Friday, January 21, 2011

Creamy Orzo with Peas for Presto Pasta Nights

I have been cooking with Giada DeLaurentiis for years, but until recently, I don’t think I realized how I seem to gravitate to her simple, yes tasty, pasta recipes. First I posted her Sciue Sciue, and now I am about to present her Creamy Orzo with Peas.

I simply adore Orzo. It is one of my favorite pasta shapes. And, as with Sciue Sciue, it is supremely simple to make. This works wonderfully as a side dish for a crowd, or with chicken or shrimp added for a satisfying main dish. Today it was perfect with just a few knots of the Prosciutto Americano that Ginny brought me.

Creamy Orzo with Peas
1 pound orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, juices drained (I use Crushed Fire-roasted tomatoes for more flavor, and do not drain the liquid off)
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a heavy large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the orzo and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic, and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cream and peas. Add the orzo and toss to coat. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the Parmesan to the pasta mixture and toss to coat. Stir the pasta mixture until the sauce coats the pasta thickly, adding enough reserved cooking liquid to maintain a creamy consistency. Season the orzo with salt and pepper, and serve.

This is my submission for Presto Pasta Nights, which will be hosted by Jen over at Tastes of Home next Friday!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What to do....What to do....

The good folks over at The Mad Housewife posed a question recently. What do you do with your wine corks? Well, let me just show you!
 That's right, with the help of my Dad, I make trivets. He makes these great little trays for me and then I sit at the table arranging and rearranging corks in the opening until they fit just right, hot gluing them in place. A few of my lucky friends have received these as gifts. Personally, I keep one on my table at all times. Aren't they fabulous?
This one is mine and it makes regular appearances on my blog in various food pictures.
Sadly, this one was before I discovered Mad Housewife wines, but you can bet the next one will have Mad Housewife corks in it!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Taking it to Another Level

You know I can’t just leave well enough alone. Nope. I can’t do it, its just not in me. I get an idea and I just have to run with it.

Well, that’s what happened after I made two batches of biscotti last weekend. I just....couldn’t.....stop.

Fortunately, there have been people who have gone before me that had the same budding idea I was formulating and therefore I didn’t have to find my own recipe.

After putting together Piña Colada Biscotti.... and then Island Mango Biscotti.... I was really craving something savory. The wheels started turning and I ended up with Black Pepper Biscotti. A quick Google search turned up a couple of recipes for Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti and that, my dear friends, was a combination I just couldn’t turn down. I started cooking almost immediately. I mean, after all, I had all the ingredients, so why wait?

I have one word for these Biscotti.


Now clearly, this is not something I would be inclined to dunk in my morning coffee. That being about a bowl of Fire Roasted Tomato and Parmesan Soup? Because, let me tell you, that was a match made in heaven.
These biscotti took a lot longer to bake than the recipe prescribed, mainly because they came out more like a biscuit. Soft and fluffy, but definitely not sturdy. I intended to ship these as part of the Cookie Swap I took part in, but I was concerned that with their moisture content, they might be in danger of molding along the way. And I just couldn’t have that. So, I baked them longer, and kept them local to enjoy with friends here. I will advise making these the day that you want to use them. Serve them at a lovely dinner party. While it didn’t stop me from eating them several days later, I just think they lost some of their integrity when they lost their freshness.

But don’t let that stop you. These were fabulous. Definitely make them. Just go in with a plan!
Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti

1 1/2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
4 1/2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (2 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Pulse peppercorns in grinder until coarsely ground.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, 2 cups cheese, cayenne and 1 tablespoon ground black pepper in a large bowl. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk 3 eggs with milk and add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut in half. Using well-floured hands, form each piece into a slightly flattened log. Transfer logs to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging logs about 3 inches apart.

Whisk remaining egg and brush some over logs, then sprinkle tops of logs evenly with remaining 1/4 cup cheese and 1/2 tablespoon ground pepper.
Bake, rotating sheets 180 degrees and switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until logs are pale golden and firm, about 30 minutes total. Cool logs to warm on sheets on a rack, about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.

Carefully transfer warm logs to a cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Arrange slices, cut sides down, in 1 layer on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining log, transferring slices to sheets. Bake, turning over once, until golden and crisp, 35 to 45 minutes total.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hush Little Piggy, Don't You Fry.....

A recent random search of the internet produced this little gem of a recipe – Pulled Pork Hushpuppies.

And, really, can you ever get too much fried food? Ok, so the answer is yes, you CAN get too much fried food. Or, at least, that’s what my arteries are starting to tell me.

But really, you know me, and clearly I have a serious problem with feeling compelled to try any recipe I find that is unlike any other I have ever seen. Frankly, I can’t believe I haven’t seen some version of this little dandy floating around the lardy Midwestern area in which I reside. I think this would qualify for ideal “Fair Food”.

And, coincidentally (ok, so there is absolutely no coincidence here, I completely planned it this way, but that just sounds boring when you put it out there in the real world) I happened to be making pulled pork sandwiches last week, so it couldn’t have been better timing.

I do love pulled pork. I’m sure that any purist would scoff at my method. I am all in favor of slowly smoking a big ol’ pork butt, but you know what? I just don’t have the time or patience for it these days, and, after all, its just too damned cold outside. So, what do I do when I need a mouthful of porky goodness? Well, I get out the crock pot, thankyouverymuch. In my defense, I do at least make my own barbeque sauce for it.

So, on a brisk winter day, like so many we’ve been having lately, I generously season a pork butt (don’t you just love saying pork butt? Butt butt butt....) with salt and pepper, toss it in a crock pot with a couple of sliced onions, some crushed garlic cloves, and a can of root beer. Yes, you heard me right. I said ROOT BEER. I don’t know why, but it just imparts a wonderful flavor to the pork.

When I come home after an exhausting day at work, dinner is nearly finished. All I have to do is mix up the sauce and let it simmer while I’m shredding the pork and filling my wine glass.

Speaking of the sauce, I have to say up front that I am not a fan of the Midwestern style barbeque sauces. The thick, tangy, tomato based sauces are not for me. I much prefer the vinegary concoctions of the Carolinas. So, to please everyone, I make mine a combination of both. A little tomato-ey, and a little vinegar-y, with a touch (ok, maybe more than a touch, depending on my mood) of heat. The hubs and I have come up with a combination that pleases us both.

I call it the Midwest Transplant Barbeque Cocktail. Because that’s me. The transplant in this small town.

And so, you can surely understand why I was intrigued when I saw this recipe for Pulled Pork Hushpuppies. Deep fried dough....and pulled one conveniently sized finger food. Really, there wasn’t even a decision involved. Except maybe for how to fit it into our dinner schedule. Then it came to me – if I don’t use that leftover pulled pork soon, its gonna go bad! Best motivation I ever had.

And so, it was Pulled Pork Hushpuppy (which I have affectionately come to call “HushPiggies”) night at my house last night. You gotta love a recipe that not only uses up leftover ingredients lounging around in the depths of your Frigidaire, but is also a dump-and-mix style recipe. Yep, put it all in a bowl, mix it up, shape into balls, and deep fry. That’s Midwestern ingenuity at its finest, right there.

And, as an added bonus, I already have the barbeque sauce in the fridge, too, so VOILA! Instant dipping sauce. I tried it on its own, and then tried mixing equal parts barbeque sauce and sour cream. Uh, Can you say “yum”? I knew you could.

1 cup of fine yellow corn meal
3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
pinch of red chili flake
1/2 tsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup of finely chopped red onion
2 scallions, finely sliced
1 serrano chili, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped (I had jalapeño, so that’s what I used.)
1 cup of pulled pork
1/2 cup of Mexican blend cheese (I used cheddar)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup of buttermilk
Oil for deep frying

Preheating your oil to around 350-375 degrees.

Mix all of your ingredients together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl, making sure that the flour and corn meal are fully incorporated.

Using a meatball-sized scooper (or two small spoons, if you don’t have a scooper) portion the batter out into round balls. Carefully slide them into the hot oil, and repeat.
Deep-fried goodness.
**NOTES: I think these could have used more cheese, so next time (and yes, there will definitely be a next time) I will try a full cup of cheese. I thought they could have used a little more heat, so I will probably add more chili flake or fresh chiles next time as well. Another addition I plan on is bacon. I know I’m freakishly addicted to bacon, but I really think some chopped up bacon would add a lot to these.

The hubs was curious about this new recipe I was trying and Ty was determined to help, so I was letting him add the ingredients to the bowl for me while the hubs put dirty dishes in the sink and retrieved ingredients for me. I felt like I was on a cooking show. Once the first batch of Piggies cooled off enough to taste, the hubs popped one in his mouth and made an unusual noise. It went something like this:

Him: Mwuaahhhh

Me: is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Him: HHmmmMMuaahhh....

Me: That’s good, right?

Him *nodding reverently with his eyes closed*

Me: You want some more?

Him: MmmmmHmmmm....

This was also one of those dishes that the hubs kept saying things like, “Ok, that’s the last one”, or “I’m going to stop now, I swear”, and then he’d reach over and grab another one, even as I was walking away with the tray to put the leftovers away.
I mean, really. Look at that. How can you resist?
So, all in all. This recipe will definitely be repeated in our kitchen....probably every time we have pulled pork from now until eternity....

Friday, January 14, 2011

To Biscotti, or not to Biscotti. Hmmm. TWO BISCOTTI!

Apparently my mind has yet to comprehend the word “diet”. I introduced myself to the word sometime around January 1, 2011. As of yet, I have not stopped baking. I do have an excuse, though, I promise.

See, about a year (or so) ago, I promised someone I work with that I would make them some special biscotti. I did. I promised. And then I never followed through. Shame on me.

Well, when I was trying to decide what kind of cookies to make for Steph Chows Cookie Exchange, the subject came up again. And then we had two snow days in a row. And I got a little crazy. And I baked. A lot.

I ended up making two different kinds of sweet biscotti (for my coffee lovin’ friends at work!), both of which were new varieties for me. I have a basic biscotti recipe and I usually just switch out the fruit or nuts for other ingredients, but in this case, I used all new recipes.

Branching out from blueberry, cherry, cranberry, and the like, I have turned to pineapple and mango!

I started with Piña Colada Biscotti, a blend of dried pineapple and shredded coconut, and then moved on to Island Biscotti, mixed with the flavors of coconut, mango, and macadamia nuts. Both were a big hit here at the office, but the Island Biscotti reign supreme by a vote of the tasters.

Island Biscotti
1 C dried mango
2 eggs
¾ C granulated sugar, plus extra for topping
½ C vegetable oil
2 T finely grated orange zest
1 t ground cinnamon
1 ½ t baking powder
1 t vanilla extract
½ t almond extract
¼ t salt
2 C flour, or as needed
1/2 C chopped macadamia nuts
1 C shredded coconut

Preheat an oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, the 3/4 c sugar, oil, orange zest, cinnamon, baking powder, vanilla extract, almond extract and salt. Whisk to blend. Add the four, nuts, coconut and fruit and stir until a dough forms. Turn out onto a heavily floured surface and knead until smooth, adding more flour if too sticky to work, about 20 turns. Divide the dough in half.

Form each half into a log 2 inches in diameter. Carefully transfer the logs to an ungreased baking sheet (I like to use my Silpat sheets for this), spacing them well apart. Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar.

Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Leave the oven set at 350 F.

Using a spatula, carefully transfer the logs to a work surface. Using a serrated knife, cut on the diagonal into slices ½ inch thick. Return the slices cut-side down to the baking sheet. Bake until brown, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 3 dozen.

Piña Colada Biscotti
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon grated whole nutmeg
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup flaked sweetened coconut
¾ cup dried pineapple, cut in small chunks

Preheat oven to 300°.

Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through nutmeg). Place sugar, vanilla, and eggs in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed 2 minutes or until thick. Add flour mixture and coconut; stir to combine (dough will be very sticky). Turn dough out onto a heavily floured surface; knead lightly 7 or 8 times. Shape dough into a 15 x 3-inch roll. Place roll on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and pat to 1-inch thickness. Bake at 300° for 40 minutes or until roll is golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack.

Cut roll into 20 (1/2-inch-thick) slices; stand slices upright on baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes (cookies will be slightly soft in center but will harden as they cool). Remove from baking sheet; cool completely on wire rack.

My partner over at Steph Chows Cookie Exchange can look forward to receiving some of these from me early next week!

Nanner, nanner bo bander, fee fie fo-fander, me, my mo-mander...POMAAANDER.

What was that? How very “adolescent” of me? Yeah, I know I am, but what are you?

Okay, so I admit I’m a little slap happy today. See, as I am wont to do every couple of years, I have just given up caffeine. And its beginning to show. Its been a long day at work, and I’ve had a raging headache since last night (caffeine withdrawal induced, no doubt) and now, my friends, I’m starting to show my ass a little.

So, I decided that, considering the “adolescent” mood I appear to be in, I would write up a post about something from my own adolescence. A special little treat I’ve been dying to share with all of you.


So here’s the back-story. When I was in high school, one of my very best friends (Hey, Tara!) used to have us over to her house around the holidays when her mom was making Pomanders, and we’d all lend a hand in rolling the little lovelies up (or at least, that’s how my teenage mind remembers it). Some of you may be thinking about an orange, studded with cloves or something. No, that’s soooo not what we’re talking about here, although they may have been named for their similarity in appearance.

In this case, a Pomander is a holiday cookie, similar in form to a truffle, but made with a base of crushed ‘Nilla Wafers and chopped nuts. It is a fabulous no-bake cookie that is a delectable combination of chocolate and orange, one of my all time favorite pairings.

And so, here we are twenty....ahem...a FEW years later...and I have never made Pomanders since. Until this year. Oh, I’ve had the recipe all along, but for whatever reason, I never made them myself. Probably due in no small part to the fact that this is a much more entertaining project when done with friends.

Speaking of friends.... when I started craving these Pomanders while trying to decide what recipe to pull out for my annual cookie swap, I got on the phone and gave Tara a call. Ironically, she was craving Pomanders as well. After all, it WAS the holidays. And so, we reminisced, and with her on speakerphone, I began rolling. And rolling. And ROLLING. Man that recipe makes a bunch of Pomanders!! It didn’t help that I was making a double batch, since I needed six dozen for a cookie swap at work, and neither Tara or I had any idea how many a batch made.

These are a fabulous cookie for a swap for a couple of reasons.

1. As previously stated, a single batch makes about four dozen cookies. My double batch made almost exactly EIGHT dozen.
2. These are always better if you can let them sit for a few days before you eat them, so they can firm up. Normally you wouldn’t want a cookie getting hard on you, but in this case, it makes them even better.

With Tara’s permission, I am publishing her family’s Pomander recipe, with my notes from this year’s Pomander experience.

Tara’s Pomanders
1 - 12 ounce pkg. chocolate morsels
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/2 c. water
5 c. crushed vanilla wafers (about 2 boxes)
2 c. chopped nuts
2 tsp. orange extract

Combine all ingredients except chocolate. Melt morsels in double-boiler. Add to mixture. Mix THOROUGHLY.

Roll into small balls. Roll balls in red or green sprinkles or chocolate parils. Store in airtight cookie tin with wax paper between layers.

Remember, we usually try to let them set a few days to harden a bit (if we can stand to wait that long anyway!)

**NOTES: Tara tells me to chop the nuts in proportion to how finely you have crushed the wafers. For example, since I put my Nilla wafers through the food processor and they were very finely crushed, I should leave my nuts a little rougher to give the cookie more texture. Also, I used walnuts, but I think pecans would be great, too.

I thought I would be smart since I didn’t really have any helpers (except Ty) and shape all the balls first, then start over rolling them in the sugar. In hindsight, I should have rolled them one at a time, so that the Pomander would still be warm and sticky on the outside and the sugars would stick better. So, long story short, do this with a friend. Its better that way anyway.

This is one of the three varieties of cookies that I sent my partner in Steph Chows Cookie Exchange!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Welcome back, everyone! I had myself a nice, LONG, holiday break. That's not to say I didn't cook while I was gone, I just stayed off the computer. Meanwhile, in the Land of Lincoln, we had a gorgeous WHITE Christmas, and it was the perfect kind, too. You know. The kind that comes down all day Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then is completely melted off less than a week later? Yeah, that's MY kind of White Christmas.

Everyone has Christmas traditions. These traditions vary so widely that I am rarely surprised when someone tells me about their own family’s special occasion madness. In our little home in the middleofnowhere, we have our own traditions as well. For the vast majority of the holiday season, we find ourselves tromping back and forth to various family events, but Christmas Day is ours. Especially since we had Little Man, Christmas Morning has become sacred. Our habit of saying home on the morning of the 25th has morphed into a tradition of...avoiding traditions.

That’s right. On Christmas Day, we don’t do family. The three of us stay home, relishing the quiet of a white Christmas, and simply refused to do anything with other family members. Instead, we have an anti-family holiday. (No offense to our families, we love them all, but by Christmas, well, we’re done. You all know how it is.) The house is off limits to everyone until after 10:00am, while Ty opens presents and we lounge about in our pajamas.

After 10:00am, all hell breaks loose. In the kitchen, that is. Christmas Day is my one day of the year where I cook whatever the heck I want and everyone else can just deal with the fallout. And so I cook. Whatever I want. And we invite all of our friends over to feast. There is always plenty to eat and drink. Sometimes we have a house full. Sometimes its just us, trying to put away a 24 pound turkey and eleven side dishes. It greatly depends on the weather. And since we had several inches of snow this Christmas, you might say attendance was light.


Who went away one very satisfied guy.

(Get your minds out of the gutter! I mean, he ate a lot! Of FOOD!)

And when I say “food”...I mean....PRIME RIB.

Yes, I know prime rib is hardly a novelty on Christmas, but at my house it is. And you can bet there wasn’t a single person complaining when I declared the menu for this year to include a very large, very rare hunk of beef. Since I have never made a prime rib before, naturally, I turned to Mark Bittman. I did my homework, sure, but in the end, my copy of How To Cook Everything was what was propped open on my countertop to the recipe entitled Prime Rib Roast for a Small Crowd (ironic, eh?). I cut back on the side dishes since we were short on company, but ended up making Yukon Gold Havarti Mashed Potatoes, and a Zucchini and Vidalia Onion Gratin. All of which were consumed with holiday zeal.

I did, of course, have to adapt the recipe a touch, since the roast I got from my butcher was in the neighborhood of eleven pounds (yes, we had a LOT of leftovers. Again, no one was complaining.)

So, for our roast, I used some aptly named Prime Rib Rub from Penzey’s to season the outside of the roast. I plugged my probe thermometer into the center of the roast and popped it into a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes, then lowered the temperature to 350 and roasted the meat until the internal temperature reached 120 degrees. After letting the roast rest about 15 minutes, we sliced into the meat to find a gorgeous rare/medium rare center. The end pieces were more well done, of course, but all of it was flavorful and juicy.

The total cooking time was almost 2 ½ hours for a roast that size, which gave me plenty of time to put together the side dishes.

All I can say is....Merry Christmas to me!
Oh, and those leftovers? What we didn’t eat the very next day, I turned into Prime Rib hash (which I also used a Bittman recipe for!) for breakfast and a lovely pot of Prime Rib soup! Yes....yes, I did.

Check out that gorgeous Prime Rib Hash!
This Prime Rib is my submission to Tackling Bittman, which is being hosted by Girlichef this month!