Monday, December 14, 2009

Three-Meat Calzones

Like most people, I love my pizza any way I can get it. And I like to order calzones in restaurants, but I prefer making them at home because I can stuff 'em any way I want 'em. However, they seem intimidating because you have to make dough (which is scary), and then roll the dough (which might be scarier).

Making calzones was my first forray into the dough world, and it was rough going. Let's just say that I started at about 2 p.m. Three attempts and six hours later, I was bawling in the kitchen because we were never going to get suh-uh-uhp-per and I was a horrible co-oo-oo-ook. (Yes, they were heaving sobs.) I've learned a lot since then, so I will attempt to impart a few tips that make dough t less frightening for me.

But first, a funny calzone story. And some background that might get me disowned by my mother. When I was growing up, my family took a very low-maintenance approach to food. The oven was used pretty much for frozen pizza and the occasional batch of cookies. And the stovetop was virtually off-limits. That's what the microwave was for. If it could possibly be cooked in the microwave, we did it. Eggs. Bacon. Hot dogs. Mac 'n' cheese. Hamburger Helper (including the hamburger itself).

Case in point: My mother was visiting last week, and she got hungry. She raided the fridge, hoping for some sandwich fixin's. We were out of deli meat, so she ate half a jar of pickles, and two bagels slathered in ketchup and Dijon mustard. And then she grabbed a can of Chunky Baked Potato soup from the cupboard. I got out a saucepan -- because I use the stovetop whenever possible -- and Mom said, "Oh, that's not necessary." I said, "You want to mic it?" She said, "Oh, no need." And she proceeded to eat the soup cold. From the can.

But back to my story. Last year the hubby and I went to Florida with his sisters. And I talked my brother, Cory, into house- and pet-sitting for us. (He was quite the trouper; I was too busy at Disneyworld to answer my phone when he accidentally locked himself out of the house and was hoping I'd hidden a spare key. And when he called for advice while walking the dogs because one of the dogs was "stuck," I hung up on him because we were deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and a pair of dolphins were racing our boat.)

We stocked the house with Cory-friendly food before we left, including a few frozen calzones. I told Cory to call us if he planned on eating them, and I'd explain how to bake them; it seemed like too much info to put in a note.

At one point I called Cory to check in. I asked how the food situation was going. He informed me that he'd eaten all the pizza in the house, and also the calzones. And they were pretty good. I said, "Oh, how did you bake them?" He said he put them in the microwave. I said, "Uh, you were supposed to BAKE them, not just heat them up."

He said, "Alyssa, we're not all as particular as you are when it comes to food. I'm sure they would've been better in the oven, but the microwave was just fine."

I explained that this wasn't an issue of food snobbery. "The calzones weren't prebaked. The dough was raw when I froze them. They'd NEVER BEEN COOKED."

[Long pause]

"Oh, I get it. But oh well. I thought they were a tad doughy. But they were still pretty good. I dipped them in the pizza sauce that you left me, and they were just fine."

Anyway, the recipe for this dough is a modified version of a Cuisine at Home recipe. I made my own filling, but you can certainly substitute anything you like -- any meats, veggies, cheeses, etc. You want about one cup of filling for each calzone, and you don't want it too watery, or it will make your dough soggy.

Three-Meat Calzones
Makes 4

Cooking spray
1 c. warm water*
1 pkg. active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1/4 tsp. sugar plus 1 Tbsp., divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing
3 c. bread flour
1 Tbsp. table salt

1/4-1/3 lb. hamburger or sausage, browned, drained, and cooled
3/4 c. chopped ham or Canadian bacon
3/4 c. chopped pepperoni
8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
1/2 c. pizza sauce, plus more for dipping

*The recommended temperature is between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit. I drove myself crazy with a thermometer the first time I made dough, and it didn't work. The hubby, who had more dough experience, showed me the right temperature, so I could get accustomed by feel. Now when I make dough, I get the water as warm as I would for a baby's bath. Conversely, when the hubby is running water for the Jack-baby's bath, I tell him to make it as warm as he would for his pizza dough.

1. Coat a large bowl and a small sheet pan with cooking spray.

2. In a small bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and water. Let stand for 15 minutes, and then stir in 2 Tbsp. olive oil.

This is "proofing" the yeast -- basically, making sure that it's still alive. The warm water activates it, and the sugar gives it something to eat. The yeast should bubble and froth as it expels gas (yummy). If your mixture isn't foamy after 15 minutes, your yeast be dead.

You can learn a lot from Alton Brown.

3. Using a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, briefly combine bread flour, 1 Tbsp. sugar, and salt. Slowly add the yeast mixture until a ball forms around the hook. Turn your mixer to medium speed and knead for about 10 minutes.

If your dough just isn't coming together, it might be because of the weather or altitude. You can add a bit of water -- such as a teaspoon or two -- to give it some more moisture.

4. Turn your dough out onto the counter and knead by hand a few times. Form the mixture into a ball and place in the bowl that is sprayed with cooking spray. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.

I have a problem finding a "warm" place in my kitchen without turning on the oven. So I usually take a mug of hot water and heat it in the microwave for 1 minute. I push that into the corner of the microwave, and then put my dough in and close the microwave. The steamy water makes it warm, and it's certainly draft-free.

5. Punch down the dough and divide it into four equal pieces. Form each into a ball. Place on the greased baking sheet, cover, and let rise for another 30-40 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and generously spread cornmeal on a baking sheet.

7. Combine hamburger or sausage, ham, pepperoni, cheese, and 1/2 c. pizza sauce in a medium bowl.

8. For each calzone, roll a piece of the dough in about a 10-inch circle. Perfect circles need not apply.

9. Place about 1 c. filling in the center of one side of the circle.

10. Brush the edges of the dough with water to help with the seal, and then fold over one side of the dough. Crimp the edges of the dough with a fork to seal them.

11. Place the calzones on cornmeal-covered baking sheet.

I usually bake two and freeze two for later.

12. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until crust is golden. Brush with a bit of olive oil, and serve with heated pizza or marinara sauce.

And be careful, because that filling is piping hot!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy holidays!

The hubby and I have been out of town for almost a week, visiting both our families for the holidays. Luckily they don't live too far apart, because the weather has been wreaking havoc with everyone's travel plans.

We braved yesterday's winter storm to drive to the hubby's family ranch for an abbreviated Christmas Eve celebration; the highways were fairly slippery, and the rural road to the ranch was covered with deep drifts. Yay for four-wheel drive!

Today it's blizzarding, and we're snowed in with my family. I think we've gotten about a foot of snow, but it's blown clear in some places and we have five-foot drifts in other spots. (I tried to take a picture of the weather outside, but apparently whiteouts are difficult to photograph. Who knew?)

But it's a pretty good weekend to be snowed in. We have plenty of food and diapers. The hubby, my brother, and my dad have plenty of new video games to break in. My mom's wandering around in her Snuggie. I have a fresh stack of cookbooks. And the little man has milk aplenty and a new light-up seahorse. Not to mention the giggles, which just started a few days ago.

Happy holidays to you and yours, and safe travels!

San Francisco Pork Chops

For about a year, the hubby and I worked in towns two hours apart, so we lived in the middle and split the driving difference each day. We had a horrid winter that year; the snow in our yard was more than waist high, and it we were pummeled with snowstorm after snowstorm.

I ended up working from home a lot that winter, and used my slow cooker every day that I did. I'd throw something in during my morning coffee break or my lunch break, and the hubby and I had supper ready as soon as he got home.

This is one of the recipes that I discovered during that stretch, and it's been a favorite ever since. It's incredibly quick and easy, and the result is some very tender pork chops in a spicy teriyaki-type sauce.

I usually serve this with rice or mashed potatoes so the yummy sauce isn't wasted, but tonight I stir-fried some veggies and noodles, and used some of the sauce as a basis for some stir-fry sauce.

A note of caution that this dish can easily become overcooked; if you're not familiar with whether your slow cooker runs hotter or cooler, you might want to try this on a day when you're home. (When I got a new slow cooker that ran significantly warmer than my last, I came home to some lovely charred chops stuck to the bottom of my crockpot in what appeared to be tar. Yum!)

As always, be sure to check out Crockpot Wednesdays on Dining with Debbie!

San Francisco Pork Chops
Serves 4

4 boneless pork loin chops (not thin-cut)
Salt and pepper
2 tsp. oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. soy sauce, preferably a thick variety (I'd recommend my favorite brand, but it's been discontinued)
1/4 c. chicken broth
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. water

1. Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat and brown chops on both sides.

2. Remove chops from pan and add to slow cooker.

3. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic to pan. Cook about 30 seconds, until garlic starts to turn golden.

4. Combine soy sauce, broth, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper. Add to pan and cook until sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.

5. Pour mixture over chops.

6. Cover and cook on low about 6 hours.

7. Remove chops. Combine cornstarch and water, and add to sauce. Return pork chops to slow cooker. Cover and cook an additional 30 minutes or until sauce is thickened.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Deconstructed Denver Omelet

A friend of mine half-joked the other day that I've just been phoning it in on my blog, and you know, he's right. I haven't been terribly active lately, and when I do cook something new, it's usually a very quick meal. I start each week with great intentions and a meal plan, but it sort of flies out the window within a few days.

There's a part of me that feels like I should apologize. And yet, I'm not really sorry. My time at home with the little man is rapidly dwindling. When I go back to work after the holidays, I want to look back on these past few months with longing, not regret.

That is why, even though I have a meal planned for each evening, I usually end up just phoning it in. The little man wakes up from his afternoon nap around 4 or so, and eats a leisurely supper. And then, well rested, well fed, and with clean pants, he is ready to par-tay, Jack-baby style. I then have to decide between A.) Putting him in his swing for an hour or so while I prepare supper, or B.) Scrapping my original meal plan and throwing something together at the last minute so Jack and I can play with the puppies. Or dance to Christmas tunes. Or see who can smile at the ceiling fan the longest. (I always lose.)

I always choose B. Which makes the little man pretty happy.

Can you blame me? This is the smile that will get him out of many hours of detention someday.

This meal was my standby supper last week, because we had oodles of ham. And eggs are my friend.

I've always been the type to eat breakfast for any meal of the day, but I've probably single-handedly upped the average number of eggs consumed per person this year. First off, my doctor suggested I eat a lot of eggs a few months before the hubby and I attempted our in-vitro. And I take doctors' orders very seriously. Also, while I didn't get terribly sick during my pregnancy, I also couldn't bear the thought of most foods. Eggs were the only food I could regularly eat, so I typically had them for two meals a day. Sometimes with bacon. And my cholesterol is stellar.

This skillet contains the typical components of a Denver omelet. However, I was hungry for eggs over-easy, which I like to mix all up with hash browns, so I just threw everything in together. That's how it all ends up eventually anyway, right? Right.

All quantities are to your liking.

1. Heat a skillet to medium-high and add a tablespoon or two of butter. Add the hash browns immediately (I used about a cup or so). Sprinkle the hash browns with pepper and Lawry's season salt.

Butter and season salt are a hash brown's best friends.

2. Cook the hash browns to desired doneness. I like mine with some crust, but still soft enough to mash together with my eggs. It took about 5 minutes.

3. In the same skillet, throw in some diced ham, onion, and green bell pepper. I used about a half-cup of ham, 1/4 a large onion, and half a large green pepper.

4. Cook until ham starts to brown, and veggies are crisp-tender -- about 2 or 3 minutes. Then mix everything together.

5. In a separate skillet, fry eggs (I made two) until cooked to desired doneness.

6. Top hash brown mixture with some cheese, and then eggs.

7. Wash your six dishes and go spend time with your family.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lefse with Peanut Butter and Nutella

This isn't a recipe so much as just a new way to use up the leftover holiday lefse in your fridge. Assuming anyone else has leftover lefse in their fridges.

If you're not familiar, lefse is a Norwegian flatbread that's thinner than a quesadilla, but thicker than a crepe, and its primary ingredient is potatoes. (Potatoes are a common baking ingredient in the area -- in early days, they were locally grown, plentiful, and had a long cellar life.)

My family isn't of Norwegian heritage, but we grew up in a community that was predominantly Norwegian Lutheran. A lot of people made lefse at home, and distributed it to any neighbors who didn't. One of my high school organizations even sold lefse as a fundraiser each year. Some of the men and women from the community would gather at the high school cafeteria, and we'd all make lefse together to fulfill our orders.

Making lefse is time-consuming, but fairly simple, although it requires a lot of extra tools that I don't have room to store. So I'm content with buying my lefse. This is Freddy's.

They're a year-round lefse-making operation, and they supply lefse to all the local grocery stores. They're located about a mile away, and you can walk up to their shop -- via a nearly hidden side door in a corregated steel building -- and buy your fresh, warm lefse any day of the week.

You probably can't read the guidance on the package, but the folks at Freddy's recommend serving "with lutefisk, pork links, bacon, sausage or hamburger. Also delightful rolled up with butter, or butter and sugar, jelly or cinnamon. Excellent potato substitute for family lunch boxes."

Now, I don't know of anyone who eats lefse with meat, and I certainly don't know of anyone who considers it a substitute for potatoes. But I know a lot of people who eat lefse with either butter or butter and sugar. Except my mom, who eats hers with Cool Whip. And me. I've been eating lefse since I was a li'l whippersnapper, but I've always asked for my lefse with peanut butter and jelly, and that's how I love it to this day.

But today I had a chocolate craving, so I substituted Nutella for the jelly. And it was delightful.

Simply lay your lefse on a flat surface, and cut down to your preferred size. These were small sheets; no cutting required.

Spread with peanut butter and top with Nutella.

I'd use more Nutella than I did in this photo. I was at the end of my jar.

Roll 'em up, and scarf 'em down. Uff da!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Baked Turkey and Black Bean Taquitos

The hubby and I hosted Thanksgiving last week, and invited both our families. And that's about all I have to say about it.

Yes, I'm a food blogger who has no Thanksgiving recipes to post. The hubby and I made a few turkey breasts and a ham, mashed potatoes, and steamed corn. My dad made gravy. The hubby's mom and older sister provided the pies and sides galore.

It was pretty much The Thanksgiving Where I Did Nothing Except Clean and Set the Table. Which, admittedly, was a lot of work. It was the first big clean sweep of the house since the little man was born, and come Thanksgiving Day, I was exhausted. (Operating on about three hours of sleep may have contributed.) I was so tired that I forgot to make coffee after dinner, and I think half our guests left without being offered pie.

But it was great to see our families, including this guy, who spent his previous three or four Thanksgivings elsewhere.

This is my brother. Ladies, he's single, owns his own business, has all his teeth, AND changes diapers. Please, take a number.

And now we're swimming in leftovers, including lefse, which my sister-in-law left for me because she knows I love to eat it with peanut butter and jelly. (I've grown up with lefse all my life. I've even made it on multiple occasions. But I'm not Norwegian, so I'm allowed to eat it however I like.)

But mostly ham and turkey. And while I love pot pies and soups like everyone else, I quickly reach the point where I want my leftovers to taste like anything a holiday dinner. No gravy, and definitely no poultry seasoning.

Enter leftover idea #1, turkey and black bean taquitos. This actually started off as empanadas, which I think was a Robin Miller recipe. The hubby had never heard of empanadas; he had them confused with pinatas.

Anyway, I had waaaaaay too much filling left over. So I made some oven-baked taquitos, just to see how they'd turn out. And the hubby and I both liked them far better than the empanadas. Hooray for improvisation! You can add more cheese, if you prefer, but the hubby and I are still trying to undo the food sins of the past few days.

Baked Turkey and Black Bean Taquitos
Makes 12

2 c. shredded cooked turkey
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained
1/2 c. shredded pepperjack cheese
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. salsa
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro (optional)
1 tsp. ground cumin
12 7" flour tortillas

Olive oil, for brushing (can use cooking spray, as well)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine turkey, black beans, cheeses, salsa, cilantro, and cumin.

3. Place a few spoonfuls of turkey mixture at the edge of each tortilla.

4. Roll the tortilla tightly and secure with a toothpick.

5. Place on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil, or spray with cooking spray.

6. Bake 15 minutes, until crisp.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Angie's Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Angie is a high school friend of the hubby's, and she makes wonderful chocolate chip cookies. And pizza. And wontons. And nachos. And everything else that she's ever cooked for us. She sent this recipe to me a few weeks ago, and if Angie likes it, it's gotta be good. And pretty quick. Angie's a busy woman.

Wild rice is very popular in this area, because it's the state grain of Minnesota, which is right across the river. Wild rice is actually a water-grass seed rather than rice, and the grass from which it is harvested grows abundantly in the Minnesota lakes country. It's quite hardy and flavorful, making it a good addition to soups. It's my favorite of all the grass seeds.

I love chicken and wild rice soup -- with cream, without, with bacon, without, with mushrooms, without, high-fat, low-fat, etc. But always with crackers.

This recipe makes a pretty big batch, and I'm heading off to deliver a container to the hubby's older sister. She's been a godsend these past several weeks. She brought us food when the little man was born, has already babysat for us, and periodically checks up on me to make sure I'm still mostly sane (relatively speaking). And this week, she's helping the hubby's younger sister, who has a new baby and is moving into a new house. And THEN she and my mother-in-law volunteered to bring most of the Thanksgiving feast to our house on Thursday. So yeah, she deserves a lot more than a container of soup. But we'll start small.

And then I'm delivering a container to my little brother. He just likes soup.

I made just a few tweaks to the original recipe -- I halved the amount of oil, and tossed in a bay leaf and some sherry. I also used a long grain and wild rice combo. Wild rice is harvested by hand, making it quite spendy. It's easier to find it mixed with long grain rice. And even though I could probably walk to Minnesota and harvest some myself, I couldn't seem to find JUST wild rice at the local supermarket. I hope I'm not doing a disservice to Angie's recipe.

Angie's Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Serves 8

3 c. cooked wild rice or long grain and wild rice combination (1 c. uncooked)
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped

Salt and pepper
1 dried bay leaf
1/4 c. canola oil or olive oil
1 c. flour
8 c. chicken broth

Additional salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. dry sherry (optional)
1 c. fat-free half and half

1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat oil to medium-high. Add onion, carrot, celery, and chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add bay leaf. Sauté about 3-5 minutes, or until the veggies are softened.

2. Sprinkle in flour, a little bit at a time, stirring and cooking until flour is blended in. (Don't let it brown.)

It'll start to look very paste-like, but this is OK. This is forming the roux to thicken up the soup, and your veggies and chicken will again return to their usual forms.

3. Slowly add chicken broth, stirring until the broth and roux are blended.

4. Add the wild rice, and adjust your seasonings. Heat thoroughly.

5. Add the sherry and the half and half. Reheat gently, but do not boil. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chicken and Broccoli Stir-fry

I was going to start this post by mentioning that we had a busy week, except that I think I've started off my last 13 posts that way. So instead, I'll say that we had a harrowing week. It was full of drama. Suspense. Anxiety. Sleepness nights. Sitting on pins and needles, awaiting news from the hospital.

Luckily, we had a happy ending; the hubby and I are officially an aunt and uncle! My sister-in-law deserves a gold medal in the Childbirth Olympics, but I'm sure she'll be even happier to take home her beautiful baby boy. We're hoping to meet him when he goes home this week, and we hope that the Jack-baby and his cousin Connor will be good pals.

The hubby was going to and from the hospital most of the week, so I made a batch of this stir-fry to nosh on while the little man and I hung out at home. (Little men aren't allowed to visit the hospital during swine flu epidemics.) This is modified version of a Healthy Cooking recipe, and it was surprisingly tasty. I think you can swap in whatever veggies you have on hand -- I certainly did -- but I'd definitely recommend using the reduced-sodium soy sauce instead of the regular. (I was too lazy to open a new bottle of reduced-sodium, and I regret that.)

Chicken and Broccoli Stir-fry
Serves 4

1/ c. chicken broth
6 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken, cut in thin strips
2 tsp. cornstarch
4 tsp. canola oil, divided
2 c. fresh broccoli florets
1 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 c. canned sliced water chestnuts
1/2 c. canned bamboo shoots
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1. Combine broth, soy sauce, water, rice vinegar, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Cover and refrigerate 3/4 c. Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken in a resealable bag. Marinate 1-2 hours in the refrigerator. Or for 10 minutes on the counter, if you didn't read ahead.

2. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and reserved marinade. Whisk until smooth and set aside.

3. In a large skillet or wok, heat 2 tsp. oil over medium-high heat and stir-fry chicken until cooked, about 3-4 minutes.

Remove from pan and set aside.

4. Stir-fry broccoli and mushrooms in remaining oil for about 2 minutes. Add water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and green onion, and stir-fry another minute.

I didn't have mushrooms. Or bamboo shoots. Or enough broccoli. So I threw in some chopped green pepper. It worked.

5. Stir cornstarch mixture and add to the pan. Bring to a boil. Stir and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Return to chicken to pan and combine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Slow Cooker Italian Pork Chops

First off, an award! I received the following from Sophie at Sophies Foodiefiles. Her blog is so fun and interesting, and I learn so much about new ingredients from her.

I'd like to pass this on to three of my favorite blogs:
And a big thanks to everyone who sent me recipe suggestions for my exotic Australian ingredients. There are a few that I can't wait to try! I just didn't get a chance to look at the recipes before last week's grocery list deadline. Yes, I had a deadline. "You must submit your online order before blah, blah, blah, or you'll have to go to the store and get your groceries yourself, like a normal person." It's a bit hectic around here these days. We need all the help we can get.

Take today, for instance. The little man didn't go down for his first real nap until 3 p.m., and then he was crabby. I've been drenched in spitup twice. One of the dogs is sick. The cat ripped open a bag of catnip and got it all over the basement, and then slept off her high in the baby's crib. And so on.

Slow cookers were designed for days like these. This is a recipe that I threw together during a lunch break one day. It's simple and tasty, and the pork chops are incredibly tender. I like to serve it over pasta as is, but you can easily thicken up the sauce with a slurry of cornstarch and water to thicken it up.

Slow Cooker Italian Pork Chops
Serves 4

4 boneless pork loin chops
1 tsp. oil
Salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/3 c. dry white wine
2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
Cooked pasta, for serving

1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper, and brown in oil, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer chops to slow cooker.

2. Add garlic, onion, and mushrooms to pan and cook until vegetables are just slightly soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add vegetables to slow cooker.

3. Pour wine in pan and scrape up bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour into slow cooker.

4. In a bowl, combine tomato sauce, lemon juice, and seasonings. Pour over chops and vegetables in slow cooker.

5. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours, or until chops are cooked through. Serve with pasta.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Peanut Butter Cake Bars

The little man and I had a busy week, with appointments almost every day, and a few trips out of town. We ate a lot of leftovers. And bagels.

The little man has changed a lot in the past few weeks. He's discovered that it's more fun to be awake than asleep -- he's got places to go, people to see, ceiling fans to stare at. So he fights sleep with every ounce of his being. (And he's gaining about two ounces of being each day.) He'll fall asleep while we're holding him, but is instantly awake as soon as we put him down. Why sleep alone when you can sleep with someone else?

The hubby and I spend a lot of time trying to get the little man to take his naps, and entertaining him when he's awake. He's not terribly content to lie there and entertain himself. So far, we've discovered that he's fascinated by lights, ceiling fans, and brightly colored pictures on the wall. And he is not fascinated by anything that is designed to fascinate a baby. But even a baby can stare at the ceiling for only so long.

And the most fun thing of all? Human attention. Being fed, cuddling, being fed, and then maybe being fed.

It's fun, but it's also a big adjustment for first-time parents who are used to being more selfish with their time. How to cope? First, go visit the grandparents, where there are a few extra people tripping over themselves to spend time with the one and only grandbaby.

Secondly, eat some cake. Or bars. Or cake bars. This recipe is from Simple & Delicious, and it's a cakier, peanut butter-flavored bar packed with chocolate chips.

Thirdly, Family Nap Time. Mandatory. No exceptions.

Peanut Butter Cake Bars
Serves 20

2/3 c. butter, softened (that's almost 11 Tbsp., for those of you following along at home)
2/3 c. peanut butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. flour
1 12-oz. bag milk chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 pan, or spray it with cooking spray.

I'm lazy. I grease for cakes, but spray for bars.

2. Combine butter, peanut butter, and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

3. Add vanilla, baking powder, salt, and flour, and stir until well combined.

4. Stir in chocolate chips, and pour batter into pan.

5. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Calling all Australian cooks

Yes, you heard.

I'm soliciting ideas for recipes using the following ingredients:
  • Macadamia oil
  • Mountain pepper berries
  • Lemon myrtle
  • Wattle seed

No, I'm not making this up. I'm trying to use more of the ingredients in my pantry, and ... I really have no idea what to do with these. But they sure sound interesting.

And yes, there's a story behind them. The hubby is a bit of an online gamer. You know, me and mine band together and invade you and yours, and all that. Anyway, a while back, the hubby and I were grocery shopping (our usual Friday night activity), and the following conversation ensued:

Me: Hey, stop the cart, I want to get some oranges.
Hubby: You know, I think I'd make a really good lead in a romantic comedy.
Me: You as an actor, or you as a character?
Hubby: Me as a character.
Me: Nah, I don't see it. You're more of the male lead's wisecracking best buddy.
Hubby: No, no. I rather see myself as a 1980s Steve Guttenberg.
Me: You see yourself as Steve Guttenberg?
Hubby: But only 1980s Steve Guttenberg.* Hey, remind me to pick up some Famous Dave's Rib Rub. I need to send some to the guy in Australia whose village I'm invading tomorrow.
Me: You're sending Rib Rub to an Australian guy and then invading his village?
Hubby: Sauce, too, ya think? Yeah, sauce, too.

*Is there anything BUT a 1980s Steve Guttenberg, you might ask? Clearly, you have not been privy to that masterpiece of modern cinema known as Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus, starring Steve Guttenberg as Santa's son, and Crystal Bernard as his potential love interest. It airs every holiday season on ABC Family. If you're really lucky, you can catch the sequel, Meet the Santas, immediately following. Yes, I'll watch anything while wrapping Christmas gifts.

So the hubby mailed this big ol' package of grillin' love to Australia, and a few short weeks later, we received a bounty of Australian culinary delights in exchange. I ate the macadamia nuts (heavenly), shelved the vegemite (I'm sure it ages like a fine wine), and am clueless as to what to do with the rest. So if you're familiar, give me a holler at, and give me some tips.

And, an award! I received this lovely award from Spryte at Spryte's Place, who makes super-yummy food, and whose blog design makes mine look a crappy form letter.

Thank you, Spryte! I'm supposed to answer the following questions using only one-word answers. Which is difficult for a babbler like me.

1. Where is your cell phone? Purse
2. Your hair? Damp
3. Your mother? Adorable
4. Your father? Clever
5. Your favorite food? Lasagna
6. Your dream last night? Creepy
7. Your favorite drink? Milk
8. Your dream/goal? Happiness
9. What room are you in? Dining
10. Your hobby? Eating
11. Your fear? Spiders
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Calmer
13. Where were you last night? Home
14. Something that you aren't? Alert
15. Muffins? Chocolate
16. Wish list items? Yes
17. Where did you grow up? Hillsboro
18. Last thing you did? Bottles
19. What are you wearing? Jeans
20. Your TV? On
21. Your pets? Adorable
22. Friends? Hilarious
23. Your life? Content
24. Your mood? Sleepy
25. Missing someone? Always
26. Vehicle? Shiny
27. Something you're not wearing? Shoes
28. Your favorite store? Target

And now I challenge the following over-the-top bloggers to do the same:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Slow Cooker Short Ribs

I'm so excited. I finally discovered that I CAN get bone-in beef short ribs from my local supermarket. Apparently they're available if you use online shopping/grocery delivery. (Yes, I suppose I could've asked for them at the store. We North Dakotans don't like to make waves.)

The hubby and I had our groceries delivered for four weeks after the little man was born, because we weren't yet confident enough to take him out and about. Also, with flu season, we were trying to let the Jack-baby's immune system build up a bit, and hopefully not expose him to the H1n1 flu.

Plus, we're lazy. (Last weekend, the pizza man and grocery man bumped into each other at our front door. Along with my little brother, Cory. How embarrassing.) The pizza man brought pizza. The grocery man brought (you guessed it) groceries. And Cory? He brought .... H1N1.

Yes, he got sick with it while staying with us. That was a week ago, and so far, so good as far as the hubby, Jack, and I are concerned. (Cory didn't fare as well. He had complications. Although he WAS released from the hospital yesterday.)

It's a scary, scary flu season out there, especially for the little ones. Especially when H1N1 vaccines are in such low supply. Especially when the first batch that reached your state froze and no longer worked. But I digress.

I was going to make some sort of Moroccan short ribs in the slow cooker today, but when it came down to it, I just wasn't hungry for Moroccan short ribs. I decided to introduce us to the wonderful world of bone-in short ribs using just a basic meat 'n' potatoes recipe. I was in a hurry and just randomly threw a bunch of things in. Overall, the ribs were incredibly tasty, and the meat was very buttery and tender. Almost too rich. Dare I say that I might avoid bone-in short ribs in the future, just because I'm more used to leaner cuts of meat?

In other news, awards! I'd like to thank Palidor at Crazy Asian Gal for the following award.

Palidor is so kind and sweet. She lives in The Land Without Symphony Bars (also called "Canada"*), and her blog is among my favorites to read. How she comes up with such yummy recipes while eating gluten-free, I'll never know.

I'd like to pass this award on (see, I'm getting the hang of this!) to the following bloggers:
  • girlichef: Her derring-do in the kitchen tops all others. (She makes her own fresh mozzarella and cream cheese!) Plus, she lets me private e-mail her with all kinds of annoying questions. She should be sainted. If I could bottle her energy, I'd ... keep it all for myself.
  • Accountants can cook?: Accountants apparently can write, as well. Aside from the yummy recipes, I just love the narrative style. And she puts her meal plans on her Blackberry. I think that makes her my hero.
  • My Tasty Treasures: I salivate, giggle, and blush every time I read her blog.
  • My Year on the Grill: He grills anything. He says anything. Today, while catching up on his posts, I laughed so hard that I sprayed juice out of my nose. Now THAT's an endorsement.

*Let it be known that I harbor no grudge against Canada. I love Canada. I visit frequently. I honeymooned there. They have great concerts. Although I do notice a huge difference in Old Dutch potato chips across our northern border. Is this because of some difference in Dutch heritage in Canada versus the U.S.? Just wondering.

Slow Cooker Short Ribs
Serves 4

2 lbs. bone-in beef short ribs
Salt, pepper, and steak seasoning (recommend Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. dry red wine
3 c. beef broth, divided
2 c. halved baby carrots
3 c. chopped potatoes
1/2 onion, peeled, root intact
1 dried bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. seasoned salt
1/4 c. cornstarch

1. Sprinkle short ribs on all sides with salt, pepper, and steak seasoning.

2. Preheat oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat.

Tip: Don't forget about the oil while you're facing the other way, chopping carrots, or you'll smoke up the entire room. And if you have an open floor plan, this means the entire main floor of the house. And then you'll have to wake up the hubby to go take the baby downstairs so they can both breathe, and you can open the windows to the 44-degree air and attempt to clear out the smoke over the course of the next hour.

3. Brown the ribs on all sides in the oil, about 8-10 minutes total.

4. Place ribs in slow cooker. Pour off any remaining oil in the pan.

5. Pour wine and 2 1/2 c. broth in pan, scraping up the bits from the bottom. Pour wine and broth into slow cooker.

6. Add carrots, potatoes, onion, and seasonings.

7. Cook on high for 3 1/2 hours, or on low for 7 1/2 hours.

8. Combine 1/2 c. beef broth and cornstarch, and stir into beef mixture. Cook an additional 30 minutes, or until gravy is thickened. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. (I used a lot of salt, something like 2-3 teaspoons.)

9. Remove onion and bay leaf before serving.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You don't know Jack

And to be honest, I'm still trying to figure him out, myself.

I had big plans to try a bunch of new recipes last week. But I lost all my ambition around, oh, Tuesday-ish. Instead, I made a big pot of shredded beef tacos and dined on leftovers all week.

The little man has developed a bit of a sensitive stomach, and lying down isn't the most comfortable for him after he's eaten. And he eats almost every hour. The remedy? Lots and lots of snuggling.

It's been therapeutic for both of us. We cuddle. We read books (I do about 95% of the reading). We drink milk. We burp. We talk. To think, just a few short weeks ago, the little man was a total stranger to me. And now I know enough to have developed a dossier.

Name: Jack
Known aliases: Little man, Jack-baby, Creepy
Likes: Milk (a.k.a. Creepy juice), fuzzy jammies, fleece blankets, mirrors, pacifiers, his hands
Dislikes: Short sleeves, socks, spitting up, sleeping in the dark, baths, getting into his carseat
Hobbies: Snuggling, lifting his head, belching like a man, scratching his own face, turning all Mom's t-shirts into v-necks
Other notes: Smells like milk

And here are a few photos of him in his various guises.

Awake and alert:

He's the one on the left.


He's totally on to you. Or maybe you're supposed to steal third.


He finds Food Network tedious. They're pretty focused on solid food.


This is what listening to Sarah McLachlan does to a little man.


We only hope that someday, he's this happy when he's awake.

See? Mystery solved. It was time well spent.