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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lemon Basil Tilapia

I love fish. And I have no idea how that happened since we never ate it in my house growing up since my mom hated it so much. If we did eat it, it was fish sticks and who knows if that stuff is really fish to begin with.

One of the things that I love about tilapia is that its pretty versatile. Its like the chicken of the fish world. You can do so many different things with it. Also, the fishy flavor isn't super strong so the kids aren't grossed out by it. My husband likes lemon pepper tilapia, I like tilapia with creole seasoning and Alfredo sauce (sounds weird, I know but its so amazing). Tonight though, I decided to employ some more of my home grown basil.







I used three filets for two adults and two young kids.

I preheated the oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, I mixed:
1 tbs lemon juice
1 minced clove of garlic
1/2 tbs Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
splash of olive oil
salt to taste

I cut up about 10 leaves of fresh basil and sprinkled the filets with it. 
I then spread my mix on top of that.
Then the fish went in the oven for about 10 minutes. (My oven is weird. It may take longer or shorter depending on the oven.)

Then I served it with mashed potatoes (which I made with buttermilk and chicken broth instead of 2% and the flavor was delicious) and broccoli.



This recipe was really easy and delicious. My daughter ate half a filet all by herself. She doesn't usually eat that much.

Another small sucess on my culinary exploration.

Check out my other blog for my recipe for home made granola bars.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Enjoying the Fruits of my Labor

I promised a post on using my home grown basil for the first time.

May I just say that I'm pretty sure that basil is my new favorite aroma! I love the way it smells. The plant itself smells good but the fresh cut leaves... Oh man. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.












I decided to make some little bread bites for an appetizer while I was cooking the main meal. I took half a french bread roll and cut it into slices. I then put a little bit of olive oil on them, then a fresh cut basil leaf. On top of that, I drizzled some balsamic vinegar and then topped it all off with some shredded mozzarella cheese. I put it in the oven at 350 degrees. It looked good and smelled amazing until I decided to broil it very shortly to get the cheese to brown a little. I had every intention to keep an eye on it. But life throws distractions, such as 2 preschool age kids and a baby. I forgot about the bread and left it in a little too long. It still tasted pretty good but the flavors would have been more distinguished had the bread not burned around the edges. Oh well. There's always next time.









I did make another kind of bread to go with the main course. I took the other half of the french bread roll and halved it. I melted 2 tablespoons of butter and then mixed in tarragon, garlic salt and parsley. I then spread it over the bread and baked it. The sweetness of the tarragon combined with the garlic and the richness of the butter made for an interesting twist on garlic bread. The kids weren't too fond of it but the hubs and I enjoyed it very much.
 





I will have to try the "basil bread" again and post better, yummier pictures. I never said that every day would consist of successful explorations. I just said it was my goal to explore. I've found that the flavor of "burnt" over powers everything else ;)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fun Food for my Favorites (my kids)

Food should be fun and enjoyable. With kids, sometimes you have to make it that way or they wont eat it. I'm exploring new ways to cook for my kids.

Kids are picky eaters. Sometimes. The trick is... well, its to trick them. My kids will ask me for the same thing over and over again. They could eat the same thing 20 days in a row and then all the sudden hate it. This drives me up the wall. I've come to realize though that if you just change the way it looks, they think its something different and will eat it right up. Especially if you make it fun.

I took cookie cutters to toast and cut out the center. I then sprayed a skillet with some PAM cooking spray. I heated it up, threw the toast in and broke an egg in the middle of the toast. I fried the egg this way, flipped the egg and toast and fried the other side. I sprinkled some cheese on it for some extra flavor. I toasted the piece of bread that I cut out and served it. They loved it. It was simple and as silly as it sounds, I liked the way it tasted more than just regular fried eggs with toast.




Saturday, August 27, 2011

Home-Grown Happiness





Basil

I've wanted to start a veggie garden for a while so recently, I did. I didn't plant anything in the ground as we've been fixing the back yard. As this is the hubby's domain, I hadn't been given a designated spot to start planting yet so everything is in planters.


I started a window herb garden with basil, cilantro and chives. I have used my cilantro several times but I don't think the chives are ready yet and I'll be using some of the basil tonight for the first time. I'm pretty excited about it. Any time I'm standing at the sink washing dishes, I can smell the basil. Just the scent is mouthwatering.


The Tomatoes

Outside, I planted tomatoes (which had a rough time but are thriving and growing), beans, carrots, bell peppers and spinach. Everything is growing. The beans took off almost immediately. I'm just now seeing some of the shoots of the bell peppers and in all honesty, I can't remember which planter is which as far as the carrots and spinach go. I guess I'll find out eventually. I should have planted them much earlier in the year, and I don't even know if any of the plants will yield any fruit and veggies this year but I'm in the south and we have plenty of warm weather left in the year.




Cilantro and Chives

I've always had a black thumb. I planted over 12 different kinds of flowers and bushes this year. Every single one died. I followed the directions for each individual plant but have no idea what went wrong. Its not usually that bad but this year I was the kiss of death for my plants. I was incredibly excited though when all of my veggies and herbs that I've planted started and continued to grow. I'm really looking forward to using fresh produce that I don't have to go out and pay for. Half the time, I will be missing just one component of a recipe and its the veg and I just don't feel like going to the store to pick it up. I end up ruining the recipe or not doing it at all. Not worrying about pesticides and such is a plus too. Home-grown happiness is the best!


The Bean Plants

I'll post later what I used my basil for... if I don't manage to botch it some how ;)



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cooking with Love

It has been a very long, slightly frustrating week so far. Cooking helps relax me and tonight I got to do it with my husband which made it even better. The baby slept, we sent the other two up to their rooms to play, we turned on some Gypsy Kings and let the music set the mood. We needed the short amount of time to calm down and enjoy each other's company. One of my favorite things about food is its ability to bring people together. And tonight, it did just that.

I made soft tacos (again) with chicken this time. I made my pico de gallo again but this time I added more garlic, more cilantro and a little bit of lime juice. Also, this time, instead of using the taco seasoning from Penzeys, I used their Southwest Seasoning (salt, sweet ancho pepper, onion, garlic, tellicherry black pepper, Mexican oregano, cayenne red pepper, cumin, chipolte and cilantro). I only used 1 chicken breast and when slicing it into small strips, made enough for 10 soft tacos. I used the corn tortillas again, which I've grown to love so much more than flour ones. The corn ones are amazing when making quesadillas too... just saying...

My husband is in love with the pico de gallo. I made sure to make a little extra for the nachos I know he'll make as a late night snack for himself while I'm out tonight. Its super easy and pretty inexpensive to make.

The kids don't eat the pico de gallo but tortilla, chicken and cheese usually satisfies them just fine. It was nice to have some music in the back ground as we all sat together at the dinner table laughing and talking with each other.


I think that cooking should be done with the purpose of bringing happiness to those who will be enjoying it. Cooking with some heart and soul will (almost) always make a dish more special. Tonight, being able to spend some alone time with my husband, preparing a meal for our family, lifted my spirits and put a smile on my face. Happy food is the best kind!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Exploring Staple Comfort Foods

So, the hubby and my two girls have had colds. My son and I have been healthy but I'm quickly getting worn out trying to take care of everyone (taking care of three sick people with one healthy hyper one going 100 miles an hour really does take a lot out of you).

I needed to cook some things that were comforting but that had some healthy ingredients for everyone. For lunch, I made a BLT for my husband and for dinner, I made home made chicken noodles soup for all.

The BLT was delicious (of course I had to make one for myself too!). I used french bread that I made last night for the sandwich part which really made a world of difference. I spread a little mayo on the bread and added the BLT. The hubs loved it and thanked me over and over.

Dinner was quick and easy. I've made chicken noodle soup a hundred times but never pulled it off quite right, until tonight. All of the listed ingredients are to taste. Chicken noodle soup is fairly easy... or should be...

Ingredients:

Chicken, cooked and seasoned (ground coriander, pepper, garlic salt, celery salt)

Egg noodles

Swanson Chicken Broth

celery, chopped

baby carrots, thinly sliced

onion, chopped

parsley

seasoning (pepper, sea salt, celery salt)


Instructions:

I'm just going to explain how I did it. First, since I used baby carrots and for whatever reason, they can take a long time to cook, I sliced them thin and boiled them in some chicken broth while I was cooking and prepping everything else. I hate undercooked carrots like a horse hates snakes. Next I heated some olive oil in a pan and cooked my seasoned chicken strips. While the chicken was cooking, I prepped my other veggies. When the chicken was done, I chopped it up and threw it and the other veggies in with the carrots, while the pasta cooked. When the pasta was done, I threw everything in one pot and added more chicken broth and more seasoning to taste. I served it with saltine crackers. I ended up putting quite a bit of pepper in it and it had a tiny bite to it. I thought it made it better and so did my husband. The kids ate all of theirs so I assume they liked it too.

 Staple comfort foods, such as sandwiches and soup can be simple, easy and delicious. Also helps lift the soul a little.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pork Chops "Au Poivre"

So I learned a lot exploring the culinary world today using the gigantic textbook my sister gave me. I learned what deglaze means (using the juices and leftover pieces remaining in the pan after you cook something as the base for a stock or sauce) and I learned what "au poivre" means. Au Poivre is French and refers to dishes with a lot of pepper on them such as pepper steak. The recipe I used called for pork though. It was an interesting dish that gave me a ton of ideas for future creations of my own. With the pork, I served broccoli (which I will admit was frozen) and farfalle pasta (bow tie noodles) with a garlic butter and french bread I made with the bread maker. I didn't have certain ingredients that the pork recipe called for so I had to improvise.






Ingredients:

Pork tenderloin, 2 oz medallions: 12 (I used 4 thin pork chops)

Kosher salt 2 tsp

Green Peppercorns, crushed 2 fl. oz ( I didn't have green peppercorns so I used black and I only used about 3 tablespoons as I was feeding this dish to children who probably wouldn't have been able to handle all that pepper)

Olive Oil  2 fl. oz

White Wine 2 fl. oz

Champagne Vinegar 1 fl oz ( I used white wine vinegar since I didn't have any champagne vinegar, however, I am going to try this dish again with the proper vinegar because I love champagne and am interested in seeing how differently the sauce tastes with the right vinegar)

Heavy Cream 4 fl oz

Salt and Pepper TT

Instructions:

Flatten the medallions with the palm of your hand and press both sides into the salt and peppercorns.

Heat the Olive Oil in a saute pan. Add the medallions and saute until brown on both sides.

Remove the medallions and keep warm.

Deglaze the pan with the wine and vinegar. Reduce until only a few tablespoons remain.

Add the cream and reduce to the desired consistency. (I will try to make mine a bit thicker next time).

Serve the medallions with the sauce on top.


 



Like I said, I didn't follow the recipe exactly but it was still delicious. I think it would taste great on chicken as well or even with some garlic in the sauce, it would taste amazing over pasta. Maybe with some mushrooms too. MMM.... the possibilities are endless!

The dressing for the noodles was 3 tbs butter melted in a pan with a chopped garlic clove, parsley and a splash of white wine. 


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sprucin up some soft tacos with Pico De Gallo

Tacos are great for my family because they're versatile and you are allowed to be a little messy with them and since half of those of us eating at the table are 3 or under, messy is all we know. Plus, with the variety of toppings you can use or not use, its a good thing to feed kids and adults.

Tonight, we had soft tacos. I needed to use up a tomato in the fridge so I decided to make some pico de gallo. It was great because I got to use a spice I'd bought a year ago but never used as well as some fresh cilantro from my window herb garden.






The spice I used was purchased from a store in Pittsburgh called Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. It's located in the strip district, which is one of my favorite places to spend time in Pittsburgh. I miss shopping at the markets there so badly! Anyway... Its this great Italian market that sells their own pastas and breads and spices and herbs and all these great imported sauces and olive oils and a plethora of random groceries. Its fantastic. Anyway, that's where I bought this spice that you just mix into the tomato mix. The label says that all it is is chili peppers and salt. It had a slight kick but wasn't bad at all. It made a HUGE difference on the taco though. Also, the seasoning that I used for the tacos was a spice that I got from Penzeys Spices, also in the strip district of Pittsburgh. This particular blend is called the Original Taco Seasoning. It has ingredients such as Paprika, onion, garlic, cumin and much more. I have a ton of Penzeys spices. They're not cheap but they're amazing. I highly recommend them.


Pico De Gallo Ingredients:

1 whole beef steak tomato, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp pico de gallo spice mix
salt and pepper to taste


Taco Ingredients:

Seasoned, cooked ground beef
small corn tortillas, warmed
refried beans
sour cream
Mexican mix cheese
pico de gallo







They were delicious. I ate way too many. My husband just made a late night snack of nachos for himself with our leftover ingredients. I guess its safe to say that he liked it too. I loved being able to use fresh cilantro too. It being fresh, like I just pulled the leaves from the plant fresh, made a world of difference. The spice in the pico de gallo made a wonderful difference too with the small kick from the chili peppers. An excellent, easy meal.


Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Ok, so we do pajama parties at my house on Friday nights with the kids. Part of the "party" is making some kind of desert to munch on. My husband has been begging me to make oatmeal raisin cookies again, so my daughter helped me make some.











INGREDIENTS:
3/4 cups of softened butter
3/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins



INSTRUCTIONS:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2) Mix together butter, granulated and brown sugars until the mix is creamy.

3) Beat the eggs, vanilla and almond extract (this ingredient makes a HUGE difference in the taste) into the sugar/butter mix until completely blended and smooth.

4) In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon (I hate cinnamon so I only put 1/2 a tsp in... if you like it, use 3/4 to 1 tsp instead) and salt.

5) Slowly beat the flour mix into the butter mixture.

6) Stir in the oats and raisins.

7) Drop batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet. I like BIG cookies so I used heaping table spoons to drop mine. This however changes the cooking time.                                                                                     

8) Because I had larger cookies, mind took about 13 minutes to bake. If you use smaller "drops" I'd say keep an eye on them but closer to 10 minutes should do it. A nice golden color is best.

9) Let cool for about 1 minute before placing cookies onto a wire cooling rack. I like to serve mine a little warm.





These are delicious. I hated oatmeal raisin cookies as a child but my kids, including my husband, love them. I like to add chocolate chips to them because I adore chocolate but the kids and the hubby don't like those as much. Yummy yummy oatmeal raisin cookies!









Friday, August 19, 2011

My first attempt at Spanish Tortilla


I like simple. Simple can be better than anything intricate or complicated. Not always, but a good bit of the time. Like Tortilla.

Most of my husband's heritage is Spanish. On our first date, he took me to an amazing Spanish restaurant in DC called Jaleo. The atmosphere was almost magical to me. The food... well, the menu was in Spanish and I didn't know a word of it but didn't want to embarrass myself in front of him so I ordered a seafood dish. Turns out, the plate I asked for had every fish in the deep blue on it. Or at least it seemed. I choked most of it down, now knowing what any of it was. Half of them still had eyes. Not at all what I was expecting. Later that evening, he took me to another Spanish restaurant called Bambule which has become our go-to place for special moments. We have spent our first date, anniversaries, birthdays and even our wedding night here. We always order as an appetizer, their tortilla. This one only has potatoes in it but its cooked beautifully and is served with this amazing dip/spread/sauce. I wish I knew what it was so I could try to make it.

My husband has been begging me to try to cook some tortilla. So today, since my two oldest were in school and my baby was sleeping, I decided to give it a try. It doesn't look very pretty but it was my first time and flipping it was no easy fete for me. It tasted delicious though and I got my husband's stamp of approval. I am looking forward to perfecting it though and next time making one with some mushrooms and spinach.

SPANISH TORTILLA:

1/2 cup Spanish Olive Oil
1 lb 5 oz potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (I cubed mine since that's how it was done at Bambule)
6 large eggs
2 small links of Chorizo
salt
pepper

Heat a nonstick 10 inch skillet over high heat. Add the olive oil and heat. Reduce the heat, then add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes are tender.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Drain the potatoes out of the oil but save the oil for later use.
Stir the potatoes and chopped Chorizo into the eggs and let them sit for about 10 minutes in the bowl.
Remove any crust from the skillet and reheat 4 tbs of the reserved oil in the skillet.
Add the egg mixture and smooth the surface, spreading out the potatoes and chorizo and pressing it down to make an even layer.
Cook for about 5 minutes, gently shaking the skillet occasionally to keep the base loose but also to make sure its cooked.
Use the spatula to loosen the tortilla and very gently slide it onto a plate, with out messing up the tortilla.
Then, gently flip the tortilla back into the skillet, cooked side up, uncooked side down on the the skillet surface.
Continue to cook for roughly 2 to 3 minutes.
Slide the tortilla onto a clean plate and let it cool before serving.





My tortilla didn't look gorgeous and since it was my first time making it, I didn't put in as many potatoes as I should have as I was not entirely sure if it would end up being too much. I ended up using only 2 potatoes but next time I will use 3 and will use the entire 2 links of chorizo instead of only 1 1/2. Tortilla should have a little bit of height to it, not looking so flat as mine. But it was still delicious. And really, you can put what ever you want in it. Like I said, spinach and mushrooms and probably onions too with the potatoes will be in my next one :)









Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Say what you want, I enjoy...

... a delicious Steak Um. I woke up starving this morning but feeling sick so I didn't eat breakfast. No, I am NOT pregnant again. I just had a little more wine than I usually do last night. I finally started to feel better so as "payment" for playing "taxi" for my husband while he put our other car in the shop, I had him make me a Steak Um for lunch. He makes them so well! I wont cook them for myself now because I can never make them as well as he does. He uses French bread and he puts the cheese (he puts American on mine and cheddar on his) on the meat while its in the pan and he melts it to the point that its practically dripping off. A little mayo on the bread before the meat goes on and then you put it all together. SO yummy! This is not a new exploration for me but I just got done eating it and I'm so wonderfully satisfied that I thought I'd share.

 Now I'm sleepy from eating too much so I'm gonna go lay down with the baby and try to take a cat nap :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

An Interesting Day of Exploring: Pies and Chicken

Ok, so I had this grandiose idea of cooking all day long and making delicious dishes. I started with making a lemon meringue pie that was to be ready by desert time. I had planned to make a Spanish Tortilla for my husband and his cousin since their family has such deep Spanish roots. Then I was going to make a delicious dinner of chicken, beans and potatoes. The day didn't go exactly as planned but you role with the punches, right?

I did make the pie. I was on a role and doing well. Until, my husband took my son and his cousin to the mall. Then, at every point when the components of the pie needed the most constant tending to, my nearly 2 month old baby girl woke up and decided she needed to be fed and changed and put back to sleep. Also, I couldn't find pastry flour at the grocery store so I used a pre-made pie dough that I just had to bake. I didn't know that there was a makeshift recipe for pastry flour until I asked my sister (1 1/3 all purpose flour plus 2/3 cups of cake flour equal 2 cups of pastry flour) but the store didn't have cake flour either. I followed the instructions the best I knew how. With the constant interruption of my baby (which I don't resent, I'd rather spend time with her than bake a pie any time of any day), I don't think the filling turned out the way it was supposed to. In fact, I know it didn't. However, my meringue was flawless. It was glossy and peaked beautifully. My filling was slop. It tasted the way it was supposed to but even after sitting in the fridge for a few hours, it never solidified at all. Other than the interruptions and me not being able to tend to it the way the instructions said, I'm not sure if anything else went wrong. I'll try again tomorrow, when some one else is home to watch the baby with me. If I can't get it right then, I think I'll move on to another desert. Baking has never been my strong suit.

The Spanish tortilla got put on hold until tomorrow evening. I'm really looking forward to it. The first time I had it was at a Spanish restaurant in DC, where my husband lived when I met him, called Bambule. That restaurant is amazing. The food is to die for and the ambiance is so fun and romantic. We went there on our first date, ended up there, in the same seat somehow, on our wedding night, on our first anniversary, and on my birthday when I was pregnant with our second child. It is a very sentimental place for me.If I can attempt to recreate even the slightest part of those memories, I'm going to.

Dinner was, in my opinion, excellent. We had grilled chicken with roasted red pepper butter, my special green beans (I'm sure others make them this exact same way but since this is the way I make them, its what I call them) and mashed potatoes.

The mashed potatoes were normal mashed potatoes (with real potatoes... I will NEVER understand people using boxed ones... so gross!).

The green beans were sauteed with butter, chopped garlic, chopped cooked bacon, chopped onion and a little bit of Parmesan cheese. I added salt and pepper to taste. Its probably one of the most unhealthy ways to eat green beans but its so stinking good. I cut the stems off the beans while the butter was melting in the pan and then I cooked them for a while in the butter before I threw in the other ingredients. I swear, this dish alone makes the house smell like a home. It has such a warm, mouthwatering aroma that makes you wander into the kitchen and say, "Mmmm. Whats for dinner?"


The chicken was SO easy. I like easy. I roasted a red pepper earlier in the day. While it was roasting, I softened some butter. After the pepper was done and cooled, I peeled the skin off. Then I chopped it up and pureed it. Next, the pepper puree was mixed with the butter, rolled in tin foil and placed in the fridge for several hours.

When cooking for dinner, I took a chicken breast, sliced it into strips and seasoned those with garlic, salt and pepper. Then I grilled the chicken strips on my small grill press. After they were cooked and while they were still hot, I spread the pepper butter on them. They were delicious. The richness from the butter cut by the strong flavor of the pepper was amazing. I hate bell peppers but I could eat them like this all day long. This butter would also taste good on pork and fish such as tilapia.

 Today was an interesting day of exploring. I learned a lot and enjoyed all of it... even my pie soup. Tomorrow is another day though and am looking forward to the lessons it has for me.