Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cookbook Review: The Butch Bakery Cookbook

 The Butch Bakery Cookbook
by David Arrick with Janice Kollar
192 pages

The Butch Bakery Cookbook is all about cupcakes.  Masculine cupcakes.  Cupcakes for grown men.  You won't find any frilly pink frosting or colorful sprinkles in this book.  Instead you'll find recipes for jumbo cupcakes named Beer Run, Triple Play, Tailgate, Camp Out, Side Car, and Jack Daniels Rush.  Manly cupcakes made with spices, bacon, nuts, liquor and beer.  This is not your mother's cupcake cookbook.

Chapters Include:
Introduction: Dessert for Dudes
Chapter 1: Working
Chapter 2: Play Ball!
Chapter 3: Touchdown
Chapter 4: Barbecue Season
Chapter 5: Couples' Night Out
Chapter 6: Butch's On-The-Go

To test out the cookbook I really wanted make the cover recipe, which is a maple cupcake with milk chocolate ganache and Butch's bacon bits (baked crumbled bacon with brown sugar and freshly cracked pepper).  However, everyone in the house kept eating up all all the bacon.  So I had to come up with another plan.  

Collectively, we decided on the New Yawk Cream Pie cupcakes.  The New Yawk Cream Pie cupcake is a yellow butter cupcake filled with vanilla pudding and topped with an easy chocolate glaze.  The recipe is from Chapter 6, Butch's On-The-Go.  While Chapters 1-5 feature rather intermediate homemade recipes, Chapter 6 features recipes using pre-made cake mixes.    
New Yawk Cream Pie Cupcakes
Adapted from The Butch Bakery Cookbook by David Arrick
Makes 18 jumbo cupcakes or 24 regular sized cupcakes

"A Yellow Butter Cupcake filled with Vanilla Pudding and topped with an Easy Chocolate Glaze.  We know that sometimes you want a cupcake, but time is of the essence.  So here's an easy way to cut out the middleman and get right to the nitty-gritty.  Choose the butter version of a boxed yellow cake mix for these cupcakes.  We've switched up the ingredients here so that you won't even know these cupcakes came from a mix.  Filled with store-bought vanilla pudding and topped with our super-easy chocolate glaze, you'll impress all of your friends, and no one will be the wiser."

For the Yellow Butter Cupcakes:
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow butter cake mix
3 large eggs, broken into a small bowl
1 cup half and half
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted an cooled slightly
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the Vanilla Filling:
4 (4-ounce) containers store-bought vanilla pudding

For the Easy Chocolate Glaze:
1 (16-ounce) can store-bought chocolate fudge frosting

Make the cupcakes:  Place a baking rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.  Line three 6-cup jumbo sized muffin pans with liners and set aside (I used regular sized muffin pans).  In a large sized mixing bowl, add all of the cupcakes ingredients.  With an electric mixer on low speed, mix for 30 seconds to combine, and then beat on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes more, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Fill each of the prepared muffin cups with no more than 1/4 cup batter, about 1/2 full.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the tops are just firm to the touch and a tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 22 minutes.  Leave the cupcakes in the pan on a rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.  Transfer the cupcakes to the wire rack to cool completely before filing and frosting, about 1 hour. 

Make the Glaze:  In a small saucepan, heat the frosting until melted enough to run off a spoon.  Let cool slightly to thicken.

Cupcake Construction:  Using a small paring knife or melon baller, cut a 2-inch diameter hole in the top of each cupcake.  Reserve the cutout pieces.  Fill with pudding almost to the top of the hole, about 1 rounded tablespoon each, and then slice a piece from the reserved cutouts to cover the pudding.  Using a measuring tablespoon, spread 1 heaping tablespoon of chocolate glaze over the top of each cupcake.  Don't worry if it drips over the sides.  Cupcakes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days in an airtight container, or frozen for 1 month.
The Butch Bakery Cookbook is fun, unique, and creative.  It's definitely worth a sneak peek!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

La Pizza Rossa (The Bread Lover's Pizza)

 We've all heard of the meat lover's pizza, the cheese lover's pizza, and the veggie lover's pizza.  Meet the new bread lover's pizza.  The crust on this pizza rossa is at least one and a half inches thick, giving a whole new meaning to thick crust pizza.  

The dough on this pizza is dimpled, which allows room for more toppings, creating a harmonious balance between the thick crust and what lies on top. Creating good dimples in your dough is the secret to this pizza.  Each dimple is like a secret holding extra little bits of sauce and cheese. 

 As written, this recipe called for topping only with a homemade tomato sauce. I wanted to make my pizza more of a main course pizza so I added the standard cheese and pepperoni.  Feel free to customize this pizza as you wish.  There are so many different variations that would be good with this thick crust.  This recipe makes a huge pizza that easily fills up a large sheet pan.  You will have enough pizza to feed a large family or a small crowd.  

La Pizza Rossa
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Makes 12 to 15 pieces

1-3/4 cups warm (comfortable to your fingers) water
1 (3/4-ounce) cake fresh yeast, crumbled or 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon honey
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt

Tomato Topping:
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, peeled and squashed a bit
2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
3 basil leaves, torn

cheese, pepperoni, sausage, veggies (optional)
12 ounces of shredded mozzarella
pepperoni, to your liking
about 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
sprinkle of parsley, basil, and/or any other herbs

Put the water, yeast, honey, olive oil, and 3 fistfuls of the flour in a bowl.  Mix with an electric beater until smooth.  Cover the bowl and leave for 20-30 minutes, until the mixture froths up and looks foamy on top.  Mix in the rest of the flour and 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt.  The dough will be very soft and sticky- don't be tempted to add more flour.  Now, using a dough hook, mix for about 4 to 50 minutes so everything is completely incorporated.  If you don't have a dough hook, just mix it with your hands, slapping it from one side of the bowl to the other as it will be too soft to knead.  Cover the bowl with a couple of cloths and leave it in a warm and draft-free place for about 1-1/2 hours, or until the dough has puffed up well.
Note:  I turn my oven on warm/lowest setting and leave the bowl on top of the oven.

Very lightly oil an 11 by 15 by 1-1/2 inch baking pan.  Punch down the dough with one firm blow to the center.  Spread the dough gently onto the pan, right out to the edges, working it with your palms to stretch it along the pan.  If it won't stretch easily, leave it to relax for another 5 minutes and then gently stretch out the dough, starting from the center and flicking your palms across it.  Make sure the dough doesn't break anywhere and that it is more or less evenly spread.  Put in a warm draft-free place.  Arrange four glasses around the pan and drape a couple of dish towels or a towels over them like a tent to completely cover the sheet (so that the dough doesn't stick to the cloth as it rises).  Leave for 45 minutes or so, until the dough has puffed up.
For the tomato topping, heat the oil with the garlic in a saucepan and, when you begin to smell the garlic, add the tomatoes, basil, and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Cook for about 15 minutes over fairly strong heat, until the sauce loses its wateriness and starts to look thick and bubbly.  If you like, you can whiz it a couple of times with a handheld blender to make it a little smoother, but still keep some chunks.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F.

Dimple the top of the dough here and there with your fingers so that the tomato has some nests to settle into (take care not to deflate your dough, though).  Scatter the tomato sauce over the top and gently spread it out with the back of the ladles.  It may seem like a lot of sauce, but it keeps the pizza lovely and moist.  Top with other toppings, if using.  Put the pan in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes (depending on the strength of your oven) until the pizza is golden and a bit crusty here and there.  Check that the bottom is crusty and crispy, too, and cook for longer if you need to.  Cut up into squares to serve.  I think this is best warm, but it can also be served at room temperature, or reheated.
Theme: Potluck 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tex-Mex Meat Loaf with A Chipotle-Tomato Glaze

I attempt to write my menu plan based on the sales in the store, but I always allow myself to pick a few recipes that I simply just want to make.  Lately what I want is pretty much anything from The Homesick Texan cookbook.  It's my go-to cookbook for the moment.    

I have a favorite recipe for your classic everyday meat loaf, but this recipe for Tex-Mex Meat Loaf with Chipotle-Tomato Glaze has been calling to me ever since I first laid eyes on it.  I blame it all on the chorizo.  The idea of adding chorizo to meat loaf was completely intriguing to me. 

This meat loaf is dense in texture, packed with lots of flavor (chorizo, cilantro, onions, garlic, cumin, and oregano), and topped with a glaze that is spicy from the chipotle and slightly tangy from the lime.  It's not your everyday meat loaf.  It's meat loaf with a punch of flavor.  My husband who loves all these ingredients separately, did not love this meat loaf.  He said he preferred a normal old-fashioned meat loaf to this recipe.  I have to agree with him.  I certainly appreciated and enjoyed all the flavors in this recipe, but I think I prefer a simple old-fashioned meat loaf best.

Tex-Mex Meat Loaf with A Chipotle-Tomato Glaze
Adapted from The Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain
Serves 10-12

For the Chipotle-Tomato Glaze:
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes, preferable fire roasted
1/2 or 1 canned chipotle chile in adobo (depending on how much heat you like)
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 -3 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper, to taste

For the Meat Loaf:
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 medium yellow onion, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/2 pound Mexican chorizo, removed from casing
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 large eggs
1 cup finely ground crackers or tortilla chips (or a combo of the two)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.  Butter or grease the foil so the meat loaf does not stick.

To make the chipotle-tomato glaze, in a blender, puree until smooth the crushed tomatoes, chipotle chiles, lime juice, and garlic.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

To make the meat loaf, heat the oil in a skillet on medium-low heat, and add the onion.  Cook uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.  

Slide the cooked onions and garlic into a large bowl.  Add to the bowl the ground beef, the chorizo, cilantro, eggs, ground crackers (I used Ritz) or tortilla chips, oregano, cumin, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and salt.  With your hands, gently mix all ingredients until well combined.

Take the meat and form it into a loaf.  Place it on the sheet and take half of the chipotle-tomato glaze and spread it on top of the meat loaf.  Place meat loaf in the oven and bake for 50 minutes.  Remove from the oven, spread the remaining chipotle-tomato glaze on top, and place back in the oven for about 10 more minutes.  Let the cooked meat loaf sit for 15 minutes and then slice with a serrated knife and serve.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Couponing 101

I received quite a few questions and emails regarding my last post about couponing.  Those questions were fresh in my mind as I clipped my coupons this morning and I thought it would be fun to share some tips and tricks with you.  Here they are, in no particular order.

Tip # 1:  Only clip coupons for things you actually use.  Couponing has a way of being addictive.  Take caution not to buy things just because they are a good deal. The coupons above are all things we use (hot sauce, pickled jalapenos, dishwasher detergent, vitamins, aluminum foil, nuts. Italian sausage, canned tomatoes, yeast, Cheerios (for my 5 year old) and cheese. (These coupons total $10.50 in savings)

 Tip #2:  Learn the coupon policy for your store(s).  Every store's coupon policy varies.  Visit your store's website or go to their customer service desk and ask them about their coupon policy. Most stores will double any coupon that is $.50 or less (this is as good as it gets at my store).  However, some stores double coupons up to $1, making each $1 coupon instantly worth $2.  Anytime you can double a coupon worth $1 then you are going to get an amazing deal (you may even get money back)! Additionally, some stores will double the value of any coupon on one particular day of the week.  If this is the case then it would definitely be worth doing the majority of your shopping on that day.  I could go on and on here, but it is best to check with your store.  You'll want to be fully informed so that you don't run into any surprises.

Tip # 3:  You'll find the best deals by combining what's on sale along with your coupons.  Here is a perfect example.
This week my local store has cans of Hunt's tomatoes on sale for $.59 each. I have a coupon for $.45 off 3 cans, which automatically doubles to $.90 off.  Therefore I will buy 3 cans for a grand total of $.87 ($.59each  x 3 cans = $1.77 - $.90 coupon  = $.87).  You really can't beat a deal like that!  Canned tomatoes are a staple, especially in the winter.  I will be so glad to have these on hand in my pantry.  In fact, this leads me to my next tip.

Tip #4:  If there are good deals to be had, and you have the room/space, stock up!  Don't be afraid to ask a friend for their paper when they're finished with it OR if the savings dictate, buy another paper.  The main point is to stock up.  Sales and coupons are on cycles and oftentimes you will run out of a product before it cycles again.   

Tip # 5: Make sure your coupon is the best deal to be had.  Do not go to the store determined to use your coupon without first checking prices for the other brands.  Every once in awhile it happens where I'll clip a coupon and then go to the store to find that another brand is cheaper.  The motto here is to pay attention.  Don't use your coupon just for the sake of using your coupon.  Remember, you are after the best deal. 

Tip# 6: Certain stores, like Walgreens, allow you to combine their store coupons with manufacturer's coupons.  This is one of my favorite tips/tricks.  Walgreens is the place where I find a lot of great deals.  And, I must not be the only one because I frequently see other people couponing there as well. After you clip the coupons from the coupon inserts, get out your Walgreens ad.  Inside the Walgreens ad there is another set of coupons.  Here is an example.
Walgreens has a coupon for $2 off Listerine which they will allow me to combine with my mfg. coupon for $1 off.  I happen to know this particular bottle of Listerine is always $3.99.  This means that with my combined coupon I will be getting this Listerine for $.99.  Again, if possible I would stock up on this because this is a big staple in my house.

I should also mention that in addition to their weekly sales ad, Walgreens also puts out a monthly pamphlet (available at the front of the store by the sales ad) that also has coupons in it.  There have been times where I have used a Walgreen sales ad coupon, combined with a coupon from the monthly pamphlet, and a mfg. coupon. I love that Walgreens allows you to triple up on coupons. However, be cautioned when it comes to using mfg. coupons at Walgreens.  You can use them, but Walgreens will not double them.  Therefore, if you have a mfg. coupon and cannot match it with a Walgreens store coupon then it is best to use your mfg. coupon at the regular grocery store so that it can be doubled.  

Tip # 7:  Be Organized.  If you decide to coupon then you will need some sort of organizer.  I don't have anything fancy or pretty.  I just use an old photo album that has separate compartments and I've labeled each compartment with a sharpie marker. Each week I take care to go through my coupons, removing any expired ones, and at the same time refreshing my memory with the coupons that I do have so that I can better match my coupons to what's on sale that week.  As I make my grocery list I set aside the coupons I want to use and place them in a ziploc baggy to take to the store. 

Tip #8:  Keep your coupons with you.   One of the most valuable lessons I've learned while couponing is to ALWAYS keep my coupons with me.  I keep my coupon book in the trunk of my car so I always have it.  You never know when you are going to find a good deal.  

Tip #9:  Leave your kids, and any other distractions, at home when you shop!  Kids are cute, and I have two of my own, but I try my best to leave them at home when I do my shopping.  There is no way you can pay attention to the deals, your coupons, and the cashier who is ringing up your order if you have kids in tow.

Tip# 10:  Try to plan a menu based on your savings.  Challenge yourself to come up with recipes based on the items you buy with your coupons.  This week it's pretty much a no brainer for me.  Based on the canned tomatoes, yeast, Italian sausage and cheese I will most definitely be making some homemade pizzas.  The coupon for the pickled jalapenos is just the push I needed to make The Homesick Texan's breaded and fried pickled jalapeno slices, which have been on my to-do list for awhile now. 

Bonus Tip:  When couponing, please pay attention to the cashier ringing your order and also double check your receipt to make sure all your deals rang up correctly. Cashiers are busy and bound to make mistakes and sometimes the computers do not code the deals correctly.  Don't be afraid to point out errors while the cashier is ringing up your order.  Also, know beforehand how much you should be saving with your coupons so that you can double check your receipt afterwards and make sure it is all accounted for.  The grand total of my coupons above is $10.50 and I will be sure to make sure I see $10.50 in savings at the bottom of my receipt.

Another Bonus Tip:  If you're interested in couponing, but are feeling a little nervous about it all, then start off small.  Find yourself one good deal, grab your coupon, take it all to the register, and have it rung up separately so you can look at the receipt and understand it.  Next time around you'll feel more comfortable and you'll understand the rules a little better.

As of right now, I only use my local Sunday newspaper for coupons.  Some people like to get their coupons online, but then it is necessary to print them, which does involve extra cost. If you're interested, there are some great online coupon sites out there, namely smartsource.com and redplum.com. 

I hope this bit of information was helpful in answering some of the questions. If you have any additional questions, or tips of your own, feel free to share them in the comments section, or via email.  I'd love to hear about them! 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Baked Feta

 Every Sunday morning I drive down to the gas station, pick up a newspaper, and then come home and look through the grocery ads and coupons.  It's something that's become a ritual.  Mostly I'm trying to match up the coupons with what's for sale in my local grocery store.  When I can make a match this means big savings.

Now, when I mention coupons, I'm not talking about coupons for boxed or processed foods.  I'm talking about coupons for things like drinks, cheese, yogurt, milk, produce, pasta, rice, baking goods, other staples, and household goods.  Perfectly healthy things that we use and/or eat. On average I usually save about $30-$50 per grocery trip.   

For example, last week I noticed taco shells were on sale for $1.37 per box.  There was a coupon attached to the box for $1.00 off, making each box $.37 cents each.  Since taco shells are made with whole grain and only preserved with lime, I see no harm in buying this product.  Plus, we are huge fans of tacos in my house.  I bought 8 boxes of taco shells for a grand total of $2.96.  I'm a big fan of stocking up.

Speaking of stocking up, if you took a peek in my refrigerator you would notice that it's definitely stocked up on cheese. This is for two reasons.  Number one, we're total cheeseheads.  Number two, I can almost always buy cheese on sale and double my savings with coupons. 

This baked feta recipe is a great example. I found the feta on sale for $2.39 and it was also buy one get one free.  That's right.  Two eight ounce packages of feta cheese for $2.39.  You really can't pass up a good deal like that. 

Throw in some bread, a tomato, a little green pepper and you have a gorgeous baked feta appetizer that instantly transports you to Greece. This baked feta has bright clean flavors, tastes fresh and tangy, yet still satisfies that hot, bubbly, cheesy obsession we all have from time to time.  Plus, it smells downright delicious and will have everyone running into the kitchen to see what you're making.

Baked Feta
Adapted from Food From Many Greek Kitchens
by Tessa Kiros
Serves 2

7 ounces feta, crumbled
1-1/2 ounces green sweet pepper, finely sliced
1/2 small tomato, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 good pinches dried oregano
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Divide the feta between 2 small shallow ceramic dishes.  Scatter the green pepper and tomato. Drizzle on the olive oil, crumble the oregano in and top with a good grind of black pepper.  Bake until a bit crusty on the sides, about 20 minutes.

Disclaimer:  I'm not sharing any of this information to toot my own horn.  I just want everyone to know there are some great deals out there if you take the time to look.  If you have any tips/tricks of your own, I'd be more than happy to hear about them!

Theme: White As Snow

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chorizo Empanadas

For the next several posts I'll be bringing up topics like food budgets, couponing, choosing recipes/menu planning, writing out grocery lists, and going grocery shopping. These things relate to everyone, but are especially time consuming and tedious for the food blogger.  If nothing else, this is my way of confessing for all the somewhat psychotic, obsessive/compulsive, over the top things I do related to food and food shopping.

Let's begin with the food budget.  When I say food budget I mean a ballpark figure spent on food items every week, two weeks, or monthly.  Do you have a food budget?  If so, (and you feel comfortable sharing) how much is it?  Also, how many are you cooking for? And, finally..if you do have a food budget, do you stick with it?  

I'd say my food budget, for a family of four, is about $400 to $600 per month, definitely not over $600.  This includes all the meals (we almost never eat out), lunches packed for my husband and daughter, and special meals for my son who has all kinds of food allergies. 

My husband likes to tease me that I spend more than the average amount on groceries because I'm a food blogger.  When he does that I just call his bluff.  This recipe for chorizo empanadas is a perfect example of how inexpensive it really is to make things at home.  A little flour, a little butter, leftover cheese and some chorizo and you have a plateful of appetizers, an on-the-go breakfast, or you can add some veggies and call it dinner.  Either way, this whole batch of empanadas cost me about five to six dollars.  Making food from scratch is always going to be healthier, tastier, and way more cost effective. Are you with me?

Chorizo Empanadas
Adapted from The Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain
Makes about 16
For the Crust
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick)
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Filling
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pound Mexican chorizo, removed from it's casing
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese (2 ounces)
1/4 cup pitted black olives, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno chile, seeds and stems removed, diced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and black pepper, to taste
For the Empanada
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk
sesame seeds for sprinkling (I omitted these)
salsa, for dipping

To make the crust: Mix together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Stir in the flour and salt until a smooth dough is formed.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To make the filling: Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet, preferably a cast-iron skillet, on medium-low heat.  Crumble the chorizo into the skillet.  While occasionally stirring, cook the chorizo until it's done, about 7 to 10 minutes. Drain the excess fat and in a bowl mix the cooked chorizo with the grated Monterey Jack cheese, black olives, garlic, diced jalapeno, cilantro, and cumin.  Taste and add salt and black pepper.

To make the empanadas:  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet.  Take the dough out of the refrigerator and roll it out on a floured surface until it's 1/8 inch thick.  Cut into 5-inch rounds and then gather the scraps, roll out again and cut more 5-inch rounds until all the dough has been used.

To assemble: Place 2 teaspoons of the filling in the center of each dough circle and fold the dough to the other side so it forms a half-moon shape.  Crimp the edges with a fork to seal.

For the topping:  Whisk together the egg and milk.  Brush this on top of the empanadas and then sprinkle the empanadas with sesame seeds (if desired).  Bake for 25 minutes or until top is browned.  Serve with salsa on the side for dipping. 
Notes:  These chorizo empanadas are perfect in every way.  We loved the spicy chorizo filling and found the crust to be perfectly golden and crisp.  The dough is really easy to work with and can be mixed in mere minutes with only your hands or a spoon (no getting out a mixer).  I didn't have a 5-inch dough cutter so I used a small cereal bowl to cut out the circles and it worked perfectly.  If you have leftover filling go ahead and add it to your eggs in the morning.  I'll definitely make this recipe again!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fried Risotto Balls

Today I learned that I've been missing out on fried risotto balls, otherwise known as arancini, my entire life.  Oh my gosh!  If I knew how incredibly delicious they were, I would've been making them all along.  So, take a nudge from me, please.  Make risotto.  Any risotto will do.  The tomato risotto below is especially nice.  Then make sure that you don't eat all the risotto.  Same some of it.  Heck, save all of it (you'll be glad you did).  Then make these fried risotto balls.  You will go crazy for them!! And, I do mean crazy!!

Here's what I did.  I started by making this insanely delicious Tomato Risotto.  This Tomato Risotto is all kinds of delicious on it's own.  It's creamy and delicious, with loads of mozzarella stirred in, and chunks of smashed garlic. Try not to take a bite though because you'll want to eat it and then you won't be able to stop.  Set the risotto aside. Hide it away in the back of the fridge so that it's waiting on you when you want to make the fried risotto balls.  Try to be patient.  It will pay off when you pop that first fried risotto ball in your mouth! 
Tomato Risotto
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Serves 3

4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
pinch of dried chile flakes
5-6 cups good veggie or chicken broth
1 cup risotto rice
1 cup canned tomatoes, pureed
2 large basil leaves, torn (I had to use dried basil)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup (1/2-inch blocks fresh mozzarella cheese)
2-1/2 tablespoons olive oil, to serve
grated Parmesan cheese, to serve
Freshly ground black pepper, to serve

Put all the broth in a small pan and leave on low heat so it stays warm.

Heat the olive oil in a wide heavy-bottomed pan.  Saute the onion and garlic over low-medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until lightly golden.  Stir in the chile flakes and rice, and cook for another minute.  Add half the tomato puree, half the basil, and 1-1/2 cups of the hot broth.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring now and then.  Set the rest of the tomato puree and the remaining broth, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the risotto is cooked (if it needs another few minutes or a little more liquid, just use hot water).  Remove the garlic cloves (I left them in as I like them) and throw them away.  Stir in the Parmesan, mozzarella, and remaining basil.  Serve as soon as the mozzarella starts to melt, drizzled with olive oil and with a good grating of black pepper for the adults.  Pass around the Parmesan.
When you are ready to find bliss, take out your reserved risotto.  Add some Parmesan, a little bit of egg, and make tablespoon-sized balls.  Slip a small piece of mozzarella into the middle of the ball and reshape.  Place the rounded balls into the egg, then the breadcrumbs, and allow to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.  This chill time is crucial because this allows the breadcrumbs to adhere better so they don't fall off when frying.  Once chilled, fry in about 1 inch of olive oil for 2-3 minutes, turning quite a bit until they are golden brown and warmed through.  Allow to cool and prepare to be totally enamored!

Fried Risotto Balls
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Makes 36

About 3 cups of cold risotto (you can use any risotto, but Tessa recommends the tomato risotto)
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup small cubes fresh mozzarella cheese 
1-1/2 cups dry breadcrumbs
olive oil, for frying 
lemon wedges, to serve

Mix the risotto and Parmesan together in a bowl.  Lightly beat one of the eggs and gradually stir into the risotto, stopping when the risotto is damp but still firm enough to be shaped.  Moisten your hands with a little water, take a heaping tablespoon of the mixture, and roll it into a ball.  Make a tunnel into the center with your finger and push a mozzarella cube into it.  Squeeze the ball to close the opening and seal in the mozzarella.  Do this with the rest of the mixture.

Lightly beat the other egg in a flat bowl.  Put the bread crumbs on a plate.  Roll the balls in the egg and then the bread crumbs and put on a cookie sheet or large plate.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.  (This is a necessity.  Chilling allows the breadcrumbs to dry out so they adhere better when fried).

Pour about 1 inch of olive oil into a frying pan and heat until hot but not smoking.  Fry the balls in batches, gently moving them around in the oil and turning them often so that they brown evenly.  Each batch will take about 2 minutes, then you can lift them out onto a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.  Fried risotto balls are best served warm with a squeeze of lemon juice but are also fine eaten at room temperature.

Theme: Rice is Nice!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Biscoff Coffee Cake

It was Christmas of 1993 and I was a senior in high school.  I'm sure there were all kinds of crazy things I wanted for Christmas, but it turns out my favorite gift was the one I didn't even know I wanted.  I wouldn't have thought to ask for it, but my Mom bought me my very own red and white checked Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  All the women in our family had that red and white checkered cookbook and I guess she figured it was about time for me to receive my own. Mom knew that I would like the gift but even she was surprised by how much I liked it.  

I was so intrigued with the book that I immediately tore off the packaging, took out the dividers, and started putting it together.  I guess my parents figured that after I put the book together I would set it down and open the rest of my presents, but I didn't.  I asked to take a break from the presents and went into hiding with my cookbook.  I wasn't satisfied until I looked through each and every page, all the pictures, and all the recipes. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair.  

The excitement of that day is one of the most vivid memories I have of my teenage years.  I feel the same excitement each time I hold a new cookbook in my hands.  I can feel my adrenaline start to race as I'm filled with a deep need to explore the pages of my new book.  Each book is like a brand new adventure.
Mom's Cookbook on the left; mine on the right.

Biscoff Coffee Cake
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Home Cookbook
Serves 16

For the Topping:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Biscoff Spread
3 tablespoons butter, cold

For the Batter:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup Biscoff Spread
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temp

For the Topping:  In a bowl stir together 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour.  Cut in 1/4 cup Biscoff spread and 3 tablespoons cold butter.  Use a fork or a pastry blender.  Set aside.

For the Batter:  In a bowl stir together 2 cups flour, 1 cup brown sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add milk, 1/2 cup Biscoff Spread, the eggs, and 1/4 cup butter.  Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended.  Beat at high speeds for 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently.

Pour batter into a greased 13x9x2-inch baking pan (I used a 12" round cake pan), spreading evenly.  Sprinkle with topping mixture.  Bake in a 375F oven for about 30 minutes or till a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Serve warm or cool.

VariationPrepare as above, except add 1/4 cup chocolate chips to topping and stir 1/2 cup chocolate chips into batter after beating.

Notes/Results:  The inspiration for this recipe came from the Better Homes and Gardens peanut butter coffee cake recipe.  You could certainly use the peanut butter in place of the Biscoff spread and I'm sure it would be equally delicious.  Alternatively, any other nut butter would work equally well and provide a unique twist from the standard peanut butter version.  There are two things I love about this recipe.  First, the Biscoff spread is in both the batter and the topping, so the flavor really comes through.  Second, there is a great amount of crumb topping and let's face it...the crumb topping is always everyone's favorite part.  I think this coffee cake is terrific served alongside sliced apples and/or coffee, tea, or hot/cold apple cider. 

Biscoff Spread is a relatively new product made with Biscoff cookies.  It can be used in place of peanut butter with terrific results and for this reason it is especially nice to have on hand for those who are allergic to nuts.  It is a product of Belgium, but I found a jar in my local grocery store for ($4.99/14 ozs).  I have a feeling that if it is available here in rural Kentucky it should be fairly easy to find.  If not, it is available on Amazon.   

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Risotto with Artichokes and Italian Sausage

Are you one of those people who mixes their food about on the plate?  You know what I mean, right?  My husband, for example, will take a perfectly puffy, buttery, golden and flaky chicken pot pie and mix that wonderful crust right into the filling while I sit back and watch in horror.  He'll mix the hell out of the pot pie until it all looks beige on the plate.  Me, on the other hand, I like to spoon a bit of the perfectly golden and flaky crust right into the filing and take what I consider to be the perfect bite.  To me this is what good eating is all about, the contrast of taste and texture.  

Now I could go on and on citing different examples, but I'll save you from all that.  Let's just say that food mixing drives me crazy.  You don't mix up an ice cream sundae.  You don't mix the toppings on top of your soup into the soup.   Or maybe you do.  I don't know.  I guess we all deserve to eat and enjoy our food the way we wish.  I just wish I didn't have to witness the food mixing.  It makes me cringe.

This recipe for risotto with artichokes and sausage is a perfect example on food mixing.  The author calls for you to cook the risotto along with the artichokes and sausage, all mixed in together.  When I first glanced at the name of this dish I envisioned a gorgeous serving of risotto with the artichokes and crispy bits of caramelized sausage sitting on top.  I just couldn't bring myself to lose the crispy caramelized bits on the sausage so I changed the recipe to suit my tastes.  I sauteed my sausage and artichokes until golden and then set them aside so that I could top the risotto with them later.   
Either way, I have a feeling that you really can't go wrong on this recipe.  It is super fantastic!  Definitely worth repeating.  The only thing that could make this risotto any better would be the addition of a little mascarpone into the risotto at the end. 
Risotto with Artichokes & Italian Sausage
Adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
Serves 4
Tessa says, " It is simple to throw together a broth - just put some water on to boil with a carrot and onion, celery, and peppercorns.  Add a bit more water than the recipe calls for and boil it for at least half an hour.  A broth adds depth to a risotto; however, you can also use water."

juice of half a lemon
2 artichokes
4 - 6 cups hot veggie or chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 teaspoon
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 by 3 oz. Italian sausages, skin removed and meat crumbled
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
a couple of thyme or tarragon sprigs or sage
1-1/4 cups arborio rice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve

Fill a bowl with cold water and add the lemon juice.  Trim the artichokes of their tough outer leaves.  Chop off about a third of the top spear.  Cut off the stem, leaving about 1 inch.  Trim away the dark outer stem.  Cut the artichokes in half vertically and scrape out the chokes.  Slice each one into 8 or 9 thin slices and put them in the lemon water.  Alternatively, buy a can of artichokes or one 10 oz. bag of frozen artichokes.  If frozen, allow them to come to room temperature.  If you are buying canned or frozen artichokes there is no need to clean them or add them to the lemon water. 

Put the veggie broth or water in a saucepan, cover, and bring to a simmer.  Keep at the simmering point while you make the risotto.
Heat the olive oil with the teaspoon of butter in a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan or a skillet with high sides.  Saute the onion until golden and then add the crumbled sausage.  Continue cooking until golden, stirring often so it doesn't stick.  Once the sausage is golden deglaze the pan with the 1/2 cup red wine, if using.  Allow the wine to evaporate.  This will take about 1 minute.  Add the garlic, drained artichokes, and the sprigs of thyme or tarragon.  Saute until the artichokes are slightly softened and lightly golden.  (The recipe calls for leaving the sausage and artichokes in the pan while you cook the risotto.  I chose to remove the sausage and artichokes and set it aside so I could top the risotto with it).  

Add the rice to the pan, stir well, and season with salt and pepper.  Add about 1 cup of the hot broth or water; decrease the heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring often, until almost all the liquid has evaporated.  Add more liquid and continue cooking, stirring regularly and adding more liquid as it is absorbed, for about 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender.  The risotto should still have some liquid and the rice grains should be firm yet soft and creamy.  Stir in the butter and cheese and serve immediately with extra Parmesan.  (If you set the sausage and artichokes aside as I did, gently reheat them in a pan.  Place the risotto in a large serving dish and top the risotto with the crumbled sausage and artichokes).  

Beautiful chunks of caramelized sausage.  Sure would be a shame to mix those bits into the risotto and loose that texture.

Theme: Under The Tuscan Sun

So tell me.  Do you like to mix your food?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cheesy Mac 'N' Bangers Bake

Wanna know what my New Year's resolution is?  It's not your average run-of-the-mill resolution.  It's really simple.  In fact, I can sum it up in one word: NO!  This year I promised myself that I would learn how to say "no."  So far it's working out great.  I've been walking around saying "no" like I'm a toddler.  You'd think I just learned the word.  

Will you help us out at the school?  No.   
Will you help us throw together a bake sale?  No. 
Can you stop what you're doing and get me whatever I want?  No.  
Can you watch my kids for the day while I go to work? No.   
Do you want to buy some girl scout cookies?  No.   
I don't like spinach.  Can I have something else for dinner? No. 

You get the picture, right?  Basically I've been a yes person for my entire life.  I've always tried to be polite and please others, watch my p's and q's if you will.  All of that is over now.  

As you can imagine my new plan is meeting some resistance.  I'm getting a lot of strange looks and raised eyebrows. My husband even suggested I change my blog from Stirring the Pot to Stirring the Cauldron.  I had to laugh out loud when he made that suggestion. It was pretty funny. But I'm still sticking to my guns.  This will be one resolution that I keep.  There is going to be a new version of Kim, raw and uncut.  I don't think people know what's in store for them.

So, I'm making no apologies for this macaroni and cheese.  It's total comfort food.  A layer of sausage (aka bangers), a layer of spinach strata, and a creamy mac and cheese base.  It's not diet food in any way, shape, or form.  It's loaded with sausage, cheese, cream, 6 eggs, pasta and bread, and then some more cheese for good measure.  It's the kind of thing you make when you want to say the hell with it.  Now who wants to join me?

Cheesy Mac 'N' Bangers Bake
Adapted from Everyday Jan/Feb 2012
Serves 4 or 6

1/2 lb elbow macaroni
1 lb irish bangers or sweet italian sausages, casings removed
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 lb. thawed frozen chopped spinach, squeezed dry
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temp
salt and pepper
6 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated parmesan 
6 slices white sandwich bread, crusts trimmed

In a large saucepan of boiling, salted water, cook the macaroni, stirring often, until al dente.  Drain and let cool; do not rinse.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally until crumbly, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to paper towels to drain.  Melt the butter in the pan, then add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the cream cheese until blended; season with salt and pepper.  Let cool.

In a large bowl, using a fork, beat together the eggs, heavy cream, 2/3 cup parmesan and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

In a 9-inch square baking dish, evenly layer the macaroni and cover with the bread slices.  Top with the spinach mixture in an even layer, then the sausage.  Pour the egg mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup parmesan (cover and refrigerate overnight if desired).  

Let the casserole stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.  Preheat the oven to 375F and bake until browned and crusty on top and set in the center, about 20 minutes.  Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting.
Do I have to tell you that we liked it?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Top Favorites From 2011

Happy New Year!  I had so many favorite recipes in 2011, but these are some of the very best.  The ones that were the most memorable.  I'm convinced there is no better way to start this roundup than with this extremely memorable and family-pleasing Grilled Sausage Ring with Parsley and Provolone over Pepperonata.  This dish was visually stunning and so crazy good. I make it often with regular Italian sausages, but I'm always on the lookout for sausage rings so I can make this again.
Near and dear to my heart was my very first guest post, over at Velva's Tomatoes on the Vine, where I shared this fun recipe for Pot Roast Potato Skins.   Crispy potato skins filled with tender roast beef topped with creamy mashed potatoes.  Such a fun, tasty, and satisfying dish.  Would be perfect for any upcoming Superbowl parties. 
I would be completely remiss if I didn't include this recipe for Jamie Oliver's Baby Farfalle with Creamy Smoked Bacon and Pea Sauce.  I first made this dish in May and it was such a hit with the family I continued to make it throughout the year, repeating this recipe probably more than any other throughout the year.  This recipe is fantastic and a total life saver, seems to be a huge hit with the kids, and is easily made with ingredients you can almost always find in your kitchen.   

My personal favorite for the year were these Creole Meatloaves with Trinity Gravy.  I really can't even begin to tell you how much I loved this dish.  Of course, this is where I should tell you that I'm probably a bit biased.  I love a good meatloaf and I do enjoy the spicy flavors that were in the trinity gravy, but WOW...this was a delicious meal.  This was the dish that made me a believer in the recipes of Rachel Ray.
Ina Garten's Chicken with Shallots was an easy, elegant, and utterly fabulous dish.  You can always count on Ina to deliver a fantastic recipe, but this is one of my Ina favorites.  This recipe would be perfect for so many different occasions.
Inspired by the movie Fried Green Tomatoes I made these Fried Green Tomatoes with Homemade Basil Mayo with ingredients mostly found in my backyard garden.  Fried Green Tomatoes coated in panko and seasoned with parmesan cheese and basil dipped in a homemade basil mayo....oh my gosh.  One of the best things I ate all year for sure!
One of my favorite things all year was The Homesick Texan Cook-Off and Cookbook Review.  It was so much fun cooking along with my fellow bloggers and every single recipe in Lisa Fain's book was utterly delicious.  My family would literally do a happy dance when they saw Lisa's book in my hands.  Everything I made from the book was fantastic, the carnitas being a personal family favorite.  My Cookbook Review and roundup are HERE.  The Homesick Texan Cookbook was my favorite cookbook in 2011.
I could eat this simply cheese mustard on just about anything.  I'm aching to try this simple cheesy mustard in place of hollandaise on eggs benedict.  On my to do list for the upcoming year for sure.
When I asked my husband which recipe was his favorite in 2011 he answered back right away with these Smothered Pork Chops.  Unfortunately for him this was probably one of the priciest recipes I made during last year, each thick-cut pork chop reigning in at around $5 each.  What can I say?  I guess my husband is high maintenance.  It's a good thing I'm not... ha ha.

And there you have it....all of our very top, very favorite, dreamed about, crave-inducing, most memorable, heart-warming, and family pleasing dishes of 2011.  It sure was a tasty year!  I can't wait to see what 2012 cooks up in the kitchen.

Happy New Year!