Alfredo sauce, by sharon

January 18, 2010

I’ll admit it, I’ve been a sucker.  I don’t know why, but for years and years I’ve been buying Alfredo sauce in jars.  I’ve been under the impression that Alfredo sauce is difficult to make.  But no more!  I have thrown off the shackles and seen the light.  And the light is made of cream, butter, and cheese.

The other day, I was poking around my kitchen.  I had some leftover cooked pasta, but C had eaten the rest of the meatballs and tomato sauce.  I spied some heavy cream that I bought for another batch of tomato soup, looked over and saw butter, checked the drawer and found a block of Parmesan.  Of course, I had garlic waiting on the counter because I always make sure to have a head of garlic around.

And I figured, today is the day I try this.  I poked around online and found a few basic recipes and they all seemed pretty easy.  Basically, it involved simmering the cream and butter for a few minutes before adding the garlic, cheese, and seasonings.  But decided to add the garlic to the butter and cook it for a bit because I didn’t want too strong of a raw garlic flavor.  The following amounts made enough sauce for a large, entree-sized single serving or a side dish for 2 people.

1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and fresh cracked pepper

In saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add minced garlic and allow to sauté briefly before adding the cream.  Simmer the cream (do NOT boil) for approximately 5 minutes before adding the cheese and whisking to mix.  Season with salt and pepper.  Toss with pasta and sprinkle with parsley.

And it was THAT EASY.  I will never never never buy Alfredo sauce again. EVER.  I’m sorry to say that C wasn’t home for this creation, and she was awfully mad that she missed out since Alfredo is her favorite way to eat pasta.  And I’m glad I made it the real way at least once—full fat and all.  Now if I try to tweak any ingredients I’ll know how it should taste.

Holiday menu

December 20, 2009

Yeah, I haven’t posted anything lately. But I also haven’t been cooking anything new. Like, at all. I started a job a month ago that’s from 4-11 pm, and frankly, I don’t want to cook dinner when I get home. But I did spend a few consecutive weekends making giant meals for leftovers during the week. Which hasn’t happened in a week, since I’ve been laid up with a hellish head cold.

All that being said, I at least know what I’m cooking for Christmas. I just went out and braved the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon and got all the ingredients.  I plan on doing as much pre-cooking and prep as I possibly can before Christmas day, so I can just toss everything together and go.  We’ll be having:

Turkey (I missed out on Thanksgiving and I’m still mad about it)
Gravy (of course)
A HoneyBaked ham
roasted carrots and squash
cornbread-pecan dressing
broccoli-cheese rice
cranberry sauce
Double chocolate pudding

I thought about mashed potatoes, but I hate peeling them. Really, I hate it. And I’m only feeding four people, so I don’t need to make that much food.

You might be wondering about the chocolate pudding dessert. No pie? Really?  Well, yeah. I don’t want a pie. I’ve over pie. I want pudding. And this is a seriously evil pudding. It’s fancy enough to make someone go “Wow!” but nostalgic enough for the holidays.

And even though most of these dishes are standard, I’ll be posting recipes for them anyway. So stay tuned!

Lemon-Garlic Roasted Chicken with Dilled Orzo, by sharon

October 19, 2009

I made this over a month ago for my anniversary dinner, and it was such a hit that I decided to make it again. Originally found in a copy of EveryDay Food, I (as per usual) tweaked it more to my taste.  That means more garlic and more lemon!

Lemon-Garlic Roasted Chicken with Dilled Orzo

1 chicken, cut into 10 pieces
3 lemons, quartered
8-10 cloves of garlic, smashed
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup dried orzo
1/2 teaspoon dried dill

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  If you’ve purchased a chicken already cut into pieces, you’re almost done. Using a large, sharp knife, cut each chicken breast in half horizontally. This makes all the pieces almost equal size, which is what allows them to cook quickly and evenly.

On a rimmed baking sheet, toss chicken, lemon and garlic cloves with a teaspoon (I used a little more) of olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano. Arrange skin side up.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until evenly browned and cooked through.

While the chicken is cooking, bring a pot of water to boil. Add orzo and cook until al dente. Drain and return to pan. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive and dried dill.

Serve chicken pieces arranged over the orzo.  I highly suggest you drizzle some of the pan juices over everything as well.

While the chicken was cooking, I made roasted carrots underneath. Easy peasy: chop some carrots. Toss them on a rimmed baking sheet with a teaspoon of olive oil, salt, pepper, and ground thyme. Roast at 450 degrees for 20-30 minutes, shaking once or twice while cooking.


Creamy Tomato Soup

October 18, 2009


I love a good tomato soup.  And even though I’ll still crack open a can of Campbell’s and be happy enough, I much prefer a heartier version. In fact, Le Madeline’s sells some in a jar that is pretty good. But you know, that can get expensive. Especially as often as I want soup.

Now that my blender is all fixed, I thought now would be the perfect time to give this a shot. And this recipe from Martha Stewart (shut up) seemed like a winner.

Creamy Tomato Soup

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic (I used 4 because I like garlic)
2 14-ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes (I got the kind with basil in it, since my store didn’t have fresh basil)
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 heavy cream

Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic, stirring constantly, until translucent about 3 minutes.

Add tomatoes and their juices and the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes.

Working in batches, transfer tomato mixture to blender (put a towel over the lid) and puree until smooth.

Return soup to a clean pot and set over low heat. Whisk in cream and heat through.  I tasted it at this point and added some more salt and pepper, along with a dash of ground thyme. It needed more salt than I expected, but the cream probably had something to do with that.

If you have some leftover and you want to reheat it, do NOT do it in a microwave. This will break the cream and it will be really gross. Heat gently over low or medium low.

I made a grilled cheese sandwich to go with this and it was fantastic!!

Cheater Pulled Pork, by sharon

October 15, 2009

You know what? One might think that as much as I love barbecue, my living in Texas would make me a really happy, satisfied person. But it doesn’t.  I just don’t like Texas barbecue that much. It’s too smoky, too dependant on beef and brisket and . . . well it’s not my cup of tea (or bottle of sauce, as it were).  And speaking of sauce, I don’t like Texas sauce.

Which I suppose means that I prefer Georgia or Carolina barbecue.  Maybe. What I like is my dad’s barbecue and I don’t have a clue what regional affiliation he might be going for. He’s from Florida, there’s just no telling.

Anyway, the purpose of this is to say that even though I live where I live, I don’t get to eat the kind of barbecue I like. And what I really like, more than anything, is pulled pork. And that is reallly hard to find in super beef-eating Texas.

So it seems obvious that I should make it myself. However, I don’t have a grill and the smoker I was given is sitting at Molly’s house because my porch is way too tiny for something like that. What’s a girl to do?

The answer? CHEAT like it’s going out of style and use a Crock Pot.

I looked around online for how to do it and found a few different answers. But the basic answer seemed to be to rub the meat with some spices, let it sit for 2-3 days in the fridge, put it in the Crock Pot for 10 hours, shred, eat. Well, okay. I can do that.

I called my dad for a few pointers. After he was done laughing at me for trying to do something like this without wood chips and/or a fire, he told me two very important things:
1) Throw in a little liquid smoke or you’ll be sorry
2) The meat has to reach an internal temperature of 200 degrees or it won’t shred properly.

So I went to the store and found a 6-pound, bone-in pork butt. I was looking for a boneless pork butt or a pork shoulder, but that’s all the store at the front of my neighborhood had. It’s pork, I figured it would be fine.

I threw together what looked like some good spices: a little brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne. I mixed all that in a bowl and then rubbed it into the meat. Then I wrapped the meat securely in plastic wrap (like 3 times around), and let it sit in the refrigerator for 2 days. I could have let it sit another day, but I was getting a little impatient, honestly.

I woke up early one morning and dug out my Crock Pot. I poured 1/4 cup of water and 3 tablespoons of liquid smoke into the bottom of the liner, set the meat inside, turned it on low, and popped the lid on. And then I went right back to bed.

Some time later, I wondered if the pork was done. It hadn’t been 10 hours, but I was curious anyway. So I got my handy meat therometer (the kind with a cord that plugs into an alarm/sensor, I love it so much) and poked the meat. Voila! It was just over 200 degrees!

I took the meat out to cool and contemplated the juices and liquid left behind. I threw them out, but only because I intended to toss the meat with sauce when I reheated it. If I hadn’t, I would have cooled and skimmed the liquid to keep around for moistening the meat.

Once the meat was cool enough to handle, I grabbed my giant cutting board and started pulling hunks off of the . . . bigger hunk. I shredded all the meat with two forks, discarding any fat, and threw it all back into the (cleaned) Crock Pot liner.

Shredded and Waiting for Sauce

Then I grabbed a bowl and mixed a couple of barbecue sauces I had on hand. One was a vinegary sauce, the other was a dark, sweet concoction that almosted tasted like candy. I played around until I got the balance I liked, and poured it over the meat in the Crock Pot. That went back on low while I made my potato salad to go with it.

And it was gooooood. The gf came home from work and pretty much lost her mind at the smell that was wafting through the apartment. We made Pulled Pork sandwiches and ate potato salad and watched stupid tv. And I finally got my barbecue!

sandwich macro

Orange-Lace Cookies with Chocolate Drizzle

September 30, 2009

I once bought some Lace Cookies with dark chocolate from World Market and thought they were amazing.  The large cookies were made into sandwiches held together by the yummy chocolate.  So I went hunting for lace cookie recipes to bring to a Pre-Thanksgiving potluck that I attended last year.  I came across a few versions that included orange zest and hey! I LOVE orange and chocolate together.  And almonds.  So I tweaked a few recipes and came up with the following recipe.

A few notes: I went ahead and invested in a SilPat for this.  I had always wanted one and this seemed like the perfect reason to get one.  After making a few sheets thus far, I’ve gotta tell you . . . SilPat is the coolest thing ever in the world.  These have to be cooked on a greased surface and I HATE greasing the baking sheet between rounds.  This nips that in the bud.  I found a medium-sized one for about $20 at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Also, most recipes called for either all brown sugar or all white sugar.  I hate that.  Since I was using orange, I thought a little brown sugar would complement that really well, but I also didn’t want to overpower the orange with too deep of a flavor behind it.  Which is why I’m using some of each.

On the nuts, yes, chop them by hand.  It’s not that big a deal and it gives you more control over the final texture of your cookie.  I found small packs of slivered almonds and those were a breeze to chop.  I don’t recommend using a food processor here, it will pulverize the nuts into dust and I think having some identifiable nuts is a good thing.

Lastly, I was making these last time and you know what?  I didn’t HAVE 1 1/2 cups of almonds.  After the chopping of 4 ounces of almonds, that gave me about a cup.  What to do?  I didn’t want to go to the store, dammit.  So I found some pecans in my cupboard, chopped those up, and made extra 1/2 cup.  And I really liked them both.  So do what you want!!  This might be good with lots of other kinds of nuts, like walnuts or hazelnuts.  Or with lemon zest.  Or whatever!  Yet again, I encourage mad kitchen experimentation.

1 1/2 sticks of butter (12 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups chopped almonds
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
zest of two oranges
1 egg, beaten
at least 8 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Melt the butter in a microwave-safe mixing bowl.  Add the nuts, sugars, flour, and zest; mix well.  Pour in the beaten egg (though honestly, I didn’t beat the stupid egg first because that’s an extra bowl to wash) and mix thoroughly.

Place your handy dandy SilPat (or greased parchment paper) over a cookie sheet.  Drop teaspoonfuls of batter about 2-3 inches apart.  The cookies will spread like you won’t believe, and you don’t want them overlapping.  On a standard cookie sheet, I’ve been able to get 4 across and 3 down without any problem or melding.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and slightly bubbly.  Check them at 10 minutes and see if the middles look brown enough.  For the first couple of batches, check them, close the oven, and count to 30.  It just takes a little patience to determine how they want to cook for you.  My oven took 14 minutes.

Remove the sheet from the oven and place it on a cooling rack.  Let the cookies cool for approximately 2 minutes before attempting to remove them.  Using a butter knife (a spatula is too thick to get under these delicate, girly things), pull up one edge of a cookie to test.  If stays together and wants to bring the rest of the cookie with it but still looks really flexible, you’re good to go.  Quickly transfer all the cookies to another cooling rack, preferably one with rods going in both directions (leaving no slats for cookies to slump through).

By the way, at this point the cookies are still flexible enough to shape into things.  Wrap them around the end of a wooden spoon to make little cookie tubes, or shape loosely into cones.  Hell, wrap them around the bottom of a cup if you want and make little fluted bowls out of them.  Now is the time for sculpting!

When the cookies have cooled, melt the chocolate over a double-boiler.  The chocolate kept cooling on me at the table while I was drizzling, so I stuck a heating pad under the bowl and turned it on high. This worked surprisingly well and it may or may not have been something Alton Brown recommended.  I honestly don’t remember.  I drizzled the chocolate with a spoon.  For the few cookies I shaped, those were strategically dipped in chocolate (tubes had the ends, fluted bowls had the edge).

Why I’m becoming famous, by sharon

September 10, 2009

I bet you didn’t know that I’m on a steady rise to fame, but I am.  And do you know why? Because I bring bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and almonds to parties.

In fact, I was all set to bring something else to a party on Saturday, but the hostess said “Oh . . . well. That’s good. I guess. Or you could bring the bacon date things. PLEASE bring the bacon date things!!”

And so I was at the store today, buying ingredients for the bacon date things.  As I’m checking out,

Cashier: I gotta ask, why do you have this many dried dates? What are you up to?
Me: Oh, I’m making them for a party. You split the dates, remove the pit, stuff it with goat cheese and slivered almonds. Then you wrap bacon around it and cook it.
Cashier: Oh my god.
Me: Yeah . . . it’s kind of amazing. People lose their minds.
Woman behind me in line: What’s this? What are you talking about? You do WHAT do dates?
Cashier: (repeats what I just told her)
Woman: Oh my GOD.
Cashier: Honey, you just got invited to my Thanksgiving dinner. Which is now potluck.
Me: (laughing) They’re so easy, I swear. But they are insaaaanely good.
Woman: You need a card or something. It can say “Bacon-date girl.”
Cashier: But that sounds like she goes on dates and brings bacon.
Woman: I bet that would be just as successful. It’s bacon.
Me: (I’m done checking out at this point and I’m laughing really hard. I turn to leave)
Woman: WAIT! So tell me again, real quick, what do you do?
Me: (repeating the recipe)
Cashier: (hands woman a piece of blank receipt and a pen) Here, if you write it down can you give me a copy?

See there? People who’ve never even TASTED this are going crazy.  So here is the recipe. This is for a larger group, but can easily be multiplied or scaled down.

2 pounds of dried dates
8 ounces of fresh goat cheese (chevre)
slivered almonds
a big pack of thick-sliced bacon, 2 pounds?

I get dried dates for a reason. First, fresh dates can be hard to find. Second, I like the sticky texture against the creaminess of the cheese and the crunch of the bacon and almonds. Third, they’re a little sweeter, which plays nicely against the tanginess and saltiness. And this might be way more bacon than necessary, but what’s wrong with having leftover bacon in the house? It’s bacon.

With a small, sharp knife, cut a slit into one side of the date. Make sure you don’t cut it all the way in half. Open it up a little and pull out the pit.  I like to pit all the dates at once before moving on.  Get your goat cheese ready and make a pile of slivered almonds. Take, I don’t know, a teaspoon of goat cheese and stick it into the middle of the date. Poke a couple almond slivers down in there. Again, do this to all of the dates before moving on.

Cut your bacon strips in half. Wrap a half piece of bacon around each date, making sure the slit you cut is covered, and try to spiral around the whole date. Secure with a toothpick and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Once they’re all done (this amount may take 2 sheets) put them in the oven to BROIL, not bake.  Check and turn them every 4-5 minutes or so until the bacon is cooked through.  This might take a total of 15-20 minutes. Also, don’t have your sheet too close to the heating element. When they’re done, place the dates on a paper towel to drain the excess grease. Remove the now charred toothpicks and put them on a plate.

If you are making these ahead of time, you can store them in the fridge once they’re cooked. They’re best warm or at room temperature, so give them 10-15 seconds in the microwave to take the chill off.  Prepare to have random strangers ask if you are God (this happened to me once).  I’ll try to take some pictures of these and post them when I make this on Saturday.