Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Quinoa Salad for Melissa

Last week I hosted a bridal shower for my daughter Melissa.  I made the decision to have the party at my home for a few reasons.  If Melissa had her way, she would be getting married in our backyard...The yard where she napped in the shade of the maple tree as a wee little baby...The yard where she spent countless hours on her beloved swing trying to touch the sky with her toes and swinging upside down from the trapeze...The yard where she and the neighborhood kids played red light green light, caught fireflies and splashed in the pool...The yard where she had her Sweet 16 and discovered that the four person hot tub could really hold ten.  But a wedding?  I can't make that happen, but a shower on the other hand, I could handle.

I also knew that Melissa would appreciate a mostly vegetarian menu that I could create, keeping her likes and dislikes in mind.  I was right.  I'm not going to lie, it was a lot of work and thank God for my good friend Barbara whose help was invaluable.  I owe her big-time.  This was truly a labor of love and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I wish I had taken photos of the process, but I knew that playing photographer would slow me down.  Everything was homemade with the exception of the rolls, which were purchased at a local bakery and the mini cupcakes, courtesy of Mike's mom Diane.  In the end, it was all worth it.  It turned out to be a beautiful day and Melissa has yet another backyard memory.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Zucchini, Bacon and Gruyere Quiche or Zucchini Explosion Part lll

Are you tired of zucchini yet?  Yes, like everyone else who has a vegetable garden, we've been eating a whole lot of zucchini.  When zucchini isn't the star of the meal, we've been eating the obvious side dishes: grilled zucchini, sautéed zucchini, zucchini with tomatoes sprinkled with a little feta cheese and on and on and on....
So the other night when Paul said, "I don't think we have anything in the house for dinner."  
I quickly replied, "Are you kidding, we have zucchini!"......  I thought I heard a groan.
I poked my head in the fridge and saw we really didn't have much in the house.  There was a small piece of Gruyere, eggs, milk, a little bit of cream, a few strips of bacon, some berries, salad greens, cucumbers, and two bottles of Guinness that have been hiding in the back for several months.  I opened my freezer drawer and saw a pie crust from...I don't know when.  Looks like we are having quiche.  Having a pie crust in the freezer made it a no brainer.   Although I would usually prefer to make my own crust, it was a warm humid night and even with the AC on, it wasn't the best of conditions to start messing with pie dough.  We were hungry, not picky.  It was already 6pm, so I defrosted the frozen dough in the microwave, grabbed the Gruyere, eggs, milk, cream, bacon and a few shallots I found hiding in my onion basket.  By 7:15 we were enjoying a piece of silky quiche, green salad and glass of Pinot Noir.  Not bad for having nothing in the house!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Zucchini Fritters with Chipotle Cream or Zucchini Explosion Part II

Last year, when I was drowning in zucchini, I tried making zucchini fritters.  I wasn't overly impressed with them.  I tried my hand at them twice.  The second time I added a little grated potato for body.  It was a slight improvement, but not blog worthy.  I've been thinking about those fritters...and then it came to me.  While I was searching for different appetizers from my favorite bloggers, I came across cornmeal cakes on Annie's Eats.  Cornmeal, that's it!  Cornmeal would be the perfect ingredient to give my fritters enough body without being bland.  Annie's recipe inspired me to try again.  This time, in my humble opinion,  I came up with a blog worthy recipe.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Zucchini Explosion!

Zucchini has taken over my garden.  We've had a bounty of zucchini over the past few weeks.  Several days ago, I checked on my garden before I left for work.  I eyed several young zucchini, and decided they needed another day to grow and planned to harvest them the following morning.  The following day came along with torrential rain, so I never made it out to the garden.  The day after that was hot and steamy.  I was running late that morning and didn't get a chance to check on the zucchini until I got home from work later that evening. To my horror...my zucchini turned into 10 inch monsters that resembled stubby baseball bats.  I'm guessing the rain and the intense heat accelerated their growth and left me with these monsters.  I know some people intentionally let their zucchini grow like watermelons, I'm just not one of those people.  Bloated zucchini tend to become seedy and flavorless.  It was depressing.  Never-the-less, I made the best of it.  I picked about a dozen of  the oversized beasts.  As I picked, I thought about all the things I would not be able to do with them.  One thing for sure, I could stuff them.  The other thing I could do, was give some away along with this recipe!

Don't be afraid to use what you have on hand.  You can add mushrooms or diced summer squash.  Make them meatless and add some cooked rice or quinoa.  The possibilities are endless.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chocolate Raspberry Maryann Cake

This cake is dangerously delicious.  Consider yourself warned.  It's a match made in heaven, dark chocolate and raspberry, definitely rich, but not too sweet.  It was the perfect cake to celebrate the engagement of my daughter Melissa and my soon to be son-in-law, Mike, another match made in heaven.  Let me digress for a moment.  You may have noticed that I've neglected my blog for a while.  It's not that I haven't wanted to blog, I've just been busy.  Last month Paul and I headed west and toured the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks, Monument Valley and Lake Powell.  We had a fantastic time and when we returned home, I intended to sort though my 2000 new photos, do some inspired cooking and blog about some wonderful southwestern food.  But you can see by the large gap since my last posting, that never happened.
A few days after we returned home, Melissa and Mike announced their engagement.  Not only did they announce their engagement, but they also announced that the did not want a long engagement and planned to get married this September.  Yes, I said THIS SEPTEMBER...time to kick it in gear.  They are young, they are in love, and they have energy.  They will make this happen even if it kills them!  All wedding craziness aside, I couldn't be happier for them.  Melissa found her soulmate and we are so pleased to welcome Mike into our family.  They complement each other...just like chocolate and raspberry.
Saturday night, Mike's mother hosted a dinner in celebration of Mike and Melissa's engagement.  My job was to bring dessert.  After much consideration I decided to make a Chocolate Raspberry Maryann Cake and this tart.  If you are not familiar with a Maryann pan, take a look at it here.   I've read that Crate and Barrel also carries them.  It's sort of an old fashioned cake pan, so maybe your grandma has one buried in the cupboard.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lazy Afternoon Hummus

Today was one of those lazy days that I just didn't feel like doing anything.  The air was warm and summer like.  A light breeze blew the wind chimes on the deck, begging me to come out of the house and  enjoy this rare April day.  At first I felt guilty, having a long list of things I should be doing.  But I gave in quickly and enjoyed the quiet of a Sunday afternoon in my own back yard.   My yard has come alive again.  The grass is green, and the garden is growing.  My herbs are growing like crazy and for the first time ever, they all survived the winter.  The few cool weather vegetables I've planted have been off to a slow start.  The peas are up, as are some of the lettuces, but my radishes and arugula have been the victim of some evil critter.  Whatever ate them has good taste.  They were heirloom seeds.  I hope this is not a foreshadowing of things to come.  Anyway, it was too beautiful a day to get aggravated about something over which I had no control....so I decided just to appreciate the moment.
Being lazy can certainly work up an appetite.  I decided to whip up a batch of hummus, thinking I could lure Paul outside with some hummus and an ice cold beer.  I was right.  He's easy prey.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Avocado and Citrus Salad

As I anxiously await the arrival of fresh local produce, I have to remind myself, it's only April.  The warm weather has lured my brain into summer produce mode and wanting to rush the season.   I got an early jump on my vegetable garden this year, having planted peas, arugula, and radishes.  They can handle the colder nights and even a light frost.  I threw a few mesclun and lettuce seeds in the garden as well....sort of an experiment you might say.  Everything I've read says, don't let the warm weather fool you into rushing the planting season, but my lilac, azaleas, and clematis are all poised to bloom.  Should I ask them to wait too? Anyway, mesclun and lettuce are a bit more tender and could eat it if we have a frost.  I decided to throw caution to the wind.  After all, what's the worst thing that could happen? In the meantime, I will have to make do with produce shipped in from other parts of the world.

Until you can get your hands on some local salad fixings, add some zip to a salad with citrus.  I've made this salad with both ruby red grapefruit and clementines.  I prefer the tartness of the grapefruit and the beautiful color as well. Use what you like, or whatever you have lurking in your refrigerator.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thai Chicken Salad

Today was a glorious day in New York.  It felt like it was mid May.  The sun was shining, the birds were singing and it was one of those days that I had to get outdoors the minute I got home from work.  We've had a mild winter and things are blooming, budding and growing (and people are sneezing) earlier than usual.  I had to remind myself not to jump the gun and start planting my garden too early.  It will only lead to disappointment.  It isn't too early though, to start some peas, snap peas and radishes in my raised beds.  I spent the afternoon playing in the dirt and potting some pansies as well.

Trying to eek out every last ray of sunshine would cut into dinner prep time, so I opted to prepare a big salad for dinner.  A while back I found this recipe for Thai Chicken Salad in a Cooking Light magazine and thought it would be a perfect, quick dinner.  Again, this is a great thing to make if you have a rotisserie chicken from Costco or your grocery store.  If you read my blog, you already know I think Costco rotisserie chickens are a great time saver and frequently work their way into my cooking repertoire.  I guess I could say they are my favorite time saver.  The interesting thing about this salad is that the peanut dressing is heated and tossed into the salad while it is warm.  If you don't plan on eating it all at once, divide your salad and save some dressing on the side.  Just remember to heat up the dressing before you toss it. I'm looking forward to a delicious lunch tomorrow.  Oh and did I mention, it's less than 300 calories a serving? ...... that is, unless you go crazy with the peanuts like someone I know.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cajun Jambalaya

I thought it only fitting to make something Cajun for dinner on Fat Tuesday.  Well, that was my original intention.  I thought I'd get a jump on things and make part of it last night, and finish it off tonight when I got home from work.  I had some leftover soup in the fridge for last night's dinner anyway.  Like I said, that was my original intention.  Once I got started with this Jambalaya there was no going back.  I got caught up in the moment.  Once that spicy aroma filled the air, I decided that soup could wait another day, and... who cares if we celebrated Fat Tuesday on Monday!  So Monday night was Jambalaya night.  I figured heck, this recipe serves four people anyway, we can have leftovers tomorrow.  Again, that was my intention, but Paul sort of fell in love with this Jambalaya.  He truly got into the spirit of Fat Tuesday and overindulged.  At the end of the night there was only one serving left.  I tucked it in the fridge and promised him that he could finish it off tonight.  Guess who's having soup?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fudge Brownie Kisses and Swirls

Valentines Day is a good excuse to make something chocolate, isn't it?  Last year I made chocolate soufflés, my personal favorite.  This year I decided to make Paul some brownies.  A big batch of brownies is really something we don't need to have hanging around the house.  Instead of a big pan of traditional brownies, I thought I'd make some brownie bites using a mini cupcake pan.  The last time I made them they were a big hit.  Maybe it was the Nutella I swirled in the batter.  Paul had just discovered the wonders of Nutella.  They were really fudgy and one little brownie bite was the perfect sized chocolate fix.

For Valentines Day I decided to swirl some with raspberry jam, some with Nutella, and top a few with a little Hershey's Kiss.  I used a basic brownie recipe, but the add-ins make them special.  As I am writing this I just thought to myself, I should have swirled in some peanut butter.  That would be wonderful!  Oh wait, then I would be making them more for me.  Anyway, this recipe makes about 50 bites, so you can experiment if you so desire.  Sorry Paul, you can't have all 50.  I'm packing up a box and the rest are headed to my office.  There are a few chocoholics working there as well.

I hope you all have a Happy Valentine's Day and share it with someone you love!

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” 
 A.A. Milne, Winnie-The-Pooh

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pick Your Favorite Banana Bread

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am loving Joanne Chang's cookbook,  flour. Her banana bread recipe never disappoints.  The first few times I made it, I followed the recipe as written.  It was perfect as is, and there was really no reason to change it.  One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, we were headed into the city to see Melissa and Mike, so I decided to bake some banana bread.  I pulled out the recipe and began to assemble the ingredients.  I had four large bananas to use up, so I had to adjust the amounts of the other ingredients, producing more than enough batter to fill a single loaf pan.  I decided to bake it in mini loaf pans, allowing me to customize the add-ins.  Since I was adjusting the ingredients, I made a few other alterations to the recipe.   One thing I would not deviate from is Joanne Chang's technique of mixing the ingredients.  I think her technique is what sets this recipe apart from all the others.  She beats the eggs and sugar together for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy before adding the canola oil.  This is a key step.  Using a stand mixer makes the task a breeze.  If you follow the mixing technique, you will have the most perfectly textured banana bread that you have ever eaten...I promise.   

Melissa likes chocolate chips in her banana bread, no nuts.  Mike and Paul are very open minded, welcoming both nuts and chocolate chips.  I like nuts, no chips.  Mini loaves were definitely the way to go.  Everyone was happy.  I made them again this morning.  Over-ripened bananas tends to prompt banana bread baking around here.  Again, I went with mini loaves, this time adding a Nutella swirl loaf.  Since these loaves are baked in 6 x 2 1/2 x 2 inch paper molds, they are perfect for 2 people.  This recipe makes 4 loaves so you can share a loaf or two, or wrap up them up and freeze them for anytime that "I need a piece of banana bread" mood hits you.  Just take a loaf out of the freezer and allow to thaw about an hour before serving.  If you are wondering where you can get these nifty little paper cake molds, I purchased mine at Home Goods.  You can also find them at Sur La Table, King Arthur Flour or even Target.  An added bonus if you use paper molds...no need to grease the pan, just mix up the batter and pour it into the mold and bake.  I put the filled molds on a jelly roll pan to make it easier getting them in and out of the oven.  Just leave enough room for the air to circulate around each loaf.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Healthy Oatmeal Pancakes

In an effort to eat healthier this year, breakfast has become a very important meal.  Starting the day off with a meal that is filled with protein, whole grains and fruit. can pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day.  A healthy breakfast fills me up, boosts my energy level and will usually stave off hunger until late in the day.

It's difficult to eat a substantial breakfast on a work day.  I leave the house around 7:30AM and the thought of eating a big breakfast is the last thing on my mind.  The weekend is a different story.  I've always enjoyed making something special breakfast or brunch.  Weekend breakfasts are probably my favorite meal.  Unfortunately, they usually contains many of the foods we are trying to avoid.  In an effort to keep weekend breakfasts interesting, I needed to get creative.  I love pancakes, but I usually make them with white flour and top 'em off with butter and pure maple syrup.  I decided to make a healthier version.  These pancakes didn't require any special ingredients, just ingredients that I pretty much keep stocked in the house.  It does require the use of a food processor though.  I topped the pancakes with fresh berries, but a sauce made from frozen berries would be a good option if you can't get fresh.  This recipe made 12  three inch pancakes which fed me, Paul and another serving left over.  They are hearty pancakes! Leftovers can be wrapped and refrigerated.   For a quick weekday treat, just pop them in the microwave for a minute with some berries and you can pretend it's the weekend.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rethinking Split Pea Soup

Disclaimer:  I am not a pea soup aficionado.  I don't have much experience with pea soup.  For years I didn't think I liked pea soup. (That was a learned behavior)  For years I wouldn't try pea soup because I was told by my mother that I wouldn't like pea soup. (She HATED even the sight of pea soup). Then one day about 15 years ago I made a ham.  When we finished eating the ham, my husband said, "You've never made me pea soup.  Why don't you make pea soup with the ham bone?"  I looked at him like he had four heads.  "I don't do pea soup, you foolish man, where have you been the last 15 years of our marriage?" was my reply (or something like that).  He insisted that pea soup was delicious and I could not possibly dislike a food that I have never tasted.  I begrudgingly agreed to make my first pea soup.  I decided on a recipe that I found on the back of the bag of split peas (I was not being very resourceful).  He was happy, but I was not particularly impressed.  Truth be told, it wasn't awful, it was just a bit pea-ish, and peas have never been my favorite vegetable.  So every two years or so, usually prompted by a ham bone, I would make Paul some pea soup.

This past Christmas I made a delicious ham for dinner.   After days of eating ham morning, noon and night, and Matt and Lauren went home (Lauren loves ham like nobody's business - sorry Lauren, your secret is out), I stuck the ham bone in a freezer bag and popped it into the freezer for safe keeping.  Last week I found that ham bone and decided to commit myself to making a better pea soup.  I'd been analyzing why pea soup doesn't do it for me (besides being pea-ish).  Then it dawned on me.  It's sort of one dimensional and I object to its pasty texture.  I started researching pea soup recipes and decided to use Ina Garten's recipe as my starting point.  I've come to trust Ina, except when it comes to her use of butter and salt...it can be over-kill for me. 

I have to say, this soup was a winner!  Maybe pea soup purists would scoff at it, but this is exactly what I wanted my pea soup to taste like.  I will be making it again for sure, but I won't be waiting two years this time.  If you like pea soup, give this recipe a try.  If you don't like pea soup, suspend your belief and broaden your horizons and maybe, just maybe, you'll be a convert like me.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snowy Morning Smoothies

     I don't know why, but when snow is predicted overnight, I have difficulty sleeping.  I wake up frequently and I'm compelled to look out the window.  It sort of makes sense if I had to go to work in the morning, but last night was Friday night, and whether it snowed or not really didn't matter.  Once I established in my brain that it was indeed snowing, I decided it would be a good morning to sleep in.  I tried, but Paul has been waking up early these days.  He has been very ambitious, tackling some long put off projects around the house.  But seriously folks, 5:00AM on a weekend???  He's not particularly loud or anything, he just pops his head in the bedroom every half hour or so, and if I stir, that gives him permission to speak.  
"Do you want me to make you a cup of coffee to drink in bed?"  
"No" I grumbled, not wanting to engage in conversation.  
About half an hour passed, "Do you want bagels this morning?" he asked.
"Why would I want bagels while I am sleeping (hint, hint)?  Besides, why would you want to eat bagels at all?"
     We've been making an effort to eat healthier this year and bagels with cream cheese doesn't fit the bill.  Actually, rather than feel totally deprived, we are trying to eat healthy Monday through Friday, reserving occasional indulgences for the weekend or special occasions.  Bagels just seem like an unnecessary indulgence so early in the game.  In a desperate attempt to get a little more sleep, I told him I would make him a smoothie when I got up.  He kept me to my word.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cranberry Maple Pecan Breakfast Cake

Almost a month has passed since I've posted anything, and it feels like an eternity.  We had a full house for Christmas week, and even though I did a lot of cooking, there was no time to take photos let alone write about what I had cooked.  The day after Matt and Lauren went back to Florida, we received the news that my father-in-law had passed away and we were off to California.  These past few weeks have felt like a whirlwind.

I'm home now and have come to realize that I sort of missed my routine.  Don't get me wrong, I loved having the kids home for Christmas.  And as sad as it was to say goodbye to Paul's father, we had the rare opportunity to have the entire Kipp clan together, a bittersweet gathering.  Time passes all too quickly, and with the family spread all over the country, it seems as if weddings and funerals are the only times we all get to be in one place.

So, I'm back in NY, I've gone back to work, and wouldn't you know it, it's a three day weekend!  I LOVE three day weekends.  They allow me time to do my normal weekend things, with a bonus day to play and do whatever I see fit to do.  My "play" usually involves some culinary or photographic adventure.  Since it was absolutely FREEZING this morning, I opted to bake something and play around with my new lens that I have been dying to put to use since Christmas.  I've been also browsing through a cookbook I received for Christmas, and decided to make a simple breakfast cake.  It was a very good decision.  It was quick and easy to prepare, and quite delicious.  I had plenty of time to play with my camera.  I'm still learning my camera, determined to avoid using the auto mode, so photographing anything takes time...I'll get there eventually.