italian sausage, sliced
1/2 cup pepperoni slices

Make the dough:  Combine yeast, salt, olive oil, and warm water in a large bowl.  Set aside for 10 minutes.  Then, add 1/2 cup of flour.  Using a wooden spoon, stir until flour is incorporated.  Then add an additional 1 cup of flour.  Use your hands to combine until a rough dough forms.  Knead the dough for 7-10 minutes on a floured work surface.  Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour a little at a time until the dough is smooth and elastic (it took all 2 cups for our calzones).  Transfer dough to a large bowl that has been lightly coated in olive oil.  Turn the dough once so olive oil is on both sides.  Then, cover with a damp cloth and place in a warm area for 1 hour, until the dough doubles. 
Make the Calzones:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Then, split into two even pieces and roll out into circles.  Add pizza sauce to the dough, leaving about 1/2 inch on all sides.  Cover the sauce with cheese, sausage, pepperoni, and other toppings, if desired.  Then, fold the dough over itself to make a semi-circle.  Using a fork, crimp the edges, and poke a few holes in the top to let steam escape.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until calzone is golden-brown.  Serve warm with additional pizza sauce on the side for dipping.

Obviously, you can skip the "dough" portion and just start at "preheat the oven to 400 degrees F" and use refrigerated pizza dough.  I'm sure it works just as well, but I was too lazy to walk to the store to buy it and we had everything for the pizza dough from scratch in the house!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, February 25, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: Kicked Up Penne a la Vodka

Last Friday night, John was in charge of picking out a recipe for dinner that we could make together.  We've just started doing this because although I like having John cook with me in the kitchen, it is usually a lot easier to let him concentrate on work, and me concentrate on food.  It's a lot of fun trying new recipes and deciding on menus. 

Since I won a gift certificate to Whole Foods through a recent Super Bowl recipe contest (don't worry, you will see this one soon), we've been getting ourselves little "treats".  I'll be honest, I can't shop at Whole Foods for budgetary reasons, but getting ourselves beautiful meat cuts or fish, or even a local ice cream is something that I'm really enjoying!  I figure if we buy ourselves only a few treats a week, we can make this thing last for 10 weeks! 

This week, John spurted out Penne a la Vodka for the recipe which is one of my favorite things to order at a restaurant.  I was SHOCKED, but thrilled!  Of course, he then qualified it by saying he wanted to use "Biker Billy's" recipe.  If you've never heard of Biker Billy, he has a cookbook called Biker Billy's Hog Wild on a Harley.  John loves it cause it's spicy (and I dread it).  We came to a great compromise though using a few different recipes.  The original one from Biker Billy is called "Penne with Crankcase Vodka Sauce".  Mine is just "kicked up" because Crankcase would have burned my tongue, throat, stomach, and anything else that I can think would come into contact with it!
Kicked Up Penne a la Vodka
Serves:  5
6 ounces of sundried tomatoes (2/3 cup)
1 cup boiling water
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups half and half
1/4 cup pepper vodka
1 box penne pasta

I know this looks like a lot but its easy, so stay with me!

In a food processor, chop the sundried tomatoes until small pieces.  Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and let sit for 10 minutes.  Next, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.  Add the onion and let cook until tender (5 minutes), turn to medium-low heat.  Then, add the minced garlic, sundried tomatoes and their water, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, white pepper, and cayenne pepper.  Let cook, stirring occasionally for about 12 minutes, until all the water has boiled out.  Meanwhile, make the penne according to package directions.  After the sundried tomato water has boiled out, transfer the mixture back into the food processor and add the half and half.  Puree the mixture for about 2 minutes.  Then, add the vodka and return to the skillet.  Stir well and let the mixture simmer on low.  Stir occasionally.  Drain the pasta, when it is finished cooking and add to the skillet tossing until the pasta is well-combined with the sauce.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, if desired. 

This dinner came together really quickly, plus with both of us in the kitchen, everything flowed and dinner was served 45 minutes after we started, so that included chopping, mixing, everything.  And it was delicious!  Personally, we used fat-free half and half.  Why not?  To me, it didn't make much of a difference.  Since John drinks his coffee black, and I don't drink coffee, we never have half and half or cream in the house, but if you do, this is a no-brainer dinner.

Just like the Banana Chocolate Chip Souffle, buying a nip at the liquor store is the easiest way to get the vodka that you need if you don't have it in the house.  Or, if you're against vodka, throw in some lemon juice instead--the acid will give it that kick, without the alcohol.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dorm Room Dinner: Asiago Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes and Spinach

This is a perfect weeknight dinner.  The recipe only calls for 5 ingredients (4 if you don't want to add meat) and adding sundried tomatoes and spinach makes for a complete meal in one bowl (my kind of dinner).  John and I have this a lot whenever we get our hands on some cheap asiago cheese!  I first found it on the back of a shredded asiago cheese package (no idea which one), and since then, I've kind of been spicing it up on my own!  If I'm adding meat, I've used pretty much whatever I have on hand, whether it be shrimp, chicken, or sausage, it always comes out delicious.

For the long weekend, we went to visit my youngest sister M, at her college.  It was a lot of fun and we had a great time attending different things in her town.  John and I did a wine tasting, and a beer tour of a local brewery.  The highlight though was the Chili Festival where we tried at least 20 different kinds of chili!  Despite the snow, it was such a fun time! 

The worst part of vacation is coming home, right?  It is for me.  I always leave the fridge pretty bare because I'm always nervous about food going bad. When we got home on Monday night, this was the perfect thing to whip up.  Plus, I always make leftovers since it reheats well!  Perfect for lunches on Tuesday!
Asiago Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes and Spinach
Serves:  4
1/2 box of pasta
8 ounces of sundried tomatoes in oil
2 cups baby spinach leaves
4 sausages
1 cup asiago cheese, shredded

Grill the sausages for about 12-15 minutes, about 7 minutes on each side.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package directions.  In a small food processor, add the sundried tomatoes as well as one tablespoon of their oil.  Pulse for about 30 seconds until the tomatoes are in small chunks.  In a large colander, rinse the spinach leaves.  Keep them in the colander.  Drain the pasta and water over the spinach leaves.  This will quickly wilt the leaves but not overcook them.  Place the drained pasta and spinach into a bowl.  Add the sundried tomatoes and any juice in the food processor and the asiago cheese.  Stir well.  Top with slices of sausage. 

Like I said earlier, you can substitute the sausages for 2 chicken breasts, cooked and sliced, 16 shrimp, or no meat at all!  John and I eat it meatless all the time, and it's just as delicious.  Also, I've used regular spinach since it's mostly cheaper, and chopped it up into "baby" size pieces.  The flavor tastes the same, and I save a bit of money!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, February 21, 2011

Sassy Sweets: Banana Chocolate Chip Souffle

What a sweet way to start our week!  There's nothing like celebrating this long weekend with a sweet that can get you through to Friday!  Now, don't be scared about the word "souffle" because you will seriously miss a wonderfully delicious (and easy) recipe!  It came from Wolfgang Puck and you can find the original recipe here

Let's be serious:  I have one ramekin; I also didn't think John and I needed 3 souffles--we were more than happy to just share one.  And, don't souffles usually have a sauce to pour over them?  I thought they did!  So, while Wolfgang Puck is undoubtedly one of the best chefs in the world and I would probably give away most of my worldly posessions if I could cook with him for a week in the kitchen, I felt like this recipe needed some changes.

To my happy surprise, the souffle was just as easy as Mr. Puck promised!  And, John was suitably impressed that I made this for him.  I made it after dinner; however, you can make it early and put it in the fridge uncooked.  Add a few extra minutes to the baking time and you're set.  It only took about 22 minutes to bake in the oven in my extra large ramekin, so it's something you can put in after dinner and share with a cocktail or two.  You know me, I love my cocktails.
Banana Chocolate Chip Souffle
Serves:  2 people (1 souffle)
Banana Base:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 very ripe peeled banana, chopped into small slices
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

3 egg whites
3 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 cup dark chocolate chocolate chips (I used Godiva)

First make the banana base. Heat butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat until you see it smoke slightly and turn a light brown color.  Then, add the brown sugar and regular sugar.  Whisk well until the sugars are dissolved and turns a caramel color (Wolfgang suggests 5 minutes, more like 3 to me).  Add the banana slices, stirring to coat evenly in the sugar mixture.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the rum and lemon juice.  Wolfgang asks you to puree it at this point.  I wasn't going to clean another dish though, so I said, no thank you Wolfgang and just mashed the bananas with the back of the spoon.  Then, I spread it out along the inside of the bowl and put it in the fridge as it must be cool before moving on.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Brush the ramekin with softened butter, and then evenly distribute sugar over the butter mixture.  Set aside.  Meanwhile, in a clean bowl beat the egg whites until frothy, then slowly beat in tablespoons of sugar.  The egg whites should form slightly stiff peaks.  Fold half of the egg whites into the cooled banana mixture.  Continue to fold until the white streaks are gone.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  Then, fold in the other half of the egg whites, leaving some white streaks, if desired.  Transfer the mixture to your ramekin, mounding the top over the rims.  Bake for 17-22 minutes, it will rise and turn a nice golden brown.  The inside should be soft and airy and light, no liquid!  I heated about 2 tablespoons of hot fudge sundae topping we had laying around and poured it in the center before we ate!

Okay so this sounds hard, but I promise you, it's not.  The best part is, it's really pretty good for you, no egg yolks, not a lot of sugar...and delicious.  Now a couple things that I changed, besides pureeing the banana mixture; I also used light brown sugar, instead of dark brown.  And actually, I think I prefer it that way.  Dark brown sugar has too much molasses, and I am NOT a fan.  So, the brown sugar was plenty molasses-y enough for me. 

Next time you have an old banana lying around, this is definitely a recipe you should try--most of these ingredients are household staples, and for the rum, I bought a tiny nip from the liquor store.  Perfect size!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, February 18, 2011

Fancy Pants App: Traditional Bruschetta

Lately, I've seen lots of "twists" on a traditional bruschetta.  Sure some of them taste great, but for me, there's nothing like a traditional bruschetta.  Last week we found some great tomatoes on sale, and since I had just made those wonderful baguettes, it was a perfect match.  We don't have a grill pan for inside the house, so I brushed the slices with a little olive oil and toasted the baguette in the toaster.  It's not perfect, but, crunchy bread is a must for bruschetta. 
In our house, bruschetta is made a lot of ways.  Dad loves his with garlic.  If we're going to eat all of the bruschetta in one day, I add a clove of garlic to mine as well.  But if it sits around, the garlic starts to overpower the other ingredients.  I also add a lot of basil because of my little indoor basil plants. Also, I subscribe to the belief that there's never too much basil. 

It always amazes me how just a few ingredients can completely make a dish.  This bruschetta has 5 ingredients but if you substitute lime juice for the balsamic vinegar and cilantro for the basil, you'll have a freshly made salsa.  It's incredible how many cuisines use the same underlying flavors (tomatoes and red onions) and make them taste so completely different!  I love that.  Cooking is so fun.
Traditional Bruschetta
Serves:  4
12 slices of baguette
2 tomatoes
1/4 of a red onion
1 bunch of basil
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Lightly brush the baguette slices with olive oil.  Toast, and set aside.  Roughly chop the two tomatoes removing all of the seeds.  Dice the red onion and tear the basil into small pieces.  Combine the tomatoes, red onion, and basil (and garlic if you're using it).  Just before serving, mix with balsamic vinegar and spoon over the baguette slices.  Serve immediately.

The tomato/red onion mixture will stay in an airtight container for a week.  But again, the garlic will overpower the other flavors if left in there longer than a day!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dorm Room Dinner: Leftover Vegetable Soup

Today's recipe is so timely!  Yesterday I got a wonderful e-mail from New England Country Soups telling me I was a finalist in their soup cook-off!  I am making this chowder.  I'm already excited as 5-6 of the other competitors I have competed against before and love mixing it up in the kitchen with them!  The finals will take place on March 5th in a professional kitchen.  What fun!  Anyway, let's get to the recipe...

Leftovers.  There are a lot of people that hate leftovers; I'm not too fond of them myself.  But then there are others, like K's boyfriend, who love leftovers.  If you have any types of meat and veggies in your fridge, this is the perfect soup for you.  It's a dinner that requires very little energy; I ate it two nights in a row and the second night tasted better than the first!  The flavors melded together, even John loved it and he is not a big fan of beans or homemade soups.

One can of beans, one can of chicken stock, and a cup and a half of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes, and all the leftovers in your fridge and you have yourself a pretty tasty meal. 
Leftover Vegetable Soup
Serves: 4
1 can (14.5 ounces) chicken broth
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 can (14.5 ounces) red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup pasta, cooked
variety of vegetables
parmesan cheese, for serving

Combine the chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, red kidney beans, and vegetables into a crockpot.  Let cook for 20 minutes on high heat.  Add pasta, cook for an additional 15 minutes and serve.

I used 4 potatoes, which I boiled until soft; 1 carrot, and 5 mushrooms, as those were the leftover ingredients I had in the house.  The next day I tossed some baby spinach leaves in it as well and it was delicious!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, February 14, 2011

Sassy Sweets: Red Velvet Cupcakes

Bonus!!!  Since it is Valentine's Day, why not show YOU a little love and publish one of my favorite recipes?!  Red Velvet Cupcakes sound difficult to make, but honestly, they are SO easy.  They are one of K's favorites, and I made them since I knew we'd be seeing her this weekend.  Her and E, John and I, went to a chocolate making demonstration at the Cordon Bleu school in Cambridge on Saturday morning.  It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed getting to see a real cooking school (as opposed to my tiny kitchen). 

Onto the cupcakes:  Instead of a normal cream cheese frosting, I made an amaretto cream cheese frosting that I thought paired so well with these.  Of course, no cupcake is complete on Valentine's Day without adorable Valentine's Day sprinkles (thanks mom for giving me those!).  One quick note of warning if you're making these with the kids, the food dye does stain your hands, clothes, etc.  I have issues and always end up with red hands, but, they do go away within 2 days or so. 

This makes 24 cupcakes, but I made 12 and a small cake.  K got 8 of them (a lot I know...but John and I are trying to be healthy, remember?).  We got the rest and the cake.  It seemed like a good compromise.  Of course since it was Valentine's Day weekend I couldn't stop myself from making more and more sweets so I still have some of these sitting at home.  I figure I'll slowly work my way through them this week!  No real hardship.
Red Velvet Cupcakes
Serves:  24 cupcakes (12 people)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon amaretto
1 1/2 tablespoons red food coloring
Amaretto Cream Cheese Frosting
1/4 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon amaretto
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Beat the sugar and butter together.  Then, beat in the eggs.  Set the bowl aside.  In a small bowl combine milk and vinegar.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  In another small bowl, combine the cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and flour.  Add the amaretto and food coloring to the milk mixture.  Take approximately 1/4 of the cocoa powder mixture and fully incorporate into the sugar mixture.  Then, add 1/3 of the milk mixture and fully mix into the sugar mixture.  Continue with the dry, wet pattern into the sugar mixture, ending in dry ingredients.  Spoon into greased cupcake tins and bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Meanwhile, make the Amaretto Cream Cheese Frosting.  Beat the butter, cream cheese, and amaretto until fluffy.  Then, add the powdered sugar, incorporating a little at a time (about 1/4 cup).  Beat until desired texture and flavor.

Frost the cupcakes when they are cooled and serve.  If you have leftover frosting, put it in an airtight container and freeze it!  I have a ton of frozen frostings in my freezer, and I just label them, chocolate, vanilla, cream cheese, etc.  I defrost them when I need it, which makes cupcakes even easier!

Also, as always, my love for amaretto can be substituted with vanilla or amaretto extracts.


Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, February 11, 2011

Date Night Dinner: Surf and Turf

I could not think of a better way to end this romantic recipes week than with a delicious surf and turf meal.  Last Valentine's Day was John and I's first together so he took me to an amazing restaurant and we had lobsters and steak.  It was wonderful, but more so because we were celebrating the beginning of our relationship.  With the current circumstances, we were going to have to make a luxury Valentine's Day from home this year.  To do that, I knew I wanted us to still have a surf and turf.  John loves shrimp and basically all seafoods (he is from Maine, after all), and since he is also a man, he loves steak.  Two perfect things to make a Valentine's dinner special.
I started us off with shrimp; my first thought was to serve the meats together, but, the more I thought about it, the more I thought about how much John loves shrimp and cocktail sauce.  So, I started us off with that.  I love that the shrimp naturally form into little hearts!  The cocktail sauce is already red, and it makes a great centerpiece for a party or just with your kids around the table.  The other great thing is that I mixed up the skewers, some shrimp hearts were made using two skewers, others I made using one.  This will be determined by how patient you are.  Getting shrimp to look like hearts on just one skewer was trickier than I thought! 
The steak was another story, I used my favorite steak seasoning on them, and then brushed them with beer butter before and after they were cooked.  John likes his asparagus broiled, so I did that too.
Surf and Turf
Serves: 2
1/4 cup beer
3 tablespoons butter, separated
1 group of asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic salt
10 cocktail shrimp
1/4 cup cocktail sauce (we love the one from Legal Seafoods, so I just used that)
2 steak medallions
2-3 tablespoons of your favorite steak seasoning

First, place bamboo skewers in water for 5 minutes to soak.  To make the beer butter:  in a small skillet, heat the beer over medium heat until softly bubbling.  Then, remove from heat, and whisk in the tablespoons of butter.  Pour into a shallow dish and let cool, slightly.  Meanwhile, mix asparagus with olive oil, so the stalks are covered.  Lightly sprinkle with garlic salt and place on a cookie sheet.  Broil the asparagus about 12 minutes, until tops are brown (this is the way John prefers it, not me, I'd much prefer green tops--so do what you like!).  Remove skewers from water and form the shrimp into "heart" shapes (see above).  Thread them onto the skewers (approximately 5 shrimp per person).  Serve with a side of cocktail sauce.  Season steak medallions with your favorite steak seasoning on both sides.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the beer butter in a skillet, place the steaks in the skillet and brush some of the beer butter on top, reserving a tablespoon.  Cook about 5 minutes on each side, and then let rest for about 3 minutes.

While this won't take long to make, it is involved and there is certainly a lot of multitasking going on!  Since John likes his asparagus very well done, I never worry that I might overcook it.  And, I placed the steaks and asparagus in the warm oven with the door shut to keep warm while we ate the shrimp.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone, whether you are alone, with a special someone, or celebrating with the friends and family you enjoy the most.  It's a day to remember to love others, and to remember you are loved!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Thursday, February 10, 2011

Time-Out: Cherry Pomegranate Sauce

Using the vanilla ice cream from earlier, this red and rich sauce is the perfect Valentine's Day ending!  I got the idea from one of the food magazines, I don't want to quote the wrong one but I literally just have a tiny scrap with a recipe on it.  It was for port-cherry sauce and I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I had it for over 6 weeks before I went out and bought everything, and made it.  Honestly, I couldn't have been more disappointed!  Maybe I am not in possession of a sophisticated palette but it wasn't my thing. 

As I mentioned, John prefers beer to wine, and I prefer white to red, so it really was no surprise my experiment was a bust.  However, I couldn't get a delicious sauce out of my head.  It finally came to me.  I used the POM Pomegranate Cherry juice and dried cherries to top this ice cream.  Not only is it better for you, but it's kid friendly!  The perfect way to finish up a blogging day, or, a Valentine's Day.
Cherry Pomegranate Sauce
Serves:  4 (1 cup of sauce, approximately)
1 cup pomegranate cherry juice
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup dried cherries

Combine pomegranate cherry juice and sugar in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Let come to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the cherries and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.  Set aside and cover, allowing the juice to come to room temperature.  If you're using it right away, spoon it over ice cream and serve.  Otherwise, store in an airtight container.  To use, let the mixture come back to room temperature and then spoon over ice cream.

This will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator without a problem (I imagine much longer, but I ran out!!).

Tomorrow's Valentine's Day dinner menu will be one for the books!

Until the next time my oven is on...

Sassy Sweets: Valentine's Chipwiches

Have you ever heard of a chipwich?  John never had.  My cousin J used to joke that when she first got her own place with my cousin B, she would eat them for breakfast!  I am with her, they are delicious, but I love making them at home with whatever ice cream and cookies are on hand!  It still never beats the classic chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream though! 

I have been craving ice cream sandwiches for a few weeks now but Nestle Tollhouse came up with a cooking contest that I think was designed just for me to fill that craving!  You had to make chocolate chip cookies in the shape of a heart; how you designed them, and what you did after that was up to you. 

Right away, I didn't think it could be Valentine's Day without a red heart.  And with my red-hot chocolate chip cookie recipe, I knew I had a great shot at being in their top 10!  To be honest, I won't hear back until next week so I have no idea if I will make it to the finals or not.  What I do know, is that these chipwiches flew off the table so fast, I had to pack the rest of the cookies away to keep from making myself more!
Valentine's Chipwiches
Serves:  approximately 15 cookie sandwiches (15 people)
1 tablespoon red food coloring
pink sugar sprinkles
vanilla ice cream

Place the red food coloring into the batter before chocolate chips but after all other ingredients.  Spread the dough out onto a 10x15 baking sheet and let bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.  Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut cookies.  Cut out 30 cookies.  (Save the leftover scraps for nibbling, serving over ice cream, etc.).  Then, if your ice cream is already in a 9x9 baking sheet, use the same heart shape and cut out ice cream into 15 hearts.  Place an ice cream heart in between two cookie hearts and roll the whole thing in pink sugar sprinkles.  You can decorate them with sweet sayings such as "Kiss Me" and "I Love You" or leave them blank (I did both). 

A less time-intensive idea is to serve one red chocolate chip cookie heart in the middle of a bowl of ice cream.

They're like your own personalized Sweetheart candies (but truthfully I think they taste way better).

One more thing to do with that delicious ice cream and then I'm almost done with these romantic recipes!

Until the next time my oven is on...

Sassy Sweets: Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Today is shaping up to be another multi-post day!  I know you're excited.  I'm starting with a vanilla bean ice cream base because I have a sauce, and a dessert recipe that I want to share with you that incorporate vanilla ice cream.  I know anyone can go out and buy vanilla bean ice cream.  That will skip a few steps but still make the two recipes delicious!  To be honest, I had some beautiful vanilla beans from Marx Foods.  You remember them, right?  I did their Iron Foodie challenge back in December.  Well, these vanilla beans were just calling for some good old-fashioned ice cream.  Vanilla bean ice cream is John's favorite, so what better way to end Valentine's Day than with that, right?

Well, this vanilla bean ice cream came together so fast and easy.  If you don't have an ice cream maker, take a 9x9 baking pan and spread the vanilla mixture in it.  Cover and chill in the freezer, and you will get the same results!  I used 3 vanilla beans because John loves his vanilla; but you can use anywhere from 1-3, or substitute the vanilla beans with an extra teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.  Also, I saw a lot of internet recipes for ice creams with a custard-like base.  This involves a lot of heating, straining, etc.  Mine is much lighter and figure-friendly without those eggs!
Despite it being winter, this is a great recipe to make with the kids.  My parents used to put rock salt and ice cubes in a large coffee tin and our ice cream base in a smaller coffee tin (both well covered with edges taped down); then, it was up to us to roll it all over the floor!  In fact we used to sit around in the kitchen and roll it back and forth to one another.  Imagine our surprise that when we were done, there was real ice cream inside!  It's a great way to keep anyone occupied in a small space. 

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Serves:  4 (3 cups of ice cream)
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1-3 vanilla beans
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine half-and-half, cream, and sugar.  If you don't know how to get the seeds out of vanilla pods, Marx Foods has the best way I've ever seen here.  Scrape those seeds into the cream mixture along with pure vanilla extract.  Mix well.  Pour into your ice cream maker, or 9x9 baking pan.  Freeze overnight. 

PS--yes, I know the serving size for ice cream is 1/2 cup, most of the time.  But this ice cream is so good there is no way you can stop at just one half!!!

Can't wait to show you what else you can do with it--one this afternoon and one this evening, so keep checking back!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fancy Pants App: Cheddar-Beer Fondue

One of John and I's first dates was to the Melting Pot.  In fact, we've been there a few other times since.  There's something really romantic about that place, with the low lights, soft music, wrestling one another for the last bit of cheese, okay, well maybe not that part.  Since we've been "cutting back" on both our financial and unhealthy food situations, the Melting Pot really is out of the question.  However, I really wanted to make an appetizer that was special!  I've made a swiss cheese-white wine fondue in the past, I use a copy cat of the Melting Pot recipe which you can find here.  And, there is nothing better than dipping some delicious bread into melty cheese! 

Since John much prefers beer to my white wine, I decided to make a cheddar cheese and beer fondue for Valentine's Day (but of course I had to try it out with fresh baguettes, right?).  I love the rich cheddar cheese with apple, carrots, celery, and bread.  It was really easy to make but I don't have a fondue platter to keep it warm.  No matter, I put a very hot bowl filled with boiling water on the bottom and rested the cheddar cheese fondue on top (like a double boiler), this kept it warm enough that we could dip for at least 30 minutes and the cheese didn't seize up.  When the cheese finally does seize up, I usually have a field day and fold it into the fresh's like a grilled cheese, right?

On another note, the baguette is so good that by the time John gets home tomorrow, there will be only two loaves left.  Luckily he won't know how much I started with!!
Cheddar Beer Fondue
Serves:  2 (1 1/2 cups of cheese, approximately)
3/4 cup beer (I used John's favorite Sam Adams Cherry Wheat)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese (I used reduced fat to cut down on our calories)

Suggested:  cut apple, carrots, celery, bread, etc. for serving

In a large saucepan, add beer and garlic; simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the mustard powder and Worcestershire sauce, whisking constantly.  Then, slowly add the cheddar cheese, whisking constantly until well-combined.  Serve in a fondue pot, or over sterno flame.

This is also a great recipe to make with a family; the kids love to dip everything they can think of in it (including their fingers)!  Tomorrow I go back to desserts, and Friday I'll finish up with a main meal that will make you feel like the heroine (or hero) of your very own love story.

Until the next time my oven is on...

Time-Out: French Baguettes

Today is a multipost day!  This French baguette wasn't hard to make, and it's going to go perfectly with our romantic appetizer later in the day.  I can't say enough good things about this recipe.  Yes, it takes four hours to rise; however, the amount of time I actually spent with this dough bordered on 30 minutes.  I've never made French Baguette before, and I know it seems like I'm on a little French kick.  Maybe I am!  Paris, love, Valentine's Day, maybe that is my subconscious thought process.  But really, whenever I think of a "romantic recipe", I think of things that John and I have had whether at a fancy restaurant or at home that we really enjoy.  One of them, besides fresh bread, is the recipes I will be posting later this afternoon.  Yes, two recipes, one post, in just a few short hours!

To me, there is just nothing more "romantic" than feeding one another or having a quiet dinner that is really luxurious feeling.  And that is whatever it means to you.  A good family friend of ours, they have lobster every New Year's Eve instead of going out.  To them, that is their indulgent luxury.  I think it's important to figure out what that means to you, and, figure out how to do it in a time-saving, money-saving manner.

Of course if you don't need to save money then by all means go buy the luxurious dinner at the Top of the Hub and really go all out!  I don't have that kind of money :) so it's important to even make another day at home, feel like something special!
French Baguettes
Serves:  3 baguettes (6-8 people)
4 cups Flour
2 tsp. Salt
1 tbsp. Dry Active Yeast
2 cups Warm Water

Combine the flour and salt.  In a separate bowl, combine the warm water, yeast, and half of the flour, salt mixture.  Reserve the other half.  Using your hands, or a wooden spoon, mix the yeast mixture until it forms a very wet dough.  Cover it with a cloth and let it sit at room temperature for 3 hours; it should triple in size.  Then, slowly knead in the remaining flour and salt mixture.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead constantly for 8-10 minutes until the dough is elastic.  Place in a well-oiled bowl and set aside at room temperature for another hour.  The dough will double in size.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Knead the dough again and split into 3 equal pieces.  Roll each into a baguette shape (about 12-18 inches long) and place them on a baking sheet (I put them on a large 15x15 baking sheet so they wouldn't be in danger of touching.  Wait twenty minutes.  Then, score the tops of each.  Place them in the preheated oven on the top rack.  On the bottom rack, place a large bowl of water.  Bake the baguettes for 25 minutes, remove the water bowl after 15 minutes. 

To "test" that they are done, use your hand towel and pick one up.  Thump it on the table.  It should sound like a hollow thump!  Also, I know bread recipes sound hard, and take a long time, but this bread was so delicious and the recipe calls for 4 ingredients.  These are the things that I can enjoy making because I usually have all of this stuff in the house!  No grocery trips in the cold makes this girl very happy!

Stay tuned to see how these baguettes are going to play an integral part of my appetizers!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Brilliant Brunch: Easy Pain au Chocolat (Chocolate Croissants)

I promise that this whole week will not be filled with chocolate; especially, because John prefers vanilla!  But, this easy breakfast recipe is delicious!  When you can make a delicious breakfast in 3 ingredients that sits overnight, well, I think you found something to hold on to!  These are a perfect sweet treat for dessert or breakfast; make enough to share and bring them into your office!  I bet you will be their favorite this week!  To me, chocolate croissants have always been out of my league of baking.  However, that doesn't stop me from indulging in them during all of my hardest days.  My GMAT?  I stopped and got a chocolate croissant and nibbled on it in between parts.  Same with every big final exam I had in college, there was a great little patisserie that I would grab one from in the morning.  It's like my indulgent comfort food, and probably one of the reasons I need to watch my weight lately! 

Truthfully, though, whether you serve these at breakfast, or at dessert (or let's be honest, anytime in between), they will always be a hit!  I think they are best served fresh so while they will be fine for 2-3 days, I wouldn't suggest keeping them more than that (if you don't eat them all in the first sitting!). 
Easy Pain au Chocolat
Servings:  2 (4 croissants)
1 sheet of puffed pastry dough
4 tablespoons dark or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 egg
Confectioners sugar, if desired

First, cut the dough into 4 squares.  Mix the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and brush the dough with the egg wash.  Place a tablespoon of chocolate chips in the middle of each square and then roll up the dough.  To do this, lightly fold over the side edges and then roll starting closest to you.  This will keep all the chocolate in!  Brush the tops of the rolls again with the egg wash.  Place the chocolate croissants and egg wash in the fridge for at least 6 hours, optimally, overnight.  Then, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Brush the egg wash over the croissants again and place on a greased cookie sheet.  Let the croissants bake about 20 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.  Before serving, sift confectioner's sugar over the croissants, if desired.  Serve warm or cold. 

Be careful--don't eat these right out of the oven, like I did!  Even if the puffed pastry doesn't seem that warm, the chocolate inside WILL BE!

Paris is the city of love, right?  So, what better way to start a romantic mood than to serve these as your breakfast!  While I've never been, I've studied French since I was a young girl; these transport me to (what I imagine of) a Parisian street...I hope they will do the same for you!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, February 7, 2011

Sassy Sweet: Red Wine Ganache Stuffed Strawberries

This week is such an exciting one for me and The Growing Foodie.  If you're reading this through Google Reader, click through to the blog and see some of the changes for yourself!  The header was done by my extraordinary sister, K, and took a lot of work.  So right up front I have to thank her for that.  An artistic computer guru is a big help to me, especially when they are family!  Also, you can now find the blog at; the RSS feed transfers over if you are following since the blog is hosted by Blogger.  Lastly, this week is Romantic Recipes Week!  In anticipation of Valentine's Day, there are five days of great recipes that I hope will spark romance with your sweetheart any day of the week.  Like I said a few weeks back, there have been many more years without a special someone on February 14th than the years I have had someone.  However, I think it's a great reminder to treat yourself, your friends, and the ones who love you every day of the year! 

This recipe is a nice twist on a great dessert:  chocolate covered strawberries.  Adding the red wine and stuffing the strawberries means you can make them hours of time.  This leaves extra time for your celebrations! 
Red Wine Ganache Stuffed Strawberries
Serves:  4 (12 strawberries)
12 strawberries
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 ounces dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons red wine (Chianti)

Wash and hull the strawberries.  Then, using a corer, core out the white parts of the strawberry leaving the red intact without holes.  Set aside (with original stems, if desired).  Heat the heavy cream in a cast iron skillet until softly bubbling.  Pour over the dark chocolate chips and stir with a wooden spoon.  When the chocolate is fully melted, add the red wine, adding up to 3 tablespoons if you prefer.  Stir until smooth.  Spoon the chocolate into the strawberry shells.  Using a cooling rack with a cookie sheet underneath, stand the strawberries up, pushing slightly into the cooling rack so they are sturdy.  Refrigerate for 2-4 hours before serving. 

I can't wait to share some great ideas for romantic side dishes, dinners, and appetizers, too!  You'll have to stay tuned!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, February 4, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: Mom's Easy Pizza Dough

I know, I am up incredibly early.  So, in advance, I am sorry if this post doesn't make a lot of sense.  However, in preparation of a great Super Bowl, I thought it would be the perfect time to share mom's pizza dough recipe with you.  No time to rise, and a great dough every time means game day can feed everyone quickly! 

The recipe is very basic, but John and I love throwing garlic powder and italian seasoning into the dry ingredients.  It makes the dough very flavorful, and yes, it does emulate Trader Joe's herb pizza doughs they sell.  Personally, I think ours tastes better but I might just be a bit biased.  In fact, I told John we should just start selling flavored pizza doughs.  Sundried tomato and basil, garlic and herb, there are so many combinations.

Also, if you add some cocoa powder to them, and more sugar, it's a great dessert pizza adaptation!  So, have fun with the recipe; it's the perfect one for your kids to sit and roll out their own dough, and cover individual pizzas!  How I loved when mom used to let us do that!
Mom's Easy Pizza Dough
Serves:  1-16-inch pizza
1 package of active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons warm water
1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons oil

For Trader Joe's-like flavored herb pizza, add 2 tablespoons of italian seasoning and one tablespoon of garlic powder.

First, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a small bowl.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Put the dry ingredients in a food processor and process once until combined (we use the metal blade, not a bread attachment).  Then, start the food processor and slowly pour in the yeast mixture.  Let the dough work approximately 45 seconds to one minute.  Then slowly pour in the oil and wait until the dough pulls away from the edges.  I usually take it out and knead it once or twice.  Then, roll out the dough to the shape desired; top with your favorite pizza toppings and put it in the oven.  It takes about 15 minutes to bake in a 350 degree oven.

So easy!  No fuss!  If you're scared of dough recipes, even YOU can do this one.  Best of all, it's light on the ingredient list.  That's one of the reasons it makes it perfect for me and John on Friday nights.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: Korean Pork with Sauteed Onions and Mushrooms

There's always one night when John is home that the two of us are so relaxed, we have no idea what we're going to have for dinner. Usually the first night he comes home, I make a special meal but then by about night # 3, I'm ready to make something quick and easy and since we were probably out all day and didn't eat much, I'm STARVING and want dinner NOW!

That's about how it was for this meal.  I got pork super cheap this week; even though it's not John's favorite, I had it sitting in the fridge, waiting to be used.  By the time we got home, I was tired and cranky (yeah, I can admit it).  This pork dish came together so fast.  I didn't even let it marinate, I just threw it all together, threw it on the grill, and within 20 minutes, dinner was served (hey, my kind of dinner). 

Korean Pork with Sauteed Onions and Mushrooms
Serves:  4
4 pork chops (about 1 pound)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 white onion, cut into thin slices
1/2 cup mushrooms

Combine the garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil until well-combined.  Brush over pork chops and place the pork chops on a medium-hot grill.  Flip after five minutes, basting with soy sauce mixture once.  Brush with sauce again before serving.  Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon of oil in a skillet.  Add onions and mushrooms.  Cook about 5-8 minutes, until onion is translucent and mushrooms are browned.  Serve the onions and mushrooms with rice and place pork over it.  Place additional sauce on the side for rice and dipping (if desired).

John couldn't get enough of the sauce and kept drizzling it over every bite!  Since I had extra, and hadn't put it on the uncooked meat, it seemed good for me!  That's why I suggest brushing it over the pork but not marinating it.  That way, if your family loves the sauce, you can add some as you eat!  I found it delicious in rice.  Another variation is to put a little cola soda in it.  I didn't have any so omitted it but about 2-3 tablespoons will give it a really interesting flavor!

Check back for Friday's easy game-day recipe!

Until the next time my oven is on...
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Welcome! I'm Dani (aka the Growing Foodie), just a girl balancing her career and passion for all things edible in NYC. I hope you'll join me in my adventures in life, through food. (Click for More)
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