Monday, June 30, 2008

Always have an ace in the hole

My entire office is in turmoil right now, deadlines, trials, and sickness are running rampant. Everyone is over stressed, over tired, and over worked. I handle my stress by baking - which is perfect because there is nothing that destresses an office like homemade treats.

Now I should put a small disclaimer here - I a huge cheesecake person. I mean, a giant slice topped with strawberries from The Stage Deli is one thing I'll never turn down, and every Fall I grab a slice of The Cheesecake Factory's Pumpkin Cheesecake, but other than that? It's not anything that keeps me up at night salivating. So I don't have any drop dead fantastic cheesecake recipes of my own. However, I am a huge fan of the Philadelphia Cream Cheese cheesecakes because, well, they're kinda the at home experts. And even though I have a springform pan, its just so much easier to use a pyrex dish and not mess with that water bath.

In testament to their cheesecake goodness, when I brought this cheesecake into work I got not one, but THREE recipe requests! And a note stuck up in the break room that "Thatgirl is fabulous." And word on the street was it went over equally as well at my coworker's homes as it did in the office.

Chocolate Vanilla Swirl Cheesecake (from Philadelphia Cream Cheese - my changes in red)
20 OREO Cookies, crushed (I used Trader Joes Joe Joes, and a heck of a bunch more than 20 - 20 won't come close to lining the bottom I probably used closer to 30 and still had some gap-y areas.)
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
4 pkg. (8 oz. each) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup BREAKSTONE'S or KNUDSEN Sour Cream (Per usual, I always substitute light sour cream)
4 eggs
6 squares BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate, melted, cooled

PREHEAT oven to 325°F. Line 13x9-inch baking pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides of pan. Mix cookie crumbs and butter; press firmly onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake 10 min.
BEAT cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add sour cream; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition just until blended. Remove 1 cup of the batter; set aside. Stir melted chocolate into remaining batter in large bowl; pour over crust. Top with spoonfuls of the remaining 1 cup plain batter; cut through batters with knife several times for swirled effect.
BAKE 40 min. or until center is almost set. Cool. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Use foil handles to lift cheesecake from pan before cutting to serve. Store in refrigerator.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Welcome to the Hotel California

I'm so excited that Elly has decided to make her "Eat to the Beat" blogging event a recurrent event. It is truly one of my favorites. There are few things I like better than music and food!

In terms of music, I am a sucker for guitar. It touches me in a way no other instrument does and I can find myself crying as a guitar gently weeps, or wanting to dance the night away. So it should be no surprise that my favorite bands all feature an exception guitar artist, and my favorite songs are those with guitar solos that go on for years.

The Eagles are one of my favorite bands, because they have not one, but two incredible fabulous guitarist - Joe Walsh and Don Felder. You may not recognize the names, but it takes only a few chords of Hotel California for you to know exactly what I mean. I love the entire song and the haunting quality it imparts, and that is due in large part to that haunting guitars that weave their way through dark desert highways.

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said ’we are all just prisoners here, of our own device’
And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
The stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast.

The pink champagne on ice is an image that has always stuck in my head. Probably because I was listening to this song well before I even knew pink champagne existed, but also the idea of champagne on ice? And the fact that in the verse before when the singer calls up the Captain to ask for his wine, they basically tell him they don't have that kind of stuff. No wine. Just champagne.

I decided to make my own version of pink champagne on ice - pink champagne ice cream!!! This is a cheater because I used Cava instead of champagne. But frankly, I don't have the kind of money to be pouring honest to goodness champagne into my ice cream maker.

This was absolutely fantastic!!!!!!!! I love how you could actually taste the champagne - it felt like a really gourmet dessert, so I can imagine why they serve it at the Hotel California. Thatboy actually felt like it was too rich - someone make a note of this day!!!! Serve it with a strawberry, raspberry, or whatever you would serve with your favorite champagne. And just sit back and relax. Remember, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!

Pink Champagne on Ice
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
2 eggs
1/2 cup pink champagne
1/3 Tbsp vanilla

1) In medium saucepan, combine 1 1/4 cups of the whipping cream, sugar, corn syrup and eggs; mix well. Cook over medium heat 12 to 14 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Cool completely.

2) When cool, stir in remaining 3/4 cups whipping cream, champagne and vanilla. Pour into ice cream machine canister and freeze according to ice cream maker instructions.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Time for Comfort

Anybody else noticing a trend toward warm, easy, old fashioned comfort foods? I really can't think of anything more fitting than easy food that makes you feel good. And food really can change your mood. That's one of the reasons I enjoyed being a waitress. If I did a good job, I could turn someone's day completely around. Hard day at work? Rough time with the kids? Just sit back and relax, I'll take care of dinner.

When I was in school, I was always busy with school, work, studying, and extracurriculars. I loved my crock pot. One of the first crock pot meals I ever made was pot roast. I mean, right there in the name it pretty much tells you it was made for the crock pot. This is not a dish I've grown up with, so I've played with a lot of variations. I don't know if there's a "right" way to make this, but this one makes us happy.

Also, I've been hitting up the farmer's market by my local TJs and they had a HUGE bag of fresh green beans that were begging me to buy them. I've never had green bean casserole, but I thought it would be good with pot roast. This is the recipe from French's Fried Onion, but its just loaded with stuff I'm not in love with. However, since it's the first time I made it, I followed the directions. Next week I'm going to try my own, lighter variation, so check back!

Crockpot Pot Roast
1 Tbsp oil
beef roast
4 carrots, sliced
4 medium potatoes, roughly chopped
2 envelopes onion soup mix
3/4 cup water

1) In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium high heat and brown the roast. I know, I know - this doesn't really seal in any moisture, but frankly, I've been doing this for year and old habits die hard. If you don't want to add this step, leave it out.
2) Arrange carrots and potatoes in crock pot, put roast on top.
3) Combine water and onion soup mix in skillet. If you did step one, this is a good time to scrape the pan for yummy roast drippings from the browning. If you skipped that step, it will still be good. Promise, but you can combine the water and soup mix in a bowl and not dirty a skillet for no reason.
4) Pour soup mixture over roast and veggies.
5) Cook on low 9 hours.

Green Bean Casserole (From French's Fried Onions)
1 cup Fried Onions
1 can cream of mushroom soup
3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp black pepper
4 cups cooked cut green beans
1) Preheat oven to 350. Mix 1/2 cup onions, soup, milk, black pepper, and beans in casserole dish.
2) Bake for 25 minutes.
3) Sprinkle with remaining onions, bake 5 minutes.

I'm submitting this recipe to Bookmarked recipes, because, well its just perfect for the event!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Reese's Pie

I'm a good person to know. And if you know someone who knows me, you're in a good place too. Today was Thatboy's boss's birthday. They have a tradition in their office that on someone's birthday, the entire office takes a half day for a party. Everyone's family comes in and there's food and drinks and its a good time.

Unfortunately I couldn't join in the festivities till almost everyone had left. That's the problem with having a grown up job sometimes. So I sent along a little something in my place. Something creamy, and chocolatey, and peanutbuttery. Like a Resse's Peanut Butter Cup, but in pie form! I think Thatboy's coworkers probably appreciated my offering more than if I had actually shown up. But I'll meet them all some day!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
20 chocolate sandwich cookies (oreos, or in this case, Trader Joes Joe Joes)
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 pkg cream cheese
1 container cool whip
1 cup hot fudge

1) Preheat oven to 325. Crush cookies and combine with melted butter. Press firmly into bottom of pie pan. Bake 10 minutes.
2) Beat peanut butter, sugar, and cream cheese with electric mixer until smooth.
3) Fold in half of cool whip.
4) Spoon peanut butter mixture into pie crust.
5) Spread hot fudge over peanut butter mixture.
6) Top with remaining cool whip.
7) Refrigerate overnight.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Another one for the guests

One of my all time favorite appetizers is artichoke dip. Lets start with the fact that artichokes are one of God's perfect foods. Add cheese to artichoke, and well basically if there were 8 deadly sins this could qualify on its own. Right now we'll just have to stick it in with gluttony.

Remember how I'm cleaning out my freezer? Well I had half a loaf of stale french bread in there. If you know me at all, you can probably figure out I was going to make some form of strata with it...eventually. But in addition to those ribs, I just stuck a bunch of biscuit dough in the freezer and so out the bread had to come. Now worries I just tossed it on top of the artichoke dip and bake baked away. It's even better than a bread bowl which always results in too high of a bread to dip ratio. This way every inch of the bread is equally coated in cheesy artichoky goodness. And with the bread already in it, you can totally justify eating it straight from the bowl with a fork. Not that I know anyone who would do that...

Spinach Dip with Bread
1/2 french baguette, torn into chunks
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
1/8 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup nonfat yogurt
4 oz sour cream
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil

1) Preheat oven to 350. Combine bread, 1/8 cup cheese and parsley.
2) In separate bowl combine yogurt, sour cream, remaining cheese and artichoke mixture. Top with bread mixture and drizzle with olive oil.
3) Bake 35 minutes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More meatballs

Seriously, by the end of this week you are going to be sick sick sick of meatballs. But as I said, I made a ton. Mostly because, well, ground beef came in a LARGE package at Costco, I never know what to do with ground beef. So my freezer is just chock full of meatballs. Normally I wouldn't be in such a hurry to get rid of them, but I need the freezer space for 8lbs of baby back ribs I'm making this weekend. Ribs take up a lot of freezer space.

I have been reading time and time again, for years, about adding grape jelly to meatball recipes, so this is the first of two experiments. The grape jelly is supposed to add some sweetness, without tasting like .... grape jelly. I was a little skeptical, so I paired it with two things equally as sweet. That way if I wasn't pleased with the jelly I had the strong flavor of marinara to cover it up. And for those of you not won over by pineapple and tomato sauce - I send my sincere condolences. I discovered the flavor on Hawaiian pizza and am over the moon over the flavor pairing. And since we're doing sweet anyway.....

Hawaiian Meatballs

cooked meatballs
1 can pineapple chunks
olive oil
1 jar grape jelly
1 jar marinara sauce
1 red pepper
1/2 red onion

1) Chop up the red pepper and the red onion. Don't worry about a fine dice or a not so fine dice, bite size pieces are perfect!

2) Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet.

3) Cook pepper and onion until tender. Now quickstyle, take them out of the pan and put them on a plate somewhere.

4) Dump in ALLLL that marinara.

5) Add a tablespoon of the pineapple juice from the can. This will make your sauce very blurry as you can see. That means you're doing it right. If your sauce is not sufficiently blurry, add 1-2 cups of wine to yourself.

6) Now dump in that grape jelly. It's kinda gross and globby, so keep cooking it until it melts into the marinara. Stir every now and again.

7) Add in all your meatballs and lower the heat. Cook until the meatballs are warm all the way through.

8) Remember that plate of peppers and onions? Toss them right back in and cook till they're warmed.

9) Stir in your pineapple chunks.

10) Serve over rice for the true Hawaiian feel. If you're not digging Hawaii at the moment, you could serve this over pasta. I mean it does have marinara in it. Of course, it also has grape jelly....speaking of which...the rumor is true. There isn't the slightest hint of grape in this at all. Which makes sense since grape jelly doesn't really taste like grapes either. Stay tuned for the classic meatballs and grape jelly recipe!!!!

Olives = Spanish

I'm not quite sure why I do it, since there are many cuisines that utilize olives, but for some reason, if I want to make a "Spanish" dish I instantly add green olives. I can't help it. I love the salty sour flavor, and olives and tomatoes bring me right back to Barcelona.

I love Paella, but it has to be made "my way" without any fish. And I'm a little intimidated by it. However, the flavors are easy enough to create with some shrimp, rice, and of course I threw in some green olives. I just had to. I am a true convert of cooking shrimp shell on. It makes them SO juicy since they don't lose all their flavor during the cooking process.

Spanish Shrimp
1/2 lb shrimp
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup Spanish olives with pimento
1/2 Tbsp capers, rinsed and drained

1) Melt butter in medium skillet over medium high heat. Cook shrimp 3 minutes or until they turn pink. Remove shrimp to a plate.
2) In same skillet, cook onion until tender.
3) Stir in garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds.
4) Add tomatoes, chicken broth, olives, and capers and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 3 minutes.
5) Add shrimp back in and cook until shrimp are heated through. Serve over rice.

Also, I've been given another award! Jillybean at Post-It Place has passed on the Arte y Pico award. Fitting for my Spanish post, right?

Now, here are the rules and regulations, as well as my nominees for the next five deserving winners of the Arte y Pico Award:

1) Pick five (5) blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language.
2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.
3) Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.
4) Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of "Arte y Pico" blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award (

So here are my five nominees!

Monday, June 23, 2008

So many Carbs!

Carbohydrate laden meals are decidely un-Southern California. So when I saw that this month's Homegrown Gourmet was focusing on pastas I began to worry. California isn't exactly known for pasta specialties. So I did what any good cook does. I hit the internet. And I found this place: Divine Pastabilities, home of the torpasta. What's a torpasta you ask? A sandwich that is native to San Diego, it's a torpedo loaf stuffed with pasta, inspired by spaghetti sandwiches the creator made as a child.

For my torpasta, I started with 2 torpedo loaves made from Alton Brown's pizza dough recipe. Then I made some homemade pasta and tossed it with pesto, which may not be Californian, but its full of garlic - and Gilroy, CA is garlic capital of the world (or something like that).

And so here she is in all her glory, Homegrown Gourmet Entry 9! We'll start with the rules:
1. Anyone can play!

2. A theme will be picked by the host. Participants will make a dish that follows the theme and that somehow represents their home region - town, state, area. Representation can feature a local ingredient, be a traditional dish from your area, or be a creative twist.

3. Participants will have 3-4 weeks (host discretion) to complete their recipes and post them to their blog (or email the pics and text), and notify the host. The host will then post the results and then let everyone know via email or message board the results are up!

4. An explanation of your dish is required; it can be a story about the local custom or ingredient, how you came about eating/making the recipe, or an explanation about how your creative dish fits the theme.

5. Fresh and local foods are encouraged!

6. When the round is done, the host will announce their favorite dish by updating their blog. Favorite is completely subjective to the host- no one expects the host to make and taste test all the dishes, it is just something that strikes the host’s fancy! The creator of the fave gets the honor of hosting the next round, if they so choose!

To participate in Homegrown Gourmet #9, create a pasta dish that somehow relates to your home. Post about it in your blog and tell the world what makes your recipe Homegrown… be sure to link back to this post. Then send me an email at megpug at gmail dot com with “Homegrown Gourmet 9″ in the subject line. I will reply to all emails to confirm receipt (so if you dont get a reply, comment and let me know!)

Please include the following in your e-mail: your name, your location, your blog name and URL, and a permalink to your entry. Don’t forget to attach a picture (preferably 250 x 250) of your dish to the email if you dont blog! (Not a blogger and still want to enter? Why aren’t you blogging already? Come on, you know you want to do it. All the cool kids are doing it these days… what? still no? Ok, email me all the details and I’ll post for you.)

Pesto Torpasta

2 rolls (I made my own with Alton Brown's Pizza Dough recipe, shaped into torpedo loaves, but you can use garlic bread, Italian bread, anything you love). You're going to want to hollow them out. This is where I become best friends with the dog.

Pasta! I made my own linguine. I seriously love my pasta machine.

Pesto to taste - as you can see, I made a lot of pasta. A whole lot. A whole lot more than I needed. So I used about 1/4 cup of pesto and figured the rest would be great for leftovers.

Stuff the pasta into the hollowed out rolls. Ummmmm. The best part of this is that you have to use your hand. Have to. There's no other way to do this. It makes me feel like a small child - in a good way, not like a weird way. Like making mud pies in my friend Vanessa's yard. Then you can discretely lick the pesto off your fingertips.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dark and rich

I've mentioned before that every now and again, after dinner, I get the BIGGEST puppy dog eyes from one of my family members. Unfortunately, these eyes usually aren't attached to the actual puppy dog. Instead they are the eyes of Thatboy and just a couple inches above the mouth that is usually saying something along the lines of "What's for dessert." The eyes get even bigger when he hears the usual answer "There's nuts and dried fruit in the pantry, or fresh fruit in the fridge, or frozen fruit in the freezer."

But last week was a tough week for Thatboy. He's FINALLY understanding what "work" is and why his wife is always exhausted. On the plus side, that means he's been especially kind, sympathetic, and caring. And when he gets like that, I like to give him a little pick me up.

I've never made fudge before, but I knew it froze well, which meant I could keep some of it in the freezer for another pick me up later (and since Thatboy STILL hasn't figured out how to open the refrigerator in search of food, I knew it would be safe.)

I grew up a few hours from Hershey Park which was, for a time, a yearly trip for us. Sad but true, one of the best parts of the park is the Chocolate tour, where you follow the bean from the ground to the store. You go through a warmer, the air smells like chocolate, and in the end, you're given a little bar of chocolate! Yum! So when making a new chocolate dish, I usually turn first to Hershey.

Hershey has a GREAT fudge for first timers. I can't believe how easy it is to make. In fact, when I brought some in for Tats to bring home, she thought the recipe was something that would be great to make with her son.

And you should see those puppy eyes light up when his simple question is met with "Oh, I made you some fudge." Priceless.

Foolproof Fudge (from Hersheys)
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
dash salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Line 8- or 9-inch square pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan.
2. Melt chocolate chips with sweetened condensed milk and salt in heavy saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Spread evenly in prepared pan.
3. Refrigerate 2 hours or until firm. Remove from pan; place on cutting board. Peel off foil; cut into squares. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A picture's worth a thousand words

And this picture is terrible. I appologize. While it looks like I am trying to entice you to eat potatoes and coal, I can guarantee that no coal was used in the making of the dish. I don't know why the caramelized walnuts came out so dark in the picture. I could blame it on my camera, the lack of natural lighting in the kitchen, the fact that I made it so late that no natural lighting was fact these pictures came out SO poorly I debated not even posting the recipe. Then I took a bite. Then another bite. SO GOOD! I'm not usually very creative with side items, mostly I steam, saute, or roast some veggies and we're good to go. I spend most of my time focusing on the main dish.

However, I have a seriously hard time resisting sweet potatoes. And I had some left over walnuts from cookie baking. Sweet potatoes and walnuts just seemed like a great complement to roasted chicken, don't you agree? And the leftovers are perfect to pack in lunch!

So hopefully I've earned your trust enough by now that you won't dismiss this idea merely because the picture is bad. I haven't lied to you yet, and I wouldn't recommend this if it wasn't phenomenal.

Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Walnuts
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/6 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1) Preheat oven to 425. Combine butter, brown sugar, 1/4 tsp seasoned salt, and cinnamon.
2) Add potatoes, toss to coat. Arrange on baking sheet in single later. Roast 40 minutes.
3) While potatoes are roasting, combine remaining seasoned salt, sugar, and walnuts. Cook in nonstick skillet over medium heat stirring frequently about 10 minutes, or until sugar melts. Cool.
4) Sprinkle walnuts over potatoes and serve.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Another lasagna twist

This is another "Ralphs" specialty stolen from their coupon book. It seemed easy enough. I mean lasagna is a classic Italian dish, ravioli is a classic Italian dish and this combines both of them. Has anyone noticed a trend with these Ralphs recipes? The first one combined enchiladas and taquitos and this one combines lasagna and ravioli. Hmmmmm...

This lasagna is easier than your usual lasagna and far cheesier! I don't know if I'd go as far as to say its better than regular, but its a nice change.

Ravioli Lasagna
1 package frozen cheese ravioli
1 container cottage cheese
2 eggs
1 bag frozen spinach
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 jar pasta sauce

1) Preheat oven to 300. Mix together the cottage cheese, seasoning, eggs, Parmesan cheese, spinach and 1 cup mozzarella cheese.
2) In a large rectangular baking dish,layer sauce, half the ravioli, half the cheese mixture, another layer of sauce, the other half of the ravioli, the rest of the cheese mixture and end with a layer of sauce.
3) Bake at 30 minutes. Place remaining mozzarella cheese on top and return to oven until cheese is melted.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Turn this into That

I love Trader Joes for premade food. But there's something less than appealing about dumping something out of plastic and onto a plate. So I like to add something from a pan, that I make myself. Take this pot roast for interest. You literally heat it up for a couple minutes and its ready to go. Which is JUST enough time to whip up some homemade gravy (because the refrigerated pot roast doesn't come with its own.)

1 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup red onions, chopped
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp seasoned salt
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 Tbsp maple syrup (notice this is not Log Cabin Lite...Thatboy wouldn't let me use the good stuff in this)
1Tbsp Dijon mustard

1) Melt butter in saucepan.

2) Add onions and cook 3 minutes, until onions are soft.

3) Add flour, seasoned salt, and garlic salt.

4) Whisk in chicken broth. Simmer until thickened.

5) Whisk in maple syrup and mustard.

6) Pour over pot roast.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Quickest appetizer ever

The original recipe for these puppies is waaaaayyyy back in an ancient In Style magazine. I made it the first time on the tiny mini kitchen of Thatboy's "apartment" which was a room above some guy's garage. The kitchen consisted of a wall in the living room which housed a mini stove/oven and fridge. Cooking there was very.....creative. So this recipe was perfect because it doesn't take a lot of ingredients or space.

The other thing that's great about this recipe is how well it freezes. It's great to keep on hand for unexpected guests.

This recipe has gone through many incarnations and is so versatile - you can use whatever cheese you want. The first time I made it I used cheddar cheese and thyme. One of my favorite combos is parmesean and rosemary. Thatboy doesn't like rosemary, so I used oregano this time. My only word of warning is if you don't freeze them, they go very very quickly!

Cheese twists

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed (I am mad loving the new artisan sheets from TJs)
1 egg
1/4 cup parmesean cheese
1/2 Tbsp oregano

1) Preheat oven to 400. Mix egg with 1 Tbsp water. Mix cheese with oregano.

2) Roll pastry into rectangle and cut in half lengthwise. Brush both halves with the egg.

3) Sprinkle one rectangle with cheese mixture.

4) Place other half on top, egg side down - making a cheese sandwich. Press down gently to seal.

5) Cut crosswise into strips.

6) Twist strips and place on greased baking sheet. Brush with egg. Bake 10-15 minutes, until golden.