I tried better than take out and here is what happened….

I love some me some take out, but I thought there was no way I could make something better than the real thing.  I was wrong this sheet pan chicken fried rice from Creme de la Crumb was awesome, so awesome in fact I forgot to take a picture.  (okay confession I took one photo of it going into the oven but it’s blurry)   It even heated up well in the microwave.

Where I deviated
– I went the cheat route with the 2 cup heat in the bag Jasmine rice
– I used fresh shredded carrots (mixed with frozen thawed peas) because that is what I had left over from a project (see fireworks photo)
– I used about 2.5 Tablespoons of the oil

Next time
– I will stick with the microwave rice, and whatever veggies I have on hand
– I’ll reduce the oil a little more
– add bite size pineapple pieces when the rice and veggies are added

Low Budget Find, enamel cast iron skillet

I’m always on the look out for more bang for my buck, who isn’t.  My current obsession is this cast iron skillet from the Target Threshold line.  Yes I know I could probably get a bigger one for the same price but I love the crisp white enamel, it’s easy to clean and won’t scratch my stove, and at 10″ is the perfect size for the two of us.  I’ve done steaks,  stuffed mushrooms,  cheat chicken Parmesan and a myriad of other dishes that have gone from stove top to oven.   What is your current low budget obsession?

Best Summer ‘Tater Salad

It’s the south , it’s hot, lets eat shrimp and drink beer.  Just this past weekend we went to a shrimp boil and I was asked to bring potato salad.   Usually my go to tater salad is this tex mex wonder land of  bacon, black beans, cilantro and spicy mayo – lots of mayo.  As delightful as it sounds, and believe me it is awesome, the mayo isn’t very hot day friendly so I set out to find something more suitable.

In one of her first cookbooks Ina Garten penned a recipe for her French Potato Salad.  With a vinegar and oil dressing it’s intended to be served warm or at room temperature, making it perfect for a warm summer cookout. The hint if white wine infused into the potatoes makes it a tad sophisticated feeling, and the generous amount of fresh herbs says it’s all about summer.  Cheers to my new favorite summer side.

Lucky for me in blog land it’s on the Food Network site, Find it here along with a video!

What’s Cooking?

There is more to a delightful cookbook than recipes.   It should be enjoyable to read, inspire new things and always feel like positive results are obtainable.  My favorites incorporate family stories, history of the recipes, and just read like a good book.  So here are a few that I will pick up and read over and over.

 

Jerusalem a Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Same Tamimi

Jerusalem a Cookbook
by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Why I like it- the history lesson that went with it, the explanation of how the flavors became so diverse horseradish and beet relish and traditions behind foods like falafel.

Favorite Recipe – Spiced Chickpeas and Fresh Vegetable salad

 

 

 

Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten

Barefoot Contessa Family Style
by Ina Garten

Why I like it-  Any of her cookbooks make me feel fancy, like every meal is a little dinner party, even if it is just for two.   Also, I have yet to fouled up when following her instructions and tips.

Favorite Recipe – Hands down her Chicken Parmesan, it can be found in her Family Style Cookbook and pretty much all over the internet.

 

Extra Virgin by Gabriele Corcos and Debbie Debi Mazar

Extra Virgin
by Gabriele Corcos and Debbie Debi Mazar

Why I like it – Much like the show, the cookbook has his family history and their relationship interwoven through every recipe.  The recipes are simple and reliable with out sacrificing flavor.

Favorite Recipe – Red Sauce

 

 

Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Around my French Table
by Dorie Greenspan

Why I like it – I honestly couldn’t put it down.  It’s enormous and filled with stories, history and recipes.  The recipes are everything from rustic potato gratin to elegant honey spiced madeleines, all while maintaining the story.

Favorite Recipe – okay so this is more like one I want to try that I just haven’t gotten to recipe, Salted Butter Break-ups!

 

Thug Kitchen by Thug Kitchen

Thug Kitchen
by Thug Kitchen

Why I like it – It’s new healthy ways to use things I already love, which is inspiring.   Truth be told, I was half way through it before I realized it was vegan.   Be warned not a cookbook for family time, they cuss profusely,  but another truth be told – it cracks me up!

Favorite Recipe – Basic Maple Granola

Bored to Bake List

Just the idea of spring makes me want to bake, and this year I saved my pennies and splurged on a KitchenAid stand mixer. I was so excited and planned to make a lemon cheesecake on Sunday. Thinking after a long week and company for dinner on Saturday it would be perfect.  Nope – half way through dinner on Saturday with a loud bang and a bright flash of light the range decided it needed a vacation.  It’s been nearly two weeks, it gets fixed Thursday, I miss my oven.

So I’ve had time to plan what I want to try and here is my list.
Dreamy Lemon Cheesecake at Southern Living

Chocolate Chess Pie at Food.com

Butter Toffee Pecan Layer Cake, also at Southern Living

Sausage Cheesy Biscuits by Trisha Yearwood

Lemon Lime Pound Cake by The Pioneer Woman

Any suggestions, I’m ready to bake.

 

Chicken Bacon Ranch Tater Tot Casserole

Can’t go wrong with cheese, bacon and crunchy tater-tot-ness.  Oh and there is some chicken buried in there too.  I eyeball this entire recipe when I make it, you really can’t wreck it. There is just two of us so I’m always making portions with that in mind, however this recipe easily doubles or it can be made in the crock pot.

Pre-heat the oven to 225.

Put the wine in the fridge to chill.

In a 8 x 8 (ish) casserole dish put half of the frozen taters in the bottom, single layer.  Sprinkle with the trio – 1 teaspoon of dry ranch dressing mix, and a handful each of cheese and bacon bits.  Place  ~6 to 8 chicken tenders over the tots.  Sprinkle the chicken with the trio and top with the rest of the tater tots followed by the trio one last time.  Pour milk over the top.

Cover and bake for 2 – 2.5 hours.  Uncover and let it bake for about 15 min to finish making the taters crispy around the edge.  Alternatively you can cook it on low layered in the crock pot for 4 hours.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chopped green onions.  Serve with a side salad or steamed broccoli.  Serves 4 people that will have their eyes rolling back in their head all yum like.

1 package of chicken tenders
About a half a bag of Ore-ida Crispy Crowns
3 teaspoons of dry ranch dressing mix (about half a package)
Bag of real bacon bits, I usually don’t use the whole 3oz
1.5 – 2 cups of cheese, I like Co-jack
1/2 cup of milk

Double it in a lasagna pan.

Crock pot – double up everything, and switch the tenders for three chicken breasts, cook on low for 4-5 hours.

Bodacious Mac n Cheese

That’s right I said Bodacious.  This is how I make mac and cheese, and it is a labor of love.  You might not think that mustard, mushrooms and and ham have a place in this classic but I promise it’s worth a little stretch on the traditional. (sorry no picture, we ate it all)

I have more tips and ideas at the bottom of the post for now; When you pick the cheese think melty soft squishy cheese.  If you pick cheese that is to dry the cheese sauce will be tacky and not saucy.

Labor of love, step 1
Pre heat the oven to 350C, and open the wine to let it breath. 
I start by warming the milk and cream in a small sauce pot, being cautions not to scorch it, while infusing it with flavors.   At a minimum I add the bay leaves, garlic and mustard as it is warming, but infusing the milk with the mushroom flavor is very subtle yet over the top.  This takes a while so I like to start it first.  If you don’t like the texture of mushrooms, no worry they don’t actually make it into the mac and cheese. 
Labor of love, step 2
Salt the pasta water and cook the noodles al dente.  When draining the pasta shake off as much water as possible and add it back to the still hot pot to help drive off as much of the water as possible.  This will keep the final product from getting to watery.  Add the diced ham and stir. 
Labor of love, step 3
You can make the bread crumb mixture now or in the end, doesn’t really matter.  Just toss the bread, Parmesan cheese and thyme in a blender or mini prep food processor, zip and done.  Mix with melted butter.  Too much fuss?  Store bought bread crumbs, work fine…just get some decent cheese none of that shakey mess.  Or skip it all together.
Labor of love, step 4+
Now it’s time for the foundation, the roux.  If you have never made a roux there are tons of articles out there, be patient you will get the hang of it.  It does need a lot of attention so I like to make it at the end when I can give it my full focus.  Melt the butter on low med until its foamy and add the flour, mixing to form a paste. Continue to cook the roux until it’s that toasty brown color and nutty fragrance.   Add the infused milk mixture, pouring through a strainer to remove the mushrooms and bay leaves.  Stir constantly, I like to use a whisk, heating it gently until it begins to thicken so about 2 min or so on med low.   Pull it off the heat and stir in the cheese.  
Pour all this mess into the pot with the noodles and ham, stir.  Then pour all of this glorious stuff into an oven safe dish, about 8 x 8 should do it, and top with bread crumbs.  Bake it at 350C until it is bubbly around the edge and the crumbs are lightly brown, about 20 min.
I know this is a lot of steps but like I said – a labor of love.  See below, after the ingredients, for a few extra tips and flavor ideas.  
Cheese Sauce (infused milk and roux)
1 cup of 2% milk
1 cup of heavy cream
1 -2 teaspoons mustard
1 teaspoons garlic powder
big handful of sliced mushrooms
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoons flour
1.5 cup of shredded cheese (truth I have used up to 2 cups)
Pasta
1/2 lb of dry pasta, pick something that will hold the cheese but not have to compete with the size of the ham, favorites are med shells and corks screws
8 oz of diced ham
salt for the water
Bread crumb top
2 slices of white bread, day old is best
1/3 cup of parm cheese
(thyme is really good too)
Those after the credits tid bits – 
– Something I found to be helpful when making a roux; a white enamel pot takes the guess work out of the color.  
– Stuff I have put into the milk and would recommend any combination of; mustard, thyme, bay leaves, mushrooms, dash of liquid smoke, crushed garlic cloves, onion slices – experiment. 
– Ever had mac and cheese that was lumpy, that’s because the fat to starch ratio was off.  We usually only have 2% milk in the house, which is why I use the heavy cream for the extra needed fat.   However you can mix 3/4 cup of milk with 1/3 a cup of melted butter for 1 cup if heavy cream.  

Cheesy Wafers

There is something enjoyable about a simple selection of raw veggies, fruit, cheese, warmed bread, and a good selection of sliced meats.  I like to put everything out on a big white platter then invite guests to fix little plates of melon and prosciutto, warmed naan bread, carrots, hummus, marinated mushrooms  – whatever finger foods I can pull together.

When I started gathering nibbles last week I wanted to try and make cheese straws, but I had no desire to fuss with pipping them into adorable little ‘straws’.  I adapted a few recipes taking the best from each into one sewn together Frankenstein version of the best cheese wafers ever!

The paprika and cheddar turn these wafers a gorgeous color when baked.

Pre heat the oven to 350.

Mix together the flour, garlic, chipotle, smoked paprika, dill and seasoning salt – set this aside.

I like to put the cheese into a food processor ( I love my mini prep) and give it a quick spin.  The resulting chunky sticky grated texture bakes so well.

Using a hand mixer on a low speed, gently mix together the butter and cheese.  Add half the dry mixture from above and mix until combined, continue with the rest of the flour mixture and a few dashes of Worcestershire.

Open the wine to let it breathe, cover the dough with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for about 20 min.

Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on a heavy baking sheet lined with parchment paper.   Using the bottom of a floured drinking glass flatten the rounds to about ~1/4 of an inch.  At this point I chose to put them in the freezer for about 5-10 min, I wanted the cheese to bake not melt in the oven.

Bake 15 -18 min, they should be set completely around the edges, and bounce back in the middle when lightly pricked with a fork.  Oh and the aroma of garlic, cheese, herbs and a touch of smokey – ness will fill the kitchen.  Personally – I think they are best enjoyed with melon and fresh pineapple.

Yield 2 dozen.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1-2 teaspoons seasoning salt – I like Lawry’s
2 teaspoons dry dill
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
pinch of chipotle powder

1 stick of soft butter
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
2 ‘dash’ of Worcestershire

Tips
– Mix everything in a heavy glass bowl, the glass will keep the dough chilled longer while you are rolling it into balls.
– I like to use the Pampered Chef all purpose dill seasoning.  It has a little dehydrated garlic and onion bits in it.  If you can’t find something of the like I recommend adding a little extra garlic powder and some minced dehydrated onion.

Seriously Good Orange Sticky Bread – Recipe

Seriously Good Orange Sticky Bread – Recipe

This dessert is a little bit gooey, not overly sweet and flavored with orange.  It reminds me a little of the orange cinammon rolls my mom would make when we had sleepovers.

1 tube of jumbo buttermilk biscuits, 8 count
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
6 Tablespoons of butter (~3/4 a stick)
3/4 cup of powdered sugar

1. Cut each biscuit into fourths.

2. In a deep microwave safe bowl melt the butter and allow to cool slightly.

3. On a plate or shallow dish sprinkle the powdered sugar, zest the lemon and orange directly onto the sugar.  Mix gently with a fork to combine.

4. Dip the biscuit pieces into the melted butter and roll in the sugar zest mixture.

5. Place sugared biscuit pieces into a bunt pan, it should make a rough two layers of biscuit pieces.

6.  Once all of the sugared biscuit pieces have placed in the bunt pan sprinkle with remaining sugar, followed by 1 tablespoon of the remaining butter.

7.  Squeeze 1/2 of the lemon over the dough

7. Bake for 30 min at 350C or until the top of the bread turns a light golden brown.

Serve warm. Typically, unable to hold off our piggish tendencies, we have eaten it right out of the pan. However, if you are having company you may want to turn them out onto a plate after allowing to cool for five minutes. You probably wont have to worry about the next part; store left overs in an airtight container at room temp.

Apple Danish with Lemon and Lavender

My sister in law has introduced me to culinary lavender.  She gave me some from a lavender field in Delaware near where she lives.  I have put it on ice cream, added it to chicken dishes, made scones but I think my favorite is adding it to this apple danish.   Typically I will measure most ingredients in a recipe but not always.  I will zest one lemon and it is what it is, I don’t bother measuring out a tablespoon.  Sometimes I peel the apples, sometimes I don’t.  As for the lavender I just sprinkle a little on top before I close up the pastry.  The addition is very subtle but it enhances the overall flavor without over powering the harmony between the apples and lemon.  Using lavender is honestly worth a try.