Thursday, November 3, 2011

October Food 'n Flix Roundup!

This month, I was lucky enough to host the October Food 'n Flix Roundup, and boy did I have fun! Ratatouille is one of my all-time favorite movies to watch with my Little Man - and it never fails to make me HUNGRY!!!

We didn't have a large number of submissions, but I believe its all about the quality, not the quantity, and we certainly have quality food right here!

Heather, of Girlichef, and our lovely founder of Food 'n Flix, was inspired to make this Ratatouille Omelet, and I like the way she thinks! What a fun way to have breakfast!

Deb at Kahakai Kitchen made a gorgeous Roasted Ratatouille that just makes my mouth water.

Elizabeth from The Law Student's Cookbook found herself thinking like a rat and made Baked Cheesy Ravioli. Hmmm maybe I should start thinking like a rat. Cheese? Ravioli? You can't beat that at my house, either.
And, I finally have my own submission posted. Parisian Soup, which is my own little memory-inducing comfort food.A cream soup recipe from the 1970's, with lots of butter and LOVE in it.
It was a fabulous stroll down Memory Lane, thinking back to being in the kitchen with my Mom while she put together this heart-warming dish. I hope it was the same for all of you!

SOUP! for Food 'n Flix Roundup

Ahhhh Ratatouille. Such a fine foodie film in an unexpected wrapper. Of course, it’s a fun movie to watch,  but why did I choose Ratatouille for this month’s Food ‘n Flix selection?  My son.

No, Little Man did not say “Mommy, Mommy, you HAVE to pick Ratatouille!!” jumping up and down and threatening to hold his breath if I didn’t see things his way. Why, then?

Ratatouille changed our lives. CHANGED. OUR. LIVES.

See, I know this is going to come as a shock to you, but…. Mommy loves to cook. I know, try and contain your surprise. Well, Ty has always loved to be in the kitchen with me, form an early age. I have pictures of us washing dishes together, even.

But after seeing Ratatouille, Ty “got” it.  He understood the concept of creating a beautiful dish, a new “taste experience” and he began to question combinations, ingredients, and started accumulating his own kitchen tools, apron, and a step stool so he could cook with Mommy, on her level. He wants to get in there, hands on, and BE the chef.
Sometimes literally.

And so, when it was my turn to choose a film for Food ‘n Flix, the choice was easy.  Now I bet your question is. “So what did you cook?”

“SOUUUUUP???”

The look on Chef’s face as he realizes a possible catastrophe is about to leave his kitchen in the form of Linguine’s “soup”. This soup is inspired. According to food critic Leclaire, it is a “revelation”, and it is. In more ways than one. I have no doubt the soup was a phenomenal “taste experience”, as the critic states, but it is an awakening for both Linguine, Remy, and all of Paris as they discover (and re-discover) the world of food.

What was in the soup? Who knows. What started as one thing, became another, as was the case for not only the soup, but Remy and Linguine , as well. We saw stock go in and cream, as well as leeks and some herbs…..thyme maybe? “Rosemary? That’s an herb, right?” One ingredient that obviously went into it was Passion. A passion for food.

So could I re-create Remy’s soup? No, of course not. But here’s a bit of irony. When I was a girl, there was a soup that my mother made. I haven’t had it in many years, but just the thought of it takes me back home, to my mom’s kitchen, transported like Ego was to his childhood home. A few years back, I asked my mom for the recipe, which she gladly gave me…..and yet, I’ve still not made it.

Until now. The ironic part? It is called “Parisian Soup”

Ty and I spent quality time in the kitchen, putting our ingredients together with love, and turned out a heart warming batch of my mom’s Parisian Soup. In honor of Remy, Linguine, and yes… even Ego. 

Parisian Soup
Makes 3 quarts

16-18 ounce bag frozen vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, carrot blend)
2 c. water
½ cup butter
½ cup margarine
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped onion
1 cup flour
4 chicken bouillon cubes
6 c. cold milk
1 c diced ham
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp Accent
Salt

Cook vegetables in water until just tender – do not drain. Set aside.
Melt butter and margarine in a skillet.
Add celery and onion and sautee until tender.
Add flour, stirring until well blended.
Crush chicken bouillon cubes and add to this mixture. (I don’t keep bouillon cubes in the house, but I did have some chicken soup base, so I used an equivalent amount of that.)
Add cold milk and stir until thick and smooth.
Add ham and cooked vegetables with their cooking liquid.
Add seasonings.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Food n Flix Deadline!

That’s right folks, I am hosting Food ‘n Flix this month, and I had set today as the deadline, but I’ve had a change of heart! (Ok, so really, I’ve been too busy making Ty’s Halloween costume to get my OWN dish made!) You still have time! If you can get your submission to me by noon on Monday, October 31st, it will still make it I the roundup.

Get cookin', everyone!


Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Modern Day Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, on the outskirts of a small town, there was a young couple, living in an old schoolhouse , with very little furniture.
One day, while attending a local auction, the young woman spotted a cabinet that seemed to call her name. And, after all, they did need something to put the TV on. And so, much to the young man’s dismay, she bought the cabinet for the paltry sum of $15, and they hauled it home.

Unbeknownst to the woman, the man DESPISED this cabinet. To this day, she doesn’t know what brought on this utter dislike of the cabinet, and yet, it was there,….. growing….festering. Until one day, the couple remodeled their country home to make room for Baby. And the cabinet found a new home in the depths of the garage. This pleased the man greatly.

Years went by and the couple moved to a new home…. And once again, they needed a place for the TV to rest. Unaware of her husband’s intense hatred for the old cabinet, she made plans to refinish it. Because, after all, it was fairly unattractive. Yet it was sturdy, and she felt it had great potential. The husband, however, stood in her way at every turn, trying desperately to thwart her efforts, and regaling her with tales of what type of damage he would enjoy inflicting on the innocent piece of furniture.

Yet she persisted, undaunted by her husband’s denial of what she knew to be truth.

This cabinet WOULD be beautiful.

And so began the makeover. A palm sander, a few coats of high gloss paint and some new hardware turned the Ugly Duckling….
Into the Swan.
And the husband refused to admit he was wrong…. But the wife knew. And she was pleased.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Not-Even-Remotely-Authentic Pastitsio

Sometimes you just really need a casserole. Something warm, hearty, and comforting. Something with MEAT in it. And carbs. Lots of carbs. But then you have the guilt. You know the guilt I’m talking about. Is there anything GREEN in that casserole dish?

Well, in this one, there is! I was craving exactly such a dish this weekend when it was in the low 60’s outside and smelling like fall. I recalled a recipe I had recently seen in one of my foodie magazines (but then couldn’t find later). And so, as any home cook with a sudden craving is wont to do…. I improvised.

Not-Even-Remotely-Authentic Pastitsio
2 cups dried penne noodles (I used mini penne)
1 8-ounce package low fat cream cheese
1 can diced, fire roasted tomatoes
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 pound Italian sausage (I used ‘sweet’ this time, but usually prefer ‘hot’. Use that you like)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 bag fresh baby spinach

Boil pasta according to package directions. While the noodles are cooking, brown the sausage and drain.
While the meat is still hot, mix in the cream cheese and tomatoes, and Italian seasoning and stir until evenly combined.
In a large bowl, mix the cooked pasta, sausage mixture, half the mozzarella and the spinach together, then press into a casserole dish.
Top with remaining mozzarella and bake at 350, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and casserole is warm throughout.

This is my submission for Presto Pasta Nights this week.

Monday, October 3, 2011

ANNOUNCEMENT!!! Its Ratatouille for October's Food 'n Flix

Anyone Can Cook.

So says Chef August Gusteau. The man, the myth, the legend..... of French cuisine in the Disney film, Ratatouille.

Remy is a rat. A chef in his own right, mixed up and lonely, trying to find his place between two worlds.
Alfredo Linguine is.....human. Although even he isn't sure about that sometimes. He befriends Remy and they set out on a path together down the culinary yellow brick road.
I have to admit that Ratatouille is one of my favorite foodie films....and for a good reason. Its my son's favorite foodie film! I am looking forward to getting in the kitchen with him to create a Ratatouille-inspired dish this month. What about you? Can you cook? Or are you truly fearless, like Remy? Let's find out in October!

How to participate in Food ‘n Flix:
1. Rent, buy, beg, borrow or steal October's film selection (Ratatouille) and watch it. Taking inspiration from the film, head into the kitchen and cook, bake or make something.
2. Post about it on your blog with a link back to THIS post and a link to Food ‘n Flix.
3. Your post must be current (during month of film). And of course we don’t mind if your post is linked to other events…the more the merrier.
4. Most important - have fun!
5. Email me at bethanneleach@gmail.com by the deadline (October 28th) and include the following:
  • Your name
  • Your blog’s name and URL
  • The name of your dish and the permalink to the specific post you’re submitting
  • Attach a photo of your dish (or just give me permission to “pull” one from your post)
  • Indicate “Food ‘n Flix Submission” in the subject line
Deadline for submission is: October 28th. I will be posting the roundup shortly after that, so check back often!

Friday, September 30, 2011

We Be Jammin’!

A year ago, I was lucky enough to run across a lovely blog hosted by an even lovelier blogger, Steph Chows. It all started with two words. 

Jam Exchange.

She had me from “hello”.

I’d never been involved in a bloggy exchange before but the idea intrigued me, and so it began. It was very simple, really. Send two jars of jam to the person you are paired up with.  In return, that person will send YOU two jars of their own homemade jam.

What a fantastic concept, yes?

I thought so. I posted about my exploits with last years exchange here. You can imagine how anxiously I awaited this year’s edition.  A pineapple, some farmers market blueberries, and a caramelized stovetop later, and my congealed creations were on their way to Georgia and Florida. What did I make? This year’s selections were Piña Colada, and Blueberry Lime. Both of which went over famously with the family here as well as an old high school classmate down in Florida, who caught me posting on Facebook about the adventure and “offered” to taste test them for me. I gladly complied and carried my little parcels to the post office the very next business day.

And what did my wondering eyes should appear??? (yes, I’m sorry, I’m already thinking about Christmas) Two lovely jars of jam, straight from Georgia. The Redhead over at Handcrafted with Altitude (you can see a picture of the two jams I sent her here) whipped up a Ginger Vanilla Peach and a Blackberry Peach. Both of which were fabulous. I particularly liked the combination of ginger and peaches.
You can bet I’ll be in line right away for the jam exchange next year! In the meantime, here are a couple of recipes for you to chew on!

Piña Colada Jam 
3 1/2 cups fresh pureed pineapple
1 cup cream of coconut (do NOT use coconut milk) 
1/3 cup white rum 
1/4 cup lemon juice 
6 1/2 cups sugar 
2 (3 ounce) envelopes liquid pectin
    1. In a large heavy bottomed pot, mix together pineapple puree, cream of coconut, rum, and lemon juice.
    2. Stir in sugar and bring to a full rolling boil (one that can't be stirred down) over high heat.
    3. Stir constantly, boil hard for three minutes.
    4. Remove from heat and stir in pectin.
    5. Skim off any foam.
    6. Ladle into sterilized jars to within 1/4 inch of rim. Wipe rim clean.
    7. Apply lids and rings and tighten rings just fingertip tight.
    8. Process jars in boiling water bath canner for 5 minutes.
    Blueberry Lime Jam
    4 1/2 cups blueberries
    1 package dry pectin 5 cups sugar 1 tablespoon lime zest 1/3 cup lime juice

      Crush blueberries one layer at a time. Combine crushed blueberries and pectin in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Stir in grated lime peel and lime juice. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Process 15 minutes in a hot water bath.

      Monday, September 26, 2011

      The Help: A Movie Review

      I am well aware that in the grand scheme of things, my opinion means very little. However, there are times that I still feel the need to express it. Last month, my book club read The Help by Kathryn Stockett.. We have found in the past that we usually love one book, and then the next month we can barely get through our current selection.

      September was a very good month.

      We all simply adored The Help and couldn't wait to get together and discuss it. It was my turn to host, so I even made themed food for the occasion. Southern-inspired Black Eyed Pea Soup,  Muffaletta Pinwheels, Alabama Firecrackers (spiced crackers), and, yes, Chocolate Pie. (Read the book and you'll understand)


      When we selected The Help, I didn't realize they were making it into a movie, but how could the timing have been more perfect? I waited and waited, and finally this weekend, it came to our quaint little hometown theatre, The Marvel (yes, because I am too lazy to drive an hour to the nearest theatre where it was playing).


      Now, bear in mind that when I go see a movie that was made from a book, I try and go in with an open mind. So often I hear people being very critical of movies made from books because they "weren't enough like the book". Well, my theory is that its awfully hard to squeeze every aspect of a fantastic book into a matter of 120 minutes of darkened theatre mystique. I try and view these films as free-standing stories, and take them for what they are, entertaining (or not) in their own right, and try not to hold them to the standard of the book from whence they came.

      This generally works out pretty well for me. Especially considering that I don't think I have ever seen a movie that actually closely resembles the book is was made from.

      Until now.

      I have to give high praise to the creators of The Help (the motion picture) for their attention to detail, their dedication to the flow of the novel, and their unforeseen ability to make a grown woman cry in public.

      I have to say that The Help so closely followed the book that I was amazed. Granted, there were details left out. How do you cram every last speck of information from a 500+ page book into an after dinner treat? But, while I noticed the exclusions, I did not miss them. The film stood on its own, an homage to the book, and while I still highly recommend reading the original from cover to cover, if you can't, the movie version is a darned good substitute.

      Read it. See it. Bring tissues. If you don't get choked up during this film, well.... you just ain't right.

      Saturday, September 24, 2011

      New Beginnings

      Hello again, everyone!!! As promised, I am back and ready to roll again. We have had a very busy and eventful summer but I have missed my bloggy world and can't wait to dive back in. I will have some new food posts coming up soon (I have jam exchange news!) and I will be hosting Food 'n Flix in October. We'll be cooking dishes inspired by the film that inspired my Little Man to cook with me - Ratatouille! I'll have an announcement post up with the guidelines soon, but hop on over and check the site out!

      SO, what have I been up to? Glad you asked. Instead of doing what normal families do over their summer vacations, like....you know....TAKING a vacation..... instead we gutted our house and commenced a remodel of gargantuan proportions while Ty was on summer break. I'd say we replaced everything but the kitchen sink, but that's not true. We DID replace the kitchen sink. And the cabinets, and the floors (all of them), and repainted every inch of wall and ceiling, and 22 new light fixtures, curtains on every window, new siding, new bathrooms fixtures and an enormous new deck. Yes, we did it all. and more. In less than three months.

      As you can imagine, it was a whirlwind of a summer, and I promise to post pictures soon. We are still putting finishing touches on and trying to get settled back in. I am really looking forward to having my beautiful new kitchen to do all my holiday cooking, baking and candy making in.

      Since starting back to school last month, Ty has also signed up for Cub Scouts, and...please try to control your surprise.... I "volunteered" to be one of his Den's leaders. SO, be on the lookout for some fun posts about what its like being a Cub Scout mom! I was in girl scouts myself for YEARS, but this will likely be a whole new experience for me.

      But, you really just want to hear about the food, don't you? I thought so. Well, you'll just have to wait a TINY bit longer until I get pictures loaded on my new computer, but I'll give you a little teaser and tell you that for this year's Jam Exchange (hosted beautifully by Steph Chows) I made Blueberry Lime jam and Piña Colada jam, both of which were huge hits! I promise (again) to post more soon.

      In the meantime, thanks for hanging around this summer! I'll make it worth your while.

      See you soon!
      Beth Anne

      Monday, September 5, 2011

      Fair Warning....

      I'm baaaaaaack.... 


      I've got some new posts coming up and an explanation for my bloggy hiatus....see you all soon!

      Monday, April 11, 2011

      Caprese, Caprese, Caprese....

      Recently, I was curled up on my sofa, flipping through the pages of my new FoodNetwork magazine, when something gave me pause. I sat there, staring at the picture on the page, in a trance.

      The recipe immediately went to the top of the “things to make the next time Ginny visits” list.

      Can’t imagine something so dramatic that it would completely monopolize my thoughts? I know, its hard to imagine…..because, you know, that NEVER happens. (you recognize snark when you see it, I hope)

      This recipe though, combines two of my favorite things.

      Eating….and drinking.

      One of the early dishes that I can remember Ginny and I falling in love with as we picked our way down our culinary yellow brick road together, is Caprese Salad. Back then it was a rare sight on restaurant menus and few people I ran into even knew what it was. Gradually it has made its way into the foodie mainstream and has endured countless variations.  While I am still partial to the original, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I couldn’t resist trying this one.

      Caprese Martini.

      You heard me. MARTINI.

      Since I have basil growing on my counter and fresh mozzarella is so much easier to get these days, the bottle of vodka came down from the rack and we indulged.

      I will grant you that we made a couple of tiny changes and our picture isn’t anywhere near as gorgeous as the one featured in FoodNetwork, but it certainly was tasty.

      Caprese Martini
      Ingredients
      • 1 pound tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
      • 1 1/2 cups vodka (half of a 750-ml bottle)
      • Kosher salt
      • 16 grape tomatoes
      • 2 cups balsamic vinegar
      • 1/2 bunch basil
      • 8 small mozzarella balls (bocconcini) – we used the little baby “pearls” and wrapped them in basil leaves
      • We also added a dash of lemon juice
      Directions
      Put the tomato slices in a large glass container or pitcher. Add the vodka (make sure it covers the tomatoes) and a pinch of salt; let infuse 6 to 12 hours at room temperature. Strain the vodka, then chill until ready to serve.
      Meanwhile, prick the grape tomatoes with a skewer; toss with the balsamic vinegar in a bowl and marinate 4 hours at room temperature.
      Drain the grape tomatoes, reserving the vinegar. Bring the vinegar to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until syrupy, about 20 minutes; let cool.
      For each drink, drizzle some of the balsamic syrup into the bottom of a chilled martini glass. Muddle 2 to 3 basil leaves with a splash of tomato-infused vodka in a cocktail shaker. Add another 1 1/2 ounces tomato-infused vodka and 1 cup ice; shake and strain into the glass. Skewer 2 marinated grape tomatoes, 2 basil leaves and a mozzarella ball on a cocktail pick and set in the martini.

      ***NOTES: while we did alter the recipe somewhat, it turned out fabulously. Instead of steeping the tomatoes in the vodka, we just muddled some tomatoes and basil in it at the last minute (because really, I don’t plan my martinis 6-12 hours in advance). Also, we didn’t reduce 2 cups of balsamic vinegar to make a syrup. I keep very good balsamic vinegar on hand so we just used some of that instead of  using so much pricey vinegar for a couple of martinis.  So, its not the most photogenic drink in the world, what with the tomato seeds floating at the bottom, and the vodka being a bit murky (who doesn’t love a dirty martini?), but a delicious little taste treat on a hot Sunday afternoon, nonetheless.

      Thursday, March 31, 2011

      Chicken Canzanese

      In case you’ve never noticed, Ginny and I (though residing many miles apart) often share recipes we find. Sometimes one of us makes the dish and passes the recipe on to the other. Other times we hoard several recipes we both want to try and make them all during one of our semi-regular visits.

      On this occasion, I had a package of chicken thighs in the refrigerator and absolutely zero ideas for dinner. The hubs isn’t the biggest fan of chicken to begin with, but I insist on rotating it between his regular meals of beef and pork. So, the dish had to be Matt-approved. The oven baked BBQ chicken quarters I made a few weeks ago did NOT pass muster, so I was really pushing my luck bringing these treacherous little thighs back into the rotation as it is.

      Ginny and I talk pretty much every day after work, so I posed the dilemma to her and she reminded me, without pause, of the dish she had recently made for her parents and got the seal of approval from everyone. She has been a long time fan of America’s Test Kitchen, and, recipe by recipe, she is bringing me over to the dark side with her.

      If you’re not familiar, at America’s Test Kitchen, they take a recipe and test it to within an inch of its life, through trial and error and finding the absolutely best version of it. And this is not just a matter of opinion. Its not solely based on the ingredients. Many times, its about the method. We have found, on multiple occasions, that if you follow an America’s Test Kitchen recipe to the letter, you will end up with an absolutely fool-proof meal.

      As was the case with this Chicken Canzanese.

      The name hails from Canzano, which is in Italy’s Abruzzo region (yes, I googled it). While there are many versions of this age-old dish, none that I found seem to stray very far off the path. I’d never made it before, but I can tell you with certainty that I will never even attempt another version.

      There is no need.

      The America’s Test Kitchen task, in this case, was to find a way to cook/braise skin-on chicken without having the skin turn into a chewy, slimy, unappetizing mess.

      I call them overachievers. But, in a good way.

      This chicken was moist and succulent, but the skin remained crispy and golden, even after braising for over an hour. And the sauce? Oh, the sauce..... it was a revelation. The thighs are braised in a mixture of white wine and herbs, flavored with prosciutto and garlic. Even the hubs loved the sauce...you know, once I pointed out to him that it would be better on his roasted red-skinned potatoes that the piles of butter and cheese he topped them with.

      Just to be clear.... this dish is “lick the plate” good. Hell, its “lick your whole family’s plates” good! I am officially an America’s Test Kitchen convert.

      Chicken Canzanese
      From the episode: Italian Comfort Classics
      Serves 4 to 6

      When seasoning the dish at the end, be mindful that the prosciutto adds a fair amount of salt. It is
      important to use a piece of thickly sliced prosciutto in this recipe; thin strips will become tough
      and stringy. An equal amount of thickly sliced pancetta or bacon can be used in place of the
      prosciutto. Serve the chicken with boiled potatoes, noodles, or polenta to absorb extra sauce.

      Ingredients
      1 tablespoon olive oil
      2 ounces prosciutto (1/4 inch thick), cut into 1/4-inch cubes (see note) (I used bacon)
      4 medium garlic cloves , sliced thin lengthwise
      8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), trimmed of excess fat and skin
      ground black pepper
      2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
      2 cups dry white wine
      1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
      4 whole cloves
      1 (4-inch) sprig fresh rosemary , leaves removed and minced fine (about 1/2 teaspoon),
      stem reserved
      12 whole fresh sage leaves
      2 bay leaves
      1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
      1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
      2 tablespoons unsalted butter
      Table salt

      Instructions
      1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Heat
      1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed ovensafe skillet over medium heat until
      shimmering. Add prosciutto and cook, stirring frequently, until just starting to brown,
      about 3 minutes. Add garlic slices and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is golden
      brown, about 1½ minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer garlic and prosciutto to small
      bowl and set aside. Do not rinse pan.
      2. Increase heat to medium-high; add remaining 2 teaspoons oil and heat until just
      smoking. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with ground black pepper. Add
      chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving until well browned, 5 to 8 minutes.
      Using tongs, turn chicken and brown on second side, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer
      chicken to large plate.
      3. Remove all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan. Sprinkle flour over fat and cook, stirring
      constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly add wine and broth; bring to simmer, scraping bottom
      of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Cook until liquid is slightly reduced,
      3 minutes. Stir in cloves, rosemary stem, sage leaves, bay leaves, red pepper flakes,
      and reserved prosciutto and garlic. Nestle chicken into liquid, skin side up (skin should
      be above surface of liquid), and bake, uncovered, until meat offers no resistance when
      poked with fork but is not falling off bones, about 1 hour 15 minutes. (Check chicken
      after 15 minutes; broth should be barely bubbling. If bubbling vigorously, reduce oven
      temperature to 300 degrees.)
      4. Using tongs, transfer chicken to serving platter and tent with foil. Remove and discard
      sage leaves, rosemary stem, cloves, and bay leaves. Place skillet over high heat and bring
      sauce to boil. Cook until sauce is reduced to 1¼ cups, 2 to 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in
      minced rosemary, lemon juice, and butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour
      sauce around chicken and serve.

      Gettin’ Naked!

      We have a new chef over at I Heart Cooking Clubs this week. That’s right, its our first date with Jamie Oliver.  I have always enjoyed watching Jamie, and I find his effervescent style very refreshing (pun entirely intended). I’m not sure how well we will get along over the next six months of cooking together though, as so very few of his recipes are “Leach Family” friendly. I adore his simple salads and his lovely pastas, but, as I have found, sometimes his choice of ingredients leaves me floundering in my lack of shopping options.

      But, since I things he is absolutely fabulous, I’m going to give it the ol’ college try. Starting now. Our theme this inaugural week is “Let's Get Naked”, which I think is very forward for a first date, but hey, I’m willing to give it a chance!

      When the vote was in and it was announced that Jamie was our next chef, naturally I went looking for recipes. I don’t own a single one of his cookbooks (that’s a new concept for me) so I just did some browsing online, and the very first recipe that jumped out and said “Eat Me!” was Jamie’s Fresh Asian Noodle Salad. Conveniently, I had just happened across some little personal-sized packages of bean thread noodles and stashed a few in my pantry. Finding any decent fresh chiles wasn’t easy, though, and the best I could do was some green serranos.

      I have to say, This recipe kicks ass! I wasn’t that optimistic about it with its basic ingredients (and no, I didn’t have any prawns, either, so my medium size frozen shrimp had to stand in), but it came together beautifully and I couldn’t keep my chopsticks out of it as I was packing up the leftovers for lunch last night. This one is definitely going to be making regular appearances over the summer when I have my own home-grown fresh chiles on hand!

      fresh asian noodle salad
      ingredients
      • 300g/10½oz cellophane noodles or beanthread noodles
      • 200g/7oz minced beef
      • 2 teaspoons five-spice
      • 5 tablespoons olive oil
      • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
      • 2 heaped teaspoons of grated fresh ginger
      • 100g/5½oz cooked peeled prawns
      • 3 teaspoons sugar
      • 1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
      • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
      • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
      • 2 fresh red chilies, deseeded and finely sliced
      • 1 handful of fresh coriander, chopped
      • 1 handful of fresh mint, chopped
      • 2 handfuls of roasted peanuts
      • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
      starter | serves 4
      This is one of those salads which tastes so amazing that you have to keep making it! It’s spicy, zingy and really gets your tastebuds going.

      Soak the noodles in a bowl of warm water until soft, then drain and put back in the bowl. In a hot wok fry the beef and five-spice in the olive oil until brown and crisp, then add the garlic, ginger, prawns and sugar and stir-fry for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir the wok mixture into the noodles. Add the spring onions, lime juice, fish sauce, chilies, coriander, mint and peanuts to the bowl. Toss well and correct the seasoning — it wants to be quite zingy with the lime juice. Sprinkle with some extra herb leaves if you like and serve cold.

      Try this: You can modify the recipe by using a little wok-fried squid, shellfish or different minced meats.

      This is my submission to I Heart Cooking Clubs and Presto Pasta Nights hosted by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast this week.

      Monday, March 28, 2011

      On The Road Again!

      That’s right, its ROAD TRIP time!

      Well, okay, its ALMOST road trip time. This summer, though I can hardly believe it, is my TWENTY year high school reunion. (good lord, I am getting old...when the hell did TWENTY years go by?)

      I have decided that I’m going to make the trip back “home” for the event, both to attend the reunion and to visit with friends and family I haven’t seen in quite some time. Much of my extended family remains in that area, while my immediate family has moved to the east coast. Instead of flying, as I originally intended, I’ve decided that Ty and I are going to make it a drive trip. Since school will be out for the summer, I am going to take a couple of extra days off and we’re going to “visit” our way out, stopping along the way to see people we don’t often connect with in person.

      So, here’s the route:
      We’re going to take the southern route on the way there and the northern route on the return trip, stopping in Indianapolis and South Bend, respectively, to break up the trip and see some folks.
       
      UPDATE: I forgot to mention I'll most likely be visiting someone in Sandusky as well, so Cleveland will probably be on the agenda!
       
      Why am I telling you all this? Well, I was just wondering if anyone else happens to live along the way that would like to see our smiling faces! Or, if you have any suggestions for interesting places to stop and stretch our legs. This will be Ty’s longest road trip to-date, so we’ll be stopping often to make it easier on him. Other than the two previously mentioned stops, I will probably also pull the train over in the Elkhart/Shipshewana, Indiana area to talke a stroll around the Amish shops there. Other than that, I’m open!

      We’ve got some time to plan this, but I figured I’d put it out there now to see if anyone has suggestions.

      Can’t wait to see everyone again! I’ve been missing Toledo!

      Friday, March 25, 2011

      Mocha Crunch Bars

      I am always on the lookout for things that I can snack on at work that don’t come from a bag or a wrapper. Since I sit at a computer all day, I do at least attempt to eat on the healthier side, although that rarely seems to happen.

      I recently ran across this recipe over at a friend's blog (and yes, I'm terrible, I can't remember where! If this is yours, please comment and let me know!) and knew immediately that I had to make it. I did make a few modifications for my own personal pantry, but I think they turned out wonderfully. A nice, filling snack bar (I may or may not have doubled the espresso powder *ahem*) that I can feel good about eating when I need to stave off the morning “hungries”.

      Mocha Crunch Bars
      1 1/4 cup toasted nuts and seeds (I used a mix of pecans, almonds, and pepitas)
      1/4 cup flax seed meal
      1/4 cup cocoa powder
      2 tbsp granulated erythritol (I used sugar)
      2 tbsp instant coffee (I used Medaglia D’Oro espresso powder)
      1/4 cup coconut oil
      1/4 cup almond butter (I used peanut butter)
      1/2 tsp vanilla extract
      12 drops stevia extract (again, I used a little sugar)

      In a food processer, grind toasted nuts and seeds until fine. Mix in a large bowl with flax seed, cocoa powder, erythritol and coffee.

      In a small saucepan over low heat, melt coconut oil and almond butter together, stirring until combined and smooth. Off heat, add vanilla and stevia extract.

      Pour coconut oil mixture into the nuts and seeds and stir until it comes together. Press into an ungreased loaf pan and chill in refrigerator until set. Cut into 8 bars.

      Keep unused bars refrigerated.

      Thursday, March 24, 2011

      Ahhhh..... SAKE!

      Ok, so by Sunday, I was starting to get a little punchy. It was, after all, a very busy weekend. You wouldn't know that to look at the pathetically small number of items that have been crossed off my "to-do" list, but I guarantee you, I was moving the whole time

      It was actually a long weekend for me, thanks (no-thanks) to a doctor appointment in not-so-nearby Springfield. On the plus side, these appointments always give me some much needed "me" time in one of my favorite shopping stomping grounds. While I didn't get everything done that was on my list while in Springfield, I was more productive the rest of the weekend.

      Who knew one person could do so much laundry, wash so many dishes, etc....

      The last several weekends have all been busy, but of the other, more demanding variety, involving a number of houseguests, parties, and other activities. And so, I declared this weekend, "MY" weekend. To get things done at home, sure, but also to relax a bit. And that, my friends, almost always involves cocktails.

      I've been on a mission lately to wrap up some old projects and long-lost "must try" recipes.

      This cocktail hails from 2008. Yes, that's right. Its been on my radar for nearly three years. And the ingredients have also been in my pantry. Not long after seeing this recipe on Deb's blog over at Kahakai Kitchen, I promptly bought the first nice bottle of sake that I laid eyes on during a trip to Whole Foods.

      Well, I decided that this weekend was the time to let it shine. And SHINE, it did! This little teaser sent me hurtling back through the years to a drink that I learned how to make with my MEF (most excellent friend), Sylvia, many, many moons ago....that was dubbed....Yuck-a-muck.... or Yok-amock.... who knows how it was supposed to be spelled. All I know is that it was GOOD.

      So, girlfriend, this one's for YOU!

      Sake Drop
      2 parts lemonade
      1 part sake
      a small pour of Grenadine to garnish (about 1/2 ounce)

      Mix lemonade and sake together with ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour into a glass and pour about 1/2 oz of grenadine into drink before serving.

      Wednesday, March 23, 2011

      Signs of Spring

      It has only officially been Spring for a few days, but already I can see the changes happening around me. I have been anxiously monitoring the garden for any progress, and finally I have news to report!

      Spring has sprung!

      First and most surprising is this:
      These are the brussels sprouts I grew last year that are now officially staging a come-back. See those tiny buds on the stems? Those are going to be sprouts!

      Second, and always something I look forward to, is my chives.
      Finally, and possibly most exciting for me, is this:
      Do you know what this is?

      THAT, my dear friends, is my fig tree. I bought a fig tree last year, and promptly proceeded to kill it. Recently I heard about a class in St Louis all about growing fig trees in our area. I signed up, and Ginny came out to go with me. The presenter assured us that our tiny little, severely pruned trees that we were given would eagerly sprout green shoots and turn into lovely trees by summer. I have to admit, I was skeptical. But just look at those adorable little buds! They are getting visibly bigger and more numerous every day and I can’t wait to show you updates as my little fig baby grows up!

      That’s all for now, but I am anticipating more progress to report  very, very soon!

      (CHILI CHEESE) FRITO and BACON BRITTLE

      I’m kind of a freak. Have you figured that out yet?

      Yes? Good. Because you may need to put a little faith in me for this post.

      Don’t even ask me where I got this idea.....it would probably take us down roads that are better left untraveled. Sometimes my mind works in mysterious....and moderately disturbing....ways.

      I’m not even going to give this recipe and introduction....I really think its going to speak for itself.

      Suffice it to say that this recipe goes along with the theme of last weekend for me, which was “finishing up old projects”, since this has been on my list for quite awhile. I honestly didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but in the end, it was a real people pleaser.

      (CHILI CHEESE) FRITO and BACON BRITTLE
      2c sugar
      1c water
      1/16 tsp. salt
      2 tbsp. butter
      1 1/2 c Chili Cheese Fritos
      ½ cup cooked, chopped bacon

      Spread Fritos out on a piece of parchment paper that has been placed inside a 9x13 baking dish. Combine sugar, water, and salt in a large saucepan and stir until dissolved. Cover and boil for 3 minutes. Remove lid and cook until the syrup turns a rich caramel color (320 degrees F/Hard crack stage). Remove from heat and quickly stir in butter. Pour over Fritos and bacon.

      Cool completely before breaking apart.

      **NOTES: I more or less poured what was left in my bag of Fritos into the pan. In retrospect, I think 1 ½ cups would have been a better amount. As it was, there wasn’t quite enough sugar syrup to hold all the Fritos together. This treat is sweet...and salty....and smoky....and a little bit evil. The first bite was a little odd. But the next one really packed a punch. The third had me hooked.

      Tuesday, March 22, 2011

      Time to Make the Gelato!

      A year. Truly...its been a YEAR.

      That’s right, a year ago, the Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto was published and I got my greedy little hands on a copy just as fast as I could. And I was determined to make a new batch of gelato every week over the summer.

      How many did I make?


      I know, I’m a terrible slacker, but really, it was probably the best decision for my waistline. Ciao Bella makes the most fabulous gelatos, and that is a commodity that is very hard to come by in this neck of the backwoods. So, when they released a cookbook, you know I jumped at the chance to make my own version at home. After all, I already had an ice cream maker.

      What’s the point here? Oh yeah... I’m getting an early start this year.

      I’ve had an idea brewing in my demented little mind for awhile now, but I am one of those people that just can’t eat cold foods like ice cream and gelato during the cold months. Can’t do it. Not even at birthday parties.

      Did you know that it was warm enough yesterday to open up my house? I’m not sure what the temperature peaked at, but I even had my fig tree out on the deck, sunning itself for awhile. First day of Spring.....

      Time to make the gelato!

      Last summer, I was blessed with an enormous quantity of blackberries, brought to me by one of our dear friends, which I promptly proceeded to rinse and freeze in pie-size Ziploc bags. I had about sixteen of them in my freezer. I’ve only used a few of them up and, with summer looming, its time to get those moving into the rotation. First up, naturally, is gelato. Well, ok...sorbetto.

      Ciao Bella’s Blackberry Cabernet Sorbetto is one of my favorite flavors, and I have been dying to make my own. Minus the Cabernet. Why? Because I had an idea I liked better.

      See, at the Market on the Square (I know, I know, I should shut up about the place already, right? No!) they carry wines from several local vineyards; one of which being the Piasa Winery. (That’s PIE-uh-saw to those of you who aren’t from the area. The Piasa Bird is a mythical bird of legend that was supposedly described by Lewis & Clark, if I have my local history right. That’s debatable though, since I suck at history.)

      But, I digress.

      The lovely folks over at Piasa Winery make a Port. A CHOCOLATE-INFUSED port that has become my new best friend. I know you’ve got this one figured out already, right? Yep, I reduced an entire bottle of their Dreamcatcher Port (don’t stress, its only a half-size bottle) and substituted that for the Cabernet in Ciao Bella’s recipe.

      Blackberries, Port, and CHOCOLATE. Really, I mean, how could that possibly be bad? It can’t. Only in the sense that it makes me want to eat it all....

      So, I’m going to be a good girl and share. I froze the sorbetto into smaller containers and I delivered one to the good people over at Market on the Square for their own warm-weather pleasure.

      Its like the old saying that I hold so dear.....

      “I love cooking with wine....sometimes I even put it in the food.”

      Blackberry Port Sorbetto
      (adapted from the Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto)

      6 cups blackberries
      1 TB lemon juice
      Simple syrup (about 1 ¼ cups)
      ½ cup reduced Dreamcatcher Port

      Simmer a bottle of Dreamcatcher Port (about 1 ½ cups) over medium heat until it reduces to about ½ cup. Chill.
      In a food processor, puree the blackberries and lemon juice until smooth.
      Pour through a fine mesh sieve, pressing to release the juices and discarding the seeds. Chill.
      Whisk together the port, berry puree, and simple syrup, then process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
      Spoon into containers and place in the freezer to firm up.