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On June 26th the world welcomed a very special little guy: my nephew!  This is B’s and my first time being an uncle and aunt and, besides being super excited to shower him with love and affection, we wanted to make sure we help out B’s brother and our sister-in-law as much as possible.  As part of our efforts to do so, we decided to make them some food to have to share with guests and for them to eat as they get adjusted to life as new parents.  We ended up making a lot of food (fitting our trend of over-cooking for 2 people).  Here is the menu (I will link the posts I’ve adapted as I post them):

Freezer Meals:

Chicken Stir Fry

  • Recipe forthcoming

Zucchini Bread

  • This was my first time making zucchini bread so I followed the recipe fairly closely (also not 100% sure on the outcome).  I used walnuts but did not use cranberries/raisins.  Also, I probably used over 3 C of grated fresh zucchini.  I grated a zucchini in my food processor and just used whatever was produced.

Banana Nutella Swirl Muffins

  • Two changes: I used 5 bananas and I did not use chopped pecans.  My mother- and father-in-law referred to these as life changing.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin

  • B made these and I’m not 100% clear on the recipe.  I think he just winged the recipe using a Asian inspired rub.

Twice Baked Bacon and Cheddar Potatoes

  • This recipe is more of a guideline.  We have made twice baked potatoes before we so kind of eyeballed it as we normally do.  This was the first time we froze these.  We made the mistake of making them all as if we were going to eat them that day/night.  So we did two things wrong: first, we cooked them completely; second, we cooked them with the green onions.  Some of the freezer prep recipes I’ve found since then (when I was trying to find reheat instructions for my brother- and sister-in-law) have recommended not adding the green onions until ready to eat.  I was informed that they were very good as we did them but in the future I will probably try freezing the proper way.

Blanched asparagus

  • Add asparagus to a pot of boiling water.  Cook for approximately 1 minute.  Remove from boiling water and submerge immediately in ice water to stop cooking process.  Remove from ice water and put on cookie sheet or roasting pan to cool completely.  Place in freezer bag and freeze.  To reheat, thaw the asparagus and reheat in pan with oil/butter and desired spices.

To have on hand:

Italian Roast Pork with Broccoli Rabe

  • For the broccoli rabe, submerge in boiling water for approximately 2 minutes (or until soft with a little bit of crunch).  Remove from boiling water and immediately submerge in ice water to stop the cooking process. In a medium size pan, saute 2-3 cloves of garlic with a generous amount of olive oil.  Add blanched broccoli rabe and cook for approximately 5 minutes more over medium heat.  Serve roast pork and broccoli rabe with sharp provolone cheese and/or roasted red peppers on a hoagie sandwich roll.
  • My brother- and sister-in-law also repurposed the pork (since I ended up using an 8 lb shoulder and made 3 Chinese food take out containers worth.  Each container was 8 sandwiches).  They added some BBQ sauce and adobe sauce to use in roasted pork tacos.  We also discussed how the pork could be repurposed into BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.

Chocolate cupcakes with Salted Cannoli Cream Frosting

  • Recipe forthcoming

 

(Insert picture I should’ve taken but I’m a bad food recipe blogger so I forgot to do so)

This was adapted from Annie’s Eats recipe.  I originally intended to bring these over to my brother- and sister-in-law as part of the food package we were sending to help them out/ celebrate the birth of my nephew.  Unfortunately, these cupcakes didn’t quite come out the way that I had hoped.  The cake was a little dry and I really struggled with the caramel filling.  The caramel ended up being too runny and instead of providing a nice caramel center to the cupcakes it ended up getting absorbed into the cupcake.  Since B pointed out, with his usual wit, “So you’re telling me caramel is absorbed into a chocolate cupcake?  That sounds terrible.”, I decided to send them with him to work.  I’ve baked a number of items for his lab and each has gone over fairly well.  I’ve been informed that these went more quickly than any other baked good I sent and had an overwhelming positive response.   So perhaps I’m my own worst critic.  This is definitely one of the more difficult cupcakes I have attempted because it was the first time I tried to make caramel from scratch.  If you have any tricks/suggestions please leave them in the comments!

Salted Caramel Cupcakes with Buttercream Icing and Caramel Drizzle

Chocolate Cupcakes (taken from Annie’s Eats)
Makes approximately 24 cupcakes

½ C plus 1 tbsp cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s)
½ C plus 1 tbsp hot water
2¼ C all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup sour cream
Caramel (Taken from Annie’s Eats)

2½ C sugar*
2/3 C water
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
¾ C heavy cream, warmed**
2¼ tsp. sea salt

Icing (Taken from Savory Sweet Life)

1 C unsalted softened butter
3-4 C confectioners  sugar, SIFTED
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream

Directions

Cupcakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and hot water and whisk until smooth.
  3. In another medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a medium saucepan combine the butter and sugar. Cook at medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth and the butter is completely melted.
  5. Transfer the butter/sugar mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-low speed until the butter/sugar mixture is cool (about 4-5 minutes).
  6. Add each of the eggs one at a time.  Make sure to mix well after each egg and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  7. Blend in the vanilla and then the cocoa/hot water mixture until smooth.
  8. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing each addition just until incorporated.
  9. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners.  Bake about 18-20 minutes (mine were done in 18) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean rotating the pans halfway through baking (I forgot to do this, maybe that’s why they were dry).  Let cool in the pan about 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Caramel Filling (NEED CANDY THERMOMETER!)

  1. Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat.  Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has melted into a syrup.
  2. Stop stirring and gently swirl the pan, using a pastry brush dipped in water to wipe down any bits of sugar stuck to the sides of the pan.
  3. Continue to boil, swirling occasionally, until the mixture is a deep amber color (but not burned!) and it registers 340˚ F on the candy thermometer.
  4. Very slowly pour in the cream in a slow, steady stream down the inside edge of the pan, stirring constantly until smooth.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt.
  6. Let the caramel filling mixture cool just until very slightly thickened and cool enough to handle.
  7. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a small tip and inject about 1 large tbsp of filling directly into the center of each cupcake.  (This is when my caramel absorbed to the inside of the cupcake.)

Icing

  1. Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.
  2. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar (1 cup at a time) on the lowest speed of the mixer until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter.
  3. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of cream and beat for 3 minutes.
  4. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar 1/2 C at a time. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tbsp at a time.
  5. Allow to cool slightly in the refrigerator so it is easier to handle.
  6. Transfer to piping bag.  Careful pipe the icing on to each of the cupcakes.
  7. Drizzle the top of each cupcake with remaining caramel and some sea salt (In Annie’s Eat’s recipe she tops with a homemade piece of salted caramel candy)

 

*I ran out of sugar and since it was around 10pm I just decided to work with what I had.  Perhaps that’s why my caramel was too runny.
**To further add to my trouble with the caramel, I was tired and impatient so I didn’t warm the cream.  Another reason why the caramel was too runny, maybe?

Mint Cookies and Cream Cupcake

I was asked by my mother-in-law to make cupcakes as a favor for my sister-in-law’s baby shower.  My first response was “OF COURSE!”.  Then came the excruciating decision-making process to find the perfect cupcake flavor.

Most of the cupcakes I have made for friends/family that have been hits have involved alcohol.  As these were for a baby shower, alcohol based cupcakes seemed to be a quick toss to the “No” pile.  My sister-in-law loves chocolate, so I was looking to incorporate chocolate without making it the main player (especially since we made chocolates for a favor for her bridal shower last year).  My first stop was to Annie’s Eats, which is where I usually start for inspiration on cakes, pies, and other sweets.  I instantly was a fan of the cookies and cream cupcakes (especially with the little surprise on the bottom) but I was really hoping to make something that had green/yellow frosting to fit with the baby shower theme (my brother and sister-in-law are being surprised on the gender).   Then I remembered my absolute favorite ice cream flavor from college: mint cookies and cream.  If you’re from the Trenton/Princeton, NJ area you’re familiar with Halo Farms ice cream.  My friends and I would make a trip to one of the locations to pick up a pint.  I frequently picked mint cookies and cream since I was never able to find it anywhere else.  I was then inspired to replicate this ice cream in cupcake form.  Overall, the attendees at the shower (as well as B and B’s co-workers who benefited from the test batches) were very happy with the end result (and were pleasantly surprised by the cookie at the bottom).

Mint Cookies and Cream Cupcakes
Adapted from Annie’s Eats

Yield: 24 cupcakes
Cupcakes
40 Oreos (These are used in cupcakes and icing, you might need more in icing based on taste preference)
2 1/4 cups  all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp
1 2/3 c sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1.5-2 tsp peppermint extract
1 c milk

Icing
8 oz cream cheese, at room temp
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
approx 1 tsp peppermint extract
3.5-4 c confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp heavy cream*
12 Oreos, cut in half (optional for garnish)

Directions

Cupcakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line the wells of two cupcake pans with 24 paper liners.
  2. Take 24 of the Oreos and carefully split in half to make sure all the cream is on one half.  If you are a skilled twister, go for it.  I used the twist method in combination with a paring knife
  3. Place an Oreo half in the bottom of each liner, cream side up.
  4. Roughly chop 12 of the remaining Oreo tops and the remaining 12 full Oreos, set aside
  5. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir together with a fork to blend and set aside.
  6. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (approximately 2-3 minutes).
  7. Blend in the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition (I cracked each egg in a separate bowl to separate and then added to mixture.  This allowed each egg time to be well incorporated).
  8. Blend in the peppermint and vanilla extract.
  9. With the mixer on low speed, beat in half of the dry ingredients just until incorporated.
  10. Add the milk and beat just until combined, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients.
  11. Gently fold in the reserved chopped Oreos with a rubber spatula until evenly incorporated, being careful not to over-mix.
  12. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners.
  13. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  14. Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting:

  1. In a food processor, chop 12 Oreo tops remaining from the cupcakes and the 4 full Oreos left (I used more than this because I wanted to the cookie crumbs to be very prominent.  You can add cookies based on taste/texture preference).
  2. Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.
  3. Blend in the vanilla and peppermint extract.
  4. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar one cup at a time until incorporated and smooth.
  5. Add the heavy cream to the bowl and beat on medium-low speed just until incorporated
  6. Increase the speed to medium-high and whip for approximately 4 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  7. Fold in reserved cookie crumbs.
  8. Frost the cooled cupcakes as desired. Garnish with Oreo halves, if desired.

*Some comments from the source recipe commented that the icing was a little runny.  I did not have this problem but be aware that this may be an issue.

Shakushuka

When we lived in Pittsburgh there was (briefly) an Israeli restaurant in Squirrel Hill that we went to a few times.  While that restaurant no longer exists, I had the chance to try a dish that I had never seen before.  A fried egg in tomato sauce?  Seriously?  Recently, I had a craving for this dish.  I sought to try to make it from scratch at home.  B suggested adding ground beef to try to get a chili type feel to it.  I was pretty happy with the outcome but I would likely reduce the amount of meat or increase the amount of the tomato component I use in the future.  It ended up being a little too meat heavy.

I made this dish about 3-4 weeks ago so my comments about it are…limited.  Hopefully I’ll make it again soon and provide some updates and pictures.  Share your experiences if you get a chance to make it!

Shakshuka [Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce]
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup olive oil
3 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped*
1 small yellow onion, chopped
Approx. 1 lb. lean ground beef
5 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsps ground cumin (I doubled spices because of including beef)
1-2 tbsp paprika
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
Kosher salt, to taste
6 eggs
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Warm pitas, for serving

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  2. Add chiles and onions to oil.  Cook until soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add ground beef and brown.
  4. After beef is browned, add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft.
  5. Crush tomatoes with your hands. Add crushed tomatoes and their liquid to skillet along with 1/2 cup water
  6. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens. Season sauce with salt.
  7. Crack each egg into small bowl to aid in poaching.
  8. Add eggs to sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface.
  9. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes.
  10. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk.
  11. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.

* You could also use 3-5 Anaheim chiles instead, 5 would provide a good kick.

So. I’m a terrible food blogger.  Terrible. And here are some reasons why:

1) I lost all motivation for food creativity
2) Went.  eehhh f**k it, its too much work

Most of this is the result of the changes that have occurred in the past year since I last posted a recipe.  I stopped posting because, at first, I was teaching a summer course and simultaneously preparing for a big move to…well at the time we had no idea.  We officially moved out of Pittsburgh July 15 of last year.  It wasn’t until about a week later that we realized that we would be heading off to Philadelphia for B to start his post doc position at the University of Pennsylvania.  Since our move we’ve been very blessed and lucky to have a wonderful new place, be surrounded by our wonderful friends and family, and receive wonderful news from them (babies..they be a comin’).  But in the process I have focused on my work, my life, and things outside of being creative with food and food items.  But, the time is returning where I need my hobby back.  Sure, I’ve made some awesome things in the past year (I’m looking at you boeuf bourguignon) and some terrible things (ask B about the pizza I made a few weeks ago of the hoagie rolls I attempted to make last week from scratch…they were more like matzoh than roll) but just failed to document both my successes and failures.  In all aspects of life we see successes and failures and its important to see how these failures are important to make me/you a better cook, person, etc.  So, on that note, I’m focusing this post on transformations.  Not just my own in the past year since I last posted but also how its important to transform things in our everyday lives.  To make the bad good, make lemonade out of lemons, etc.

So that is how this recipe started.  I sought to transform the bad and make something good.

I traveled to San Francisco to go to an annual conference to present some of my current work.  Before I left, I prepared a number of “in a bag” meals for B to just throw into our slow cooker since he would be swamped with all that he had to do.  One of those meals was this recipe for pot roast.  So first, another transformation note: I started eating meat again Memorial Day weekend 2012.  This is important because I messed up something I’ve made before: meat.  Although I’ve made pot roast before, I used the Pioneer Woman’s recipe (found here).  That came out really, really good.  This recipe, however, was terrible. B only had a little of it while I was away and found it too tomato paste heavy.  Given that we had this big batch of pot roast, complete with meat and potatoes, what’s a girl to do so that I don’t waste food.  I decided to make meat and potato burritos.

So, I started with something that looked like this:

Pot Roast (Before)

What I first strained the liquid out of the pot roast and veggies.  I next took the meat out and shredded it up to kind of get that carnitas aspect for my burritos.  I did this using two forks and just pulling the meat apart.

Shredded meatNext, I chopped up some peppers and onions and added those, along with the pot roast vegetables, to a large saute pan.  I just let them cook up together.  I then moved on to taking the pot roast towards the tex-mex flavor side.  This was accomplished by flavoring the vegetable mixture with about 2 tbsp cumin, 1  tsp cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and about 1 tsp of salt and pepper.  This was adjusted according to my taste after adding in the initial amount (I honestly am not sure how much it ended up being since it was mostly to taste.

IMAG0366Using many of the same seasonings (shown here are cayenne, garlic powder, minced onion, salt, cumin, and chili powder) I made my own taco seasoning mix (many recipes for this can be found by using google or another search engine).  Using the liquid I removed from the pot roast at the start, I added the seasoning to the liquid.  I then added the shredded beef.

IMAG0368

I let that simmer for approximately 10 minutes, or until the meat was flavorful and well coated.  While that was simmering, I preheated my oven to 350 F.  Once the meat was done, I took tortillas, filled them with cheese, meat, and the vegetable mixture, then wrapped them into burritos and put them in a baking dish.  I repeated until I ran out of tortillas.  I then topped the burritos with jarred salsa and cheddar cheese.

Viola, transformed pot roast.  B went into it with a “I’m skeptical about this” attitude but left being pleasantly surprised.

So this begs the question of, what else that starts out bad can be transformed into something good?

I’ve previously mentioned that the “Jen Special” involves fish, starch, green vegetable.  Over the years, I’ve tried to expand what the “Jen Special” means.  Originally, it meant baked salmon, mashed potatoes, and spinach.  Without fail, I had this dish at least once a week before I moved in with B.  Moving in with him lead us to be a little more creative because someone prefers variety.  This is the latest manifestation of the “Jen Special”.   Enjoy!

Pesto Salmon
4 cups packed basil
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
2 tbsp pine nuts
3 cloves garlic, fresh (We REALLY like garlic.  If you aren’t a huge fan of garlic, reduce to 2 cloves)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper to taste
2- 4 oz. Sockeye (or other Salmon) fillet

Combine basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper together in a food processor until smooth.  Add additional components to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray.  Place salmon in dish and spread pesto on top.  Bake salmon for approximately 20 minutes or until the salmon flakes easily with a fork.

Orzo Salad*
1/4 lb. orzo pasta, dried
1 medium onion, sliced
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
3 tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp feta cheese
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
Salt, pepper, and fresh basil to taste

  1. In a pot, bring heavily salted water to a boil.  When water reaches a rolling boil, add dried orzo.
  2. In a separate saute pan, add olive oil and onions.  Cook onions about 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until caramelized.  Set aside onions.  Add pine nuts to the pan and toast slightly, making sure not to let them burn.
  3. When orzo is cooked, drain and add to pan with pine nuts and onions.  Mix in tomatoes, feta cheese, and balsamic vinegar.  Serve warm.

Asparagus with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Glaze

This was just a bunch of asparagus that I blanched.  I added dollops of goat cheese and drizzled store-bought balsamic glaze.

*Note: I messed up the orzo salad by over estimating (by a lot) how much orzo we needed.  I cooked the whole box (1 lb.) It was waaaaay too much and overpowered the other elements of the dish.  We also ate it for the next three days.  This recipe reflects a reduced amount of pasta but I did not reduce the rest of the recipe components

If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I always keep bananas in our freezer.  It is B’s absolutely favorite thing.  I can tell since every time he opens the freezer, they fall out (our freezer is terrible, blame it on the fact we’re renters), and he yells something in joy.  I’m not going to say what he yells, seeing that this is polite company.

Regardless of B’s feelings towards the freezer bananas, I decided to make a banana bread to bring along for our trip to the Poconos.  I’ve previously made bananas foster cupcakes and I came across this recipe on Pintrest, which lead me to want to try this  recipe.  I made a few adjustments since I prefer a bit more banana flavor.  I also went with the fat-free greek yogurt instead of the fat-free regular yogurt because I’m a big fan of greek yogurt and its been awhile since I’ve used it.

Bananas Foster Bread
Serves 16, 5 Weight Watchers PP per serving

5-6 mashed ripe bananas
1 cup packed brown sugar, divided
5 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/3 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt (I used Fage)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups ounces all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Set aside. (I ended up using 2 – 4.5 x 8.5 pans)
  2. Combine bananas, 1/2 cup brown sugar, butter, and rum in a nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat; cool.
  3. Place banana mixture in a large bowl. Add yogurt, remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, and eggs. Beat with a stand or hand mixer at medium speed.
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, flaxseed, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and allspice.
  5. Add flour mixture to banana mixture; beat just until blended.
  6. Pour batter into your prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan; place on wire rack.