Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where to Eat - Savannah Edition

As much as I love to cook I also love to go out for a great meal, especially if that meal is to be found in unexpected places. I prefer to go to Mom & Pop establishments because to me, it is an investment into the local community's economy.  Plus, I find the food is always better than at most chain restaurant.  When my husband and I debated whether to move back to NYC or stay in Savannah once he retired from the Army, I have to admit our favorite greasy spoons and local restaurants played a part in our decision to stay in Savannah and put down roots by buying our first home.  If you ever get a chance to visit this tiny Southern jewel of a city, here is a list of places to check out for meals that will satisfy your hunger while handing you a dose of local flavor.

Clary's Cafe  (located on Habersham Street, Midtown)
I just only recently experienced Clary's for the first time with my friend Jessica.  We went to the Habersham location which is right up the block from her house, but there is also the original Clary's located downtown on Abercorn after LaFayette Square.  The downtown location was featured prominently in Clint Eastwood's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil .  I have only been to Clary's once but I have been craving this place since I left that faithful Sunday afternoon.  If you like diners (I love them, especially after spending my formative years frequenting various diners on Staten Island) this is a must stop.  I had the Alpine Burger (topped with Swiss cheese and mushrooms)with fries and a Black & White shake.  Always being down for a good, greasy diner burger, this burger satisfied my craving and left me begging for more.  They serve breakfast all day and their giant homemade chocolate eclair is to die for.  The only downfall to this restaurant is they are open to 4 pm, which makes dinner plans impossible.  

Crab Legs!

The Crab Shack (located off of Rt. 80, Tybee Island)
If you love seafood as much as I do, then this is a must stop.  After spending my 25th birthday at The Crab Shack, I have revisited it numerous times.  After introducing this gem to my parents, we usually make a trip out to Tybee at least once when they come down to Savannah to feast here.  We are already planning our next trip for my 28th birthday next month.  The must have item off their menu is the Shack Specialty, a platter topped high with shrimp, mussels, crab legs, craw fish, sausage, potatoes and corn smothered in Old Bay and served with melted butter.  The platter for 2 can successfully feed a family of 4.  Other noteworthy menu items are the raw oysters, steamed clams and their key lime pie is the perfect ending for a seafood feast.  This is a restaurant where you want to kick back on the outside deck with some good friends, enjoying the kitschy atmosphere with a beer or a mixed drink served in a coconut carved like a monkey head and have a great time. 

Ruan Thai (located on Broughton Street, Downtown)
My husband and I are big fans of Asian cuisine, with the exception of Korean.  Thai is definitely up there on my list, along with Indian and Japanese.  I love all things spicy and Thai food definitely delivers on the heat factor.  Mike and I discovered Ruan Thai when he was home on R&R from deployment and we went there for a date night.  This restaurant, located downtown is one of my favorite date night spots, featuring intimate booths, extensive wine list and low-lighting.  The food is also amazing, from perfectly fried spring rolls to the red seafood curry to the fried bananas.  The entrees are mid-range in price, which is why we reserve this restaurant for date nights but the dining experience at Ruan makes it worth every penny.  

Troy Mediterranean (located on Abercorn St. after Wilshire Blvd)
I credit Troy with inspiring me to start this blog and it has a rightful place on the list. We are lucky enough to live practically around the corner from this place. If you love Greek/Turkish/Mediterranean cuisine and are looking for something different in Savannah then this is a must stop.  This is another restaurant we reserve for date nights due to the atmosphere and quality of the food.  This is a welcome change of pace from the chain restaurants and Japanese steakhouses located on the Southside. If you stop here, get the lamb chops and top off your meal with the baklava, it's to die for!

Pancake Palace (located on Abercorn St. past Eisenhower Blvd.)
Words cannot express how much I love love love the Original Pancake Palace.  We discovered this place almost 2 years ago and this is our go-to restaurant for a family meal out.  My daughter loves this place as much as I do.  This is the definitive local greasy spoon in Savannah where the breakfast is absolutely to die for.  The best part not only are they open 24 hours but they serve breakfast all day.  If you don't mind a restaurant that is rough around the edges, where the waitresses become your friends and is frequented by locals then this is the place for you.  While their pancakes are good, the go-to breakfast carb here is the french toast - thick texas-toast style slices dipped in just enough egg so they are never soggy and griddled to perfection.  They are even nice enough to swap out the pancakes for a slice of french toast if you ask.  The hash browns are amazing, putting Waffle House's to shame.  Ever since we discovered this small slice of local diner heaven, we haven't returned to our local Waffle House or Cracker Barrel, Pancake Palace tops them both.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Cookie

I think I am still recovering from this weekend.  On Saturday, I spent the day in Hilton Head Island, SC with Jessica and friends finally enjoying the beautiful weather the South forgot to dish out this year.  I didn't get back home til almost 1 AM where I proceeded to crawl into bed like a zombie.  Mike let me sleep in Sunday morning and though I slept for 8 hours I was still lagging once I got up, even after 3 cups of coffee.  When nap time came Sunday afternoon I dutifully crawled back into bed only to awoken by Rex trying to claw his way through the sliding door of our room.  Knowing I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep, I decided to make my rainbow cookies, a recipe I have written about previously that I was slacking on actually attacking.

I got up, still in PJ's and dragged my Macbook into the kitchen so I can follow the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, a fellow food blogger from NYC that shares my love of these little layered cookies of goodness.  Living in the South, Rainbow (or seven-layer) cookies aren't in high demand.  In the almost 5 years I have lived here I haven't seen any available for purchase, not surprising for the state where whipped cream is a suitable cannoli filling.  Since I haven't been back home since May, I needed a taste of home and looking for writing fodder I decided to make this recipe.

Rainbow cookies are relatively simple, but labor intensive.  If you are a novice baker and don't know the difference between creaming butter and Betty Crocker  box mix, I could imagine this recipe being harder.  I also wouldn't want to attempt this recipe without my Kitchen Aid (or a hand mixer), the thought of making meringue and creaming butter by hand sends shivers down my spine.  Three steps into the recipe I started having a  migraine.  Maybe being sleep deprived wasn't the best time to try a recipe I have never attempted.  I also should have read through the recipe a few times before starting, because when I separated my eggs for my meringue I discarded the egg yolks only to find I needed to incorporate the yolks later in the recipe.  I went into Mike's office where he was working on a drawing project for school to beg him to run to Publix to get a carton of eggs.  This was after I *briefly* considered how bad it would be to fish the yolks out of the just-changed garbage. Mike dutifully went to Publix for a carton of eggs while my recipe came to a standstill.

Once he returned, I separated 4 more eggs and this time I put the egg yolks in a bowl.  I carefully folded the meringue into the batter and prepped my 2 13x9 in casserole dishes with wax paper and butter to bake 2 out of 3 layers of the cookie.  My daughter Lily helped me mix the green and red food coloring into the divided batter and I set out to bake the layers.  While the green layer was in the oven I also decided to make meringue cookies with my left over egg whites, finding a recipe in one of my trusty cookbooks.  At this point, I had already spent 1.5 hours in the kitchen and I was nowhere near done.  Once all the layers were baked I made a make shift cooling station out of three wire racks and a stationary fan aimed directly at the cooling layers.  I knew I could only assemble this cookie once all layers were adequately cooled and I had already come so far, I didn't want to mess up this recipe with my impatience.  I was already facing 2 hours in the kitchen and I was starting to tire out.

Assembling the layers was easier than I first thought. Since the cakes were still on the wax paper they were baked on, I found it surprisingly easy to invert them on the cookie sheet.  In between each layer goes a layer of preserves, I used apricot preserves that I reduced down to a liquid consistency which wasn't called for in the recipe but it definitely helped.  Once the 5 layers were assembled- green layer, apricot, white layer, apricot, red layer- I wrapped up the layers in plastic wrap then topped them with a cookie sheet I weighed down with a jar of salsa and placed the layers in the fridge to chill for the foreseeable time.  The recipe called for 8 hours fridge time, knowing how impatient I am I knew I wasn't going to wait til Monday morning to finish the last part of this recipe - drenching the top and bottom layers with bittersweet chocolate that once chilled, would make a thin chocolate crust whose taste w cuts through the almond-apricot sweetness of the cookie.

Once the kids were tucked into bed, I set up my double boiler on the stove.  I am pretty much useless once the kids go to bed, my nights are better spent sitting my bum on a comfy piece of furniture doing mindless tasks like Internet bingo than melting chocolate and sugar in a double boiler (I had unsweetened chocolate in the house, the recipe called for bittersweet).  I knew the water should be barely simmering but my night-fogged mind decided to bring the water to a roaring boil under the double boiler then lowering the heat which would make the stainless bowl too hot to melt chocolate correctly.  If you are a seasoned baker, you know I was setting myself up for failure.  My first layer of melted chocolate was was the right consistency for spreading on the top of the cookie, the chocolate for the last layer of these cookies seized like an epileptic off their pills.

 I was so close to victory and there sat my chocolate in a clumpy grainy mess.  I plopped myself down on the couch, my 95% finished cookie chilling in the fridge unknowingly preparing for the last layer of chocolate and I was out of baking chocolate.  I knew my husband would be in no mood to make  second trip to the store so I decided to see if I could save the last of my chocolate.  I don't know what people did before the Internet and I don't ever want to relive those days again. I grabbed my trusty Macbook and I googled how to save this recipe.  I wasn't about to accept defeat.  When chocolate seizes, the cocoa butter separates from the cocoa solids but if you incorporate some vegetable shortening or vegetable oil, the mixture homogenizes once again.  Searching my pantry for the vegetable shortening left over from Christmas cookie baking, I felt like a marathon runner seeing the finish line for the first time.  I was almost done with these cookies.  I dutifully mixed the shortening into my seized chocolate and though the consistency wasn't exactly like properly attended melted chocolate it would suffice.  I spread the last layer on the cookie all while exuding the confidence of a second place win and put my cookies back in the fridge for another 30 minutes to allow the layers to all properly set.

45 minutes layer I cut the first of my rainbow cookies and promptly served the rewards of a long day in the kitchen to my husband.  After eating the first bite, my husband smiled then looked over to me and said "You made rainbow cookies" with a boyish giggle he usually reserves for when I do something right.  After 6+ hours in and out of the kitchen, that smile made all the hard work worth it.  I made rainbow cookies, yes, yes I did.

* On a side note, my almond meringues were pretty awesome too.  The kids and Rex enjoyed them all too much and they were devoured in a sitting before I could grab my camera to capture one fluffy crumb, nevermind a whole cookie.  Next time :)
** If you want the recipe, click the Smitten Kitchen link above.  It is long and Deb typed it up with more justice and grace than I ever could. It is also available through the Epicurious  app since it was originally printed in Gourmet  in 2005.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sausage and Peppers

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my best friend and we were discussing Super Bowl.  She is a bigger football fan than I am so for her it is like a national holiday.  She had company over the night before and she was discussing what she made for her guests when she asked me how I make my sausage and peppers.  Sausage and peppers is an Italian mainstay, though my husband disagrees saying everyone makes  it.  I rebutted that Italians make it better when I was responded with an eye roll. I have had sausage and peppers that used kielbasa sausage and that taste was nothing like the Italian sausage and peppers I grew up with. In fact, it was lacking in flavor. It is one of those quintessential dishes that I am sure there are probably a gazillion variations, but I prefer any Italian sausage version.

 Sure enough, my best friend's version utilized mixing the sausage and peppers with a simple marinara sauce served on hero rolls (aka sub rolls aka hoagie rolls, depending on what part of the country you come from).  I have made sausage and peppers this way, usually when I am serving it over macaroni.  In fact, this is one of my husband's favorite macaroni dishes and I would make it quite often in our early marriage.  But when I make sausage and peppers to be served on a hero, I forgo the marinara and keep it simple, letting the flavors of the Italian sausage and sauteed peppers and onions speak for themselves.  This is one of those easy dishes that is perfect for a quick dinner and the left-overs are always better the next day.

In my version of sausage and peppers, I use hot Italian turkey sausage in lieu of true Italian pork sausage.  It has considerably less fat and the flavor is comparable to it's pork counterpart.  Usually I use hero-style rolls but the other day when I made this dish I had sliced ciabatta bread that needed to be used before it went to the birds, literally.  When my husband walked in from school, before he even said hi to me he said the house smelled amazing.  After all the years we have been together, the smell of garlic sauteing in oil smells like home just as much as it reminds me of my childhood.  Needless to say, we each had two sandwiches for dinner that night.  We enjoyed every bit of them.

Sausage and Peppers
1 pack Hot Italian Turkey Sausage (you can use sweet or mild if you aren't down with the spicy)
2-4 Tbsp of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion sliced
1 1/2 bag frozen sliced pepper mix or 3-4 fresh peppers, sliced
1-2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional, I use them because I like things spicy)
pack of hero loaves or sliced Italian bread
  • In a large skillet, head up 2-3 tbsp of olive oil, once hot add garlic and allow to saute for a minute or til the garlic starts to brown.  Add in onions and let saute 1-2 minutes.  Season with s&p if desired, I use a little salt whenever I saute onions because it helps bring out the moisture in the onions.
  • In a separate frying pan, drizzle about 1 tbsp of olive oil and brown sausage on all sides.  Once browned add enough water so the sausages are half immersed in water.  Cover and let cook.
  • Once onions have been sauteing for 1-2 minutes, add peppers, Italian seasoning and pepper flakes. Stir. If the pan gets dry, you can add a little bit more olive oil (which I had to do). Sir regularly to prevent peppers and onions from sticking. Saute til the onions caramelize and the peppers are soft and starting to brown.
  • Once sausage is cooked through, add sausages to the onions and peppers and let cook 1-2 minutes to incorporate flavors.  I usually cover the sausages with the onions and peppers when doing this.
  • If you would like coin shaped pieces of sausage, cut sausage up in disks before adding to peppers and onions like I did, or you are more than welcome to keep them whole.
  • Serve on hero rolls or on sliced Italian bread.  Mangia!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Day in The Life of Rex and Me

I know this is a food blog, and I have two blogs that I have been brainstorming about all week that I will share, once I find the time.  This blog entry is dedicated to my Boxer, Rex who pretty much saved my life today.  I am sure within in the coming entries there will be one for the delicious dog biscuits I plan on making for him but I figured since this is my soap-box, I have to give tribute to my rescue dog first and then tackle the yummy goodness later.  What good would this blog be if I wasn't here to write it?

Today, while out for our regular, hour-long walk, Rex and I decided to take a short-cut home since I noticed he was starting to get heat fatigued due to the summer-like weather we have been having in Savannah.  I know Boxers are more susceptible to overheating due to their foreshortened snout and the short-cut I intended on taking would pass by a house with three "lawn-ornament" pit bulls in the backyard.  Normally I wouldn't take this way since one of the pits has a tendency to jump the 4ft chain link fence in the backyard.  I checked the yard quickly as I turned on the block and didn't see the dogs in the back so I continued on my way.  Sure enough, I watched as the red nose pit climbed the fence and come charging at us.  I told the dog to "go home"and this is when he lunged at me.  Rex got right in front of me and the pitbull bit his face and a dog fight ensued. Since I am not a friend of Michael Vick,   I broke Rex away and the dog ran off only to charge back at us.  Rex growled and the dog ran back to his house, trying to scale the fence.  I noticed blood on Rex's face as I stopped to gain my composure.  The neighbors heard me curse "fucking assholes" towards the house and came out to tell me to report  the incident; they were tired of this dog constantly breaking loose out of his yard.

I came home, shaken and in tears.  I told Mike that we are never getting rid of Rex for any reason and followed that with the story of what happened.   He isn't always Rex' advocate as it was I who wanted a dog, not him. Rex, being a rescue has issues due to the neglect he suffered and Mike sometimes loses patience with his antics, namely the counter-surfing. I think today that part of Mike changed after he saw the bite mark on Rex' head and his limping.  I called up Animal Control and made an appointment at the Vet.  Animal Control issued me a subpoena to appear in court next month since the owners of the dog was cited with "dog at large".  Rex went to the vet and luckily the bite mark was superficial and he got a rabies booster, some antibiotics and lots of kisses from the Vet and Vet Tech who had to shave his head.

I am so very grateful for my dog, for fearlessly protecting me.  We rescued him because I don't believe in purchasing a dog for  hundreds to thousands of dollars when there are so many who need homes and the cost is a fraction of the purchase price.  He may have issues but he is my dog and I am willing to do anything for him, especially after he proved to me he was willing to do the same.  He has brought so much joy to our home and after today, he is my hero and my mushface.

like a true boxer, he was cut above his eye

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Tale of Two Pizzas

I swear, every time I am about to start blogging my dog and 20 month old smell the creative synapses in my brain starting to fire and they hound me to no end. Sometimes I swear these two are actually brothers, hence why I call them Frick and Frack, they both think on the same wave length which makes me undecided over whether to be overly concerned for my son or overly astonished that my dog thinks like a human. When I was trying to write my Random Banter post from the other day Rex just would not leave me alone.  First, he needed to be let out for the thousandth time that day, then the amount of water in his bowl wouldn't suffice for his thirst quenching needs.  Then he spent the latter part my blogging time hogging my bed and nudging me with his muzzle.  I guess if I am ever taken hostage and forced to write while getting head butted all over various parts of my body I'll be able to manage. Today was no exception, having to kick Rex and Nate out of bedroom, Rex being an overall pain and Nate brandishing the whisk attachment to my Kitchen Aid menacingly as I booted the both of them out of my bedroom.

Anyways, yesterday just reminded me why I think I shouldn't try to cook something new on Fridays. I am not Jewish, but I think they got it right by celebrating the Shabbat on a day where culinary endeavors, mainly in my kitchen, never seem to go right.   I knew I wanted to try my hand at making homemade pizza and once my husband came back from school I knew I would have the time to dedicate to making my pizza dough and toppings.  Sometimes I wonder if there is a ghost in my house, because the other day a pizza dough recipe I had stashed in one of my many cookbooks was splayed out on my counter.  I went through the recipe and when I saw the recipe included overnight preparation I stalled on making the dough.  Plus I was going through the MIA meat thermometer debacle and that recipe made it to the wayside.  I checked my BH&G New Cookbook for their version of pizza dough and seeing that it only took about 30 minutes of prep time, including resting the dough, I decided to go that route.  Now I wished I didn't.

fresh mozzarella goodness

Since the recipe produced two pizza doughs I decided to make two pizzas.  The first pizza I attempted was a margherita style pizza which could be considered the great-grandmother to the modern day pizza that is served today.  For those who don't know the history of pizza, I'll give you the story in short.  A Neapolitan baker was asked to prepare a dish for Queen Margherita of Italy during the latter part of the 19th century.  He derived a pizza using fresh mozzarella, basil and tomatoes to represent the 3 colors of the Italian flag and hence the Margherita pizza was born.  Margherita pizza is one of my favorites since it utilizes fresh mozzarella, which is probably my all-time favorite cheese.  Growing up in an Italian household, we ate fresh mozzarella a lot and there is nothing like it.  The taste, in my opinion is completely different than the block mozzarella you get in the grocery store, it has a soft texture and a mellow, creamy taste taste.  Luckily, better grocery stores in Savannah carry this cheese but it isn't always cheap.  The container of fresh mozzarella I procured at Publix was almost 12 bucks a pound for 3 4oz-ish ovaline mozzarella balls.  It is well worth the money.  If you haven't tried fresh mozzarella but like the block kind, definitely try it.  It is a whole different, creamy ball game.

So I prepared the pizza toppings from a recipe I found on Epicurious (that app is amazing, if you haven't downloaded it yet and you own any one of Apple's fine gadgets I suggest you download it today).  Their recipe called for refrigerated dough and I haughtily thought I had a step up on this pizza making adventure since I made my dough from scratch.  I prepared the charred tomatoes for the topping and dutifully sliced my fresh mozzarella and diced my block mozzarella that the recipe called for.  I even perfectly chiffonaded my basil.  All this precise prep to have my pizza dough fail on me.

When the pizza came out of the oven it looked delicious.  After my time working in a pizzeria, I knew to let the pizza rest before cutting and when I started the pizza wheel through my work of art I knew right away something was wrong.  The crust was difficult to cut through but I persevered on.  I served the pizza to Mike and the kids then put the subsequent pizza I had prepared, utilizing diced chicken cutlets and the gupesto  I had made earlier this week.  I took a bite of the pizza and right away I knew the pizza was not only overcooked (my fault for following the baking time corresponding to refrigerated dough in the Epicurious app) but the dough had absolutely no flavor. Most people say the pizza outside of NY tastes like crap because of the lack of NY reservoir water.  We installed a way too expensive water filter on the house when we bought it to have water that resembled NY water at least in taste so I knew that wasn't the only problem with my dough.  This is the first time a recipe from my BH&G cookbook has failed me, the dough's taste was less appealing than a communion wafer.
Chicken Cutlet and Gupesto pizza before baking.

I will not be discouraged though, the next time I make pizza I won't be lazy and use the more time consuming recipe.  Maybe next time the crust won't make me want to genuflect after eating a slice.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Random Banter

It has been an exhausting week and I feel terrible that I haven't dedicated more time to the blog,  especially since I have cooked dishes that have a rightful place here as they are my own.  After a long day of cleaning and running around after a rambunctious 20 month old, I am lucky if I can string together short sentences that don't make people ask exactly how much have I have had to drink today (never mind that I am sober).  So since I wanted to update the blog with the least effort necessary I am just going to list off random food based thoughts and quips from this past week.  I promise to update tomorrow with new recipes I have worked on this week, but for now I am going to be short, sweet and to the point.

  1. Since I have started this blog my husband has gained 10 lbs.  He informed me of this little tidbit last night while watching season 3 of The Big Bang Theory (the latest show I am obsessed with).  I blame it directly on the baklava.
  2. Last weekend during my shopping expedition, I bought a meat thermometer.  Christmas day I made a horrible mistake by leaving my instant read thermometer in my prime rib.  I used this new meat thermometer to measure the liquid temperature for my bread, figuring it was multi purpose.  Two days after baking my awesome bread my meat thermometer goes missing.  I seriously tore my house apart looking for it since I needed it to make pizza dough.  Mike was in Target again yesterday where he bought me another meat thermometer and an instant read thermometer.  They are professional quality and I was giddy that he was thoughtful enough to bring me home these awesome kitchen gadgets.  Tonight when he was putting my son to bed, he went on a search for my son's Batman and Green Lantern plushies (his favorite toys).  Low and behold, my new-as-of-last-weekend meat thermometer was in his CAT duplo truck.  Guess Nate needed to figure out the temperature of legos...
  3. And while we are on the topic of my son, I should know better than to take my son out to eat.  Last week we took the kids to Ruby Tuesday's since I received a coupon in the mail.  My son managed to spill about every food item on the table on himself. It even came to the point that I told my husband I didn't care how much spray and wash I had to use on his clothes, I wasn't going to fight him for my iced tea that he stole, or the ketchup, or the honey mustard he used to paint his face with a la Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.  Proving my memory sucks, I suggested tonight we should go out to eat.  I had a long day cleaning and Mike readily agreed to Texas Roadhouse.  My son tried sticking a crayon in his juice along with ripping up his sister's coloring mat and stealing all the marshmallows off my husband's sweet potato.  Needless to say we hurried out of there as soon as our dinner was over, before my son started to throw plates or let his screeches hit pitches only the neighborhood dogs could hear.
  4. I don't know how I feel about Man Vs. Food, the show where a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn goes around partaking in every food challenge available in this great country of ours.  While I do enjoy seeing slices of foodie Americana I haven't experienced before, I think I the reason I watch it is I am patiently waiting for the day he has a massive coronary after one of his food binges. 
  5. I made 4lbs of chicken cutlets this week and I don't think I have one left to photograph for my chicken cutlet recipe blog entry.  This family eats chicken cutlets like they were starving, and with my husband's recent weight gain we know that lack of food isn't a problem in this house.  Alas, I feel my chicken cutlet entry will have to wait til I make them again.
  6. Publix makes pretty decent cannoli's. I made gupesto last night for dinner and since I needed basil for the recipe I made my obligatory stop at Publix.  The bakery manager, knowing I was a New Yorker by my still-thick accent let me try to cannoli cream before I purchased any.  It was pretty accurate though I should have told her to add a little more cinnamon and chocolate chips to the cream.  It doesn't matter, they were the perfect dessert for my dinner last night and Mike fought me for the chocolate drizzled cannoli. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Recipes!! Homemade Bread - Herbed Butter - Butternut Squash and Leek Risotto

This weekend was crazy.  Besides taking Lil shopping all day Saturday, I ran around all day Sunday.  I took the kids to church with my friend Jessica then out to lunch to Screaming Mimi's for some delicious pizza and topped it off by going back to her house to let the kids (she has a 2 year old son) run amok.  I finally have time to post the recipes from Saturday night's feast in which I hope you all enjoy my errant display of food porn!

There is must be some kind of karma that works when it comes to recipes, since I started this blog some loyal readers have sent me recipes for their culinary endeavors which I saved to my food bookmark tab.  I can't wait to try them and share my experiences here and I urge you all to try new recipes this week.  You just may find something that you love!

Homemade White Bread (modified from Better Homes and Garden's New Cookbook)
5 cups bread flour
1 pack Fleishmann's Rapid Rise active yeast
2 1/4 C milk
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
  • In a large mixing bowl combine 2 1/2 C of flour and active yeast.
  • In a sauce pan heat and combine milk, sugar, butter and salt til 120-130 degrees F.  Check with thermometer to ensure the liquid isn't too hot for our yeasty friends.
  • Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, combine liquid to the flour yeast mixture.  Beat on medium (I used setting 4 on my Kitchen Aid) for 30 seconds while continuously scraping the bowl.  
  • Raise speed on mixer to high (I used setting 8 on my stand mixer) for 3 minutes.
  • Using a wooden spoon or spatula, combine the rest of the flour into the starter dough.
  • Knead for 6-8 minutes by folding bottom part of the dough over then turning 1/4 turn and repeat.
  • Let rest 10 minutes.
  • Grease two loaf pans.
  • After resting, cut dough in half with dough cutter.  Form loaves by pinching the dough under in an loaf shape.
  • Cover loaves with a cotton towel and let rise about 30-45 minutes in a warm, draft free place (I did this on my stove top, I should have done it in the oven.  And don't be paranoid like me, I incessantly checked it. )
  • Once doubled, preheat the oven for 375 degrees F.  Bake for 35-40 minutes til bread is brown.  
  • Remove from loaf pans and cool on wire rack.
Herb Butter
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1/4 C of fresh basil (small handful)
1/4 C fresh parsley    "           "
1 clove of garlic, chopped
about 1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper.
  • Allow butter to soften.  I did this by putting it in a bowl and letting it sit on my stove while I worked on my risotto.
  • Finely chop basil and parsley.
  • Chop up a clove of garlic, add sea salt.  using the side of a knife make scraping motions over salt and garlic til a paste forms.
  • In a bowl, combine butter, herbs and garlic paste.  Season with pepper to taste.
Butternut Squash and Leek Risotto (modified from a Bon Appetit recipe featured in Epicurious IPad App)
2 C Arborio Rice
32 oz container vegetable stock
1 C water
1 large butternut squash, cube
3 heads of leeks, sliced, using only light green and white parts
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp herbes de provence (if you can't find it, you can use thyme)
2 tbsp butter
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped into strands
1/4 C of grated cheese (I used pecorino romano but whatever you prefer is fine)
s&p to taste.
  • In a large heavy bottom pot, add 2-3 tbsp olive oil and heat on medium.  Add butternut squash, season with s&p and sautee for about 5 minutes til softened.  Put into bowl and set aside.
  • Add more olive oil if needed and add leeks and herbes de provence.  Sautee for about 5 minutes but do not allow leeks to turn brown.
  • Add rice to pot with leeks and cook for about 1 minute.  Lower heat to low-medium and add 1 C of vegetable stock and stir til fully absorbed.
  • Once liquid is fully absorbed, add vegetable stock and then water by 1/2 cupfuls, making sure liquid is fully absorbed before adding more.  You will need to continuously stir the risotto to ensure it doesn't stick to the pot.  This should take about 15-20 minutes.
  • Once all liquid is absorbed, add butter, basil, grated cheese and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
  • Risotto should be creamy.
  • Serve with a sprinkle of grated cheese and some s&p if desired.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Yeast Is Not Dead

Today, my horoscope told me it would be a perfect day to curl up with a book and relax.  That would have been an ideal task, especially with all the books my husband downloaded to my Ipad for my enjoyment.  Unfortunately, it wasn't mean to be.  After avoiding the commissary all week, I had to finally break down and go food shopping.  So armed with my grocery list in hand, I took Lil with me for a day of shopping.  First we hit Target to pick up the baking supplies I needed to tackle homemade bread and my rainbow cookies.  Then we headed to the commissary only to find that they didn't have a some of the most important ingredients that I needed for this week's worth of recipe.  So we found ourselves at Publix where it is truly a joy to shop.  I can't get into my love for Publix here, that is a whole blog post within itself.  The funny thing is we ran into a retiree we saw in the commissary who also made his way to Publix where we got to commiserate in the spice aisle over the fact the commissary doesn't carry half the stuff that we needed and we both just wanted to get home after a long day of food shopping.

So we got home, my husband helped me unload all the foodstuffs and after I took a quick breather, I asked Mike if he was ready to tackle bread.  Before I even started this food blog he had been hounding me to bake bread from scratch. I kept on putting him off due to my fears of murdering yeast. Figuring this would become good blog fodder, I decided to tackle bread making this week and I am glad I did.  We cleaned off the counter in our kitchen (I can't work in a messy kitchen) and Mike started preparing the wet ingredients for our bread while I mixed the flour and the yeast.  I took the temperature of the wet ingredients and it was a perfect 130 degrees.  I said a quick prayer for any yeast that might be harmed in our first bread baking adventure and I mixed the ingredients in my Kitchen Aid.

Once everything was all incorporated, I started to knead the dough.  I used to work at a Living History museum in Staten Island (Historic Richmondtown) and we used to bake bread there in the wood burning oven in one of our houses.  I was well schooled in kneading bread from helping out on festival days and I showed Mike how to knead bread because I knew he was going to have to take over for me. 

Sure enough, half way through my hands were tired and Mike finished off the bread kneading.  He totally got into the bead braking and before we knew it the dough was smooth and elastic like the recipe called for.

I let the dough rest and then I followed the steps on the back of the yeast pack.  I had bought quick-rise yeast by accident so I had to alter the recipe from the cookbook to allow for the quick-rise adjustments.  I don't like tampering with baking recipes when I am in uncharted territory so I was starting to worry about my dough rising.  I formed the loaves and covered them with a tea towel on top of my stove and I got started on my butternut squash and leek risotto. After the tenth time asking Mike if he thought the dough had risen enough before I placed it in the oven and he told me to calm down.  I am not a fan of failure and the idea of "dead" bread was upsetting me.  When he assured me that the dough did double and I needed to relax I reluctantly preheated my oven for my bread.  I also took out a stick of butter to be softened for my herbed butter.

While the bread rose and baked I made Butternut Squash and Leek Risotto, a recipe I had found in my Epicurious app got started on the prep work.  I love risotto but I have never made it by scratch.  I have either eaten it at restaurants or made box risotto when the craving strikes.  This recipe was simple but it is also time-consuming -  you can't leave it for more than a few minutes without stirring the risotto insuring that it isn't stuck to the bottom of the pot.  I dutifully stirred the risotto all while thinking of the Hell's Kitchen episode when one hopeful chef just couldn't get the risotto right and Gordon Ramsey spewed an onslaught of curses at this one inept chef.  It was in between stirs of risotto that I took a peak at my oven and noticed that my bread had risen beautifully and was baking to tasty glory that I got the confidence I needed to finish out my dinner.  Gordon Ramsey's voice in my head stopped at this point, without even needing the Thorazine I was seemingly destined for.

Once all the liquid was incorporated in the risotto, I had to let it simmer for ten minutes.  I threw in a few tbsp of butter to gloss off the risotto and I started on my herbed butter - the one dish I was confident about from the start.  I had let my butter soften in a bowl on top of the stove so it was the perfect mixing consistency.  I chopped up a few tbsp of Italian parsley and basil and then I made a garlic paste.  Making the garlic paste was easier than I thought.  All you need is a clove of garlic and some sea salt and a knife. I love sea salt and it is the only salt I use to season my cooking.  I think it genetic destiny my love of sea salt, for my Sicilian ancestors were from outside Trapani and it is said that they worked in the salt mines located there. Whatever the case, sea salt just tastes better than iodized salt. My husband cracked the pepper for me, making sure to ask if I wanted "fresh pepper" as if I was in an Adam Sandler sketch.  This moment of levity culminated the end of nearly 2.5 hours in the kitchen, my risotto was creamy goodness, my perfectly browned bread cooled on baker's racks and my herbed butter was to die for.  I had successfully tackled homemade bread and risotto on the same night!  All of this success while my 20 month old son dumped out the dog's water bowl and decided to add more water from freezer dispenser to the floor instead of the misplaced water bowl.  

After dinner was over, Mike couldn't get over the fact that "I had made bread".  We ate almost 1 whole loaf with dinner for there is nothing better than warm bread and butter.  There was no APB out for my yeast murder, no Gordon Ramsey yelling in my head.  It was a true kitchen triumph!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Random Thoughts with a Side of Spinach Frittata

Since I am avoiding the commissary like the plague- it's payday week- I haven't really been cooking.  We have been living off of left-overs while I have brain-storm recipes for the coming week.  So far I have 3 new recipes that I am going to try, all from my Epicurious app on my IPad, along with some classics.  And, this coming week will be a week of culinary firsts in the kitchen for me too.  I plan on making homemade pizza dough and rainbow cookies from scratch.

I have never made a yeast doughs and I figured it is about time I learn how to do it.  I can thank my parents for inspiring me. Since my father has retired my parents have been spending their golden years experimenting in the kitchen together and I get to hear about all the delicious things they have made without any of the benefit since they are in Pennsylvania and I am in Georgia.  My mom is no stranger to making pizza dough and I am sure when I talk about my fears of killing poor, defenseless yeast (the real reason I haven't made pizza dough or bread yet) she rolls her eyes on the other end.  I had found a super easy margherita pizza recipe and since it doesn't require pizza sauce( aka work), I figured I would make the dough from scratch in lieu of store bought dough. As it is, I am not a big fan of pillsbury pizza dough and we don't have enough local pizzerias down here that I can buy pizza dough from.  If my pizza dough is a failure, I am sure I can bribe the guys at Screamin' Mimi's for one.

After my baklava success as of late (and my successful weight gain of 3 lbs due to eating above-said baklava), I have decided to tackle rainbow cookies.  This cookie is probably my favorite Italian cookie, next to the pignole (pine nut) cookie. I used to work in an Italian bakery when I was a teen-ager and we used to test the freshness of the cookie trays we pre-wrapped by pressing on a rainbow cookie, if it was soft they were still good.  I also made the most of my regular access to rainbow cookies while working in this bakery, much to my (cheap) boss' chagrin.  They are usually the most expensive cookie by the pound.  Now, when I go home I try to have them at least once, since finding them in Georgia is harder than finding Jimmy Hoffa and Sasquatch playing a game of Texas Hold 'Em together. Feeling confident, I googled the recipe and I found that a fellow food blogger, Smitten Kitchen,  already tackled these little pieces of heaven with some success. I have to pick up some kitchen utensils and go on a search and rescue mission for some almond paste before conquering this culinary endeavor but I am feeling confident.  Definitely check back this weekend to hear how I am stuffing my face with homemade rainbow cookies (or crying due to the ensued kitchen disaster).

Anyways, I am sure all of you are shaking your heads wondering why I haven't even brought up the spinach frittata yet.  Since I haven't really cooked since Sunday, I felt inspired to make my 20 month old, Nate something other than the requisite pb&j for lunch.  We are running low on food due to my commissary avoidance and I had to dig around my pantry for ideas.  I had a half a bag of baby spinach, a carton of eggs and a frying pan.  I knew exactly what I was going to make him, a spinach frittata. One of my favorite egg dishes, I used to eat spinach frittatas regularly when I was pregnant with my daughter since they were easy to make, healthy and cheap (my husband and I didn't have a lot of money back then).  I haven't made one in a while and feeling inspired to putz around in the kitchen I decided this would be a perfect lunch for the two of us.

I make my frittata completely on the stove top but some recipes call for you to brown it off in the broiler which is for me is just too much work when I am trying to feed a hungry toddler.  This is also a one pan recipe which saves on clean up.  This is perfect for a quick breakfast, lunch or even a quick dinner if it is coupled with soup or salad.

Spinach Frittata
non-stick cooking spray (essential since I only cook with stainless steel)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2-3 cups of baby spinach
1 handful of italian parsely chopped (I threw that in there since I had a bunch in the fridge I wanted to use, it's completely optional though)
4 eggs
1 tbsp water
1tsp italian seasoning
1/2 C grated cheese

  • Spray a 12 in skillet with cooking spray.  Heat pan on medium high. Add olive oil and once heated, add garlic.  Sautee til brown and then throw in spinach.  Sautee til spinach is wilted. Once wilted, set aside in a bowl.
  • In a bowl, beat eggs, water and italian seasoning.  Add 3/4 of the egg mixture to pan.  Lower flame to medium.  Once bottom sets add back the sautee'd spinach, parsely and grated cheese.  
  • Top with remaining egg mixture.
  • Once sides have set, quickly loosen them with a spatula from the side of the pan.  This allows the frittata to be flipped out of the pan easily.
  • Once top of frittata has set (no longer runny)  flip onto a plate and cut into wedges.